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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Billmon - Vox Pollsteri

Vox Pollsteri

One of the things that I find frustrating about the current debate over the surveillance state is the constant bickering about what the polls show. One side cites the latest Washington Post poll, showing that most people are OK with having their phone records swept up by government computers; the other waves the latest Newsweek poll, which says the people believe the information warriors have gone too far.

On balance, I think the characterization given by Carroll Doherty of the Pew Center (attached to the end of my last post) is probably correct:

"A solid plurality, around 50 percent" continues to say they would rather the government went too far in restricting civil liberties than not going far enough in protecting the country.

But I get a little crazy in the head when I hear people (usually on the authoritarian right) citing the latest poll numbers as a political justification for their own position.

The whole point of having civil liberties is that they are not supposed to be subject to a majority veto. Hobbes may not have believed in natural rights, but our founders did. And their opponents, the anti-Federalists, were even more zealous about restraining the powers of the federal superstate, which is why they forced the Federalists to write the Bill of Rights directly into the Constitution.

It defeats the purpose of having a 4th Amendment if its validiity is entirely dependent on breaking 50% in the latest poll. It would be nice to have "the people" on our side in this debate, and obviously a lot of them are, even if Doherty's plurality still prefers Leviathan's crushing embrace. But some things are wrong just because they're wrong -- not because a temporary majority (or even a permanent one) thinks they're wrong.

Real conservatives used to understand this. But the authoritarian right, for all of its talk about moral absolutes, understands and respects just one thing: power. In our system power flows from votes -- and having the money to demagogue those votes. It doesn't get more relativistic than that.

We can't do anything about how a corrupt, oligarchic system works (or rather, doesn't work) but we can at least stop accepting the other side's terms for the debate. What the government is doing is illegal and unamerican, and that would still be true if the polls showed 99% support -- in fact, it would be even more true.

Posted by billmon at May 13, 2006 02:45 PM

Friday, May 12, 2006

Digby - Baby Huey vs The Dauphin

Baby Huey vs The Dauphin

by digby

They really didn't need to do this poll on whether Clinton outperformed Bush. It's obvious to anyone who lived through the era. What the story fails to mention is that Clinton outperformed Bush while fighting off the rabid, slavering GOP congress of Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott that was determined not only to thwart his program but used every institutional lever of power they had to destroy him personally. He wasn't perfect, but the guy had the most amazing grace under pressure I've ever seen. He even showed good humor about it most of the time:

"I'm a lot like Baby Huey. I'm fat. I'm ugly. But if you push me down, I keep coming back."

Bush by contrast has had a free hand. He had an historical moment that could have brought the country and the entire world together --- which he decided instead to use as an opportunity to aggressively assert arrogant partisan and American power. Rather than being a "uniter not a divider" as he promised in the campaign, he roared into office with his one vote majority and treated the Democrats like lackeys, behaving as if he had a mandate to enact the most extreme items on the GOP agenda. He used patriotism as a bludgeon to intimidate all dissent against his inexplicable war with Iraq. At every turn he behaved with insolence and hubris and his failure has been manifest. Now he lives in a bubble, wandering around dazed and confused about what is happening to him --- which is not the result of Democratic partisanship, I might add, but rather the assessment of the American people. (The Democrats were paralyzed during most of his term.) Perhaps that's why his fall has been so steady --- the slow realization among the people that being a leader takes more than a manly swagger and a down home accent.

Bill Clinton may have been an imperfect human being but he was a president. This guy is, and always was, just a brand name in a suit.

David Neiwert - Ann Coulter and the Onset of Fascism

Ann Coulter and the Onset of Fascism
by David Neiwert

Did you notice how everyone on the right tut-tutted when Ann Coulter called for retaliation against "ragheads" -- but still, she continues to appear on college campuses and cable-TV programs apace. So much for that phony right-wing "outrage" over "extremists in their own ranks."

In reality, Coulter has long been leading the race of right-wing nutcases to move the demarcation line for "beyond the pale," and this week she demonstrated again that there are really no such limits for the right. Every week, they move the line farther to the right, until before you know it, you're staring outright fascism in the face.

Media Matters directs us to the latest Coulter emission, wherein she shrieks like a harpy about conservatives' lack of "manliness":

Democrats have declared war against Republicans, and Republicans are wandering around like a bunch of ninny Neville Chamberlains, congratulating themselves on their excellent behavior. They'll have some terrific stories about their Gandhi-like passivity to share while sitting in cells at Guantanamo after Hillary is elected.


Patriotic Americans don't have to become dangerous psychotics like liberals, but they could at least act like men.

Why hasn't the former spokesman for the Taliban matriculating at Yale been beaten even more senseless than he already is? According to Hollywood, this nation is a cauldron of ethnic hatreds positively brimming with violent skinheads. Where are the skinheads when you need them? What does a girl have to do to get an angry, club- and torch-wielding mob on its feet?

Let's be clear here: Coulter is not "joking." She is seriously calling for "manly" conservatives to inflict violence on a college student who is in the United States legally. Moreover, she is calling for a similar kind of violence as an appropriate response to "unhinged" and "violent" liberals.

This is, of course, the logical outcome of this whole argument, gaining greater circulation even among ostensible liberals, that the left is becoming dangerously unstable -- because, naturally, the "sensible" response calls for even greater doses of "manly" violence.

Coulter first tested this new variation on an old meme during a college-campus appearance last month in Chicago, as Lauren Patrizi reported:

Ann addressed her supporters in the crowd with this statement. "You're men. You're heterosexuals. Take 'em out." She chided them further when they did not rise. Before you knew it there was about 25 students marching to the balcony to supposedly "take out" the protestors above. I saw a priest holding students back and deans and security warning the students to go back to their seats. Chaos erupted. Ann left after taking one question.

Coulter's vaguely jocular reference in her column to employing skinheads on the right's behalf is also significant, because it is a nod and a wink -- and, combined with insults about one's manhood, a nudge -- in the direction of a historical reality regarding fascists: street thugs, in the early stages of fascism, were an essential element of their rise to power. The SA Brownshirts -- as well, in Italy, of Mussolini's black-shirted squadristi -- were used by supposedly mainstream conservatives as shock troops who could intimidate socialists, communists, and Jews; this was the key factor in the Thyssen-Nazi alliance. Similarly, right-wing thugs like the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s served to intimidate labor organizers and various leftists. (This was also an important subtext of Coulter's quip that her "only regret with Tim McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.")

The tide of right-wing eliminationism has been rising steadily in recent years, led in large part by Coulter and her sycophants. It has now topped the brim and is on the verge of bubbling over into action.

I warned a little while back that one of the real differences between movement conservatism and fascism is that the former "does not yet rely on physical violence and campaigns of gross intimidation to obtain power and suppress opposition."

