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)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Robert Scheer - When Connected Becomes Corrupted

When Connected Becomes Corrupted
By Robert Scheer, AlterNet
Posted on September 27, 2005, Printed on September 27, 2005

Crony capitalism is the name of the Republican game. Their slogan is "take care of your friends and leave the risks of the free market for the suckers." That would be John Q. Public.

From Halliburton's overcharging in Iraq to Enron's manipulation of the California energy crisis and now the emerging hurricane reconstruction boondoggle, we witness what happens when the federal government is turned into a glorified help desk and ATM machine for politically connected corporations.

But the defining case study on the deep corruption of the Bush administration and the GOP is emerging from the myriad investigations of well-connected Republican fundraiser and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. For starters, Abramoff, a $100,000-plus fundraiser for George W. Bush's presidential campaigns, is under federal indictment on wire fraud and conspiracy charges. He is also under congressional and FBI investigations.

In the last fortnight alone, the spreading stain of Abramoff's legacy is seen in the possible undoing of Bush's nominee to the nation's No. 2 law enforcement position, the resignation and arrest of the Office of Management and Budget's former procurement chief and another blow to the already tawdry reputation of top Bush political advisor Karl Rove.

It was reported last week that Timothy Flanigan, Tyco International Ltd. general counsel and Bush's nominee for deputy attorney general, stated that Abramoff's lobbying firm had boasted that his access to the highest levels of Congress could help Tyco fight tax liability legislation and that Abramoff later said he "had contact with Mr. Karl Rove" about the issue.

Flanigan's statement was in response to scathing criticism from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which is considering his nomination -- that he had not been sufficiently responsive in his testimony. Records and interviews show that Flanigan supervised Abramoff's successful efforts two years ago to lobby Congress to kill the legislation, which would have penalized companies such as Bermuda-based Tyco that avoid taxes by moving offshore. Abramoff's firm was paid $1.7 million by Tyco in 2003 and 2004.

In his statement, Flanigan said Abramoff also boasted of his ties to Tom DeLay, the House majority leader. DeLay once described Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends" and accompanied him on several foreign junkets. DeLay denies that the Abramoff-arranged trips were political favors. DeLay continues to be tangled in myriad ethics investigations, many of them linked to his relationship with Abramoff.

Another episode in the rapidly evolving Abramoff scandal involves David Safavian, one of the Bush administration's top federal procurement officials. He resigned shortly before being arrested last week for allegedly lying to officials and obstructing a Justice Department investigation in connection with his relationship with Abramoff. Safavian received a golf trip to Scotland with the lobbyist, allegedly as a quid pro quo for helping Abramoff in his efforts to buy federal properties. Safavian and Abramoff once worked together at a powerful Washington lobbying firm.

Before Safavian resigned, he reportedly was working on contracting policies for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Don't expect the GOP Congress to look askance at this. Safavian's wife is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees procurement matters, although she's said she'll recuse herself.

The hurricane season is proving to be a windfall for GOP-connected companies such as Halliburton, which are being rewarded with lucrative contracts despite their shoddy performance in Iraq. In the vocabulary of crony capitalism, the word "shame" does not exist.

The players may change, given the occasional criminal indictment, but the game goes on. On the day of Safavian's arrest, former Tyco Chief Executive L. Dennis Kozlowski was sentenced to eight to 25 years in prison for bilking millions from the company, which we are now expected to believe has been reborn virtuous.

Tyco's current lobbyist, Edward P. Ayoob, who once worked with Abramoff at a Washington law firm, is lobbying for another cause these days: Flanigan's confirmation as the nation's second-highest law enforcement officer. Ayoob insisted last week that he is acting on his own and not on behalf of Tyco. And, oh yes, Flanigan promises that, if confirmed, he will recuse himself from any Abramoff investigation involving Tyco. Sure.

Robert Scheer is the co-author of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.

© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Joe Conason - Bush White House a haven for hacks

Bush White House a haven for hacks

Joe Conason - The New York Observer

09.26.05 - Back when Republicans still behaved like Republicans and conservatives actually believed in conservatism, those worthies aspired to bring us what they considered to be "good government." Among other things, that meant appointing officials qualified to execute their positions, maintaining fiscal responsibility and insisting on public integrity. The reality frequently failed to fulfill those aspirations, of course, but at least they tried.

Now we live under a distorted facsimile of Republican conservatism with an attitude toward government that seems cynical and fundamentally nihilistic. This approach was summed up years ago by the right-wing commander and White House advisor Grover Norquist, when he explained his movement's long-term objective: "My goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Before drowning it, however, he and his comrades will pick its pockets.

Led by George W. Bush, today's conservatives have elevated political patronage from a universal and tolerable peccadillo to a public menace. So intent are they on providing lucrative, comfortable federal jobs to the members of their own gang that they have come to resemble the old clubhouse Democrats of Tammany Hall. (The difference is that Tammany, for all its corruption, provided employment and benefits to the poor, while the Bush White House reserves its patronage for the well-fed and well-heeled.) The result is incompetence slicked over with arrogance and inexperience guided by ideology.

Sharing the outlook of Mr. Norquist, the President has scarcely tried to find capable managers for the federal bureaucracy. He shares the radical right-wing objective of dismantling government institutions rather than managing them properly and effectively. At every level, he appoints loyal hacks who possess no relevant qualifications, so long as they share his anti-government ideology.

This is like putting the termites in charge of repairing the house.

The latest example is David Safavian, who suddenly resigned last week as the top procurement official at the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Sept. 19, he was arrested by F.B.I. agents for lying about his involvement with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whom he helped to obtain control over federal properties in the District of Columbia and Maryland. He is a former lobbyist whose partners in the private sector have included both Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Norquist.

No doubt the indicted Mr. Safavian is, like his friends, a true believer in drowning government. He had little or no administrative experience, but he had the right friends and the right-wing ideology. And like Tammany's immortal George Washington Plunkitt, he saw his opportunities and took 'em.

Where such wanton patronage becomes terribly perilous, as we have recently learned, is in making appointments to agencies that are supposed to protect the nation. Everyone knows about the strange rise and fall of Michael D. (Brownie) Brown at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But what of Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security, who may well be as much to blame as Mr. Brown for the fumbled federal response to Hurricane Katrina?

Reporting by Knight-Ridder News Service shows that Mr. Chertoff froze when he ought to have mobilized government during the crucial hours leading up to the disaster. Among the reasons for his failure is that he, too, lacked qualifications for his job. He is a highly capable lawyer, which may have caused him to dither over legalistic questions of state and federal authority, but he has few credentials to run an enormous and critically important bureaucracy. From the perspective of the Bush White House, the outstanding item on Mr. Chertoff's résumé is his partisan hatchet work on the Senate Whitewater Committee.

The Homeland Security chief certainly isn't the only member of the Whitewater alumni club to find gainful employment under Mr. Bush. From James Rogan, the former impeachment manager appointed to run the Patent Office after losing his House seat, to Brett Kavanaugh, the former associate independent counsel who serves as staff secretary to the President, many who joined the G.O.P. jihad against the Clintons have since suckled on the federal teat.

Only days ago, the President named Julie Myers, a 36-year-old Republican attorney, to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency within Homeland Security. She used to be Mr. Chertoff's chief of staff, and she also used to work for Kenneth Starr, but she has no discernible background that would enable her to oversee a law-enforcement agency with 20,000 employees and a $4 billion budget.

"I will seek to work with those who are more knowledgeable in this area, who know more than I do," she said when asked how she expected to do her new job if confirmed by the Senate. Surely she meant to sound reassuring—but in an age of terror, why wouldn't the President appoint someone "more knowledgeable" and more experienced to oversee our borders and ports?



Cronies at the Till

The New York Times Editorial

Tuesday 27 September 2005

The first results are in on who is set to profit from the Katrina cleanup, and - surprise - many of the firms winning major contracts have big political connections. Congressional investigators are already looking into AshBritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company with ties to Mississippi's governor, Haley Barbour - the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. AshBritt has nabbed $568 million in contracts for trash removal. Questions have also been raised about the political connections of two other major contractors: the Shaw Group, and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Both companies have been represented by Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency - although Mr. Allbaugh says he does not help any of his clients obtain federal contracts.

