4/09/2005

Senator Jeffords says it publicly: The war was about oil

From Steve Soto of The Left Coaster:
Wait for the wing nuts to come out of their shoes on this.
U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Independent, may face a clear field right now in a 2006 re-election bid, but his March 22 performance on Vermont Public Radio's Switchboard program raised a few eyebrows. For starters, Jeffords, who opposes the war in Iraq, predicted the Bush administration would start a war in Iran to help elect a third member of the Bush clan to the White House. "I think it was all done to get oil," Jeffords said of invading Iraq. "And the loss of life that we had, and the cost of it, was to me just a re-election move, and they're going to try to live off it. Probably start another war, wouldn't be surprised, next year. Probably in Iran." "Do you think that's likely?" VPR host Bob Kinzel asked. "I probably shouldn't even talk on it, I just feel so bitter about the thinking that's gone on behind them, and the reasons they go to war and went to war," Jeffords replied. "But I feel very strongly that they are looking ahead, and that there will be an opportunity to go into Iran and try to get their son elected president. I don't know, but you do it each time they (are) going to have a new president. I’m very, very (Jeffords chuckles). Oh, well, I better be quiet." In an interview this week, Jeffords spokesman Erik Smulson didn't back away from his boss's comments (which can be heard at vpr.net) and noted that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- the brother of the sitting president and son of former President George H.W. Bush -- is considered a possible 2008 GOP candidate for president. "Certainly, this is a theory that has been pretty well discussed in numerous circles, that Iran potentially will be the next battleground, and that Jeb Bush is certainly considered a possibility in '08," Smulson said.
Of course, as far as the right wing was concerned, it was OK for Cornyn and DeLay to say what they did. But watch what Fox and the others outlets in the echo chamber say now about Jeffords.
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Comments on WaPo article by Atrios

Atrios comments on the WaPo article I posted below:
...The key line in Dana Milbank's article is this one: "This was no collection of fringe characters."...For too long the mainstream media has either ignored these people, marginalized them as kooks, or mainstreamed them by having them on while ignoring their creepier beliefs/statements/pasts. I think one reason (and there others) for this is that by cloaking their wingnuttery in religion they shield themselves from criticism. They've fought long and hard to make sure we know that in this overwhelmingly Christian country, anti-Christian bigotry is the number one problem. The media just will not go there...Yes, there really is no doubt that invoking Stalin's "no man, no problem" phrase is an explicit advocacy of the murder of judges who, shall we say, misbehave. I doubt any of the people doing the advocating actually plan on following through themselves, but they're probably hoping they'll inspire others.
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More scary theocrats threaten judges

From the WaPo:
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is a fairly accomplished jurist, but he might want to get himself a good lawyer -- and perhaps a few more bodyguards. Conservative leaders meeting in Washington yesterday for a discussion of "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny" decided that Kennedy, a Ronald Reagan appointee, should be impeached, or worse. Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of American conservatism, said Kennedy's opinion forbidding capital punishment for juveniles "is a good ground of impeachment." To cheers and applause from those gathered at a downtown Marriott for a conference on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," Schlafly said that Kennedy had not met the "good behavior" requirement for office and that "Congress ought to talk about impeachment." Next, Michael P. Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said Kennedy "should be the poster boy for impeachment" for citing international norms in his opinions. "If our congressmen and senators do not have the courage to impeach and remove from office Justice Kennedy, they ought to be impeached as well." Not to be outdone, lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law." Ominously, Vieira continued by saying his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Joseph Stalin. "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him, whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem,' " Vieira said. The full Stalin quote, for those who don't recognize it, is "Death solves all problems: no man, no problem." Presumably, Vieira had in mind something less extreme than Stalin did and was not actually advocating violence. But then, these are scary times for the judiciary. An anti-judge furor may help confirm President Bush's judicial nominees, but it also has the potential to turn ugly...The conference was organized during the height of the Schiavo controversy by a new group, the Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration. This was no collection of fringe characters. The two-day program listed two House members; aides to two senators; representatives from the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America; conservative activists Alan Keyes and Morton C. Blackwell; the lawyer for Terri Schiavo's parents; Alabama's "Ten Commandments" judge, Roy Moore; and DeLay, who canceled to attend the pope's funeral. The Schlafly session's moderator, Richard Lessner of the American Conservative Union, opened the discussion by decrying a "radical secularist relativist judiciary." It turned more harsh from there. Schlafly called for passage of a quartet of bills in Congress that would remove courts' power to review religious displays, the Pledge of Allegiance, same-sex marriage and the Boy Scouts. Her speech brought a subtle change in the argument against the courts from emphasizing "activist" judges -- it was, after all, inaction by federal judges that doomed Schiavo -- to "supremacist" judges. "The Constitution is not what the Supreme Court says it is," Schlafly asserted. Former representative William Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) followed Schlafly, saying the country's "principal problem" is not Iraq or the federal budget but whether "we as a people acknowledge that God exists." Farris then told the crowd he is "sick and tired of having to lobby people I helped get elected." A better-educated citizenry, he said, would know that "Medicare is a bad idea" and that "Social Security is a horrible idea when run by the government." Farris said he would block judicial power by abolishing the concept of binding judicial precedents, by allowing Congress to vacate court decisions, and by impeaching judges such as Kennedy, who seems to have replaced Justice David H. Souter as the target of conservative ire. "If about 40 of them get impeached, suddenly a lot of these guys would be retiring," he said. Vieira, a constitutional lawyer who wrote "How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary," escalated the charges, saying a Politburo of "five people on the Supreme Court" has a "revolutionary agenda" rooted in foreign law and situational ethics. Vieira, his eyeglasses strapped to his head with black elastic, decried the "primordial illogic" of the courts. Invoking Stalin, Vieira delivered the "no man, no problem" line twice for emphasis. "This is not a structural problem we have; this is a problem of personnel," he said. "We are in this mess because we have the wrong people as judges."
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Theocrats coming for their payment...

From Congress Daily, via Atrios blog:
Christian conservatives and a core group of congressional supporters are launching a significant new push to restructure the federal judicial system to reflect a more explicitly biblical world view, in the hopes that these changes will pave the way for broader social and political changes, leaders of the movement said. Some of the most prominent conservative leaders in the country -- including Vision America's Rick Scarborough, Coral Ridge Ministry's James Kennedy and the Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich -- launched the effort Thursday in Washington. Members of the new coalition said they would immediately focus on bringing an end to Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees before pushing Senate Majority Leader Frist to enact sweeping changes in the judiciary. They also warned that Frist and other politicians who have thus far been reluctant to force a confrontation with Senate Minority Leader Reid over the nominations would be held accountable if Democrats continue to block conservative judges. Participants at this week's Judeo-Christian Council for Constitutional Restoration meeting said the group also will focus on forcing Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against any judge who does not conform with their biblically based interpretation of the Constitution, as well as permanently curb judicial authority over matters of church and state, marriage and governmental acknowledgement of a Christian deity. "What it is time to do is impeach justices," Texas Justice Foundation President Allan Parker extolled a crowd of a hundred or so conservative lobbyists, attorneys and activists. "The standard should be any judge who believes in the 'living constitution' should be impeached."
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Bush dissed at Pope's funeral; Clinton is still the rock star

From Yahoo News:
President Bush joined throngs of the faithful on Friday in paying final respects to Pope John Paul II, the pontiff whose stands on abortion and other social issues meshed with his but who criticized both him and his father for waging war with Iraq...When Bush's face appeared on giant screen TVs showing the ceremony, many in the crowds outside St. Peter's Square booed and whistled...Bush stayed out of public view on Thursday, meeting privately with Italian leaders and U.S. Catholic leaders in town for the funeral. The president wanted to stay out of the public limelight ahead of the funeral because "he recognizes the significance of the moment," said McClellan.

