2/05/2005

The Tin Commandments

Alan Bisbort, Hartford Advocate:
On a visit to Atlanta earlier this week, I noticed a new affectation sweeping the fringes of red culture. On placards the size of real-estate transaction signs, the Ten Commandments are posted in front yards, augmenting the "God Bless America" ribbons on the rear-ends of homeowners' SUVs.
This was not deep in the Dark Ages of red culture. This was not Cobb County, where these signs are no doubt mandatory and where the school board has placed anti-evolution stickers on biology texts. This was Southern suburbia, where I grew up, two counties removed from Cobb. To my surprise, I didn't find myself flinching in horror at the "hidden agendas" of the Ned Flanderses and Church Ladies compelled to make such public pronouncements of self-righteousness. Rather, I refamiliarized myself with the actual words of the Ten Commandments. It was then that I decided to see if the "values"-laden Republicans who lord over us and shove the commandments down our throats, actually adhere to their own preachings.
Need I add the obvious answer? Of course they don't! The Republican "values" crowd would be lost without their hypocrisies. Indeed, hypocrisy is the glue that holds America together. James Hillman nailed it in his recent book, A Terrible Love of War : "Hypocrisy in America is not a sin but a necessity and a way of life. It makes possible armories of mass destruction side by side with the proliferation of churches, cults, and charities. Hypocrisy holds the nation together so that it can preach, and practice what it does not preach."
Check out the commandments for yourself, found in Exodus, Chapter 20, 1-18.
-- "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."
Moses (quoting God) told his people that they must stop worshipping false idols. I take this to mean that no other objects of worship besides God are allowed, including money, stocks, oil, real estate and Paris Hilton videos. Please deposit all such items in the receptacles at the back of the church on your way out the door. Praise the Lord.
-- "Thou shalt not make for yourself a carved (or graven) image" and worship it.
That put me in mind of my Republican neighbor, who's out polishing his Hummer every other day.
-- "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain."
Does telling a U.S. Senator, "Go fuck yourself" on the floor of Congress qualify?
-- "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Hey, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Exxon, Target, Office Max, Circuit City and all other big Bush donors, if you don't close on Sundays you're living in sin.
-- "Honor thy father and mother."
When GWB was told that his father opposed the decision to go into Iraq, the son said, "I have a higher father that I follow ..." The old man's out of the loop as usual.
-- "Thou shalt not murder."
Where to begin? Iraqi civilians (100,000+), U.S. soldiers (1,400+) ... and counting.
-- "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
The roll call of lechers forms on the right: Newt Gingrich, Robert Livingston, Henry Hyde, Bill O'Reilly, Jack Ryan, Neil Bush, Daddy Bush, Phil Giordano, Strom Thurmond, Dick Morris, Schwarzenegger, Giuliani, Kerik ...
-- "Thou shalt not steal."
Where to begin? Cheney's Halliburton, with no-bid contracts and price gouging. Daddy Bush's Carlyle Group, which has a key to the U.S. Treasury. Enron, thief of thousands of Americans' retirement savings. The Bushprano Family (W, Jeb, Neil, Marvin), just follow the money ...
-- "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
Colin Powell, is that cornmeal in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? When Colin held that vial of kitty litter up at the U.N. and insisted it was proof of an Iraqi WMD program, he knew it was a lie. Ditto Condi Rice, and her 9/11 Commission testimony. Ditto, Dick Cheney every time he opens his mouth. Ditto, Swift Boat Veterans. Ditto, every utterance about Social Security.
-- "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's house, wife, servant or hand-maid, ox or ass or anything else that is his."
And that includes his oil.
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2/03/2005

The Inquisition Strikes Back

From AlterNet:
We have by now all seen much of this material before, but reading it all in one piece, told by human voices in this book-length interview, is not easy to take. "Guantánamo: What the World Should Know" (Chelsea Green) – by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray – becomes a heart-stopper once you cross the line and realize that you could be any of these victims.
Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is co-counsel in Rasul v. Bush, the historic case of Guantánamo detainees now before the U.S. Supreme Court. His interviewer, Ellen Ray, is President of the Institute for Media Analysis, and a widely published author and editor on U.S. intelligence and international politics.
It's hard to say which is more disgusting, the descriptions of the torture or the bone-chilling analyses of how the president of the United States gave himself the powers of an absolute military dictator. Under Military Order No. 1, which the president issued without congressional authority on November 13, 2001, George W. Bush has ordered people captured or detained from all over the world, flown to Guantánamo and tortured in a lawless zone where, the White House asserts, prisoners have no rights of any kind at all and can be kept forever at his pleasure. Despite the at-best marginal intervention of the American courts so far, there is no civilian judicial review, no due process of any kind.
While any military force will routinely violate the civil rights of anyone who gets in its way, Ratner's descriptions of how victims wound up in Guantánamo reveal wanton cruelty and callousness that will nauseate any sane human being.
Some prisoners were captured in battle; many others were picked up in random sweeps for no reason at all except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As usual in these kinds of operations, some were turned in as a result of petty revenge or as an excuse to steal their property. When asked in court to explain the criteria for detention, the government had no answer. There were no criteria, it appears. "The government even made the ridiculous argument before the Supreme Court that the prisoners get to tell their side of the story, by being interrogated," Ratner reports.
Ratner notes that 134 of the 147 prisoners later released from Guantánamo were guilty of absolutely nothing. Only thirteen were sent on to jail. He believes it is possible that a substantial majority had nothing to do with terrorism.
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"Sosul" Security