And there's more. An article in yesterday's Times by Eric Lipton and Ron Nixon reports that more than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by FEMA for Katrina work were awarded without bidding or with limited competition. The Times article even finds a federal employee - Richard Skinner, the inspector general for the Homeland Security Department - willing to go on the record with his concern, saying, "We are very apprehensive about what we are seeing."

So are we. The government is spending more than a quarter of a billion dollars every day on rescue, relief and reconstruction along the Gulf Coast. Anyone who pays taxes in America should be concerned about how the money is being spent and who is profiting. We think that when Congress appropriates money for disaster relief, the advantage should be maximized for the victims, not for the same cast of characters that have been profiting from no-bid contracts in Iraq. Kellogg, Brown & Root, Americans may recall, is the company that came up with those $100-per-bag laundry bills for work in Iraq.

All of this comes back to cronyism. The resignation of the FEMA chief, Michael Brown, was only one of the recent departures. The head of federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget resigned just before he was arrested on charges of lying to federal investigators, and the Pentagon's former inspector general has left for the private sector but remains the target of a Congressional inquiry.

Last week, the Homeland Security Department appointed the National Weather Service's chief financial officer, Matthew Jadacki, to head a new Office for Hurricane Katrina Oversight. That's a step in the right direction. The office itself is a good idea, and Mr. Jadacki's experience is a welcome contrast with that of many of the inexperienced political appointees who have been exposed by this crisis. But the administration will have to go a lot further if it wants any chance of regaining the American people's trust, which it has so squandered. The true test of the new oversight office will be in its financing and staffing. America doesn't need a public relations stunt; it needs a functioning means of curbing abuse.

A promising legislative initiative comes from Senators Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, and Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois. They have called for a chief financial officer to review expenditures before the money is spent, rather than more inspectors general to audit records after the fact. That strikes us as a fine idea.

Abramoff is no lobbyist, and this is no administration

Abramoff is no lobbyist, and this is no administration
by Kagro X
Tue Sep 27th, 2005 at 10:14:55 PDT

Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo yesterday examined the burgeoning Abramoff scandal from a refreshingly wide angle:

On paper, Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist. And he made a great deal of money for himself. But if you think of Jack Abramoff as just a crooked lobbyist most of the facts coming out about what he did don't make a great deal of sense. He was a key player in a very big political machine and he was managing a slush fund.

Look at the pattern.

Notice how all Abramoff's clients seemed to get 'bilked' out of large sums of money that ended up going to other conservative foundations, consulting firms, Ralph Reed, lobby shops, Grover Norquist, astroturf organizers, politicians, etc.? All of them part of Washington's Republican infrastructure?

It's a sentiment echoed by our own Daily Kos diarist dengre, who summed it up thus: " Jack is a 25-year GOP bag man."

It's time to stop feeding the convenient fiction that Abramoff is a "lobbyist," and that he works with an "administration."

This is a very astute observation they make. Josh and dengre do us all a big favor by shifting our perspective on the goings-on, and prompting us to think of Abramoff as something other than a lobbyist who happens to have gotten himself in trouble. In fact, what he does is just the polite name for influence peddling. And no, that's not actually what most lobbyists do. Or at least, it wasn't, until the advent of the "K Street Project."
But it's more than just that. Jack hooks his clients up with what amounts to a GOP protection racket. As in, "Nice business you got there. Be a shame if something tragic -- something regulatory -- happened to it." And then, as Josh notes, the spoils are divided among the players in the movement right's seamy underbelly. "Lobbying" work is performed by dealers either too shady (see Grassroots Interactive -- who just had two employees abscond for Israel, a la Myer Lansky!) or too concerned with their false image of piety (see the use of the Christian Coalition to run interference on behalf of Indian gaming outfits) to be contacted directly. And, of course, Abramoff takes a cut of the fee. In fact, perhaps more than just a cut, since Grassroots Interactive, for instance, is "controlled" by Abramoff.

But the self-financing aspect of the bagman operation doesn't end there. We also find out more each day about Abramoff's vertical integration scheme, involving the "rental" of his luxury skyboxes at the DC area's premier sports arenas to clients seeking to curry favor with legislators, for whom they hold fundraisers in the rented space, and the use of the floating tab at his now-infamous Signatures restaurant.

Abramoff gets you coming and going. Look carefully at that wikipedia link above, referencing the use of the Christian Coalition -- the charges there go further than I was aware of. The accusation there is, "The lobbyists are accused of orchestrating lobbying against their own clients in order to force them to pay for lobbying services." Let's say that again: lobbying against their own clients in order to force them to pay for lobbying services! On what planet is that not a straight mob-style shakedown? Who wouldn't call that a protection racket?

Then, of course, once you find you need a lobbyist, you hire Abramoff, because he says he has the connections to make your problem go away. And of course, in the case of the Indian casinos, he does! Because he's creating the problem! So he signs you up for a "grassroots" lobbying campaign, and "outsources" the work -- only he's outsourcing it to himself, and charging you a marked-up "brokerage fee," plus collecting the fee for "services" on the other end! And when it comes time to schmooze the legislators, he has you "rent" his luxury skybox to host a fundraiser for select Congressmen, but "forgets" to pass the bill on to the beneficiary of the event, as required by law. Cool by Jack, though, because now the Congressman owes him a favor -- both for the checks collected and for the freebie on the skybox -- and he still gets paid for the venue rental by the client! Perfect!

So, kudos to Josh and dengre, for helping us to break out of the absurd frame in which Abramoff can give himself the sheen of being a real, but sorely misunderstood and persecuted "lobbyist."

Today, of course, we learn that Abramoff had the juice to get a federal prosecutor demoted once he caught onto his racketeering activities. Protection rackets, self-dealing, profit skimming, obstruction of justice, associates fleeing the country to avoid prosecution -- where's the daylight between this activity and mobsterism?

And of course, the Bush team is complicit in the racket -- slowing investigations, sucking up the slush funds, and generally looking the other way for "a friend of ours." The same frame-shattering that helps us see the fiction of Abramoff as "lobbyist" can help us see through the fiction of the Bush "administration." Ask yourself: Are you still sure the Bush team has as its first priority the actual administration of the United States federal government? I'm not so sure.

Update: What else is Abramoff mixed up in?

Arrests Made in Case Connected to Abramoff
Three Men Allegedly Killed 'Gus' Boulis, Who Sold A Casino Cruise Line to the Embattled Washington Lobbyist

By James V. Grimaldi and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 27, 2005; 4:45 PM

Fort Lauderdale police have arrested three men on murder and conspiracy charges in the 2001 gangland-style killing of a South Florida businessman who sold a casino cruise line to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, authorities said today.

Police picked up Anthony Moscatiello, 67, Anthony Ferrari, 48, and James Fiorillo, 28, last night and this morning in connection with the ambush slaying of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, who was killed in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 6, 2001.

Boulis had sold SunCruz Casinos to Abramoff and a partner, Adam Kidan, in 2000 at a time when Abramoff was one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists. Abramoff and Kidan were indicted last month on charges of wire fraud in connection with the purchase of the company. Moscatiello, known to police as a bookkeeper to New York's Gambino crime family, was brought in as consultant by Kidan when he and Abramoff took control of SunCruz. Ferrari is a business associate of Moscatiello.

Abramoff is at the center of a federal investigation into lobbying for Indian tribes and influence-peddling in Washington. Abramoff used contacts with Republican Reps. Tom DeLay (Tex.) and Robert W. Ney (Ohio) and members of their staffs as he worked to land the SunCruz deal, interviews and court records show.

Ney twice placed comments in the Congressional Record at key points while Abramoff and Kidan were wrangling with Boulis over the purchase and control of the company. Ney first sharply criticized Boulis and later praised the new ownership under Kidan. Ney later said he was duped into making the comments by an Abramoff aide.

Also during the negotiations, Abramoff brought a lender he was trying to impress to hobnob with DeLay in Abramoff's FedEx Field skybox at a Redskins-Cowboys game. DeLay has said he did not remember meeting the lender.

Fort Lauderdale homicide detectives say they have been interested in interviewing Abramoff for years, but he has repeatedly begged off, citing scheduling difficulties. Abramoff's lawyer, Neal Sonnett, said after the fraud indictment that his client knows nothing about the murder but would be willing to meet with police. Kidan, who was interviewed by police in 2001, also has denied any knowledge of the murder.

