Important Changes To Your Citizenship Agreement

From Slate Magazine:
We would like to explain certain changes in the terms of the Citizenship Agreement for your U.S. citizenship ("Agreement"). Some of the terms in this notice may already be in effect on your account and will not change. Any terms on your account not changed here remain in effect until such time as we ("We") decide they do not.
To help you understand the changes in the terms of your Agreement, We explain the most important changes in the Summary of New Terms below. The changes described will take effect for citizenship cycles beginning Jan. 20, 2005, and will apply to all existing and future balances on your account.
The Freedom of Speech section of the Agreement is amended to distinguish between Regular Preferred Speech and Non-Preferred Speech. The Non-Preferred Speech rate applies to all speech which is not in good standing as defined under the "Preferred Citizen Rate Eligibility" section of your Agreement. Both the rate and your freedom of speech may vary based on changes in the National Terror Alert Level.
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The Rule of Law section of the Agreement remains in effect, except that it no longer applies to Us. It may also, from time to time, cease to apply to Contributors above a certain level (see Schedule G, attached).
The Cruel and Unusual Punishment section of the Agreement is unchanged, except that "unusual" is amended to read "unusual in Texas."
This amendment affects the Right to Privacy section of your agreement. Under the new terms, the Right to Privacy must be applied for on an individual basis. To apply for your Right to Privacy, you must send your full credit history, a copy of your party registration and church membership, a complete set of fingerprints, a DNA sample, and two (2) passport-size photographs of your bedroom to: National Privacy Registry, Washington, DC, 20012-3006, att: Doris.
This amendment affects the Unreasonable Search and Seizure section of the Agreement. Under the new terms of this section, the right to unreasonable search and seizure shall not be abridged.
In the section on Transaction Fees, the sentence "All drafts, including convenience checks, cash advances, and balance transfers, on citizenship accounts with a balance of less than $50,000 shall be subject to a transaction fee of $50 or 3%, whichever is greater" is amended to read "All citizens with an income of less than $50,000 shall be subject to a draft."
The Social Security section of the Agreement is unchanged, except that the program described will no longer be (a) social or (b) secure.
The Right to Vote section of the Agreement is unchanged, since it works perfectly fine as is.
On second thought, the Right to Vote section of the Agreement is amended as follows: The voting cycle begins on Dec. 1 of the previous year and continues through the last Wednesday in November of the current year. Each vote cast will accrue finance charges beginning on the date cast and compounded daily. Finance charges will equal the highest Prime Rate published in the "Money Rates" table of the Wall Street Journal on the last business day of each calendar month, plus 15.99%.
The changes described above in this Notice that you can choose not to accept will not become effective if you send Us a written letter stating that you choose not to accept them, in which case your Citizenship Agreement will be terminated and your Account will be closed (if it is not already closed). Your letter must be received by June 1, 2005, at the following address: Customer Service Center, J. Edgar Hoover Building, 935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington DC 25035-0001. You will be required to pay your debt to society under the previous terms of your Agreement.


Blood sport

From Hunter at Daily Kos:
We have been used to the downward spiral of cable news networks for some time, now. As recently as two weeks ago, I posted an abridged transcript of Wolf Blitzer covering Martha Stewart's release that was so utterly, spectacularly bad that some posters were convinced it was satire. Over the last three days or so, however, the coverage on the Little Three news networks -- Fox, CNN, MSNBC -- has ceased to be humorous. There is a difference between bad coverage and willfully irresponsible coverage, and another line between willfully irresponsible coverage and dangerously irresponsible coverage. In the last three days, those lines have been crossed. Repeatedly. And it has been absolutely, definitively intentional. If you have been paying attention to cable coverage of the Schiavo case, you will see two major themes repeated over and over. First, the repeated bookings of and citings of "witnesses" and "experts" that have previously been debunked, claiming that among other things Ms. Schiavo is "alert and oriented". A neurologist who touts himself as a nominee for "The Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine", an utterly false claim regarding an award that does not exist, has been given apparent run of the airwaves in order to repeatedly assert that Ms. Schiavo is "not that bad", and would be able to "communicate verbally" and "use her arms and legs" under his treatment plan -- a miraculous treatment plan for which, according to Judge Greer, he has been able to offer "no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results". We have even, as many have pointed out, been treated to "psychic" John Edward asserting he was in contact with Terri Schiavo. Against this background of exploitation and misinformation, the usual bevy of archconservative media pundits has in the last several days begun to increasingly endorse a premise that is, to any rational mind, remarkable: the notion that because the courts have ruled in this particular fashion, it is now time for individuals and government figures to disregard the courts, and take matters into their own hands. We now have a situation in which two dangerous elements are coming together in a manner that is ratings gold for exploitative "news" outlets. Yellow journalism, finally returned in all glory.
1. Excite and incite viewers with tales that Ms. Schiavo, awake and alert, is being "murdered" within the walls of her hospice by a conspiracy between an abusive husband, bloodthirsty "expert" doctors, and every single state and federal judge to hear the evidence in the case.
2. Endorse the notion that it may now be time to take Ms. Schiavo by force.
Unless you are deeply stupid, you can see where this is leading. There have now been about a dozen individuals arrested for trying to enter the clinic to give Terri food or water, an action that (because she cannot swallow) in and of itself stands an excellent chance of killing her. Both Judge Greer and Michael Schiavo are under police protection; Florida lawmakers are finding their pictures on "Wanted" posters; home addresses of Greer and other judges are being distributed. Now we have this report:
SEMINOLE, Fla. -- A man was arrested after trying to steal a weapon from a gun shop so he could "take some action and rescue Terri Schiavo," authorities said. Michael W. Mitchell, of Rockford, Ill., entered Randall's Firearms Inc. in Seminole just before 6 p.m. Thursday with a box cutter and tried to steal a gun, said Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Mitchell, 50, told deputies he wanted to "take some action and rescue Terri Schiavo" after he visited the Pinellas Park hospice where she lives, Pasha said. [...] Randy McKenzie, the owner of Randall's Firearms, said Mitchell pulled out the box cutter and broke the glass on a couple of display cases. "He told me if I wasn't on Terri's side then I wasn't on God's side, either," McKenzie told The Associated Press.

Now, there are times when the news media is simply sloppy; there are times when journalists simply get stories wrong, and there are times when, as in the trials of Michael Jackson, Kobe, O.J., Martha Stewart, etc., the news channels are simply swept away by their natural tendency towards low-cost voyeurism. But this isn't one of those times. This isn't petty irresponsibility or sloppiness, to be chalked up to the dwindling resources of corporate newsrooms. This is a decision on the part of producers to willfully bend the lines in a manner that promotes sensationalism and potential violence, by intentionally tossing known-false information into a wire-taut public conflict to enhance the "ratings value". This is a bit beyond the point where mere boycotts are appropriate. We may be looking at a situation, in the very near term, in which a man like Michael W. Mitchell is being questioned at length into his motives for a politically motivated killing. If I were Sean Hannity, Martha MacCallum, Pat Buchanan, John Gibson, Bill O'Reilly, or another fixture of the screaming tabloid shows, I might be a bit concerned whether my name came up.

P.S. CNN is reporting that the FBI has arrested a North Carolina man for offering, via the internet, a reward of $200,000 for the murder of Michael Schiavo, and an additional $50,000 for the murder of Judge Greer.

"DeLay shouldn't hide behind God"

Brutal editorial by the Salt Lake Tribune:
Tom DeLay says he wants Terri Schiavo to live. And there is no reason to doubt that. But it is clear that the House majority leader is not above using the suffering of a woman he has never met to promote his own, increasingly shaky, political career. The Texas Republican has gone so far as to suggest that Schiavo's situation is a gift from God that he can use to defend himself against charges brought by his political enemies - enemies whom he all but calls, in an echo of a defensive Hillary Clinton some years ago, a vast left-wing conspiracy. In remarks to a Washington meeting of the conservative Family Research Council last week, DeLay made it clear that his cause is God's cause, and that those who oppose him oppose God. Despite the fact that he was able to steamroller through Congress a particularly ill-advised piece of legislation that subverted federalism, the separation of powers and the privacy of medical decision-making, in order to make political hay out of the Schiavo case, DeLay wants the world to see him, too, as a victim. Until very recently, though, it would be hard to believably cast DeLay as anyone's victim. Not only is he the undisputed leader, fund-raiser and enforcer among House Republicans, he was able to get the chairman of the House Ethics Committee fired in retaliation for that panel admonishing DeLay for his strong-arm political tactics. But the ethical smell around DeLay continues to get worse. The newest scandal is that he accepted expensive trips to England and South Korea paid for, in violation of House rules, by lobbyists. Those picking up the tab included registered foreign agents and domestic groups seeking to influence federal Indian gambling legislation. Meanwhile, back in Texas, prosecutors have indicted three of DeLay's associates on multiple charges of money laundering and taking illegal corporate contributions. If DeLay himself is indicted, he would automatically lose his leadership post. DeLay, all the while, insists that he has done nothing wrong and that those who accuse him of ethical shortcomings are simply using personal attacks on him as a weapon to undermine the conservative causes he supports. The Hammer, as he is known, makes a good point about the Democrats not having a coherent agenda of their own, so they talk about him. But he gives them a lot to talk about. If conservative Republicans really want to talk about important issues, and not about Tom DeLay, they might start looking for a different leader.

