1/15/2005

Behold: An accurate story from MSNBC on the Social Security issue

An excerpt from the story by MSNBC's chief economic analyst:
This time around, Social Security is years away from anything that honestly could be described as a financial crisis. But that has not stopped President Bush from trying to whip up enthusiasm for his proposed personal retirement accounts by warning of an imminent disaster.
“If you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now,” he said Tuesday at a forum on Social Security. The stark choice of words was hardly a slip of the tongue – Bush used the word “bankrupt” five times in the 45-minute session. He also warned of a potentially “bankrupt” system in a radio address last month, referring to demographic changes that signal a “looming danger...In the year 2018, for the first time ever, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than the government collects in payroll taxes,” Bush said.
That is just plain wrong. In 14 of the past 47 years, including 1975 to 1983, Social Security paid out more in benefits than the government collected in payroll, with the gap reaching $10 billion in 1983. So the projected “crossover” point in 2018  is a relatively meaningless milestone, say opponents of Bush’s privatization plans, even as they acknowledge the system faces long-term problems.
Bush’s statements “appear designed to further a widespread perception, especially among younger people, that Social Security will entirely collapse and that there will be nothing for them when they retire,” said Bob Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The White House press office did not return phone calls seeking an explanation.
The emphasis on 2018 by Bush and other officials relies on “either an implication or very often an explicit statement” that the Social Security trust funds have no real assets, Greenstein said. Try telling that to the Social Security trustees, including Treasury Secretary John Snow, who offer a detailed list of government securities they hold, paying up to 9.25 percent interest and totaling more than $1.6 trillion.
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More from BushWorld

From Digby's blog:
President Bush's chief political adviser told graduates of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University on Saturday to judge leaders on the basis of character. America needs people who have "the moral clarity and courage to do what's right, regardless of consequence, fashion or fad,'" Karl Rove said. "You either have values ingrained in your heart and soul that will not change with the wind, or you don't," he said.
He's right. This is their message and it's on the money. Of course they are faking it in every possible way with their vacuous brand name in a suit prancing around on aircraft carriers and such. But that's because they only pretend to have "values" when what they really have are political instincts. They are not the same thing.
If either party could give them the real thing instead of an ersatz, superficial rendering of smarmy religiosity, they would gain the support of a large majority of this country. You have to give Rove credit. He has done a lot with what he has to work with. Sexual priggishness, vengeance and racism are very difficult concepts upon which to build a positice values argument, but they've managed to create the illusion that they have "moral clarity" by garbing their narrow vision in religious and patriotic terms --- and because we have failed to stand up for our universal values of liberty, justice and equality. They win by default.
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"The Man Who Knew"

If you're looking for a fascinating true story...This one is incredible. It ran on PBS "Frontline" last year, and it was discussed in the 9/11 Commission hearings.
When the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, among the thousands killed was the one man who may have known more about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda than any other person in America: John O'Neill.
The former head of the FBI's flagship antiterrorism unit in New York City, O'Neill had investigated the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen. For six years, he led the fight to track down and prosecute Al Qaeda operatives throughout the world. But his flamboyant, James Bond style and obsession with Osama bin Laden made him a controversial figure inside the buttoned-down world of the FBI.
Just two weeks before Sept. 11, O'Neill left the bureau for a job in the private sector -- as head of security at the World Trade Center.
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Poor conservatives...they had such high hopes for exposing liberal media bias once and for all...

Joe Conason writes in Salon:
Republicans had every reason to consider Dick Thornburgh an utterly reliable political ally who would fulfill their dream of exposing the "liberal media" as head of the investigation into "Memogate" at CBS. When his selection was announced, Rather fumed and the conservative critics gloated. "The beauty of the entire thing," cackled Cal Thomas, the syndicated columnist who appears as a media analyst on Fox News Channel, "is here's Dan Rather, one of Richard Nixon's major antagonists, and now he's got his own version of an independent counsel going to look into this, and it's Dick Thornburgh and he doesn't like Thornburgh." Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor Fred Barnes, who regularly rants about "liberal media bias," likewise anticipated great revelations from Thornburgh. "What's in the works is the report by Dick Thornburgh, the former attorney general," said Barnes when Rather announced his impending retirement last fall. "Whenever it comes out we, I think we know now, it will be tough and scathing." Barnes said he hoped Thornburgh would prove that the CBS anchor had aired the Guard story "because he wanted to nail Bush before the election and affect the outcome of the election. He doesn't like George Bush."
Thornburgh's admirers cherished high hopes for the CBS investigation: They wanted him to reveal that the whole Bush National Guard controversy was just a Democratic dirty trick. (It wasn't.) They wanted him to assert that the president fulfilled his military obligations without receiving any preferential treatment. (Bush didn't.) They wanted him to prove that the questioned Guard documents were forgeries. (He couldn't.)
Worst of all, after four months of investigation, Thornburgh couldn't even sustain the moldy cliché about liberal bias. Among conservatives who cannot question their own outdated assumptions, that outcome stimulates the darkest paranoia: Good old Dick Thornburgh must have joined the liberal media conspiracy, too.
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"We're Losing"

The Financial Times reports:
Outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell has issued his bleakest assessment of Iraq yet, just two weeks out from the country's first elections since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government. Relaying an account from former U.S. ambassador Chas Freeman, the Financial Times reports that Bush recently asked Powell for his views on Iraq. "'We're losing,' Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr. Freeman said Mr. Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave."
The anecdote appears to confirm two recent developments regarding U.S.-Iraq policy. On the one hand, prominent Republican moderates like Powell are issuing increasingly downcast prognoses of the prospects for stability in Iraq even after the election, and are openly discussing the possibility of withdrawing U.S. forces. On the other hand, according to the insider D.C. tip sheet, the Nelson Report, President Bush is consciously refusing to consider unpleasant reports about the situation in Iraq.
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When it comes to preachers, I think I prefer this guy...

