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

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

Friday, January 19, 2007

Balanced Priorities

Balanced Priorities

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, January 19, 2007; A19

Ask yourself which politician you trust more.

On the one side, a president who campaigned on a balanced-budget pledge, then dug the country hundreds of billions of dollars deeper into debt with huge tax cuts and an unpaid-for war, and now promises a balanced budget four years after he leaves office.

On the other side, a former senator who says that while he wants to contain the deficit, he has higher priorities than a perfectly balanced budget, specifically universal health insurance coverage and substantial investments in alternative energy.

That is the choice offered by George W. Bush and John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat whose left-of-center presidential candidacy will have the salutary effect of challenging Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to respond with specifics of their own.

Edwards's ideas on the budget have the additional virtue of reminding us that the argument over arriving at a balanced budget by 2012 is largely phony. The real issue, given the burgeoning costs of health care and the retirement of the baby boomers, is how to put policies in place now that achieve sustainable fiscal balance -- meaning low if not zero deficits -- over the next 30 years.

What needs to be done? Hint No. 1: Extending President Bush's tax cuts to eternity will make the long-term problem much worse. Hint No. 2: The hardest part will be how -- simultaneously -- to meet the fiscal need to rein in health costs and the social need to get health insurance to everyone. Hint No. 3: Most Democrats don't like to talk about it, but somebody's taxes are going to have to go up.

Edwards, at least, is willing to say which taxes he would raise to keep the deficit from going through the roof. He would start by eliminating Bush's tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners, which he defines roughly as those earning more than $180,000 to $200,000 a year.

He wants to increase the capital gains tax for an interesting reason: In an interview this week, he argued that it's wrong to tax income from work at a higher rate than income from capital -- an extension of his long-standing theme that the country should not value "wealth over work." He also favors a windfall-profits tax on oil companies.

But since health coverage and "transforming the energy economy of this country" are first on his to-do list, Edwards says he is prepared to disappoint voters who make a balanced budget their top priority.

Edwards deserves points for honesty and for stating the politically difficult truth that both fiscal and social balance demand a comprehensive health-care fix.

But his argument doesn't do much to help Democrats on Capitol Hill who have to govern with Bush for the next two years and produce budgets right now that don't worsen the deficit or deepen inequalities. They also need to do something about long-festering social problems. These have been aggravated by declines in health coverage and in the number of families receiving federal help for child care. There is also evidence that many poor people aren't getting the nutrition assistance they need.

Worse: Having watched a Republican president and a Republican Congress run deficits year after year, Democrats will now endure the false piety of born-again Republican deficit hawks who will say they care about a balanced budget more than anything -- except, of course, their sacred tax cuts for the wealthy.

"It's a huge mess," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of trying to pass a decent budget. "It's one of the worst things we have to do." Schumer, vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, argued that even when Democrats propose increased spending for widely shared goals, such as homeland security, Republicans "are going to say 'you're spending too much,' even though it's . . . a mess they created."

Democrats should first do no harm. That means they should resist the temptation of new tax cuts -- including repeal of the alternative minimum tax. The AMT should be fixed, but only as part of comprehensive tax reform that raises revenue. If, as is likely, Bush's path to a "balanced budget" combines tax cuts with freezes or reductions in programs for the needy, Democrats should risk being accused of "class warfare" by pointing out that the president's recipe will produce not fiscal health but further social decline.

And if they want to trump Edwards's candor, Sens. Obama and Clinton should take the lead in showing how they would begin to clean up the mess they hope to inherit in 2008.

Denying the Facts, Finding the Truth

January 5, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
Denying the Facts, Finding the Truth


ONE of the pop heroes of the Iraq war was undoubtedly Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, the unfortunate Iraqi information minister who, in his daily press conferences during the invasion, heroically denied even the most evident facts and stuck to the Iraqi line. Even with American tanks only a few hundred yards from his office, he continued to claim that the televised shots of tanks on the Baghdad streets were just Hollywood special effects.

In his very performance as an excessive caricature, Mr. Sahhaf thereby revealed the hidden truth of the “normal” reporting: there were no refined spins in his comments, just a plain denial. There was something refreshingly liberating about his interventions, which displayed a striving to be liberated from the hold of facts and thus of the need to spin away their unpleasant aspects: his stance was, “Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?”

Furthermore, sometimes, he even struck a strange truth — when confronted with claims that Americans were in control of parts of Baghdad, he snapped back: “They are not in control of anything — they don’t even control themselves!”

What, exactly, do they not control? Back in 1979, in her essay “Dictatorship and Double Standards,” published in Commentary, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick elaborated the distinction between “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” regimes. This concept served as the justification of the American policy of collaborating with right-wing dictators while treating Communist regimes much more harshly: authoritarian dictators are pragmatic rulers who care about their power and wealth and are indifferent toward ideological issues, even if they pay lip service to some big cause; in contrast, totalitarian leaders are selfless fanatics who believe in their ideology and are ready to put everything at stake for their ideals.

Her point was that, while one can deal with authoritarian rulers who react rationally and predictably to material and military threats, totalitarian leaders are much more dangerous and have to be directly confronted.

The irony is that this distinction encapsulates perfectly what went wrong with the United States occupation of Iraq: Saddam Hussein was a corrupt authoritarian dictator striving to keep his hold on power and guided by brutal pragmatic considerations (which led him to collaborate with the United States in the 1980s). The ultimate proof of his regime’s secular nature is the fact that in the Iraqi elections of October 2002 — in which Saddam Hussein got a 100 percent endorsement, and thus overdid the best Stalinist results of 99.95 percent — the campaign song played again and again on all the state media was Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

One outcome of the American invasion is that it has generated a much more uncompromising “fundamentalist” politico-ideological constellation in Iraq. This has led to a predominance of the pro-Iranian political forces there — the intervention basically delivered Iraq to Iranian influence. One can imagine how, if President Bush were to be court-martialed by a Stalinist judge, he would be instantly condemned as an “Iranian agent.” The violent outbursts of the recent Bush politics are thus not exercises in power, but rather exercises in panic.

Recall the old story about the factory worker suspected of stealing: every evening, when he was leaving work, the wheelbarrow he rolled in front of him was carefully inspected, but the guards could not find anything, it was always empty. Finally, they got the point: what the worker was stealing were the wheelbarrows themselves.

This is the trick being attempted by those who claim today, “But the world is nonetheless better off without Saddam!” They forget to factor into the account the effects of the very military intervention against him. Yes, the world is better without Saddam Hussein — but is it better if we include into the overall picture the ideological and political effects of this very occupation?

The United States as a global policeman — why not? The post-cold-war situation effectively called for some global power to fill the void. The problem resides elsewhere: recall the common perception of the United States as a new Roman Empire. The problem with today’s America is not that it is a new global empire, but that it is not one. That is, while pretending to be an empire, it continues to act like a nation-state, ruthlessly pursuing its interests. It is as if the guiding vision of recent American politics is a weird reversal of the well-known motto of the ecologists — act globally, think locally.

After 9/11, the United States was given the opportunity to realize what kind of world it was part of. It might have used the opportunity — but it did not, instead opting to reassert its traditional ideological commitments: out with the responsibility and guilt with respect to the impoverished third world — we are the victims now!

Apropos of the Hague tribunal, the British writer Timothy Garton Ash pathetically claimed: “No Führer or Duce, no Pinochet, Amin or Pol Pot, should ever again feel themselves protected from the reach of international law by the palace gates of sovereignty.” One should simply take note of what is missing in this series of names which, apart from the standard couple of Hitler and Mussolini, contains three third world dictators: where is at least one name from the major powers who might sleep a bit uneasily?

Or, closer to the standard list of the bad guys, why was there little talk of delivering Saddam Hussein or, say, Manuel Noriega to The Hague? Why was the only trial against Mr. Noriega for drug trafficking, rather than for his murderous abuses as a dictator? Was it because he would have disclosed his past ties with the C.I.A.?

In a similar way, Saddam Hussein’s regime was an abominable authoritarian state, guilty of many crimes, mostly toward its own people. However, one should note the strange but key fact that, when the United States representatives and the Iraqi prosecutors were enumerating his evil deeds, they systematically omitted what was undoubtedly his greatest crime in terms of human suffering and of violating international justice: his invasion of Iran. Why? Because the United States and the majority of foreign states were actively helping Iraq in this aggression.

And now the United States is continuing, through other means, this greatest crime of Saddam Hussein: his never-ending attempt to topple the Iranian government. This is the price you have to pay when the struggle against the enemies is the struggle against the evil ghosts in your own closet: you don’t even control yourself.

Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of “The Parallax View.”

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Greg Palast - Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy
By Greg Palast

Thursday 11 January 2007

George W. Bush has an urge to surge. Like every junkie, he asks for just one more fix: let him inject just 21,000 more troops and that will win the war.

Been there. Done that. In 1965, Tom Paxton sang,

Lyndon Johnson told the nation
Have no fear of escalation.
I am trying everyone to please.
Though it isn't really war,
We're sending 50,000 more
To help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese.

Four decades later, Bush is asking us to save Iraq from the Iraqis.

There's always a problem with giving a junkie another fix. It can only make things worse. Our maximum leader says that unless he gets to mainline another 21,000 troops, "Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons," and terrorists "would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people."

Excuse me, but didn't we hear that same promise in 2003? Nearly four years ago, on the eve of invasion, this same George Bush promised, "The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed."