Good news for your weekend

From Reuters:
Former President Jimmy Carter will lead a bipartisan commission to examine problems with the U.S. election system, American University's Center for Democracy and Election Management said on Thursday. Carter, a Democrat whose Carter Center has monitored more than 50 elections around the world, will co-chair the private commission with Republican James Baker, who served as Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush. Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat who lost his seat in the 2004 election, will also participate. "I am concerned about the state of our electoral system and believe we need to improve it," Carter said in a statement. He said the group will assess "issues of inclusion" in federal voting and propose recommendations to improve the process. "We will try to define an electoral system for the 21st century that will make Americans proud again," he said...The Center for Democracy and Election Management, which will organize the work of Carter's commission, said the group would hold two public hearings - the first on April 18 at American University in Washington and the second at Houston's Rice University in June. The Commission on Federal Election Reform aims to produce a report to Congress on its findings by September.

Living will, anyone?

Check out the link to see a sample of a Living Will that reflects these bizarre times we're living in.

Mystery quote of the day

Question: Who said this yesterday?

"Across America there are thousands of families who have faced similar situations and made their difficult decisions without political interference. There are tens of millions more who have expressed their wishes, both in writing and in words, that they never be kept alive in this manner. Now these people are watching this hideous spectacle of politicians plotting the literal kidnapping of Terri Schiavo ... to please a powerful political constituency, the antiabortion lobby. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that there are many people out there who, when faced with medical disaster, want to be turned over to politicians to be used as political pawns. I'm wondering if these people will be anxious to keep Republicans in power."

Click on the link for the answer.

Native Americans criticize Bush silence on murders

From the WaPo (thanks to a reader for sending me this link):
Native Americans across the country -- including tribal leaders, academics and rank-and-file tribe members -- voiced anger and frustration Thursday that President Bush has responded to the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history with silence. Three days after 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed nine members of his Red Lake tribe before taking his own life, grief-stricken American Indians complained that the White House has offered little in the way of sympathy for the tribe situated in the uppermost region of Minnesota. "From all over the world we are getting letters of condolence, the Red Cross has come, but the so-called Great White Father in Washington hasn't said or done a thing," said Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement here. "When people's children are murdered and others are in the hospital hanging on to life, he should be the first one to offer his condolences. . .If this was a white community, I don't think he'd have any problem doing that."...The reaction to Bush's silence was particularly bitter given his high-profile, late-night intervention on behalf of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman caught in a legal battle over whether her feeding tube should be reinserted."The fact that Bush preempted his vacation to say something about Ms. Schiavo and here you have 10 native people gunned down and he can't take time to speak is very telling," said David Wilkins, interim chairman of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota and a member of the North Carolina-based Lumbee tribe...Even more alarming than Bush's silence, he said, is the president's proposal to cut $100 million from several Indian programs next year...In the hours after the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, President Bill Clinton publicly expressed his condolences and followed up a few days later with a radio address in which he proposed new gun control measures and school safety projects.

One-way planet

Another great one by Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com:
...We're on a one-way planet when it comes to (so many) matters...for instance, Bush administration nuclear policy vis-à-vis any country we dislike (we build ‘em, you don't); occupation policy vis-à-vis Syria and Iraq (we occupy, you can't), and so many other subjects that most of you can probably fill in better than I can. In this way, we find ourselves living in a "category of one" world with an exaggerated version of a mentality that would have been familiar to most great imperial powers. (Until recently, however, even great imperial powers -- with the possible exceptions of Rome, Han China, and perhaps Spain at their heights -- would have found it hard to think of themselves as being in a category of one, given the competition.) The Bush administration embodies, with pride, a sense of what once would have been called imperial impunity; and, when it comes to most of the crucial issues having to do with our "mission" in the world, whatever the criticism in the mainstream, the mission itself and most of our ways of pursuing it now remain remarkably sacrosanct and off limits. There are few doubts about our right to put those CAVs in space, or send out that new generation of Predators to assassinate whomever, and so on. But to really grasp why this is so, I suspect you have to throw in, as a kicker, a deep-seated American sense of national "exceptionalism," a sense of American goodness that can't be matched elsewhere on the planet. This is something most of us grew up with, that lies deep in our nation's history, in that sense of being in a New World, and well rid of an evil European old world. Though this is a deeply honorable (if also in many ways deeply flawed) strain of American thinking -- it's where much of the idea of American "promise" comes from -- it is also a state of mind that the Bush administration has played upon with consummate skill. The combination of imperial impunity and national goodness of a kind not possessed by other lands has, in fact, proved something of a lethal cocktail. It lifts us into a "category of one" mentality in a way that seems to explain why we can possess weaponry and do things that, in others, would horrify us, and it absolves us of thinking about how others might look on us and our acts in the world.

"Big Darkness Come Soon"

Hunter S. Thompson said shortly before his death:
"It is genuinely incredible. The U.S. Treasury is empty, we are losing that stupid, fraudulent chickencrap War in Iraq, and every country in the world except a handful of Corrupt Brits despises us. We are losers, and that is the one unforgivable sin in America...Beyond that, we have lost the respect of the world and lost two disastrous wars in three years. Afghanistan is lost, Iraq is a permanent war Zone, our national Economy is crashing all around us, the Pentagon's "war strategy" has failed miserably, nobody has any money to spend, and our once-mighty U.S. America is paralyzed by Mutinies in Iraq and even Fort Bragg...The American nation is in the worst condition I can remember in my lifetime, and our prospects for the immediate future are even worse. I am surprised and embarrassed to be a part of the first American generation to leave the country in far worse shape than it was when we first came into it. Our highway system is crumbling, our police are dishonest, our children are poor, our vaunted Social Security, once the envy of the world, has been looted and neglected and destroyed by the same gang of ignorant greed-crazed bastards who brought us Vietnam, Afghanistan, the disastrous Gaza Strip and ignominious defeat all over the world. The Stock Market will never come back, our Armies will never again be No. 1, and our children will drink filthy water for the rest of our lives...Big Darkness Come Soon."


Religious zealots and working the refs

Digby again:
As James Wolcott points out, we aren't seeing any reporting being done on these (Schiavo) fruitcakes because reporters believe that they have to be reverent toward all religious fanatics no matter what planet they are from. Walcott writes:
Today I happened to hear Bob Franken "reporting" on the scene of the solemn procession in front of the hospice where demonstrators were attempting to bring Schiavo a cup of water, intending to be arrested. Franken, as hush-voiced as a golf commentator on the 18th hole awaiting a crucial putt, described one of the scenes of demonstrators stepping forward and being led away by sun-glassed police as "poignant." The scene? A father being arrested with three of his children. Another child, age three, was spared, left to the custody of her mother. The father and three children--all three under the age of sixteen--were gently handcuffed and taken away in squad cars. There was nothing "poignant" about this moment of togetherness. It was idiotic and irresponsible. If Dad wants to get arrested and spend the night behind bars with Otis the Town Drunk, fine, but don't drag the kids into it, particularly children that young. Let them stay home with gran'ma as Dad and Mom enjoy a second honeymoon in handcuffs. Franken's sentimentalizing of this pious photo-op is more proof that the so-called MSM is so cautious about being respectful of religion that it refuses to recognize the raw face of fanaticism even when it's filling the camera lens. Practically nothing is said about the backgrounds of the nutjob organizers of these sickly pseudo-events, leaving the impression that is simply People of Conscience converging on Florida to bear witness and catch some rays.

Working those refs really gets the job done. If they can put enough heat on the judiciary they'll own this country.