In honor of MLK:
"The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
And:
"God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here and his children who can't eat three square meals a day…This is what we have to do."
And:
"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. Iit comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
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Well, now, isn't this interesting?

The NY Times reports that Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has asked an Ohio Republican who supports some abortion rights to be his co-chair, stirring the ire of social conservatives.
Mr. Mehlman's choice is Joann Davidson, who was chairwoman of the Bush campaign in the pivotal Ohio Valley region and a former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. Her nomination awaits approval by the Republican National Committee.
She has been a member of the advisory board of the abortion rights group Republicans for Choice since its founding in 1990, according to a statement posted on the group's Web site congratulating her.
She also did not take a position on Ohio's constitutional ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in that state.
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Backwards Bush

Does counting backwards make the time go by faster? Click on the link and try it out for yourself.
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The False Promise of Iraqi Reconstruction

Michael Schwartz of "TomGram":
Even before the attack, the U.S. promised that a newly liberated Falluja would be spectacularly reconstructed -- "a feat of social and physical engineering… intended to transform a bastion of militant anti-Americanism into a benevolent and functional metropolis." But actions always speak louder than words, and six weeks after declaring victory the only new construction in the city consisted of a series of checkpoints (where soldiers recorded the fingerprints and retina scans of returning residents), and the newly bulldozed main streets (whose use was restricted to U.S. military vehicles). This police-state approach reflected what Charles Hess, the Director of the Iraq Project and Contracting Office and the man in charge of the city's reconstruction, called a "near term…focus on operational security measures."
But the deepest tragedy lay not in the "near term," but in the near certainty that the promised reconstruction will never take place, simply because the Bush administration is unlikely ever to allocate the massive resources needed for such an undertaking. The monetary commitment cited by U.S. officials escalated from a pre-attack $50 million to an early January estimate of $230 million. But this figure, which Hess claimed to be adequate for the job, is actually a fraction of what would needed to recreate a modestly working city and a minuscule proportion of the total required to create "a benevolent and functional metropolis."
The inadequacy of allocation can be judged by considering infrastructure repairs. Based on the estimated $400 million cost of repairing the less disastrously damaged Sadr City water systems in Baghdad, the repair of Falluja's sewers and treatment plants would in itself surely exhaust the entire $230 million allocation being discussed. The electrical system, which needed to be "ripped out and rebuilt from scratch," would cost at least as much as the sewers. Rejuvenating the medical system, rebuilding the schools, and clearing and rebuilding the streets, would likely claim another $100 million or more each.
And that's without even considering housing repair. The Iraqi Interim Government promised families from $2000 to $10,000 for each damaged dwelling. With 12,000 to 20,000 of the 50,000 homes in Falluja effectively demolished, this added up to yet another $200 million promise, with another $100 million needed to meet the government's promises to shop owners.
And remember that Falluja, the "city of mosques," now has had an unknown but significant number of its 100 or so mosques more or less annihilated, and well over half damaged. Christian Parenti, a knowledgeable independent reporter, estimated that just two of the mosques would require some $80 million in repairs; the full bill might therefore exceed $1 billion.
Total this up and you discover that the promised allocation for the reconstruction of Falluja is at least $2 billion less than would reasonably be needed. And, given the record of reconstruction funds released by the Americans over the last year, even the $230 million is certainly in question.
In other words, the promise of a "benevolent and functional metropolis" could be seen, at best, as a cruel hoax, vitiated only slightly by the fact that Fallujans never believed it.
If the American occupation authorities have their way, Falluja may remain a wasteland until the resistance is subdued. The promises of freedom, elections, and a benevolent metropolis were all empty ones. Even Charles Hess, in charge of reconstruction, admitted in December that "little reconstruction has been done" in either Najaf or Samarra, the predecessor beneficiaries of a similar style of American liberation. And Falluja, seen as more hostile territory than either of the other two cities, may not even have their "luck."
Many of the recently returning refugees heard or saw battles from the checkpoints and retreated without entering the city. Others viewed their damaged or destroyed homes and then left. Still others stayed one night and then chose a homeless odyssey over residence in what was left of their city.
But a few stayed, and they will try to begin the process of rebuilding. And herein lies the greatest tragedy of all. The miracle of the human spirit can (and eventually will) redeem even so desolate a wasteland. But this redemption must wait, because the presence of the U.S. military -- with its retina scans, its prohibition on all non-military vehicles inside city limits, its constant surveillance, its threats of and use of deadly force, its monopoly over all resources and, most of all, its quixotic effort to subdue the resistance -- makes even the beginning of reconstruction impossible.
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Inaugural in BushWorld

From the Ohio News Herald:
The nation's 55th presidential inauguration, the first to be held since 9/11, will take place this month under perhaps the heaviest security of any in U.S. history. Dozens of federal and local law enforcement agencies and military commands are planning what they describe as the heaviest possible security. Virtually everyone who gets within eyesight of the president either during the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol or the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue later in the day will first go through a metal detector or receive a body pat-down.
Thousands of police officers and military personnel are being brought to Washington from around the country for the four-day event. Sharpshooters will be deployed on roofs, while bomb-sniffing dogs will work the streets. Electronic sensors will be used to detect chemical or biological weapons.
Anti-abortion protesters have been warned to leave their crosses at home.
Parade performers will have security escorts to the bathroom.
And they've been ordered NOT to look directly at President Bush or make any sudden movements while passing the reviewing stand.
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Defying the Pentagon