Police have long said they knew who killed Boulis but needed more evidence to bring a case. Late last week, police persuaded the Broward County State Attorney's Office that they had enough evidence to get a grand jury indictment. The indictment of the three men was handed up Thursday and remains under seal.

Moscatiello was arrested at 8 p.m. yesterday in his Howard Beach home in Queens, N.Y. Ferrari was arrested at 11:15 p.m. in Miami. Both were being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. Fiorillo, who was arrested this morning in Palm Coast, Fla., was charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy.

Michael D. Becker, an attorney in Miami who has represented the men in other matters, said he has not had a chance to speak to any of them yet. "The arrest certainly came out of the blue," he said today.

Five years ago, Abramoff, Kidan and former Reagan administration official Ben Waldman of Springfield, purchased SunCruz from Boulis, 51, the millionaire founder of the popular Miami Subs sandwich shop chain. Abramoff and Kidan have been friends since their days together as College Republicans in Washington. Kidan, of New York City, owned the Dial-a-Mattress chain in the District until the franchise went into bankruptcy in the 1990s.

On Aug. 11, Abramoff and Kidan were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale on five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy relating to their $147.5 million SunCruz purchase. Prosecutors alleged that Abramoff and Kidan faked a wire transfer of $23 million -- the down payment they had agreed to put into the deal for the fleet of Florida-based day-cruise casino boats.

Boulis remained a minority partner in SunCruz after the deal, but the relationship soured quickly.

In October 2000, in the midst of the infighting with Boulis, Kidan turned to a friend of 15 years, Moscatiello, who began visiting Kidan's condominium and golfing with Kidan and Waldman. Moscatiello in 1983 was indicted on federal heroin-trafficking charges along with Gene Gotti, brother of John Gotti, then the head of the Gambino crime family. Gene Gotti and several others were convicted and sentenced to prison, but charges against Moscatiello were later dropped.

Kidan met Moscatiello in 1990 when he was running New York City's Best Bagels in the Hamptons and Moscatiello was running a catering hall. Moscatiello provided Kidan advice on running the business. Kidan said in a deposition he was unaware of Moscatiello's 1983 indictment or his affiliations with the Gambino family.

In December 2000, the trouble with Boulis boiled over in a fistfight between Kidan and Boulis. Kidan described the fight to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, telling the newspaper that Boulis said, "I'm not going to sue you, I'm going to kill you." Kidan said that SunCruz thereafter barred Boulis from its casino ships. "We fired his friends, we fired his family and he wasn't happy with it," Kidan said. "This guy is violent -- he's sleazy."

That month SunCruz made the first of $145,000 in payments to Moscatiello and his daughter. Three checks for $10,000 each were made to his daughter, Jennifer Moscatiello. A fourth check for $115,000 was made to Gran-Sons, a company the Moscatiellos ran. The payments were for catering, consulting and "site inspections," Kidan said in a civil court deposition in 2001.

There is no evidence that any food or drink were provided or that any consulting documents were prepared, according to court documents. The checks to Jennifer Moscatiello were made at Anthony Moscatiello's instruction, although his daughter provided no services for the money, Kidan said in his deposition.

Ferarri is a principal in Moon Over Miami Beach Inc., which received $95,000 from SunCruz for surveillance services in early 2001.

Abramoff and Kidan were traveling on business abroad at the time of Boulis's murder.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bush's Twin Masters

Bush's Twin Masters
By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 26 September 2005

This article is based on the author's remarks at the September 24 anti-war rally in San Diego.

George W. Bush's two masters - the neoconservatives and the right-wing Christians - were the guiding force behind his decision to invade Iraq, change its regime, and control it permanently.

The neocons' blueprint for Bush's war can be found in a 1992 draft of the Pentagon Defense Planning Guidance on Post-Cold War Strategy, prepared by Paul Wolfowitz. It said, "Our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in [the Middle East and Southwest Asia to] preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil."

The US had played a pivotal role in the Middle East for 50 years. One year before the Shah was toppled, I visited Iran as an international observer on behalf of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Tehran sported a US corporation on nearly every corner, but the people were mired in poverty. In 1953, the CIA had overthrown the democratically-elected secular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, whose government had nationalized the British oil company. The US installed the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, ushering in a 25-year reign of terror.

US assistance to Israel maintains that country as an America-friendly presence in the midst of countries that are exploited by and resent the policies of both the United States and Israel. Instead of fighting terror - as Bush likes to proclaim - his war on Iraq has drawn foreign terrorists into Iraq to fight against the Western infidels.

Because of Washington's longstanding support for the Shah, Khomeini's government became a model for fundamentalist anti-US Islamic regimes. The United States was eager to counter the now anti-American Iranian government and prevent it from controlling the Persian Gulf, the largest oil source in the world.

To keep both Iran and Iraq from controlling the Gulf, the US quietly encouraged Iraq to invade Iran in 1980, with the promise of financing from Saudi Arabia. The US removed Iraq from its list of terrorist nations, and allowed the transfer of arms to Iraq, while simultaneously permitting Israel to arm Iran.

The United States supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical and biological weapons. Even after Iraq used its chemical weapons in the early 1980s, the US restored diplomatic relations with Iraq. Still playing both ends against the middle, the US itself supplied arms covertly to Iran in 1985.

Thinking the United States was still his ally, Saddam let April Glaspie, the career Foreign Service officer who headed the US mission in Iraq, know that he was about to invade Kuwait in 1991. Glaspie responded with a green light, and Saddam invaded. But the US, not wanting Iraq to dominate the western shore of the Persian Gulf, reacted by re-invading Kuwait. The United States didn't really wish to destroy Iraq; it still wanted Iraq as a counterweight to Iran. But the US underestimated Saddam's ability to maintain his position of control over the Kurds and the Shiites - both politically and through the use of terror. The survival of Saddam represented a severe limitation on American political power.

Employing the same strategy it later used in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States attacked the infrastructure of Iraq in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, which led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths from disease caused by unclean water. During Operation Desert Fox in 1998, the US bombed Iraq after Saddam refused to let UN inspectors into Iraq, on the grounds they were spying for the CIA. It turns out they were indeed CIA spies, according to the Washington Post.

By mid-2000, the United States had dropped 88,000 tons of bombs over Iraq, killing many civilians. Between 4,000 and 5,000 children per month died in Iraq as a result of prior US bombing and sanctions.

After the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration mounted a concerted campaign to prepare the American people for war on Iraq. Although unable to find any weapons of mass destruction or evidence linking Iraq to 9/11, Bush never wavered in his march toward war.

Bush's Iraq war is consistent with his new military strategy of "pre-emptive" war set forth in The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002, and the Project for the New American Century's September 2000 document.

But there was no danger to pre-empt in Iraq, which had not invaded any country for 12 years. Iraq's military, severely weakened by the Gulf War, years of sanctions and intrusive inspections, never posed a threat to the US or other countries in the region.

A quarter of a million US and UK troops launched numerous 2,000-pound bombs on Baghdad in rapid succession. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and tens of thousands have been wounded. Nearly 2,000 American soldiers have died and thousands more have been wounded.

No weapons of mass destruction have been found and the Iraq/al-Qaeda link has been discredited. Indeed, Wolfowitz admitted in Vanity Fair that the weapons of mass destruction rationale was a "bureaucratic" excuse for war, upon which "everyone" could agree. In light of the failure to find any WMDs, Wolfowitz revealed a new rationale for Operation Iraqi Freedom: using Iraq to redraw the Middle East in order to reduce the terrorist threat to the United States.

Two years before Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Bush administration's plan to take military control of the Gulf region regardless of whether Saddam was in power was detailed in the Report of The Project for the New American Century. It says: "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Indeed, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has confirmed that toppling Saddam was on George W. Bush's agenda long before 9/11.

According to O'Neill, in January 2001, Rumsfeld articulated the desire to "dissuade" other countries from "asymmetrical challenges" to United States power, a characterization strikingly similar to that in Wolfowitz's 1992 Pentagon paper. Rumsfeld's advocacy of a pre-emptive attack "matched with plans for how the world's second largest oil reserve might be divided among the world's contractors made for an irresistible combination," O'Neill later said.

Five months later, Vice President Dick Cheney's secret energy task force, in a May 2001 report, called on the White House to make "energy security a priority of US trade and foreign policy" and to encourage Persian Gulf countries to welcome foreign investment in their energy sectors.