From Timothy Noah of Slate Magazine:
This is undeniably petty, but one of the things I most dread about tonight's State of the Union address is listening to my president mispronounce, over and over, the name of the government program that Franklin Roosevelt established to provide a decent retirement income for the nation's elderly. Dubya insists on calling it "Sosul Security." I don't think this is a Southern thing, like "nucular." I think it's a George W. Bush thing. Possibly the president dozed off in phonics class when they explained the difference between "ci" as in "circle" and "ci" as in "special."
If so, I offer as a public service this aural tutorial from Donald L. Potter, who teaches grade-school English in the president's home state of Texas. In the syllables "cial," "cious," and "cient," Potter explains, "ci" is pronounced "sh." Potter has posted additional phonics resources in this link.
If he's going to privatize it, at the very least he should know how to pronounce it.
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2/02/2005

Social Security: A Call To Arms

Josh Marshall has been playing excellent offense on Social Security for several weeks now on his blog, and he hits it out of the park tonight in preparation for the SOTU speech:
If we're not mistaken, tonight's State of the Union address (aka, the kick-off of the Bamboozlepalooza Tour) should knock the Fainthearted Faction and the Conscience Caucus into utter turmoil. And pretty much every member of Congress is going to be asked by some reporter somewhere what they think of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan. And let's be clear, that's what this is. The idea of phasing out only part of Social Security is just a con. The plan here is to get rid of Social Security entirely and replace it with a government system of private investment accounts in which everyone can sink or swim as well as they can manage.
If you don't make enough during your working life to save much, you're out of luck. If your investments go bad or you die young, you and your kids are out of luck too. On the margins there may well be a new system of elder welfare for those who can prove they would die or be without any means of support absent a government hand-out. But gone entirely will be the current Social Security system in which every American who pays into the system over their lifetime has a guaranteed bedrock of retirement security which can't be taken away ever, not as a matter of a handout or disgrace or pity, but as a matter of right to a modicum of comfort and dignity in retirement after a lifetime of work.
If you doubt that the plan is to get rid of Social Security entirely you are simply naive. Look at the structure of all the phase-out proposals. They don't really envision a hybrid system for the longterm. They are all designed to siphon money out of the system, weaken it, trigger the crisis President Bush now falsely claims exists and create an accelerating pressure to complete the process of phase-out.
If you think about it, nothing else would really make sense. If partial phase-out is a good thing, why isn't total phase-out even better? This isn't about solvency; it's about the ideology of people who don't believe in or approve of the near-universal, defined-benefit program America has had for seven decades.
That's the plan and that's what's at stake.
We could have an honest debate about whether we'd be better off with Social Security or a system of government-regulated 401ks in its place. But the president knows that's a debate he can't win. So he's trying to scam the public into helping him destroy what the vast majority want to protect.
Social Security can be put on the course to complete phase-out in the 109th Congress, or the effort to phase-out Social Security can be put to rest for decades. If a newly-reelected president, with compliant majorities in both houses of congress, and all the weight of his office put behind the effort gets stopped in its tracks by a battered, but recovering party like the Democrats now are, no one will try it again for a very long time.
So, tonight ... As I said, everybody's going to get asked about phase-out tonight. And we want to hear what you hear. We can only follow so many news outlets. We have our special email address still set up (lyingprivatizers@talkingpointsmemo.com). So if you see some member of the Conscience Caucus going all wobbly and sidling up to the president's phase-out proposal, let us know. If others give it the thumbs down, let us know that too. We'd like to hear about it even if it's just existing members of the Caucus reaffirming their membership. Same goes for the Dems. If someone starts to go wobbly, we'd really appreciate your telling us.
So we can make use of it in our efforts to cover the legislative battlein its totality, please give us as much detailed information as possible about when it was, where it appeared, and so forth. If possible, send us a link.
And watch the press. The president already got knocked on his heels for his 'crisis' malarkey. Will that affect the degree of credibility the media imputes to him now on related issues?
The White House has already signalled that a big part of the speech will be rolling out his new Social Security speech code. So if you see Tim Russert running away from the phrase 'private accounts' like it was the bubonic plague, can you let us know? Thank you. We'll be in your debt.
And if the dingbat neologism 'personalization' even crosses Andrea Mitchell's lips, can you tell us that too?
The Republicans have every right to use their own rhetoric to describe their own policies. But it's ridiculous for them to think they can force the press to adopt a new lexicon every time the pollsters come back to Karl's office with a glum face. And it is shameful when members of the press comply. So keep an eye out and let us know.

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Beware, evil lefties! ABC News has its eye on you.