Al-Jazeera reports:
The Pentagon has barred US media from filming the coffins of US service members arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. But the Louisiana National Guard allowed a CBS news crew on Wednesday to film the arrival of six soldiers' coffins at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, near New Orleans, Louisiana. 
Despite the Pentagon request, Lieutenant-Colonel Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the Louisiana National Guard told CBS: "What we thought was, we're going to do what the family asked us to do." 
Footage broadcast by CBS showed an honour guard carrying the soldiers' flag-draped coffins out of an aircraft, watched by grieving families, to six waiting hearses. The six soldiers, who had served in the Louisiana National Guard, all died last Thursday after their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Baghdad. 
It was the largest number of US troops killed in a single attack since last month's bombing in a military mess hall at a base near Mosul that killed 14 US soldiers.
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This should come as no surprise

From the UK Guardian:
America's human rights abuses have provided a rallying cry for terrorists and set a bad example to regimes seeking to justify their own poor rights records, a leading independent watchdog said yesterday. The torture and degrading treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay have undermined the credibility of the US as a defender of human rights and opponent of terrorism, the New York-based Human Rights Watch says in its annual report.
"The US government is less and less able to push for justice abroad because it is unwilling to see justice done at home," says Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director.
Yesterday's scathing report argues that the US has weakened its own moral authority at a time that authority is most needed: "in the midst of a seeming epidemic of suicide bombings, beheadings, and other attacks on civilians and noncombatants...When the United States disregards human rights, it undermines that human rights culture and thus sabotages one of the most important tools for dissuading potential terrorists. Instead, US abuses have provided a new rallying cry for terrorist recruiters, and the pictures from Abu Ghraib have become the recruiting posters for Terrorism, Inc."
The report says that America's disregard of human rights has encouraged other countries to follow suit:
· Egypt has defended a decision to renew "emergency" laws by referring to US anti-terror legislation
· Malaysia justifies detention without trial by invoking Guantánamo
· Russia cites Abu Ghraib to blame abuse in Chechnya solely on low-ranking soldiers.
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1/13/2005

Another small victory

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The Illinois House on Tuesday passed a bill that bans discrimination against gays and sent it to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has said he supports the measure. If the Democratic governor signs it, Illinois will join 14 other states that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. The measure would add "sexual orientation" to the state law that protects people from bias based on race, religion and similar traits. It applies to discrimination in such areas as jobs and housing. Proponents couched the measure in terms of human rights, saying discrimination against gays and lesbians over housing and employment is just as wrong as discriminating against people because of race or religion. The House's 65-51 vote came on the last possible day; the bill would have died had it not been approved before the new Legislature is sworn in Wednesday. The Senate approved it Monday by a vote of 30-27.
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Frank Rich: All The President's Media

Great Frank Rich piece on Crossfire, Armstrong Williams, journalistic ethics, and Bush regime manipulation of the media.
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A small victory for the reality-based community

ATLANTA (AP) - A federal judge Thursday ordered a suburban Atlanta school system to remove stickers from its high school biology textbooks that call evolution "a theory, not a fact," saying the disclaimers are an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
"By denigrating evolution, the school board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories," U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper said.
The stickers were put inside the books' front covers by public school officials in Cobb County in 2002. They read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
The judge said: "While evolution is subject to criticism, particularly with respect to the mechanism by which it occurred, the sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community."
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1/12/2005

Memogate Vs. IraqWMDGate

A handy compare-and-contrast chart for your critical thinking pleasure.
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The Boogeyman?

In today's LA Times, Robert Scheer asks: Is it conceivable that Al Qaeda, as defined by President Bush as the center of a vast and well-organized international terrorist conspiracy, does not exist? A brilliant new BBC film produced by one of Britain's leading documentary filmmakers systematically challenges this and many other accepted articles of faith in the so-called war on terror. "The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear," a three-hour historical film by Adam Curtis recently aired by the British Broadcasting Corp., argues coherently that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism "is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media." Consider just a few of the many questions the program poses along the way:
If Osama bin Laden does, in fact, head a vast international terrorist organization with trained operatives in more than 40 countries, as claimed by Bush, why, despite torture of prisoners, has this administration failed to produce hard evidence of it?
How can it be that in Britain since 9/11, 664 people have been detained on suspicion of terrorism but only 17 have been found guilty, most of them with no connection to Islamist groups and none who were proven members of Al Qaeda?
Why did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claim on "Meet the Press" in 2001 that Al Qaeda controlled massive high-tech cave complexes in Afghanistan, when British and U.S. military forces later found no such thing?
Of course, the documentary does not doubt that an embittered, well-connected and wealthy Saudi man named Osama bin Laden helped finance various affinity groups of Islamist fanatics that have engaged in terror, including the 9/11 attacks. Nor does it challenge the notion that a terrifying version of fundamentalist Islam has led to gruesome spates of violence throughout the world. But the film challenges the conventional wisdom by making a powerful case that the Bush administration, led by a tight-knit cabal of Machiavellian neoconservatives, has seized upon the false image of a unified international terrorist threat to replace the expired Soviet empire in order to push a political agenda. Terrorism is deeply threatening, but it appears to be a much more fragmented and complex phenomenon than the octopus-network image of Al Qaeda, with Bin Laden as its head, would suggest."
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Scaife and Coors don't have ALL the money