When US-UK forces took control of Iraq, their first order of business was to secure the oil fields instead of the hospitals. Meanwhile, Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root was awarded a controversial $7 billion no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq's oil fields.

In July 2003, the public interest group Judicial Watch finally secured some of the documents from Cheney's energy task force meetings. They contain the smoking gun: "a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects" and "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts." The documents are dated March 2001, two years before Bush invaded Iraq.

Bush's twin masters are the neocons and the right-wing Christians.

The United States' uncritical support for Israel, and the installation of a US- and Israel-friendly regime in Iraq, is not motivated by love for the Jewish people. Rather, this support is critical to the right-wing Christian agenda. In order to fulfill the Scripture's promise, the right-wing Christians want to transfer the temple mount in Jerusalem from Muslim to Jewish hands, to facilitate the rebuilding of the temple so Jesus can return.

US assistance to Israel maintains that country as an American-friendly presence in the midst of countries that are exploited by and resent the policies of both the United States and Israel. Instead of fighting terror - as Bush likes to proclaim - his war on Iraq has drawn foreign terrorists into Iraq to fight against the Western infidels.

Its success in removing Saddam's regime made way for the United States to construct 14 US military bases in Iraq. All of these bases are instrumental to Washington's strategy to maintain hegemony in the Middle East. Kellogg Brown & Root, which built the infamous tiger cages in Vietnam and Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, got the no-bid contract for reconstruction in Iraq, and in New Orleans as well.

Our government's atrocious neglect of the poor and marginalized people of the Gulf Coast before and after Hurricane Katrina has come into full focus. And Bush's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol - which would require US corporations to sacrifice some of their profits to combat global warming - has come home to roost in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Nearly half the National Guard and many high-water vehicles were in Iraq when they should've been in New Orleans.

The Bush administration has spent more than $200 billion on an illegal and unjustified war of conquest in Iraq and continues to send $3 billion of aid per year to Israel to fund its brutal military occupation of the Palestinian people. It is time for the US to get out of the business of funding killing and occupation, and into the business of funding healthcare, jobs, education and housing.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for t r u t h o u t.

What FEMA Could Learn From Wal-Mart Less than you think.

What FEMA Could Learn From Wal-Mart

By Daniel Gross
Posted Friday, Sept. 23, 2005, at 11:58 AM PT

"Government broke down. Business stepped up," blares Fortune's cover story. Wal-Mart relief trucks reached stricken Gulf Coast areas before the Federal Emergency Management Administration did. Federal Express continued to deliver when the National Guard couldn't. As Kenner, La., Mayor Philip Capitano put it: "The Red Cross and FEMA need to take a master class in logistics and mobilization from Wal-Mart."

With Rita bearing down, it's a good time to ask if the public should really plan to rely on the private sector rather than the government for disaster-relief. Federal Express and Wal-Mart have something to teach us all—FEMA included—about logistics and mobilization. But Wal-Mart and the private sector in general are getting way too much credit for their intermittently impressive relief efforts. In fact, the economic and management trends that Wal-Mart and FedEx typify may have been responsible for some of the post-Katrina suffering.

Wal-Mart responded well to Katrina. The giant retailer donated $3 million in supplies and $17 million in cash to emergency efforts—$20 million in total, or about the amount of sales it does in about 38 minutes. Wal-Mart and Federal Express were indeed way more organized than FEMA. FEMA was a dumping ground for political hacks. Wal-Mart and Federal Express are highly profitable logistics companies run by seasoned, well-compensated pros. They have made enormous investments in the personnel, technology, and infrastructure necessary to respond to changes in demand and market conditions, and to get goods where they need to go quickly. "That's what we do," Rollin Ford, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of logistics and supply chain, told Fortune. "We move mass volume very efficiently."

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Wal-Mart and FedEx are the platonic exemplars of the Just-in-Time economy, which prescribes keeping inventories low, maintaining the precise amount of capacity needed, and building and exploiting hyperefficient supply chains. This set of management practices, which started in manufacturing, has spread to every sector of the economy. Whether you're a bookstore, an auto-parts maker, an oil refiner or a grocer, having more inventory or capacity than you absolutely need ties up capital and imposes storage and handling costs. In the Just-in-Time economy, redundancy is the enemy of efficiency. That's one of the reasons delivery companies like FedEx have grown so much over the years—they're constantly restocking everybody's shelves. The nation's most efficient retailer and its most efficient delivery service were uniquely designed to be able to respond and function in a post-Katrina environment.

But for every Wal-Mart or FedEx—efficient machines doing good in a time of need—there was a major-league screw-up by a large company that didn't have sufficient backup capacity in place. At Tenet Health Care's Memorial Hospital in New Orleans, the backup electric generating system failed. Several patients died.

Katrina also exposed the downside of the Just-in-Time economy. The crucial networks that are the lifeblood of Wal-Mart and FedEx are more virtual than real—trucking and air routes, logistics systems, and software—and survived the hurricane just fine. But companies whose networks were composed of pipes, fiber, and transformers didn't prove as resilient. Several weeks after Katrina, Entergy, the large utility company, is still struggling to restore electric service. BellSouth, the phone company, saw its systems utterly swamped: On Sept. 2, more than half of Louisiana's access lines and about 40 percent of Mississippi's were out of service. It may be October until phone service is restored. Yes, the companies had to cope with unprecedented damage. But these networked Just-in-Time companies didn't have the backup or emergency planning in place to weather the storm and respond with sufficient speed.

Then there's the massive oil and gas business—the ultimate Just-in-Time business. Refiners don't keep weeks' worth of crude on hand in the event supply is disrupted—that would needlessly tie up capital. Refiners like Valero don't maintain standby refineries ready to kick into gear in case of a disaster. Too expensive. As previously noted in this space, U.S. refineries this spring were running at 94 percent of capacity. Once crude is refined, petroleum courses through pipelines and into delivery trucks. Gas stations take delivery daily, or a few times a week, depending on their volume. The Kwik-E-Mart won't build and fill giant storage tanks to ensure it'll always have a week's worth of supply. Environmentally conscious neighbors wouldn't like it.

In normal times, this efficient energy delivery system keeps our costs down and our tanks full. But it doesn't take all that much to screw things up. In a neat illustration of chaos theory, high winds in the Gulf of Mexico can cause consumers in Chicago to panic-buy gasoline a few days later, and a giant corporation in Minneapolis to file for bankruptcy two weeks later. When Katrina knocked out a healthy chunk of the nation's Just-in-Time refining and oil production capacity, there was no excess capacity available. Almost immediately, the supply of petrol was disrupted on the Atlantic seaboard. Throughout the country, the price of gasoline at the pump shot up rapidly. And the spike in fuel prices may have hastened the bankruptcy filings of giant airlines Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines.

Oddly, the market price of crude oil fell after Katrina, even though production of crude in the Gulf of Mexico was interrupted. Why? It turns out there was a party that, acting in an economically inefficient manner, had spent billions of dollars to amass a standby supply of a crucial material that could be used on a rainy day. When the crisis came, it acted with a Wal-Martian efficiency. After Katrina, the federal government began to release crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And it came just in time. The move helped lower the price of crude, keep refineries humming, and calm panicky consumers.

There's no doubt the government could learn a great deal from the private sector about how to prepare for and respond to a natural disaster. But the private sector may have something to learn from the government, too.

David Olive - He's No Warren Buffett

He's No Warren Buffett
As an experiment in government according to business principles, the Bush administration is pretty much bankrupt
by David Olive

The legacy of the Bush administration may well be that government can no longer be entrusted to business people.

That would be a shame, given that business savants as varied as Kennedy treasury secretary Douglas Dillon and Silicon Valley legend Dave Packard served ably in Washington.

Many of the most prominent CEOs in the current administration aren't real business people at all, but faux CEOs who after a lifetime in politics cashed in on brief stints as trophy CEOs at Fortune 500 firms before returning to public life in George W. Bush's White House.

With few exceptions, those CEO stints — at Halliburton Co. (Dick Cheney), rail operator CSX Corp. (John Snow), and George "dry hole" Bush's string of oil-exploration flops in Texas — were not models of exemplary corporate stewardship.