And via Daily Kos:
...In contrast to the waves of booing that hit Bush today at the Pope's funeral, Bill Clinton was mobbed and greeted with adoring chants of U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!, U.S.A.! As Mr. Clinton went for a walk, shoppers, tourists having lunch at outdoor cafes, and Italian business people going to meetings all stopped to greet him. Along the streets, people starting yelling "Bill, Bill, Bill," and a few shouted "U.S.A.!" One shopkeeper raced out with a photograph of Mr. Clinton on a past visit. "You go around the world and you see a lot of affection for Americans," he said...by the time Mr. Clinton made it out of the back streets and into the open square, a mob of hundreds developed. Mr. Clinton's nervous Italian bodyguards put him in a car and sped him away.
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Trying to do the right thing

From Middle East Online:
US Representative Walter Jones, a conservative Republican, does not hide his anger when he says bad information led him to vote for the Iraq war. "If I had known then what I know today, I wouldn't have voted for that resolution. Absolutely not," he said Thursday in an interview. His comments reflect concerns of other Republican lawmakers in Congress, and polls show a lingering debate over the reasons for going to war have hurt the administration even as the Iraq operation shows signs of success. A day earlier, during House Armed Services Committee testimony on the Iraq war, Jones demanded an apology from the administration of President George W. Bush. "To me, there should be somebody that is large enough to say, 'We made a mistake'," Jones said, almost in tears with frustration. He said he and other lawmakers want to ensure they are never again asked to authorize a war with bad information. Jones felt so bad he decided to write personal letters of condolence to the families of each of the more than 1,600 US soldiers killed. He has so far sent more than 900. "My heart aches every time I sign these letters and I want them to look right," he said. The funeral of a Marine sergeant, among the first US casualties of the war, along with Jones's Christian faith, inspired him to write the letters...The administration has seen its main justification for war evaporate, most recently when a presidential commission found that US intelligence agencies were "dead wrong" in saying Iraq had illegal weapons. That failure doesn't play well in Jones's rural, conservative North Carolina district, he said. The state went strongly for Bush last year and includes the Camp Lejeune Marine base, a major source of troops for Iraq.
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Pass it on: NYT story of teenage girls arrested for plotting suicide bombing

From a reader:
This is outrageous. Many of you have probably read about the Guinean and Bangladeshi girls (16-year-olds) who were arrested by the US government and accused of planning to be suicide bombers. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times:
According to a government document provided to The New York Times by a federal official earlier this week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has asserted that both girls are "an imminent threat to the security of the United States based on evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers." No evidence was cited, and federal officials will not comment on the case. Its mysteries deepened as teachers and neighbors gave details of the Guinean girl's life, like the jeans she wore under her Muslim garb, her lively classroom curiosity about topics like Judaism and art and her after-school care for four younger siblings while her parents, illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States since 1990, eked out a living. Until now, attention has focused on the other 16-year-old, a Bangladeshi girl reared in Queens who could not deal with the hurly-burly of her West Side high school and withdrew into home schooling. Yesterday, on a motion of the government, an immigration judge closed the Bangladeshi girl's bond hearing to the public and adjourned it to next Thursday, said Troy Mattes, a lawyer who is taking over the case but has yet to meet her. By the Bangladeshi girl's account, reported by her mother, the girls did not meet until March 24, after their separate arrests in early-morning raids on immigration charges against their parents. Both grew up in Islamic families. But while the Bangladeshi girl had grown increasingly pious, and uncomfortable in the urban culture of the High School of Environmental Studies on West 56th Street, the Guinean girl, a 10th grader, embraced every aspect of Heritage High, at 106th Street and Lexington Avenue, her teachers said.

Since when did we start playing by Saddam Hussein’s rules? Our government is out of control. If you have time, please call your senators and ask for an investigation of these arrests. Or you can call the Homeland Security Committee that oversees this kind of action. The Chairman is Senator Susan Collins, 202-224-4751, and the Ranking Member is Joe Lieberman, 202-224-2627.
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4/08/2005

Iraq: The real election

From Tom Englehardt of TomDispatch:
Last December, Mark Danner took a piercing look back at our Presidential election in Florida, "How Bush Really Won," printed up in the New York Review of Books and posted on line at Tomdispatch. In the aftermath of another election, closely linked to our own and to the well being of our President, Danner returns to the (post-)campaign trail -- this time in Baghdad. What follows is the single clearest-eyed, best reported piece to date on Iraq's January election, whose end game is only now being played out in the installation of an ethnically and religiously divided, exceedingly weak Iraqi government. It will "rule" a riven, occupied country facing an explosive and resilient insurgency as well as independently controlled Shiite and Kurdish militias, and it will do so from inside Baghdad's Green Zone; in other words, from within what is essentially a vast American military encampment. I've seen no other piece that gives a more powerful sense of America's Baghdad as it exists today, of what exactly the election meant, of the degree to which it was fought out in the media as much before an American as an Iraqi audience, and of why the lack of Sunni voter turnout is sure to prove such a disabling factor in Iraq's future.

You can link to the article above.
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Mexican Leftist's Bid for Presidency at Risk

Looks like the spread of left-wing democracy in Latin America is getting a little to close to home for some people...
From the LA Times:
In a move that could ignite a political firestorm, the Congress stripped Mexico City's leftist mayor of his immunity from prosecution Thursday, possibly eliminating the leading contender from the 2006 presidential race. Many Mexicans saw the vote, which is similar to an impeachment action by the U.S. Congress, as an underhanded political maneuver to eliminate populist Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from running for president...President Vicente Fox, meanwhile, insisted that prosecuting the mayor - for what many citizens considered to be an innocuous infraction - was essential to Mexican rule of law. Earlier in the day, Lopez Obrador had formally announced he would seek the Democratic Revolutionary Party's nomination for president in next year's election. Polls give him comfortable leads over front-runners in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Fox's National Action Party (PAN). An estimated 400,000 Lopez Obrador supporters, many of whom came from faraway states to support the beleaguered mayor, massed in Mexico City's main square for the announcement and vote...The charismatic Lopez Obrador has built a strong following in the capital based on his social programs, including pensions for the elderly, free school supplies and ambitious public works programs. Like many other current leaders in Latin America, he has been an outspoken critic of globalization, saying that the benefits of free trade were oversold. But he also faces prosecution in federal court for ignoring a 2001 court order to halt city construction of a hospital access road over a disputed plot of ground less than 60 yards long...The case now threatens to derail his political career...Now, just 15 months before the national election, the Chamber of Deputies' vote to strip him of his legal shield opens the way for the Fox government to bring a felony charge of abuse of authority against Lopez Obrador. That will automatically disqualify him as a presidential candidate if the case is not resolved by Jan. 15...Lopez Obrador said he would not seek to avoid jail and that he would conduct his presidential campaign from behind bars if necessary...Constitutional expert Leonardo Cordova of the National Autonomous University expressed incredulity that the Lopez Obrador case had gone this far, given the relative harmlessness of the alleged offense, public opposition to the process, and the fact that no public official in Mexico has ever been prosecuted for ignoring a court order.
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Iraq is Becoming 'Free Fraud' Zone