Instead of diminishing the threat from terrorists, Bush now admits, "Al Qaeda has a home base in Anbar province" - something inconceivable under Saddam's rule.

Four years ago, Bush promised us, "When the dictator has departed, [Iraq] can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation." Just send in the 82d Airborne and, lickety-split, we'd have, "A new Iraq that is prosperous and free."

Well, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Here's my question: Who asked the waiter to deliver this dish? Who asked for the 21,000 soldiers?

We know the US military didn't ask for the 21,000 troops. (Outgoing commander General George Casey called for a troop reduction.)

We know the Iraqi government didn't ask for the 21,000 troops. (Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is reportedly unhappy about a visible increase in foreign occupiers).

So who wants the occupation to continue? The answer is in Riyadh. When the King of Saudi Arabia hauled Dick Cheney before his throne on Thanksgiving weekend, the keeper of America's oil laid down the law to Veep: the US will not withdraw from Iraq.

According to Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi who signals to the US government the commands and diktats of the House of Saud, the Saudis are concerned that a US pull-out will leave their Sunni brothers in Iraq to be slaughtered by Shia militias. More important, the Saudis will not tolerate a Shia-majority government in Iraq controlled by the Shia mullahs of Iran. A Shia combine would threaten Saudi Arabia's hegemony in the OPEC oil cartel.

In other words, it's about the oil.

So what's the solution? What's my plan? How do we get out of Iraq? Answer: the same way we got out of 'Nam. In ships.

But can we just watch from the ship rail as Shia slaughter Sunnis in Baghdad, Sunnis murder Shia in Anbar, Kurds "cleanse" Kirkuk of Turkmen and so on in a sickening daisy-chain of ethnic atrocities?

No. There's a real alternative. And it isn't more troops, George.

Let's imagine that somehow we could rip away the strings that allow Cheney and Rove and Abdullah to control our puppet president and he somehow, like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, suddenly grew a brain. His speech last night would have sounded like this:

"My fellow Americans. Iraq is going to hell in a handbag. So the whole shebang doesn't collapse into mayhem and madness, we need to send in 21,000 more troops. So I've just wired King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and told him to send them."

"My missive to the monarch reads: Dear Abdullah. It's time your 16,000 princelings got out of their Rolls Royces and formed the core of an Islamic Peacekeeping Force to prevent mass murder in Iraq. The American people are tired of you using the 82d Airborne as your private mercenary army. It seems like the Saudi military's marching song is, 'Onward Christian Soldiers.'"

"Well, King Ab, we're out of here. We're folding tents and loading the wagons. For four years now, Saudis have been secretly funding the berserkers in the Iraqi 'insurgency' while the Iranians are backing the crazies in the militias. Well, we're telling you and the Persians: you're going to have to stop using your checkbooks to fund a proxy war and instead start keeping the peace. It's time you put your own tushies in the line of fire for a change."

"If the African Union nations, poor as they are, can maintain a peacekeeping force to stop killings in Sudan and Senegal, you Saudis, with all the military toys we've sold you, can certainly join with your Muslim brothers in Jordan, Iran and Turkey to take responsibility for your region's peace."

"And when you get to Fallujah, don't forget to drop us a postcard."

Well, that's my fantasy. But instead, War Junkie George will get his fix of another 21,000 American soldiers.

It reminds me far too chillingly of a Pete Seeger tune written when LBJ was saving Vietnam from Vietnamese. It was based on the true story of a US platoon in training, wading into the rising Mississippi, whose commander ordered them to keep going, deeper and deeper - until they drowned.

We're waste deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.


Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Armed Madhouse. His reports on Iraq and oil for BBC-TV and Harper's Magazine can be viewed at

Bill Moyers - Imperial Media

Bill Moyers: "Big Media is Ravenous. It Never Gets Enough. Always Wants More. And it Will Stop at Nothing to Get It. These Conglomerates are an Empire, and they are Imperial."

The veteran broadcast journalist Bill Moyers spoke on Friday before 3,500 at the opening of the National Conference on Media Reform in Memphis. He announced his return to the airwaves and outlined his vision of media reform. "As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are under growing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people." [includes rush transcript] Thirty five hundred activists, journalists and concerned citizens gathered in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend for the third National Conference on Media Reform. Speakers called for the preservation of a free and open Internet, the end of media consolidation and a more democratic and diverse media system.

Among those who spoke were Helen Thomas, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Phil Donahue and Jane Fonda, to name a few.

But it was veteran journalist Bill Moyers who opened the conference on Friday with a stirring address. Today we spend the hour playing his remarks. A longtime journalist, Bill Moyers has produced many groundbreaking series on public television over the years. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmy Awards and the author three best-selling books.

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
Donate - $25, $50, $100, more...

BILL MOYERS: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ONCE SAID, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner."

"Liberty," he said, "is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote."

My fellow lambs -- it's good to be in Memphis and find you well-armed with passion for democracy, readiness for action, and courage for the next round in the fight for a free and independent press in America. I salute the conviction that brought you here. I cherish the spirit that fills this hall, and the camaraderie that we share here.

All too often, the greatest obstacle to reform is the reform movement itself. Factions rise, fences are erected, jealousies mount, and the cause all of us believe in is lost in the shattered fragments of what once was a clear and compelling vision.

Reformers, in fact, often remind me of Baptists. I speak as a Baptist. I know whereof I speak. One of my favorite stories is of the fellow who was about to jump off a bridge, when another fellow ran up to him crying, "Stop, stop, don't do it."

The man on the bridge looks down and asks, "Why not?"

"Well, there's much to live for."

"What for?"

"Well, your faith. Your religion."


"Are you religious?"


"Me, too. Christian or Buddhist?"


"Me, too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"


"Me, too. Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian?"


"Me, too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Savior?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"Me, too. Are you Original Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me, too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1879, or Reform Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1917?"


Whereupon, the second fellow turned red in the face and yelled, "Die, you heretic scum," and pushed him off the bridge.

DOESN'T THAT SOUND LIKE A REFORM MOVEMENT? But by avoiding contentious factionalism, you have created a strong movement. And I will confess to you that I was skeptical when Bob McChesney and John Nichols first raised with me the issue of media consolidation a few years ago. I was sympathetic but skeptical. The challenge of actually doing something about this issue beyond simply bemoaning its impact on democracy was daunting. How could we hope to come up with an effective response to any measurable force? It seemed inexorable, because all over the previous decades, a series of mega-media mergers have swept the country, each deal bigger than the last. The lobby representing the broadcast, cable, and newspapers industries was extremely powerful, with an iron grip on lawmakers and regulators alike.

Both parties bowed to their will when the Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That monstrous assault on democracy, with malignant consequences for journalism, was nothing but a welfare giveaway to the largest, richest, and most powerful media conglomerations in the world. Goliaths, whose handful of owners controlled, commodified, and monetized everyone and everything in sight. Call it "the plantation mentality."

That's what struck me as I flew into Memphis for this gathering. Even in 1968, the civil rights movement was still battling the plantation mentality, based on race, gender and power, which permeated Southern culture long before, and even after, the groundbreaking legislation of the 1960s.

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to join the strike of garbage workers in 1968, the cry from every striker's heart -- "I am a man" -- voiced the long-suppressed outrage of people whose rights were still being trampled by an ownership class that had arranged the world for its own benefit. The plantation mentality is a phenomenon deeply insinuated in the American experience early on, and it has permeated and corrupted our course as a nation.

The journalist of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, envisioned the new republic as a community of occupations, prospering by the aid with which each receives from the other and from the whole. But that vision was repeatedly betrayed, so that less than a century after Thomas Paine's death, Theodore Roosevelt, bolting a Republican Party whose bosses had stolen the nomination from him, declared: "It is not to be wondered at, that our opponents have been very bitter, for the line-up in this crisis is one that cuts deep to the foundations of democracy."

"Our democracy," he said, "is now put to a vital test, for the conflict is between human rights on the one side, and on the other, special privilege asserted as property rights. The parting of the ways has come."

Today, a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt's death, those words ring just as true. America is socially divided and politically benighted. Inequality and poverty grow steadily along with risk and debt. Too many working families cannot make ends meet with two people working, let alone if one stays home to care for children or aging parents. Young people without privilege and wealth struggle to get a footing. Seniors enjoy less security for a lifetime's work. We are racially segregated today in every meaningful sense, except for the letter of the law. And the survivors of segregation and immigration toil for pennies on the dollar, compared to those they serve.

None of this is accidental. Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow, not known for extreme political statements, characterizes what is happening as "nothing less than elite plunder" -- the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy, and the power in favor of the powerful. In fact, nearly all the wealth America created over the past 25 years has been captured by the top 20 percent of households, and most of the gains went to the wealthiest. The top 1 percent of households captured more than 50 percent of all the gains in financial wealth, and these households now hold more than twice the share their predecessors held on the eve of the American Revolution.

The anti-Federalist warning that government naturally works to fortify the conspiracies of the rich proved prophetic. It's the truth today, and America confronts a choice between two fundamentally different economic visions. As Norman Garfinkel writes in his marvelous new book, The American Dream vs. the Gospel of Wealth, the historic vision of the American dream is that continuing economic growth and political stability can be achieved by supporting income growth and economic security of middle-class families, without restricting the ability of successful business men to gain wealth.

The counter-belief is that providing maximum financial rewards to the most successful is the way to maintain high economic growth. The choice cannot be avoided. What kind of economy do we seek, and what kind of nation do we wish to be? Do we want to be a country in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, or do we want a country committed to an economy that provides for the common good, offers upward mobility, supports a middle-class standard of living, and provides generous opportunities for all?

