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, June 17, 2006

Kenneth S. Baer and Andrei Cherny - Swing Ideas, not Swing Voters

Swing Ideas, not Swing Voters

By Kenneth S. Baer and Andrei Cherny

At this spring's exclusive Gridiron Dinner, Senator Barack Obama - according to reports, as the dinner is closed press - offered up a complaint common in Democratic circles. "You hear this constant refrain from our critics that Democrats don't stand for anything. That's really unfair," he said, "We do stand for anything." As they say in the Catskills, the line killed. But the problem it refers to has been killing Democrats for years.

Since the end of the Clinton years, the Democratic Party has been adrift - without a coherent agenda or public philosophy. According to a poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research earlier this year, only 29 percent of Americans believe that Democrats have a better sense than Republicans of what they stand for as a party (while 51 percent say that Republicans have a better sense than Democrats). As Stan Greenberg has put it, the American public believes Democrats have "no core set of convictions or point of view."

Part of that is expected: when you lose the White House, a party loses a de facto leader who can impose message and ideological discipline. But there is more to it. The world has profoundly changed since President Clinton sat in the Oval Office: globalization has accelerated at a torrid pace as have the technological innovations fueling it, the country has become more diverse and more dispersed, changing family arrangements and workplace structures have deeply affected how people see the world, and the attacks of September 11th have brought to the surface a simmering war with radical Islamist terror.

Yet Democrats have not put forward a vision of where the country should go, where it should lead the world, and why. And absent that vision, no get-out-the-vote effort, re-messaging exercise, or charismatic candidate will help Democrats win the White House and, just as importantly, become a vibrant progressive force for years to come. That is why if Democrats want to win in 2008 and beyond, they must invest in the intellectual infrastructure that underpins a modern political movement. They need to develop coherent responses - rooted in the party's deepest beliefs about democracy, liberty, equality, and justice - that respond to the new realities that America faces.

What Democrats cannot rely on are the explanations that have cropped up in the wake of the loss of the Senate in 2002 and the failure to win back the Presidency in 2004. These include the technological - witness the huge amount of money poured into the Democratic National Committee's "Demzilla" database project, and now into the independent Democratic DataMart - but more often than not focus on the Democratic message. Here is a sampling:

1) All we need to do is retool our message - a quadrennial complaint that probably extends back to Thomas Jefferson's loss to John Adams. This time this strategy has resurfaced under the rubric of "framing", otherwise known as putting old wine in new bottles.

2) All we need to do is boil down our message to four phrases that have the same catchiness as the GOP's "Smaller Government. Less taxes. Stronger Military. Family Values."

3) All we need to do is figure out what goes on the bumper sticker. This produced a Democratic response to the 2006 State of the Union in which Virginia Governor Tim Kaine repeated the phrase "A Better Way" nine times in his short address - using the very same slogan which the Robert Redford movie "The Candidate" mocked as the essence of vapid, meaningless political rhetoric.

4) All we need to do is figure out "how to talk to" evangelical, gun-owning, Hispanic, exurban married couples in red states as if voters simply had merely not understood what we were saying.

Tactics and targeting, media and messaging - these are the ways we try to put lipstick on a party that does not know what it stands for. Democrats today are rich in strategies and poor in beliefs. Ask most Democrats what they believe in, and they will respond with a list of policies and programs, criticisms of Republican wrongs, or a series of painful stammers.

Right now, Democrats are like the fourth-generation that takes over the family firm: we have forgotten why we went into business in the first place. As a result, we spend most of the time fighting to protect the proud heritage of our past achievements from being destroyed, a necessary assignment in the current climate, but not sufficient to provide the roadmap to the future that America needs and that a great political party should provide.

Of course, Democrats have policies - by the truckload. But policies are not ideas - and anyone who tries to conflate the two is putting the cart before the horse. A policy is the "How?" An idea is the "What?" and the "Why?". Social Security is a policy, one that has served the nation well. The notion that the federal government should mandate that Americans put money aside into a pool to ensure that seniors, widows, and orphans are not left to rot in poverty is a powerful idea, rooted in distinct beliefs about equality, justice, and the role of government in our economy.

Understanding what you believe and developing a view on how the world works and how it should are critical to the nuts-and-bolts of politics. That is to say that you cannot work on the bumper stickers or on talking to swing voters if you do not know what it is exactly you believe. Think of policy platforms, political slogans, and bumper stickers as the tips of icebergs. The ones that work are deceivingly simple but strong because underneath the surface is all the substance and weight that holds them up and that most people never see.

And therein lies the strength of the conservatives' slogans. Their bumper sticker phrases were not cooked up in a focus group or decided by a central committee of Republican Party elders meeting in the wood-paneled boardroom of Dick Cheney's secure undisclosed location. They were arrived at through years of vigorous debate and discussion by people who passionately held some core beliefs - and debated them with each other and the politicians seeking their support. They were unafraid to think big and unafraid to anger those who disagreed with them - including many voters.

And, most of all, conservatives had the institutions in which to float the fanciful idea and debate it - not just think tanks and academic institutes, but also idea journals such as The Public Interest and Policy Review. In fact, almost every signature idea that we associate with the modern Republican Party - from supply-side economics to pre-emption and Social Security privatization - was incubated in one of these journals years ago. It doesn't change the fact that these policies are wrong-headed, but we cannot deny that underneath them is a well developed public philosophy.

Election Day is when the Republicans reap the rewards of this intellectual spadework. When George W. Bush, Bob Dole, or any other mainstream Republican is chosen as their party's nominee, they get placed on top of a pyramid of thinking that has been developed far in advance of their first visits to New Hampshire. It was not George W. Bush's campaign, for instance, that developed the theory of compassionate conservatism; that was done by Marvin Olasky and others before. Bush, characteristically, inherited the work that others had sowed in the intellectual vineyards. Democrats, on the other hand, tell their candidates to go into the fields and plant their own ideas six months before the first primary. As we have seen in campaign after campaign, what ends up happening is that candidates lapse into the default position: what does everyone else say or what does the most powerful interest group want.

To help Democratic candidates win and to revive the progressive movement, Democrats need to invest in ideas - and in the think tanks and journals that incubate them. They need to recognize the importance of investing in the development of a coherent public philosophy not just for its electoral implications (of which there are many), but because when a party lacks a viewpoint on the type of nation and world it seeks, then it loses its raison d'etre.

While winning elections is the ultimate goal for any political party and the way to affect real change, Democrats need to shed their compulsion for the transactional. Currently, candidates are selected by Party committees on the basis of their bankroll rather than their experience. Primary voters sometimes seem more concerned with that elusive quality of "electability" than with the old-fashioned notion of ability. Policies and ideas seem to be discussed by Party insiders almost exclusively in the context of which voters they would appeal to instead of what impact they would have on the nation and the world. What does it profit a political party to win an election and lose its soul?