From the Christian Science Monitor:
A former senior advisor to the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which ran Iraq until the election of an interim Iraq government last January, says that the US government's refusal to prosecute US firms accused of corruption in Iraq is turning the country into a "free fraud zone." Newsweek reported earlier this week that Frank Willis compared Iraq to the "wild west," and that with only $4.1 billion of the $18.7 billion that the US government set aside for the reconstruction of Iraq having been spent, the lack of action on the part of the government means "the corruption will only get worse." More than US money is at stake. The administration has harshly criticized the United Nations over hundreds of millions stolen from the Oil-for-Food Program under Saddam [Hussein]. But the successor to Oil-for-Food created under the occupation, called the Development Fund for Iraq, could involve billions of potentially misused dollars. In late March, the New Standard reported, the annual Global Corruption Report issued by the "corruption watchdog," Transparency International (TI), heavily criticized the US for "mismanaging" Iraq's oil revenues and "for using faulty procedures for awarding reconstruction contracts." The report also criticizes efforts to rapidly privatize Iraqi assets and industries as a means of reducing the country’s debt. TI warns that unless immediate corrective measures are taken, Iraq’s reconstruction could become 'the biggest corruption scandal in history.'...Meanwhile the Washington Post reported recently that both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations had long known that monies used in the in the UN oil-for-food program were lining the pockets of Saddam Hussein, and did little to stop it. CNN reported in February that "unclassified State Department documents sent to congressional committees with oversight of US foreign policy" show that the US actually condoned Jordan and Turkey breaking the UN sanctions against Iraq.
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Faces of Iraq

From a reader:
This brief pictorial from the BBC gives faces and voices to the problems in Iraq.
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4/07/2005

Academic Bill of Rights legislation in Florida

From Amy Goodman's radio program, "Democracy Now":
Yesterday members of the Florida State legislature heard testimony about the so-called "academic freedom" bill or HB 837. The bill would develop a statewide "bill of rights" for faculty to follow in the interest of delivering a "fair and balanced" curriculum. The bill is a product of an academic bill of rights written by David Horowitz, founder of the conservative think tank, Students for Academic Freedom. The group has been campaigning for state and federal legislation that adopts the bill. The website for Students for Academic Freedom features a template for such legislation, which can be copied by any interested state legislator. There are similar bills pending in California, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

(Goodman went on to interview Rep. Dennis Baxley, Republican Florida state representative from Ocala (a sponsor of the bill), and Roy Weatherford, a professor of philosophy at the University of South Florida. He is also the president of the Faculty Union of USF. I will quote from Weatherford but you can read the whole interview from the link above).

Weatherford stated:
"...There are three parts of the bill that are of particular concern to the professoriat. I should mention that I am not merely speaking for the University of South Florida faculty. Throughout this legislative session, I am acting as the higher education director of the Florida Education Association, representing 120,000 education employees in Florida. And I am therefore speaking for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, our affiliates, and the American Association of University Professors has also asked me to represent their views. So, for the first time ever, the professoriat is speaking with one voice, and we are unanimously against the bill. The three things that it does that we think are not wise. First of all, it specifies that faculty may not introduce controversial subjects when they're inappropriate, but it provides no mechanism or means for determining who gets to say what is controversial. Somebody, evidently, will have the right to tell us what we cannot say in our classroom, and that strikes at the very root of academic freedom. Secondly, it says that students have the right to expect that alternative views will be presented. One of the examples that Representative Baxley has used in discussing his bill is that it would be appropriate in a biology class or in a science class, for intelligent design to be taught whenever the theory of evolution is being taught. Well, first of all, that again requires faculty to teach something that they do not think is scientifically legitimate or should be in the course, and secondly, there are far more alternatives than just one. Lysenkoism in the old Soviet Union was the orthodox form of biology; would we be required to teach that as well? Would our business colleges have to teach Marxism as a legitimate business theory? There are many alternatives, not just one or two. And finally, it says that students have a right to expect these things, which presumably means that they would have the right to sue to have the rights enforced, which the bill analysis says would cost the people of Florida $4.2 million, and my wife says would be a real boon to the trial lawyers of our state."
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Pack journalism and media missing in action

From TomPaine:
An effective piece by Eric Alterman, who argues that the prevalence of pack journalism makes the media look as if they can't handle more than one thought at a time. Iraq, a report on the intelligence that helped the administration sell the war in Iraq, elections in Zimbabwe - these are just a few of the stories eclipsed by the media's obsession with Terri Schiavo and the pope.  
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Children as guinea pigs

From the Center for American Progress:
Remember that heinous Environmental Protection Agency program – sponsored by the American Chemistry Council – that offered $970 over two years to low-income families who allowed the agency to measure the effects of toxic pesticides on their children under one year of age? Maybe you know it by its disturbing, Orwellian acronym, CHEERS? Well, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) remembers, and yesterday she introduced some "unexpected turbulence" into Senate confirmation hearings for Stephen Johnson, President Bush's nominee to lead the EPA, when she called it "appalling, unethical and immoral" and implored Johnson "to pull the plug on this program tomorrow." Johnson later released a letter stating that "[n]o additional work will be conducted on this study subject to the outcome of external scientific and ethical review." Yet Boxer says that promise falls short of her demands, and says she will do whatever she can "to hold up Mr. Johnson's confirmation so long as the program has any chance of being revived," the New York Times reports.
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Social Security: The cost of propaganda

From the Center for American Progress:
President Bush's 60-day Social Security privatization road show is getting expensive. According to some rough estimates, the drive to sell his pseudo-policy may be one of the most costly in memory, well into the millions of dollars. Now, House Appropriations Committee Republicans have quietly asked the administration for an accounting of its '60 Stops in 60 Days' blitz. Additionally, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, formally asked the Government Accountability Office not only for the cost but also 'whether the Bush Administration has crossed the line from education to propaganda.'
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4/06/2005

Another blue state to the rescue...Maryland smackdown of Wal-Mart

From the WaPo:
Maryland lawmakers yesterday approved legislation that would effectively require Wal-Mart to boost spending on health care, a direct legislative thrust against a corporate giant that is already on the defensive on many fronts nationwide. "We're looking for responsible businesses to ante up ... and provide adequate health care," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), the Finance Committee chairman, as the Senate approved the measure with a majority wide enough to survive an anticipated veto. A similar bill has cleared the House of Delegates, and legislators expect to reconcile their differences easily. Lawmakers said they did not set out to single out Wal-Mart when they drafted a bill requiring organizations with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits - or put the money directly into the state's health program for the poor. But as debate raged in the Senate yesterday, it was clear that the giant retailer, which has 15,000 workers in Maryland, was the only company that would be affected.
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Another DeLay fundraising stunt