"When the richest nation in the world has to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to pay its bill," Garfinkel says in his book, "when its middle class citizens sit on a mountain of debt to maintain their living standards, when the nation's economy has difficulty producing secure jobs, or enough jobs of any kind, something is amiss."

You bet something is amiss, and it goes to the core of why we are here in Memphis. For this conference is about a force, the media, that cuts deep to the foundation of democracy. When Teddy Roosevelt dissected what he called "the real masters of the reactionary forces" in his time, he concluded that, indirectly or directly, "they control the majority of the great newspapers that are against us." Those newspapers, the dominant media of the day, choked "the channels of the information ordinary people needed to understand what was being done to them."

And today, two basic pillars of American society, shared economic prosperity and a public sector capable of serving the common good, are crumbling. The third pillar of American democracy, an independent press, is under sustained attack, and the channels of information are choked. A few huge corporations now dominate the media landscape in America. Almost all the networks carried by most cable systems are owned by one of the major media common conglomerates. Two-thirds of today's newspapers are monopolies.

As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are undergoing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people.

What does today's media system mean for the notion of an informed public cherished by democratic theory? Quite literally, it means that virtually everything the average person sees or hears, outside of her own personal communications, is determined by the interests of private, unaccountable executives and investors whose primary goal is increasing profits and raising the share prices. More insidiously, this small group of elites determines what ordinary people do not see or hear. In-depth coverage of anything, let alone the problems real people face day-to-day, is as scarce as sex, violence and voyeurism are pervasive.

Successful business model or not, by democratic standards this is censorship of knowledge by monopolization of the means of information. In its current form, which Barry Diller happily describes as "oligopoly," media growth has one clear consequence. There is more information and easier access to it, but it's more narrow and homogenous in content and perspective. What we see from the couch is overwhelmingly a view from the top. The pioneering communications scholar Murray Edelman wrote that opinions about public policy do not spring immaculately or automatically into people's minds. They are always placed there by the interpretations of those who most consistently get their claims and manufactured cues publicized widely.

For years, the media marketplace for opinions about public policy has been dominated by a highly disciplined, thoroughly networked, ideological "noise machine," to use David Brock’s term. Permeated with slogans concocted by big corporations, their lobbyists, and their think tank subsidiaries, public discourse has effectively changed the meaning of American values. Day after day, the ideals of fairness and liberty and mutual responsibility have been stripped of their essential dignity and meaning in people's lives. Day after day, the egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is trampled underfoot by hired experts and sloganeers, who speak of the "death tax," "the ownership society," "the culture of life," "the liberal assault on God and family," "compassionate conservatism," "weak on terrorism," "the end of history," "the clash of civilizations," "no child left behind." They have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war into a "surge," as if it were a current of electricity through a wire, instead of blood spurting from the ruptured vein of a soldier.

The Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which language conceals reality, and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power, is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies and lies to truth. So it is that limited government has little to do with the Constitution or local economy anymore. Now it means corporate domination and the shifting of risk from government and business to struggling families and workers. Family values now mean imposing a sectarian definition of the family on everyone else. Religious freedom now means majoritarianism and public benefits for organized religion without any public burdens. And patriotism has come to mean blind support for failed leaders.

It's what happens when an interlocking media system filters through commercial values or ideology, the information and moral viewpoints people consume in their daily lives. And by no stretch of the imagination can we say today that the dominant institutions of our media are guardians of democracy.

Despite the profusion of new information platforms on cable, on the Internet, on radio, blogs, podcasts, YouTube and MySpace, among others, the resources for solid, original journalistic work, both investigative and interpretative, are contracting, rather than expanding.

I'M OLD-FASHIONED. I’m a fogey at this, I guess, a hangover from my days as a cub reporter and a newspaper publisher. But I agree with Michael Schudson, one of the leading scholars of communication in America, who writes in the current Columbia Journalism Review that while all media matter, some matter more than others. And for the sake of democracy, print still counts most -- especially print that devotes resources to gathering news.

Network TV matters, he said. Cable TV matters, he said. But when it comes to original investigation and reporting, newspapers are overwhelmingly the most important media. But newspapers are purposely dumbing-down, "driven down," says Schudson, by Wall Street, whose collective devotion to an informed citizenry is nil and seems determined to eviscerate those papers.

Worrying about the loss of real news is not a romantic cliché of journalism. It’s been verified by history. From the days of royal absolutism to the present, the control of information and knowledge had been the first line of defense for failed regimes facing democratic unrest. The suppression of parliamentary dissent during Charles I's 11 years of tyranny in England rested largely on government censorship, operating through strict licensing laws for the publication of books.

The Federalist's infamous Sedition Act of 1798 in this country, likewise, sought to quell republican insurgency by making it a crime to publish false, scandalous and malicious writing about the government or its officials. In those days, our governing bodies tried to squelch journalistic information with the blunt instruments of the law: padlocks for the presses and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers. Over time, with spectacular wartime exceptions, the courts and the Constitution have struck those weapons out of their hand.

But now they have found new methods in the name of national security and even broader claims of executive privilege. The number of documents stamped "Top Secret," "Secret," or "Confidential" has accelerated dramatically since 2001, including many formerly accessible documents that are now reclassified as "Secret." Vice President Cheney's office refuses to disclose, in fact, what it is classifying. Even their secrecy is being kept a secret.

Beyond what is officially labeled "Secret" or "privileged" information, there hovers on the plantation a culture of selective official news implementation, working through favored media insiders to advance political agendas by leak and innuendo and spin, by outright propaganda mechanisms, such as the misnamed public information offices that churn out blizzards of factually selective releases on a daily basis, and even by directly paying pundits and journalists to write on subjects of mutual interest.

They needn’t have wasted the money. As we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks for the war party, for government, and neoconservative propaganda and manipulation. There were notable exceptions -- Knight Ridder's bureau, for example -- but on the whole, all high-ranking officials had to do was say it, and the press repeated it until it became gospel. The height of myopia came with the admission (or was it bragging?) by one of the Beltway's most prominent anchors that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be heard, what they say more newsworthy than what they do.

The watchdog group FAIR found that during the three weeks leading up to the invasion, only 3 percent of U.S. sources on the evening news of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and PBS expressed skeptical opinions of the impending war, even though a quarter of the American people were against it. Not surprisingly, two years after 9/11, almost 70 percent of the public still thought it likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the terrorist attacks of that day.

One Indiana schoolteacher told the Washington Post: "From what we've heard from the media, it seems what they feel is that Saddam and the whole Al-Qaeda thing are connected." Much to the advantage of the Bush administration, a large majority of the public shared this erroneous view during the build-up to the war, a propaganda feat that Saddam himself would have envied. It is absolutely stunning, frightening how the major media organizations were willing, even solicitous, hand puppets of a state propaganda campaign, cheered on by the partisan, ideological press to go to war.

But there are many other ways the plantation mentality keeps the American people from confronting reality. Take the staggering growth of money in politics. Compared to the magnitude of the problem, what the average person knows about how money determines policy is negligible. In fact, in the abstract, the polls tell us, most people generally assume that money controls our political system. But people will rarely act on something they understand only in the abstract. It took a constant stream of images -- water hoses, and dogs and churches ablaze -- for the public at large finally to understand what was happening to black people in the South. It took repeated scenes of destruction in Vietnam before the majority of Americans saw how we were destroying the country in order to save it. And it took repeated crime-scene images to maintain public support for many policing and sentencing policies.

Likewise, people have to see how money and politics actually work and concretely grasp the consequences for their pocketbooks and their lives before they will act. But while media organizations supply a lot of news and commentary, they tell us almost nothing about who really wags the system and how. When I watch one of those faux debates on a Washington public affairs show, with one politician saying, "This is a bad bill," and the other politician saying, "This is a good bill," I yearn to see the smiling, nodding, Beltway anchor suddenly interrupt and insist, "Good bill or bad bill, this is a bought bill. Now, let's cut to the chase. Whose financial interests are you advancing with this bill?"

Then there's the social cost of free trade. For over a decade, free trade has hovered over the political system like a biblical commandment striking down anything -- trade unions, the environment, indigenous rights, even the constitutional standing of our own laws passed by our elected representatives -- that gets in the way of unbridled greed. The broader negative consequences of this agenda, increasingly well-documented by scholars, get virtually no attention in the dominant media. Instead of reality, we get optimistic, multicultural scenarios of coordinated global growth. And instead of substantive debate, we get a stark formulated choice between free trade to help the world and gloomy-sounding protectionism that will set everyone back.

The degree to which this has become a purely ideological debate, devoid of any factual basis that people can weigh the gains and losses is reflected in Thomas Friedman's astonishing claim, stated not long ago in a television interview, that he endorsed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) without even reading it. That is simply because it stood for "free trade." We have reached the stage when the Poo-Bahs of punditry have only to declare that "the world is flat," for everyone to agree it is, without going to the edge and looking over themselves.

I think what's happened is not indifference or laziness or incompetence, but the fact that most journalists on the plantation have so internalized conventional wisdom that they simply accept that the system is working as it should. I'm doing a documentary this spring called "Buying the War," and I can't tell you again how many reporters have told me that it just never occurred to them that high officials would manipulate intelligence in order to go to war. Hello?