Instead of another round of discussion over who are our swing voters, Democrats need a real debate over what are our "swing ideas": the big notions that will remake the political landscape as surely as Republican ideas have over the past generation. To do that, we need to get back to first principles, thinking deeply about the world we want to build and how we will do it. Once we do this, we will be able to build a Democratic Party that strides boldly into this new century confident about who we are and where we are headed. That is a Democratic Party that will win again - and one that will be ready to change America for the better.

Kenneth S. Baer is a founding editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, a former Senior Speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, and the founder of Baer Communications.
Andrei Cherny is a founding editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, a former senior aide to John Kerry and Al Gore, and author of The Next Deal.

When Will the Mainstream Media Get It Right?

When Will the Mainstream Media Get It Right?
by Jerry Lanson

My New York Times today paints a pretty grim picture of life in Iraq three-plus years into W's war of choice.

A graphic compares a variety of statistics this May (2006) to the last three. Other than a slight drop in U.S. military deaths from 77 last May to 68 this year, the graphic's stats are awfully disheartening:

-- Monthly incidents of sectarian violence -- up from 20 to 250

-- Daily insurgent attacks -- up from 70 to 90

-- Multi-fatality bombings -- up from 36 to 56

-- Iraqi civilian deaths -- up from 1,000 to 1,500

-- Number of insurgents -- up from 16,000 to 20,000

And so on.

Unfortunately this news appears in views, on Page A27, the opinion page, in a graphic compiled by a senior Brookings Institute fellow and his senior research assistant. The lead news story on Page 1 in my New York Times today is about an entirely different war -- the public relations war of the Republican Party aimed at obliterating any sense of reality among voters of what's really going on in Iraq. The Times reports the Republican offensive without comment, which is appropriate on the news pages. But it also reports this offensive with very little context, which is not appropriate.

WASHINGTON, June 15 -- The House and the Senate engaged in angry, intensely partisan debate on Thursday over the war in Iraq, as Republicans sought to rally support for the Bush administration's policies and exploit Democratic divisions in an election year shadowed by unease over the war.

It was one of the sharpest legislative clashes yet over the three-year-old conflict, and it came after three days in which President Bush and his aides had sought to portray Iraq as moving gradually toward a stable, functioning democracy, and to portray Democrats as lacking the will to see the conflict through to victory.

In the House, lawmakers moved toward a vote on a Republican resolution promising to "complete the mission" in Iraq, prevail in the global fight against terrorism and oppose any "arbitrary date for withdrawal...."

And what do the facts say in support of this Republican offensive? Well the story doesn't offer any. There is no evidence that proves or disproves the Republican's assertion that Iraq is moving toward a stable, functioning democracy. In its 6th paragraph, however, the article does prominently quote Republican House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who says of Iraq, "It is a battle we must endure and one in which we can and will be victorious. The alternative would be to cut and run and wait for them to regroup and bring the terror back to our shores."

Back to our shores?

But wait. Doesn't The Times remember that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with either Al Qaeda or the bombing of the World Trade Center, according to U.S. intelligence? Doesn't it recollect that this mythical connection is one Republicans have insinuated for years through often-unchallenged quotes such as Hastert's? Has it forgotten that even before the war began, those opposing the war warned repeatedly that it would turn Iraq into the very breeding ground of terrorism that the United States was trying to eradicate?

The Times lead article mentions none of this context. Nor does it include any of the statistical context found on Page 27 of the same edition.

Given The Times stature in the American press, this kind of omission leads me to wonder just how mainstream media today are defining their role in delivering the news. More than 50 years ago, the press for a long time failed to challenge the anti-communist hysteria spread by Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin -- hysteria based on the thinnest of facts or none at all. McCarthy knew that if he attacked someone as a communist sympathizer, that person's denial would mean little. The news media rarely bothered to look at his evidence. Recognizing, somewhat ashamed, in the years that followed that they had failed to serve the public, news organizations and journalism schools spoke of the need for "fairness" instead of "objectivity," for reporting that was based on verifiable fact rather than “he said-she said” fencing. Has that recognition of a need for a better model of reporting simply been forgotten?

The Bush Administration and its Republican allies in Congress today regularly eviscerate all opponents of the war as weak on terror if not anti-American. Shouldn’t the news media accounts of such attacks review the evidence of how the war is going? Or is it enough to merely print the attacks and the denials and move on?

I believe the media should be providing the context of the Iraq war during the current congressional debate -- unless the press is willing to accept that its job has morphed into serving as a conduit of propaganda meted out, to be fair, by both sides.

I haven't read a transcript of the full House debate. But The Times itself makes clear that at least one Democrat referenced the context of the war. His comment can be found, for the truly dogged reader, in paragraph 21 of today's lead story, the second to last paragraph of the article. There, Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts say -- or asserts as The Times chooses to put it -- that "the war in Afghanistan was the response to the terrorist attacks" -- not the war in Iraq.

Wait a minute. Frank asserts? Is it not verifiable fact that Osama bin Laden operated out of Afghanistan with the support of its Taliban leadership? Is it not verifiable fact that the World Trade Center terrorists were overwhelming Saudi Arabian and that there wasn't an Iraqi among them. Remember? We ostensibly went to war there to keep Saddam from using weapons of mass destruction, which -- oops -- it turned out he didn't have.

Facts have never gotten in the way of the Bush Administration. Too often, it lives and dies by the big lie, repeated over and over again. Reporters call this “spin,” because the word "lie" makes them uncomfortable. But whatever name they give it, they should always provide evidence (call it verifiable fact or context) that measures the spin against what is known. Providing this contrast, after all, is the news media's job.

What’s happening in Washington this week is clear. After weeks of utter chaos on the ground in Baghdad -- kidnappings, sectarian mass murders, bombs and the flight of the middle class to neighboring countries -- the Iraqi government filled its Cabinet and U.S. troops killed a very evil guy, Musab al-Zarqawi. It is good news and it does provide an inkling of hope. But now the Bush Administration wants to cash in politically by renewing its historical assault on Democrats as wimps and defeatists and by making the news of Zarqawi’s death partisan.

The problem with this spin is that most of the facts don't support either the Administration’s vision of reality in Iraq or its renewed efforts to tie Iraq to the broader war on terror (and, by extension, 9/11). That information, too, is part of the news – an important part if the American public is to make sense of what’s really going on.