A group of billionaire philanthropists are to donate tens of millions more dollars to develop progressive political ideas in the US in an effort to counter the conservative ascendancy. George Soros, who made his fortune in the hedge fund industry; Herb and Marion Sandler, the California couple who own a multi-billion-dollar savings and loan business; and Peter Lewis, the chairman of an Ohio insurance company, donated more than $63 million in the 2004 election cycle to organizations seeking to defeat Bush. At a meeting in San Francisco last month, the left-leaning billionaires agreed to commit an even larger sum over a longer period to building institutions to foster progressive ideas and people.
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This must really confuse some people

At the People's Choice Awards, Mel Gibson and Michael Moore seemed to have a blast meeting each other. "I feel a strange kinship with Michael," Gibson said. "They're trying to pit us against each other in the press, but it's a hologram. They really have got nothing to do with one another. It's just some kind of device, some left-right. He makes some salient points. There was some very expert, elliptical editing going on. However, what the hell are we doing in Iraq? No one can explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can accept why we're there, why we went there, and why we're still there."
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Keep your eye on this guy. Or should I say your ear?

I listen to this guy sometimes on Air America:
"Ed Schultz celebrated his first anniversary as a nationally syndicated talk radio personality. Schultz is now the most widely syndicated progressive talker on commercial radio, heard on over 70 stations nationwide, in addition to both major satellite radio networks, XM and Sirius. He'll debut in the Washington, D.C. market on Monday. Schultz is MORE widely available than Air America. Was Rush just a teensy bit threatened by Big Eddie's announcement that in his first year he landed on more radio stations than Rush did in his first year? Schultz is tough and opinionated. But he speaks to bread and butter issues – homelessness, veterans' benefits, the family farm, health insurance, for example – by highlighting how these crises affect everyday Americans. Sure, he lambasts the Bush Administration, conservative talkers, and the conservative media machine, and certainly has his share of rants. But his show is filled with righteous outrage, not the venomous diatribes that are the hallmark of his dominant conservative counterparts. He's showing that progressives live in red America, and care about economic justice for ordinary Americans" (from gadflyer.com).
And, I might add, Schultz is NOT a pathological liar.
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FAIR Media Action Alerts

Two good items from FAIR this week:
1. Media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting asks people to encourage NBC Nightly News to expand its coverage of Social Security to include experts who believe Bush's claims of an imminent Social Security "crisis" are untrue.
2. Also, FAIR points out that from the media interest surrounding CBS's investigation into "Memogate," one would think that the credibility of the 60 Minutes report on Bush's National Guard service was the most pressing media issue facing the nation. In fact, the CBS review, headed by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh (an appointee of Bush's father) was not able to state conclusively whether the documents were forgeries or not. The report also found no evidence that political bias was a factor in the network's journalism. Instead, the report documented a series of misjudgments on the part of several CBS
staffers. FAIR's position is that if "Memogate" had called attention to the general issue of credulous journalism, it would have performed a valuable service for the public. The hours of coverage of the Rather episode managed to ignore what should have been the central question: Did George W. Bush, in reality, properly fulfill his National Guard requirements? Because of
the focus on the CBS documents and the accompanying right-wing accusations of media bias on the issue, those stories-- and the important questions they raised-- were quickly dropped by a cowed press corps.
By contrast, other reporters have received much less scrutiny and punishment for offenses of far greater magnitude-- and with much more significant consequences to society. The New York Times, for example, published numerous allegations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that turned out to be false; the reporter most responsible for those stories, Judith Miller, was never sanctioned by the Times-- and indeed still continues to report on Iraq for the paper (and to show up as a guest on "Hardball").
FAIR says that The lesson of "Memogate" is that journalists may be punished for bad reporting-- if they have offended the wrong people. If they have merely helped steer the country into war under false pretenses, their careers can continue unimpeded.
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Loudmouth in a Bow Tie

Dave Lindorff of CounterPunch:
"Apologies to Al Franken, but Tucker Carlson is a thin idiot. If you have any doubt about it, read his whiney essay, "Can't buy me love," decrying the world for its alleged ingratitude toward the U.S for our alleged big-heartedness (www.pbs.org/tuckercarlson/unfiltered/).
You can read Lindorff's entire Tucker Invective by clicking on the title above.
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Arianna Tees Off Again