Similarly, the question of whether or not our economic system is truly just is off the table for investigation and discussion, so that alternative ideas, alternative critiques, alternative visions never get a hearing. And these are but a few of the realities that are obscured. What about this growing inequality? What about the re-segregation of our public schools? What about the devastating onward march of environmental deregulation? All of these are examples of what happens when independent sources of knowledge and analysis are so few and far between on the plantation.

So if we need to know what is happening, and Big Media won't tell us; if we need to know why it matters, and Big Media won't tell us; if we need to know what to do about it, and Big Media won't tell us, it's clear what we have to do. We have to tell the story ourselves.

And this is what the plantation owners feared most of all. Over all those decades here in the South, when they used human beings as chattel, and quoted scripture to justify it, property rights over human rights was God's way, they secretly lived in fear that one day -- instead of saying, "Yes, Massa" -- those gaunt, weary, sweat-soaked field hands, bending low over the cotton under the burning sun, would suddenly stand up straight, look around, see their sweltering and stooping kin and say, "This ain't the product of intelligent design. The boss man in the big house has been lying to me. Something is wrong with this system."

This is the moment freedom begins, the moment you realize someone else has been writing your story, and it's time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself.

When the garbage workers struck here in 1968, and the walls of these buildings echoed with the cry, "I am a man," they were writing this story. Martin Luther King came here to help them tell it, only to be shot dead on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The bullet killed him, but it couldn't kill the story, because once the people start telling their story, you can't kill it anymore.

SO I'M BACK WHERE I STARTED WITH YOU, AND WHERE THIS MOVEMENT IS HEADED. The greatest challenge to the plantation mentality of the media giants is the innovation and expression made possible by the digital revolution. I may still prefer the newspaper for its investigative journalism and in-depth analysis, but we now have it in our means to tell a different story from Big Media, our story.

The other story of America that says, free speech is not just corporate speech. That news is not just what officials tell us. And we are not just chattel in the fields living the boss man's story. This is the great gift of the digital revolution, and you must never, never let them take it away from you. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras that can transmit images over the Internet makes possible a nation of story tellers, every citizen a Tom Paine.

Let the man in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue think that over, and the woman of the House on Capitol Hill. And the media moguls in their chalets at Sun Valley, gathered to review the plantation’s assets and multiply them, nail it to their door. They no longer own the copyright to America's story. It's not a top-down story anymore. Other folks are going to write this story from the ground up. And the truth will be out that the media plantation, like the cotton plantation of old, is not divinely sanctioned. It's not the product of natural forces. The media system we have been living under for a long time now was created behind closed doors where the power-brokers met to divvy up the spoils.

Bob McChesney has eloquently reminded us through the years how each medium -- radio, television and cable -- was hailed as a technology that would give us greater diversity of voices, serious news, local programs, and lots of public service for the community. In each case, the advertisers took over.

Despite what I teasingly told you the last time we were together in St. Louis, the star that shines so brightly in the firmament the year I was born, 1934, did not, I regret to say, appear over that little house in Hugo, Oklahoma. It appeared over Washington when Congress enacted the 1934 Communications Act. One hundred times in that cornerstone of our communications policy, you will read the phrase "public interests, convenience, and necessity."

I can tell you reading about those days that educators, union officials, religious leaders and parents were galvanized by the promise of radio as a classroom for the air, serving the life of the country and the life of the mind – until the government cut a deal with the industry to make sure nothing would threaten the already vested interests of powerful radio networks and the advertising industry. And soon, the public largely forgot about radio's promise, as we accepted the entertainment produced and controlled by Jell-O, Maxwell House and Camel cigarettes.

What happened to radio, happened to television, and then it happened to cable; and, if we are not diligent, it will happen to the Internet. Powerful forces are at work now, determined to create our media future for the benefit of the plantation: investors, advertisers, owners and the parasites that depend on their indulgence, including many in the governing class.

Old media acquire new media and vice versa. Rupert Murdoch, forever savvy about the next key outlet that will attract eyeballs, purchased MySpace, spending nearly $600 million, so he could, in the language of Wall Street, monetize those eyeballs. Google became a partner in Time Warner, investing $1 billion in its AOL online service. And now Google has bought YouTube, so it would have a better vehicle for delivering interactive ads for Madison Avenue. Viacom, Microsoft, large ad agencies, and others have been buying up key media properties, many of them the leading online sites, with a result that will be a thoroughly commercialized environment, a media plantation for the 21st century, dominated by the same corporate and ideological forces that have produced the system we have lived under the last 50 years.

So what do we do? Well, you've shown us what we have to do. And twice now, you have shown us what we can do. Four years ago, when FCC Commissioner Michael Powell and his ideological sidekicks decided it was ok for a single corporation to own a community's major newspapers, three of its TV stations, eight radio stations, its cable TV system, and its major broadband Internet provider, you said, enough's enough!

Free Press, Common Cause, Consumer's Union, Media Access Project, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and others working closely with commissioners Adelstein and Copps, two of the most public, spirited members of that commission ever to sit there, organized public hearings across the country where people spoke deeply felt opinions about how poorly the media were serving their towns. You flooded Congress with petitions, and you never let up. And when the court said Powell had to back off, the decision cited the importance of involving the public in these media decisions.

Incidentally, Powell not only backed off, he backed out. He left the commission to become senior adviser at a private investment firm specializing in equity investments in media companies around the world. And that firm, by the way, made a bid to take over both Tribune and Clear Channel, two media companies that just a short time ago were under the corporate-friendly purview of -- you guessed it -- Michael Powell. That whooshing sound you hear is Washington's perpetually revolving door through which they come to serve the public and through which they leave to join the plantation.

You made a difference. You showed that the public cares about media and democracy. You turned a little publicized vote -- little publicized because Big Media didn't want the people to know -- a little publicized and seemingly arcane regulation into a big political fight and a public debate.

Now it's true, as commissioner Copps has reminded us, that since that battle three years ago, there have been more than 3, 300 TV and radio TV stations that have had their assignment and transfer grants approved, so that even under the old rules, consolidation grows, localism suffers, and diversity dwindles. It's also true that even as we speak, Michael Powell's successor, Kevin Martin, put there by George W. Bush, is ready to take up where Powell left off and give the green light to more conglomeration. Get ready to fight.

But then you did it again more recently. You lit a fire under the people to put Washington on notice that it had to guarantee the Internet's First Amendment protection in the $85 billion merger of AT&T and BellSouth. Because of you, the so-called Net Neutrality, I much prefer to call it the "equal-access provision of the Internet" -- neutrality makes me think of Switzerland -- the equal-access provision became a public issue that once again reminded the powers-that-be that people want the media to foster democracy, not to quench it.

This is crucial. This is crucial, because in a few years, virtually all media will be delivered by high-speed broadband. And without equality of access, the Net can become just like cable television where the provider decides what you see and what you pay. After all, the Bush Department of Justice had blessed the deal last October without a single condition or statement of concern. But they hadn't reckoned with Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, and they hadn't reckoned with this movement. Free Press and orchestrated 800 organizations, a million and a half petitions, countless local events, legions of homemade videos, smart collaboration with allies and industry, and a top shelf communications campaign. Who would have imagined that sitting together in the same democratic broadband pew would be the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of America, Common Cause, and Who would have imagined that these would link arms with some of the powerful new media companies to fight for the Internet's First Amendment?

We owe a tip of the hat, of course, to Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell. Despite what must have been a great deal of pressure from his side, he did the honorable thing and recused himself from the proceedings because of a conflict of interest. He might well have heard the roar of the public that you helped to create. So AT&T had to cry "uncle" to Copps and Adelstein, with a "voluntary commitment to honor equal access for at least two years." The agreement marks the first time that the federal government has imposed true neutrality -- oops, equality – on an Internet access provider since the debate erupted almost two years ago.

I believe you changed the terms of the debate. It is no longer about whether equality of access will govern the future of the Internet. It's about when and how. It also signals a change from defense to offense for the backers of an open net. Arguably the biggest, most effective online organizing campaign ever conducted on a media issue can now turn to passing good laws, rather than always having to fight to block bad ones. Just this week, Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and Sen. Olympia Snow, a Republican, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007 to require fair and equitable access to all content. And over in the House, that champion of the public interest, Rep. Ed Markey, is once again standing there waiting to press the battle.

A caveat here. Those other folks don't give up so easy. Remember, this agreement is only for two years, and they will be back with all the lobbyists money can hire. As the Washington Post follows George Bush into the black hole of Baghdad, the press in Washington won't be covering many stories like this because of priorities.

A further caveat. Consider what AT&T got in the bargain. For giving up on Net Neutrality, it got the green light from government to dominate over 67 million phone lines in 22 states, almost 12 million broadband users, and total control over Cingular Wireless, the country's largest mobile phone company with 58 million cell phone users. It's as if China swallowed India.

I bring this up for a reason. Big Media is ravenous. It never gets enough, always wants more. And it will stop at nothing to get it. These conglomerates are an empire, and they are imperial.

Last week on his Web site,, Danny Schechter recalled how some years ago he marched with a band of media activists to the headquarters of all the big media companies concentrated in the Times Square area. Their formidable buildings strutted with logos and limos, and guarded by rent-a-cops, projected their power and prestige. Danny and his cohorts chanted and held up signs calling for honest news and an end to exploited programming. They called for diversity and access for more perspectives. "It felt good," Danny said, "but it seemed like a fool's errand. We were ignored, patronized and marginalized. We couldn't shake their edifices or influence their holy business models. We seemed to many like that lonely and forlorn nut in a New Yorker cartoon carrying an ‘End of the World is Near’ placard."