Jerry Lanson is a professor of journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He can be reached by email at

Friday, June 16, 2006

Greg Palast - The Plan For Iraqi Oil

Greg Palast Uncovers the 'Armed Madhouse' of the Bush Reign of Greed, Fear and Stolen Elections


We were screaming in the streets: no blood for oil, which, of course, you know, most Americans consider a bargain – blood for oil, as long as it’s not their blood, right? But in fact, it wasn’t blood for oil. It was blood for no oil. It was blood to make sure that not too much oil would flow and bust the market. Oil had been down under Bill Clinton to eighteen bucks a barrel. Now it’s over $70 a barrel. -- Greg Palast

* * *

Greg Palast is such a good investigative reporter, he can’t get a job with a mainstream media outlet in the United States. That’s right, Palast is good enough for the BBC and the London Guardian and Observer, but he is too good for any paper or television station in the United States.

You see, the mainstream press in America sees a big boulder blocking the road and there’s all sorts of arms and legs sticking out from underneath. The White House tells the media that their eyes are deceiving them and there is nothing under the boulder. They warn them not to try and move it, otherwise they might be aiding terrorists and revealing classified information. The corporate-owned big media then reports that a big boulder fell from the sky and caused no injuries. Greg Palast, however, hires an earth mover, has an iron claw pick up the boulder – and then he reports what he finds underneath.

This makes him a pariah to the corporate barons who run the American media. They don’t want inquiring minds as journalists; they want stenographers. There’s a reason BuzzFlash has interviewed Greg Palast more than any other person. He’s not afraid to look under rocks and boulders and tell us what he sees, as he does in his new book, Armed Madhouse.

* * *

BuzzFlash: You don’t waste a page of this book, Greg. You open it up and you’ve got an illustrated explanation of the two plans for oil in invading Iraq.

Greg Palast: Bush had a secret plan for Iraq’s oil. Make that, he had two, and I got them. It was not easy, let me tell you. The first plan that I found was crafted by the Neo-cons – Wolfowitz and the whole Rumsfeld gang. Their program for oil in Iraq was to sell off the oil fields. We have it in black and white. They called this privatization, which means slice, dice and sell. Of course, since Iraqis only have Iraqi currency, it wouldn’t go to Iraqis, right?

That plan was handed to General Jay Garner, our first vice counsel there. I showed him the secret plan and he said, “Yes, that’s it.” I said, “Why didn’t you implement it?” He said basically that he told Rumsfeld to take the plan and stick it where the desert sun doesn’t rise.

BuzzFlash: And then Garner got relieved of duty.

Greg Palast: That night, Rumsfeld said, well, don’t unpack. You’re fired.

BuzzFlash: Then they sent Paul Bremer.

Greg Palast: They sent in Paul Bremer, whose sole qualification for the job was that he was managing director of Kissinger Associates. But the plan to sell off Iraq’s oil fields was blocked by something I didn’t expect – big oil, the big oil companies. They said: Listen guys, this isn’t how it’s done in the Mideast. You let the Iraqis pretend that they own the oil, and what we do is we have no-bid production sharing agreements. The key thing is to make sure – and here’s the kicker – make sure we don’t get too much oil.

I have the actual 323-page document drafted by big oil executives in Houston, working with James Baker’s people. Remember, James Baker represents Exxon Oil Company. He also represents the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These are the guys drafting the plans – our plans for Iraq’s oil. By the way, why aren’t the Iraqis drawing up their own plan? That’s another issue. But the plan was that we don’t sell off Iraq’s oilfields. Rather they have lock-up agreements with U.S. oil companies.

And most importantly, this plan would guarantee that Iraq does not produce beyond its OPEC quota. In other words, we want the oil, but not too much, because that would bring down the price of oil.

In the book, I actually show the pages from these plans for Iraq, and one says the purpose is to enhance the Iraq government’s relationship with OPEC. As you can imagine, OPEC is the oil cartel which basically has its foot on the world’s economic windpipe at the moment - $70 a barrel gasoline. Three bucks a gallon at the pump is what it comes out to. We are literally in there right now to make sure that Iraq remains good members of OPEC. They were afraid that Saddam was going renegade, and he could not be trusted to play ball with OPEC, which is basically an illegal cartel controlled by Saudi Arabia and big oil.

That was the winning plan for the oil. In other words, if you wonder why your cousin is shivering under a tank in Fallujah, it is to enhance Iraq’s relationship with OPEC. There it is, guys – black and white.

BuzzFlash: To ensure a controlled flow of oil at a good profitable price for the oil industry.

Greg Palast: Let’s put it this way. Iraq can pump 6 million barrels a day. As long as they are members of OPEC under Saudi control, they can only pump 3 million a day. With the oil for food program – we put a clamp on Saddam – it was 2 million a day. People misunderstand this one. We were screaming in the streets: no blood for oil, which, of course, you know, most Americans consider a bargain – blood for oil, as long as it’s not their blood, right? But in fact, it wasn’t blood for oil. It was blood for no oil. It was blood to make sure that not too much oil would flow and bust the market. Oil had been down under Bill Clinton to eighteen bucks a barrel. Now it’s over $70 a barrel.

BuzzFlash: I think it was $73 on Friday. And with the Iranians saying that if the U.S. continues to put pressure on them, they’re going to lower their output, the price of oil may go up even more.

Greg Palast: Right. They are playing a nice little game. The next war isn’t with Iran – it’s with Venezuela, as I explain the book.

BuzzFlash: Because they’re the second-largest exporter to the U.S. – isn’t that right?

Greg Palast: Let me explain. I was able to obtain a document. That’s why we have all these illustrations in the book – because I want people to actually see these things. I got a document from inside the Department of Energy, which says that Venezuela – in other words, Hugo Chavez - has more oil than Saudi Arabia, and that’s a real shake-up.

BuzzFlash: You mean according to geological surveys?

Greg Palast: Yes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, a lot more oil than Saudi Arabia. That’s a disaster for George Bush because – and that’s why I have that chapter called “The Assassination of Hugo Chavez.”

I showed the chart to Chavez himself last month in Caracas, and he said, “That’s absolutely right. And we’re going to demand that OPEC recognize Venezuela, not Saudi Arabia, as the leader.” That’s big, bad news for the Bush House of Saud cartel because you have to understand that King Abdullah will always sell us his oil. He’ll never cut it off.

But that’s not the most important point here. Abdullah sends back his oil earnings. After he takes his slice and gives his slice to Exxon, the remainder goes back to the United States in the form of Treasury Bill purchases. They would never lend a dime to their Muslim brothers. They just lend it back to George to fund his oil wars and his tax cuts. And that’s the game. Abdullah lends us back the petro-dollars, and we lend him the 82nd Airborne to stay in business.

BuzzFlash: Okay, so we don’t expect to see Hugo Chavez on Bush’s ranch with him, with their pinkies intertwined, as we’ve seen Bush with the Saudi royal family.

Greg Palast: The reason George Bush was chauffeuring King Abdullah around the Crawford ranch in his golf cart – well, first of all, because George is afraid of horses – no kidding. The second reason, though, is to make sure that he keeps giving us those petro-dollars back as loans or purchases.

