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

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

Friday, September 23, 2005

Paul Krugman - The Big Uneasy

The Big Uneasy
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Friday 23 September 2005

Although Hurricane Katrina drowned much of New Orleans, the damage to America's economic infrastructure actually fell short of early predictions. Of course, Rita may make up for that.

But Katrina did more than physical damage; it was a blow to our self-image as a nation. Maybe people will quickly forget the horrible scenes from the Superdome, and the frustration of wondering why no help had arrived, once cable TV returns to nonstop coverage of missing white women. But my guess is that Katrina's shock to our sense of ourselves will persist for years.

America's current state of mind reminds me of the demoralized mood of late 1979, when a confluence of events - double-digit inflation, gas lines and the Iranian hostage crisis - led to a national crisis of confidence.

Start with economic confidence. The available measures say that consumer confidence, which was already declining before Katrina hit, has now fallen off a cliff. One well-respected survey, from the University of Michigan, says that consumer sentiment is at its lowest level since George Bush the elder was president and "America: What Went Wrong?" was a national best seller.

It's true that gasoline prices have receded from their post-Katrina peaks. But even if Rita spares the refineries, a full recovery of economic confidence seems unlikely. For one thing, it looks as if we're in for a long, cold winter: natural gas and fuel oil are still near their price peaks. Anyway, most families were already struggling even before Katrina. A few weeks ago, the Census Bureau reported that in 2004, while Washington and Wall Street were hailing a "Bush boom," poverty increased, and median family income failed to keep up with inflation. And it's safe to assume that most families did even worse this year.

Then there's the war in Iraq, which is rapidly becoming impossible to spin positively: the purple fingers have come and gone, and there are no more corners to turn. As a result, views that people like Howard Dean were once derided for are becoming the majority opinion. Most Americans say the war was a mistake; a majority say the administration deliberately misled the country into war; almost 4 in 10 say Iraq will turn into another Vietnam.

And many people are outraged by the war's cost. The general public doesn't closely follow economists' arguments about the risks of budget deficits, or try to decide between competing budget projections. But people do know that there's a big deficit, that politicians keep calling for cuts in spending and that rebuilding after Katrina will cost a lot of money. They resent the idea that large sums are being spent in a faraway country, where we're waging a war whose purpose seems increasingly obscure.

Finally, fragmentary evidence - like a sharp drop in the fraction of Americans who approve of President Bush's performance in handling terrorism and the failure of large crowds to show up for the Pentagon's "America Supports You" march and country music concert - suggests that the confluence of Katrina and the fourth anniversary of 9/11 has caused something to snap in public perceptions about the "war on terror."

In the early months after 9/11, America's self-confidence actually seemed to have been bolstered by the attack: the Taliban were quickly overthrown, and President Bush looked like an effective leader. The positive perception of what happened after 9/11 has, needless to say, been a mainstay of Mr. Bush's political stature.

But now that more time has elapsed since 9/11 than the whole stretch from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, people are losing faith. Osama, it turns out, could both run and hide. It's obvious from the evening news that Al Qaeda and violent Islamic extremism in general are flourishing.

And the hapless response to Katrina, which should have been easier to deal with than a terrorist attack, has shown that our leaders have done virtually nothing to make us safer.

And here's the important point: these blows to our national self-image are mutually reinforcing. The sense that we're caught in an unwinnable war reinforces the sense that the economy is getting worse, and vice versa. So we're having a general crisis of confidence.

It's the kind of crisis that opens the door for dramatic political changes - possibly, but not necessarily, in a good direction. But who will provide leadership, now that Mr. Bush is damaged goods?

Garrison Keillor - Bush's Hard Fall

Bush's Hard Fall
By Garrison Keillor

Wednesday 21 September 2005

His career was based on creating low expectations and then meeting them, but Katrina brought a cold blast of reality.

These are hard times, but then life is hard, as it says in Ecclesiastes: "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong nor riches to men of understanding; but time and chance happeneth to them all." And now scientists have found that football fans experience a 20 percent drop in testosterone after their teams lose a game. Your team goes down to bitter defeat and you sit on the couch, crushed, almost in tears, and your wife snuggles up next to you and blows in your ear and you think, "Oh no, not that again."

Which is one more reason to give up watching football. So instead you write poems and spend a year doing that and gradually realize that they are hopeless, unreadable, a verbal goulash of no interest to anybody. And your wife calls you to come to bed and you think, "Why is she wearing that sheer lingerie? What if someone sees?" Ambition gets in the way of the simple joy of passion, which is in your head. You and she may have been married for a dog's age and despite all the aches and bruises of matrimony you look at each other and get excited. Nobody else understands this and nobody else needs to. But vanity can break the spell.

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," said Solomon. Or, to put it a slightly different way, a guy takes his son deer hunting and as they're creeping through the woods, the man says, "Son, this is your first deer hunt, an ancient and sacred tradition marking your passage into manhood, do you have any questions?" and the boy says, "Yes. If you die of a heart attack, how do I get home?"

It's a hard fall for George W. Bush. His career was based on creating low expectations and then meeting them, but Katrina was a blast of reality. The famous headline said, "Bush: One of the Worst Disasters to Hit the US" and many people took that literally. Poor black people huddled together in the Superdome were seen on national TV, people stretched out asleep between the goal lines, and a 911 operator broke into sobs telling what it was like to talk to little kids in flooded houses and two weeks later the president had become a New Deal liberal and was calling for a major anti-poverty program in the Gulf and hang the expense. The annual deficit is running around $300 billion, but the president says we can afford a few hundred billion in hurricane repair without a tax increase, even if we call it a "hurricane impact fee."

Meanwhile we are pushing a large deception down the road - the idea that the war in Iraq is to defend us against terrorism - at enormous expense to our armed services and also to the Treasury, and for Americans who remember the last time a Texas president told us we must "stay the course," there is a certain sinking feeling.

But that's life. It happened to the Romans and the Mayans and the Sumerians and it's happening to us. In our society, as in those, the Grand Poobah gives the orders and the lackeys, minions, henchmen and stooges carry them out, and when the experimental plane with the lead-covered wings crashes, the minions return to His Eminence and lick his boots and he dispatches a yes man to chastise the fall guy, and then the fall guy whips the whipping boy, and then both of them pound on the goat. And construction begins on a new lead-covered airplane, except this time the lead is twice as thick. It's a supply-side theory: The greater the weight, the greater the buoyancy.

Solomon said, "The thing that has been is the thing that shall be; and the thing that is done is that which shall be done: There is nothing new under the sun." Or, to put it a slightly different way, a man walked into the house with a handful of dog waste and said, "Look what I almost stepped in."

Which reminds me: There is a power plant being built here in Minnesota that will burn turkey manure to make electricity. We have in custody 14 million turkeys, a non-flying bird bred for gigantic breasts, like porn stars, and now, thanks to some bold entrepreneur (perhaps a teenage turkey) who put match to poop and discovered its volatility, Minnesota is sitting on a gold mine. As Solomon said, "The rivers run into the sea and yet the sea is not full." In other words, what's the problem?

Blackwater Down

Blackwater Down
Fresh From Iraq, Private Security Forces Roam the Streets of an American City With Impunity
by Jeremy Scahill

The men from Blackwater USA arrived in New Orleans right after Katrina hit. The company known for its private security work guarding senior US diplomats in Iraq beat the federal government and most aid organizations to the scene in another devastated Gulf. About 150 heavily armed Blackwater troops dressed in full battle gear spread out into the chaos of New Orleans. Officially, the company boasted of its forces "join[ing] the hurricane relief effort." But its men on the ground told a different story.

Some patrolled the streets in SUVs with tinted windows and the Blackwater logo splashed on the back; others sped around the French Quarter in an unmarked car with no license plates. They congregated on the corner of St. James and Bourbon in front of a bar called 711, where Blackwater was establishing a makeshift headquarters. From the balcony above the bar, several Blackwater guys cleared out what had apparently been someone's apartment. They threw mattresses, clothes, shoes and other household items from the balcony to the street below. They draped an American flag from the balcony's railing. More than a dozen troops from the 82nd Airborne Division stood in formation on the street watching the action.

Armed men shuffled in and out of the building as a handful told stories of their past experiences in Iraq. "I worked the security detail of both Bremer and Negroponte," said one of the Blackwater guys, referring to the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer, and former US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte. Another complained, while talking on his cell phone, that he was getting only $350 a day plus his per diem. "When they told me New Orleans, I said, 'What country is that in?'" he said. He wore his company ID around his neck in a case with the phrase Operation Iraqi Freedom printed on it.

In an hourlong conversation I had with four Blackwater men, they characterized their work in New Orleans as "securing neighborhoods" and "confronting criminals." They all carried automatic assault weapons and had guns strapped to their legs. Their flak jackets were covered with pouches for extra ammunition.