She asserts:
"Near the beginning of "Saturday Night Fever," John Travolta's Tony Manero, frustrated that his boss thinks he should save his salary instead of spending it on a new disco shirt, cries out, "F--- the future!" To which his boss replies: "No, Tony, you can't f--- the future. The future f---s you! It catches up with you and it f---s you if you ain't prepared for it!"
Well, I don't know if you've noticed, but America has morphed into a nation of Tony Maneros -- collectively dismissing the future. And nowhere is this mindset more prevalent than at the Bush White House, which is unwavering in its determination to ignore the future.
The evidence is overwhelming. Everywhere you look, it's IOUs passed on to future generations. Record federal debt. Record foreign debt. Record budget deficits. Record trade deficits. You see the same attitude when it comes to energy policy, health care, education, Social Security and especially the environment -- with the Bushies redoubling their efforts to make the world uninhabitable as fast as possible. And the even bigger problem? They don't see this as a problem. In fact, it actually all may be an essential part of the plan.
If this last sentence doesn't make a wit of sense to you, then you are clearly not one of the 50 million Americans who believe in some form of End-Time philosophy, an extreme evangelical theology that embraces the idea that we are fast approaching the end of the world, at which point Jesus will return and carry all true believers -- living and dead -- up to heaven ("the Rapture"), leaving all nonbelievers on earth to face hellfire and damnation ("the Tribulation"). Christ and his followers will then return to a divinely refurbished earth for a thousand-year reign of peace and love.
In other words, why worry about minor little details like clean air, clean water, safe ports and the safety net when Jesus is going to give the world an "Extreme Makeover: Planet Edition" right after he finishes putting Satan in his place once and for all?
End-Timers have repeatedly made the "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic books among America's best-selling titles, with over 60 million copies sold. And they have also spawned a mini-industry of imminent doomsday Web sites like ApocalypseSoon.org and Raptureready.com. Now I'm not saying that Bush is a delusion-driven End-Timer. But he and his crew are certainly acting as if that's the case.
Take the jaw-dropping federal debt, which currently stands at $4.3 trillion. Vice President Cheney shrugged, took a hearty swig of the End-Time Kool-Aid, and announced that the administration wants another round of tax cuts. Then there's our trade deficit, which ballooned to a record $165 billion in the third quarter of 2004, when imports exceeded exports by 54 percent. Thanks to this imbalance, America is racking up a staggering $665 billion in additional foreign debt every year -- that's $5,500 for every U.S. household -- and placing our future economic security in the hands of others. Here is Bush's response to this daunting prospect: "People can buy more United States products if they're worried about the trade deficit." Sounds like he's really got it under control. Also, the White House is promoting a similar "What Me Worry?" attitude with our live-for-the-moment energy policy.
The president's full-bore assault on the environment is best summed up by Sen. Jim Jeffords, the ranking minority member on the Environment and Public Works Committee: "I expect the Bush Administration will go down in history as the greatest disaster for public health and the environment in the history of the United States."
That said, it's not hard to see why Bush has hopped aboard the Apocalypse Express. Acting like there's no tomorrow dovetails just as neatly with his corporate backers' rapacious desires as it does with his evangelical backers' rapturous desires. It offers him a political twofer: placating his corporate donors while winning the hearts and votes of the true believers who helped the president achieve a Second Coming of his own. No small miracle, given his record.
All this represents a seismic shift in our cultural outlook. Since our founding, the American ethos has been forward-looking, geared to a bountiful future, with each generation of parents working as hard as they can to ensure a better life for their children. Those days are clearly gone. And it has put our entire civilization at grave risk -- a point echoed with great clarity by Jared Diamond, whose new book, "Collapse," looks at the reasons why so many great civilizations of the past have failed.
Although Diamond offers a range of reasons why these societies collapsed, one message comes through loud and clear: We've got to stop living like there is no tomorrow, or "f--- the future" will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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New Year's Resolutions for Conservatives

Scott Smith of CounterBias suggests the following:
"With George W. Bush's inauguration right around the corner, I thought I'd take a moment and congratulate conservatives for their successful bid to take over the United States. Republicans control the executive branch and the legislative branch, and partially control the judicial branch, so life is good for Republicans. Well done. That said, I wanted to offer up a few suggestions of New Year's Resolutions that conservatives could adopt. I know, you've already made plenty, but here are a few things to consider as you flex your newly found political power.

Resolution: Stop Blaming Bill Clinton
This should have been adopted a long time ago. It's time to get over Bill Clinton. Really. I know, he's a great scapegoat, and you can blame any and all of George W. Bush's failures on Clinton. Economy in the toilet? Not Bush's fault! Clinton recession! Osama bin Laden on the loose? Not Bush's fault! Clinton was offered bin Laden on a silver platter by the Sudanese government! Three times! Yes, Clinton is a great target for Bush's incompetence, but isn't time to stop blaming him? This includes Hillary Clinton as well. Let it rest.

Resolution: Stop Blaming the Liberal Media
Even if the mainstream media is liberal, why does it matter now? Not that it ever really mattered. Isn't the fact that George W. Bush won re-election an indicator that the media isn't all that liberal? After all, if the media held a strong liberal bias, wouldn't it have worked harder to get John Kerry elected? But no, instead, the "liberal" media reported each and every accusation made against John Kerry by groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for The Truth. Kerry's opposition had a national forum at its disposal to spread lies and distortions about John Kerry, whether it was a lie about his service in Vietnam or an obvious omission (saying Kerry was the most liberal senator when he only was the most liberal senator in 2003) about his record.

Resolution: Hold the Bush Administration Accountable
This goes along with not blaming Bill Clinton for everything. I know this will be a very difficult resolution to keep. Bush supporters do what they can to deflect attention away from failures or mistakes made by the administration. I'm sure Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" sign has been stuffed into a drawer or broken into pieces and discarded over the Potomac River. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took responsibility for the torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, he should have been held accountable. He wasn't. Same goes for Iraq weapons of mass destruction. None were found. No one was held accountable for the spectacularly bad intelligence that was the basis of our charge that Iraq had huge stockpiles of weapons. And what happens to the man who headed the agency responsible for the bad intelligence? He's awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And the deficit spending is way out of control. Why aren't Republicans demanding that Bush stop spending money we don't have? I'd say racking up billions of dollars in debt is the kind of problem Bush was talking about that would be passed along to future generations. And that's a huge problem to pass along.

Resolution: I Will Not Let Sean Hannity Do My Thinking For Me
Same goes for Limbaugh and every other right-wing pundit. Here's the problem with Sean Hannity: he lies. A lot. For instance, all of the times he claimed that John Kerry had the most liberal voting record in the Senate. It's not true. The National Journal ranked him the most liberal senator only one time, in 2003. But Sean never adds that part to his statement. See, he lies. Did I mention that Sean Hannity lies? The next time Sean says that Bill Clinton was offered Osama bin Laden "on a platter" by Sudan, make sure to read the 9/11 Commission's final report. Where it says the offer was never officially made. Kind of an important fact to know.