And Chavez told me, “I’m just not going to do it.” In fact, knowing that I’d be reporting on BBC International News, Chavez said, “I’ll drop the price of oil to fifty bucks - knock off a third – a buck a gallon off your gas tank charges. But I've got to have a deal with George Bush.” He wants no more assassination plots and a stabilization of the oil market, which the Saudis absolutely hate, because the Saudis crank up the price so that we choke, and then about every six to eight years, they dump the price to wipe out any alternatives, whether it’s solar power or Chavez’s oil, which is heavy crude, which is expensive to get at.

In other words, Abdullah plays his game of jerking the market way up and way down. That’s how the Saudis keep control of the oil market. Chavez says, I’m not playing that game. I’m not giving George Venezuela’s oil money. In fact, Chavez withdrew $20 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve and lent it to Argentina, Ecuador and other Latin American countries. When you start withdrawing your money from the Federal Reserve and giving it out, instead, to Latin America, you basically are getting a date with a bullet.

BuzzFlash: Two more quick questions about the oil situation, and then we’ve got to get to the stolen elections issue. There is also speculation that Iran or Chavez might shift to the Euro instead of the dollar as being the currency for oil.

Greg Palast: That one I checked out. It doesn’t float, because it was George Bush himself who is trying to push the Euro up. Bush has been trying to push the Euro big time.

BuzzFlash: Why is that?

Greg Palast: Because he’s trying to devalue the dollar. When we talk about revaluing the Chinese currency, you mean devaluing the dollar. Very, very important to Bush to dump the dollar. His cronies are trying to evacuate the United States financially, and that’s what privatization of Social Security is about as well. It’s about getting dollars out of this country, and so we devalue the dollar. That devalues the debt held by these guys. It raises our interest. It kills our pension funds and our economy is slowly dying off.

BuzzFlash: Why do they want to do that?

Greg Palast: There are a few reasons. One, higher interest rates as well as high oil rates have completely demolished the auto industry. General Motors is heading right into bankruptcy. High oil rates have also demolished the airline industry while enriching the oil companies, and the high interest rates have enriched the banks.

That means basically the Democratic stronghold industries - the last unionized industries in America, which are auto and airlines – are going down. In other words, "Mission Accomplished." Money is flowing into Houston. We pay three bucks a gallon for gas, and they collect it. Mission accomplished. Oil’s at $70 a barrel. Mission accomplished. The dollar’s down, and we are exporting a quarter trillion dollars a year to China in cash, so we could import their manufactured goods. That’s mission accomplished. The idea is that American capital is fleeing this country.

BuzzFlash: And that’s good for Bush supporters like Wal-Mart, who basically are the largest U.S. business employing workers in China.

Greg Palast: In fact, one thing you’ll find in the book is that Wal-Mart has 700 factories that they effectively control in China – at least – and zero in the United States.

BuzzFlash: One more question on oil. In essence, we look at the war in Iraq, and saber-rattling in Iran, and see it as a Bush failure. Our soldiers are dying in a macabre fiasco. It’s a civil war there. From the perspective of the oil companies, however, it’s been a big success. They’re making out literally like bandits.

Greg Palast: Exactly. If you thought that we went into Iraq to get that oil, then we failed. But the oil companies are not in the business of finding oil. They’re in the business of finding profits, and they make profits by not finding oil – by locking up these fields.

The history of Iraq is a history of locking up their fields so they don’t produce. So it is mission accomplished. You have to understand - Exxon-Mobil Corporation, the number one, lifetime, career giver to George W. Bush after Enron - is making $10 billion clear profit every three months. We haven’t seen cash like that since the pharaohs. This is mission accomplished.

You can read the documents. Remember, I actually talked to the oil company executives, the CEO of Shell Oil, and I talked to the inside people working with Baker and his Exxon crew in drafting the oilfield plans for Iraq. If you go through the plans, if you talk to these guys - this is mission accomplished. Yes, kids are dying. But it’s not George Bush’s kids, who are of military age. A "war president" got himself a war. They didn’t screw up, okay? And he got re-elected – that is, close enough to swipe it. And by the way, I did that wired, just so you know. They said that I never spoke to them, and then I said, “What part of the audiotape is fabricated?” Just so you know how I get this stuff.

BuzzFlash: Now let’s quickly move to the scheme to steal ’08. We first met you, Greg, in 2002 when BuzzFlash and sponsored an event here in Chicago that you spoke at. It was absolutely jammed, and this was when you issued the first edition of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

You were the first to zero in on the role of the infamous ChoicePoint data collection firm in purging the Florida voting rolls in 2000 of eligible and ineligible Democratic voters alike. You had a fantastic slide presentation, very detailed, about how they accomplished this violation of voting rights.

Greg Palast: Here's what happened, in a nutshell, for those who don’t remember. For BBC Television, I discovered that before the election, Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris scrubbed tens of thousands of black voters off the voter rolls. They called them felons when their only crime was voting while black. That gave little George the White House.

I reported that for BBC, and I couldn’t get that on the air in America for anything. It was completely blacked out until basically Michael Moore brought it up later. You couldn’t talk about the theft of the 2000 election. It was a lockup fest. In 2004, they did it again, and it was bigger and wider and sneakier and stinkier and nastier.

Again, it’s very important to me that I show you the documents, show you the goods, show you the information, so you can see the actual data and proof. And it wasn’t, by the way, just Ohio. Don’t kid yourself. I’m glad that Bobby Kennedy – terrific guy – has now endorsed the idea that it was stolen in Ohio, but it wasn’t just Ohio.

It was Ohio, New Mexico, Iowa, and on and on. 3.6 million votes were cast and never counted in the 2004 election – 3.6 million. This isn’t Greg Palast getting the info from a black helicopter. This is Greg Palast and our team going through the computer files of the election information agency – and, by the way, the computer files of the Republican National Committee, which is one of the most enjoyable parts of the investigation because some schmuck at the RNC wrote some e-mails, in which they were discussing exactly how to jigger the election. We were able to suck that down through a fake web site.

BuzzFlash: As we saw in New Hampshire – this is in a way a big “gotcha” - people went to jail for it. In the 2002 election, there was a phone-jamming case in New Hampshire where they jammed the lines of a union to prevent them from getting out the vote for the Democratic candidate for the senate. And people have gone to jail for this, including the person who was the former head of the Bush campaign for the northeast. The RNC paid his legal defense, which was well over a million dollars. You couldn’t get any more proof – and here you had a litigated case – of the Republican Party being involved in the – in felony suppression of vote by legal verdict. There were direct connections through phone calls to the RNC, and some indication even to Rove.

Greg Palast: Right.

BuzzFlash: So it’s a wide swath of voter suppression, theft, and illegal disenfranchisement that the Republicans have been engaged in. You were the first to really detail the ChoicePoint role and all the varied ways they stole the Florida vote – not just ChoicePoint, but that was the key. If it weren’t for ChoicePoint, Gore would have run away with it.