From ABC News:
The good news reached the Jamestown, N.Y., office of Dr. Rudolph Mueller in a fax from a congressman in Washington. Mueller had been named 2004 Physician of the Year...But to receive the award in person at a special two-day workshop in Washington last month, Mueller found out that he would have to make a $1,250 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee. It was a disturbing discovery, he said. "To actually buy your award and it's not from your peers or from your patients or from the community that you serve, it's really deceptive," said Mueller, author of "As Sick As It Gets: The Shocking Reality of America's Healthcare, A Diagnosis and Treatment Plan." "It's not being honest, it's just not right." To see what the award process was all about, Mueller sent in his $1,250 contribution and ABC News paid for his travel to Washington for the scheduled events March 14-15, which included a tax-reform workshop as well as appearances by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and President Bush. Mueller soon found he was not the only winner. There were hundreds of Physicians of the Year present, many of whom found the criteria for being selected equally as opaque...The Republicans, under the direction of DeLay, came up with the idea for the awards five years ago as a means of helping to raise funds for the congressional campaign efforts for their party.
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Latest USA TODAY/Gallup/CNN Poll: GOP "moral" agenda doubted

From USA Today, via Oliver Willis' blog:
• By 55%-40%, respondents say Republicans, traditionally the party of limited government, are "trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans" on moral values.
• By 53%-40%, they say Democrats, who sharply expanded government since the Depression, aren't trying to interfere on moral issues.
The debate over Schiavo has spotlighted the central role "values" issues — abortion, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage and the right to live or die — now play in politics. Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia who studies religion and politics, says the case has created a "clear backlash...It's one thing to look at religious conservatives as part of a broad coalition that makes up the Republican Party. It's entirely another if people think that religious conservatives are calling the shots in the Bush administration for what was a deeply personal situation."
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Faking the civil society

Great piece by Jonathan Schell on Tomgram about how the right wing "fakes" civil society by selectively backing "opposition movements" through the National Endowment for Democracy, funding propagandistic think tanks and subservient media outlets, and staging fake town meetings.
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Tragedy in Afghanistan

From Daily Kos:
Ever wonder how it might feel to fight and die in a forgotten war, while your country obsesses over Michael Jackson and Terri Schiavo?
Sixteen people were killed Wednesday when a coalition helicopter traveling in "severe weather" crashed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.Eighteen people, including crew and passengers, were listed on the flight manifest. Two people remain unaccounted for. "We collected nine bodies," Sarjang told The AP by mobile telephone. "They were all wearing American uniforms and they were all dead."

184 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan thus far, not that anyone seems to appreciate their sacrifice.
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"Extraordinary and reckless" statement by Bush

Via Atrios' blog, Congressman DeFazio on the House floor today:
...The President was on the road again today with yet another tightly controlled scripted, so-called town hall, before a carefully screened, invitation audience to tout to his plan to privatize Social Security...He did say today something extraordinary, in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and suggested something unconscionable. The President said, ``There is no trust fund.'' And then he went on to suggest that our Nation might not honor its debt to Social Security. This is what the President said does not exist. Let me read from this. This is a Social Security Trust Fund bond, considered the best investments in the world, U.S. Treasury Bond. This is the most privileged of Treasury bonds issued to Social Security, redeemable at any time at full face value, unlike any other bond that they issue. These are the most privileged of their bonds. The President says it is nothing but an IOU. Well, here is what it says: This bond is incontestable in the hands of the Federal Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund. The bond is supported by the full faith and credit of the United States. And the United States is pledged to the payment of the bond with respect to both principal and interest. The President questions that? He is questioning whether we are going to repay our most privileged debt to Social Security. We have $7.9 trillion of debt. He is adding to it at a record rate, borrowing $1.3 million a minute. Who is he saying we are going to repay and not repay? Are we going to repay the Chinese but not the Social Security Trust Fund? Are we going to repay President Bush, he happens to have some U.S. Treasury Bonds in his personal portfolio, but not the Social Security Trust Fund? Are we going to repay other wealthy investors around the world and in the U.S., but not the Social Security Trust Fund? We are going to selectively default on our debt. Suggesting something like that, if the bond markets believed the President, the dollar would drop to near zero tomorrow, and there would be an economic catastrophe, but they do not believe him. They know this is just politics and rhetoric on his part. There is no intention of the Government of the United States defaulting on its debt. This year Social Security will collect $170 billion more than it needs to pay Social Security benefits, and they are invested in the trust fund. If what the President said is true, there is no trust fund, and we are not going to honor it, then Congress and the President are perpetrating a fraud of extraordinary magnitude on the working people of America, extorting through taxes $170 billion more than they need to pay current benefits that this President has no intention of repaying. That is unbelievable. Every minute, every minute, this President and this Congress are borrowing $320,000 of Social Security taxes and spending it on something else. And the President says he is replacing it with worthless IOUs; they are not bonds, they are not investments. He questions whether they will be repaid. He questions the full faith and credit of the Government of the United States of America and its willingness, our willingness, to meet our obligations and our debt. If what the President says is true, then we ought to give the working people of America, instead of the rich people of America, the biggest tax cut in history. Reduce the Social Security tax, which falls more heavily on working people. More working Americans pay more in Social Security taxes than they do income taxes to the Federal Government. If he has no intention of repaying that $170 billion that he is borrowing this year of excess Social Security taxes, then we should not collect it under false pretenses. We should give people a big tax break. That would stimulate small business, employment, and put a lot of money in the pockets of working people. I am not advocating that. But if he does not repay it, he should be advocating it, and instead of trying to switch the game and having an irrelevant debate over a so-called privatization plan which actually makes the funding problems of Social Security worse and would require another few trillion dollars of borrowing, in which I guess people would get these worthless bonds that the President questions. Now, who is going to buy those worthless bonds? How is he going to continue to run the Government of the United States borrowing $1.3 million a minute if the bonds of this country are worthless? This is an extraordinary and reckless statement for the elected President of the United States to make.
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Santorum screws up...again

From Susan of Suburban Guerrilla. She notes:
Not only did Rick Santorum shelve a bill today which would have increased funding for child care for children in his state, but he then callously declared "the daycare money is excessive, unnecessary, and not the problem out there in America.” (Congress Daily AM, 4/6/05)

And she adds:
Yo, Rick. Not everyone is a full-time homeschooling wife sitting on her own $.25M insurance settlement. Most of us actually work for a living. And by the way, I think you just lost the election.
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Welcome to Bush's America

From the Hoffmania blog:
I mean, look - I take my passport whether I travel domestically or otherwise. It just saves me a lot of hassle. But is this really going to keep us from "people who want to come in and hurt us"? Amazing how we nailed the Millennium Bomber at the Canadian border without this rule.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans will need passports to re-enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, Panama and Bermuda by 2008, part of a tightening of U.S. border controls in an era of terrorist threat, three administration officials said Tuesday. Similarly, Canadians will also have to present a passport to enter the United States, the officials said. Asked about the changes in an Associated Press interview, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States had to take every precaution to screen out "people who want to come in to hurt us." Rice also said the changes were made after consultation with Mexico, Canada and others in the Western Hemisphere.
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Right-wing smear of Pulitzer photojournalists