When asked what authority they were operating under, one guy said, "We're on contract with the Department of Homeland Security." Then, pointing to one of his comrades, he said, "He was even deputized by the governor of the state of Louisiana. We can make arrests and use lethal force if we deem it necessary." The man then held up the gold Louisiana law enforcement badge he wore around his neck. Blackwater spokesperson Anne Duke also said the company has a letter from Louisiana officials authorizing its forces to carry loaded weapons.

"This vigilantism demonstrates the utter breakdown of the government," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "These private security forces have behaved brutally, with impunity, in Iraq. To have them now on the streets of New Orleans is frightening and possibly illegal."

Blackwater is not alone. As business leaders and government officials talk openly of changing the demographics of what was one of the most culturally vibrant of America's cities, mercenaries from companies like DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) are fanning out to guard private businesses and homes, as well as government projects and institutions. Within two weeks of the hurricane, the number of private security companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to 235. Some, like Blackwater, are under federal contract. Others have been hired by the wealthy elite, like F. Patrick Quinn III, who brought in private security to guard his $3 million private estate and his luxury hotels, which are under consideration for a lucrative federal contract to house FEMA workers.

A possibly deadly incident involving Quinn's hired guns underscores the dangers of private forces policing American streets. On his second night in New Orleans, Quinn's security chief, Michael Montgomery, who said he worked for an Alabama company called Bodyguard and Tactical Security (BATS), was with a heavily armed security detail en route to pick up one of Quinn's associates and escort him through the chaotic city. Montgomery told me they came under fire from "black gangbangers" on an overpass near the poor Ninth Ward neighborhood. "At the time, I was on the phone with my business partner," he recalls. "I dropped the phone and returned fire."

Montgomery says he and his men were armed with AR-15s and Glocks and that they unleashed a barrage of bullets in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the overpass. "After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said."

Then, Montgomery says, "the Army showed up, yelling at us and thinking we were the enemy. We explained to them that we were security. I told them what had happened and they didn't even care. They just left." Five minutes later, Montgomery says, Louisiana state troopers arrived on the scene, inquired about the incident and then asked him for directions on "how they could get out of the city." Montgomery says that no one ever asked him for any details of the incident and no report was ever made. "One thing about security," Montgomery says, "is that we all coordinate with each other--one family." That co-ordination doesn't include the offices of the Secretaries of State in Louisiana and Alabama, which have no record of a BATS company.

A few miles away from the French Quarter, another wealthy New Orleans businessman, James Reiss, who serves in Mayor Ray Nagin's administration as chairman of the city's Regional Transit Authority, brought in some heavy guns to guard the elite gated community of Audubon Place: Israeli mercenaries dressed in black and armed with M-16s. Two Israelis patrolling the gates outside Audubon told me they had served as professional soldiers in the Israeli military, and one boasted of having participated in the invasion of Lebanon. "We have been fighting the Palestinians all day, every day, our whole lives," one of them tells me. "Here in New Orleans, we are not guarding from terrorists." Then, tapping on his machine gun, he says, "Most Americans, when they see these things, that's enough to scare them."

The men work for ISI, which describes its employees as "veterans of the Israeli special task forces from the following Israeli government bodies: Israel Defense Force (IDF), Israel National Police Counter Terrorism units, Instructors of Israel National Police Counter Terrorism units, General Security Service (GSS or 'Shin Beit'), Other restricted intelligence agencies." The company was formed in 1993. Its website profile says: "Our up-to-date services meet the challenging needs for Homeland Security preparedness and overseas combat procedures and readiness. ISI is currently an approved vendor by the US Government to supply Homeland Security services."

Unlike ISI or BATS, Blackwater is operating under a federal contract to provide 164 armed guards for FEMA reconstruction projects in Louisiana. That contract was announced just days after Homeland Security Department spokesperson Russ Knocke told the Washington Post he knew of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security firms. "We believe we've got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety," he said. Before the contract was announced, the Blackwater men told me, they were already on contract with DHS and that they were sleeping in camps organized by the federal agency.

One might ask, given the enormous presence in New Orleans of National Guard, US Army, US Border Patrol, local police from around the country and practically every other government agency with badges, why private security companies are needed, particularly to guard federal projects. "It strikes me...that that may not be the best use of money," said Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

Blackwater's success in procuring federal contracts could well be explained by major-league contributions and family connections to the GOP. According to election records, Blackwater's CEO and co-founder, billionaire Erik Prince, has given tens of thousands to Republicans, including more than $80,000 to the Republican National Committee the month before Bush's victory in 2000. This past June, he gave $2,100 to Senator Rick Santorum's re-election campaign. He has also given to House majority leader Tom DeLay and a slew of other Republican candidates, including Bush/Cheney in 2004. As a young man, Prince interned with President George H.W. Bush, though he complained at the time that he "saw a lot of things I didn't agree with--homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kind of bills. I think the Administration has been indifferent to a lot of conservative concerns."

Prince, a staunch right-wing Christian, comes from a powerful Michigan Republican family, and his father, Edgar, was a close friend of former Republican presidential candidate and antichoice leader Gary Bauer. In 1988 the elder Prince helped Bauer start the Family Research Council. Erik Prince's sister, Betsy, once chaired the Michigan Republican Party and is married to Dick DeVos, whose father, billionaire Richard DeVos, is co-founder of the major Republican benefactor Amway. Dick DeVos is also a big-time contributor to the Republican Party and will likely be the GOP candidate for Michigan governor in 2006. Another Blackwater founder, president Gary Jackson, is also a major contributor to Republican campaigns.

After the killing of four Blackwater mercenaries in Falluja in March 2004, Erik Prince hired the Alexander Strategy Group, a PR firm with close ties to GOPers like DeLay. By mid-November the company was reporting 600 percent growth. In February 2005 the company hired Ambassador Cofer Black, former coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department and former director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, as vice chairman. Just as the hurricane was hitting, Blackwater's parent company, the Prince Group, named Joseph Schmitz, who had just resigned as the Pentagon's Inspector General, as the group's chief operating officer and general counsel.

While juicing up the firm's political connections, Prince has been advocating greater use of private security in international operations, arguing at a symposium at the National Defense Industrial Association earlier this year that firms like his are more efficient than the military. In May Blackwater's Jackson testified before Congress in an effort to gain lucrative Homeland Security contracts to train 2,000 new Border Patrol agents, saying Blackwater understands "the value to the government of one-stop shopping." With President Bush using the Katrina disaster to try to repeal Posse Comitatus (the ban on using US troops in domestic law enforcement) and Blackwater and other security firms clearly initiating a push to install their paramilitaries on US soil, the war is coming home in yet another ominous way. As one Blackwater mercenary said, "This is a trend. You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations."

Jeremy Scahill is a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!

Antifa - Is Bush Back on the Bottle?

George Bush Back on the Bottle?
by Antifa (dailykos)

[. . . .]

[George Bush] is a cripple. He has no heart, no human feelings for other human beings. It never grew in. It's twelve sizes too small. Alone on the stage in his mind, everyone else and everything else are props in a lifelong play about him, only him. He's the only real person in the world. And so he plays with real people like boys play with little green soldiers, crashing waves of men upon one another, and making explosions with their mouths and minds.

The extent of the damage done in his childhood and young adult life is right there in his frightened eyes, in his twitchy and tumbling gait and manner, in his total inability to genuinely work, to accept criticism, to abide stress, to hear bad news, or to show mercy. It's right there in his need for constant praise and agreement, in his view of himself as God's Agent, in the way he confuses himself with America.

Bush is stuck in his 'adjustment' phase, still running from his wounds, still lashing out in pain of them. He hates himself, and the absentee father and cruel mother who built his hellish inner life. But he very likely will be stuck there all of his life, since he shows no inclination to take his inner life for himself and do something about it.

Well. I'm sorry about that, but that is his concern, and his family's.

Our concern is that he is not in control of himself while he is largely in control of our country. What harm he does to our nation while he plays with soldiers and follows the scripts put in front of him by his handlers is amusement to Bush; it is of no real interest or concern to him. It is to us.

That country he's set fire to? That's the one we were going to give to our kids.

Bush has long been described as a dry drunk. Now the Enquirer pegs him as a wet drunk. What a dumbed down question. Wet or dry -- it doesn't matter in the least. What matters is the drunk part of the phrase.

A drunk is a person who flees immediate reality because they find it too painful to abide. Whether they flee by chemical means -- or by a contrived structure of mental, emotional, social, religious and physical supports that let them live in fantasy -- is entirely incidental and secondary. Make a wet drunk dry or make a dry drunk wet -- you've still done nothing about the drunk. You haven't touched the crippled part, and you haven't put them in charge of their own inner life.

You've labeled them wet or dry, clucked over them a bit, and left them acting out and avoiding their windowless room. In Bush's case, acting out on a world stage. Literally, he'll start a nuclear war rather than examine himself.