Well, yes, my friends, that is exactly how they want you to feel. As if media and democracy is a fool's errand. To his credit, Danny didn't give up. He’s never given up. Neither have the early pioneers of this movement: Andy Schwartzman, Don Hazen, Jeff Chester. I confess that I came very close not to making this speech today, in favor of just getting up here and reading from this book, Digital Destiny, by my friend and co-conspirator, Jeff Chester. Take my word for it. Make this your bible, until McChesney's new book comes out. As Don Hazen writes in his review in AlterNet this week, it's a terrific book, "a respectful loving, fresh, intimate comprehensive history of the struggles for a 'democratic' media -- the lost fights, the opportunities missed, and the small victories that have kept the corporate media system from having complete carte blanche over the communication channels."

It's also a terrifying book, because Jeff describes how we are being shadowed online by a slew of software digital gumshoes working for Madison Avenue. Our movements in cyberspace are closely tracked and analyzed, and interactive advertising infiltrates our consciousness to promote the brand-washing of America. Jeff asks the hard questions: Do we really want television sets that monitor what we watch? Or an Internet that knows what sites we visit and reports back to advertising companies? Do we really want a media system designed mainly for Madison Avenue?

But this is a hopeful book. "After scaring the bejeezus out of us," as one reviewer wrote, Jeff offers a policy agenda for the broadband era. Here is a man who practices what the Italian philosopher Gramsci called the "pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will." He sees the world as it is, without rose-colored glasses and tries to change it, despite what he knows.

So you'll find here the core of the movement's mission. You'll agree with much and disagree with some. But that's what a reform movement is about. Media reform -- yes. But the Project in Excellence concluded in its "State of the Media Report" for 2006, "At many old media companies, though not in all, the decades-long battle at the top between idealists and accountants is now over. The idealists have lost." The commercial networks are lost, too, lost to silliness, farce, cowardice and ideology. Not much hope there. You can't raise the dead.

Policy reform, yes. But, says Jeff, we will likely see more consolidation of ownership with newspapers, TV stations, and major online properties in fewer hands. So, he says, we have to find other ways to ensure the public has access to diverse, independent, and credible sources of information.

That means going to the market to find support for stronger independent media. Michael Moore and others have proven that progressivism doesn't have to equal penury. It means helping protect news-gathering from predatory forces. It means fighting for more participatory media, hospitable to a full range of expression. It means building on Lawrence Lessig’s notion of the "creative commons" and Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archives, with his philosophy of universal access to all knowledge.

It means bringing broadband service to those many millions of Americans too poor to participate so far in the digital revolution. It means ownership and participation for people of color and women. And let me tell you, it means reclaiming public broadcasting and restoring it to its original feisty, robust, fearless mission as an alternative to the dominant media, offering journalism you can afford and can trust, public affairs of which you are a part, and a wide range of civic and cultural discourse that leaves no one out.

You can have an impact here. For one thing, we need to remind people that the federal commitment to public broadcasting in this country is about $1.50 per capita, compared to $28 to $85 per capita in other democracies.

BUT THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE I WANT YOU TO THINK ABOUT. Something else you can do. And I'm going to let you in here on one of my fantasies. Keep it to yourself, if you will, because fantasies are private matters, and mine involves Amy Goodman. But I'll just ask C-SPAN to bleep this out. Oh, shucks, what’s the use. Here it is. In moments of revelry, I imagine all of you returning home to organize a campaign to persuade your local public television station to start airing Democracy Now!

I can't think of a single act more likely to remind people of what public broadcasting should be, or that this media reform conference really means business. We've got to get alternative content out there to people, or this country is going to die of too many lies. And the opening rundown of news on Amy's daily show is like nothing else on any television, corporate or public. It's as if you opened the window in the morning and a fresh breeze rolls over you from the ocean. Amy doesn't practice trickle-down journalism. She goes where the silence is, and she breaks the sound barrier. She doesn't buy the Washington protocol that says the truth lies somewhere in the spectrum of opinion between the Democrats and the Republicans.

On Democracy Now! the truth lies where the facts are hidden, and Amy digs for them. And above all, she believes the media should be a sanctuary for dissent, the Underground Railroad tunneling beneath the plantation. So go home and think about it. After all, you are the public in public broadcasting and not just during pledge breaks. You live there, and you can get the boss man at the big house to pay attention.

Meanwhile, be vigilant about the congressional rewrite of the Telecommunications Act that is beginning as we speak. Track it day by day and post what you learn far and wide, because the decisions made in this session of Congress will affect the future of all media, corporate and noncommercial. If we lose the future now, we'll never get it back.

So you have your work cut out for you. I'm glad you're all younger than me and up to it. I'm glad so many funders are here, because while an army may move on its stomach, this movement requires hard, cold cash to compete with big media in getting the attention of Congress and the people.

I'll try to do my part. Last time we were together, I said to you that I should put my detractors on notice. They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair. Well, in April, I will be back with a new weekly series called Bill Moyer’s Journal, thanks to some of the funders in this room. We'll take no money from public broadcasting because it compromises you even when you don't intend it to -- or they don't intend it to. I hope to complement the fine work of colleagues like David Brancaccio of NOW and David Fanning of Frontline, who also go for the truth behind the news.

But I don't want to tease you. I'm not coming back because of detractors. I wouldn't torture them that way. I'll leave that to Dick Cheney. I'm coming back, because it's what I do best. Because I believe television can still signify, and I don't want you to feel so alone. I'll keep an eye on your work. You are to America what the abolition movement was, and the suffragette movement, and the civil rights movement. You touch the soul of democracy. It's not assured you will succeed in this fight. The armies of the Lord are up against mighty hosts. But as the spiritual sojourner Thomas Merton wrote to an activist grown weary and discouraged protesting the Vietnam War, "Do not depend on the hope of results. Concentrate on the value and the truth of the work itself."

And in case you do get lonely, I'll leave you with this. As my plane was circling Memphis the other day, I looked out across those vast miles of fertile soil that once were plantations, watered by the Mississippi River, and the sweat from the brow of countless men and women who had been forced to live somebody else's story. I thought about how in time, with a lot of martyrs, they rose up, one here, then two, then many, forging a great movement that awakened America's conscience and brought us closer to the elusive but beautiful promise of the Declaration of Independence. As we made our last approach, the words of a Marge Piercy poem began to form in my head, and I remembered all over again why I was coming and why you were here:

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fundraising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Administration leaving out important details on Iraq

Administration leaving out important details on Iraq

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - President Bush and his aides, explaining their reasons for sending more American troops to Iraq, are offering an incomplete, oversimplified and possibly untrue version of events there that raises new questions about the accuracy of the administration's statements about Iraq.

President Bush unveiled the new version on Wednesday during his nationally televised speech announcing his new Iraq policy.

"When I addressed you just over a year ago, nearly 12 million Iraqis had cast their ballots for a unified and democratic nation," he said. "We thought that these elections would bring Iraqis together - and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.

"But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq - particularly in Baghdad - overwhelmed the political gains Iraqis had made. Al-Qaida terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's election posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.

"They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam - the Golden Mosque of Samarra - in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate," Bush said. "Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today."

That version of events helps to justify Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq, in which U.S. forces will largely target Sunni insurgents and leave it to Iraq's U.S.-backed Shiite government to - perhaps - disarm its allies in Shiite militias and death squads.

But the president's account understates by at least 15 months when Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni politicians and clerics. It also ignores the role that Iranian-backed Shiite groups had in death squad activities prior to the Samarra bombing.

Blaming the start of sectarian violence in Iraq on the Golden Dome bombing risks policy errors because it underestimates the depth of sectarian hatred in Iraq and overlooks the conflict's root causes. The Bush account also fails to acknowledge that Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite groups stoked the conflict.

President Bush met at the White House in November with the head of one of those groups: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI's Badr Organization militia is widely reported to have infiltrated Iraq's security forces and to be involved in death squad activities.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recited Bush's history of events on Thursday in fending off angry questioning from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., about why Rice had offered optimistic testimony about Iraq during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in October 2005.

"The president has talked repeatedly now about the changed circumstances that we faced after the Samarra bombing of February `06, because that bombing did in fact change the character of the conflict in Iraq," Rice said. "Before that, we were fighting al-Qaida; before that, we were fighting some insurgents, some Saddamists."

She cited the version again in an appearance later that day before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "This is a direct result of al-Qaida activity," she said, asking House members not to consider Iraq's sectarian violence as evidence that Iraqis cannot live together.

Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley used the same version of events in an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Much like the administration's pre-war claims about Saddam's alleged ties to al-Qaida and purported nuclear weapons program, the claims about the bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra ignore inconvenient facts and highlight questionable but politically useful assumptions.

No one disagrees that the February bombing of the Golden Dome shrine was a pivotal moment. In the days following the attack, armed Shiites stormed Sunni mosques and neighborhoods, killing hundreds. Baghdad's Sunni residents responded by arming themselves, and Sunni insurgents set off car bombs in Shiite neighborhoods. By October, the monthly death toll was reaching into the thousands.

U.S. diplomats, reporters and military and intelligence officers began reporting that Shiite death squads were targeting Sunni clerics and former officials of Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime at least 15 months before the Samarra bombing.