From the Philadelphia Daily News "Attytood" blog:
Now, the right-wing pajama brigade is in full attack mode against the Pulitzer Prize awarded this week to 11 photojournalists working for the Associated Press, including our friend and Philadelphia Daily News colleague, Jim MacMillan. These are people of remarkable bravery -- dodging bullets and crawling through slime on a regular basis for nothing more than the public's ability to see war as it really is fought. The AP's crime? In so many words, they are guilty of showing the conflict in Iraq the way that it is, and not the way that the conservative blogosphere wishes that it were. The right wants those pictures of rose petals and liberation parades that Dick Cheney promised them three years ago, and now they're mad they didn't get them. Slate.com has a good round-up of the conservative complainers. The usual suspects include our favorite Daily News op-ed contributor, Michelle Malkin, and the good people at Powerline, which calls it "The Pulitzer Prize for Felony Murder." There are two main objections. To sum them up, they claim the AP was aiding the enemy when one of its photographers, who has sources in the anti-U.S. insurgency, went to a rally and captured a shot of insurgents shooting two Iraqi election workers. The other is general, that too many of the pictures are "pro-insurgent" or that none of them depict "heroic" actions by American troops.
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Media ignores attack on Abu Ghraib prison

From Paul McLeary of the Columbia Journalism Review:
...On Saturday, in what has been called the largest and most sophisticated insurgent attack in Iraq to date, a group of between 40 and 60 members of al Qaeda attacked Abu Ghraib prison, wounding 44 Americans and 13 prisoners. The attack, which employed mortars, rockets, several coordinated ground assaults and a car bomb, took the Marines guarding the prison over an hour to beat back with the help of Apache helicopters and artillery. One might think that a major engagement with a high casualty rate (at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, no less) would grab some headlines back home -- after all, even saturation coverage of the pope's death leaves some room for other news. Yet the story has been largely buried on the back pages of our major dailies. The attack merited a brief mention in Sunday's papers, with the Washington Post dumping it on page A16, and the New York Times publishing a story on A11 that clocked in at a paltry 393 words...The reporting on the story has been generally sloppy as well...There's no doubt that reporting from a war zone is a messy, confusing business, and military authorities have reasons for withholding certain information. But the utter disregard the American media have shown this story is astonishing. Even with other news elbowing lesser stories out of the media spotlight, a major attack on an American military installation in an ongoing war seems like something that might be worth hearing as much about as, say, the latest accusations against a certain Southern California pop star.
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Could Bolton's nomination be blocked?

From the Boston Globe:
Senator Lincoln Chafee's office said yesterday that his constituency is "overwhelmingly" opposed to the nomination of John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations, signaling that Chafee is leaning against supporting Bolton in a move that could derail the nomination. If Chafee, a moderate Republican from Rhode Island who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joins with Democrats who are expected to unanimously oppose the nomination, Republicans will not have enough votes to send the confirmation to the Senate floor. Citizens for Global Solutions, a national grass-roots group that advocates for international institutions, including the United Nations, has spent about $20,000 in Rhode Island to air a television ad against Bolton on Fox News, NBC, CBS, and two radio stations. The group also launched a website, www.stopbolton.org, which encourages viewers to sign a petition and write letters to senators in key states, including Chafee. Hourahan said that 110 people contacted Chafee's Washington office on Monday alone, most of whom said they had received an e-mail from the office of Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, about the Bolton nomination. Over the years, Chafee has often gone against the grain of his party. He was the only Republican to vote against the White House war resolution in October 2002 leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and was one of two Republicans to vote against Bush's tax cuts.
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And the DeLay Watch continues...

The Vigoro is really hitting the Mixmaster now. When the Drudge Report and Dick Cheney back away from you while holding their noses, you know you're done. The latest from Eric Umansky of Slate:
The WaPo fronts yet another fishy travel expedition by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. In 1997, DeLay jetted over to Moscow on a trip that seems to have been financed by lobbyists at the service of the Russian government. DeLay reported that the trip was funded by a D.C. non-profit, but the Post says people "involved in planning DeLay's trip" confirmed it was actually covered by a "mysterious company registered in the Bahamas." House ethics rules make it a no-no for legislators to have their trips covered by lobbyists or foreign agents...The NY Times mentions the Moscow trip but focuses on records showing that DeLay's political and campaign committees have been cutting checks to his wife and daughter. The two have made "more than" $500,000 since 2001.
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4/05/2005

Lowest.Approval.Ever.

From Atrios:
According to Gallup, Bush's approval rating is the lowest of any president in March of their 2nd term - 45%. A big part of the general deference the press gives this administration is based on this false notion that he's a popular president. Sayeth the Fineman last week: 'There’s a certain logic to the enterprise: don’t take on the Texas president, who remains popular, especially as commander-in-chief." How low does Bush's approval have to go before WE STOP SAYING THAT.
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Sean Hannity is a big hypocrite who sucks

From ThinkProgress:
Conservatives are attaching themselves like barnacles to the legacy of Pope John Paul II, portraying him as an ideological soulmate of President Bush. Of course, they haven’t always felt that way – especially when the Pope was opposing the President’s policies. Here’s Sean Hannity, from January 2003:
COLMES: …And before you respond, let me just put up what the pope says. “No to war,” says Pope John Paul II. “during his annual address to scores of diplomatic emissaries to the Vatican…‘War is not always inevitable,’ he said. ‘It is always a defeat for humanity.’” Are these a bunch of wild-eyed liberal loonies?
HANNITY: Yes.
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Ruthless SOBs

From the Gadflyer:
It wasn't enough that the administration went after the NAACP's tax exempt status after its leaders were critical of the President. Now the big-business interests holding the strings want to use a bunch of government audits to put the screws to the union movement. From the Financial Times:
The US government aims to toughen its regulation of organised labour in what critics see as the latest in a series of pro-business policies sweeping Washington. The Department of Labor plans greater scrutiny of spending and hiring practices and will continue to increase sharply the number of financial audits of individual unions. It says the measures are necessary to make unions more accountable to their members and to root out any corruption or mismanagement.

This from the administration that doesn't seem the least bit concerned about war-profiteering in Iraq, or the Coalition Provisional Authority's "loss" of 9 billion taxpayer dollars. Union leaders argue the clampdown is motivated by pressure from corporate America to weaken the lobbying influence and financial power of organized labor.
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A very short history of the neocons

Eric Alterman provides a "short history" of the neocons, including the media outlets they dominate and/or control. Rumors of their demise are greatly exaggerated, he says; "what doesn't kill them makes them stronger."
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Berlusconi smackdown

From Reuters:
Italians have given Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a severe political beating, leaving him just one year to recover before a general election he now looks in serious danger of losing. Not even the death of Pope John Paul could keep Italians from delivering the chastening message to Berlusconi at regional elections on Sunday and Monday where his center-right coalition was defeated in 11 of 13 regions at stake. Defying fears that Catholics would desert the ballot boxes, the turnout was 71.4 percent of the more than 41 million eligible voters. "It is already clear that the defeat, a defeat so crushing that it cannot be talked down or excused, has caused a political crisis for the government," said Italy's leading daily, the mainstream Corriere della Sera.