Being a drunk is a lizard brain condition, a fight or flight response that takes place before any higher thought. Those responses erupt first. Mr. Bush is on some good meds to keep his underlying fears and angers within respectable parameters consistent with living in thousand dollars suits and oval shaped offices, but the demons are there in his face for all of us to see.

He cannot function 'as is' in any serious capacity. He can pretend to work, if he is kept on meds and living in a bubble of praise and good news only. But problems in our nation have gone beyond having someone pretend to work on them. Our house is on fire, where it isn't flooded or fallen down. There are roaches crawling out from under the desks in our Congress. There are thousands upon thousands of cripples being flown home after dark and squirreled away in hospital wards where reporters aren't allowed to hear them adjusting to their room at the end of the world.

Our nation is in a dance of death with a madman. Just as the high court of King Louis at Versailles held fanciful balls far into the night while hundreds of thousands starved in the villages of France, King George is acting out his hatred and fear and loathing for himself, his father and his mother with our young men and women in Iraq.

Bush will invade Syria and Iran next, if he is not stopped by his handlers or others -- it won't be his choice not to nuke them. He'll have to be stopped or talked out of it. He is acting out his rage and fear upon a world stage, and we are all helping him do it by pretending he is up in the polls or down in the polls week by week, or he is a wet drunk or a dry drunk today, or he is a lame duck or a strong leader with a mandate this year.

As if his fantasy world were our real world, too. At this rate we will be posting the body count from Tal Afar on the evening news right beside a graph of how many shots Bush downed between breakfast and lunch. Some will cheer him on and some will say tsk tsk, and the game will go on to its merry end.


There is only death and destruction and misery and hunger and poverty and pain and sorrow down the road Mr. Bush is walking on. He is making a room at the end of the world for each one of us.

Don't go there with him. Be brave. Make your choice while you still have it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bob Herbert - Voters' Remorse on Bush

Voters' Remorse on Bush
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times

Thursday 22 September 2005

Maybe, just maybe, the public is beginning to see through the toxic fog of fantasy, propaganda and deliberate misrepresentation that has been such a hallmark of the George W. Bush administration, which is in danger of being judged by history as one of the worst of all time.

Mr. Bush's approval ratings have tanked as increasing numbers of Americans worry that their president, who seems to like nothing better than running off to his ranch to clear brush and ride his bike, may not be up to the job.

The most recent New York Times/CBS News Poll strongly indicated that the public - tired of the war-without-end in Iraq and dismayed by the federal response to the catastrophe in New Orleans - "has growing doubts about [the president's] capacity to deal with pressing problems."

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found for the first time that a majority of Americans do not see Mr. Bush as a strong and decisive leader. In an article in USA Today, Carroll Doherty of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center said of Mr. Bush: "He's lost ground among independents. He seems to be starting to lose ground among his own party. And he lost the Democrats a long time ago."

Reality is caving in on a president who was held aloft for so long by a combination of ideological mumbo-jumbo, the public relations legerdemain of Karl Rove and the buoyant patriotism that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush people were never big on reality, so sooner or later they were bound to be blindsided by it.

Remember, there was already a war going on when Katrina came to call. I've always believed that war is a serious matter. But the president was on vacation. Dick Cheney was on vacation. And Condi Rice was here in New York taking in the sights and shopping for shoes. That Americans were fighting and dying on foreign soil was not enough to demand their full attention. They were busy having fun. So it's no wonder it took a good long while before they noticed that a whole section of America had been wiped out in a calamity of biblical proportions.

What Americans are finally catching onto is the utter incompetence of this crowd. And if we didn't know before, we're learning now, in the harshest possible ways, that incompetence has bitter consequences. The body count of Americans killed in Iraq has now passed 1,900, with many more deaths to come. But there's still no strategy, no plan. The White House hasn't the slightest clue about what to do. So the dying will continue.

Mr. Bush's "Top Gun" moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was two and a half years ago. It was another example of the president in fantasyland. The war was a botch from the beginning. Mr. Bush never sent enough troops to get the job done, and he never provided enough armor to protect the troops that he did send. Thin-skinned, the president got rid of anyone who had the temerity to suggest he might be wrong about some of the decisions he was making.

Here at home, even loyal Republicans are beginning to bail out on Mr. Bush's fiendish willingness to shove the monumental costs of the federal government's operations - including his war, his tax cuts and his promised reconstruction of the Gulf Coast - onto the unsuspecting backs of generations still to come.

There is a general sense now that things are falling apart. The economy was already faltering before Katrina hit. Gasoline prices are starting to undermine the standard of living of some Americans, and a full-blown home-heating-oil crisis could erupt this winter. The administration's awful response to the agony of the Gulf Coast has left most Americans believing that we are not prepared to cope with a large terrorist attack. And Osama bin Laden is still at large.

This is what happens when voters choose a president because he seems like a nice guy, like someone who'd be fun at a barbecue or a ballgame. You'd never use that criterion when choosing a surgeon, or a pilot to fly your family across the country.

Mr. Bush will be at the helm of the ship of state for three more years, so we have no choice but to hang on. But the next time around, voters need to keep in mind that beyond the incessant yammering about left and right, big government and small, Democrats and Republicans, is a more immediate issue, and that's competence.

Blogging 101: Comment like a rightie!

Blogging 101: Comment like a rightie!
by BobcatJH (dailykos)

Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 07:38:05 PDT

I welcome well-reasoned, civil debate at Hughes for America. I reserve the right to delete comments that are abusive, use discriminatory language, make threats or are off-topic. I also reserve the right to ban individuals from commenting for violations of the above rules.

With that, I welcome anybody and everybody to my blog, Hughes for America. For the most part, my site has seen ample well-reasoned, civil debate. That said, every so often appears a virulent strain of right-wing extremism.

When these incoherent, profanity-laden comments appear, I think, "This can't be real." But it is and somehow I've got to find a way to fight these screeds with logic. Often, that logic is met with an angrier, even more incoherent response.

But enough about me. Let's talk about you, right-wing lurker who is likely reading this (or liberal looking for a laugh). Do you want to comment like the best of 'em? If so, follow these five simple steps:

Choose your name

If you're a radical Republican planning to post comments on a progressive blog, you've got to have a good name. Why? Because you sure as hell don't have the guts to use your real name. The same goes for your real e-mail address. That said, you're a rightie, so think like one: Think powerful. Think animalistic. Think aggression. How about "Double Shot," "Thunderbolt" or "Snake Eyes"? Another avenue is something patriotic, like "Soaring Eagle," "GoUSAFreedom" or "TheseColorsDon'tRun." Whatever you pick, your name must indicate the sheer power and forcefulness you bring to the blog. Think of it as the codename you'd use if you were a spy and not a disgruntled ne'er-do-well in need of a hobby. What's a ne'er-do-well? Look it up.

Choose your battle

This is a very important reminder, GoUSAFreedom: You've got to pick your spots. Fight the right fights. Know when to "bring it," guns blazing, and when to leave your powder dry. If you can tell that the post on which you'd like to comment includes even the most minor shred of nuance - or research - stay away. Things like economic, foreign and domestic policy probably aren't for you. Stick to the so-called culture wars. Stick to the "guns, Gods and gays" theme that the best (or worst) right-wing nutjobs prefer. If your argument can't fit on one of Fred Phelps' protester's signs, you're better off not commenting. If it doesn't fit on the back of a t-shirt or a bumper sticker, think of something that does.

Choose your language

So you've made it this far, GoUSAFreedom. Congratulations! You've got the right name for the job and you've found a good progressive blog entry, something about gay rights or a woman's right to choose. Now, the next step won't be hard: Forget everything you've ever learned about grammar and usage, about the English language in its highest form. That won't be needed now. What will be needed, however, is every piece of profanity you've got at your disposal. We're talking Andrew Dice Clay profane, not your nice grandmother saying "Oh, fiddlesticks!" when "Wheel of Fortune" is a repeat. C'mon, be imaginative. Think of combinations of profanities that have never been used. Here are some starters: Fucknose. Assbreath. Cockbrain. And don't forget the classics: Where would you be without a thousand-and-one ignorant synonyms for homosexuals, African Americans, Latinos and Middle Easterners?

Choose your style

As important as the language you'll use, GoUSAFreedom, is the style with which you approach the progressive blogosphere. Will you simply recite verbatim the Republican talking points? See a post about New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin? Why didn't he use those buses? Find something you disagree with about Iraq? Freedom is on the march! Looking for something about John Roberts? Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an extremist!

If you don't want to stick to the RNC talking points, perhaps you'd rather stick to the unofficial talking points. This is where the blame gaming, race baiting and xenophobic nationalism comes in. Take, for instance, the right-wing commenter who suggested - in a post about patriotism versus nationalism - the following:

My guess is that someday in the not too distant future, there will be a fenced in town, way out in the desert, surrounded by a moat and razor wire, patrolled by armed guards, where the last few thousand Muslims will be kept around as a curiosity, and a warning to us all of just how badly the human race can go of track. Tours will conducted on Monday-Friday, Once a day. Except on Ramadan.