From Paul Waldman at Gadflyer:
ABC News seems to have turned up the dial on their pro-administration spin lately. The other night Charlie Gibson, substituting for Peter Jennings, described a federal judge's ruling that detainees have some due process rights as "a setback for the Bush administration's war on terror" - as opposed to, say, "a victory for American values." In full Fox News mode, a few nights ago substitute anchor Terry Moran responded to a report on the effect of the deaths of the soldiers stationed in Hawaii by intoning, "The price of freedom." He could have said, "What a waste," or "All those young men dead, for the Bush administration's lies." But no, "The price of freedom."
But last night's latest "culture war" story has to take the cake. Reporter Dan Harris seems to have taken up permanent residence in the O'Reilly-esque conservatives-are-so-oppressed beat. Let's go to the transcript:
DAN HARRIS: When Christian students at Indian River Community College asked to host a screening of "The Passion of the Christ," administrators said no, because the film's R-rated. At the campus theater weeks later, however, another student performed a monologue in which she described engaging in sexual acts before the image of Jesus.
STUDENT, FEMALE: That hurt. That shocked, and I did take that kind of offensive.
DAN HARRIS: Do you think this is a case of discrimination against Christians?
STUDENT, MALE: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
DAN HARRIS: Administrators say there was no discrimination. They simply didn't know about the monologue. David French, whose nonpartisan group monitors free speech on campuses, says conservatives are systematically suppressed and censored.
DAVID FRENCH, FOUNDATION FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION: You're going to get more political and intellectual diversity at your average suburban mega-church than you are at an elite university.
DAN HARRIS: From Columbia University, where Jewish students complain about harassment from pro-Palestinian professors...
STUDENT: He said you have no voice in this debate.
DAN HARRIS: ... to Foothills College, where this freshman says he was told to get psychotherapy after refusing to write an essay criticizing the US constitution.
AHMAD AL QLOUSHI, FOOTHILLS COLLEGE STUDENT: I was attacked and intimidated because I love America.
DAN HARRIS: Conservatives have responded with websites where students can name and shame professors, and an effort to pass an academic bill of rights outlawing what they call in-class indoctrination.
Many academics say conservatives are blowing a few isolated incidents way out of proportion in order to launch a McCarthyesque witch hunt, which is designed to intimidate professors, limit academic freedom, and promote a sort of affirmative action for conservative professors.
Robert O'Neil, a former university president, says conservative students may be trying to protect themselves from ideas they don't like. But he says schools could do more to include conservative views.
PROFESSOR ROBERT O'NEIL, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA LAW SCHOOL: I think there's a sense that, well, Liberals have had their way and they've advanced their views for quite some time. There should be balance.
DAN HARRIS: The historical irony is rich. In the 1960s, Liberal students started the free speech movement to protest against the government. Today, conservatives are invoking the same argument for very different purposes. Dan Harris, ABC News, Ft. Pierce, Florida.

Waldman's deconstruction is great:
First, let's count the sources. We have five different people making the case in one way or another that conservatives are oppressed on campus. These five are "balanced" with one former university president, who...describes how conservatives are feeling. And what are we to make of these horrific stories of oppression? Students wanted to show "The Passion of the Christ," but the school had a policy against R-rated films? Obvious anti-Christian bigotry! The supposedly neutral expert from the "non-partisan group" asked to comment? Well, FIRE is hardly a neutral observer - they're a group whose main purpose is to defend conservatives with hurt feelings on campus (yes, they do defend a liberal now and again, but that seems like mostly window dressing).
But the real smoking gun is the use of the story about Kuwaiti student Ahmad Al-Qloushi, who has become a conservative celebrity since he was so terribly insulted - or so he claims - over his pro-American essay. A few things the conservatives don't want you to know about Al-Qloushi: he's not just some random kid, he's the president of the Foothills College Republicans. He's also a liar, having written about his "one-week-old baby cousin who died while the Iraqi invaders were stealing incubators from hospitals to sell them for profit." But the mythical incubator story never happened - it was made up by a Washington PR firm to sell the first Gulf War. Finally, the principle crime committed against him was that he was failed on his essay, he claims, because it was pro-America. But his essay, which you can read here, is so ridiculously poor in both form and substance it would have earned a failing grade in a seventh-grade history class. You can read more about Al-Qloushi here.
Did Dan Harris do research to figure out whether Al-Qloushi's story held water - or, for that matter, whether any of the incidents he mentions constitute a trend, or a part of a conservative propaganda campaign? And what was Harris' technique of gathering these crimes? Did he just listen to Limbaugh for a couple of days? I don't know about the other networks, but ABC News has obviously responded to the results of the election, and the "moral values" myth, by Foxing up their broadcasts. Besides being a disservice to their viewers, it's a sad turn of events for a news organzation that had begun to show some signs of life in the last year or so.
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Freedom ain't free