Greg Palast: That’s right.

BuzzFlash: Then we have the 2004 election, and we have a more subtle combination of suppression of the vote, use of electronic voting machines to miscalculate the vote and so forth. Now in your book upi say, “Watch out for 2008.” Why do Americans not understand the threat here? It's only after Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. brings it up in Rolling Stone that some people suddenly say, whoa, someone who’s really got credibility brought it up. Hey, maybe it is serious.

Greg Palast: Remember that I wrote a story for the British Guardian paper, actually in the column. I took over George Orwell’s column. And I put on the top of the BBC Nightly News – “Kerry Won” - okay? Then I had to explain to a European, Asian and Latin American audience that Kerry won. He got the most votes. But they’re going to inaugurate George Bush again. This is in 2004.

But how do I know Kerry won? The whole BBC team did an incredible investigation, and we found 3.6 million votes cast but not counted. It was called "spoilage" - and that’s everything from hanging chads to paper ballots that have extra marks, and are junked and thrown away – you name it.

But it’s not just anyone’s ballot that doesn’t count. Whose votes are they? We did a precinct-by-precinct analysis of whose votes were thrown away. If you are in a black majority precinct, the chance that your vote will be thrown in the electoral dumpster is 900% higher than if you’re in a white precinct. If you are Hispanic - 500% higher than if you’re in a white precinct. This also includes something called "rejected provisional ballots," a whole new gimmick. A million people were shunted to back-of-the-bus ballots called provisional ballots. And over half a million of those were never counted – never counted. And who made the decision not to count them? The Secretaries of State, like the Secretary of State of Ohio, who is also the head of the Bush reelection campaign.

Whose votes are thrown out? It’s black voters and poor voters. That’s why the Armed Madhouse subtitle says “Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.” Vote theft is class war by other means. Not everyone’s vote gets thrown out. In fact, do the arithmetic nationwide. 54% of the votes in the electoral dumpster are cast by black voters. Another third cast by Hispanic voters? Something like only one in five lost votes is cast by white voters, and those are the poor white voters. The electoral dumpster is filled with basically a Democratic pile of uncounted votes. That’s how they did it. And they’re planning to do a better job of not counting those votes in 2008. It’s the non-count of the vote – it’s not the count – that picks our president.

BuzzFlash: In the meantime, we have midterm elections coming up. What is going to happen there in 2006?

Greg Palast: It will only get worse, because they’ve added a new gimmick. Part of the way they knock out voters is using databases. That’s how they did it in Florida. They manipulated databases to wrongly tag people as unqualified voters. In 2004, we found something called "caging lists" of tens of thousands – and we know it had to really be hundreds of thousands – of voters, almost every one of them an African-American voter, targeted for challenge by the Republican Party – the first mass challenge of voters since the Jim Crow era. We found these illegal lists – these caging lists.

That pumped up the number of uncounted votes enormously – again, black votes. In 2006 and 2008, they’re targeting the Hispanic demographic, because they’re going to steal it in New Mexico, in Utah, in Colorado, in Arizona, and Nevada. That’s where they’re going to be stealing the votes. And they’re targeting the Native American vote as well, which is a big demographic in the West. How are they doing it? They’re starting this new game of voter ID and national ID cards. They’re creating tremendous databases to come up with "gotcha rules" that are going to tag people as ineligible voters – so-called "suspect" voters. This is what they did in 2004, completely unreported in the U.S. press.

BuzzFlash: Is ChoicePoint playing a big role in this?

Greg Palast: You betcha, because where are they getting these databases? The answer is the war on terror. People keep talking about how they are attacking our civil liberties by keeping these big databases on Americans. What are they for? They’re not to keep you safe from al-Qaeda. There’s not a war on terror. It’s a war on democracy.

ChoicePoint is the biggest data mining outfit – it basically has the biggest data mine in the United States – at minimum, 16 billion records on Americans. It’s illegal for the U.S. government to keep those records, but ChoicePoint as a private company can. Then the U.S. government simply dips into the data mine and pulls out the nuggets it wants. We saw this in 2000, with them falsely attacking people as felons.

In 2004, completely unreported in the U.S. press, but big news from our BBC investigation -- and it’s in Madhouse -- are the caging lists, in which again we know hundreds of thousands of people were tagged as having so-called suspect addresses. Suspect addresses, in case you’re wondering, causing people to lose their vote, included page after page after page of black soldiers sent overseas, so that their home address was now suspect.

If they've got the databases, they’ve got the election. And they’re getting the databases from the war on terror and the war on immigrants. 3.6 million votes were cast and not counted last time. Look for 5 million in 2008.

BuzzFlash: Is ChoicePoint being subcontracted by the NSA?

Greg Palast: I can’t even tell you what they have. Remember, these contracts are secret. We’re not supposed to know. I happen to have in the book the foreign intelligence gathering contract of ChoicePoint. But you’re not even supposed to know it exists. I know that they have immigration contracts. I know that they have foreign intelligence-gathering contracts. I know that they have U.S. DNA-gathering contracts for the FBI.

BuzzFlash: We have a sinking suspicion that ChoicePoint and other dating mining firms are doing the NSA’s dirty work. Then the Bush Administration can claim that the NSA is not spying on Americans, because technically it’s the subcontractors who are doing the spying!

Well, Greg, thank you, once again. We wish there were fewer cockroaches under the rocks you pick up, but it appears with the Bush Administration, the roaches increase faster than the number of rocks you can look under.

Greg Palast: Thanks, it’s always a pleasure to talk with BuzzFlash.


Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.

* * *


Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War (Hardcover) by Greg Palast, a BuzzFlash Premium.

Greg Palast | African-American Voters Scrubbed by Secret GOP Hit List

African-American Voters Scrubbed by Secret GOP Hit List
by Greg Palast
Democracy Now!

Friday 16 June 2006

Palast, who first reported this story for BBC Television Newsnight (UK) and Democracy Now! (USA), is author of the New York Times bestseller, Armed Madhouse.

The Republican National Committee has a special offer for African-American soldiers: Go to Baghdad, lose your vote.

A confidential campaign directed by GOP party chiefs in October 2004 sought to challenge the ballots of tens of thousands of voters in the last presidential election, virtually all of them cast by residents of Black-majority precincts.

Files from the secret vote-blocking campaign were obtained by BBC Television Newsnight, London. They were attached to emails accidentally sent by Republican operatives to a non-party website.

One group of voters wrongly identified by the Republicans as registering to vote from false addresses: servicemen and women sent overseas.

[Greg Palast's discussion with broadcaster Amy Goodman on the Black soldier purge of 2004.]

Here's how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, "Do not forward", to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as "undeliverable."