See! You can do that, too!

A third tack is perhaps the easiest: Stick to the stereotypes. Remember, we liberals are elitist, latte-drinking, tree-hugging hippies who would rather sit around all day smoking dope than fight for the Red, White and Blue. And, if we're not that we're bleeding-heart, sensitive softies who would rather offer therapy and understanding to our enemies than a boot in the ass. That's if we can find time when we're not sitting in our ivory tower at our liberal-stocked private universities.

Choose your response

So you've made your first foray into right-wing commentary. Congratulations, GoUSAFreedom! But you've been met, sadly, with a logical, well-thought liberal response. Uh oh. Cut off at the knees, every one of your points has been dispatched in short order. What are you going to do? Are you going to be a man or are you going to be a wimp? Because, as you know, a real man wouldn't let an intelligent rebuttal get in his way. No sir, he'd let it fly again, firing back by personally insulting the blogger, poking fun at the fact he or she blogs and doesn't have a "real job" and otherwise restating his original point, only more ignorantly.

[Editor's note: Never mind the fact that you, the blogger, do have a job and maintain your blog as an avocation, a passionate hobby. This fact always seems to escape an individual that has somehow found the time to post anonymously on a blog with which he doesn't even agree.]

Anyway, if you do choose that path, be warned: You're likely to be banned from most liberal blogs. Not because you're arguing from the other side of the aisle - that gets you banned from commenting on right-leaning blogs. No, you'll be banned because you obviously violated a clearly stated policy. If you're lucky, however, your comment won't be deleted; instead, it will remain. A tribute to what can happen when children try to make arguments at the adult table.

So are you ready, GoUSAFreedom? By all means, have at it. Don't forget to bring your "A" game. And don't forget to leave your working knowledge of proper punctuation - and the shift key - at home. You won't need that where you're going.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Profile of a Sociopath

Submitted without comment:

Profile of a Sociopath

A number of mind-manipulating cult leaders may exhibit many of the behavioral characteristics of a sociopath--an outstanding ability to charm and seduce followers. Since they appear apparently normal, they are not easily recognizable as deviant or disturbed. Although only a trained professional can make a diagnosis, it is important to be able to recognize the personality type in order to avoid further abuse. These traits also apply to a one-on-one cultic relationship.

Glibness/Superficial Charm
Language can be used without effort by them to confuse and convince their audience. Captivating storytellers that exude self-confidence, they can spin a web that intrigues others. Since they are persuasive, they have the capacity to destroy their critics verbally or emotionally.

Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They dominate and humiliate their victims.

Grandiose Sense of Self
Feels entitled to certain things as "their right." Craves adulation and attendance. Must be the center of attention with their own fantasies as the "spokesman for God," "enlightened," "leader of humankind," etc. Creates an us-versus-them mentality

Pathological Lying
Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and able to pass lie detector tests.

Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

Shallow Emotions
When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion, it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

Incapacity for Love
While they talk about "God's love" they are unable to give or receive it. Since they do not believe in the genuineness of their followers' love, they are very harsh in testing it from their devotees and expect them to feel guilt for their failings. Expects unconditional surrender.

Need for Stimulation
Living on the edge, yet testing the beliefs of their followers with bizarre rules, punishments and behaviors. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal.

Callousness/Lack of Empathy
Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them. Their skills are used to exploit, abuse and exert power. Since the follower cannot believe their leader would callously hurt them, they rationalize the behavior as necessary for their (or the group's) own "good" and deny the abuse. When devotees become aware of the exploitation it feels like a "spiritual rape" to them.

Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others. The followers only see them as near perfect.

Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blame their followers or others outside their group. Blame reinforces passivity and obedience and produces guilt, shame, terror and conformity in the followers.

Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
Totalist leaders frequently practice promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts. This is usually kept hidden from all but the inner circle. Stringent sexual control of their followers, such as forced breakups and divorces, removal of children from parents, rules for dating, etc.

Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future. Many groups claim as their goal world-domination or other utopian promises. Great contrast between the leader's opulent lifestyle and the followers' impoverishment. Support by gifts and donations from the followers who are pressured to give through fear and guilt. Highly sensitive to their own pain and health.

Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
Changes their image and that of the group as needed to avoid prosecution and to increase income and to recruit a range of members. Is able to adapt or relocate as needed to preserve the group. Can resurface later with a new name, a new front group and a new twist on the scam.

Other Related Qualities:


Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them


Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them








Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired


Conventional appearance


Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)


Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life


Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)


Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim


Incapable of real human attachment to another


Unable to feel remorse or guilt


Extreme narcissism and grandiose


May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare. In the 1830's this disorder was called "moral insanity." By 1900 it was changed to "psychopathic personality." More recently it has been termed "antisocial personality disorder." Order: Without Conscience: The disturbing world of the psychopaths among us by Robert D. Hare

Maureen Dowd - Message: I Can't

Message: I Can't
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

Wednesday 21 September 2005

The president won't be happy until he dons a yellow slicker and actually takes the place of Anderson Cooper, violently blown about by Rita as he talks into a camera lens lashed with water, hanging onto a mailbox as he's hit by a flying pig in a squall, sucked up by a waterspout in the eye of the storm over the Dry Tortugas.

Then maybe he'll go back to the White House and do his job instead of running down to the Gulf Coast for silly disaster-ops every other day.

There's nothing more pathetic than watching someone who's out of touch feign being in touch. On his fifth sodden pilgrimage of penitence to the devastation he took so long to comprehend, W. desperately tried to show concern. He said he had spent some "quality time" at a Chevron plant in Pascagoula and nattered about trash removal, infrastructure assessment teams and the "can-do spirit."

"We look forward to hearing your vision so we can more better do our job," he said at a briefing in Gulfport, Miss., urging local officials to "think bold," while they still need to think mold.

Mr. Bush should stop posing in shirtsleeves and get back to the Oval Office. He has more hacks and cronies he's trying to put into important jobs, and he needs to ride herd on that.

The announcement that a veterinarian, Norris Alderson, who has no experience on women's health issues, would head the F.D.A.'s Office of Women's Health ran into so much flak from appalled women that the F.D.A. may have already reneged on it. No morning-after pill, thanks to the antediluvian administration, but there may be hope for a morning-after horse pill.

Mr. Bush made a frownie over Brownie, but didn't learn much. He's once more trying to appoint a nothingburger to a position of real consequence in homeland security. The choice of Julie Myers, a 36-year-old lawyer with virtually no immigration, customs or law enforcement experience, to head the roiling Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency with its $4 billion budget and 22,000 staffers, has caused some alarm, according to The Washington Post.

Ms. Myers's main credentials seem to be that she worked briefly for the semidisgraced homeland security director, Michael Chertoff, when he was at the Justice Department. She just married Mr. Chertoff's chief of staff, John Wood, and she's the niece of Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As a former associate for Ken Starr, the young woman does have impeachment experience, in case the forensic war on terrorism requires the analysis of stains on dresses.

Julie makes Brownie look like Giuliani. I'll sleep better tonight, knowing that when she gets back from her honeymoon, Julie will be patrolling the frontier.

As if the Veterinarian and the Niece were not bad enough, there was also the Accused. David Safavian, the White House procurement official involved in Katrina relief efforts, was arrested on Monday, accused by the F.B.I. of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into the seamy case of "Casino Jack" Abramoff, the Republican operative who has broken new ground in giving lobbying a bad name. Democrats say the fact that Mr. Safavian's wife is a top lawyer for the Republican congressman who's leading the whitewash of the White House blundering on Katrina does not give them confidence.

Just as he has stonewalled other inquiries, Mr. Bush is trying to paper over his Katrina mistakes by appointing his homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend, to investigate how the feds fumbled the response.

Mr. Bush's "Who's Your Daddy?" bravura - blowing off the world on global warming and the allies on the Iraq invasion - has been slapped back by Mother Nature, which refuses to be fooled by spin.

When Donald Rumsfeld came out yesterday to castigate the gloom-and-doomers and talk about the inroads American forces had made against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, he could not so easily recast reality.

In Afghanistan, the U.S.'s handpicked puppet president is still battling warlords and a revivified Taliban, and the export of poppies for the heroin trade is once more thriving.

Iraq is worse, with more than 1,900 American troops killed. Five more died yesterday, as well as four security men connected to the U.S. embassy office in Mosul, all to fashion a theocratic-leaning regime aligned with Iran. In Basra, two journalists who have done work for The Times have been killed in the last two months.

The more the president echoes his dad's "Message: I care," the more the world hears "Message: I can't."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Far Cry From Vietnam

Far Cry From Vietnam - New Silent Majority Sets Pace for Anti-Iraq War Movement
Could today's temperate anti-war movement be more effective than the fiery protests against the Vietnam War?

by Sanford Gottlieb

WASHINGTON --Today's temperate anti-Iraq War movement is a far cry from the turbulent one that mobilized during Vietnam. But it has the potential to be more effective.