One last thing: if the Bush administration screws up, it's not Bill Clinton's fault. Really."
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Celebrities and Mommy Worship

I promise not to do much celebrity-related posting, but some Salon readers' comments really hit the nail on the head about the underlying issues of the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston/how dare she not have a baby/divorce thing. The comments had to do with this country's weirdly obsessive baby and mommy reverence, which reminded one reader of accounts of Germany during the rise of the Third Reich when German women were awarded medals for how many children they bore. Another said: "All this carping about the glories of motherhood, and the implications that Aniston was shirking a responsibility, have nothing to do with actual motherhood. They are the publicly acceptable expression of America's virulent dislike of women who do what they want to do and who make it clear they don't need your approval -- just as the controversy about Teresa Heinz Kerry's "swearing" had exactly zero to do with bad language...Apparently, 30 years of social change, of women flocking to college campuses and successfully entering the workforce, mean absolutely nothing these days. Women are judged only on their reproductive status. Shame on the media for attempting to drag women back to the 1950s, and shame on those who are buying into it."
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1/11/2005

Rags to Riches, Republican Style

Mike Rose of Salon Magazine notes that there is "duplicity at the core" of the Horatio Alger, "rags to riches" stories that the Bush White House puts out on some of its Cabinet nominees.
He argues: "Even as Bush holds out Gonzales and Gutierrez as symbols of opportunity, his administration's policies systematically erode opportunity for working people. Since Ronald Reagan's presidency, and with increased vigor under George W. Bush, the nation has witnessed a rolling back of the social protections of the welfare state, a carefully orchestrated opposition to safeguards against inequality and, with that, a widening income gap. The rich -- the very rich, especially -- are getting much richer, the middle stagnates, and the poor fall off the charts. Opportunity is championed while unions are threatened, workplace health and safety regulations eroded, and an increase in the minimum wage stonewalled.
And yet, one of the most striking things about rags-to-riches, Republican-style tales is that they are accounts of hardship with almost no feel of hardship to them. They reflect a kind of opportunity that exists only in a reactionary fable. Obstacles receive brief mention -- if they're mentioned at all -- and anger, doubt or despair are virtually absent. You won't see people, exhausted, shuttling between two or more jobs to make a living or the anxious scramble for minimal healthcare for their kids. The GOP stories present a world stripped of the physical and moral insult of poverty, not just sanitized -- a criticism often and legitimately made -- but also distilled, a clean pencil sketch of existence without complication. These tales appear in the Republican rhetoric surrounding any issue dealing with poverty, such as public housing, entitlement programs or welfare-to-work. This erasure of poverty's afflictions makes sense. To do otherwise is to make palpable the dark side of capitalism and the injuries of social class. And conservative strategists have been working very hard, and effectively, to bleach an understanding of class from the public mind. Along the landscape of Republican rags-to-riches stories, characters move upward, driven by self-reliance, optimism, faith, responsibility. Though there will be an occasional reference to parents, teachers or employers who were impressed with the candidate's qualities, the explanations for the candidate's achievements rest pretty much within his or her individual spirit. Luck's got nothing to do with it. Nor, it seems, does raw ambition and deal making. And you surely will not hear a whisper about legislation or social movements that may have enhanced opportunity, opened a door, or removed an obstacle. It would be hard to find a more radically individual portrait of achievement. It should be said that social and economic mobility is possible in the United States, more so than in many other countries. It's right to honor it. But does it happen as depicted in the Republican success stories?"
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Return of the Death Squads?

Oh for those nostalgic days under Reagan in the 80s...
Newsweek is reporting that the US and Iraq are considering using a tactic that was used in Central America during the Reagan administration - "government funded or supported 'nationalist' forces that allegedly included so-called 'death squads' directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers." Newsweek also reported that the squads would be composed of Kurdish and Shiite fighters who would "target" Sunni insurgent leaders and their sympatizers. The move comes at a time when the BBC reports that the insurgency has developed into "near open warfare."
The Times of London also points out that John Negroponte, current US Ambassador to Iraq, was also Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85. The US used Honduras in the 80s as a base to train Nicaraguan contras to fight against the then-Sandinista-led Nicaraguan government.
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1/10/2005

Media R Us

Mark Drolette of "The Online Journal":
Let's face it: the so-called mainstream media will never "pick up" on the stuff that really matters. The Woodward and Bernstein era is no longer. No matter how much we badger the Big Three or smaller rags or TV networks or radio stations, they will never properly investigate and report on 9/11, or phony war justifications, or fixed elections, or poisonous depleted uranium blanketing Iraq, or the fourteen permanent U.S. military bases being constructed there, or the Project for the New American Century, or White House-condoned torture, or the Social-Security-is-going-under scam, or government "regulatory" agencies that are just taxpayer-subsidized divisions of the industries they oversee, or the blackout on photos showing what war really does to humans, or the media's own disingenuous "oh-my-isn't-this-horrible" editorials that only serve to cover their compromised asses while they go about their real business of selling the most advertising possible instead of doing what they should be doing: opening up with all journalistic barrels on the most vile, dangerous, brutal, unprincipled, narcissistic, insane administration in American history.
No, what we get instead is Scott Peterson or Martha Stewart or other such slop...
A few real journalists still exist (Seymour Hersh comes to mind). But anything deemed too hot is going nowhere. At some level, when names are named, the story will be quashed.
American mainstream media as government watchdog is a dead hound. Done and gone. Don't even hold out false hope that somehow it will be revived; this time, Jim, Spock really is dead.
So, it's up to us—all of us—to "be the media." It's us, or nobody. But how do we do it?
Well, our most powerful tool, besides uncovering and speaking the truth, is, of course, the Internet. New approaches to successfully challenging and changing America's new system of government—fascism—are needed. To formulate, disseminate, and then activate our solutions, we must quickly build and expand our communications network.
So . . . let's pony up.
Donate early and often to the online media outlet(s) of your choice. Contribute content, too, and strongly encourage others to follow suit. If you're new to this, great! You're especially needed; more credible voices is one of the main things we're after. Use reliable sources, cite them, check them, and check them again. Provide links whenever possible. Dig out stories, the very ones the corporate media won't touch. Consult true experts if need be to verify your information, line up your sources, and then report away."
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Civil Liberties and Dissent