The lists of soldiers of "undeliverable" letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters' registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballot being counted.

One target list was comprised exclusively of voters registered at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station. Jacksonville is third largest naval installation in the US, best known as home of the Blue Angels fighting squandron.

[See scrub sheet.]

Our team contacted the homes of several on the caging list, such as Randall Prausa, a serviceman, whose wife said he had been ordered overseas.

A soldier returning home in time to vote in November 2004 could also be challenged on the basis of the returned envelope. Soldiers challenged would be required to vote by "provisional" ballot.

Over one million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 race were never counted; over half a million absentee ballots were also rejected. The extraordinary rise in the number of rejected ballots was the result of the widespread multi-state voter challenge campaign by the Republican Party. The operation, of which the purge of Black soldiers was a small part, was the first mass challenge to voting America had seen in two decades.

The BBC obtained several dozen confidential emails sent by the Republican's national Research Director and Deputy Communications chief, Tim Griffin to GOP Florida campaign chairman Brett Doster and other party leaders. Attached were spreadsheets marked, "Caging.xls." Each of these contained several hundred to a few thousand voters and their addresses.

A check of the demographics of the addresses on the "caging lists," as the GOP leaders called them indicated that most were in African-American majority zip codes.

Ion Sanco, the non-partisan elections supervisor of Leon County (Tallahassee) when shown the lists by this reporter said: "The only thing I can think of - African American voters listed like this - these might be individuals that will be challenged if they attempted to vote on Election Day."

These GOP caging lists were obtained by the same BBC team that first exposed the wrongful purge of African-American "felon" voters in 2000 by then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Eliminating the voting rights of those voters - 94,000 were targeted - likely caused Al Gore's defeat in that race.

The Republican National Committee in Washington refused our several requests to respond to the BBC discovery. However, in Tallahassee, the Florida Bush campaign's spokespeople offered several explanations for the list.

Joseph Agostini, speaking for the GOP, suggested the lists were of potential donors to the Bush campaign. Oddly, the supposed donor list included residents of the Sulzbacher Center a shelter for homeless families.

Another spokesperson for the Bush campaign, Mindy Tucker Fletcher, ultimately changed the official response, acknowledging that these were voters, "we mailed to, where the letter came back - bad addresses."

The party has refused to say why it would mark soldiers as having "bad addresses" subject to challenge when they had been assigned abroad.

The apparent challenge campaign was not inexpensive. The GOP mailed the letters first class, at a total cost likely exceeding millions of dollars, so that the addresses would be returned to "cage" workers.

"This is not a challenge list," insisted the Republican spokesmistress. However, she modified that assertion by adding, "That's not what it's set up to be."

Setting up such a challenge list would be a crime under federal law. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlaws mass challenges of voters where race is a factor in choosing the targeted group.

While the party insisted the lists were not created for the purpose to challenge Black voters, the GOP ultimately offered no other explanation for the mailings. However, Tucker Fletcher asserted Republicans could still employ the list to deny ballots to those they considered suspect voters. When asked if Republicans would use the list to block voters, Tucker Fletcher replied, "Where it's stated in the law, yeah."

It is not possible at this time to determine how many on the potential blacklist were ultimately challenged and lost their vote. Soldiers sending in their ballot from abroad would not know their vote was lost because of a challenge.


For the full story of caging lists and voter purges of 2004, plus the documents, read Greg Palast's New York Times bestseller, Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?; China Floats Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08; No Child's Behind Left and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.

Hullabaloo - Memo to Democrats

Hullabaloo: "Memo To Democrats

by tristero

Issue #1 is Bush. Issue #2 is everything else. Until Bush no longer has a Republican majority in the House and the Senate to rubber stamp nearly everything he wants, your opinions and ideas mean squat. No. Less than squat.

Make reining in Bush *the* issue. Republicans in Congress will do whatever Bush wants, but the country is fed up with what Bush wants. They've seen how much damage he causes. Only Democratic majorities in Congress can prevent him from wreaking even worse havoc on the country. Bush is the issue. And hoo boy! has Bush made the your job incredibly easy:

Remember: Bush really is incompetent. And the American public sees it now.

Remember: Bush really has governed above the law. And the the American public understands that now.

Remember: Bush has bogged this nation down in an insane war. And the American public understands that now.

Remember: Bush does not have a genuine plan to deal with Iraq, nor is he capable of creating and implementing one. People are dying because he doesn't know what he's doing. And the American public understands that now.

Remember: Bush's supreme callousness and negligence led to the hiring of the incompetents in charge of FEMA during Katrina. And the American public knows it.

Remember: This is one helluva unpopular president. The American public has very good reasons for disliking him and his policies so intensely. They are all but begging you to stand up and refuse to go along with his incompetent, extremist, and unlawful behavior.

Focus on Bush. Everything else is detail.



Thursday, June 15, 2006

War on terror called failure

War on terror called failure
Another 9/11 `inevitable,' experts conclude

Washington's diplomatic efforts rated 1.8 out of 10
Jun. 15, 2006. 01:00 AM

Washington is failing to make progress in the global war on terror and the next 9/11-style attack is not a question of if, but when. That is the scathing conclusion of a survey of 100 leading American foreign-policy analysts.

In its first "Terrorism Index," released yesterday, the influential journal Foreign Affairs found surprising consensus among the bipartisan experts.

Some 86 per cent of them said the world has grown more, not less, dangerous, despite President George W. Bush's claims that the U.S. is winning the war on terror.

The main reasons for the decline in security, they said, were the war in Iraq, the detention of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. policy towards Iran and U.S. energy policy.

The survey's participants included an ex-secretary of state and former heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, along with prominent members of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment.

The majority served in previous administrations or in senior military ranks.

"When you strip away the politics, the experts, almost to a person, are very worried about the administration," says Joe Cirincione, vice-president of the Center for American Progress, the Washington think-tank which co-sponsored the survey.

"They think none of our front-line institutions is doing a good job and that Iraq has made the terror situation much worse."

The findings will be picked up immediately by politicians and policy-makers, he adds: "Just about any one of these people saying this would make news. When the opinions come together, it really carries weight."

Almost 80 per cent of the analysts said widespread rejection of radical Islamic ideologies is crucial if terrorism is to be eradicated, but that goal requires "a much higher emphasis on its non-military tools."

Across the board, they rated Washington's diplomatic efforts as abysmal, with a median score of 1.8 out of 10.

62% of those polled identify Saudi Arabia as the premier incubator for terrorists
More than two-thirds said the United Nations and other multilateral institutions must be strengthened.

In the survey's accompanying report, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said policy analysts have never been in such agreement.
"The reason is that it's clear to nearly all that Bush and his team have had a totally unrealistic view of what they can accomplish with military force and threats of force."

Some 82 per cent of participants said a pressing priority for the U.S. is to end its dependence on foreign oil.