If Ann Coulter -- who has a predilection for seeing her "outrageous" remarks become standard right-wing talking points -- has her way, that difference will soon disappear. All that will be necessary is for those young, heterosexual, "manly" conservatives to start following her advice, and proving their "manhood" in the only way they know how.

But then, that's what those fellows down in Jamul were doing, isn't it?

Don't worry, though: Coulter could sing the Horst Wessel Song in English and call for a Final Solution to liberalsim, and her friends on the right would smirk and assure us that she's just joking. Oh, and get a sense of humor too, you unhinged, violent moonbats, wouldja?

Then they'd book her for another round of cable talk shows.

Robert Parry - This Time, It Really Is Orwellian

This Time, It Really Is Orwellian
By Robert Parry
Consortium News

Friday 12 May 2006

Given George W. Bush's history of outright lying, especially on national security matters, it may seem silly to dissect his words about the new disclosure that his administration has collected phone records of some 200 million Americans.

But Bush made two parse-able points in reacting to USA Today's story about the National Security Agency building a vast database of domestic phone calls. "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," Bush said, adding "the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities."

In his brief remarks, however, Bush didn't define what he meant by "ordinary Americans" nor whether the data-mining might cover, say, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, just not "millions."

For instance, would a journalist covering national security be regarded as an "ordinary American"? What about a political opponent or an anti-war activist who has criticized administration policies in the Middle East? Such "unordinary" people might number in the tens of thousands, but perhaps not into the millions.

Also, isn't it reasonable to suspect that the Bush administration would be tempted to tap into its huge database to, say, check on who might have been calling reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker - or now USA Today - where significant national security stories have been published?

Or during Campaign 2004, wouldn't the White House political apparatchiks have been eager to know whether, say, Sen. John Kerry had been in touch with foreign officials who might have confided that they were worried about Bush gaining a second term?

Or what about calls to and from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald while he investigates a White House leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, the CIA officer married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq War critic?

What if one of these "unordinary" Americans had placed a lot of calls to an illicit lover or a psychiatrist? Wouldn't Bush's aggressive political operatives know just how to make the most of such information?


While such concerns might seem paranoid to some observers, Bush has blurred his political fortunes with the national interest before, such as his authorization to Vice President Dick Cheney's staff in mid-2003 to put out classified material on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to undercut Ambassador Wilson.

Though Plame was an undercover CIA officer working on sensitive WMD investigations, her classified identity was bandied about - and ultimately disclosed - by the likes of White House political adviser Karl Rove, who had no real "need to know" a discrete intelligence secret that sensitive.

In a court filing on April 5, 2006, Fitzgerald said his investigation uncovered government documents that "could be characterized as reflecting a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson" because of his criticism of the administration's handling of the evidence on Iraq's alleged pursuit of enriched uranium in Africa.

There are also historical reasons to suspect that the administration might be inclined to use its huge database against its critics. Some senior administration officials, such as Cheney, held key government jobs in the 1970s when one of the goals of spying on Americans was to ferret out suspected links between U.S. dissidents and foreign powers.

It had become an article of faith for some government officials that the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests must have been orchestrated and financed by some international enemy of the United States.

Some of the excesses in those investigations, such as the bugging of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and break-ins targeting Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, led to new laws in the 1970s limiting the power of the Executive.

For instance, in 1978, Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which tried to balance the government's legitimate interest in tracking foreign agents and the citizens' constitutional right of protection against unreasonable searches.

However, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Bush asserted "plenary" - or unlimited - powers as Commander in Chief and brushed aside legal requirements that the government obtain a warrant through a special FISA court before eavesdropping on phone calls inside the United States.


After making that decision, Bush lied to conceal what he had done. On April 20, 2004, he told a crowd in Buffalo, N.Y., that warrants were still required for all wiretaps.

"By the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order," Bush said. "Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

After the New York Times disclosed the warrantless wiretapping program in December 2005, Bush continued to misrepresent the program, calling it "limited" to "taking known al-Qaeda numbers - numbers from known al-Qaeda people - and just trying to find out why the phone calls are being made."

In his folksy style, he told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 11, 2006, that "it seems like to me that if somebody is talking to al-Qaeda, we want to know why."

But the program that Bush described could easily have been accomplished through warrants under the FISA law, which lets the government wiretap for 72 hours before going to a secret court for a warrant.

Even before the USA Today disclosure on May 11, 2006, it was clear that Bush's spying program was much larger than he had let on. Indeed, the operation was reportedly big enough to generate thousands of tips each month, which were passed on to the FBI.

"But virtually all of [the tips], current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans," the New York Times reported. "FBI officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators.… Some FBI officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy." [NYT, Jan. 17, 2006]

Also, undermining Bush's claims about the limited nature of the NSA's activities is why the administration would need to possess the complete phone records of the 200 million customers of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth - if the government were only conducting what Bush and his aides have called a "targeted terrorist surveillance program."

(Qwest, a Colorado-based company with about 14 million customers, refused to turn over its records to the government because there was no court order, USA Today reported.)

The stated goal of tracking phone numbers that had been called by al-Qaeda operatives could be easily done with warrants from the FISA court. There would be no need to compile every personal and business call made by 200 million Americans.

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," one person told USA Today. The program's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, the person said. [USA Today, May 11, 2006]

In describing Bush's policies over the past several years, the word "Orwellian" has sometimes been overused. But a government decision to electronically warehouse the trillions of phone numbers called by its citizens over their lifetimes is the essence of George Orwell's Big Brother nightmare.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & "Project Truth."

Molly Ivins - A Capital Full of Shih Tzu Reporters

A Capital Full of Shih Tzu Reporters
by Molly Ivins

As I occasionally survey the pack of sycophantic Shih Tzus* in the Washington press corps, wriggling on their bellies to kiss the feet of those in power, I feel plumb discouraged about the future of journalism.

It’s like a cross between Versailles under Louis XIV and high school: obsequious courtiers flattering their way to favor, plus the silly cliques of the “in crowd” and “out crowd.” On the other hand, I am greatly cheered by the young journalists in the blogosphere who have now whelped a perfect litter of books worth paying attention to.

For my marbles and chalk, the pick is David Sirota’s “Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government—and How We Take It Back.” Sirota is a new-generation populist who instinctively understands that the only real questions are “Who’s getting screwed?” and “Who’s doing the screwing?”

The extent to which corporate power has taken over the country and is running the table cannot be exaggerated and must not be ignored. Sirota has not only collected much new and useful information, he has put it into a package that provides handy weapons to fight back. Si, se puede.

Eric Boehlert, who writes for the online magazine Salon, has taken on the MSM (mainstream media) and dipped it for ticks in his book, “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.”