Thom Hartmann, commentator for Commondreams.org, writes:
"While the sexy stuff that members of Congress and the news media want to talk about when they question Alberto Gonzales is torture, the torture of these and other prisoners in US custody is really a subset of a larger issue.
The bigger question here is whether George W. Bush has the right to ignore the U.S. Constitution and international treaties, violate human rights and civil liberties, promote "preemptive" wars, and build concentration camps for the permanent imprisonment of untried and unconvicted individuals - all simply because he says he can. And whether we want the chief law enforcement officer of the land to be a man who agrees that Bush stands above the law and the Constitution.
The question, ultimately, is whether our nation will continue to stand for the values upon which it was founded.
Early American conservatives suggested that democracy was so ultimately weak it couldn't withstand the assault of newspaper editors and citizens who spoke out against it, or terrorists from the Islamic Barbary Coast, leading John Adams to pass America's first PATRIOT Act-like laws, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. President Thomas Jefferson rebuked those who wanted America ruled by an iron-handed presidency that could - as Adams had - throw people in jail for "crimes" such as speaking political opinion, or without constitutional due process.
The question for our day is who will speak up against George W. Bush?
Oddly, so far it's only been Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote in his minority dissent in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that the President does not have the power to suspend habeas corpus by executive decree. Instead, he wrote: "If civil rights are to be curtailed during wartime, it must be done openly and democratically, as the Constitution requires..."
Scalia went on to quote Alexander Hamilton from Federalist Number 8. "The Founders warned us about the risk," Scalia noted in his Hamdi dissent, "and equipped us with a Constitution designed to deal with it.
The Democrats in Congress say they're going to confirm Judge Gonzales and "keep their powder dry" for future, larger battles like Supreme Court nominations. But as Pastor Niemöller reminds us, the loss of liberty is incremental, not sudden and dramatic.
One either totally stands for republican democracy, the Constitution, and the rule of law in our republic, or one doesn't. Where are the true democrats among the Democrats? (Or, for that matter, the true republicans among the Republicans?) Have they all lost their voices?
First Bush and Gonzales came for the terrorists, but I was not a terrorist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the enemy combatants, but I was not a combatant, so I did not object. Then they came for the protestors resisting "free speech zones" near Bush campaign rallies, but I was not a protestor and so I only voiced my unease.
If we - and our elected representatives - do not speak out now, loudly and forcefully, it may not be long before they come for the rest of us."
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Yeah, Right

CBS today fired four of its top executives for the "Memogate"/Bush/TANG episode.
On the CBS website, Rush Limbaugh is quoted as saying that 60 Minutes did the story in the first place because "CBS had an axe to grind" with President Bush. Puh-leeeeeeze. Why does this jackass, who obviously never has any axes to grind, get quoted as an authority on journalistic integrity? At least when someone screws up at the NYT, CBS, or The New Republic, heads roll. Rush continues to lie his drugged-up head off, day in and day out, with impunity.
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I'm Shocked, Shocked to Find Gambling in Casablanca!

From Reuters:
U.S. oil services company Halliburton, whose operations in Iran have come under investigation by U.S. authorities, has won a tender to drill a huge Iranian gas field, an official said on Sunday.
A U.S. grand jury issued a subpoena to the Texan firm in July, seeking information about its Cayman Islands unit's work in Iran, where it is illegal for U.S. companies to operate.
Halliburton insists it is not illegal for offshore subsidiaries, such as Halliburton Products & Services Limited, to work in the Islamic Republic, where it provides a range of services to the lumbering state oil company.
Akbar Torkan, managing director of the Pars Oil and Gas company, said Halliburton had won a tender to drill two phases of the South Pars gas field in the Gulf, which sits on the world's biggest reservoir of natural gas.
These phases are 58 percent operated by Iranian state companies and 42 percent by South Korea's LG.
Iran has the world's second-largest reserves of natural gas but has been slow to develop them for export.
Washington has imposed sanctions to prevent companies doing business with OPEC's second-biggest producer, which it accuses of developing atomic warheads and sponsoring terror networks.
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Neil Bush Cashes In (Again)