"We borrow a billion dollars every working day to import oil, an increasing share of it coming from the Middle East," commented former CIA director James Woolsey.

"In Saudi Arabia, billions are transferred to the Wahhabis and like-minded groups who then indoctrinate young people to hate Shiites, Sufis, Jews, Christians and democracy, and to oppress women horribly."

The analysts were also highly critical of the U.S.'s intelligence and national-security apparatus.

The Department of Homeland Security, created in the aftermath of 9/11, was rated for effectiveness at only 2.9 out of 10. Changes in the intelligence structure were assessed at "poor to fair," with one participant noting that reform "in most cases has produced new levels of bureaucracy in an already overly bureaucratic system."

Almost 62 per cent identified Saudi Arabia as the premier incubator for terrorists.

It has helped halt the flow of money to terrorist networks and now has 30,000 troops guarding its oil fields, but Saudi leaders have been slow to move against extremist elements inside the country, says the report.

Asked what presents the single greatest danger to American security, nearly half the analysts said loose nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Only 4 per cent said Iran.

Cirincione says the fact that so few experts think Iran is a threat and so many regard Iraq as a mistake "turns the administration's policies on their head."

Additional articles by Lynda Hurst

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Greg Palast | Keeping Iraq's Oil in the Ground

Keeping Iraq's Oil in the Ground
By Greg Palast

Wednesday 14 June 2006

World oil production today stands at more than twice the 15-billion a-year maximum projected by Shell Oil in 1956 - and reserves are climbing at a faster clip yet. That leaves the question, Why this war?

Did Dick Cheney send us in to seize the last dwindling supplies? Unlikely. Our world's petroleum reserves have doubled in just twenty-five years - and it is in Shell's and the rest of the industry's interest that this doubling doesn't happen again. The neo-cons were hell-bent on raising Iraq's oil production. Big Oil's interest was in suppressing production, that is, keeping Iraq to its OPEC quota or less. This raises the question, did the petroleum industry, which had a direct, if hidden, hand, in promoting invasion, cheerlead for a takeover of Iraq to prevent overproduction?

It wouldn't be the first time. If oil is what we're looking for, there are, indeed, extra helpings in Iraq. On paper, Iraq, at 112 billion proven barrels, has the second largest reserves in OPEC after Saudi Arabia. That does not make Saudi Arabia happy. Even more important is that Iraq has fewer than three thousand operating wells... compared to one million in Texas.

That makes the Saudis even unhappier. It would take a decade or more, but start drilling in Iraq and its reserves will about double, bringing it within gallons of Saudi Arabia's own gargantuan pool. Should Iraq drill on that scale, the total, when combined with the Saudis', will drown the oil market. That wouldn't make the Texans too happy either. So Fadhil Chalabi's plan for Iraq to pump 12 million barrels a day, a million more than Saudi Arabia, is not, to use Bob Ebel's (Center fro Strategic and International Studies) terminology, "ridiculous" from a raw resource view, it is ridiculous politically. It would never be permitted. An international industry policy of suppressing Iraqi oil production has been in place since 1927. We need again to visit that imp called "history."

It began with a character known as "Mr. 5%"- Calouste Gulbenkian - who, in 1925, slicked King Faisal, neophyte ruler of the country recently created by Churchill, into giving Gulbenkian's "Iraq Petroleum Company" (IPC) exclusive rights to all of Iraq's oil. Gulbenkian flipped 95% of his concession to a combine of western oil giants: Anglo-Persian, Royal Dutch Shell, CFP of France, and the Standard Oil trust companies (now ExxonMobil and its "sisters.") The remaining slice Calouste kept for himself - hence, "Mr. 5%."

The oil majors had a better use for Iraq's oil than drilling it - not drilling it. The oil bigs had bought Iraq's concession to seal it up and keep it off the market. To please his buyers' wishes, Mr. 5% spread out a big map of the Middle East on the floor of a hotel room in Belgium and drew a thick red line around the gulf oil fields, centered on Iraq. All the oil company executives, gathered in the hotel room, signed their name on the red line - vowing not to drill, except as a group, within the red-lined zone. No one, therefore, had an incentive to cheat and take red-lined oil. All of Iraq's oil, sequestered by all, was locked in, and all signers would enjoy a lift in worldwide prices. Anglo-Persian Company, now British Petroleum (BP), would pump almost all its oil, reasonably, from Persia (Iran). Later, the Standard Oil combine, renamed the Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco), would limit almost all its drilling to Saudi Arabia. Anglo-Persian (BP) had begun pulling oil from Kirkuk, Iraq, in 1927 and, in accordance with the Red-Line Agreement, shared its Kirkuk and Basra fields with its IPC group - and drilled no more.

The following was written three decades ago:

Although its original concession of March 14, 1925, cove- red all of Iraq, the Iraq Petroleum Co., under the owner- ship of BP (23.75%), Shell (23.75%), CFP [of France] (23.75%), Exxon (11.85%), Mobil (11.85%), and [Calouste] Gulbenkian (5.0%), limited its production to fields constituting only one-half of 1 percent of the country's total area. During the Great Depression, the world was awash with oil and greater output from Iraq would simply have driven the price down to even lower levels.

Plus ça change...

When the British Foreign Office fretted that locking up oil would stoke local nationalist anger, BP-IPC agreed privately to pretend to drill lots of wells, but make them absurdly shallow and place them where, wrote a company manager, "there was no danger of striking oil." This systematic suppression of Iraq's production, begun in 1927, has never ceased. In the early 1960s, Iraq's frustration with the British-led oil consortium's failure to pump pushed the nation to cancel the BP-Shell-Exxon concession and seize the oil fields. Britain was ready to strangle Baghdad, but a cooler, wiser man in the White House, John F. Kennedy, told the Brits to back off. President Kennedy refused to call Iraq's seizure an "expropriation" akin to Castro's seizure of U.S.-owned banana plantations. Kennedy's view was that Anglo-American companies had it coming to them because they had refused to honor their legal commitment to drill.

But the freedom Kennedy offered the Iraqis to drill their own oil to the maximum was swiftly taken away from them by their Arab brethren.

The OPEC cartel, controlled by Saudi Arabia, capped Iraq's production at a sum equal to Iran's, though the Iranian reserves are far smaller than Iraq's. The excuse for this quota equality between Iraq and Iran was to prevent war between them. It didn't. To keep Iraq's Ba'athists from complaining about the limits, Saudi Arabia simply bought off the leaders by funding Saddam's war against Iran and giving the dictator $7 billion for his "Islamic bomb" program.

In 1974, a U.S. politician broke the omerta over the suppression of Iraq's oil production. It was during the Arab oil embargo that Senator Edmund Muskie revealed a secret intelligence report of "fantastic" reserves of oil in Iraq undeveloped because U.S. oil companies refused to add pipeline capacity. Muskie, who'd just lost a bid for the Presidency, was dubbed a "loser" and ignored. The Iranian bombing of the Basra fields (1980-88) put a new kink in Iraq's oil production. Iraq's frustration under production limits explodes periodically.