Dems, common sense, and winning

Great post on Digby's blog:
...It is also a problem that Democrats can't seem to step forward and take the mantle of straight talking common sense on issues like these. We are intimidated on these social issues because we are buying into the frame the right wants us to use --- "the Bible" and "life." I think our frame for these social issues should be "the constitution" and "freedom." And from that we defend the judiciary on the basis of the separation of powers (checks and balances)and we defend people's right to live their lives freely on the basis of the Bill of Rights. Frank Luntz wants to use the symbolism of the constitution for his side and I think we are nuts to let him do it. They treat the constitution like toilet paper and plenty of people will see that if we just point it out to them, particularly if we repeatedly invoke the constitution as the means of protecting their right to live as they choose without interference from busy bodies. While the Democrats may still be scarred by its alleged association with 60's libertinism, as Noam Scheiber writes here, the Republicans are revealing themselves to be contemporary radicals who are far more threatening...People may be willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt on national security, about which they acknowledge that the experts in the government know more than they do. But on issues like social security and medical care they are many degrees more confident in their own experience and many degrees more skeptical of the government's motives. During the Clinton scandals, for instance, the Democrats came very close to taking back the congress in 1998 when the GOP went too far with their intrusion into his sex life. The public rejected the sanctimonious moralizing of the Republicans. Middle aged men having extra marital affairs is not shocking, nor is it something that most people believe is a public matter. Similarly, most people see this public spectacle of the Schiavo case for the political stunt that it is. The problem is that Democrats failed last time to stake out for themselves the common sense argument with which people already agree and run on it. It's a terrible mistake because this is the very basis of the culture war. These people want to dictate how you live your private life. They want to tell you who you can marry, how to raise your kids, what religion to practice (and you must practice it) and what "values" you must hold. And they want to use the strong arm of the government to do it. Sure, there are problems in our society. Yes we are living in a fast paced society in which it is difficult to raise children and the world is changing so quickly that it's hard to keep your balance sometimes. But most Americans don't wish for others to make decisions for them about how to live their day to day lives, regardless of the challenges. It's just not the American character. That is not to say that we have no concept of the common good. Americans once came to a consensus that the government was the most democratic means of helping people to mitigate the pitfalls of capitalism and ensuring all of its citizens a fair shake. But we have never seen it as a means to legislate what people do behind closed doors or when making the most personal life decisions about their marriages, families or their own bodies. We believe that the government is far too clumsy a mechanism for such delicate matters. The individual reigns supreme over himself. All we ask is citizens pitch in for the national defense, the running of the government, social services to help the weakest among us and insure themselves against the risks they must take in a dynamic capitalistic system. It's just this simple: The Republican party wants to tell you how to live your personal life while they systematically remove all government cooperation in ameliorating the risks this fast paced world creates. The Democrats want the government to leave you to make your own personal decisions while having it help you mitigate the social and economic risk our fast paced world creates. It is a stark choice. There is no reason we cannot begin to make the affirmative case for ourselves on this basis. I don't know who it will be, but I think that the Democrats will win when they find a candidate who can speak in common sense terms to the American people about who we are and who they are. I think people are nervous about these guys but they don't know if we are any better. They are yearning for some clarity. If we provide it, they will come.

Looks like Kerry was right

A commander for Osama bin Laden during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union who helped the al-Qaida leader escape American forces at Tora Bora is being held by U.S. authorities, a government document says. The document represents the first definitive statement from the Pentagon that bin Laden, the mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was at Tora Bora and evaded his pursuers. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney asserted during the presidential election that commanders did not know whether bin Laden was at Tora Bora when U.S. and allied Afghan forces attacked there in December 2001. They dismissed assertions by Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, that the military had missed a chance to capture or kill bin Laden while al-Qaida made a last stand in the mountainous area along the Pakistan border. The document, provided to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information request, says the detainee held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora.” While not identified by name or nationality, he is described as being “associated with” al-Qaida and having called for a holy war against the United States.

Maureen Dowd column

From the NY Times:
Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy. Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government, and are the Democrats so emasculated about not having any power, that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church? The more dogma-driven activists, self-perpetuating pols and ratings-crazed broadcast media prattle about "faith," the less we honor the credo that a person's relationship with God should remain a private matter. As the Bush White House desperately maneuvers in Iraq to prevent the new government from being run according to the dictates of religious fundamentalists, it desperately maneuvers here to pander to religious fundamentalists who want to dictate how the government should be run.

She also makes an excellent observation about Jeb(!) and Frist, who seem to be in a pissing contest to score points with the religious right for the 2008 presidential race.

Under the radar: Death penalty for IV drug users

From Salon:
Sexual behavior is one of the most difficult human behaviors to alter, and the tragedy of the ongoing global HIV pandemic reflects the enormous complexity of that effort. But one cause of HIV transmission is far easier to remedy than unprotected sex: intravenous drug use with contaminated needles. Unfortunately, the United States is now trying to block the most effective method for fighting needle-transmitted AIDS -- distributing clean needles to addicts -- by pressuring the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to suppress data showing the success of needle-exchange programs and by considering an international "gag" rule on AIDS groups that work with needle users and receive American funding.

Will the Schiavo case hurt Repubs?

Oh, PLEASE let the answer be yes...
From Tim Grieve of Salon:
While Tom DeLay, Jeb Bush and other Republicans continue to pull every government lever at their disposal to keep Terri Schiavo alive, other members of their party are beginning to complain that the religious right's hijacking of the GOP has finally gone too far. "This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy," Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, one of five Republicans to vote against the Schiavo legislation, tells the New York Times. "My party is demonstrating that they are for states' rights unless they don't like what states are doing. This couldn't be a more classic case of a state responsibility." The debate over congressional intervention in the Schiavo case has underscored a larger philosophical divide in the Republican Party -- the one that separates traditional, small-government Republicans from their more socially conservative counterparts. That chasm isn't new -- it has been on display in the fight over gay marriage, for example -- but it's growing deeper by the minute. While Tom DeLay believes that the Schiavo issue will be some form of salvation for the religious right -- as if it needs saving -- Shays warns that congressional overreaching in the case could have consequences. With the public broadly opposed to congressional intervention in the case, Shays tells the Times that he's worried that the episode may scare voters away from the Republican Party. "There are going to be repercussions from this vote," Shays says. "There are a number of people who feel that the government is getting involved in their personal lives in a way that scares them."

Criticism of Dems on the Schiavo situation

Richard Cohen of the WaPo has criticized the Dems in Congress for having no spine or principles with regard to the Schiavo legislation. I've seen some of this in the blogosphere too.
I just don't agree with the "spineless Dems" attack this time. I think it was a smart political move to sit back and just let the Republicans hang themselves. The polls have been overwhelmingly against what the Repubs did. Yes, maybe a lot of Dems did go along, but what would it have accomplished if they had balked? They didn't have the votes and they surely must have known how the courts would rule, so all they had to do was ride it out, let the Repubs catch all the shit, and then escape having this pinned on them in the midterm elections. And obviously, given half the chance, the Repubs would have howled and blamed the Dems for murdering this poor woman.
I guess now they can blame activist judges instead.

Common ground in the abortion debate?

Action alert from TomPaine:
As the right and the left seek common ground on the abortion issue, there is one area that is a perfect place to start—pregnancy prevention. A basic way to make abortion rare is to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is sponsoring a bill called the Prevention First Act, which would ensure that women have access to birth control pills and emergency contraceptives, and would increase federal funding for family planning. What Reid needs now is a co-sponsor for the legislation and support from both sides of the aisle. Join NARAL Pro-Choice America and urge your senators to support the Prevention First Act by clicking on the link above.

Keep your eye on the next DeLay/GOP scandal...

From RawStory.com:
As attention grows on campaign fundraising and the relationship between top Republicans and a lobbyist under multiple federal investigations, the Republican National Congressional Committee has erased all online records of fundraising events for the last three years, RAW STORY has learned. Previously, the website listed all NRCC fundraisers dating from late 2002 to the present. Now only an error message appears, though several months are available in cache files (which can be viewed on the RawStory website). The scrubbing appears to have occurred shortly after RAW STORY placed now-Sen. Vitter (R-LA) at a $1000-a-plate fundraiser hosted by the fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff during the same time Vitter was meeting with Abramoff’s staff to arrange a provision favorable to the lobbyist’s tribal client. The last cache files date to Mar. 12, four days before RAW STORY revealed the event. Also in attendance at the dinner was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-TX) deputy Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who had signed a letter with DeLay encouraging the Interior Department to rule favorably to Abramoff earlier that summer. In the following days, the Capitol Hill daily Roll Call and Louisiana newspapers reported on the fundraiser. DeLay–and other leading Republicans in Congress–have come under scrutiny for their dealings with Abramoff. DeLay took an expensive junket to London paid for by Abramoff’s clients and has consistently favored the lobbyist’s agenda. Focus has also turned to Abramoff’s pricey Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant, Signatures, where he regularly entertained politicians and billed his tribal clients for hundreds of thousands of dollars in meals, according to the Washington Post. If the cached files on NRCC fundraisers are any example, Signatures was a popular hotspot for Republican congressional fundraisers. In just those three cached months in 2004, ten events were held at Signatures–five in May, three in October and two in May. Abramoff’s tribal client gave tens of millions of dollars to Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, former press secretary to Rep. DeLay, to quash a rival tribe’s bid to set up a casino outside their historic tribal lands. Abramoff was a prolific fundraiser for the Republican Party, gave generously to DeLay and his deputies in Congress, and was a Pioneer for the Bush reelection campaign.

The latest misleading info on Social Security

From the Center for American Progress:
The trustees report on the financial state of Social Security was released yesterday but you don't need to read it to understand the most important part of the ongoing debate: President Bush's privatization plan makes Social Security's financial problems worse. And despite what you may have read in your local newspaper this morning, Social Security is not going broke in 2041. Rather, according to the most recent Social Security trustees report, the program will be able to pay full benefits to all beneficiaries until that date without any reforms. (Five years ago, the trustees predicted that the program would be able to pay out full benefits until 2037, so – despite the scare tactic by those eager to privatize the program – its financial condition has actually been improving.) Keep in mind the following: There are five trustees, three from the Bush administration and two who are independent. The two independent trustees – Republican Thomas R. Saving and Democrat John L. Palmer – weren't invited to the press conference announcing the release of the new report. Apparently, they weren't on message. Saving and Palmer noted that, over their five year tenure, the finances of Social Security have improved. According to Saving and Palmer, the more pressing issue is how to affordably meet our obligation to provide health care to the poor and the elderly in the coming decades. American Progress released its plan to do so yesterday, in the context of a fully-financed universal health care plan. President Bush has no plan...Also, the Bush administration is ignoring the five-year trend and focusing on the fact that the predicted exhaustion date for the trust fund is one year earlier (2041) than last year (2042). Treasury Secretary John Snow said, "the report underscores the fact that the longer we wait, the more difficult the problem becomes." There is a big problem with that argument. President Bush is traveling around the country telling people the Social Security trust fund doesn't exist. For example, on Monday Bush said, "some of you may think there's what they call a Social Security trust.... But that's not how it works ... what's left is an empty IOU." Snow's rhetoric, while irresponsibly inflammatory, reveals that what Bush is saying isn't true. If the trust fund was a fantasy, a change in its exhaustion date would have no impact on the program. The fact is, the Social Security trust fund is real – backed by the full faith and credit of the United States – and will help ensure the program can pay full benefits for decades.