He recounts some breathtaking journalistic malfeasance—ignoring the Downing Street memos, the Valerie Plame case and many others. As usual, sins of omission dominate. The Washington press corps (which I think should be separated from “normal” parts of the press) is breathtakingly craven. In the face of intimidation and the lure of official approval, it has shown neither courage nor enterprise.

I don’t know how to account for this pitiable performance. One hears terrifying tales of when the press corps “turns,” when it rips and attacks like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Darn, not a shark in sight. The president’s approval ratings are at 31%, and not a single Shih Tzu will yap at him.

Sometimes misunderstandings between bloggers and the MSM are the result of simple ignorance. For example, there was the recent volley of disapproval from bloggers about the MSM’s failure to pay attention to comedian Stephen Colbert’s brilliant riff at the White House Correspondents Dinner. They weren’t ignoring Colbert—as I understand it, Colbert was the final speaker, and no paper can get much in after 10 p.m. on Saturday night. Stories have to be written, edited and printed, the presses roll and then the trucks roll. It’s old media, kids—we do not just punch a button at our shops.

It seems to me both MSM and the blogosphere could benefit from reading the new biography of Izzy Stone by Myra MacPherson, out in August. Because Izzy was pretty much the perfect journalist, we can all learn from “All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone.” What a pleasure! What a joy to read about the old dog on the hunt. Surprising, too. While Stone famously broke story after story by actually reading government documents instead of taking what the press was spoon-fed, MacPherson reminds us he was also a shoe-leather reporter, who went out to interviews, press conferences and the daily bash, where he occasionally harassed spokesmen.

Today, the bloggers seem to me to be breaking more toward opinion than journalism, which I think is a shame.

A noble exception is Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, which is completely on top of its chosen topics. Of course, Stone practiced opinion journalism, as do I, but with him the hard reporting always came first.

I have no objections to anyone breaking into the guild of journalism without the credentials of journalism school or experience on a print daily (though I highly recommend especially the latter). I do object to those who jump from political hackery to flackery and expect respect. Truly, if you can’t cover a five-car pileup on Route 128, you should not be covering a presidential campaign.

The danger of the blogosphere is reading only those you agree with. While there are right-wing blogs that are entertaining freak shows, it’s hard to find substantial journalism there. I hate to list bloggers I like because I’m bound to leave out so many, but here goes: Daily Kos, Eschaton, Altercation, Political Animal and Media Matters.

* With apologies to those Shih Tzus with the hearts of lions.

Molly Ivins is the former editor of the liberal monthly The Texas Observer. She is the bestselling author of several books including Who Let the Dogs In?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls

From the USA Today

NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls

Updated 5/11/2006 10:38 AM ET
By Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: The NSA record collection program

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.

The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.

The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program. Hayden declined to comment about the program.

The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.

In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."

As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.

Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.

Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, declined to discuss the agency's operations. "Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide," he said. "However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law."

The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. "There is no domestic surveillance without court approval," said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.

She added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government "are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists." All government-sponsored intelligence activities "are carefully reviewed and monitored," Perino said. She also noted that "all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States."

The government is collecting "external" data on domestic phone calls but is not intercepting "internals," a term for the actual content of the communication, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program. This kind of data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it's been done before, though never on this large a scale, the official said. The data are used for "social network analysis," the official said, meaning to study how terrorist networks contact each other and how they are tied together.

Carriers uniquely positioned

AT&T recently merged with SBC and kept the AT&T name. Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T are the nation's three biggest telecommunications companies; they provide local and wireless phone service to more than 200 million customers.

The three carriers control vast networks with the latest communications technologies. They provide an array of services: local and long-distance calling, wireless and high-speed broadband, including video. Their direct access to millions of homes and businesses has them uniquely positioned to help the government keep tabs on the calling habits of Americans.

Among the big telecommunications companies, only Qwest has refused to help the NSA, the sources said. According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.

Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.

Created by President Truman in 1952, during the Korean War, the NSA is charged with protecting the United States from foreign security threats. The agency was considered so secret that for years the government refused to even confirm its existence. Government insiders used to joke that NSA stood for "No Such Agency."

In 1975, a congressional investigation revealed that the NSA had been intercepting, without warrants, international communications for more than 20 years at the behest of the CIA and other agencies. The spy campaign, code-named "Shamrock," led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was designed to protect Americans from illegal eavesdropping.

Enacted in 1978, FISA lays out procedures that the U.S. government must follow to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of people believed to be engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States. A special court, which has 11 members, is responsible for adjudicating requests under FISA.

Over the years, NSA code-cracking techniques have continued to improve along with technology. The agency today is considered expert in the practice of "data mining" — sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. Data mining is just one of many tools NSA analysts and mathematicians use to crack codes and track international communications.

Paul Butler, a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in terrorism crimes, said FISA approval generally isn't necessary for government data-mining operations. "FISA does not prohibit the government from doing data mining," said Butler, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.

The caveat, he said, is that "personal identifiers" — such as names, Social Security numbers and street addresses — can't be included as part of the search. "That requires an additional level of probable cause," he said.

The usefulness of the NSA's domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.

The NSA's domestic program raises legal questions. Historically, AT&T and the regional phone companies have required law enforcement agencies to present a court order before they would even consider turning over a customer's calling data. Part of that owed to the personality of the old Bell Telephone System, out of which those companies grew.

Ma Bell's bedrock principle — protection of the customer — guided the company for decades, said Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director of Consumers Union. "No court order, no customer information — period. That's how it was for decades," he said.

The concern for the customer was also based on law: Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.

The financial penalties for violating Section 222, one of many privacy reinforcements that have been added to the law over the years, can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation. The FCC has no hard definition of "violation." In practice, that means a single "violation" could cover one customer or 1 million.

In the case of the NSA's international call-tracking program, Bush signed an executive order allowing the NSA to engage in eavesdropping without a warrant. The president and his representatives have since argued that an executive order was sufficient for the agency to proceed. Some civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, disagree.

Companies approached

The NSA's domestic program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the sources. Right around that time, they said, NSA representatives approached the nation's biggest telecommunications companies. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.

The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.

The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg.

With that, the NSA's domestic program began in earnest.

AT&T, when asked about the program, replied with a comment prepared for USA TODAY: "We do not comment on matters of national security, except to say that we only assist law enforcement and government agencies charged with protecting national security in strict accordance with the law."

In another prepared comment, BellSouth said: "BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority."

Verizon, the USA's No. 2 telecommunications company behind AT&T, gave this statement: "We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers' privacy."

Qwest spokesman Robert Charlton said: "We can't talk about this. It's a classified situation."

In December, The New York Times revealed that Bush had authorized the NSA to wiretap, without warrants, international phone calls and e-mails that travel to or from the USA. The following month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T. The lawsuit accuses the company of helping the NSA spy on U.S. phone customers.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales alluded to that possibility. Appearing at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Gonzales was asked whether he thought the White House has the legal authority to monitor domestic traffic without a warrant. Gonzales' reply: "I wouldn't rule it out." His comment marked the first time a Bush appointee publicly asserted that the White House might have that authority.