People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) President Ralph G. Neas said today that a Justice Department demand for nearly $400,000 in fees for a FOIA request regarding the decision to seal the records of immigrants detained in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks is outrageous, and another in a series of strategies to deny access to public information.
“Apparently, they’ve taken the ‘free’ out of ‘Freedom of Information.’ If you want to learn about secret trials carried out by your government with your money, you’re going to need deep pockets,” said Neas.
“It’s clear that this is just the latest tactic in the Justice Department’s ongoing effort to hide information from the American public, particularly about ‘secret’ legal proceedings for immigrants held for months and sometimes years in the wake of the terrorist attacks,” said Neas. “In decades of public advocacy, we’ve never been asked to provide fees of this magnitude. They’re clearly setting up new barriers to the release of information that ought to be made public immediately. It begs the question: What are they hiding?”
PFAWF first made the FOIA request November 25, 2003. It was denied by the Justice Department on the grounds of privacy in December, 2003. PFAWF contested the decision in a lawsuit filed in August, 2004. Only after the lawsuit was filed did Justice Department officials decide to ask for the records from U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country. The department then concocted an estimate of $372,999 for the request, and asked for advance payment in a letter sent January 11, 2005. PFAWF has until February 10 to respond.
“The Freedom of Information Act was intended to give American citizens and the news media access to records that will help them protect their rights and see how the tremendous power of the government is being used. It’s especially important under one-party rule,” sad Neas. “We’re going to fight this outrageous demand.”
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Elect an idiot - there goes the language

From Left i Blogspot:
So it seems that if you flunk English, but then get elected President, the language will come to you. Merriam-Webster now says in approving a new pronunciation for the word "nuclear":
"Though disapproved of by many, [the pronunciation "nuke-u-lar" has] been found in widespread use among educated speakers including scientists, lawyers, professors, congressmen, U.S. cabinet members, and at least one U.S. president and one vice president."
Giving entirely new meaning, and undoubtedly mangled pronunciation along with it, to "L'etat, c'est moi." Next up: Merriam-Webster redefines "truth" as "whatever George Bush says it is."
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State of the Union drinking game

This is way funny.
And I'm sure it can be adapted to fit any of W's canned speeches.
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Totally hilarious blog to help you get through the SOTU speech

From the "Jesus' General" blog:
Tonight, Our Leader gives his first major speech since the official launch of the Glorious Conservative Cultural Revolution. I'm sure that it will be a speech that will be remembered long after we're gone. It will be a speech that will be required reading for generations of history students. It will be a speech that will be forever compared to such stemwinders as Calvin Coolidge's' Remarks to the Akron Rotary and Brigham Young's Great Tirade Against the Evils of Dominoes.
That said, I think I have a few ideas to make it even better.
Every great speech has a theme. Our Leader should shape his speech in a way that reminds us of his glorious victories and urges us forward in pursuit of his goals. In the last four years, he implemented a foreign policy based on the values of the McKinley Presidency and gave us an economy reminiscent of Hoover's America. The domestic agenda he will outline tonight will also hearken back these golden eras of Victorian puritanism and social Darwinism. Indeed, it will be a return to earlier values, a Great Leap Backward if you will. That should be his theme.

Social Security
Our Leader's plan to undermine the New Deal is faltering. He needs to inject his Social Security initiative with the tonic of fear to nurse it back to health. With that in mind, I've created the following talking points.
1. Social Security will kill you. Nine out of ten people will die within twenty years of the time they start collecting it.
2. Social security supports terrorists. Somewhere, a member of the Weather Underground is waiting for his check to arrive so that he can buy groceries and maybe even the parts for a bomb.
3. There were social security checks on the planes that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
4. Social security has weapons of mass destruction. Sure, logic tells us that social security is a concept and is therefore incapable of possessing anything, but Ahmad Chalabi tells me it has them.
5. Social Security is trying to homosexualize our children by promoting its pansexual philosophy.
6. Yes, my efforts to sell my plan to Congress are failing. I've fired the person responsible. Donald Rumsfeld will now take over. I'm sure he'll repeat the many successes he had at the Pentagon.

Family Policy
1. I'm a virgin. My twin daughters, Jenna and Jenna's sister, are both virgins. And my wife became a born again virgin after she ran over the last guy who had sex with her. We want all of you to be virgins too.
2. We need to build strong family relationships. I come from a very close family. In fact, we're so close, we all look alike (except the brown ones in Florida). My mother looks like Barney and my daughters look like my brother, Neal.
3. Abortions should only be available for your Honduran maid.
4. If you're ever in Thailand, don't open your hotel door.
5. Ny-Quil and aspirin will give you a buzz.
6. Porking your Secretary of State doesn't count as sex. It's one of those diplomatic liaison thingies.

Foreign Policy
1. Our mission is still accomplished in Iraq.
2. Iran harbors terrorists, possesses weapons of mass destruction, and hates freedom. We should invade and torture them.
3. Massachusetts harbors terrorists, possesses weapons of mass destruction, and hates freedom. We should invade and torture them.
4. Cartoonland harbors terrorists, possesses weapons of mass destruction, and hates freedom. We should invade and torture them.
5. Spongebob Squarepants hates America.