Just the same, future historians will make the connection between the most CEO-heavy administration in memory, headed by the first MBA president (Harvard, no less), and a White House of unsurpassed fiscal recklessness, flawed strategic thinking, failure to execute even on its best ideas (its unrealized goals of education reform and energy self-sufficiency, for instance), and a stubborn unwillingness to change course when conditions dictate.

With his successive rounds of tax cuts skewed to the wealthiest Americans, in tandem with a 37 per cent increase in federal expenditures and Bush's refusal to veto a single spending bill from the GOP-controlled Congress, this White House has in a short five years boosted the national debt by 12 per cent, to almost $8 trillion. America is increasingly a hostage of its foreign creditors.

In a recent study titled "The Grand Old Spending Party," the Cato Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, says that "Throughout the past 40 years, most presidents have cut or restrained lower-priority spending to make room for higher-priority spending. What is driving George W. Bush's budget bloat is a reversal of that trend."

Bush has conducted three wars — on the Taliban, Saddam's regime, and terrorism — without asking a dime of sacrifice from Americans. Indeed, Bush persists in seeking to make his earlier tax cuts permanent and to eliminate the estate tax.

Even with federal spending at a post-World War II high of $22,000 (all figures U.S. dollars) per household, Bush and the GOP congressional leadership are deaf to bipartisan calls to postpone by a year the new prescription drug benefit for seniors — a $139-billion handout to Big Pharma that actually does little to help the elderly.

Or to downsize last summer's pork-laden, $286.5 billion highway bill, the costliest in history, with its $8.5 million for seven transport museums, $4 million for a parking garage in Oak Lawn, Ill., and $220 million for a road extension in Alaska that GOP Sen. John McCain decries as "a highway to nowhere."

The supposed managerial expertise of an administration headed by two former oilmen would suggest a high level of preparedness to protect a region that is the biggest U.S. gateway for oil imports, is home to America's largest concentration of petroleum refineries, and is America's biggest transit point for lumber, coffee, rubber and steel.

But preparedness was woefully inadequate for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The Bush administration cut funding for the Army Corps of Engineer's proposed refurbishment of hundreds of kilometers of levees in the region. Bush folded the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into the new agglomeration of 22 agencies known as the Department of Homeland Security. The administration slashed FEMA's budget, and installed in the demoralized agency's top posts refugees from Bush political campaigns who lacked expertise in disaster-management, triggering an exodus of FEMA's most talented staff.

In the aftermath of Katrina, Bush and Congress hastily began to channel what may ultimately amount to $200 billion — the equivalent of Denmark's GNP, or $400,000 for each of Katrina's half-million displaced people — through FEMA, which lacks the prowess to handle anything like $200 billion.

Its 2003 budget of $87 million accounted for a minuscule 0.03 per cent of total government spending.

"You can easily compare FEMA's internal resources to what you saw in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq: a small, underfunded organization taking on a Herculean task under tremendous time pressure," Steven Schooner, a contracting expert at George Washington University, told The Wall Street Journal last week. "That is almost by definition a recipe for disaster."

Again, common sense argues for re-establishing FEMA as an independent agency; or better yet, creating an agency autonomous of the administration and headed by a can-do leader like Rudy Giuliani, Gen. Tommy Franks or Colin Powell to expedite reconstruction and ensure the efficacious spending of the restoration outlays. But for now, at least, the White House refuses to relinquish control of the biggest domestic reconstruction project in U.S. history, which will require the removal of enough debris across a six-state region to fill more than 600 football fields to a depth of 15 meters. Instead, as in Iraq, the administration has swung into action on behalf of Bush campaign donors, swiftly granting no-bid, cost-plus contracts in the Gulf Coast region to the usual suspects — Halliburton, Bechtel Corp., and Fluor Corp.

Halliburton and Bechtel are under federal investigation for alleged government over-billing on Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management, hired by FEMA to collect human remains in the Katrina-stricken region, is a subsidiary of funeral operator and longtime Bush contributor Service Corp. International (SCI). In Texas and Florida, SCI has settled class-action lawsuits alleging improper burial methods. (In one case, bodies were dug up and tossed in the woods so plots could be resold.)

Katrina subcontractor Goldstar EMS, a star-crossed ambulance provider, is being pursued for local tax arrears, is under federal investigation for suspected Medicaid fraud and is now operating in bankruptcy.

Another firm whose luck has changed for the better since Katrina is Bode Technology Group Inc., hired by FEMA to identify the bodies of storm victims. Bode was fired last month by Illinois state police over allegations of shoddy work.

Meanwhile, in contacting local contractors in the Midwest last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch learned that even the most persistent were failing to obtain Katrina-related work.

Typical was independent contractor Kevin Williams, who has an excavating firm in Sedalia, Mo. and whose petitions to FEMA have been less than fruitful. "I've tried calling, e-mailing, NOTHING," he told the paper.

Katrina, of course, is a disaster that has disproportionately afflicted the poor. One of Bush's earliest responses was to sign an executive order suspending contractors on Katrina-related work from federal law requiring employees be paid the local prevailing wage, which means many will be toiling for a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

Edward Sullivan, head of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, described Bush's regard for the working poor as "legalized looting of these workers who will be cleaning up toxic sites and struggling to rebuild their communities, while favored contractors rake in huge profits."

Bush, more obsessed with tax cuts than any president in modern times, has also declared a tax-free Gulf Opportunity Zone. A tax holiday might help the few surviving restaurateurs in the French Quarter, but not 400,000 New Orleans residents who have lost their jobs and have no income from which to deduct tax.

Asked about this odd policy move at a luncheon for GOP supporters last week, Bush responded: "Somebody said the other day, well, that's a tax break. That region is going to have zero income anyway. There's nothing there, in many parts of it. It makes sense to prove economic incentives for jobs to exist." Read that passage six times and it still doesn't make sense.

With his job-approval rating in decline even before Katrina, it didn't take long for Bush to begin reminding Americans that he is a war president and deserves their patriotic support.

Last week he linked Katrina with the war on terrorism. Terrorists, the president said, are "the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish they had caused it. We're in a war with these people." It appears that the president and the rules of logic have parted ways.

If only the U.S. were run more like a business, was the Bush/Cheney mantra in 2000; then America would be a more contented kingdom.

But a sustainably prosperous business doesn't hand vital tasks to cronies, fail to vet its suppliers, starve essential employees of job fulfillment, or blame its shortcomings on bogeymen.

It's a pity the GOP running mates didn't say what kind of business they had in mind — the managerial prowess of a General Electric Co., or the train-wreck of Enron Corp.

© Copyright 2005 Toronto Star

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hard Bigotry of No Expectations

Hard Bigotry of No Expectations
The New York Times | Editorial

Sunday 25 September 2005

Throughout his campaigns in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush talked about "the soft bigotry of low expectations": the mind-set that tolerates poor school performance and dead-end careers for minority students on the presumption that they are incapable of doing better. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said recently that this phrase attracted her to Mr. Bush more than anything else.

It was, indeed, a brilliant encapsulation of so much of what is wrong with American education. But while Mr. Bush has been worrying about low expectations in schools, he's been ratcheting the bar downward himself on almost everything else.

The president's recent schedule of nonstop disaster-scene photo-ops is reminiscent of the principal of a failing school who believes he's doing a great job because he makes it a point to drop in on every class play and teacher retirement party. And if there ever was an exhibit of the misguided conviction that for some people very little is good enough, it's the current administration spin that the proposed Iraqi constitution is fine because the founding fathers didn't give women equal rights either.

The lack of expectations is evident even in areas where the president is supposed to be deeply engaged. The Treasury Department's hollowed-out leadership structure suggests an administration that is happy to coast along with a gentleman's C for handling the nation's finances. But it has been most graphically, and tragically, on display in Iraq and in the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Four years after 9/11, Katrina showed the world that performance standards for the Department of Homeland Security were so low that it was not required to create real plans to respond to real disasters. Only a president with no expectation that the federal government should step up after a crisis could have stripped the Federal Emergency Management Agency bare, appointed as its director a political crony who could not even adequately represent the breeders of Arabian horses, and announced that the director was doing a splendid job while bodies floated in the floodwaters.

Only a president who does not expect the government to help provide decent housing for the truly needy in normal times could leave seven of the top jobs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development vacant and then, after disaster struck, offer small-bore solutions to enormous problems. Substandard wages, an easing of affirmative action regulation and a housing lottery that will help a tiny sliver of people apparently are considered good enough for poor families along the Gulf Coast left homeless by Katrina.