Similarities in programs

The domestic and international call-tracking programs have things in common, according to the sources. Both are being conducted without warrants and without the approval of the FISA court. The Bush administration has argued that FISA's procedures are too slow in some cases. Officials, including Gonzales, also make the case that the USA Patriot Act gives them broad authority to protect the safety of the nation's citizens.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would not confirm the existence of the program. In a statement, he said, "I can say generally, however, that our subcommittee has been fully briefed on all aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. ... I remain convinced that the program authorized by the president is lawful and absolutely necessary to protect this nation from future attacks."

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., declined to comment.

One company differs

One major telecommunications company declined to participate in the program: Qwest.

According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.

Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.

The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.

The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.

In June 2002, Nacchio resigned amid allegations that he had misled investors about Qwest's financial health. But Qwest's legal questions about the NSA request remained.

Unable to reach agreement, Nacchio's successor, Richard Notebaert, finally pulled the plug on the NSA talks in late 2004, the sources said.

Contributing: John Diamond

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Iraq War Is Drawing Less Support Than Vietnam Did at Same Stage

Iraq War Is Drawing Less Support Than Vietnam Did at Same Stage

By Heidi Przybyla

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Three years into major combat in Vietnam, 28,500 U.S. service members had perished, millions of families were anxious about the military draft and antiwar protests had spread to dozens of college campuses.

Today, at the same juncture in the Iraq war, about 2,400 American soldiers have died, the U.S. military consists entirely of volunteers and public dissent is sporadic.

There's one other difference: The war in Iraq is more unpopular than was the Vietnam conflict at this stage, polls show.

More Americans -- 57 percent -- say sending troops to Iraq was a mistake than the 48 percent who called Vietnam an error in April 1968, polls by the Princeton, New Jersey-based Gallup Organization show. That's because more people believed that Vietnam was crucial to U.S. security, scholars say.

``People simply value the stakes much lower in Iraq than they did in Vietnam,'' said John Mueller, a presidential historian at Ohio State University in Columbus. Vietnam ``seemed vital in terms of the Cold War and stopping the communists. People don't see this as an important adventure.''

The poll numbers suggest that President George W. Bush may come under overwhelming pressure from voters to resolve the war, as did President Lyndon B. Johnson 38 years ago, even though both men vowed to stay the course.

``I doubt that he's going to be able to buy very much time at all,'' William Leuchtenburg, a retired historian who taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a past president of the American Historical Association, said of Bush. With no signs of an Iraq policy change, he said, ``Bush and the Republicans will pay a price, particularly in some of the Senate races.''

Congress at Stake

Control of both chambers of Congress is at stake in this November's elections, and any Republican losses will further complicate Bush's ability to continue his Iraq policy.

Already, some Republicans are clamoring for an exit strategy and pressuring party leaders for a chance to discuss the issue. On May 2, House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said the House may debate the war for the first time later this year.

As passionate as Americans were about Vietnam, some 12 percent of them had failed to form an opinion about the war by April 1968, according to Gallup data.

Today, just 1 percent of Americans are undecided about Iraq. And disapproval of Bush's decision to invade is 15 percentage points higher than approval, an April 7-9 Gallup poll of 1,004 adults showed. That's twice as wide a gap as on Vietnam at this time four decades ago.

Job Ratings Drop

Bush's job-approval ratings are lower than were Johnson's during the far bloodier Vietnam conflict. Among the reasons: the highly publicized intelligence failures that preceded the Iraq invasion of 2003, the fact that Bush began the war, and the shadow of Vietnam itself, historians say.

From January to July of 1968 Johnson's monthly approval ratings fluctuated at 40 percent or above, with one exception, Gallup polling data show; Bush's approval has been stuck below 40 percent since February of this year, according to several national polls. His rating fell to a record-low 31 percent in the latest Gallup Poll, conducted May 5-7 with USA Today.

Some Republicans say Bush's disapproval ratings on the war may have more to do with the more extensive coverage by the media today than anything else.

``You're not comparing apples to apples,'' said John Brabender, a Republican political consultant in Leesburg, Virginia. ``You did not have cable news or the Internet. What expansive news programming has created is a larger voice for dissent, a larger discussion and a comfort level to express it that you've never seen.''

Flawed Intelligence

Some historians say Bush has met with such resistance because of the flawed intelligence he used to make the case for war. He began the effort focused on former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction; in October 2002, Bush warned of a ``smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.''

No such stocks were ever found, and Defense Intelligence Agency and CIA reports have surfaced saying there was no evidence Iraq was reconstituting its weapons. Bush also sought to tie Hussein's government to the al-Qaeda terror network, a link that's never been substantiated.

The closest parallel in Vietnam was the reports of unprovoked North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. Those alleged incidents eventually fueled an escalation of the war, with Johnson announcing air strikes in 1965.

Compared with Iraq, ``there weren't such blatantly false assumptions exposed at so early a date,'' Leuchtenburg said.

Full Responsibility

Bush's low approval ratings are also a result of his being given full responsibility for progress or setbacks in Iraq, said Bert Rockman, a presidential scholar at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

``Johnson inherited a problem that came from Eisenhower, through Kennedy to him,'' he said. ``In Bush's case, this was something he created.''

Finally, the legacy of Vietnam is contributing to the current administration's public opinion woes, according to historians. ``The Iraq war stands in the shadow of Vietnam,'' said Robert Dallek, a retired Boston University professor and author of the book ``Lyndon B. Johnson, Portrait of a President,'' published last year. ``They remember that as a quagmire.''

Public Relations

The similarities between Bush and Johnson extend to how the two dealt with their public-approval problems. In November 1967, the Johnson administration launched a public-relations campaign to convince Congress, the press and the public there was progress in Vietnam. Johnson was counseled by advisers to emphasize ``the light at the end of the tunnel.'' While public support rose, it quickly sank in early 1968 as the Viet Cong started what came to be known as the Tet Offensive.

By September 1968, disapproval of the war had risen to levels similar to the dissent over Iraq today, the Gallup data shows.

In a series of speeches last year and early this year, Bush has touted successes in Iraq, including beginning his remarks marking the third anniversary of the invasion on March 19 by saying he's ``encouraged by the progress.''

Bush, like Johnson, has signaled that it will be up to his successors to resolve the war.

He said in a March news conference that complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is an objective that ``will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.''

Did media miss real Colbert story?

Did media miss real Colbert story?