Economic Policy
1. Welcome to the ownership society. If you have not been assigned an owner yet, please report to Iran for duty.
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Various examples of the GOP's efforts to create a one-party fascist state

Excerpts from the LA Times:
President Bush's agenda for the next four years, much of which he will highlight in his State of the Union address tonight, includes many proposals that would not only change public policy but, the GOP hopes, achieve an ambitious political goal: Stripping money and voters from the Democratic Party and cementing Republican dominance for years after he leaves office.
One of the clearest examples is an effort to limit jury awards in lawsuits against doctors and businesses. The caps might not only discourage "frivolous" lawsuits, as Bush argues, but also deprive trial lawyers of income from damage awards that they could then give to Democrats.
...On issue after issue, the White House is staking out positions that achieve a policy goal while expanding the GOP's appeal to new voters or undermining the Democrats' ability to compete. Bush's plan to alter Social Security, for example, would allow younger workers to divert some of their payroll taxes into privately owned retirement accounts. GOP strategists hope it would also foster a new "investor class" that would vote Republican. Republican support for free trade undermines labor unions which, like trial lawyers, are a bedrock of the Democratic Party, strategists say. The president's faith-based initiative, which encourages government funding for religious social service agencies, and his opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage are popular with socially conservative African Americans, who have for decades leaned Democratic but are increasingly viewed as potential GOP voters. Many black parents, whose children attend struggling public schools, also agree with Republicans' support for school vouchers. And Bush's call to revamp the nation's immigration laws makes the party more appealing to Latinos, another traditionally Democratic group.
...GOP strategists say the difference this time is the sheer scope of Bush's political ambitions and his willingness to push sweeping ideological changes. The party is aiming for a 21st century political realignment comparable to the Democratic domination spurred by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Bush often refers to his agenda as building an "ownership society," a phrase that strategists compare in political terms to the New Deal: a package of programs that builds loyalty among voters for generations. While Roosevelt expanded the role of government in lifting seniors and workers out of poverty, Bush's domestic agenda stresses the creation of personal wealth and individual responsibility, pure Republican ideology.
..."If the Republicans can destroy Social Security, if they can privatize it out of existence, then they remove a key foundation stone for a philosophy of governance which says we're all in it together," said Robert B. Reich, former Labor secretary in the Clinton administration and now a professor at Brandeis University near Boston.
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A Bigot's Guide To American History

More right-wing trash on the NYT bestseller list. Caveat emptor!
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Wal-Mart Takes a Whack

From TomPaine:
The facts about Wal-Mart's health care policies could earn it Worst Corporate Citizen of The Year award. The company racks up huge profits, yet covers health care for only 45 percent of its workers—passing the cost of health care on to taxpayers, who are stuck with the tab for the uninsured and their family members. A wide alliance of interfaith, labor, and community groups is gaining steam in challenging the big retailer. You can read the article from "In These Times."
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What Would Republican Jesus Do?

From Ted Rall on Yahoo News:
And it came to pass that Republican Jesus met with His advisers, strategists and corporate cronies. He took them and withdrew apart to a deserted city called Bethesda. But the multitudes followed Him nonetheless. So Republican Jesus asked His cronies to build Him a great stadium where He could welcome members of the multitudes able to pay Him an admission fee and purchase vast quantities of licensed merchandise at exorbitant prices.
He welcomed these people and sent off those who needed medical attention to a land called Canada.
The light of the day began to wane, so His toadies said to Republican Jesus: "Send these stinky riffraff away, that we may cross the Beltway to our home, and get steaks and baked potatoes and double martinis and crème brulées, for here we are in a barren place with naught but a TCBY and a vestigial relic of the Hardee's chain." He answered them: "Stop whining, for God's sake. You will soon have more than enough to eat."
They said to Him: "But we have a mere five Power Bars and two Diet Cokes. We are twelve advisers, strategists and corporate sycophants, and many of us are portly, and with all due respect, that sucks."
He told His hangers-on: "Sit down, shut up, and give me all of your money." After exchanging cynical glances, they did dig into their wallets and gave Him their loot. With that Republican Jesus raced to his waiting SUV and ordered his chauffeur to fly like the wind.
"As a rising tide lifts all boats," He cried from his speeding automobile, "so shall you benefit from the increased economic activity generated by the money you have given Me! I will buy Myself a sumptuous banquet and several portable electronic devices and also ho's, creating jobs in the food/electronic/ho sectors that you will take in order to feed yourselves. Give a man a fish and he eats a fish, but teach a man to fish at rock-bottom wages and we all shall eat his fish."
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And this guy wants to be president in 2008

From Oliver Willis:
Bill Frist (R, TN) proves once again that he's as cold as a fish. Maybe that's an insult to fish, quite frankly:
"I can play hardball as well as anybody. That's what I did, cut people's hearts out."
No word yet on whether Bill ate their liver with fava beans or not.
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2/01/2005

I can't take it anymore.