In August 1990, Kuwait's craven siphoning of borderland oil fields jointly owned with Iraq gave Saddam the excuse to take Kuwait's share. Here was Saddam's opportunity to increase Iraq's OPEC quota by taking Kuwait's (most assuredly not approved by the U.S.). Saddam's plan backfired. The Basra oil fields not crippled by Iran were demolished in 1991 by American B-52s. Saddam's petro-military overreach into Kuwait gave the West the authority for a more direct oil suppression method called the "Sanctions" program, later changed to "Oil for Food." Now we get to the real reason for the U.N. embargo on Iraqi oil exports. According to the official U.S. position:

Sanctions were critical to preventing Iraq from acquiring equipment that could be used to reconstitute banned weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.

How odd. If cutting Saddam's allowance was the purpose, then sanctions, limiting oil exports, was a very suspect method indeed. The nature of the oil market (a cartel) is such that the elimination of two million barrels a day increased Saddam's revenue. One might conclude that sanctions were less about WMD and more about EPS (earnings per share) of oil sellers.

In other words, there is nothing new under the desert sun. Today's fight over how much of Iraq's oil to produce (or suppress) simply extends into this century the last century's pump-or-control battles. In sum, Big Oil, whether in European or Arab-OPEC dress, has done its damned best to keep Iraq's oil buried deep in the ground to keep prices high in the air. Iraq has 74 known fields and only 15 in production; 526 known "structures" (oil-speak for "pools of oil"), only 125 drilled.

And they won't be drilled, not unless Iraq says, "Mother, may I?" to Saudi Arabia, or, as the James Baker/Council on Foreign Relations paper says, "Saudi Arabia may punish Iraq." And believe me, Iraq wouldn't want that. The decision to expand production has, for now, been kept out of Iraqi's hands by the latest method of suppressing Iraq's oil flow - the 2003 invasion and resistance to invasion. And it has been darn effective. Iraq's output in 2003, 2004 and 2005 was less than produced under the restrictive Oil-for-Food Program. Whether by design or happenstance, this decline in output has resulted in tripling the profits of the five U.S. oil majors to $89 billion for a single year, 2005, compared to pre-invasion 2002. That suggests an interesting arithmetic equation. Big Oil's profits are up $89 billion a year in the same period the oil industry boosted contributions to Mr. Bush's reelection campaign to roughly $40 million.

That would make our president "Mr. 0.05%."

A History of Oil in Iraq

Suppressing It, Not Pumping It

* 1925-28 "Mr. 5%" sells his monopoly on Iraq's oil to British Petroleum and Exxon, who sign a "Red-Line Agreement" vowing not to compete by drilling independently in Iraq.

* 1948 Red-Line Agreement ended, replaced by oil combines' "dog in the manger" strategy - taking control of fields, then capping production-drilling shallow holes where "there was no danger of striking oil."

* 1961 OPEC, founded the year before, places quotas on Iraq's exports equal to Iran's, locking in suppression policy.

* 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Iran destroys Basra fields. Iraq cannot meet OPEC quota. 1991 Desert Storm. Anglo-American bombings cut production.

* 1991-2003 United Nations Oil embargo (zero legal exports) followed by Oil-for-Food Program limiting Iraqi sales to 2 million barrels a day.

* 2003-? "Insurgents" sabotage Iraq's pipelines and infrastructure.

* 2004 Options for Iraqi OilThe secret plan adopted by U.S. State Department overturns Pentagon proposal to massively in crease oil production. State Department plan, adopted by government of occupied Iraq, limits state oil company to OPEC quotas.


This article is excerpted from Greg Palast's new book, Armed Madhouse (Dutton Adult, 2006).

Sunday, June 11, 2006



By Garrison Keillor

Tribune Media Services

People who live in mud huts should not throw mud, especially if it comes from their own roofs. As Scripture says, don't point to the speck in your neighbor's eye when you have a piece of kindling in your own.

I see by the papers that the Republicans want to make an issue of Nancy Pelosi in the congressional races this fall: Would you want a San Francisco woman to be Speaker of the House? Will the podium be repainted in lavender stripes with a disco ball overhead? Will she be borne into the chamber by male dancers with glistening torsos and wearing pink tutus? After all, in the unique worldview of old elephants, San Francisco is a code word for g-a-y, and after assembling a record of government lies, incompetence and disaster, the party in power hopes that the fear of g-a-y-s will pull it through in November.

Running against Nancy Pelosi, a woman who comes from a district where there are known gay persons, is a nice trick, but it does draw attention to the large shambling galoot who is Speaker now, Tom DeLay's enabler for years, a man who, judging by his public mutterances, is about as smart as most high school wrestling coaches. For the past year, Dennis Hastert has been two heartbeats from the presidency. He is a man who seems content just to have a car and driver and three square meals a day. He has no apparent vision beyond the urge to hang onto power. He has succeeded in turning Congress into a branch of the executive branch. If Mr. Hastert becomes the poster boy for the Republican Party, this does not speak well for them as the Party of Ideas.

People who want to take a swing at San Francisco should think twice. Yes, the Irish coffee at Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced, and the bus tour of Haight-Ashbury is disappointing (where are the hippies?), but the Bay Area is the cradle of the computer and software industry, which continues to create jobs for our children. The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous. Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling. I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.

Meanwhile, the Current Occupant goes on impersonating a president. Somewhere in the quiet leafy recesses of the Bush family, somebody is thinking, "Wrong son. Should've tried the smart one." This one's eyes don't quite focus. Five years in office and he doesn't have a grip on it yet. You stand him up next to Tony Blair at a press conference and the comparison is not kind to Our Guy. Historians are starting to place him at or near the bottom of the list. And one of the basic assumptions of American culture is falling apart: the competence of Republicans.

You might not have always liked Republicans, but you could count on them to manage the bank. They might be lousy tippers, act snooty, talk through their noses, wear spats and splash mud on you as they race their Pierce-Arrows through the village, but you knew they could do the math. To see them produce a ninny and then follow him loyally into the swamp for five years is disconcerting, like seeing the Rolling Stones take up lite jazz. So here we are at an uneasy point in our history, mired in a costly war and getting nowhere, a supine Congress granting absolute power to a president who seems to get smaller and dimmer, and the best the Republicans can offer is San Franciscophobia? This is beyond pitiful. This is violently stupid.

It is painful to look at your father and realize the old man should not be allowed to manage his own money anymore. This is the discovery the country has made about the party in power. They are inept. The checkbook needs to be taken away. They will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names, but you have to do what you have to do.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

(c) 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.