May 7, 2006

BY DOUG ELFMAN Television Critic

A "blogstorm" is thundering across liberal Web sites. Many liberals are furious at the White House press corps for virtually ignoring Stephen Colbert's keynote speech at the press corp's own White House Correspondents' Dinner last Saturday. To non-liberals, this may seem like an isolated complaint. To liberals, it further justifies their belief that the media, particularly TV news, is a big stinking cabal of conservatives.

The truth is many in the media wrote about Bush's stand-up routine at the dinner as if they had just watched the coming of a comic genius, but they didn't report much on Colbert's funnier, harsher jokes. This may have been a case of the press corps following a standard motto: to the winner goes the spoils, and Bush got more laughs (out of copy written for him) than Colbert did.

How did Bush tickle reporters? He made fun of the fact that he can barely speak English (he is quite simply the worst communicator of all U.S. presidents), that our vice president is a heartless face-shooter, and that Bush is basically an idiot.

Ha ha, our "war president" knows he's a village idiot? To members of the White House press corps, that's some real funny stuff. To non-insiders, this looked like another example of good old boys and gals slapping each other on the back.

Colbert's routine was more remarkable for its unique and creative brazenness. He joked that Bush's presidency is like the Hindenburg; that Bush's wiretappers were monitoring this very event, and that the White House press corps, sitting in front of Colbert, gave Bush a free pass, scandal after scandal, until recently (when his polls numbers dropped).

How's this for a newsworthy lead? It was perhaps the first time in Bush's tenure that the president was forced to sit and listen to any American cite the litany of criminal and corruption allegations that have piled up against his administration. And mouth-tense Bush and first lady Laura Bush fled as soon as possible afterward.

From whom were they fleeing? A star comedian pretending to be a Fox News-like blowhard doing a sort of performance art that America hasn't witnessed nationally since the days of Andy Kaufman. Even if Colbert's bit had been reported as a train wreck, that would have sufficed. Instead, shocking lines like the following were barely covered by any traditional organ except industry magazine Editor & Publisher: "I stand by" Bush, Colbert cracked, "because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble, and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

For TV reporters in particular to quote that gruesome line would be an agreement with Colbert, that they helped Bush mix politics with corruption from the ashes of 9/11 ("aircraft carriers and rubble"), and failed to see through Bush's politicization of the drowning of an American city after a hurricane ("recently flooded city squares").

But ignoring a newsworthy keynote speech -- at an event the press corps itself set up -- doesn't go unnoticed anymore. Internet stables for liberals, like the behemoth, began rumbling as soon as the correspondents' dinner was reported in the mainstream press, with scant word of Colbert's combustive address.

This is trouble for the media. It has been losing customers to bloggers and Web sites for years. This won't help. The media's implosion of silence could be one of the final reasons many liberals use to not turn on TV news. It's not like they feel a vested interest in the industry anyway, since it has been bought and parceled by conservatives.

There is Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, that Pravda of GOP propaganda and breeding ground for Bush appointees. There are the networks' Sunday news shows that give more face time to Republicans. There are cable news channels like MSNBC, where Republicans have programmed the shows and hired on-air Republicans and conservatives-lite, from Tucker Carlson to Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews. Some TV watchdogs even chronicle these conservative media daily, backed up by transcripts and video clips from TV news shows, in the expansive Web site,

On cable, only CNN still plays the journalism-school middle ground most of the time, questioning liberals, moderates and conservatives with equal skepticism and respect. Clearly, in terms of advertising revenue, CNN alone cares to attract the disposable income of American viewers of all political stripes.

To liberals, this must be somewhat puzzling, since the rest of the conservative media primarily sides with a president whose approval ratings stand at 32 percent, a whisker better than Nixon's before he resigned in disgrace.

Liberals find true solace on TV only in the fake news of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show," a place where Jon Stewart merely has to show actual clips of Bush speaking, or Condi Rice, or Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld to elicit laughter at their hubris. If NBC News let in audiences during its broadcasts, those people might also laugh at the president.

But the TV news corps, the unthinking and unblinking herd of pack journalists, prefer to laugh with the president, and kiss many viewers goodbye.

Transcript: 'I'm a simple man with a simple mind'

In his keynote speech at the media dinner, Stephen Colbert played the earnest but clueless newsman of his Comedy Central TV show, 'The Colbert Report.' Here's an edited transcript:

Wow, wow, what an honor. The White House Correspondents' Dinner. To just sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what, I'm a pretty sound sleeper, that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face.

Is he really not here tonight? The one guy who could have helped.

By the way, before I get started, if anybody needs anything at their tables, speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers and somebody from the NSA will be right over with a cocktail.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press corps, Mr. President and first lady, my name is Stephen Colbert and it's my privilege tonight to celebrate our president. He's not so different, he and I. We get it. We're not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the "fact-inista." We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say "I did look it up," and that's not true. That's because you looked it up in a book. Next time look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works.

Every night on my show, "The Colbert Report," I speak straight from the gut, OK? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the no-fact zone. Fox News, I own the copyright on that term.

I'm a simple man with a simple mind, with a simple set of beliefs that I live by.

Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there. I feel that it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I strongly believe it has 50 states. And I cannot wait to see how the Washington Post spins that one tomorrow.

I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.

I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible -- I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical.

And though I am a committed Christian, I believe everyone has the right to their own religion, be it Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it's yogurt. But I refuse to believe it's not butter. Most of all I believe in this president. Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

So, Mr. President, pay no attention to the people that say the glass is half full. Pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32 percent means it's 2/3 empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash.

Folks, my point is that I don't believe this is a low point in this presidency. I believe it is just a lull, before a comeback. I mean, it's like the movie "Rocky." The president is Rocky and Apollo Creed is everything else in the world. It's the 10th round. He's bloodied, his corner man [is] Mick, who in this case would be the vice president, and he's yelling "Cut me, Dick, cut me," and every time he falls she says stay down! Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky, he gets back up and in the end he -- actually loses in the first movie. OK. It doesn't matter. The point is the heart-warming story of a man who was repeatedly punched in the face.

So don't pay attention to the approval ratings that say 68 percent of Americans disapprove of the job this man is doing. I ask you this, does that not also logically mean that 68 percent approve of the job he's not doing? Think about it. I haven't.

I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.

Now, there may be an energy crisis. This president has a very forward-thinking energy policy. Why do you think he's down on the ranch cutting that brush all the time? He's trying to create an alternative energy source. By 2008 we will have a mesquite-powered car.

And I just like the guy. He's a good joe. Obviously loves his wife, calls her his better half. And polls show America agrees. She's a true lady and a wonderful woman. But I just have one beef, ma'am. I'm sorry, but this reading initiative. I've never been a fan of books. I don't trust them. They're all fact, no heart. I mean, they're elitists telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen. What's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was built in 1914. If I want to say it was built in 1941, that's my right as an American. I'm with the president, let history decide what did or did not happen.

The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change, this man's beliefs never will.