Do these people have an ounce of non-cynical political strategy in their bag of tricks?
From the LA Times:
Condoleezza Rice took the oath Friday as the first black woman to be secretary of State, then immediately reached back into history to invoke the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Her words were the latest example of President Bush and his top aides citing the Republican Party's often-forgotten 19th century antislavery roots — a strategy that GOP leaders believe will help them make inroads among black voters in the 21st century. And if it reminds voters that the Democrats once embraced slavery, that's not such a bad byproduct, strategists say.
Bush, who keeps a bust of Lincoln prominently displayed in the Oval Office, is making Civil War references a staple of his speeches promoting democracy overseas and policy changes at home. And a glossy, GOP-produced "2005 Republican Freedom Calendar," spotlighting key moments in the party's civil rights history, has been distributed to party officials nationwide.
"We started our party with the express intent of protecting the American people from the Democrats' pro-slavery policies that expressly made people inferior to the state," Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) wrote in a letter printed on the calendar. The letter continued: "Today, the animating spirit of the Republican Party is exactly the same as it was then: free people, free minds, free markets, free expression, and unlimited individual opportunity."
The focus on the party's past reflects the realignment goals of White House strategist Karl Rove and demonstrates that Republicans view winning a larger portion of the black vote as a major factor for success in future national elections.
As part of a sweeping plan to increase the party's appeal to minorities — including Latinos — the Bush White House has aggressively courted socially conservative black preachers and their followers by stressing its opposition to same-sex marriage, by promoting school vouchers and encouraging the funding of church-based charities.
Republican strategists are aiming to win as much as 30% of the nation's black vote in the 2008 presidential election — an ambitious goal, given that polls have shown Bush won 11% in his reelection last year and that Democrats remain widely viewed as the party of civil rights.
Democrats say that such lofty GOP goals are the stuff of fantasy for a party out of touch with most black voters.
"The Republicans are running the risk of spinning themselves," said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "African Americans are not going to be swayed by glossy calendars or references to century-old leaders."
Historians note that the GOP's heritage is more complex than all the references to Lincoln imply. In the decades following the Civil War, the party became more identified with pro-business policies than civil rights. In national elections, black voters began flocking to the Democratic Party in the 1930s, drawn by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs. And the Democrats gained a virtual lock on the black vote in the mid-1960s, as President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed several civil rights bills through Congress while the GOP pursued a "Southern strategy" aimed at courting white voters. In the years that followed, Republicans led the fights against affirmative action and the creation of a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Referring to the GOP's new efforts to promote its civil rights record, Yale University history professor David Blight said, "It's appalling to me as a historian and as an American citizen. It necessitates ignoring and avoiding at least 80 years of the history of the Republican Party, that the Republican Party became the bastion of white solidarity, white comfort."
Republicans, however, insist their true history has been obscured — an argument encapsulated by a slogan on their new calendar. "Celebrating a century and a half of civil rights achievement by the Party of Lincoln," proclaims its cover, which features a large image of the 16th president. Each date contains a blurb linking the GOP to advances in civil rights.
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You can't take your eye off these guys for a minute...

While much of the public focus is on Social Security, the Busheviks are working under the radar to move the US away from its system of employer-provided health insurance. Instead, they want a system in which workers take "personal responsibility" (where have I heard that term before?) through buying high-deductible "catastrophic" insurance policies to cover major medical needs, then pay routine costs with money set aside in tax-sheltered health savings accounts.
Riiiiight....
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Judy + Ahmad = Luv

Why does this woman still have a job?
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1/31/2005

High school students say First Amendment is "no big deal"

From an AP story on MSN:
The way many high school students see it, government censorship of newspapers may not be a bad thing, and flag burning is hardly protected free speech.
It turns out the First Amendment is a second-rate issue to many of those nearing their own adult independence, according to a study of high school attitudes released Monday.
The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly. Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.
“These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous,” said Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which sponsored the $1 million study. “Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nation’s future.”
The students are even more restrictive in their views than their elders, the study says.
When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.
The results reflected indifference, with almost three in four students saying they took the First Amendment for granted or didn’t know how they felt about it. It was also clear that many students do not understand what is protected by the bedrock of the Bill of Rights.
Three in four students said flag burning is illegal. It’s not. About half the students said the government can restrict any indecent material on the Internet. It can’t.
“Schools don’t do enough to teach the First Amendment. Students often don’t know the rights it protects,” Linda Puntney, executive director of the Journalism Education Association, said in the report. “This all comes at a time when there is decreasing passion for much of anything. And, you have to be passionate about the First Amendment.”
The partners in the project, including organizations of newspaper editors and radio and television news directors, share a clear advocacy for First Amendment issues.
The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, is billed as the largest of its kind. More than 100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544 public and private high schools took part in early 2004.
The study suggests that students embrace First Amendment freedoms if they are taught about them and given a chance to practice them, but schools don’t make the matter a priority.
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Iraq's flawed election is not a "Mardi Gras" moment for Americans

Juan Cole, a professor of history at Michigan, has one of the best US blogs on the Middle East, "Informed Comment." His take on Iraq's elections is nicely contextualized:
I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.
Moreover...the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.
So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.
With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed "election." Iraq is an armed camp. There were troops and security checkpoints everywhere. Vehicle traffic was banned. The measures were successful in cutting down on car bombings that could have done massive damage. But even these Draconian steps did not prevent widespread attacks, which is not actually good news. There is every reason to think that when the vehicle traffic starts up again, so will the guerrilla insurgency.
The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen. (This is the part of the process that I called a "joke," and I stand by that.) This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament.
Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.
Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another "Mission Accomplished" moment. Things may gradually get better, but this flawed "election" isn't a Mardi Gras for Americans and they'll regret it if that is the way they treat it.
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"Shake hands with the devil"