Watching America

From Will Pitt of TruthOut
It is safe to say that America's view of itself, as formulated by the mainstream news media, is mypoic to say the least. The major corporations that own such entitities as CNN (AOL/TimeWarner) and NBC (General Electric) don't have much use for the journalism and opinions being produced around the world. A new website has been created to try and cut through the information wall that has been erected between this country and the rest of the planet. The site is called WatchingAmerica.com, and describes its mission as follows:
WatchingAmerica reflects global opinion about the United States, helping Americans and non-Americans alike understand what the world thinks of current issues that involve the U.S. This is done by providing news and views about the United States published in other countries. It is not our purpose to find favorable or unfavorable news and commentary, but to reflect as accurately as possible how others perceive the richest and most powerful country in the world. WatchingAmerica makes available in English articles written about the U.S. by foreigners, often for foreign audiences, and often in other languages. Since WatchingAmerica offers its own translations, regular users of our site will be able to enjoy articles that are not available in English anywhere else. We are a unique window into world opinion. In addition, by integrating the latest translation technology into the site, visitors are able to surf all of the content of foreign-language news outlets at the push of a button - in English.

Till death - or Tom DeLay - do us part

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate is one of the best political writers around these days. Here's her latest on the Schiavo case:

Of all the ironies at the heart of the Terri Schiavo case—alleged federalists who scoff at federalism; the fact that Schiavo, who's in a persistent vegetative state, has lived off the winnings in the same kind of medical malpractice suit that Republicans in Congress seek to limit—the most astonishing is this: Congressional Republicans who have staked their careers and the last election on the "sanctity of marriage" have turned this case into a mockery of that very institution. With respect to my critics in the Fray and my colleague Mickey Kaus, this just isn't a case about federal civil rights. This isn't about the federal Voting Rights Act or about Brown v. Board. At least it wasn't until Congress attempted, at the 11th hour, to turn it into one. There was and is one principal issue to be decided in this case and that is, what would Terri Schiavo have wanted for herself had she foreseen an irreversible 15-year vegetative condition in her future? Courts have been deciding these issues for decades now, and they have done so by triangulating back not from the federal Constitution but from the implicit respect we have always had for the compact between people who marry. The reasons given by the Rick Santorums of the world for limiting marriage to men and women always stress that marriage is different, sacred, special. And that's true; it's unlike any other bond under the law. Most states agree, which is why in these invariably awful substituted-judgment cases, courts generally defer to the spouse—who is presumed to best know what the incapacitated patient would have wanted. The best evidence of a patient's desires in a right-to-die case is an express statement of the patient's wishes—a living will. There is none in Schiavo's case. The next best is the substituted judgment of a spouse—which has been proffered in the Schiavo case and accepted, over and over, by numerous courts. With each successive legal step away from the patient herself—to a guardian ad litem who never knew her, to a judge who never knew her, to an appeals court, then another court, and then to hundreds of members of Congress who know less about her than they do about grazing policy—any understanding about what Schiavo would have wanted becomes less and less possible. This is not a matter of national policy, and the legislation passed on Monday doesn't even attempt to craft new federal right-to-die policies. This case is about a reluctant state court making its best effort to unearth an individual's most private wishes and using the intimate relationship with her spouse in order to do so. Yet Schiavo's family—the Schindlers—her governor, and Congress have totally disregarded these presumptions about the sanctity of marriage. To them, the marriage is immaterial. Why? Because they don't like her husband? Because they don't like that he has a girlfriend? Or because they don't like the decision he made? "I don't know what transpired between Terri and her husband. All I know is Terri is alive. ... Unless she has specifically written instructions in her hand, with her signature, I don't care what her husband says," snarled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay the other day. Can this be true? In DeLay's worldview, is my grocery list more binding than promises made to and by my husband about our deepest wishes? Can Bill Frist and Tom DeLay and George W. Bush really be attempting to shred up the very institution they most want to protect? The federal constitutional claims in this case are so very thin precisely because there is no vast body of federal constitutional law in this area. Schiavo's family's new claims—about her religious freedoms and alleged due process violations traced right back to the state court—and their negligible likelihood of success are the very reason the federal courts refused to reinsert her feeding tube. Without any strong federal constitutional claims on which to rest, the Schindlers come back to the same old argument they have been making for years: They should have guardianship over Terri instead of Michael. But the law disagrees. The law says that when one marries one takes on a whole host of legal rights and duties that trump your parents' wishes. Marriage is a sacred and intimate promise. And the very people who keep preaching about the sanctity of marriage when defending it from gay gatecrashers used to believe this more than anyone. There is just no evidence that Michael Schiavo is an unfit guardian. Sure, it would make for a better Harlequin Romance if he'd spent decades pining alone at his wife's bedside; if he hadn't found himself a girlfriend and some kids. But he and Terri were—and still are—married, and the law has always treated that bond as sacred: serious, inviolate, till-death-do-us-part serious, until the parties themselves decide otherwise. Tom DeLay may not care what Terri Schiavo's husband says. But I'd bet Terri Schiavo would have.

Iraq war: The British smoking gun?

From the Independent (UK):
Documentary evidence has emerged showing that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, changed his mind about the legality of the Iraq war just before the conflict began. The damning revelation is contained in the resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a legal adviser at the Foreign Office, in which she said the war would be a "crime of aggression". She quit the day after Lord Goldsmith's ruling was made public, three days before the war began in March 2003. The critical paragraph of her letter, published yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act, was blanked out by the Government on the grounds that it was in the public interest to protect the privacy of the advice given by the Attorney General. But last night the contents of the paragraph were leaked, and Tony Blair was facing fresh allegations of a cover-up. There has long been speculation that Lord Goldsmith was leant on to switch his view, and to sanction the war - and confirmation of that would be devastating for the Prime Minister. The Wilmhurst letter stops short of explaining what caused Lord Goldsmith to change his mind. The revelations come two weeks after it emerged that there had never been a detailed dossier from the Attorney General setting out the case for military action before troops were committed, and that Britain went to war on the basis of nine paragraphs on a single sheet of A4 paper.

It sounds like Blair is in deep shit. But isn't it amazing that the British are even having a conversation about legalities? That seems to be unheard of in this country.

Red Alert: Florida Bill Aims to Control "Leftist" Profs

From the Florida Independent Alligator:
Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out "leftist totalitarianism" by "dictator professors" in the classrooms of Florida's universities. The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, passed 8-to-2 despite strenuous objections from the only two Democrats on the committee. The bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the full House. While promoting the bill Tuesday, Baxley said a university education should be more than "one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom," as part of "a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views." The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative "serious academic theories" that may disagree with their personal views. According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities. Students who believe their professor is singling them out for "public ridicule" - for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class - would also be given the right to sue. "Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't like it, there's the door,'" Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue. Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, warned of lawsuits from students enrolled in Holocaust history courses who believe the Holocaust never happened. Similar suits could be filed by students who don't believe astronauts landed on the moon, who believe teaching birth control is a sin or even by Shands medical students who refuse to perform blood transfusions and believe prayer is the only way to heal the body, Gelber added. "This is a horrible step," he said. "Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in courtrooms. Professors might have to pay court costs - even if they win - from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation." The staff analysis also warned the bill may shift responsibility for determining whether a student's freedom has been infringed from the faculty to the courts. But Baxley brushed off Gelber's concerns. "Freedom is a dangerous thing, and you might be exposed to things you don't want to hear," he said. "Being a businessman, I found out you can be sued for anything. Besides, if students are being persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, I think they should be given standing to sue." During the committee hearing, Baxley cast opposition to his bill as "leftists" struggling against "mainstream society." "The critics ridicule me for daring to stand up for students and faculty," he said, adding that he was called a McCarthyist. Baxley later said he had a list of students who were discriminated against by professors, but refused to reveal names because he felt they would be persecuted. Rep. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, argued universities and the state Board of Governors already have policies in place to protect academic freedom. Moreover, a state law outlining how professors are supposed to teach would encroach on the board's authority to manage state schools. "The big hand of state government is going into the universities telling them how to teach," she said. "This bill is the antithesis of academic freedom." But Baxley compared the state's universities to children, saying the legislature should not give them money without providing "guidance" to their behavior. "Professors are accountable for what they say or do," he said. "They're accountable to the rest of us in society ... All of a sudden the faculty think they can do what they want and shut us out. Why is it so unheard of to say the professor shouldn't be a dictator and control that room as their totalitarian niche?" In an interview before the meeting, Baxley said "arrogant, elitist academics are swarming" to oppose the bill, and media reports misrepresented his intentions. "I expect to be out there on my own pretty far," he said. "I don't expect to be part of a team."