And as excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story -- the President's side and the vice president's side. But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in Eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason -- they're super depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished.

Over the last five years you people were so good over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home.

Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know, fiction.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ron Fullwood - Bush and Repugs at Their Most Dangerous

Bush and Repugs at Their Most Dangerous;
Scorching the Earth Behind Them
By Ron Fullwood

Sunday 07 May 2006

This could be the most dangerous period of Bush's reign.

If it's true that the next presidential election has already begun, then it's also true that the end of the Bush regime is unfolding as well. I should be feeling some satisfaction in that, and, I will, when it's over.

This could be the most dangerous period of Bush's reign. The carefully layered walls of Bush's bubble are closing in as the outer layers of purchased politicos are beginning to peel away, revealing the core ideologues of the cabal. Long gone are wistful architects of the new, bloody American imperialism like Wolfowitz and Perle. As they receded, loyalists like Rice, Hadley, Gordon England, etc. advanced up the chain they forged with their military industrial alliances into catbird seats, lording over our defense budgets, plotting out their imperious ambitions with no fear in their fiefdom.

Stepping out from behind the curtain into the positions of power are faces of past bloody mis-adventures like Negroponte, and engineers of the new American fascism, like Gen. Hayden, whose tenure is marked by the admission of the treasonous act of spying on Americans he shared with the president who directed him there.

This bunch's retreat from their privileged bunkers at the end of Bush's term will be marred by more than misplaced furniture and missing typewriter keys. They are neck-deep in two occupations (both with active, violent resistance), complete with over a thousand prisoners, most held without charges, and many subject to torture which continues even in the wake of the revelations at Abu Ghraib; they are actively engaged in another similar face down of another sovereign nation, Iran, threatening them with preemptive war without any evidence of any threat, direct or otherwise; and our nation is being held hostage to outrageous prices for gas and oil, fueled in a great part by the very militarism that Bush's father promised in the first Gulf war would secure the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf.

The core ideologues who comprise the leadership in the U.S. offices of war and muckraking have long nursed their ambitions to ride the nation's military machine to world dominance and influence. Unchecked, they're going to scorch the earth before their regime dies.

Cheney did his best to lurch our nation back into the Cold War Thursday when he criticized Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin at a conference in Lithuania. He accused Russia of using their oil reserves as "tools of intimidation or blackmail."

Cheney went from there to Kazakhstan to buddy up with the oppressive state (two presidential candidates murdered in the past 6 months), score their oil, and possibly persuade them to bypass the Russians with their pipeline to directly supply the West, possibly coming out in Turkey.

Russian press immediately accused Cheney of trying to start a new Cold war. That's what Kommersant, a major newspaper there called it: "The beginning of a second Cold War." That would mesh with the Bush regime's ambition to use their militarism to catapult the U.S. into an era of paranoiac appropriations of our tax dollars into their military industry protection racket. Stir up a nemesis and force the nation to spend their great-grandchildren's future on weaponry and mobilizations of our fractured forces defending against the certain reprisals and recriminations.

All of this is fostered, nurtured, and perpetuated by a State Dept. more concerned with proliferating war than in promoting the institution of peace. We started out with the agency headed by the general who prosecuted the first bloody, neo-con aggression against sovereign Iraq, now we will presumably have a general running the CIA. At the U.N. Bush has installed a man who has publicly asserted that the institution 'doesn't exist'.

John Bolton, leading foreign policy adviser and diplomat of the U.S. regime which doles out nuclear favors and permissions according to how low countries bow to them, while punishing those who dare to criticize them, is actively trying to intimidate the international community into approving a security council resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable, to make all IAEA resolutions mandatory.

Instead of continuing with the dismantling of our nuclear arsenal, the Bush regime set out from the beginning of their reign to awaken the nation's slumbering nuclear program in their ambition to build more radioactive bombs with new justifications for their use. They want to build nuclear bunker-busters; the type of weapon that, coincidently, they have called for to disrupt the weapon's labs they have conjured up in Iran beyond any supporting evidence. In all, no nemesis, no new nukes.

The danger from this retreating U.S. regime is not just in the new money they seek for new nukes, or for ground-based lasers to shoot down 'enemy' satellites. It's not just from the money they want for new construction of permanent military bases in Iraq, or for new prison construction at Gitmo and Afghanistan. The danger's not restricted to assertions by the Executive branch that they have the authority to ignore or re-interpret any law because of a congressional authorization to catch the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks.

The real danger is in the mindlessly callous manner the Bush regime has set the bulk of the world against our nation by acting on their manufactured mandate to conquer. Their aggressive and violent expansionism has provoked lesser equipped nations to unconventional defenses in support of basic expressions of liberty and self-determination, which the Bushites false authority disregards as mere threats to their consolidation of power.

Across the globe there was, at least, a tacit understanding about our nation's military forces, which were to be guileless in their unassailable defenses, that there was some internal moral compass that would stifle our leader's tendencies toward repression and domination with the checks and balances of our democracy. But, the institutions of our government have been invaded by a cabal of industry executives whose ambitions to rape our Treasury for their own greed have been unabated by the representatives we elect to account for our tax dollars. Their only relevant authority outside of their squabbling is the allocation of our hard-earned contributions to government, which they pass around among their industry benefactors as if they hadn't already broken the bank with over 40% of our national debt foreign-owned.

The legacy of the Bush regime will be a loaded Supreme Court, a kudzu of surveillance and muckraking against Americans, indenture to price inflation by wizened energy producing nations antagonized by his arrogant assumption of U.S. ownership of their resources by virtue of our need, and, of course, a manipulated foreign policy which exploits the resources of the defenseless around the world for the benefit of a minority of industry leeches.

The continuing danger of this regressive regime is in trumped-up, bloody invasions of sovereign nations to rob them of their oil and resources. And, it's in the shackling of countless generations of Americans to a corporate agenda of U.S. world domination, supported by the perpetual sacrifice of the lives and blood of generations of our sons and daughters in continuous world war. Regaining control of Congress from the republican enablers will be the first step in coaxing the tentacles of their fascism from their grip on the institutions of our democracy.

Then, our Democratic leaders will have to act . . . to reclaim the ground.

Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book Power of Mischief": Military Industry Executives Are Making Bush Policy and the Country Is Paying the Price.

Bush Clears the Way for Corporate Domination

Bush Clears the Way for Corporate Domination
By Joshua Holland

Friday 05 May 2006

Antonia Juhasz, author of 'The Bush Agenda,' explains what Bush really means when he says he wants to spread freedom around the world.

When George W. Bush says that he wants to spread freedom to every corner of the earth, he means it.

But of course the president that turned Soviet-era gulags into secret CIA prisons in order to do God-knows-what to God-knows-whom isn't talking about individual freedom. He means corporate freedom - freedom for the great multinationals to extract everything they can from the world's resources and labor without the hindrance of public interest laws, environmental regulations or worker protections.