In Iraq, the elimination of expectations is on display in the disastrous political process. Among other things, the constitution drafted under American supervision does not provide for the rights of women and minorities and enshrines one religion as the fundamental source of law. Administration officials excuse this poor excuse for a constitution by saying it also refers to democratic values. But it makes them secondary to Islamic law and never actually defines them. Our founding fathers had higher expectations: they made the split of church and state fundamental, and spelled out what they meant by democracy and the rule of law.

It's true that the United States Constitution once allowed slavery, denied women the right to vote and granted property rights only to white men. But it's offensive for the administration to use that as an excuse for the failings of the Iraqi constitution. The bar on democracy has been raised since 1787. We don't agree that the 218-year-old standard is good enough for Iraq.

Since his failure to notice the Katrina disaster, Mr. Bush has stopped bragging that he doesn't read or watch the news. If he's paying attention now, he should get a message from the outrage over Katrina and shrinking support for his policies in Iraq: The American public has much higher expectations than he does for the president and his government.

Michael Ignatieff - The Broken Contract

The Broken Contract
By Michael Ignatieff
The New York Times

Sunday 25 September 2005

A contract of citizenship defines the duties of care that public officials owe to the people of a democratic society. The Constitution defines some parts of this contract, and statutes define other parts, but much of it is a tacit understanding that citizens have about what to expect from their government. Its basic term is protection: helping citizens to protect their families and possessions from forces beyond their control. Let's not suppose this contract is uncontroversial. American politics is a furious argument about what should be in the contract and what shouldn't be. But there is enough agreement, most of the time, about what the contract contains for America to hold together as a political community. When disasters strike, they test whether the contract is respected in a citizen's hour of need. When the levees broke, the contract of American citizenship failed.

The most striking feature of the catastrophe is not that the contract didn't hold. That is now too obvious to argue about. Many municipal, state and federal officials, elected and appointed, forgot the duty of care they owed to their fellow citizens. Some fled when they should have stayed at their posts. Some promised help they could not deliver. Some failed to rise to the terrible occasion. All of this is now well documented. What has not been noticed is that the people with the most articulate understanding of what the contract of American citizenship entails were the poor, abandoned, hungry people huddled in the stinking darkness of the New Orleans convention center.

"We are American," a woman at the convention center proclaimed on television. She spoke with scathing anger, but also with astonishment that she should be required to remind Americans of such a simple fact. She - not the governor, not the mayor, not the president - understood that the catastrophe was a test of the bonds of citizenship and that the government had failed the test. This failure was perhaps most evident when, on Sept. 1, a full three days after the hurricane struck Louisiana, Washington's top officials were asserting that they had only just learned that in the convention center were thousands of exhausted fellow citizens in the dark, at the ends of their tethers, awaiting an evacuation that had not come.

"We are American": that single sentence was a lesson in political obligation. Black or white, rich or poor, Americans are not supposed to be strangers to one another. Having been abandoned, the people in the convention center were reduced to reminding their fellow citizens, through the medium of television, that they were not refugees in a foreign country. Citizenship ties are not humanitarian, abstract or discretionary. They are not ties of charity. In America, a citizen has a claim of right on the resources of her government when she cannot - simply cannot - help herself.

It may be astonishing that American citizens should have had to remind their fellow Americans of this, but let us not pretend we do not know the reason. They were black, and for all that poor blacks have experienced and endured in this country, they had good reason to be surprised that they were treated not as citizens but as garbage.

Let us not assume, either, that this moment of contempt is over. A week after the disaster, bodies were still floating in the fetid waters. I hope they will have been cleared by the time you read this. Duties of care, not to mention decency, cannot be less controversial than care of the dead. Yet often enough, the only people who took the care to cover corpses, to identify their names, to mark out a place of rest, were not law enforcement officials, who always seemed to have some pressing reason that it wasn't their job, but the storm victims themselves.

Let us not be sentimental. The poor and dispossessed of New Orleans cannot afford to be sentimental. They know they live in an unjust and unfair society. They know their schools aren't much good, that their police protection is radically deficient, that their economic opportunities are few and that their neighborhoods have been starved of hope and help.

Knowing all this, the people of New Orleans still believed that, as Americans, they were entitled to levees that would hold, an evacuation plan that would actually evacuate them and a resettlement plan that would get them back on their feet. They were entitled to this because they are Americans and because these simple things, while costly, are well within the means of the richest society on earth.

So it is not - as some commentators claimed - that the catastrophe laid bare the deep inequalities of American society. These inequalities may have been news to some, but they were not news to the displaced people in the convention center and elsewhere. What was bitter news to them was that their claims of citizenship mattered so little to the institutions charged with their protection.

There are inequalities that people endure, and there are inequalities that enrage. Neighborhoods in Los Angeles that kept quiet through poverty and discrimination erupted when Rodney King's attackers were acquitted. Why? Because police brutality on television, combined with the blatant lack of accountability exposed by the ensuing trial, betrayed the contract that binds all Americans to their allegiances: the promise of equal protection of the laws. When government failed so dismally in New Orleans, the betrayal was of the same order: it was no longer possible to believe in the contract that binds Americans together.

Let us grant that the contract is contested ground. Liberals since Franklin D. Roosevelt have believed that being a citizen should give protection against the dangers of unemployment, old age and ill health, while conservatives have sought to curtail the contract, arguing that government programs weaken personal responsibility and hobble economic progress. Still, the idea of a contract is very basic. President Bush's Social Security proposals got nowhere because they appeared to tamper with one of its key terms: the idea that the government will guarantee every American a secure retirement income.

What makes the failure over Katrina so unexpected is that while liberals and conservatives agreed about nothing else, they were supposed to have agreed that government should protect Americans from natural disaster. Since the Mississippi flood of 1927, and the efforts of Herbert Hoover and the Army Corps of Engineers, public authority has been charged with this duty. This was the key element of the contract that seemed to have been ripped up like a roof shingle and cast into the infernal waters of New Orleans.

This betrayal cannot be made better by charity and generosity. Americans have turned out to be - not surprisingly - very generous toward what has become the largest population of internally displaced people since the Civil War. But private benevolence cannot heal the wounds - of humiliation and abandonment - caused by government failure. Nor can exemplary performance by some agencies - the Coast Guard, for example - do that much to redeem the abject performance of others.

The failures were not just failures of performance or anticipation. They were failures of political imagination. Officials and engineers in charge of the levees reasoned like actuaries, building to a standard designed to protect only most of the people most of the time. Had they reasoned with any degree of political imagination, they might have started from the premise that there are some harms that a government must protect its people from, however unlikely they may turn out to be, whatever the cost. That is how the British reasoned when they built the hugely expensive Thames barrier, how the Dutch reasoned when they built their flood-control system. In America, a levee defends a foundational moral intuition: all lives are worth protecting and, since this is America, worth protecting at the highest standard. This principle was betrayed by the Army Corps of Engineers, by the state and local officials who knew the levees needed repair and did nothing and by Congress, which allowed the president to cut appropriations for levee renewal.

The same betrayal occurred in evacuation plans that assumed that citizens could evacuate by car. It turned out that 27 percent of city households did not own a car. Racial ignorance and contempt may explain some of this, but not all. A better explanation is that the people involved in municipal, state and federal government simply did not care enough about their own professional morality to find out the true facts. Public officials simply didn't bother to cross the social distances that divided them from the truth of the New Orleans population. These social distances between rich and poor, between black and white are stubborn and are likely to endure, but the most basic duty of public leadership is always to know how the other half lives - and dies.

A duty to truth was failed, but so was a duty to democracy. Why weren't ordinary New Orleans citizens consulted about the evacuation plan? The people in poor wards of the city would have picked its holes apart in a second. In the future, one simple test of an evacuation plan's adequacy should be: Have the people who are likely to be evacuated been fully consulted on its contents?