This state needs help, folks.

Schiavo and the Shameless

From Joe Conason in the NY Observer:
...George W. Bush rose from his bed the other night to sign the bill that provides a special privilege of federal legal appeal solely to Ms. Schiavo's parents. For dramatic effect, he had rushed back to the capital from Texas. Perhaps he didn't want to sign that awful legislation in his home state, thus recalling another law he signed as Governor in 1999. That Texas statute permits hospitals to withdraw critical care in certain cases, despite the most vehement objections of family members. It established a bureaucratic process that can doom such patients even if, unlike Ms. Schiavo, they are fully capable of speech, thought and feeling. And under that statute, Ms. Schiavo's husband Michael would have been designated as her "surrogate." With her doctors concurring, Mr. Schiavo would have been able to discontinue her life support - without enduring federal interference. When Mr. Bush signed that earlier bill, he was trying to save money for the Texas Hospitals Association, of course. Although he claims to honor a "culture of life" and would spare nothing in defense of innocent humanity, the harsher truth is that keeping people alive when their brains and organs can no longer function is extremely expensive. Presented with an easily exploited symbol like Ms. Schiavo, the President and his Congressional allies will pretend that money is no object. Yet they are hardly inclined to spend whatever might be needed to preserve every single human life for as long as possible. Instead, the Republicans consistently prefer to relieve the suffering of their wealthiest constituents. Consider the new budget crafted by Mr. DeLay and his minions, in which they proposed to cut as much as $20 billion from Medicaid, the health-insurance program for the nation's poorest citizens. The House budget could deprive more than a million children of basic medical care, while providing still more tax breaks for people whose luxuries include the most advanced medical attention on the planet. These pious politicians don't really care about defending human life. If they did, they would immediately enact and fund a national health-insurance program - to protect the 18,000 Americans who now die every year for lack of essential care.


Standing up to Republican-lites and religious radicals

From Paul Waldman of Gadflyer:
I hope Tim Kaine becomes the governor of Virginia, I really do. The alternative - Republican Jerry Kilgore - is worse than Kaine or anyone the Democrats could find. But so far, Kaine seems to be of the school that says the way you win in the South is by being as Republican as possible. The particulars of this template are:
1. Criticize Democrats; don't criticize Republicans.
2. Criticize the Democratic Party; don't criticize the Republican party
3. Use Republican language and Republican spin points whenever possible.
An exaggeration? Perhaps - I'm sure there have been times when Kaine has criticized the RNC. But in this interview with the American Prospect, Kaine seems to be working to warm the cockles of Karl Rove's heart. First, he says, "I think that John Kerry demonstrated much more comfort talking about windsurfing and hockey than he did talking about his beliefs." Pardon me, but what the fuck are you talking about? John Kerry went windsurfing once during the campaign, and was dumb enough to let news photographers tag along. But he never talked about windsurfing. Few people have been more critical of Kerry's campaign than I have, but that's just about the most idiotic thing I've ever heard. Next, Kaine recycles the old Republican slander, that Democrats don't like religious people: "The second thing that Democrats have to do better on is not attacking the 'religious right,'" he said. "I think that has been a standard bogeyman that Democrats have often used in campaigns, including campaigns in Virginia. If somebody advances an idea or position that's wrong, then attack them for having a bad idea. But they are not wrong because they are religious. When Democrats kind of cavalierly attack the religious right or go after Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, our candidates have sent the signal to a lot of religious people, 'Well, I guess they are not interested in me.' And I think this includes a lot of people who would fit very naturally within the Democratic Party." Show me a single time when someone said, "Jerry Falwell is wrong because he's religious." Jerry Falwell is wrong because he's radical theocrat who has contempt for American values. Democrats shouldn't criticize Falwell - the guy who said God brought September 11 down to punish America for tolerating gays? They shouldn't criticize Pat Robertson - a con man who has made hundreds of millions of dollars stealing from little old ladies, and who writes books full of anti-semitic conspiracy theories? You bet your ass Democrats should criticize them, and they should force Republicans to say whether they embrace the religious values of most Americans, or of radicals like Falwell and Robertson. If the political fault line is seen as running between the religious vs. the non-religious, Democrats will always lose, because they'll never match Republicans hosannah for hosannah. But if the fault line is seen as religious radicals vs. a coalition of religious moderates and seculars, Democrats win, not only because that coalition comprises the vast majority of Americans, but because Republicans will never have the guts to repudiate the radicals in their midst. That's the fault line Democrats should be working to draw attention to. And that argument has more credibility coming from openly religious politicians like Kaine. It's too bad he seems to have neither the courage nor the political understanding to stand up against the radicals.

Schiavo case divides Repubs

From Adam Nagourney of the NY Times:
...(The Terri Schiavo case) is a clash between the social conservatives and the process conservatives, and I would count myself a process conservative," said David Davenport of the Hoover Institute, a conservative research organization. "When a case like this has been heard by 19 judges in six courts and it's been appealed to the Supreme Court three times, the process has worked - even if it hasn't given the result that the social conservatives want. For Congress to step in really is a violation of federalism." Stephen Moore, a conservative advocate who is president of the Free Enterprise Fund, said: "I don't normally like to see the federal government intervening in a situation like this, which I think should be resolved ultimately by the family: I think states' rights should take precedence over federal intervention. A lot of conservatives are really struggling with this case." Some more moderate Republicans are also uneasy. Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the sole Republican to oppose the Schiavo bill in a voice vote in the Senate, said: "This senator has learned from many years you've got to separate your own emotions from the duty to support the Constitution of this country. These are fundamental principles of federalism." "It looks as if it's a wholly Republican exercise," Mr. Warner said, "but in the ranks of the Republican Party, there is not a unanimous view that Congress should be taking this step."

McCain: Lying liar

From the WaPo:
...McCain challenged opponents of Bush's plan, including the advocacy group AARP, to enter negotiations on Social Security. He said they are recklessly minimizing the fiscal problems looming for the nation's retirement system. "Some of our friends, who are opposing this idea, say, 'Oh, you don't have to worry until 2042.' We wait until 2042, when we stop paying people Social Security?" he asked.

McCain, you lying jackass, what has become of you? Shilling for a guy who told every conceivable lie to smear you in the 2000 campaign is bad enough, but LYING to shill for him? Social Security does NOT stop paying people in 2042. And now you're joining the pile-on to smear the AARP. Wonder how the Busheviks will trash you when they're done with you?

"Scientific American" gives up

This is terrific. From Scientific American's "Letter from the editor," April 2005 issue:
There’s no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don’t mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there’s no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong. In retrospect, this magazine’s coverage of socalled evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it. Where were the answering articles presenting the powerful case for scientific creationism? Why were we so unwilling to suggest that dinosaurs lived 6,000 years ago or that a cataclysmic flood carved the Grand Canyon? Blame the scientists. They dazzled us with their fancy fossils, their radiocarbon dating and their tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence. Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that’s a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That’s what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn’t get bogged down in details. Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody’s ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifi cally credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions. Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can’t work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars and imperil national security, you won’t hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration’s antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that’s not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either— so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools’ Day.

Decoys and sleight-of-hand in BushWorld

From Bernard Weiner of the Crisis Papers. This is as good a summary as I've seen of what the Bush regime is up to. He states:
Those of us who oppose Bush&Co. policies -- liberals, moderate Republicans, progressives, radicals, the mix of which was evident at the many anti-war demonstrations over the weekend -- need to remember to focus our energies on the major criminal/immoral policies of the Administration, while noting the decoy "chaff" that is being thrown out there to lure us away into side-skirmishes. Those lesser Bush initiatives are important to resist, to be sure, as long as we keep in mind what is really going on, what Bush&Co. really are after.

Check out the article. It's a real eye-opener.

Cheney's oil change at the World Bank

From Jim Vallette of Counterpunch:
He wasn't in the room when President George W. Bush announced it on Wednesday, but somewhere, Vice President Dick Cheney must have been smiling--well, smirking--when the commander-in-chief's voice coupled the improbable name Paul Wolfowitz with the title "President of the World Bank." Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz have long worked hand-in-glove on a global quest for U.S. domination over world affairs. This latest action is as bold as the invasion of Iraq two years ago. Dick Cheney, a long-time beneficiary of World Bank largess, has moved to take ownership of the world's development coffers through his man, Wolfowitz. For his part, Wolfowitz will have a chance to extend his Iraq reconstruction theories to the global level. These concepts mostly involve U.S. control over energy resources. While the Bank, over which the U.S. holds de facto veto power, has done a lot for the nation's oil interests over the years, his nomination is a clear signal that the administration craves more...Like others in the Bush administration, Wolfowitz is consistent. In and out of office, he has articulated a clear vision of U.S. being the world's only superpower, fueled by free-flowing Persian Gulf oil...Cheney and Wolfowitz understand that global hegemony requires control over the three pillars of power: military, political, and economic. The World Bank sets the terms of global development. When developing countries started demanding a decrease in U.S. political power in the institution, when the Bank balked at supporting Wolfowitz's reconstruction and debt cancellation plans for Iraq, and when a Bank-commissioned study recommended getting out of the oil business, the World Bank became a natural target for a hostile takeover. Cheney wants in. There's no stopping him now, unless Europe, industrialized Asia, and the Global South decide to put up a fight.