Big marches on Washington are mostly a thing of the past, although two activist coalitions will sponsor one on Sept. 24. The Internet has replaced them.

The groups opposing the war have diverse origins. The largest,, was organized by a pair of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to promote a "progressive vision" through the Internet. Some of its 3 million online members recently volunteered 150,000 beds in their homes for victims of Katrina. teamed up in August with True Majority, an online outfit organized by Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, to support antiwar Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan. They organized 1,627 "quiet vigils" across the country.

"These vigils," according to a e-mail, "aren't rallies or places to give long-winded speeches. They are moments to solemnly come together and mark the sacrifice of Cindy and other families."

Win Without War, a coalition of 40 national organizations that links the National Council of Churches, the NAACP and the Sierra Club to relative newcomers like, is working on several fronts to make the case that the war undermines our security. Former Maine congressman Tom Andrews heads the coalition.

Americans with connections to the military have also joined the opposition. They include four separate veterans organizations, two of them composed exclusively of Iraq vets. In addition, Military Families Speak Out, composed of relatives of active duty personnel, was founded during the run-up to the war and now has 2,400 families as members.

Contrast this antiwar activity with the opposition to the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and '70s. Then, students spurred much of the protests and a youth revolt against authority vastly complicated the work of the antiwar movement. Some rebellious youths undertook the most extreme forms of protest, which were broadcast to America on television. When a handful of protesters in a demonstration of thousands carried Viet Cong flags or burned their draft cards or even burned American flags, their actions would be seen on TV that evening as the face of the antiwar movement.

When I coordinated the first non-student march on Washington for peace in Vietnam in November 1965, I had to contend with a tiny group of radicals who insisted on carrying Viet Cong flags in the demonstration. I couldn't keep them out. Much of the media gave equal coverage to those flags and the 35,000 other demonstrators who, in the words of one leading newspaper, resembled "shoppers at Macy's."

Shortly after the march a few of us, including Dr. Benjamin Spock, met with Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had been out on the stump attacking student protesters. After congratulating us for sponsoring the "first demonstration to strengthen the doves in the (Johnson) administration," Humphrey again blasted the students. "They remind me of the Commies I fought in Minneapolis in the fifties," he asserted. I had known Humphrey for five years and felt emboldened to reply, "It's not the fifties, you're not in Minneapolis and they're not Commies, but if you keep attacking them you're going to drive them in that direction." The Vice President was taken aback. I was pleased that he met soon afterward with a group of student critics on the Berkeley campus, but he later resumed his attacks.

By 1968 polls showed a majority of Americans against the war -- but a bigger majority against the war protesters. The combination of extreme forms of protest and the sensation-hungry media silenced many citizens who were sick of Vietnam. To express their opposition was to get in bed with the flag-burners. So was born the "silent majority," enabling Richard Nixon to prolong the U.S. role for four more bitter years.

Ben Cohen believes that for today's antiwar movement to succeed, growth must come from the middle of the political spectrum. Trends in public opinion show this to be realistic. Americans began to sour on the Iraq War within a year. A Washington Post-ABC News Poll in May 2003 found that 27 percent judged the war "not worth fighting;" that rose to 53 percent this past August. Now a New York Times-CBS News poll reports that, for the first time, a majority of Americans favors pulling out of Iraq immediately. And with a nod toward Katrina, 83 percent said they were concerned that the Iraq war is draining resources needed at home.

As mainstream support for the Iraq war dissolves, antiwar activists find themselves in a very different position from their Vietnam War counterparts. Can this momentum be sustained, and focused into concrete demands on when and how to pull out from Iraq? One rallying point may be a resolution, introduced in the House by two Republicans and two Democrats, calling for troop withdrawal to begin no later than Oct. 1, 2006. Called the Homeward Bound Act, the resolution is seen as a major step toward an exit strategy.

A new, antiwar "silent majority" is finding its voice. Even the cries of radicals among marchers this weekend may not drown it out.

PNS contributor Sanford Gottlieb worked in the peace movement from 1960 to 1993. He was executive director of SANE, the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

Bush's 'bullhorn moment' just bull

Bush's 'bullhorn
moment' just bull

I'm amazed that anyone is amazed that it took George W. Bush three days to show up in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

That's exactly how long it took him to show up at Ground Zero after 9/11.

So it mystifies me that the pundits and the cable gasbags keep telling us that George W. Bush missed his "bullhorn moment" in New Orleans.

No, he didn't.

Because his bullhorn moment in New York City was just as late and just as disgraceful as his fumbling handling of the Katrina carnage.

I wish I had a bullhorn to shout just how tired I am of hearing about how wonderful George W. Bush's "bullhorn moment" was.

It will go down as one of the worst moments in American history because when he stood on the smoldering ruins amid the dust of the dead it was through that bullhorn that Bush's Big Lie was first shouted to the world that the people who knocked down those buildings would soon be hearing from us.

It might have been a fairly good, better-late-than-never moment if all Bush had done was use that bullhorn to launch a war on Al Qaeda. It might have escalated into a great piece of historical stagecraft if we'd just gone into Afghanistan and stayed the course on a noble quest to kill Osama Bin Laden and all his Al Qaeda cowards who murdered our people.

But the words that echoed through Bush's bullhorn into the smoldering 16 acres of lower Manhattan, the words that resounded across the grieving outer boroughs and the sorrowful suburbs and the stunned globe, were but an orchestrated setup for a grander diabolical scheme.

Because we fast gave up the hunt for Bin Laden for a bait-and-switch war in Iraq that had nothing to do with the rubble upon which Bush stood at Ground Zero shouting bull through his bullhorn.

Bush has now declared that half-a-buck stops on his desk for Katrina.

But he doesn't ever mention that Osama Bin Laden is still out there roaming free and plotting more American murders. That stops on his desk, too.

Historians will refocus that bullhorn moment as the point of origin to exploit a terrible attack on America for a preconceived war in Iraq that had nothing to do with our dead.

Historians also will remember that directly after the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 2001, killing 2,749, our fearless leader, with all that Texas Air Guard combat training, hopped aboard Air Force One and lammed to, um, Omaha.

Talk about heroic.

And as real heroes dug in the rubble for signs of life, shortening their own lives in the toxic air, Bush hid out. Then three days later, when the coast was clear, he arrived to shoot a Karl Rove-inspired reelection commercial and to launch a war in Iraq.

The invasion of Baghdad started in New York in that "bullhorn moment" three days after Sept. 11.

That final battle of the war in Iraq was lost in New Orleans when Bush showed up three days after Katrina.

As bodies floated down the street, and tens of thousands were stranded without food, water and medical supplies in the convention center, the white flag in the war in Iraq was waved when Bush told Federal Emergency Management Agency boss Michael Brown, an incompetent crony, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Now, with Bush's approval rating at 40%, with more than 50% disapproving of his handling of Iraq, the Security Moms and NASCAR Dads for Bush are silent. Even the Swift Boat Vets can't save Bush from drowning in his own ineptitude.

For what the floods of Katrina revealed was just how out of his depth George W. Bush is as presidential stock.

I often ask successful conservative businessmen friends if they would let George W. Bush run their private businesses. They almost always smile and admit they wouldn't. And yet they voted for him torun the most powerful nation on the planet.

It would be funny except that almost 1,900 Americans troops have been killed to create an Islamic state that spirals toward a possible civil war in Iraq since Bush's wonderful "bullhorn moment."

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

[Note---this was published BEFORE Katrina]

lookout by Naomi Klein
The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

[from the May 2, 2005 issue]

Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration's doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate "post-conflict" plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries "at the same time," each lasting "five to seven years."

Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.

Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, Pascual's office keeps "high risk" countries on a "watch list" and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to "mobilize and deploy quickly" after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks--some, Pascual told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October, will have "pre-completed" contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken. Doing this paperwork in advance could "cut off three to six months in your response time."

The plans Pascual's teams have been drawing up in his little-known office in the State Department are about changing "the very social fabric of a nation," he told CSIS. The office's mandate is not to rebuild any old states, you see, but to create "democratic and market-oriented" ones. So, for instance (and he was just pulling this example out of his hat, no doubt), his fast-acting reconstructors might help sell off "state-owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy." Sometimes rebuilding, he explained, means "tearing apart the old."

Few ideologues can resist the allure of a blank slate--that was colonialism's seductive promise: "discovering" wide-open new lands where utopia seemed possible. But colonialism is dead, or so we are told; there are no new places to discover, no terra nullius (there never was), no more blank pages on which, as Mao once said, "the newest and most beautiful words can be written." There is, however, plenty of destruction--countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God). And where there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of "the terrible barrenness," as a UN official recently described the devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.

"We used to have vulgar colonialism," says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. "Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"

It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites--Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti--a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand- dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision-making. Expert "democracy builders" lecture governments on the importance of transparency and "good governance," yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.

Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh, the New York Times ran a distressing story reporting that "almost nothing seems to have been done to begin repairs and rebuilding." The dispatch could easily have come from Iraq, where, as the Los Angeles Times just reported, all of Bechtel's allegedly rebuilt water plants have started to break down, one more in an endless litany of reconstruction screw-ups. It could also have come from Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai recently blasted "corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable" foreign contractors for "squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid." Or from Sri Lanka, where 600,000 people who lost their homes in the tsunami are still languishing in temporary camps. One hundred days after the giant waves hit, Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement in Negombo, Sri Lanka, sent out a desperate e-mail to colleagues around the world. "The funds received for the benefit of the victims are directed to the benefit of the privileged few, not to the real victims," he wrote. "Our voices are not heard and not allowed to be voiced."

But if the reconstruction industry is stunningly inept at rebuilding, that may be because rebuilding is not its primary purpose. According to Guttal, "It's not reconstruction at all--it's about reshaping everything." If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them. Kumara, in another e-mail, warns that Sri Lanka is now facing "a second tsunami of corporate globalization and militarization," potentially even more devastating than the first. "We see this as a plan of action amidst the tsunami crisis to hand over the sea and the coast to foreign corporations and tourism, with military assistance from the US Marines."

As Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz designed and oversaw a strikingly similar project in Iraq: The fires were still burning in Baghdad when US occupation officials rewrote the investment laws and announced that the country's state-owned companies would be privatized. Some have pointed to this track record to argue that Wolfowitz is unfit to lead the World Bank; in fact, nothing could have prepared him better for his new job. In Iraq, Wolfowitz was just doing what the World Bank is already doing in virtually every war-torn and disaster-struck country in the world--albeit with fewer bureaucratic niceties and more ideological bravado.

"Post-conflict" countries now receive 20-25 percent of the World Bank's total lending, up from 16 percent in 1998--itself an 800 percent increase since 1980, according to a Congressional Research Service study. Rapid response to wars and natural disasters has traditionally been the domain of United Nations agencies, which worked with NGOs to provide emergency aid, build temporary housing and the like. But now reconstruction work has been revealed as a tremendously lucrative industry, too important to be left to the do-gooders at the UN. So today it is the World Bank, already devoted to the principle of poverty-alleviation through profit-making, that leads the charge.

And there is no doubt that there are profits to be made in the reconstruction business. There are massive engineering and supplies contracts ($10 billion to Halliburton in Iraq and Afghanistan alone); "democracy building" has exploded into a $2 billion industry; and times have never been better for public-sector consultants--the private firms that advise governments on selling off their assets, often running government services themselves as subcontractors. (Bearing Point, the favored of these firms in the United States, reported that the revenues for its "public services" division "had quadrupled in just five years," and the profits are huge: $342 million in 2002--a profit margin of 35 percent.)

But shattered countries are attractive to the World Bank for another reason: They take orders well. After a cataclysmic event, governments will usually do whatever it takes to get aid dollars--even if it means racking up huge debts and agreeing to sweeping policy reforms. And with the local population struggling to find shelter and food, political organizing against privatization can seem like an unimaginable luxury.

Even better from the bank's perspective, many war-ravaged countries are in states of "limited sovereignty": They are considered too unstable and unskilled to manage the aid money pouring in, so it is often put in a trust fund managed by the World Bank. This is the case in East Timor, where the bank doles out money to the government as long as it shows it is spending responsibly. Apparently, this means slashing public-sector jobs (Timor's government is half the size it was under Indonesian occupation) but lavishing aid money on foreign consultants the bank insists the government hire (researcher Ben Moxham writes, "In one government department, a single international consultant earns in one month the same as his twenty Timorese colleagues earn together in an entire year").

In Afghanistan, where the World Bank also administers the country's aid through a trust fund, it has already managed to privatize healthcare by refusing to give funds to the Ministry of Health to build hospitals. Instead it funnels money directly to NGOs, which are running their own private health clinics on three-year contracts. It has also mandated "an increased role for the private sector" in the water system, telecommunications, oil, gas and mining and directed the government to "withdraw" from the electricity sector and leave it to "foreign private investors." These profound transformations of Afghan society were never debated or reported on, because few outside the bank know they took place: The changes were buried deep in a "technical annex" attached to a grant providing "emergency" aid to Afghanistan's war-torn infrastructure--two years before the country had an elected government.

It has been much the same story in Haiti, following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In exchange for a $61 million loan, the bank is requiring "public-private partnership and governance in the education and health sectors," according to bank documents--i.e., private companies running schools and hospitals. Roger Noriega, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has made it clear that the Bush Administration shares these goals. "We will also encourage the government of Haiti to move forward, at the appropriate time, with restructuring and privatization of some public sector enterprises," he told the American Enterprise Institute on April 14, 2004.

These are extraordinarily controversial plans in a country with a powerful socialist base, and the bank admits that this is precisely why it is pushing them now, with Haiti under what approaches military rule. "The Transitional Government provide[s] a window of opportunity for implementing economic governance reforms...that may be hard for a future government to undo," the bank notes in its Economic Governance Reform Operation Project agreement. For Haitians, this is a particularly bitter irony: Many blame multilateral institutions, including the World Bank, for deepening the political crisis that led to Aristide's ouster by withholding hundreds of millions in promised loans. At the time, the Inter-American Development Bank, under pressure from the State Department, claimed Haiti was insufficiently democratic to receive the money, pointing to minor irregularities in a legislative election. But now that Aristide is out, the World Bank is openly celebrating the perks of operating in a democracy-free zone.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been imposing shock therapy on countries in various states of shock for at least three decades, most notably after Latin America's military coups and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet many observers say that today's disaster capitalism really hit its stride with Hurricane Mitch. For a week in October 1998, Mitch parked itself over Central America, swallowing villages whole and killing more than 9,000. Already impoverished countries were desperate for reconstruction aid--and it came, but with strings attached. In the two months after Mitch struck, with the country still knee-deep in rubble, corpses and mud, the Honduran congress initiated what the Financial Times called "speed sell-offs after the storm." It passed laws allowing the privatization of airports, seaports and highways and fast-tracked plans to privatize the state telephone company, the national electric company and parts of the water sector. It overturned land-reform laws and made it easier for foreigners to buy and sell property. It was much the same in neighboring countries: In the same two months, Guatemala announced plans to sell off its phone system, and Nicaragua did likewise, along with its electric company and its petroleum sector.

All of the privatization plans were pushed aggressively by the usual suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had thrown their weight behind the [telecom] sale, making it a condition for release of roughly $47 million in aid annually over three years and linking it to about $4.4 billion in foreign-debt relief for Nicaragua."

Now the bank is using the December 26 tsunami to push through its cookie-cutter policies. The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank's emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities--more than 80 percent of the wave's victims--the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms. As for the damaged public infrastructure, like roads and schools, bank documents recognize that rebuilding them "may strain public finances" and suggest that governments consider privatization (yes, they have only one idea). "For certain investments," notes the bank's tsunami-response plan, "it may be appropriate to utilize private financing."

As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was--dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money.

In January Condoleezza Rice sparked a small controversy by describing the tsunami as "a wonderful opportunity" that "has paid great dividends for us." Many were horrified at the idea of treating a massive human tragedy as a chance to seek advantage. But, if anything, Rice was understating the case. A group calling itself Thailand Tsunami Survivors and Supporters says that for "businessmen-politicians, the tsunami was the answer to their prayers, since it literally wiped these coastal areas clean of the communities which had previously stood in the way of their plans for resorts, hotels, casinos and shrimp farms. To them, all these coastal areas are now open land!"

Disaster, it seems, is the new terra nullius.

This is a mess of our own making

This is a mess of our own making

Tim Collins told his troops this was a war of liberation, not conquest. Now he says that he was naive to believe it

Sunday September 18, 2005
The Observer

When I led my men of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment across the border into Iraq we believed we were going to do some good. Goodwill and optimism abounded; it was to be a liberation, I had told my men, not a conquest.

In Iraq I sought to surround myself with advisers - Iraqis - who could help me understand what needed to be done. One of the first things they taught me was that the Baath party had been a fact of life for 35 years. Like the Nazi party, they said, it needed to be decapitated, harnessed and dismantled, each function replaced with the new regime. Many of these advisers were Baathists, yet were eager to co-operate, fired with the enthusiasm of the liberation. How must it look to them now?

What I had not realised was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organise the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

The consequences of this adventure may run even deeper. Hurricane Katrina has caused a reappraisal of the motives and aims of this war in the US. The storm came perhaps in the nick of time as hawks in Washington were glancing towards Iran and its newly found self-confidence in global affairs. Meanwhile, China and India are growing and sucking up every drop of oil, every scrap of concrete or steel even as the old-world powers of the UK and US pour blood and treasure into overseas campaigns which seem to have no ending and no goal.