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell urged a U.S. offensive against radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in 2004. But he was overruled by then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. They argued against fighting a two-front war against Sunni insurgents and Shiite militants.

The concerns about Shiite militias grew after the Jan. 30, 2005, elections that brought the Shiite-led government of then-Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to power. Journalists in Iraq, the CIA station, the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. military all reported throughout 2005 that evidence was mounting that Jaafari's government was incorporating Shiite militias and death squads into the Iraqi army and police.

A year before the Samarra bombing, Hannah Allam, writing for what was then Knight Ridder Newspapers, reported that Iraq could be headed toward civil war. Knight Ridder was purchased by The McClatchy Co. last June.

"Shiite Muslim assassins are killing former members of Saddam Hussein's mostly Sunni Muslim regime with impunity in a wave of violence that, combined with the ongoing Sunni insurgency, threatens to escalate into civil war," Allam, then the news organization's Baghdad bureau chief, wrote on Feb. 27, 2005. "The war between Shiite vigilantes and former Baath Party members is seldom investigated and largely overshadowed by the insurgency."

She added, "Iraq's new Shiite leaders have little interest in prosecuting those who kill their former oppressors or their enemies in the insurgency."

The story quoted the then-spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, Sabah Kadhim: "It's the beginning, and we could go down the slippery slope very quickly. ... Both sides are sharpening their knives."

By the summer, the tortured bodies of kidnapped Sunni clerics had begun turning up regularly on Baghdad's streets, and on Aug. 10, 2005, Knight Ridder correspondent Tom Lasseter wrote:

"A militant Shiite Muslim group with close ties to Iran has gained enormous power since Iraq's January elections and now is accused of conducting a terror campaign against Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority that includes kidnappings, threats and murders."

Lasseter identified the group as the Badr Organization and reported that Iraq's interior minister was associated with it.

On Nov. 15, 2005, U.S. troops raided an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad and found 169 malnourished prisoners, many of whom had been tortured. The vast majority of the victims, if not all of them, were Sunnis.

By December, Badr's involvement in death squads was widely known.

"The Iranian-backed militia the Badr Organization has taken over many of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's intelligence activities and infiltrated its elite commando units," Lasseter wrote, on Dec. 12, 2005, citing U.S. and Iraqi officials.

"That's enabled the Shiite Muslim militia to use Interior Ministry vehicles and equipment - much of it bought with American money - to carry out revenge attacks against the minority Sunni Muslims, who persecuted the Shiites under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein," he added.

Beginning in 2002, the administration's case for a pre-emptive war in Iraq was plagued by similar oversights, oversimplifications, misjudgments and misinformation. Unlike the administration's claims about the Samarra bombing, however, much of that information was peddled by Iraqi exiles and defectors and accepted by some eager officials and journalists.

The best known of those pre-war claims was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program - Bush's primary stated reason for invading Iraq.

Administration officials and their allies also claimed that Saddam had trained terrorists to hijack airplanes; that a Saddam emissary had met with lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta in Prague; that Iraq had purchased aluminum tubes that could be used only to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons; that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from the African country of Niger; that Iraqis would greet American troops as liberators; and that Iraqi oil revenues would cover most of the cost of the war.

The administration has continued to offer inaccurate information to Congress, the American people and sometimes to itself. The Iraq Study Group, in its December report, concluded, for example, that the U.S. military was systematically under-reporting the violence in Iraq in an effort to disguise policy failings. The group recommended that the military change its reporting system.

Whether many of the administration's statements about Iraq for nearly five years have been deliberately misleading or honest but gullible mistakes hasn't been determined. The Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to complete an investigation into the issue that was begun but stalled when Republicans controlled the committee.

On Thursday, frustration over the accuracy of administration statements on Iraq boiled over during Rice's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

"Madam Secretary," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., "I have supported you and the administration on the war, and I cannot continue to support the administration's position. I have not been told the truth over and over again by administration witnesses, and the American people have not been told the truth."

The Ties That Bind - Playboy Article on Lockeed Martin and the Corrupt Military-Industrial Complex

By npbeachfun (Dailykos)

This article deals with Lockheed Martin as you can see. But they have some great other information. The Ties That Bind Calls out some of the flagrant lobbyists and how/what they did.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says it's time to "drain the swamps" of Washington D.C. What she's attacking -- in part -- are the incestuous links between legislators, lobbyists and private sector companies looking for government pork. It won't be easy. Here's a quick look at some of the iron triangle interconnections at other defense firms also making a killing in the current war climate.

They go on to call out each company how much they made in 2004, Defense Products, and their Bedfellows. Among them: Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics Corporation, and Halliburton.

Now back to the main article.

That's how D.C. works. Many of the people making decisions have been in and out of the same set of revolving doors connecting government, conservative think tanks, lobbying firms, law firms and the defense industry. So strong is the bond between lobbyists, defense contractors and the Pentagon that it is known in Washington as "the iron triangle." And this triangle inevitably gets what it wants. Why? Because in the revolving door system, a defense contractor executive can surface as an official in the Department of Defense, from which position he can give lucrative contracts to his former employer, and his prospects for an even better paying job in the private sector brighten. Former aides to members of congress become handsomely paid lobbyists for the companies they were able to help in their position on Capitol Hill. Such lobbyists can spread their corporate-funded largesse to the friendliest members and their aides on the Hill. And so on.

We need to stop this revolving door.

Of course, all the frothing at the mouth about lobbyists, money and special interests can seem from outside the Beltway as much ado about nothing. The government hands out contracts. The beneficiaries or those who want to be beneficiaries buy steak dinners for the officials who hold the purse strings. Big deal. The problem, though, is that, upon closer scrutiny, this is not how the system works. It's actually much more sinister than that, allowing the interests of America to be subverted by the interests of corporate America. As you'll see here, your elected officials did not deliberate on how best to protect their constituents, decide bombing Iraq was the best way and then order some provisions and weapons. On the contrary, this is the story of how Lockheed's interests, as opposed to those of the American citizenry, set the course of U.S. policy after 9/11.

Get that Lockheed Martin set the policy for US. A private company with their own goal to make money.

"It used to be just an airplane company," John Pike, a military analyst and director of says about Lockheed Martin. "Now it's a warfare company. It's an integrated solution provider. It's a one-stop shop. Anything you need to kill the enemy, they will sell you."

They also will tell you who the enemy is. And whether it was seamless or serendipitous, Stephen Hadley, referred to by The New York Times as one of the more significant Lockheed operatives in the Bush White House, was there to tie it all together.

They really name some names here. It is a 7 page article with great links and helps show us it wasn't only Halliburton who made so much money. They money is flowing and these guys get paid with our money. It goes no to tell the story of Lockheed Martin....

Lockheed learned a number of things from the L-1101 experience. First and foremost, it didn't pay to compete in the private sector. Instead, the company shifted gears; these days 80 percent of its business comes from federal government contracts. Moreover, Lockheed would load the government with its own people and then hire former defense department employees, creating a revolving door that would guarantee friends in the right places. That goal, of course, has been achieved and sustained.

Also in the wake of the L-1011 debacle, Lockheed's business practices became aggressive in the extreme. It charged the Pentagon $646 for a toilet seat and delivered C-5A transport planes -- that cost millions of dollars -- without installing thousands of essential parts. It paid bribes to foreign officials to help unload planes no one wanted, including giant long-distance transports to Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil and Italy, until the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 made such actions illegal.

They have been corrupt bastards for a long time.

Lockheed also learned never again to miss out on the chance to gobble up other defense contractors or merge with them on favorable terms. After developing the F-22 (later known as the F/A 22) with General Dynamics and Boeing, Lockheed took over General Dynamics' Forth Worth aircraft division. And in 1995, it made the decision that would change the face of the industry. Lockheed would merge with Martin Marietta, which itself had gobbled up the aerospace division of General Electric.

Gobble Gobble Gobble Buy the competition to increase your power.

When the United States gives military aid to its allies, the benefits accrue to Lockheed Martin, too. Israel, for example, spends much of the $1.8 billion a year it receives in military aid from the U.S. on planes and missile systems from Lockheed -- and that's in years when it is not actively at war with Hezbollah. Lockheed's market is worldwide, selling F-16 fighters, surveillance software and other equipment to more than 40 countries. The United Arab Emirates, forced to give up its deal to run American ports through its state-run Dubai entity, has been a major customer, spending more than $6 billion on F-16 fighters in 2000 as it looked forward to the Bush presidency. No wonder Bush threatened to veto legislation barring the ports deal.

Stevens has boasted that Lockheed Martin not only creates the technology, it makes military policy as well. He told The New York Times in November of 2004 that Lockheed stands at "the intersection of policy and technology," which, he observed, "is really a very interesting place to be. We are deployed, entirely in developing daunting technology" that "requires thinking through the policy dimensions of national security as well as technology." He acknowledges "this is not a business where in the purest economical sense there's a broad market of supply and demand."

And although he may shine his own shoes, Stevens is paid $7 million a year, not counting bonuses and stock options. In 2002, Stevens left Bush's aerospace commission, becoming a member of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, and Jackson left Lockheed Martin to work on the Project on Transitional Democracies and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Stevens and Jackson were tag team wrestlers, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, of Team Lockheed. And, increasingly, the distinction between Lockheed Martin and the government began to blur as the war in Iraq became inevitable.