The most terrible price of Katrina - everyone can see this - was not the destruction of lives and property, terrible though this was. The worst of it was the damage done to the ties that bind Americans together. It is very much too late for senior federal officials, from the president on down, to reknit these ties. It is just too late for the public-relations exercises that pass for leadership these days, the fine speeches from the Oval Office or other stage-managed venues. The real work of healing will be done by citizens much lower down the chain of command: the schoolteachers and superintendents of public school systems around the country who are taking in children and putting them through the healing routines of the school day; the morticians who do what they can to respect the dead; the National Guardsmen who protect the vacant city; the officials and business people who plan its rebirth. To an important degree, the future of confidence in American government will depend not on the leaders who failed their trust but on the foot-soldiers who did not and whom Americans can only hope will do the right thing now. Millions of acts of common decency and bureaucratic courage will be necessary before all Americans, and not just the storm victims, feel that they live, once again, in a political community and not in a savage and lawless swamp.


Harold Meyerson - The "Stuff Happens" Presidency

The 'Stuff Happens' Presidency
By Harold Meyerson
The Washington Post

Wednesday 07 September 2005

We're not number one. We're not even close.

By which measures, precisely, do we lead the world? Caring for our countrymen? You jest. A first-class physical infrastructure? Tell that to New Orleans. Throwing so much money at the rich that we've got nothing left over to promote the general welfare? Now you're talking.

The problem goes beyond the fact that we can't count on our government to be there for us in catastrophes. It's that a can't-do spirit, a shouldn't-do spirit, guides the men who run the nation. Consider the congressional testimony of Joe Allbaugh, George W. Bush's 2000 campaign manager, who assumed the top position at FEMA in 2001. He characterized the organization as "an oversized entitlement program," and counseled states and cities to rely instead on "faith-based organizations ... like the Salvation Army and the Mennonite Disaster Service."

Is it any surprise, then, that the administration's response to the devastation in New Orleans is of a piece with its response to the sacking of Baghdad once our troops arrived? "Stuff happens" was the way Don Rumsfeld described the destruction of Baghdad's hospitals, universities and museums while American soldiers stood around. Now stuff has happened in New Orleans, too, even as FEMA was turning away offers of assistance. This is the stuff-happens administration. And it's willing, apparently, to sacrifice any claim America may have to national greatness rather than inconvenience the rich by taxing them to build a more secure nation.

As a matter of social policy, the catastrophic lack of response in New Orleans is exceptional only in its scale and immediacy. When it comes to caring for our fellow countrymen, we all know that America has never ranked very high. We are, of course, the only democracy in the developed world that doesn't offer health care to its citizens as a matter of right. We rank 34th among nations in infant mortality rates, behind such rival superpowers as Cyprus, Andorra and Brunei.

But these are chronic conditions, and even many of us who argue for universal health coverage have grown inured to that distinctly American indifference to the common good, to our radical lack of solidarity with our fellow citizens. Besides, the poor generally have the decency to die discreetly, and discretely - not conspicuously, not in droves. Come rain or come shine, we leave millions of beleaguered Americans to fend for themselves on a daily basis. It's just a lot more noticeable in a horrific rain, and when the ordinary lack of access to medical care is augmented by an extraordinary lack of access to emergency services.

Even if we'll never win the national-greatness sweepstakes for solidarity, though, we've long been the model of the world in matters infrastructural, in roads, bridges and dams and the like. But the America in which Eisenhower the Good decreed the construction of the interstate highway system now seems a far-off land in which even conservatives believed in public expenditures for the public good. The radical-capitalist conservatives of the past quarter-century not only haven't supported the public expenditures, they don't even believe there is such a thing as the public good. Let the Dutch build their dikes through some socialistic scheme of taxing and spending; that isn't the American way. Here, the business of government is to let the private sector create wealth - even if that wealth doesn't circulate where it's most needed. So George W. Bush threw trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, and what did they do with it? Did the Walton family up in Bentonville raise the levees in New Orleans? Did the Bass family over in Texas write a tax-deductible check to the Mennonites for the billions of dollars they would need to rescue the elderly from inundated nursing homes?

Even now, with bedraggled rescuers pulling decomposed bodies from the muck of New Orleans, Bill Frist, the moral cretin who runs the US Senate, wanted its first order of business this week to be the permanent repeal of the estate tax, until the public outcry persuaded him to change course. The Republicans profess belief in trickle-down, but what they've given us is the Flood.

The world looks on in stunned amazement, unable to understand how a once great nation has grown so indifferent not just to its poor and its blacks but even to the most rudimentary self-preservation. Some of it is institutional racism, but the primary culprit is the economic libertarianism that the president still espouses whenever he sells his Social Security snake oil. It's that libertarianism, more than anything else, that has transformed a great city into an immense morgue.

But, hey - stuff happens.

Stirling Newberry - School for Scandal

School for Scandal
By Stirling Newberry
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Saturday 24 September 2005

In the late 1980s and early 1990s there were a series of procurement scandals surrounding the Pentagon, and an aggressive congressional investigation, perhaps too late, began to reform the procurement process. The list of corruption scandals from the current Republican dominance of government has grown ever longer, but it has not yet boiled over. Strangely, it is often personal misbehavior that topples a government. JIm Wright's sweetheart book deal and the kiting of checks from the Congressional co-op were more damaging to the old Democratic Congress than any government scandal. When Gingrich and the Republicans took power, they promised "reform," and yet despite millions spent on hearings, investigations and an impeachment, they were unable to find the massive "waste, fraud and abuse" that is a mantra on the right as to what is wrong with government.

The first decade of this century has been different; money has been misallocated in Iraq to the tune of billions. With billions being readied for relief in the wake of Katrina and Rita, many are now worried that this money will be wasted. After all, FEMA had what the Washington Post called "fatal weaknesses" in its response, despite billions spent on it. However, while the grumbling has increased - 70% of the respondents to an AP/Ipsos poll said "America should have been better prepared" - there has been no public hue and cry for an investigation. And questions are now growing louder about whether this Congress is able to investigate an executive branch of the same party. In fact, the Republican Congress killed their own investigative panel when it was clear that they couldn't agree on the ground rules among themselves, let alone with the Democrats who opposed any panel without subpoena power.

Instead, the shot heard round the beltway had to do with Senator Bill Frist and the SEC investigation of potential insider trading. Jonathan Katz of the Post reported on Wednesday that Senator Frist conveniently dumped his shares of the family health care company just before it suffered a 15% drop in price. The cause of this price drop was a disappointing earnings report, exactly the kind of news that Martha Stewart just spent time in jail for knowing about. On Wednesday afternoon, Senator First received a subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission, prodded, perhaps, by press reports. On Friday, Federal Prosecutors also began investigating Senator Frist.

In 1997, Thomas Frist, Bill Frist's father, was investigated for insider trading in the same company, and while he was cleared of charges, the incident makes it harder to believe that mere coincidence is involved in the present case. The LA Times, perhaps the nation's leading liberal paper, had already hit First for looking like a "bungler" whose only goal was self-advancement, a clear reference to his Presidential ambitions. But there are signs of dissent among even the faithful: Leon H, at the Conservative "," has called for Bill Frist to step down as majority leader, partially because he has not been doctrinaire enough, but the scandal was, for him it seems, the final straw.

This pattern of personal scandals bringing down officials is not limited to the Republicans. New Jersey lost a Democratic Governor and a Senator to personal scandals. But the appearance of personal impropriety seems to weigh more heavily on the public mind than much larger misallocations of public money. It isn't clear why, but perhaps it is merely that personal scandals start to be discovered at the time when reporters begin to smell corruption. They are also easier to prove, and motivate people more directly - Spokane's mayor, James West, faces a recall election: organizers for the recall turned in 17,121 signatures in a petition drive, needing only 12,567.

This air of scandal has begun to do something that was unheard of in the heady days of 2002 and 2003, namely, cost people their jobs. Michael Brown of FEMA was dumped after gross incompetence collided with personal black marks on his resume. Lester Crawford, the FDA commissioner who blocked the "morning after pill," even though it had cleared all scientific hurdles, stepped down late on Friday afternoon. But these are, in the grand scheme of things, small events. Waiting in the wings are what will happen with the investigations into Jack Abramoff, the GOP uber-lobbyist who claimed ties to Rove and has been connected with shady money and possible illegal back channels. With his close associate David Hossein Safavian, a White House official, arrested for lying to cover up Abramoff's dealings, it looks like it is only a matter of time.

Corruption and scandal have real, and often fatal, consequences. Experts at Louisiana State University have argued that there were design flaws in the New Orleans levee system, and cited several examples of barriers being higher than guidelines provided for. "Budget constraints" were blamed for a lack of testing, as well as designing for only a Category 3 storm surge and wind level.