And, according to the BBC, elections in Great Britain have been scheduled for May. Hmmmmm....
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FYI: Patriot Act provisions that are due to expire

From the AP:
Several provisions of the USA Patriot Act expire on Jan. 1, 2006, if not renewed by Congress:
* Section 201 -- Gives federal officials the authority to intercept wire, spoken and electronic communications relating to terrorism.
* Section 202 -- Gives federal officials the authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to computer fraud and abuse offenses.
* Subsection 203(b) -- Permits the sharing of grand jury information that involves foreign intelligence or counterintelligence with federal law enforcement, intelligence, protective, immigration, national defense, or national security officials
* Subsection 203(d) -- Gives foreign intelligence or counterintelligence officers the ability to share foreign intelligence information obtained as part of a criminal investigation with law enforcement.
* Section 204 -- Makes clear that nothing in the law regarding pen registers -- an electronic device which records all numbers dialed from a particular phone line -- stops the government's ability to obtain foreign intelligence information.
* Section 206 -- Allows federal officials to issue roving "John Doe" wiretaps for spy and anti-terrorism investigations.
* Section 207 -- Increases the amount of time that federal officials can watch people they suspect are spies or terrorists.
* Section 209 -- Permits the seizure of voicemail messages under a warrant.
* Section 212 -- Permits ISP (Internet service providers) and other electronic communication and remote computing service providers to hand over records and e-mails to federal officials in emergency situations.
* Section 214 -- Allows use of a pen register or trap and trace devices -- a device records the originating phone numbers of all incoming calls on a particular phone line -- in international terrorism or spy investigations.
* Section 215 -- Authorizes federal officials to obtain "tangible items" like business records -- including those from libraries and bookstores --for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.
* Section 217 -- Makes it lawful to intercept the wire or electronic communication of a computer hacker or intruder in certain circumstances.
* Section 218 -- Allows federal officials to wiretap or watch suspects if foreign intelligence gathering is a "significant purpose" for seeking a FISA (Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act) order. The pre-Patriot Act standard said they could ask for the surveillance only if it was "the" sole or main purpose.
* Section 220 -- Provides for nationwide service of search warrants for electronic evidence
* Section 223 -- Amends the federal criminal code to provide for administrative discipline of federal officers or employees who violate prohibitions against unauthorized disclosures of information gathered under this act.
* Section 225 -- Amends FISA to prohibit lawsuits against people or companies that provide information to federal officials for a terrorism investigation.
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Patriot Act up for renewal

From the AP:
Critics of the USA Patriot Act want the kind of real debate they were denied when the sweeping anti-terrorism law was passed 45 days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he's willing to accommodate them, but he wants all the law's expiring provisions to be renewed. Gonzales was headed to Capitol Hill on Tuesday no less determined than his predecessor to defend the Patriot Act against arguments that it intrudes into people's lives...On the same day Gonzales was to speak to the Senate committee, Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., planned to reintroduce legislation designed to curb major parts of the Patriot Act that they say went too far. "Cooler heads can now see that the Patriot Act went too far, too fast and that it must be brought back in line with the Constitution," said Gregory Nojeim, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office. The ACLU is part of an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative groups, including the American Conservative Union, that have come together in a joint effort to lobby Congress to repeal key provisions of the Patriot Act. Among the controversial provisions is a section permitting secret warrants for "books, records, papers, documents and other items" from businesses, hospitals and other organizations. That section is known as the "library provision" by its critics. While it does not specifically mention bookstores or libraries, critics say the government could use it to subpoena library and bookstore records and snoop into the reading habits of innocent Americans. The Bush administration has acknowledged using it only once. But the criticism has led five states and 375 communities in 43 states to pass anti-Patriot Act resolutions, the ACLU says.
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Military recruiters targeting minority teens

Big article in the LA Times about recruiters in that area. Military recruiters are fortifying their outposts at high schools, hoping a chummy familiarity will entice students to enlist.
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Another call for investigation

From BuzzFlash:
U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) have formally requested the House Government Reform Committee to investigate recent incidents in which American citizens were denied entrance to or were removed from taxpayer-funded Presidential events open to the public because of their political beliefs. They sent a letter to Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) and Ranking Member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), which you can read from the link.
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Blue states come through again

From the AP:
The New Hampshire state Senate has voted to allow women to buy emergency contraception without a prescription after unprotected sex. Gov. John Lynch supports the bill and will sign the measure if it passes the House. The bill would allow specially trained pharmacists to offer the so-called "morning after" pill, which is a large dose of birth control hormones that can prevent pregnancy if taken soon after unprotected sex. The federal Food and Drug Administration advisory committees last year recommended that the drug be made available over the counter, but an agency director said not enough information was known about the pill's use by young teenagers or how it would affect their sexual behavior. One legislator said: "I do not believe the punishment for youthful indiscretion for unguarded sex is to force young women to have an abortion or unwanted pregnancy." Another said: "Young boys can go get what they have to have. Young girls should have equal rights." Maine voted last year to allow pharmacists to dispense the contraceptives without a prescription - becoming the sixth state to do so.

The quote about young girls having equal rights? It came from a Republican male legislator. Yowsah!
And from TalkLeft:
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has struck back at pharmacists who think it's okay to play the morals card at work. He filed an emergency rule Friday requiring pharmacies that sell contraceptives to fill prescriptions for birth control quickly, following recent incidents in which a Chicago pharmacist refused to fill orders for contraceptives because of moral opposition. "Our regulation says that if a woman goes to a pharmacy with a prescription for birth control, the pharmacy or the pharmacist is not allowed to discriminate or to choose who he sells it to or who he doesn't sell it to," Blagojevich said. "The pharmacy will be expected to accept that prescription and fill it ... No delays. No hassles. No lectures."

And from the NY Times:
Connecticut's attorney general said today that he was preparing to sue the federal government over President Bush's signature education-reform law, arguing that it forces Connecticut to administer new standardized tests at a cost of millions of dollars and that Washington refuses to pay for them. The Connecticut attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat first elected in 1992, said that he was announcing his plans now because he is about to contact attorneys general in other states to seek co-plaintiffs or other allies for the legal battle. "The federal government's approach with this law is illegal and unconstitutional," Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview. He declined to predict whether any of his colleagues elsewhere would join his action, but he said he was finding "fertile ground."
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Funny as hell

Check out this week's funniest story in the Onion. The pictures are a scream.
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Distorted reporting on Nicaragua

From FAIR:
As the Bush administration carries out what the New York Times (4/5/05) describes as a "concerted effort" to block the return of the left-wing Sandinista party to power in Nicaragua, U.S. media are returning to the kind of distorted reporting on Nicaragua that characterized coverage during Washington's war against that country in the 1980s. The New York Times' April 5 article on the administration's anti-Sandinista campaign provides a prime example of this one-sided and inaccurate media treatment. The article, by Ginger Thompson, characterized the U.S. attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government as part of "the global struggle against Communism"--though Nicaragua under the Sandinistas had a mixed economy, multiple opposition parties and a very active opposition press. She refers to Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president of Nicaragua, as a "revolutionary strongman," even though he was elected to the presidency in 1984 with 67 percent of the vote, in balloting that international observers found to be "free, fair and hotly contested". The piece does not quote any Sandinistas, but it does repeatedly quote an anonymous "senior State Department official" who makes unsubstantiated charges about Ortega and the Sandinistas. New York Times policy supposedly discourages the use of anonymous sources.
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"So you support usury, Senator?"