Blowback in the Gulf: Attack on Qatar

From TomPaine:
On Saturday night, Al Qaeda struck in Qatar, home to a large U.S. military and intelligence presence and a key supplier of natural gas. This morning, a bomb went off in a Christian market in Lebanon. Robert Fisk sees the real impact of the American invasion of Iraq as destabilization, not democracy. And it's spreading. Good story from the link above.

Bashing Bolton

From Steve Clemons of TomPaine:
Bob Kuttner has a powerful op-ed this morning in the Boston Globe on President Bush's nominations of John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz. There is one super-zinger paragraph on Bolton that deserves special notice: "Bolton was among the most ferocious in promoting the fake story that Iraq had sought to buy nuclear material in Niger, long after intelligence agencies had discredited it, and he sought to mislead allies on a false report that North Korea has supplied nuclear materials to Libya. Bolton will also face questions for his role a decade ago in a foreign money-laundering scheme when he headed a think tank that lost its tax status as a Republican Party front."...Kuttner hits three important points on Bolton that move beyond question about Bolton's views of the UN and other multilateral institutions. Kuttner asks about Bolton's role pushing the Niger story inside the State Department -- and EVERYONE I speak to tells me to dig further into this. I have been told -- but have no hard evidence -- that there was an internal investigation at State specifically focused on Bolton's role in the UN/Niger story. Frankly, I can't tell whether the Waxman letter we have previously discussed and which mentions the report of an Inspector General is the same investigation of Bolton or not. Any intel on that from readers would be helpful. What I have heard from several insiders, however, is that State Department's Intelligence and Research Division (INR) was furious with Bolton's efforts to undermine its take on the Niger/Uranium matter inside the State Department. Secondly, Kuttner raises something I have seen no one yet mention in the press. Recently, news came to light that America had lied to its allies in Asia about North Korean nuclear materials exports. In order to put pressure on our allies in the Six-Party Talks, American authorities told allies that North Korea had exported nuclear materials to Libya when in fact North Korea had exported these materials to Pakistan, an American ally. North Korea's exports to Pakistan have been a known matter -- but the Libya connection was entirely new and would have shown that North Korea was helping to create yet another rogue nuclear state. Lying to allies, particularly Japan and South Korea, is reprehensible -- as it seriously undermines trust when needed in future serious contingencies. Some are privately asking whether Bolton and his office had any role in this deception -- and I do not know whether they did or not. It seems to me that other branches of America's intelligence operations and the National Security Council could have managed this duplicitous fiasco without Bolton -- but the question must and should be asked. To be responsible though, I think Bolton critics should realize that this is new ground in the Bolton campaign -- and more evidence and information is needed before jumping to conclusions. Thirdly, Kuttner hits Bolton on his role in a 501c3 non-profit think tank that apparently went way over the line when it came to robust partisan activities and foreign funding that some have alleged found its way into federal elections. This to me sounds like an investigation that Russell Feingold's staff really ought to get into. Kuttner has lots to say on Wolfowitz too -- but just wanted to note that the questions about Bolton are gaining ground and that a nomination that many thought would be semi-controversial but go through easily is in "real play" now. More to do.

CDF ranks legislators' protection of children

From CommonDreams:
The Children's Defense Fund Action Council today released its annual nonpartisan rankings of Representatives and Senators based on their votes in Congress in 2004 on legislation affecting the lives of children. Individual members and state delegations in Congress were evaluated. The Action Council ranked Hawaii's congressional delegation No. 1, with a 94 percent rating, while Wyoming was worst with a score of 5 percent. "This is a dangerous time for children in America and we need to know which of our leaders are voting to protect children and which are voting to leave children behind," said CDF Action Council President Marian Wright Edelman. "We should not be persuaded merely by compassionate words -- we need to look at actions and votes, far too many of which are profoundly unjust to children, who are the poorest age group of Americans." In the United States, 13 million children live in poverty, and 9 million children lack health insurance. More than 6 million children are left home alone after school each day. Almost 900,000 children each year are victims of abuse or neglect. Nearly one American child or teen is killed by gunfire every three hours. The 2004 Children's Defense Fund Action Council Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard shows that eight Senators received 100 percent ratings: Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jon Corzine (D- N.J.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). Sixteen Senators rarely, if ever, voted in the best interests of children, scoring only 8 percent: Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), George Allen (R-Va.), Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Don Nickles (R-Okla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Sununu (R-N.H.), and Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.). In the House of Representatives, 43 members had 100 percent ratings but 113 scored less than 10 percent. The ratings were based on how members voted on 12 key measures and whether they co-sponsored the Act to Leave No Child Behind, the comprehensive bipartisan legislation reflecting CDF Action Council's mission. The state congressional delegations with the best 2004 voting records for children were: 1. Hawaii (94 percent) 2. Massachusetts and Rhode Island (tied at 88 percent) 4. Vermont (87 percent) 5. North Dakota (79 percent) 6. Maryland (74 percent) 7. Maine (73 percent) 8. Delaware (72 percent) 9. New York (70 percent) 10. Oregon (69 percent). The state delegations with the worst voting records for children were: 50. Wyoming (5 percent) 49. Idaho (10 percent) 48. Oklahoma (13 percent) 47. Utah (17 percent) 46. New Hampshire (19 percent) 45. Colorado (21 percent) 44. Alaska (23 percent) 43. Kansas (24 percent) 42. Georgia (27 percent) 41. Alabama (28 percent). "At a time when the gap between rich and poor is at its highest point in recorded history, when child poverty rates have increased for three consecutive years, when the infant mortality rate has risen for the first time in 44 years, when the number of uninsured Americans is increasing and the federal deficit is soaring, members of Congress need to make more just and sensible choices that protect, not hurt, children," Edelman said. "Congress has the power and duty to ensure every child in America a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start and a Safe Start in life right now."

Some patriots act

From the Center for American Progress:
Yesterday, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, "an unusual coalition of conservative groups and the American Civil Liberties Union," announced "a public campaign to scale back" the overreaching surveillance powers now permitted under the Patriot Act. The group is headed by Bob Barr, a former Congressman who originally voted for the legislation but now insists that "keeping the law intact 'will do great and irreparable harm' to the Constitution." The alliance wants Congress to let lapse sixteen of the surveillance powers provisions that are set to expire at the end of this year as well as amend other "extreme" provisions.


EPA To Drop 'E,' 'P' From Name

From the Onion:
WASHINGTON, DC—Days after unveiling new power-plant pollution regulations that rely on an industry-favored market-trading approach to cutting mercury emissions, EPA Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that the agency will remove the "E" and "P" from its name. "We're not really 'environmental' anymore, and we certainly aren't 'protecting' anything," Johnson said. "'The Agency' is a name that reflects our current agenda and encapsulates our new function as a government-funded body devoted to handling documents, scheduling meetings, and fielding phone calls." The change comes on the heels of the Department of Health and Human Services' January decision to shorten its name to the Department of Services.

Peak Oil

From Michael Klare of TomDispatch:
Just how soon such an energy crunch will arrive and just how severe it is likely to be are matters of considerable debate. To a great extent, this debate hinges on the concept of "peak oil," or maximum sustainable daily output. In the 1950s, a petroleum geologist named M. King Hubbert published a series of equations showing that the output of any given oil well or reservoir will follow a parabolic curve over time. Production rises quickly after initial drilling and then loses momentum as output reaches its maximum or "peak" -- usually when half of the total amount of oil has been extracted -- after which production falls at an increasingly sharp rate. In 1956, using these equations, Hubbert predicted that conventional (that is, liquid) U.S. oil output would peak in the early 1970s. His prediction provoked much derision at the time, but earned him considerable renown when U.S. output did indeed achieve its peak level in 1972. Because of insufficient data at the time, Hubbert was unable to apply his equations to non-U.S. production. He did, however, predict that global output -- just like U.S. output -- would eventually reach a peak level and then begin an irreversible decline. Today, the concept of global peak oil is widely accepted in the energy field, though debate rages over when this moment will actually occur...If the more optimistic estimates of global oil are on the mark, it stands to reason that the major firms should be finding more new oil every year than they are producing; yet the very opposite has been the case for the last 20 years. If this continues to be the case, it is hard to imagine that the approach of global peak oil can be that far in the future. Whether peak oil arrives in 2005, 2010, or 2015, and whether the maximum level of daily oil output turns out to be 90 or 100 million barrels will not matter much in the long run. In any of these scenarios, global oil production will level off and begin to decline at a level far below the anticipated world demand of 120 million barrels per day in 2025...Despite all the optimistic talk from Washington, we are facing a substantial and inescapable threat of global energy scarcity, which can only have dire consequences for our economy and the world's. Indeed, we are beginning to see hints of that today, with rising prices at the neighborhood gas pump and a perceptible decline in consumer spending. This coming scarcity cannot be wished away, nor can it be erased through drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which contains far too little petroleum to make a significant difference even in U.S. oil supplies. Only an ambitious program of energy conservation -- entailing the imposition of much higher fuel-efficiency standards for American automobiles and SUVs -- and the massive funding of R&D in, and then the full-scale development of alternative, environmentally-friendly fuels can offer hope of averting the disaster otherwise awaiting us.