Some politicians are questioning whether Governor Jeb Bush's brother Neil is trying to use the FCAT to make a buck. Neil Bush founded a company that provides software to help students take standardized tests. Critics say it doesn't look right for Neil Bush to be marketing his software to Florida schools.
Ignite, Incorporated makes computer software to help children prepare for standardized tests like florida's FCAT. Students at an Orlando-area middle school are using the software as part of a pilot program. Founder Neil Bush is the brother of Governor Jeb and President George Bush.
At the Department of Education, a spokeswoman did not want to go on-camera. But Pam Bryant said at this point, the Department has no plans to promote or endorse the Ignite software statewide.
The governor has brushed aside questions over Neil Bush's plans to market Ignite software in Florida. "He's not pitching it to the state," Bush said. "He may be pitching it to schools or to school districts that make that decision. He didn't pitch it to me and he wouldn't pitch it to the state Department of Education."
Ignite wants 30 dollars-per-year-per-student for its software. With 2 million students in the state, a Florida expansion could net the company 60 million dollars. The Florida Education Association says it's concerned about potential favoritism, should Neil Bush look to expand Ignite's software use in Florida. "Every contract with the state should be based solely on merit," said FEA President Maureen Dinnen.
You can learn more about the company on its website: http://www.ignitelearning.com/home.htm
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1/09/2005

Teaching Against Idiocy

Walter Parker argues in a recent Phi Delta Kappan article that the original meaning of the word "idiocy" needs to be revived as a conceptual tool for clarifying a pivotal social problem and for understanding the central goal of education.

Parker says:
According to the ancient Greeks, "idiotic" was a term of reproach. When a person's behavior became idiotic -- concerned myopically with private things and unmindful of common things -- then the person was believed to be like a rudderless ship, without consequence save for the danger it posed to others. This meaning of idiocy achieves its force when contrasted with polit¯es (citizen) or public. Here is a powerful opposition: the private individual versus the public citizen. Schools in societies that are trying in various ways to be democracies are obliged to develop public citizens.
An idiot is one whose self-centeredness undermines his or her citizen identity, causing it to wither or never to take root in the first place. Private gain is the goal, and the community had better not get in the way. An idiot is suicidal in a certain way, definitely self-defeating, for the idiot does not know that privacy and individual autonomy are entirely dependent on the community. Idiots do not take part in public life; they do not have a public life. In this sense, idiots are immature in the most fundamental way. Their lives are out of balance, disoriented, untethered, and unrealized. Tragically, idiots have not yet met the challenge of "puberty," which is the transition to public life.
One assumption required if schools are to educate for citizenship is that there can be no democracy without democrats. Democratic ways of living together, with the people's differences intact and recognized, are not given by nature; they are created. And much of the creative work must be undertaken by engaged citizens who share some understanding of what it is they are trying to build together.
Also, engaged citizens do not materialize out of thin air. They do not naturally grasp such knotty principles as tolerance, impartial justice, the separation of church and state, the need for limits on majority power, or the difference between liberty and license. They are not born already capable of deliberating about public policy issues with other citizens whose beliefs and cultures they may abhor. Rather, they are social, moral, and intellectual achievements, and they are hard won.
But how actually to accomplish this? Three actions are key. First, increase the variety and frequency of interaction among students who are culturally, linguistically, and racially different from one another. Second, orchestrate these contacts so as to foster competent public talk -- deliberation about common problems, both academic and social. Third, clarify the distinction between deliberation and blather and between open (i.e., inclusive) and closed (i.e., exclusive) deliberation. In other words, expect, teach, and model competent, inclusive deliberation.
I would like to see a national campaign against idiocy, and I believe schools are ideal sites for it. Put differently, schools are fitting places to lead young people through puberty and into citizenship. Schools are the sites of choice because they have, to some extent, the two most important resources for this work: diversity and problems. A proper curriculum for democracy requires both the study and the practice of democracy.

This is a summary of Walter's comments. I encourage you to link to the full article for more of the specifics of his ideas.
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Defining Victory Down

Maureen Dowd, who seems to be over her previous crush on Rummy, in today's New York Times:
The president's still got a paper bag over his head, claiming that the daily horrors out of Iraq reflect just a few soreheads standing in the way of a glorious democracy, even though his commander of ground forces there concedes that the areas where more than half of Iraqis live are not secure enough for them to vote - an acknowledgment that the insurgency is resilient and growing. It's like saying Montana and North Dakota are safe to vote, but New York, Philadelphia and L.A. are not. What's a little disenfranchisement among friends?
"I know it's hard, but it's hard for a reason," Mr. Bush said on Friday, a day after seven G.I.'s and two marines died. "And the reason it's hard is because there are a handful of folks who fear freedom." If it's just a handful, how come it's so hard? Then the president added: "And I look at the elections as a - as a - you know, as a - as - as a historical marker for our Iraq policy."
Well, that's clear. Mr. Bush is huddled in his bubble, but he's in a pickle. The administration that had no plan for what to do with Iraq when it got it, now has no plan for getting out.
The arrogant Bush war council never admits a mistake. Paul Wolfowitz, a walking mistake, said on Friday he's been asked to remain in the administration. But the "idealists," as the myopic dunderheads think of themselves, are obviously worried enough, now that Mr. Bush is safely re-elected, to let a little reality seep in. Mr. Wolfowitz, who devised the debacle in Iraq, is kept on, while Brent Scowcroft, Poppy Bush's lieutenant who warned Junior not to go into Iraq, is pushed out as chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. That's the backward nature of this beast: Deceive, you're golden; tell the truth, you're gone.
The Iraqi election that was meant to be the solution to the problem - like the installation of a new Iraqi government and the transfer of sovereignty and all the other steps that were supposed to make things better - may actually be making things worse. The election is going to expand the control of the Shiite theocrats, even beyond what their numbers would entitle them to have, because of the way the Bush team has set it up and the danger that if you're a Sunni, the vote you cast may be your last.
It is a lesson never learned: Matters of state and the heart that start with a lie rarely end well.
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