Now for how they helped at the UN. UPDATED

In February of 2003, Jackson helped draft a declaration for the 10 Eastern European foreign ministers -- all countries up for NATO membership and associated with Jackson's expansion efforts -- that became known as the "Vilnius Ten," rebuking French President Jacques Chirac's opposition to attacking Iraq. The declaration stated: "The newest members of the European community agree that we must confront the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and that the United Nations must act now." Jackson achieved this success when he attended a dinner party at the Slovak embassy in Washington and told assembled diplomats from the countries, according to The American Prospect's John B. Judis, that signing the declaration would help win U.S. approval of their membership.

Now if you haven’t yet go over to playboy and read it all. It is amazing. The military-industrial complex needs oversight. This IS the new Congresses job. With what is going on with Cunningham Prosecutor Forced Out Stating Job performance as the reason .

"This office has clearly made a priority of investigating and prosecuting white collar offenses and has had occasional success doing so," he said. "One would think that would be valued by any administration, even if it meant fewer resources were devoted to routine and repetitive border crimes."

We need to subpoena these criminals. I hope this congress is up to the job. I know it wont be easy, but it is very needed. And prosecutors like Carole Lam need to be protected She got a couple of these criminals locked up and President Bush wants to fire her...Total BS.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Posted on Sun, Jan. 14, 2007


By Juan Cole

President Bush's escalation of the Iraq War is premised on a profound misunderstanding of who the enemies are, how to deal with them and what the limits are of U.S. power.

The president cannot seem to let go of his fixation on Al-Qaida, a minor actor in Iraq, and his determination to confront Iran and Syria. He still assumes that the insurgents are outsiders to their neighborhoods and that U.S. troops can chase away the miscreants and keep them out, acting as a sort of neighborhood watch in khaki. In fact, Iraq's Sunni Arab elite is playing the spoiler, and until a deal is negotiated with its members, no one will be allowed to enjoy the new Iraq.

Scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, who from the beginning spearheaded the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, express confidence that the United States, which has a $12 trillion economy, an army over a million strong, and a population of 300 million, can overwhelm Iraq. They point out that Iraq only has an economy of $100 billion, a population of 27 million, and a guerrilla movement of just tens of thousands. This comparison is deeply misleading, and it will get thousands of Americans killed.

Guerrilla movements can succeed against much wealthier, more populous and better-armed enemies, as happened in Algeria in the late 1950s through 1962 when the National Liberation Front expelled the French. The real question is not America's supposed superiority (which so far has not brought it victory) but what exactly the resources and tactics of the enemy are and whether they can be defeated. The answer to the second question is ``No.''

Who is the enemy in Iraq, exactly? In the first instance, it is some 50 major Sunni Arab guerrilla groups. These have names such as the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the Army of Muhammad, and the Holy Warrior Council. Some are rooted in the Baath party, an Arab nationalist and socialist party that had ruled Iraq since 1968. Others have a base in city quarters or in rural clans. Some are made up of fundamentalist Muslims. One calls itself ``Al-Qaida'' but has no real links to Osama bin Laden and his organization, and has simply adopted the name. The Baathists and neo-Baathists, led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (once a right-hand man of Saddam Hussein), are probably the most important and deadliest of these guerrilla groups.

These guerrilla cells are rooted in the Sunni Arab sector, some 20 percent of Iraq's population, which had enjoyed centuries of dominance in Iraq. From it came the high bureaucrats, the managers of companies, the officer corps, the people who know how to get things done. They know where some 200,000 remaining tons of hidden explosives are, secreted around the country by the former regime. They are for the most part unable to accept being ruled by what they see as a new government of Shiite ayatollahs and Kurdish warlords, or being occupied by the U.S. Army and Marines. These Iraqi Sunnis enjoy the support of millions of committed and sometimes wealthy co-religionists in Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the oil kingdoms of the Persian Gulf.

The Sunni Arab guerrilla cells have successfully pursued a spoiler strategy in Iraq. By engaging in assassinations, firefights and bombings, they have made it clear that if they are not happy in the new Iraq, no one is going to be. Did U.S. engineers repair electricity stations? The Sunni guerrillas sabotaged them. Did the new regime attempt to export petroleum from the northern city of Kirkuk through Turkey? The guerrillas hit the pipelines. Did the U.S. military attempt to plant 50 bases around the country? The cells targeted them for mortar attacks and roadside bombs, inflicting a steady and horrible attrition, leaving more than 25,000 GIs killed or wounded.

Focus on towns and cities

The Sunni guerrillas took over territory where they could, mainly concentrating on villages, towns and city quarters in the center, north and west of the country. At some points, cities like Al-Fallujah and much of Ar-Ramadi, Al-Hadithah, Samarra and Tikrit have been at least in part under their control. They have entire districts of Mosul and Baghdad. They have attempted to cut the capital off from fuel, and they steal and smuggle petroleum to support their war. In areas they only partly control, or in enemy areas, they set off bombs or send in death squads to make object lessons of opponents.

The guerrillas know they cannot fight the U.S. military head-on. But they do not need to. They know something that the Americans could not entirely understand. Iraq is a country of clans and tribes, of Hatfields and McCoys, of grudges and feuds. The clans are more important than religious identities such as Sunni or Shiite. They are more important than ethnicities such as Kurdish or Arab or Turkmen. All members of the clan are honor-bound to defend or avenge all the other members. They are bands not of brothers but of cousins.

The guerrillas mobilized these clans against the U.S. troops and against one another. Is a U.S. platoon traveling through a neighborhood of the Dulaim clan, where people are out shopping? They hit the convoy, and the panicked troops lay down fire around them. They kill members of the Dulaim clan. They are now defined as the American tribe, and they now have a feud with the Dulaim. Members of the Dulaim cannot hold their heads up high until they avenge the deaths of their cousins by killing Americans.

Unbelievable cruelty

The guerrillas also provoke clan feuds between adherents of the two major sects of Islam, the Sunni and the Shiite. They pursue this goal with unbelievable cruelty. They will blow up a big marriage party held by a Shiite clan, killing bride, groom and revelers. They know that Muslims try to bury the dead the same day, so there will be a funeral. They blow up the funeral, too. The Shiite clan knows who the Sunni clans are that support the insurgency.

The Shiites who have been attacked then join the radical Mahdi Army out of anger and fear, and send death squads at night to take revenge on the Sunni clan. If American troops step in to stop the Shiites from taking revenge, that produces a feud between the U.S. and the Shiite clans. The ordinary Sunnis under attack from the vengeful Shiite death squads turn for protection to the Sunni guerrillas. The deliberately provoked feuds have the effect of mobilizing the Sunni Arabs and garnering their support for the guerrillas.

The guerrillas have opened fronts against the Americans, against the police and army of the new government and against the Shiites. There is a third front, in Mosul and Kirkuk, against the Kurds. The guerrillas hit Kirkuk's oil pipelines, police, political party headquarters and ordinary Kurds in hopes of keeping the Kurdistan Regional Government from annexing oil-rich Kirkuk to itself.

U.S. soldiers cannot stop the Sunni Arab guerrilla cells from setting bombs or assassinating people. That is clear after nearly four years. And since they cannot stop them, they also are powerless to halt the growing number of intense clan and religious feuds. The United States cannot stop the sabotage that hurts petroleum exports in the north and stops electricity from being delivered for more than a few hours a day.

President Bush in his speech Wednesday imagined that guerrillas were coming into neighborhoods in Baghdad and in the cities of Al-Anbar province from the outside. He suggested that, as the solution to this problem, U.S. and Iraqi troops should clear them out and then hold the city quarters for some time, to stop them from coming back. But the guerrillas are not outsiders. They are the people of those city quarters, who keep guns in their closets and come out masked at night to engage in killing and sabotage.

Security comes first

Bush believes that $1 billion invested in a jobs program will generate employment that would make young men less likely to succumb to the blandishments of the guerrilla recruiters. But without security you cannot have a thriving economy of the sort that produces jobs, and any money you put into such a situation will just be frittered away. The guerrillas often make $300 a month, a very good salary in today's Iraq. There is little likelihood that Bush's jobs program will generate many jobs that will draw Iraqis away from their guerrilla groups and militias. For a lot of them, serving is a matter of neighborhood protection or ideological commitment. Not everything is about money.

Another reason that Bush's $1 billion for jobs is not that impressive is that Iran is offering Iraq $1 billion in aid as well. And guerrillas in the southern port of Basra are estimated to be stealing and smuggling $2 billion a year from the city's oil facilities. Add all that sort of thing up, and the United States is being outspent by a wide margin.

Since the Sunni Arab guerrillas cannot be defeated or stopped from provoking massive clan feuds that destabilize the country, there is only one way out of the quagmire. The United States and the Shiite government of Iraq must negotiate a mutually satisfactory settlement with the Sunni Arab guerrilla leaders. Those talks would be easier if the guerrillas would form a civil political party to act as their spokesman. They should be encouraged to do so. Their first and most urgent demand is that the United States set a timetable for withdrawal of its troops. The United States should take them up on their offer to talk once a timetable is announced.

Bush's commitment of more than 20,000 troops is intended to address only one of the guerrillas' tactics, taking and holding neighborhoods. At that, he is concentrating on only a small part of the Sunni Arab territories. The guerrillas do not need to hold such neighborhoods to continue to engage in sabotage and the provocation of artificial feuds.

As long as the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are so deeply unhappy, they will simply generate more guerrillas over time. Bush is depending on military tactics to win a war that can only be won by negotiation.

Paul Krugman - The Texas Strategy

The Texas Strategy


Hundreds of news articles and opinion pieces have described President Bush’s decision to escalate the Iraq war as a “Hail Mary pass.”