Bush's vision of a free world actually looks just like the corporate globalization agenda pushed by a succession of American presidents in institutions like the World Trade Organization.

But this administration yearns for freedom too much to leave it up to trade negotiators. Unlike his predecessors, Bush isn't content to use carrots and sticks and a liberal dose of arm twisting to advance that agenda. His administration has made the neoliberal policies euphemistically referred to as "free-trade" a centerpiece of its national security policy.

Bush is willing to use the awesome force of the United States military to guarantee the freedom of the world's largest multinationals.

In her new book, The Bush Agenda, Antonia Juhasz peels the veils away from Bush's agenda - imperialism, militarism and corporate globalization - and exposes who drives it: a group of hawkish ideologues with an unprecedented relationship to major defense and energy companies.

Juhasz shows that the invasion of Iraq - an invasion that was as much economic as military - was the centerpiece of a larger project: the creation a New American Century in which the end-goal of American foreign policy is to enrich the corporate elites, and dissent at home will not be tolerated. Juhasz is a wonk - she got her start as a staffer for Rep. John Conyers - but the book is as readable as it is deeply researched.

I caught up with Juhasz last week at Washington's Union Station, just blocks away from the White House, to chat about The Bush Agenda.

Joshua Holland: [19th century Prussian military philosopher Carl von] Clausewitz said that war is an extension of politics by other means. You suggest that for the Bush administration, war is an extension of corporate globalization by other means. Run down your basic premise.

Antonia Juhasz: The Bush administration has implemented a particularly radical model of corporate globalization by which it has teamed overt military might - full-scale invasion - with the advancement of its corporate globalization agenda. And this model is particularly imperial - that's one of the things that makes it different from, for example, the Reagan or Bush Sr. regimes. As opposed to simply replacing the head of a regime that is no longer serving the interests of the administration, the Bush team has gone further - using a military invasion to fundamentally transform a country's political and economic structure.

It is also using an occupation to maintain that altered structure, which is the definition of imperialism in my mind: spreading the empire by changing the very laws of foreign nations to service the empire's needs. And, as Bush is repeatedly saying, "Iraq is only the beginning." I detail the rest of the empire's pursuits across the Middle East in the chapter on the U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area.

The fundamental purpose of the book was to determine how this model came to be, where its advocates hope it will go and who its advocates are so that we can better dismantle it.

JH: But Bush isn't the first to use a full-scale invasion - unilaterally - in furtherance of those goals. I think of Reagan's invasion of Grenada to knock off Maurice Bishop, a moderate socialist.

AJ: There was no occupation, and it wasn't done the same way that the Bush administration - using its own tools, its own people, its own policies - to explicitly restructure the entire functioning of the country's economy to serve its own ends. Reagan wanted a different leader, a leader that would meet his needs and that was enough. Bush has locked in an entirely new economic and political structure. I'm certainly not justifying the invasion of Grenada, but for me that was quantitatively different.

JH: What is Pax Americana - the "American Peace" - and what is it about the original Roman version, Pax Romana, that makes it a poor model to emulate?

AJ: I talk about Pax Americana because that's what members of the administration talk about - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Khalilzad, Perle, Zoellick, Bolton. … In fact, there are 16 members of the Bush administration that were also participants in the Project for the New American Century, which was very clear that the U.S. not only has a Pax Americana but should seek to maintain it.

This is problematic because it seeks to achieve the Roman model, with an all-powerful emperor who ran his kingdom on 50 percent slave labor, who eliminated all guarantees of civil liberties and eliminated all civic participation, but maintained the fallacy of public institutions and participatory government to keep the elites at bay - to make elites feel like they had the presence and prestige of serving in government.

So there were senators and there were "representatives of the people," but of course the emperor appointed those he wanted to sit in the senate, and he chose those who would serve his interests. And then he appointed regional overlords to oversee the rest of the empire. In addition, the idea that Rome generated peace - that it really was in fact a Pax Romana that guaranteed peace for the rest of the world - is false. To create the empire, there was an enormous amount of war and bloodshed, and also to maintain the empire there was continued fighting as nations and peoples were forced to acquiesce.

However, there was a period of about 200 years where there was relatively less struggle within Rome over who would rule. But one key reason Rome was able to maintain that internal peace was all the money that the empire poured into public services - building aqueducts, providing services, supporting intellectual thought and - as I say in the book - creating the Western Canon.

The Bush administration has chosen all the worst elements of the Roman Empire: the lack of civil liberties and the movement towards a nonrepresentative government run by a dictator. Even the most conservative Republican columnist will admit that Bush has consolidated more and more power in the executive branch than any president in modern history. And he's increased the proportion of people in the United States in the lower income sphere, people who have to work day in and day out in order to meet basic needs like health care, and who often aren't able to meet those needs. I argue that that is a modern form of slavery.

And while the administration is explicitly imperial - it is trying to annex other nations through its military and its economic policy - its not putting any of that attention to public education, public resources and public services. So we are getting the worst of the worst. And just as it was a myth that the Pax Romana created world peace, the Pax Americana clearly generates more global insecurity. Acts of deadly terror have increased every year of the Bush administration; they increased more than three-fold between 2003 and 2004.

JH: So he's not just the worst president ever, he's also the worst …

AJ: … Yes, he's also the worst emperor ever.

JH: You're blunt about calling Iraq an economic invasion. Most analyses are geopolitical, but you put it together with the long-standing wish list of the corporate globalists. Can you tell me about Bremer's100 rules and what Bearing Point is?

AJ: If you look at the corporations that have profited most from the invasion - Bechtel, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and Chevron - these are all corporations that have decades of operations and activities trying to increase their economic engagement in Iraq - lobbying the U.S. government to increase their access to Iraq. And they've done so successfully - first with Saddam Hussein and later with the coalition authorities and now with the new government of Iraq. They have participated with or guided - you can choose the word you want - the Bush administration in its invasion. Through their executives, they played key roles in advocating for war. George Shultz is the perfect example and one I focus on in the book.

I emphasize that it's an absolute fallacy that there was no post-war plan. The plan was written two months before the invasion of Iraq by a company, Bearing Point Inc., which is based in Virginia - it was KPMG Consulting until it changed its name in the wake of the Arthur Anderson-Enron corruption scandals. The company is not well-known. It works behind the scenes for every branch of government, and it provides all kinds of consulting services.

Bearing point received a $250 million contract from USAID to write a remodeled structure for the Iraqi economy. It was to transition Iraq from a state-controlled economy to a market economy, but I argue that the new model was more a state-controlled economy that is controlled on behalf of multinational corporations, and heavily regulated in fact on behalf of multinational corporations. It just no longer serves the public interest.