From David Sirota's blog on the Loan Shark Prevention Act:
As the House gets ready to debate the disgusting credit-card/banking-industry-backed bankrutpcy bill, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is introducing "The Loan Shark Prevention Act" - a legislative package designed to prevent the worst abuses by credit card companies and commerical banks. The bill has three very simple provisions, including a ban on the credit card interest rate bait and switch...Sanders makes a good point: "Loan-sharking is an odious practice whether it is performed by street corner thugs or the CEOs of large banks. Charging economically vulnerable Americans outrageous interest rates and fees is simply not acceptable and, amid all of the recent political discussion over 'values,' this certainly does not constitute 'moral' behavior." Here's the deal with this bill - people who oppose this legislation literally support usury. And that's fine - but they should have the guts to admit that, rather than pretend that their vote in support of the upcoming bankruptcy bill is about anything other than paying back an industry that regularly engages in consumer abuse.
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Greed aid

From TomPaine:
Big banks do billions in student loans. The Village Voice's Anya Kamenetz reports that student lenders are some of the most profitable companies in the country. Much of this business is underwritten by the U.S. government. A new bill introduced in the House and Senate aims to change this system to benefit students struggling to pay for college. But to pass it, they need to battle the powerful financial-services lobby. Check out the story.
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End of shared prosperity in US?

From TomPaine:
Mark Trahant, the op-ed editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is scared for America because the engine of shared American prosperity stopped working...in 1973. Since that time, the extremely wealthy have taken an increasing share of income growth—to the extent that median American income has declined for the first time ever. And Bush's blend of tax cuts and deficit explosion only result in more inequality and concentration of wealth. Read his essay here.
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Action Alert: National Call-In Days to Block Destruction of Filibuster

From TomPaine:
In a matter of days, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist could make good on his threat to invoke the "nuclear option," denying minority-party senators their right to filibuster judicial nominees. With only 50 senators' votes plus Vice President Cheney's, the filibuster could be history. The filibuster is one of the oldest checks on unmitigated majority power in the Senate, and using the nuclear option would set a dangerous precedent—today, judicial nominations, tomorrow, legislation? The importance of retaining a system of checks and balances in the Senate can't be overemphasized. April 6 and 7 are National Call-In Days to Protect Checks and Balances, organized by SaveOurCourts.org. Call your senators' offices and tell them to oppose any efforts to invoke the nuclear option. Click on the link above to act.
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Spawn of Cheney

From TomPaine:
Dick Cheney wants John Bolton to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This linked article makes the simple case against Bolton's nomination: If Bolton is confirmed as U.S.-U.N. ambassador, he will destroy the world body just at the moment when it is to be transformed into a powerful vehicle for international peace and security. To learn more about the case against Bolton the GOP hack, click on the link above. And click here to watch a video ad of Bolton's own words about international institutions like the UN.
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Neutering Social Security

The inimitable Jim Hightower on AlterNet has written a "backgrounder" on the Social Security bamboozle/privatization scheme, helpfully providing a bit of historical perspective on how much Republicans have always hated Social Security, the motives and beneficiaries of said scheme, W's role in it, etc. All told in his usual colorful manner. Some choice quotations:
When George W. says he's going to "fix" our Social Security system, I feel like a dog that's just been told, "We're taking you to the vet to get you fixed."...While politicians from Goldwater to George have portrayed their assault on the program in terms of "saving" it with a curative dose of privatization, it's really the very existence of Social Security that sticks in their craw...These are laissez-faire extremists who loathe the notion of anything "public," who cringe at the ethic of the "Common Good," and who despise any government program that supports anything other than military and corporate interests...George himself has long been a part of this journey from the wilderness. He's currently squawking like a rooster choking on a peach pit about the urgency of dealing with a looming "crisis" in Social Security, as though this issue suddenly has appeared on his radar. But he's been nurturing privatization as a policy goal from his days as a prep school brat... Today's push for those accounts has nothing to do with the program's long-term finances, as the Bushites and most media pundits tell us, and everything to do with this relentless decades-long campaign by antigovernment zealots to replace our public system with a private one. The political road map came from a little noticed document prepared under the auspices of Cato. Written in 1983, it laid out a five-point strategy for creating a political environment that would give privatization a chance: 1. Maintain constant criticism of Social Security to influence the media and to undermine public confidence in the soundness of the program; 2. Build a network of influential supporters of private accounts, including Wall Street brokers who would profit from them; 3. Divide and conquer the opposition by assuring retirees and those nearing retirement that their benefits would be fully paid; 4. Enact laws creating 401(k)s and other private accounts so people learn to accept them; and 5. Have a privatization plan waiting in the wings when a president came along who was willing to claim that Social Security's trust fund faces a shortfall...Folks are figuring out what George's proposal means: tossing out the guarantee of retirement security; slashing benefits and raising the retirement age; no spousal benefits or disability payments; promised stock gains that are iffy at best (check the decline in your own 401(k)); and Wall Street fees and fraud that will devour any gains. Many old folks recall that we tried privatized retirement in the past. It was called the Great Depression. And some folks already know what privatizing retirement means, because they've seen that future ... and recoiled from it. Actually, the Bushites might have done us a favor by making this greedheaded and ideological lunge for our Social Security money. First, their audacious move has solidified and energized progressive forces to fight against it. Second, it rips away the "compassionate conservative" and "family values" masks that Bush has been wearing. Third, it opens up the big debate about what kind of country we want America to be. Will we be an I-got-mine, you're-on-your-own society, or a nation of people who continue striving for America's egalitarian ideal of the Common Good. This is more than a fight over our retirement (as big as that is). It's a fight for America's democratic soul. It's also a fight we can -- and must -- win.
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The NYT bestseller no one is talking about

And Dahlia Lithwick of Slate dumps on it magnificently:
...Mark R. Levin's Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America was ranked eighth on the New York Times list this week; it's been on that list for six weeks now, and seems to be leaping off the bookshelves, despite the fact that it concerns constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet it has been reviewed virtually no place and written up by almost no one...It's selling, it seems, almost entirely due to endorsements by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fox News. Men in Black was published by Regnery Publishing—the outfit that brought us Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry last summer. Serious journalists spent serious time debunking the claims set forth in the Swift Boat book, but absolutely no one seems to be taking on Levin. This isn't too surprising: For one thing, there's no election on the line. And for another, no serious scholar of the court or the Constitution, on the ideological left or right, is going to waste their time engaging Levin's arguments once they've read this book. I use the word "book" with some hesitation: Certainly it possesses chapters and words and other book-like accoutrements. But Men in Black is 208 large-print pages of mostly block quotes...padded with a forward by the eminent legal scholar Rush Limbaugh, and a blurry 10-page "Appendix" of internal memos to and from congressional Democrats—stolen during Memogate. The reason it may take you only slightly longer to read Men in Black than it took Levin to write it is that you'll experience an overwhelming urge to shower between chapters. The argument here is not new. In fact, one of the reasons it's impossible to call Men in Black a work of legal scholarship is that there is not an original piece of analysis in it. Levin is railing against the Supreme Court for being a bunch of "activist judges"...But Men in Black never gets past the a.m.-radio bile to arrive at cogent analysis. Each of the first three chapters ends with the word "tyranny." Absent any structure or argument, this book could just have been titled Legal Decisions I Really, Really Hate. Levin follows the lead of lazy pundits everywhere who excoriate "activist judges" without precisely defining what constitutes one. He offers four random examples of "activist decisions" which mysteriously include Dred Scott v. Sandford...and Korematsu v. United States...Reading his hysterical attacks on Justices O'Connor and Kennedy, you'd forget they are largely on his side and substantially different creatures from the court's true liberals. But Levin seems as incapable of distinguishing between jurists as he is incapable of differentiating between cases or doctrine. He's happy to decimate the court as a whole...I can understand completely why the serious legal thinkers of this world have no interest in engaging with Levin on his legal scholarship...But ignoring this book won't keep it from tearing up the best-seller list; and it's unwise to write off everyone who reads it as a Swift Boat lunatic. In the past weeks, we have seen a quiet sea change with death threats to—and actual attacks on—judges becoming disturbingly common. To refuse to acknowledge the call-to-arms behind Men in Black, as the press and most of the legal academy has done, can feel like intellectual integrity. But it also represents a failure to take part in a national conversation that may have very serious long-term consequences for the courts. It may be a conversation that requires some of us to take a lot more showers. So be it.
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4/04/2005