It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.

· Colonel Tim Collins gave a celebrated speech to his troops about their mission to liberate, not conquer, in Iraq. He has since left the army.,6903,1572914,00.html

Jim Kunstler - Another Country

Another Country

September 19, 2005
Take a good look at America around you now, because when we emerge from the winter of 2005 - 6, we're going to be another country. The reality-oblivious nation of mall hounds, bargain shoppers, happy motorists, Nascar fans, Red State war hawks, and born-again Krispy Kremers is headed into a werewolf-like transformation that will reveal to all the tragic monster we have become.

What we will leave behind is the certainty that we have made the right choices. Was it a good thing to buy a 3,600 square foot house 32 miles outside Minneapolis with an interest-only adjustable rate mortgage -- with natural gas for home heating running at $12 a unit and gasoline over $3 a gallon? Was it the right choice to run three credit cards up to their $5000 limit? Was I chump to think my pension from Acme Airlines would really be there for me? Do I really owe the Middletown Hospital $17,678 for a gall bladder operation that took forty-five minutes? And why did they charge me $238 for a plastic catheter?

All kinds of assumptions about the okay-ness of our recent collective behavior are headed out the window. This naturally beats a straight path to politics, since that is the theater in which our collective choices are dramatized. It really won't take another jolting event like a major hurricane or a terror incident or an H4N5 flu outbreak to take things over the edge -- though it is very likely that something else will happen. George W. Bush, and the party he represents, are headed into full Hooverization mode. After Katrina, nobody will take claims of governmental competence seriously.

The new assumption will be that when shit happens you are on your own. In this remarkable three weeks since New Orleans was shredded, no Democrat has stepped into the vacuum of leadership, either, with a different vision of what we might do now, and who we might become. This is the kind of medium that political maniacs spawn in. Something is out there right now, feeding on the astonishment and grievance of a whipsawed middle class, and it will have a lot more nourishment in the months ahead.

There are two things that the newspapers and TV Cable News outfits are not covering very well. One is that the Port of New Orleans is not functioning, with poor prospects for a quick recovery, and with it will go much of the Midwestern grain harvest. Another thing that has fallen off the radar screen is the damage done to the oil and gas infrastructure around the Gulf Coast, especially the onshore facilities for storing and transporting stuff, and for marshaling the crews and equipment to fix stuff. The US is going to run short of its customary supplies for a long time. The idea that these things will not affect an economy of ceaseless mobility is not realistic.

These serious problems on-the-ground are going to affect the more ephemeral elements floating around in the financial ether: the value of the dollar, the hazard in hedge funds, the credibility of institutions. By October, the hurricane season will be ending and the stock market crash season will be underway. It is hard to imagine that companies like WalMart really believe they will keep their profits up when their customers are paying twice as much as they did a year ago to heat their houses and fill their gas tanks.

Meanwhile, does anybody remember a place called Iraq? A bomb that killed thirty people was reported on page 12 of the Sunday New York Times. That's how important Iraq has become. But, I guess, a nation can hardly pay attention to a bullet in the foot when it has a sucking chest wound.

James Kroeger - The Republican Nemesis

The Republican Nemesis

by James Kroeger

When historians look back on the current era in American politics it will likely stand out as the period when Republican cunning & marketing savvy completely dominated the political landscape. Obliging Democrats have thrown themselves into the fray with enthusiasm, armed with idealistic visions of civil “discourse”, only to be humbled repeatedly by their political masters. Republican strategists have been able to blend their astute grasp of marketing principles & human nature & social psychology into a formula that delivers almost guaranteed success at the polls. While Democrats knock themselves out every election cycle trying to talk to Swing Voters about The Issues, Republicans have calmly focused their attention on winning THE Image Campaign. Quite simply: Democrats lose because they don’t understand what moves their target audience.

The Issues might actually be important to many Swing Voters early on in a political campaign, but when both sides start to pick apart each other’s facts & interpretations, the typical Swing Voter quickly becomes confused. As the debate over The Issues drags on, Swing Voters realize that they don’t understand the details well enough to make an informed decision, so they end up relying on their impressions of the candidates. Republican strategists see this clearly. That is why they continuously try to create doubts in the minds of the Swing Voters about the character of the Democratic candidate. They know that it doesn’t really matter if they can’t find any real flaws in their Democratic opponents. Accusations, insinuations, & innuendo will work just fine. They hope to encourage voters to question the motivation and dependability of The Democrats. They try to create the perception that Democrats are “defective” in a disturbing way. By accusing, the Republicans suggest to Swing Voters that they are not [defective like the Democrats]. What was the non-existent “defect” in John Kerry’s character that Republicans alerted Swing Voters to this year? They claimed that he was an indecisive and shallow “flip-flopper.”

Republican strategists know they would rarely win if election results were always determined by a logical discussion of The Issues and nothing more (they know that most voters would benefit more from Democratic economic policies than from Republican policies). They know they must win the Image Campaign to have any chance of winning. That is why they are committed, now and forever, to negative campaigning. Republicans have never forgotten a key stratagem they perfected during the Reagan Era: DEMONIZING YOUR OPPONENTS WORKS. It works because Swing Voters are essentially “headline readers” & “sound byte nibblers.” When they see in the headlines that Candidate A accused Candidate B of having a certain personality defect, they tend to believe it. (Unless it is effectively answered.)

The most important reason why negative campaigning has worked so well for the Republicans is because their negative attacks on the Democrats create a positive impression of Republican candidates, who appear—in contrast—to be individuals who do not possess the defects that they have accused others of having. They define themselves [positively] by defining their Democratic opponents [negatively]. On a visceral level, what the Republicans actually “stand for” in the minds of Swing Voters on election day is that they are not Democrats—those defective people who seem to have been born to ruin everything. It’s simple, really. By bashing Democrats, Republicans present themselves as the desirable alternative. Negative character attacks also provide the Republicans with one more benefit. They know that the media will give priority coverage to their personal attacks, distracting attention away from any of the “substance” blather that Democrats always like to talk about.

In order for Democrats to win back the Swing Voters they've lost to the Republicans through these tactics, they are going to have to "define back." That doesn't mean that we need to simply bash the Republicans at every opportunity; that's something we already do. But for all of our arguing and complaining about the Republicans, we still tend to subordinate it to the ideals of "civil discourse." Unfortunately, that instinct is not enough to guide us; not when the other side has become a master of The Image Campaign. What Democrats need to do now is create an image of The Republican Politician that is threatening to Swing Voters, one that they will not ultimately want to identify with. That kind of campaign strategy takes some sophistication of thought.

The Emotional Element

What is it that the Republicans do that enables them to manipulate the images of Republican vs. Democrats in the minds of Swing Voters? George Lakoff says that the Republicans are especially talented at choosing words & associations that work for them. True as that may be, it becomes apparent with a little more reflection that it’s not really the words or value-associations that matter so much; it’s the emotions that are expressed when words are used. How is it, after all, that the word liberal acquired the negative connotation that it has today? The Republicans created that negative connotation by repeatedly expressing scorn and derision whenever they used the word to describe their Democratic opponents. They expressed disgust for anyone who would be foolish enough to be such a person. (Whenever politicians express strongly felt emotions, Swing Voters tend to grant them a greater measure of authenticity. After all, why else would they be so upset?) Think also of the times when Republicans laugh at Democrats. They don’t just laugh in a way that shows they have a good sense of humor; they laugh in a way that communicates their contempt for Democrats.

So it’s not the words we use, Democrats; it’s the emotions we show when we use particular words. Consider the phony outrage that Lynne & Dick Cheney expressed after the third debate. At a time when it was crucial for Kerry to continue to build momentum after a solid debate performance, his advisors ended up losing the post-debate spin. They lost it because they didn’t understand how crucial Kerry’s response would be and they didn’t understand how a candidate absolutely must respond to an Angry Outrage Performance if she wants to win. The big story that Swing Voters saw on TV the next day (those who didn’t watch the debate) was that the Cheneys were really angry that Kerry had called their daughter a lesbian on national TV. What turned this into a home run for the Republicans was Kerry’s unfortunate response; a written statement that sounded a lot like an apology. The overall impression this gave to Swing Voters was that Kerry had apparently done some “dirty politicking.” Then, after the Cheneys apparently called him on it, he offered [what sounded like] a weak apology and then tried to change the subject.

Whenever Democratic candidates are the target of a Republican politician’s expressed anger, it is crucial that they respond properly if they want to win The Image Campaign. Impressions formed during such confrontations are usually remembered on voting day. John Kerry should have responded emotionally by calling for a televised press conference, and then using the spotlight to laugh at the Cheneys’ phony display of anger. Laughter is the appropriate emotion for a candidate to feel and express when he is guilty of no wrongdoing whatsoever. After laughing at the Cheneys, Kerry would then have been able to focus the media’s attention on the real story, which was/is the clever manipulations and deceptions that the Republicans always use to mislead voters. Anyone remember what Karen Hughes did to Al Gore in 2000 with the same kind of expressions of emotion (outrage, indignation)?