The old rule is that corruption follows the money. With George Bush on track to increase Federal Expenditures by the largest amount since World War II - beating out even Lyndon Baines Johnson - more than a few people are beginning to wonder whether it is time to shut down Washington's school for scandal. When it seemed likely the country would be able to spend without end, there was little pressure to do something about missing money in Iraq. However, Katrina and Rita have broken the very delicately laid plans of the White House.

Someone is going to have to pay for all of this, because if $150 Billion is the price tag of Katrina next year, and Defense and entitlements are off limits, the choices are raise taxes or shut down half of the rest of the Federal Government. And the signs are that is exactly what is going to happen: the General Accounting Office, the government's green eye-shade agency, just came out with a report saying that the mortgage and property tax deductions in the tax code cost the United States over $728 Billion dollars a year in uncollected taxes, and these deductions would need to be removed or reduced to pay down the deficit. This sets up a showdown between those who have gotten huge tax breaks on dividends and large incomes and the middle class, which gets most of its reduction in income taxes from mortgage and property tax deductions. And you can bet that every homeowner knows to the penny what the mortgage interest deduction shaves off the family tax bill. It's real money.

As I learned early, the game is very different as soon as the chips represent real money.

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


Jac Versteeg - Hurl Brick, Snatch High Court?

Hurl brick, snatch high court?
Jac Versteeg
Jac Versteeg
Read his bio
Will the Bush administration ever give up smash-and-grab politics? It's doubtful, since that's the way President Bush came to power. His election machine threw a rock through the window of states' rights and pulled out a one-time-only U.S. Supreme Court decision. Now the Supreme Court could be the focus of another smash-and-grab case.

What is smash-and-grab politics? Get what you can while the getting's good, and the consequences for everyone else be damned. It's the attitude that says tax cuts for the wealthy are justifiable even in the face of war and record deficits.

Smash-and-grab extends to environmental policy. President Bush's best friends and biggest backers are in the oil and energy businesses. Does it matter if expanded drilling in Alaska is harmful, won't produce much oil and is a poor policy compared with conservation? No. Get what you can while you can. Does it matter that drilling off Florida could ruin reefs and tourist beaches? Not to oil companies, which is why the GOP-led Congress is so keen to do an "oil inventory" of offshore deposits. Think they won't go after what they find?

Roads in the wilderness to help logging companies? Let's have them. Rules against greenhouse gases? Let's not, not even if it means that one of the first acts in office was for the Bush administration to turn its back on allies who signed the Kyoto pact to combat global warming. Why would the world's only superpower ever need allies? Well, maybe if there's a war. But even then, who needs allies for a quick war to gain control over an oil-rich country? Oops.

Never mind, because it turns out that war also is a good vehicle for smash-and-grab politics. Bush-administration friend Halliburton seems to be stuffing its pockets with as much gusto as any Iraqi who went on a looting binge after Baghdad fell. Democrats have been insisting that the Pentagon get some of the money back. Well, as Halliburton execs might explain, giving some back would be bad, but giving some back would be better than having to give all of it back. So grab, and see what you get to keep.

In addition to war contracts, war is full of emotion to grab and exploit for political gain. Ask former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who lost three limbs during the Vietnam War. In the 2002 midterm election, the Bush team smashed his reputation to grab control of the Senate. In 2004, President Bush hid behind the Swift Boat Gang while it smashed John Kerry's medals to grab headlines.

Might the situation change now that President Bush's popularity is dented by the dismal events in Iraq? Not likely. If you're not for President Bush, you're against the troops. Karl Rove will tell you so, as he heaves another brick. In fact, the possibility that an un-Bush might succeed this president is all the more reason to accelerate the pace of smash-and-grab. There will be a more feverish push to make tax cuts permanent and to open Social Security accounts so brokerage firms can take a slice out of private accounts. As perhaps the most glittering prize in the governmental window, there should be no hesitation in smashing whatever is necessary to grab the Supreme Court.

Imagine a court that hates all environmental rules, never saw a police power it didn't like, takes the barefoot-and-pregnant view of women and the first-kill-all-the-lawyers view of torts. Campaign-finance reform means establishing the one-dollar, one-vote model.

President Bush's core supporters do more than imagine such a court; they insist on it. Sandra Day O'Connor's successor, if they have their way, will be to the right of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the justices President Bush once said were his models for appointments.

Now, President Bush says he wants the process to replace Justice O'Connor to be "dignified." If that's really his goal, he could, as President Clinton did with Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominate respected jurists. President Clinton's were moderate liberals. For President Bush, nominating a moderate conservative would be presidential and unifying. It's an opportunity to heal that President Bush should grab, not smash.

Maureen Dowd - Stormy Spins in a Vortex

Stormy Spins in a Vortex
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

Saturday 24 September 2005

And still the pesky press was painting him as a storm groupie, racing Rita to Texas just to score a windswept backdrop to recapture his image as protector.

Stormy preened for the cameras at FEEBLE FEMA headquarters in Washington yesterday. On CNN, a bilious image of a hurricane spun next to his head. You could imagine the little hurricane trailing him through the rest of his presidency, like the storm cloud with a lightning bolt that always trailed Joe Btfsplk in "Li'l Abner."

He said he was jetting to San Antonio to check out "the prepositioned assets" and then riding out the storm watching "the interface" between the military and state and local authorities at Northcom in Colorado.

But David Gregory at NBC quizzed W. on what good he could really do in Texas: "Might you get in the way, Mr. President?"

Stormy didn't like that. "One thing I won't do is get in the way," he snipped.

Mr. Gregory, part of a newly amped-up press corps, followed up: "Isn't there a risk of you and your entourage getting in the way?"

Now Stormy let off a little high pressure. "There will be no risk of me getting in the way, I promise you," he said dismissively.

The smart aleck reporters didn't understand how crucial it was for the president to intertwine, inter alia, with the interfacers. So W. explained it again: "See, Northcom is the main entity that interfaces - that uses federal assets, federal troops, to interface with local and state government. I want to watch that relationship."

But soon the San Antonio leg of the trip was scotched amid fears that Stormy would really be interfering more than interfacing. And besides, the weather was too sunny there for poses in foul-weather gear.

Stormy is like his dad, Desert Stormy. They both love wardrobe calls: cool costumes, sports outfits, presidential windbreakers, "Top Gun" get-ups, weather gear.

But leadership is not a series of costume changes. The former Andover cheerleader has been too reliant on photo-ops, drop-bys and "Mission Accomplished" strut-bys, rather than a font of personal knowledge.

What Katrina exposed was a president who - remarkable as this may sound - seemed bored after his re-election, just as Bill Clinton had drifted after his re-election. Before the Monica scandal broke, Mr. Clinton's aides had to beg him to call lawmakers on the Hill to support his own legislative agenda.

Before the Katrina scandal, W. had lethargically wandered the country, lifelessly promoting his Social Security plan and an energy bill that did nothing to solve the energy crisis, and endlessly vacationing in Crawford.

He campaigned as a strong daddy who would keep us safe, but then seemed lost when his daddy figure, Dick Cheney, kept vacationing as Katrina exposed a grotesque rescue apartheid in New Orleans.

The more tuned-in W. is now, the more obvious it is that he tuned out as New Orleans drowned. There is a high cost for presidential learning curves.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in Bosnia before Bill Clinton got it right in Kosovo. A lot of elderly hospital and nursing home patients died in New Orleans before W. could pay attention to Houston and Galveston.

On Wednesday, Stormy tried to make one of his strained linkages, this time with Katrina and terror. The terrorists, he said, were "the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish they had caused it," while he is the kind of person who looks at Katrina and tries to energize himself to deal with natural disasters by thinking, What if this had been done by terrorists?

On Thursday, he tried to move past the image he had projected of a lost boy wandering alone in the storm, and stood at the Pentagon flanked by his war council, talking about how he was moving to "develop a secure, safe democracy in Iraq." Unfortunately, the Saudi foreign minister was in town dropping a bomblet by saying that Iraq was going down the tubes, a judgment other Sunni Arab leaders had been conveying privately.

After his Pentagon remarks, W. looked at his vice president for approval and received a proud, avuncular smile that said, "You're the Man."

But before he chases any more wind tunnels, Stormy should heed the Bob Dylan line: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."