From MoJo:
When Canadian general Roméo Dallaire took charge of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda in 1993, the country’s civil war had halted after more than two years of fighting. Dallaire’s mission was to help both sides implement the agreed-upon Arusha peace accords and transition to a new government. But on April 6, 1994, after the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down, extremists within the Hutu population began assassinating moderate government officials and set in motion the vicious genocide that would ultimately claim the lives of more than 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.
Amid escalating violence, Dallaire faced a nearly impossible situation. The United Nations repeatedly refused to send him reinforcements, and his force shrunk from 2,600 soldiers to 800 as nations withdrew their troops in the first days of the slaughter. Dallaire and his remaining forces stayed, trying to save as many people as they could while the killing continued, witnessing acts so inhuman that the general later suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Almost fifty years to the day that my father and father-in-law helped to liberate Europe -- when the extermination camps were uncovered and when, in one voice, humanity said, ‘Never again,’ -- we once again sat back and permitted this unspeakable horror to occur,” Dallaire writes in the introduction to his recent book Shake Hands With the Devil, in which he chronicles the brutality he witnessed as the world simply stood by.
Dallaire is now a fellow with the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where he’s researching ways the international community can respond to future crises. He recently spoke by telephone with MotherJones.com, and you can read the interview here.
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Iraq elections, voting for food, PNAC, and the draft. This essay connects the dots.

William Rivers Pitt of TruthOut:
"United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 percent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong. A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam."
-- New York Times article titled, 'U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote,' September 4, 1967.

    In all the media hoopla over Sunday's "election" in Iraq, a few details got missed. The powerful and influential Association of Muslim Scholars is not buying the idea that there was some great democratic breakthrough with this vote. AMS spokesman Muhammad al-Kubaysi responded to the election by saying, "The elections are not a solution to the Iraqi problem, because this problem is not an internal dispute to be resolved through accords and elections. It lies in the presence of a foreign power that occupies this country and refuses even the mere scheduling of the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq. We have consistently argued that elections can only occur in a democracy that enjoys sovereignty. Our sovereignty is incomplete. Our sovereignty is usurped by foreign forces that have occupied our land and hurt our dignity. These elections...are a means of establishing the foreign forces in Iraq and keeping Iraq under the yoke of occupation. They should have been postponed."
    Al-Kubaysi likewise raised grave concerns about low turnout in Sunni areas such as Baghdad, Baquba and Samarra, and stated flatly that the deep secrecy that shrouded the candidates themselves invalidated the process. "The voter goes to the polling stations not knowing who he is voting for in the first place," he said. "There are more than 7,700 candidates, and I challenge any Iraqi voter to name more than half a dozen. Their names have not been announced but have been kept secret. Elections should never have been held under these present circumstances."
    The American media is painting these newly-minted Iraqi voters as flush with the thrill of casting a ballot. In truth, however, some other more pressing motivations lay behind their rush to the polling places. Dahr Jamail, writing for Inter Press Service, reported that "Many Iraqis had expressed fears before the election that their monthly food rations would be cut if they did not vote. They said they had to sign voter registration forms in order to pick up their food supplies. Just days before the election, 52 year-old Amin Hajar, who owns an auto garage in central Baghdad, had said, 'I'll vote because I can't afford to have my food ration cut. If that happened, me and my family would starve to death.'"
    'Will Vote For Food' is not a spectacular billboard for the export of democracy.
    "Where there was a large turnout," continued Jamail, "the motivation behind the voting and the processes both appeared questionable. The Kurds up north were voting for autonomy, if not independence. In the south and elsewhere Shias were competing with Kurds for a bigger say in the 275-member national assembly. In some places like Mosul the turnout was heavier than expected. But many of the voters came from outside, and identity checks on voters appeared lax. Others spoke of vote-buying bids. More than 30 Iraqis, a U.S. soldier, and at least 10 British troops died Sunday. Hundreds of Iraqis were also wounded in attacks across Baghdad, in Baquba 50km northeast of the capital as well as in the northern cities Mosul and Kirkuk."
    Perhaps the most glaring indication that this "election" did little to settle the bloody reality in Iraq came three days before the ballots were cast. In a letter to congress dated January 28, the neoconservative think-tank/power broker known as The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) essentially called for a draft without actually using the 'D' word.
    Project Censored, the organization that tracks important yet wildly under-reported stories, declared the existence, motivations and influence of PNAC to be the #1 censored media story for 2002-2003. Most t r u t h o u t readers are familiar with PNAC, but for those who missed this story, a quick refresher is required.
    The first vital fact about PNAC has to do with its membership roll call: Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States, former CEO of Halliburton; Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Elliot Abrams, National Security Council; John Bolton, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security; I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's top National Security assistant. This list goes on. These people didn't enjoy those fancy titles in 2000, when the PNAC manifesto 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' was first published. Before 2000, these men were just a bunch of power players who got shoved out of government in 1993. In the time that passed between Clinton and those hanging chads, these people got together in PNAC and laid out a blueprint. 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' was the ultimate result. 2000 became 2001, and the PNAC boys suddenly had the fancy titles and a chance to swing some weight.
    'Rebuilding America's Defenses' became the roadmap for foreign policy decisions made in the White House and the Pentagon; PNAC had the Vice President's office in one building, and the Defense Secretary's office in the other. Attacking Iraq was central to that roadmap from the beginning. When former Counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke accused the Bush administration of focusing on Iraq to the detriment of addressing legitimate threats, he was essentially denouncing them for using the attacks of September 11 as an excuse to execute the PNAC blueprint.
    The goals codified in 'Rebuilding America's Defenses,' the manifesto, can be boiled down to a few sentences: The invasion and occupation of Iraq, for reasons that had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. The building of several permanent military bases in Iraq, the purpose of which are to telegraph force throughout the region. The takeover by Western petroleum corporations of Iraq's nationalized oil industry. The ultimate destabilization and overthrow of a variety of regimes in the Middle East, friend and foe alike, by military or economic means, or both.
    "Indeed," it is written on page 14 of 'Rebuilding America's Defenses,' "the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
    In the last three years, PNAC has gotten every single thing it placed on its wish list back in 2000. This is why their letter to congress last week is so disturbing. The letter reads in part:
The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges. So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution places the power and the duty to raise and support the military forces of the United States in the hands of the Congress. That is why we, the undersigned, a bipartisan group with diverse policy views, have come together to call upon you to act. You will be serving your country well if you insist on providing the military manpower we need to meet America's obligations, and to help ensure success in carrying out our foreign policy objectives in a dangerous, but also hopeful, world."