Bearing point's plan was implemented to a T by L. Paul Bremer, the administrator of Iraq's coalition government. The U.N.'s special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, called him the "Dictator of Iraq," and he was. He ruled Iraq for 14 months, and he implemented Bearing Point's plan; he rewrote Iraq's entire economic and political structure by implementing his 100 orders. The orders had the force of law, and any Iraqi laws that contradicted the orders were overridden.

The 100 orders put into place a standard set of corporate globalization policies. Instead of having to wait for Iraq to become a member of the World Trade Organization, for example, or to fulfill requirements of the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, or worrying about whether the policies they most wanted would be accepted, the administration was able to simply invade, occupy and impose those provisions itself. And many of those provisions have been long opposed at institutions like the WTO - for example the investments provisions - but they were implemented overnight in Iraq with a stroke of the pen by Paul Bremer.

Probably the most important order in terms of what happened with the occupation was the very first order. Bremer fired 120,000 key bureaucrats in every government ministry in Iraq. That meant that ministries that had been functioning very well for decades lost their bureaucracies almost overnight. The excuse that was given was that they were Ba'ath Party members, but nobody could hold those positions unless they belonged to the Ba'ath Party, so it wasn't an indication that they were a party to Saddam Hussein's crimes. They were fired because they could have stood in the way of the economic transformation.

Then there was the firing of the entire Iraqi military, and I think that problem is well-known. Less well-known is how that played out in relation to the rest of the orders. Order number 39 was the foreign investment order. There were several provisions which I detail in the book, but the most important may be national treatment, which meant that Iraqis could not preference Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers in the reconstruction.

So 150 United States corporations have received $50 billion for work in Iraq, $33 billion of which was exclusively for standard reconstruction - building bridges, repairing electricity and repairing water. But originally the plan was to use the soldiers - the Iraqi military - for the reconstruction. Instead of taking a half a million men and canceling their salaries and sending them home with guns, they were going to go to work and get money, and provide for their families and be part of the reconstruction.

Even worse is that those American companies failed. Miserably. And it's not just because of the insurgency - the insurgency didn't begin immediately. They failed because they went in to maximize their profit, to build the most expensive state-of-the-art systems they could and to get their feet firmly in Iraq so they would be able to profit long term. But what Iraq needed was just to get the systems up and running. It was summer in the desert.

JH: How long did it take for Iraq to get those systems up after the first invasion?

AJ: Three months. The Iraqi workers and companies rebuilt their systems in three months.

JH: OK, so Bremer imposed these rules under the Coalition Provisional Authority. Explain how rules set up by a provisional government ended up codified in Iraq's new constitution?

AJ: Bremer appointed an interim government for Iraq when the occupation formally ended. The interim government, together with Bremer, threw out the existing Iraqi Constitution. And I think at the time there was this idea that it was a nation being molded out of the dirt - that it didn't have a government, didn't have a structure - and here was the United States helping them form a constitutional convention. But they had a government, they had a constitution - they've had a constitution since 1922. We didn't have to create a constitutional government for them.

The first constitution that was written had all of Bremer's orders, and it could only be changed by a very complicated process - it essentially locked the orders in. Then the new constitution for Iraq was supposed to be "of the people." It was drafted by the interim government and put to a popular vote. But it was crafted so that it locked into place the occupation, the economic transformation, the constitutionality of the new oil law - which the United States had drafted - and all of the Bremer orders.

The only public discussion of the constitution was the few things people were gleaning from the press and what their religious leaders - who were themselves gleaning it from the press - told them. Five days before the constitution was to be voted on, the paper copies were released. They made 5 million copies for 15 million voters. And on that same day, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was meeting with influential Iraqi leaders to rewrite fundamental aspects of that very constitution. There was absolutely no way that the vast majority of the Iraqi people had any idea what was in the constitution. They were voting for hope, and they risked their lives to do so. But there's no way they knew that they were voting to maintain the Bremer orders.

JH: What's the Hague Convention of 1907?

AJ: Under international law an occupying government has one set of responsibilities, and they're very clear. An occupying government must provide security and basic services. An occupying government explicitly cannot fundamentally rewrite the laws of the country they're occupying. The United States did exactly the opposite; we rewrote the laws, and we didn't provide basic services or security for the people.

JH: Did we ratify the Hague Conventions?

AJ: We certainly did.

JH: You focus on four firms that pushed the policy and have profited handsomely from the invasion: Bechtel, Chevron, Lockheed Martin and Halliburton. But there are many other multinational corporations that have both made a killing in Iraq and have close ties to both the administration and to the conservative movement more generally. Why those four and, playing devil's advocate, is there a danger focusing on a small number of firms when the issues are militarism and corporate globalization more broadly?

AJ: These four companies have the longest relationship to Iraq. Through their executives, they lobbied on behalf of an invasion of Iraq, and they have profited more than almost all other companies from that invasion. And they have intimate interlocking relationships with this administration. They demonstrate very clearly how, in the Bush administration, there essentially is no distinction between corporate characters and government characters. They also are companies that because of their corporate behavior around the world have preexisting and longstanding movements - social movements - that are organized against their harmful actions, which readers of the book support and become a part of.

JH: That's a great segue. In your final chapter, you discuss ways that people can oppose the Bush agenda, and you suggest that another agenda is possible. I think that's very important because so many books bash Bush and then leave readers feeling dispirited. Name just one thing that needs to be done to reverse this agenda?

AJ: There are so many alternatives, and I give concrete examples of solutions - for how to end the economic invasion of Iraq. What I hoped to do in the last chapter was to present the movements and many of the ideas generating fundamental change already. I wanted to empower people - to show that the information in the book can be used as a tool for these movements and a tool for change.

So I give examples of not only different policies, but I also give examples of organizations and communities that have been successfully mobilizing against the full Bush agenda - that means corporate globalization, war and imperialism. To me that's more important than any one of the alternatives that I present. The whole point of the chapter is that there are, thankfully, millions of alternatives to choose from. And we're already seeing successful transformation - there are real movements that we can join and in which we can have an impact.


Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

Bush's best moment in office? Reeling in big perch

Bush's best moment in office? Reeling in big perch
Sun May 7, 2006 11:01 AM BST

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush told a German newspaper his best moment in more than five years in office was catching a big perch in his own lake.

"You know, I've experienced many great moments and it's hard to name the best," Bush told weekly Bild am Sonntag when asked about his high point since becoming president in January 2001.

"I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5 pound (3.402 kilos) perch in my lake," he told the newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

Bush said the worst moment was September 11 when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

"In such a situation it takes a while before one understands what is happening," Bush said. "I would say that this was the hardest moment, once I had the real picture before my eyes."

Because Bild could not immediately furnish English quotes, Bush's comments were translated from the German. The paper said the White House planned to release an authorised English version of the interview on Monday.