But that’s the wrong metaphor.

Mr. Bush isn’t Roger Staubach, trying to pull out a win for the Dallas Cowboys. He’s Charles Keating, using other people’s money to keep Lincoln Savings going long after it should have been shut down — and squandering the life savings of thousands of investors, not to mention billions in taxpayer dollars, along the way.

The parallel is actually quite exact. During the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, people like Mr. Keating kept failed banks going by faking financial success. Mr. Bush has kept a failed war going by faking military success.

The “surge” is just another stalling tactic, designed to buy more time.

Oh, and one of the favorite techniques used by the owners of savings and loan associations to generate phony profits — it involved making high-interest loans to crooked or flaky real estate developers — came to be known as the “Texas strategy.”

What was the point of the Texas strategy? Bank owners were certainly gambling — with other people’s money, of course — in the hope of a miraculous recovery that would bail out their negative balance sheets.

But the real point of the racket was a form of looting: as long as they could keep reporting high paper profits, S.&L. owners could keep rewarding themselves with salaries, dividends and sweetheart business deals.

Mr. Keating paid himself a million dollars just weeks before his holding company collapsed.

Which brings us to Iraq. The administration has spent the last three years pretending that its splendid little war isn’t a big disaster. There have been the bromides (we’re making “good progress”); the promises (we have a “strategy for victory”); and, as always, attacks on the media for not reporting the good news from Iraq.

Who you gonna believe, the president or your lying eyes?

Now Mr. Bush has grudgingly sort- of admitted that things aren’t going well — but he says his “new way forward” will fix everything.

So it’s still the Texas strategy: the war’s architects are trying to keep their failed venture going as long as possible.

The Hail Mary aspect — the off chance that somehow, things really will turn out all right — is the least of their motivations. The real intent is a form of looting. I’m not talking mainly about old-fashioned war profiteering, although there is no question that profiteering is taking place on an epic scale. No, I’m saying that the hawks want to keep this war going because it’s to their personal and political benefit.

True, Mr. Bush can’t win another election with phony claims of success in Iraq, the way he did in 2004. But escalation buys him another year or two to claim that we’re making progress — and it gives him another chance to prove that he’s the Decider, beyond accountability.

And as for pundits who promoted the war and are now trying to sell the surge: for a little while longer they can be Very Important People who have the president’s ear.

Meanwhile, the nation pays the price. The heaviest burden — in death, shattered bodies, broken families and ruined careers — falls on those who serve. To find the personnel for the Bush escalation, the Pentagon must lengthen deployments in Iraq and shorten training time at home.

And the back-door draft has become a life sentence: there is no limit on the cumulative amount of time citizen-soldiers can be required to serve on active duty. Mama, don’t let your children grow up to be reservists.

The rest of us will pay a financial price for the hundreds of billions squandered in Iraq and, more important, a price in reduced security.

Escalation won’t bring victory in Iraq, but it might bring defeat in Afghanistan, which the administration will continue to neglect. And it has pushed the military to the breaking point.

Mr. Bush calls his critics “irresponsible,” saying that they don’t have an alternative to his strategy. But they do: setting a timetable for withdrawal, so that we can cut our losses, and trying to save what can be saved. It isn’t a strategy for victory because that’s no longer an option. It’s a strategy for acknowledging reality.

The lesson of the savings and loan scandal was that when a bank has failed, you shouldn’t let the owner string you along with promises — you should shut the thing down. We should do the same with Mr. Bush’s failed war

Sunday, January 14, 2007

NY Times - Picking Up the Pieces

Picking Up the Pieces

It was surreal how disconnected President Bush was the other night, both from Iraq’s horrifying reality and America’s anguish over this unnecessary, mismanaged and now unwinnable war. Indeed, most Americans seem far ahead of the president. They understand that what the country urgently needs is for Mr. Bush to chart a way out of Iraq that also limits the chaos that will be left behind.

The president’s disconnect goes far to explain the harshly critical reaction of Congress and the public to his plan to further bleed America’s overstretched forces by sending some 20,000 additional troops in an attempt to impose peace on Baghdad’s vengeful streets. He proposes to do that without any enforceable commitments from the Iraqi government that it will take the necessary political steps that are the only hope for tamping down a spiraling civil war.

There are no really satisfying answers in Iraq, since all of the remaining options are bad. Still, some are notably worse than others, and Mr. Bush has come up with possibly the worst. He would mortgage thousands more American lives and what remains of Washington’s credibility in the region to a destructively sectarian Shiite government that he seems unwilling or unable to influence or restrain.

Unlike Mr. Bush’s views on the American military presence in Iraq, our views have evolved as the evident realities on the ground have changed. At the outset, although we opposed Mr. Bush’s invasion, we hoped the United States military could provide enough security to allow an elected government to build the foundations of national unity and eventual democracy.

As it became increasingly clear that Iraqi political leaders had other, less noble intentions, we still hoped that a substantial American military presence could be used to shield innocent civilians from the growing violence, train reliable and professional Iraqi security forces to take over that task, and exert leverage on Iraqi leaders to follow a less divisive and destructive course.

Now, with Mr. Bush unwilling or unable to persuade Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to take the minimum steps necessary to justify any deeper American commitment, we recognize that even that has become unrealistic. Mr. Maliki gave the latest White House plan an even chillier reception than it received in the United States Congress, boycotting a Thursday news conference in Baghdad announcing it. He apparently would have preferred to see American forces sent to fight Sunni insurgents in western Anbar Province, leaving Baghdad as a free-fire zone for his Shiite militia partners.

But even knowing all that, America cannot simply wash its hands of Iraq and go home. The region’s problems, many of them made worse by this war, are unavoidably America’s problems as well. For starters, Iraq is in imminent danger of violently breaking apart, driving millions of refugees across its borders — who will bring with them their ethnic grievances, and in some cases their weapons — and potentially unleashing a chain reaction of regional conflicts that could draw in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and perhaps others as well.

Whatever else happens, Iran has already become more formidable and dangerous. Where it once had a hostile Saddam Hussein on its western border, it now has a friendly Shiite fundamentalist government. Its other longtime enemy, the United States, has had its diplomatic and military clout severely diminished by this war.

The expanding power of a revolutionary, Shiite Iran is profoundly unsettling to the conservative Sunni-led governments in most of the Arab Middle East, which have been America’s traditional allies in the region. If the United States is to recoup any of its standing and influence there, it will have to find a way to contain the chaos in Iraq. And it will have to do a lot more to address other concerns of these governments and their people, starting with a genuine and sustained effort to mediate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

If Mr. Bush does persist in sending more American troops to Baghdad, despite Congress’s amply justified opposition, he will have to establish clear lines of command that assure that those troops can enter the strongholds of the Shiite militias responsible for much of the violence without militia leaders’ being tipped off by allies in the Iraqi government.

And so long as any American troops remain in Iraq, Mr. Bush must put serious pressure on Mr. Maliki to support the troops’ efforts with a genuine program of national reconciliation. That must include, at a minimum, ridding the police and other security services of killers, torturers and criminals and disarming all sectarian militias.

The government must also assure that Iraqi oil revenues are fairly shared out among the entire Iraqi population. And it must move quickly to offer an amnesty to Sunni insurgents willing to put down their weapons, and narrow the legal restrictions on former Baath Party members so that Sunni professionals can once again fully participate in Iraqi national life.

These benchmarks should be accompanied by fixed timelines. And they must be accompanied with a clear message that the United States is prepared to withdraw its troops if the Iraqis continue to refuse to take responsibility for their own future. Mr. Bush and other American officials need to make clear that as much as the United States will suffer from a complete collapse in Iraq, Iraq’s leaders will suffer far worse from the loss of their American protectors.

Mr. Bush should reinforce that message by convening a conference of all of Iraq’s neighbors to discuss how they can help stabilize Iraq — and what they can do to contain the wider chaos should it come. With nearly two million Iraqis already seeking refuge, mainly in Syria and Jordan, it is far past time for American officials to begin their own planning and relief efforts.

If Mr. Bush refuses to deliver this ultimatum to Mr. Maliki, Congress will have to do so in his stead. That’s not the usual division of labor between the executive and legislative branches, but it is one that Mr. Bush has made necessary by his refusal to face realities. The potential consequences of his failed leadership are so serious that neither the new Democratic majorities in Congress, nor the public at large, can afford the luxury of merely criticizing from the sidelines.

So far, Congress is off to an encouraging start, holding substantive oversight hearings and asking probing questions of administration officials for the first time in too many years. Similarly encouraging has been the bipartisan character of this reinvigorated oversight. The Congress should continue asking hard questions. And it must insist on real answers before acting on any new requests for money to support Mr. Bush’s plans to send more troops to Baghdad. Congress has the authority to attach conditions to that money, imposing benchmarks and timetables on Mr. Bush, who then would be forced to impose them on the Iraqi government.

One immediate step could be a set of bipartisan resolutions spelling out the broad policy directions Congress expects the president to pursue on Iraq. That would send a useful message to the American people that lawmakers are listening to their concerns, if Mr. Bush is not, and also to Iraq’s leaders.

It’s now up to Congress to force the president to live up to his constitutional responsibilities and rescue this country from the consequences of one of its worst strategic blunders in modern times.

History will surely blame Mr. Bush for leading America into Iraq, but it will blame Congress if it does not act to push him onto a more realistic path.