With this kind of response, Kerry would have told Swing Voters how they should respond to the reports they’re hearing. (Human Nature 101: people depend on you to tell them how to perceive you.) Generating a ‘rapid response’ doesn’t mean much if your response doesn’t communicate a message that will help your campaign. Additionally, holding a press conference would have given Kerry an opportunity to enjoy the humor of the situation with the members of the media who were present (it encourages the media to have a favorable impression of you as a candidate). In his initial remarks to the press, he would have wanted to smile broadly, shake his head, and express mild but sincere amusement at the Cheneys’ performance. Then, he would have wanted to review with good-humored stabs of ridicule the many times that the Cheneys had, themselves, mentioned their daughter’s lesbianism to the public.

After dismissing the phony outrage in this way, he should then have seized the opportunity to get on a soapbox and explain how this incident illustrates the great threat that The Cunning Republicans represent to the average American. In a more serious tone, he could have taken the time to explain what the Cheneys were doing and why they were doing it (& how it was a classic example of the conniving sort-of-thing that the Republicans always do to win elections). He could have turned the whole episode into a complete disaster for the Republicans by focusing attention—with first hand evidence—on the characteristic duplicity of Republican politicians. Swing Voters would have perceived that John Kerry appeared to be innocent of wrongdoing because he showed no fear in the face of the Cheneys’ anger. They are then finally left with the image of Kerry earnestly warning them of a grave danger that they face. Kerry & The Democrats would have once again been presented to Swing Voters as their protectors & defenders from something that seriously threatens them. Kerry’s advisors should have recognized that the overreaching Cheneys had actually given them a tremendous opportunity to further define the Republicans in the eyes of the Swing Voters as manipulative shysters whom they should fear.

There are other Image Campaign lessons to be learned from the 2004 election. Consider the “image bytes” that swing voters saw when they watched nightly news reports on the President’s campaign. There was George Bush doing his standup comic routine, making jokes and laughing at Kerry & The Democrats, regaling his adoring fans. This staging was intentional, meant to reinforce particular group images of The Democrats (pathetic) vs. The Republicans (good). On a subtle but important level, the Republicans are asking Swing Voters which group they’d rather be associated with. When people instinctively recognize that they have a choice of group affiliation, certain kinds of visuals begin to have an impact on them. If they notice that one group is laughing at another group, their initial instinct is to disassociate themselves from the group that is being ridiculed. The same kind of thing happens in politics.

Whenever Bush’s hand-picked crowd applauded his ridicule of Kerry, it created an image of The Democrats in the minds of swing voters that was never effectively answered by the Kerry Campaign (or by the Gore Campaign or by the Dukakis Campaign…). In his own image-bytes, Kerry came across as something of a stern teacher. This was actually not that bad of an idea, but it lacked some important emotional elements that would have established Kerry & The Democrats as the group that is superior to the Republican gang, the one that Swing Voters should want to be associated with. Kerry could have presented himself as the wise teacher who has been forced to make fun of the smart-mouthed kid in front of the whole class because he proposed a truly foolish idea that, while superficially appealing, would have ended up hurting everyone in the long run.

Respect and Fear

Like it or not, the only way Democrats can win against the modern Republican Party is by defining them as a group that is [morally] defective and threatening. (When the Bad Guys do this, we can accurately describe it as "demonizing" your opponent.) Swing Voters will vote for the Democrat if they end up with an image of The Republican Politician that they find threatening. Unlike the Republicans, we Democrats do not need to fabricate any Republican character flaws out of thin air in order to "define" them effectively. We simply need to point out the truth. Our goal should be to define The Republican Politician as a shrewd, cunning, deceiving, manipulative, mean-spirited, Con-Artist who willfully and gleefully assassinates the character of any innocent victim who stands in his way. We need to describe them in this way with palpable emotion. In terms of basic, overall strategy, Democrats need to constantly remind themselves that IT’S NOT THE ECONOMY, STUPID! IT’S THE IMAGE CAMPAIGN!

Any time a Democratic candidate speaks out on an issue like the economy, or the environment, or foreign policy, final comments should be made that refer to the Republican politician as a scheming manipulator, a threatening deceiver. We must make our logical points on the issues, but then we must always bring it back to the image of The Republicans that we are trying to establish, the scary image that reflects the truth of who they are. From this perspective, we can see that Democrats have been showing far too much respect for Republican politicians. If Democratic nominees always show respect for their Republican opponents, on some intuitive level voters will wonder why. “Well, if they really believe that Republican ideas & actions are worthy of respect, then why are the Democrats even running against them? Could it be that Democrats are actually not very authentic people?”

Swing Voters who have been voting Republican recently have come to see the Republicans as deserving respect partly because of the respect that Democratic politicians have shown them. Of course, if you are meeting your opponent face-to-face at a debate, you will want to be courteous to show that you were “brought up right.” But as soon as you find yourself addressing others again, you need to make it very clear—in moderate but detectable ways—that you do not respect your opponent because you do not respect her agenda or her methods. Yes, show graciousness but feel condescension. Be sure that you intently communicate your fear of the damage that these people can do to America.

In other words, Democratic nominees need to learn how to be openly “two-faced.” It is a tactic that has worked well for the Republicans, one that we need to master, as well. It is important that we model the disrespect that Swing Voters should be showing & feeling for Republican politicians. Be superficially polite, but make sure that your fundamental lack of respect shows through. Show your disrespect more conspicuously whenever you have an opportunity to address The Audience directly. Yes, it’s true that Swing Voters are likely to be turned off by a continuous exchange of angry charges and countercharges between the two parties, but the only other alternative for Democrats is to allow the Republicans to constantly savage them with impunity.

Democrats need to understand the importance of showing Swing Voters that they fear Republican rule. The more apparent it is to Swing Voters that a lot of Americans are truly scared of George Bush & The Republicans, the more they’re going to wonder if maybe they should also be afraid of him. (Typically, we first learn to fear things that we didn’t fear previously after seeing fear in the faces of others.) Some Democrats might think it would be better for us to emphasize our anger, but we need to be aware of the ways that this can backfire. We do not want to be characterized as “Angry People” who are always angry [in a threatening sort of way]. Voters need to see that behind our anger is a real fear for the well-being of the American People and for America’s reputation around the world. We should never be reluctant to show our fear of Bush, but we need to make it clear in our tone that our fear is appropriate and that our anger is controlled & justified.

Think of the many times when Republicans have accused Democrats of “hating America” or of “hating George Bush.” They make this charge to invoke an image of people who are imagined to be inherently angry and who are therefore a threat to 'us normal people.' Now think of how that image changes if—when we are accused of hating—we point out that people only hate that which they fear. Whenever we are accused of hating the Republicans, we need to keep repeating to the media that no, it is fear that we feel. It’s our best defense. We want the Swing Voters to see us as people who fear the Republicans, but we also want them to see that we are also brave enough to take on the threat. Like the sergeant said to the private in the foxhole, “Everyone’s afraid, son. But we can’t let that fear stop us. We still have a mission to carry out.” We are afraid and angry. We just know that we must oppose evil when we see it. Verbalize fear. Show courage.

In the final weeks of the 2004 campaign, many Democrats complained that the Republicans were using fear tactics to win the election. It was kind of an odd criticism to be voicing, given that political campaigns have always been a contest between competing sets of fears throughout history. Even when we are motivated by hope, the key emotion that inspires us to act with a sense of urgency is our fear of losing an opportunity [to achieve a hoped-for goal]. Yes, fear & hope are never that far away from each other. The good thing about hope is that it represses the fear. Indeed, people are ideally motivated when their primary fear is the fear of lost opportunity. Fear is the one emotion that is strong enough to motivate people to go out and vote who have never voted before. (If your big thing is getting out the vote, keep this in mind.) The ultimate truth of political competition is that Swing Voters always choose a particular candidate or party because they fear the consequences of having the other candidate/party in office, the one they didn’t vote for.

The problem with fear is not that politicians use to inspire voters; the problem is that some politicians create fears that are irrational or unjustified or exaggerated. When such fears are used to intentionally mislead citizens into voting against their own best interests, then the use of fear is unethical. In contrast, if the fear that politicians inspire is legitimate—and their intention is to alert voters to a danger that they can protect themselves from—then the use of fear is virtuous. What Democrats need to understand clearly is that Swing Voters can be persuaded to fear either party. Right now, too many of them fear The Democrats more than they fear The Republicans. They will return to their identification with the Democratic Party only after they have been persuaded that it is The Republicans whom they ought to fear, not the Democrats. It is the Republicans who are not like them, who are simply looking for yet another opportunity to play them for fools.

James J. Kroeger

More trenchant political analysis by James Kroeger:





a tax policy prescription for Democrats...