Ayatollah DeLay

From Juan Cole on his Informed Comment blog:
...The most frightening thing about the entire affair is that public figures like congressmen inserted themselves into the case in order to uphold religious strictures. The lawyer arguing against the husband let the cat out of the bag, as reported by the NYT: ' The lawyer, David Gibbs, also said Ms. Schiavo's religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic were being infringed because Pope John Paul II has deemed it unacceptable for Catholics to refuse food and water. "We are now in a position where a court has ordered her to disobey her church and even jeopardize her eternal soul," Mr. Gibbs said. ' In other words, the United States Congress acted in part on behalf of the Roman Catholic church...Like many of his fundamentalist counterparts in the Middle East, Tom Delay is rather cynically using this issue to divert attention from his own corruption. Like the Muslim fundamentalist manipulators of Hisba, Delay represents himself as acting on behalf of a higher cause. He said of the case over the weekend, ' "This is not a political issue. This is life and death." Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah Delay isn't different from his counterparts in Iran.

State of the news media, 2005

From TomPaine:
The past year was an interesting—and not altogether positive—one for the media. There was the rise of blogging, the Bush administration-produced "reports" during election season, the revelations that several reporters had been paid to tout government programs, and the continued move toward faster, flashier news coverage. In its second annual "State Of The News Media" report, the Project For Excellence In Journalism extensively reviewed the media's work and trends among newspapers, magazines, broadcast, online news and the ethnic press. Among the findings: verification in journalism has fallen off in favor of assertion; broadcast news is reaching a transition point; and we're not nearly as partisan in our news consumption as we've been led to believe. Read the report here.

Operation Truth reports on Iraq

Available now: Operation Truth's "After Action Review," a groundbreaking report on the war based entirely on feedback from the troops. Operation Truth has combed through hundreds of stories submitted by their veteran members and organized them into an After Action Review, examining what has gone well, what has not, and what needs to change. The report is straight from the troops, unedited and uncensored. Read their stories here.

The panderers

From Alan Wolfe of Salon. This is beautiful:
Emotion is a poor basis for making moral decisions for a second reason; it is cheap, while reason is dear. Nothing is easier to offer than sympathy at a distance. Those rushing to Terri's "side" have no conscience with which to struggle, no doubts to be resolved, no principles to violate. They need not even be consistent, which is why they can urge respect for Terri's life while ignoring all the deaths their cuts in Medicaid will cause. Emotional appeals surround us. No politician will earn a profile in courage by wallowing in them. Reason, by contrast, ennobles and inspires, demanding, as it does, that we consider the interests of humanity as well as humans. Far from being easy, reason requires courage. Contrast the posturing of Republican legislators with the dignity of Florida Judge George Greer. In the past two weeks one judge has been shot in Atlanta and the family of another killed in Chicago. Judge Greer knows full well that in the Schiavo case, passions run high and people with links to violence, such as antiabortion activist Randall Terry, are involved. Greer could have taken the easy way out and protected himself and his family. He chose to uphold the majesty of the law. He should be a hero. Zealots could consider him a murderer. Emotion, finally, fails as policy because hypocrisy is its first cousin. Intent on protecting Terri Schiavo's right to live, Republicans cannot be oblivious to the benefits yielded by her death. To this point, "liberals" and "activist judges" can only be blamed for trying to resolve the case. Imagine the conservative glee if it is resolved and the feeding tube is removed. Every court ruling will become grounds for appointing only the most conservative of judges. Every Democrat who speaks in the language of rights and reason will be treated as an accomplice to death. The quest for emotional satisfaction can never be fulfilled; Bill O'Reilly will always demand more. We cannot predict Terri Schiavo's fate, but we can surely anticipate outrage inflation, as every attempt to find moral guidelines in the murky world of death and dying becomes a political football. This is why a sane society would try to put cases such as Terri Schiavo's outside the realm of politics. Let us by all means have a national debate over persistent vegetative states, living wills and conflicts between husbands and parents. But let us hold that debate over general principles. Our laws must be designed for unnamed individuals in the future, not on behalf of specific people in the here-and-now. Choosing the universal over the particular, our framers banned "bills of attainder," laws that punish single individuals. The bill passed this weekend may not be a bill of attainder because it did not involve imposing a punishment. But we would nonetheless be wise to recall James Madison's warning, in Federalist No. 44, that "bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing the obligations of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation ... The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed the public councils. They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and less-informed part of the community." Tom DeLay is a speculator in the lives of others. A political system that responds to him has come a long way from the ideals of the men who founded it.

The dreaded E-word

From Robin McKie of Salon:
In several states, IMAX cinemas -- including some at science museums -- are refusing to show movies that mention the subject of evolution or suggest that the Earth's origins do not conform with biblical descriptions. The films include "Cosmic Voyage," an animated journey through the universe; "Galapagos," a documentary about the islands where Charles Darwin made some of his most important observations; and "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish near ocean vents. In most Southern states, theater officials found recent test screenings of several of these films triggered accusations from viewers that the films were blasphemous...Superficially, the decision affects only a dozen or so cinemas. But it could have a profound effect across the world because of the high cost of producing IMAX films. They require special cameras and expensive projectors. The economics of IMAX filmmaking are therefore very tight, and the actions of these southern IMAX cinemas will only exacerbate the problem. It is expected that producers will be far less likely to make films that could offend fundamentalists, as the loss of venues in Southern states could be enough to turn profit to loss.

Tom DeLay, moral and spiritual advisor

From Tim Grieve of Salon:
This has been bothering us all day. Michael Schiavo is married to Terri Schiavo, right? And George W. Bush and the religious right are all for the sanctity of marriage and totally opposed to interference by activist judges, right? So how is it that the Republicans think that, when it comes to medical decisions for Terri Schiavo, a federal judge should be free to overrule the wishes of the man she married? Thanks to Tom DeLay -- brought to us by DC Media Girl -- it all makes sense to us now. Asked over the weekend by a reporter to square the Republicans' allegiance to the sanctity of marriage with their interference in the Schiavos' marriage, the House majority leader explained: "The sanctity of life overshadows the sanctity of marriage. I don�t know what transpired between Terri and her husband. All I know is Terri is alive. . . . Unless she has specifically written instructions in her hand, with her signature, I don�t care what her husband says." We feel so much better now. But we'd feel even better -- a little clearer in how we order our affairs, a little more confident that we're on the way to reaching our great reward -- if the Republicans' "exterminator turned moral philosopher" would lay out the pecking order, rock-paper-scissors style, of all of the other sanctities and rights and commandments out there. Life trumps marriage -- we've got that. With just a few more words from the lips of The Hammer, eternal wisdom could be ours.

The NYT on Schiavo: A nation of laws, not of men

The NY Times editorial page's take on the Schiavo case:
...The founders believed in a nation in which, as Justice Robert Jackson once wrote, we would "submit ourselves to rulers only if under rules." There is no place in such a system for a special law creating rights for only one family. The White House insists that the law will not be a precedent. But that means that the right to bring such claims in federal court is reserved for people with enough political pull to get a law passed that names them in the text. The Bush administration and the current Congressional leadership like to wax eloquent about states' rights. But they dropped those principles in their rush to stampede over the Florida courts and Legislature. The new law doesn't miss a chance to trample on the state's autonomy and dignity. There are a variety of technical legal doctrines the federal courts use to show deference to state courts, like "abstention" and "exhaustion of remedies." The new law decrees that in Ms. Schiavo's case, these well-established doctrines simply will not apply. Republicans have traditionally championed respect for the delicate balance the founders created. But in the Schiavo case, and in the battle to stop the Democratic filibusters of judicial nominations, President Bush and his Congressional allies have begun to enunciate a new principle: the rules of government are worth respecting only if they produce the result we want. It may be a formula for short-term political success, but it is no way to preserve and protect a great republic.