    Brush aside the patriotic language, and you have the ideological architects of this disastrous Iraq invasion stating flatly that the American military is being bled dry, and that the ranks must be replenished before that military can be used to push into Iran, Syria and the other targeted nations. The 'D' word is not in this letter, but it screams out from between the lines. All the lip service paid to the Iraq elections by these people does not contrast well with their cry for more warm bodies to feed into the meat grinder.
    Lyndon Johnson was excited about voter turnout in Vietnam in September 1967. Eight years, three Presidents and millions of dead people later, that excitement proved to have been wretchedly illusory. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever, to believe that the Iraq election we witnessed this weekend will bring anything other than death and violence to the people of that nation and our soldiers who move among them. History repeats itself only when we are stupid enough to miss the lessons learned in past failures. The wheel is coming around again.
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Iraqing the Vote and the Media

From James Wolcott's blog:
Yesterday on one of the Fox financial shows, James Rogers was asked by host Neil Cavuto whether the elections in Iraq would be successful. Rogers said, "They'll be successful because the media will say they're successful," adding impishly, "Fox News probably already has the results."
Rogers was right. Barring catastrophic violence, the media was prepared to hail the elections as a triumphant day for democracy. Despite all the talk about the Liberal Media playing spoilsport and wanting the elections to fail, the coverage yesterday was resolutely upbeat and near-ecstatic today. Yesterday, CNN had cameras around the U.S. where Iraqi expats were voting...one correspondent mentioned that only 26,000 Iraqi exiles out of nearly a quarter million eligible to vote even bothered to register, a remark completely ignored by the glossy, Desperate Housewives-looking anchor, who chirped something about the "pride" beaming from every face. Dan Rather couldn't have sounded more positive about what was unfolding, talking about the blue ink on the thumbs of voters bearing the indelible sign of freedom, etc., not that such inspirational talk will do him a damn bit of good with his fanged detractors. Peter Jennings also highlighted the most positive developments taking place, with none of the raised eyebrows or sardonic undertones for which he's always accused. No, despite all the talk of the Liberal Media or the MSM sympathizing with the insurgents and rooting for disaster, the coverage was geared for good news.
Robert Fisk, in the Independent UK: "The media boys and girls will be expected to play along with this. 'Transition of power,' says the hourly logo on CNN's live coverage of the election, though the poll is for a parliament to write a constitution and the men who will form a majority within it will have no power. They have no control over their oil, no authority over the streets of Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, no workable army or loyal police force. Their power is that of the American military and its 150,000 soldiers whom we could see at the main Baghdad intersections yesterday. The big television networks have been given a list of five polling stations where they will be 'allowed' to film. Close inspection of the list shows that four of the five are in Shia Muslim areas, where the polling will probably be high, and one in an upmarket Sunni area where it will be moderate. Every working class Sunni polling station will be out of bounds to the press. I wonder if the television lads will tell us that today when they show voters 'flocking' to the polls."
They did just that.
Which is not to take away from the bravery of the Iraqi people who did make it to the polls, particularly in the most dangerous cities. As Chris Albritton concludes in Back to Iraq, today was a symbolic victory for the Iraqi people over the bombers and beheaders. Indeed, their example should shame Americans, who have curled up into a fetal position with cowardice since 9/11, wanting to the state to make them feel "safe" no matter what the cost to civil liberties and personal freedom here and abroad.
What I dread is how this day will be used by the new centurions. The Iranian blogger Hoder observes today, "On the one hand I'm really excited that Iraqi people have been able to start the path to a potentially democratic political system, on the other hand I'm really upset that this will embolden neoconservatives and will be seen as a confirmation of their dangerous plans for the world."
The Iraqization of Iraq, the democratization of Iran--it's all part of the same endless, widening bombing run.
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