It is America that has undergone regime change

From Paul Craig Roberts, former Treasury official under Reagan and former Wall Street Journal writer:
Delusion has settled over America. Washington cannot tell fact from fantasy. Neither can sycophantic media nor nothink economists. The Bush administration is the first government in history to initiate a war based entirely on fantasy--fantasy about nonexistent "weapons of mass destruction," fantasy about nonexistent "terrorist links," fantasy about "liberating" a people from their culture, fantasy about a "cakewalk" invasion, fantasy about America's omnipotence. Reality has yet to penetrate the Oval Office or America's "red state" consciousness. The gratuitous invasion of Iraq, the torture and the war crimes have made America despised the world over. Our once formidable alliances are shattered. The Muslim world, which perceives America as Israel's enabler of Palestine's oppression, has uniformly turned against us. $300 billion--red ink to the last cent--has been wasted in a pointless war and occupation that has emboldened Islamic revolutionaries, who will be more successful than the US in changing the face of the Middle East. Bush's invasion of Iraq has proved the limits of America's "hegemonic" military power: Eight heavily armored high tech US divisions are tied down by a few thousand lightly armed insurgents who control most of the roads and many towns and cities. Any Iraqi collaborator with the US occupation who is foolish enough to leave the heavily fortified "Green Zone" is shot down or blown up in the streets. Such an outcome is proclaimed a "success" by the White House, Republican politicians and a cheerleading media. The reality is that an ignorant and blundering Bush administration has created a Shi'ite crescent from Iran to Lebanon that is revolutionizing the Middle East. The reality will not penetrate the Bush administration. Reality contradicts Bush fantasy and is "against us." Facts that don't support Bush fantasy are "liberal" and "anti-American." Truth is dismissed as anti-Bush propaganda. It is America that has undergone regime change. The Bush administration constitutes a Jacobin revolution. Its fanatics have declared world war on political diversity. The first victim of Bush's "war on terror" is the Bill of Rights. In its place we have an incipient police state.

The man has his priorities

From The Carpetbagger blog:
It's been interesting to see just how much time the president spends away from work and on vacation, but Bush's personal priorities are even more revealing when one considers what it takes for him to cut a vacation short. In August 2001, for example, Bush received an intelligence briefing that told him, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US." In response, the president took the entire month off, never even meeting with his CIA director. The pending threat of a terrorist attack wasn't enough to curtail a scheduled break. About a year later, over Easter week in 2002, an intense round of violence erupted in Israel. Though the developments were the focus of the world, they occurred during a Bush vacation – which he chose not to cut short. A year after that, Bush launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq to seize control of weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist. As "shock and awe" was underway, Bush left town for an uninterrupted break at Camp David. In 2004, a tsunami in South Asia devastated a region and killed tens of thousands. World leaders were scrambling to see how they could best help. Bush, meanwhile, was on vacation – and stayed that way. Three days after the crisis began, the White House described the president's schedule as including a bike ride and "clearing brush." So, if terrorist threats, wars, and international crises aren't enough for Bush to cut short a vacation, what is? Funny you should ask. For days, President Bush kept his public distance from the Terri Schiavo case and let his spokesman deliver mild statements suggesting that the president did not want Ms. Schiavo, who has severe brain damage, to die. But on Saturday night, when Mr. Bush made the rare decision to interrupt his Texas vacation and rush back to Washington to be in place to sign a bill that could restore Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube, the White House said that the issue had become one of "defending life," and that time was of the essence...It was the first time this president had interrupted a vacation to return to Washington. Bush could have signed the Schiavo legislation in Texas, but preferred to cut his vacation short and make the dramatic trip back to the White House just for this occasion. To recap, Osama bin Laden, Israel, war, and devastation? Vacation on. The religious right wants action on a woman who has been in vegetative state for 15 years? Vacation off. The man has his priorities.

Brain-dead ploys and heartless Republicans

From Fran Shor on CommonDreams:
At the end of a week when Congressional Republicans passed the Bush Budget that slashed social programs for the poor, children, and the elderly, they mounted a last-minute desperate campaign to intervene in the tragic case of Terry Schiavo. For over a decade Terry Schiavo has remained in a vegetative state, kept alive with a feeding tube and in the midst of legal battles between her husband and her parents. Republican politicians in Florida tried previously to prevent removing the feeding tube but lost out to court orders. Now, another judge has dismissed those ploys by Congressional Republicans to insert themselves into this family's personal tragedy. While there are troubling moral issues surrounding matters of when to end a life, some of these Republicans, such as Tom DeLay, and their right-wing evangelical supporters appear to be obsessed with the rights of either unborn fetuses and near-dead individuals. Apparently, they are not concerned with the rights of the actually living if they are poor, children, elderly, women, and/or gay citizens. In fact, they favor the use of an interventionist state only in ways that reflect their narrow political agenda and limited sense of compassion. They would rather punish poor women in need of an abortion than provide medical care and pharmaceutical prevention. From their constricted and exclusionary perspectives, the state can determine who can marry and cannot marry irrespective of the values of love and commitment. So, what does one make of this past week's Congressional activities and the Republican agenda? Passing the Bush Budget in the House, Tom DeLay and his wretched crew just terminated aid for food stamps for 300,000 working families with children. Low income families lost out on child care assistance involving close to 300,000 children. Cuts in health insurance for children were passed with nary a tear being shed by a single Republican. Capping off this mean-spirited attitude towards children and the working poor was a profligate package of tax benefits for the very wealthy. One can only assume that Republicans want the poor to die off even in the face of their dramatic efforts to rescue the brain-dead Terry Schiavo. Yet, another quiet drama unfolded this week demonstrating Republican antagonism to the health and safety on the most vulnerable. The first study definitively linking mercury pollution to autism was released this past week. Almost at the exact moment, the Bush Administration announced their misguided proposals for reducing mercury pollution from coal-fed power plants. Instead of the immediate severe cutbacks in mercury pollution that are needed, the White House and the EPA promoted proposals intended to placate the coal and utility industries at the expense of children's physical and mental health. While Bush and his Republican cohorts prattle on about their concern for children, one wonders what kind of concern it is in the face of reactionary cutbacks and unsound and dangerous policies? In effect, as cognitive scientist George Lakoff has reminded us, such politics and policies are framed by a strict father model of government. While convinced of their own sense of right and wrong, these punitive patriarchs promulgate policies that demand obedience. Casting aspersions on those who advocate nurturing social programs, they believe that the discipline they promote (but do not often apply to their own behavior) will benefit those individuals who follow their leadership. On the other hand, as we know from Thomas Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas?, right-wing Republicans have successfully mobilized the class resentments of working class and middle class suburbanites against Hollywood liberals and their ilk as the main targets in a culture war. Ironically, the real victims of that war are often the very working and middle class supporters of those Republicans who overlook the vicious tax cuts that favor the corporations and the rich at the expense of the public good. To prove they have compassion, albeit constricted and exclusionary, Republicans mount high-profile campaigns such as their intervention in the Terry Schiavo case. Congressional Republicans obviously believe that they are can play on the sentiments of a media-manipulated public, too busy or numbed to realize the details of their awful budgetary cuts. Furthermore, and most tragic of all, hewing to a strict father model of government, Congressional Republicans have arrogated to themselves the desire to play god, dispensing life and death according to their own narrow- minded whims and truly heartless politics. We will have to work on our own for authentic compassion instead of the limited variety that showboating Republicans now produce with dreadful regularity.

Divide and conquer in the Middle East

From Linda Heard of the Online Journal:
Six weeks after the (Iraq) election, the names of the new prime minister and president haven't been officially declared...so what we have here is more like a horse-traders' arena than a united country on the brink of democracy. In short, the non-secular Shiites would like a state based on Islamic (Sharia) law; the Kurds want to re-establish their autonomy, and control the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, while the Sunnis largely feel shut out. As for the United States, it wants a leader on the lines of Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai, someone who will publicly go down on bended knees to beg its 150,000 soldiers to stay on and support the idea of 14 permanent US bases. Secular Shiite, former Baathist and CIA mole Eyad Allawi was the perfect candidate and, according to an Iraqi diplomat, he had more or less been promised a continuance of his job as prime minister. However, given that his list came in an unexpected low third in the polls, this was easier said than done. Allawi, who dashed off to meet with Kurdish leaders in an attempt to forge a coalition gets full marks for persistence though...Whatever the outcome, Iraq remains ideologically divided, giving the United States free reign and a perfect pretext to remain "so as to ensure security." It is a similar story in Lebanon. Whereas most Lebanese are glad to see the back of the Syrians and want their independence, the hasty Syrian departure leaves a power vacuum, which the Americans may be only too happy to fill. According to Wayne Madsen, a Washington-based investigative reporter, writing in Online Journal, the assassinated opposition leader and billionaire entrepreneur Rafik Hariri opposed a proposed US airbase in northern Lebanon. Madsen writes that although the Pentagon hasn't received an official okay from Lebanon, it has already awarded a contract to construct the base to Jacobs Engineering Group of California. He maintains the air base "is reportedly to be used as a transit and logistics hub for US forces in Iraq and as a rest and relaxation location for US troops in the region. In addition, the Lebanese base will be used to protect US oil pipelines in the region . . . as well as to destabilise the Assad government in Syria." As we saw from the recent massive pro-Syrian, anti-US demonstrations in Beirut, organised by Hezbollah, the White House may be playing with fire. Lebanon has long been a democratic country-or as democratic as one can be under a succession of occupations-with a constitution carefully drawn-up on demographic lines. If that fine balance were tipped, the country could once again become a sectarian battlefield. On the other hand, perhaps this is the idea. After all, a genuine democratic, free and peaceful Middle East, which includes Israel, would spit out foreign soldiers and their bases. An EU-style union might even be formed over time, rich with ideas, technology, intra-trade and most importantly, oil and gas, which it would be free to sell to emerging powers in any currency it saw fit. Far fetched? Maybe so, but nevertheless, I suspect the above scenario is one which the Strauss-cons and their fellow ideologues in the US administration will do just about anything to deter.