Try this if you need a living will

Another good one from the Mom o'Gatorchick. Feel free to distribute widely.
New Living Will
I, _________________________ (fill in the blank), being of sound mind and body, do not wish to be kept alive indefinitely by artificial means. Under no circumstances should my fate be put in the hands of peckerwood politicians who couldn't pass ninth-grade biology if their lives depended on it. If a reasonable amount of time passes and I fail to sit up and ask for a cold beer, it should be presumed that I won't ever get better. When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my spouse, children and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes and call it a day. Under no circumstances shall the members of the Legislature enact a special law to keep me on life-support machinery. It is my wish that these boneheads mind their own damn business, and pay attention instead to the health, education and future of the millions of Americans who aren't in a permanent coma. Under no circumstances shall any politicians butt into this case. I don't care how many fundamentalist votes they're trying to scrounge for their run for the presidency in 2008, it is my wish that they play politics with someone else's life and leave me alone to die in peace. I couldn't care less if a hundred religious zealots send e-mails to legislators in which they pretend to care about me. I don't know these people, and I certainly haven't authorized them to preach and crusade on my behalf. They should mind their own business too. If any of my family goes against my wishes and turns my case into a political cause, I hereby promise to come back from the grave and make his or her existence a living hell.
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DeLay watch..."Let the games begin"

From Digby's blog:
This Tom DeLay mess is really getting interesting, isn't it? While I appreciate the "don't fire 'til you see the whites of their eyes" strategy, after some thought I've decided that it's probably a good idea for the Democrats to put pressure on Delay right now. As a matter of fact, I think it will ensure that the wingnuts continue to support him and that he stays in the news and in his post well into the 2006 election cycle. Nothing will make the radicals more vociferously defend their wounded leader than a bunch of Democrats attacking him. And I think that we want the extreme rightwing to be defending Tom DeLay, especially the Randall Terrys and the James Dobsons, as often as possible. We especially want to see those guys on Fox News. A lot. And here's why. Something happened during the Schiavo circus, I think, and it was something significant. But it wasn't that the nation saw that politicians were all a bunch of craven opportunists. They already knew that. It was that the Republican professional class, the libertarians and some common sense types saw FOX News and talk radio as being full of shit for the first time. I have nothing but a handful of anecdotes to back that up, but I think Schiavo may turn out to be the first big tear in the right wing matrix. For instance, a conservative doctor of my acquaintance was stunned by the Schiavo matter. This man watches nothing but Fox news and could not believe the anti-intellectual religiosity of their coverage. This is a matter that he knows intimately and he could see clearly that the coverage wasn't "fair and balanced." Indeed, it wasn't true. It's as if a veil fell from his eyes. My conservative Rush loving neighbor was heard complaining the his hero didn't know what he was talking about on the Schiavo case. That is a first. This guy is a true believer --- who also has a very sick wife. My nurse sister-in-law (also a born again Christian and avid FOX watcher) insisted that all the news be turned off in the house because she couldn't stand the exploitation of the patient or the sideshow outside that hospice. She's very depressed about all this. See, the right isn't like us. They think that the so called liberal media is irretrievably biased but believe what they see, read and hear on their own media. We on the left, on the other hand, have no faith in any mainstream media, really, or any alternative media either for that matter. We have developed the habit of culling from various sources and analyzing the information ourselves as best we can. Even then we are very skeptical. Nothing that the media could do would particularly shock or disappoint us. No so with the other side. A fair number of them are actually hurt and bewildered by what they saw in the Schiavo matter. I suppose it's possible that this will fade and that nobody will remember the bizarre spectacle of these urbane, cosmopolitan news celebrities on television spouting lines from Elmer Gantry or Rush clumsily sputtering about the culture of life, but once people have been shocked like this they don't fully trust again. I think there may be quite a few Republicans who were surprised by the complete abdication of responsible coverage by their own trusted Wurlitzer. It's one thing to get behind jingoistic nationalism and shut your eyes and ears to anything that disturbs that vision of your government. Most wingnuts have a bizarre belief that the government must know best when it comes to national security, despite all evidence to the contrary. But, to see your trusted media blow it so hugely on a personal issue about which most of us have very definite opinions and are pretty well informed, must be quite jarring. Liberals have been hung for decades with the alleged radicalism and extremism of the new left of 35 years ago. But it's not as if we ever made Abbie Hoffman the majority leader of the House. Tom Hayden never ran for president. Today we have a corrupt GOP congressional leader who is now actively embracing a shift in the separation of powers and he's being supported by an active extremist constituency inside the Republican party. The fringe appears to be wielding a tremendous amount of power...Over at Daily Kos I read that four senators have sponsored an act that "makes it possible for the Congress to charge any judge with a crime who disagrees with the concept that all law, liberty, and government comes only from God."...The House has 18 co-sponsors for their versions of the same bill...Apparently, we are entering a new phase in the culture war that should be startling to even those who didn't see that partisan witch hunts, bogus impeachments and stolen elections indicated a certain, shall we say, imaginative interpretation of our constitution and a willingness to radically exceed any previous limits on partisan power. Now that these nutcases have political power it becomes clear that their beef with the judiciary has actually always been that it operates more or less independently of the political process and that means they cannot completely control it, which is the real problem. When you are running a strongarm operation, ("the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior") partisanship or ideology really doesn't matter anymore. It's a pure power game and it clearly applies to conservative Republicans as much as it applies to liberal Democrats...So, we are dealing with a very powerful constituency of religious nuts now doing the muscle work for a criminal political gang. And it would appear that nobody is safe, not even those who sign the blood oath to the Republican Party. The slimy criminals and the self-righteous religious zealots have formed their own power center right smack dab in the middle of the Republican Party. I say let the games begin. This has been brewing for quite some time. This undemocratic streak in the GOP waxes and wanes but it has been dramatically on the upswing for the last decade or so. But this time the radical Republicans are piping their revolution straight into homes and cars and offices all over this country and it's starting to freak out the normal people. I've been shouting myself hoarse about this for more than ten years. These self-proclaimed revolutionaries are exactly what they say they are and they do not respect the spirit of democracy, the rule of law or our constitution. That they are supported by so-called conservatives just makes the irony that much richer.
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Frist preparing for nuclear option

From Joe of AmericaBlog:
Looks like Bill Frist is preparing for the "nuclear option" in the Senate. He wants to change the filibuster rules on judicial nominations. AP is reporting that:
Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is irked that Democrats have used filibusters to block 10 of Bush's choices for federal appeals courts. He's vowed not to let it happen this year, particularly with the possibility that there could soon be a Supreme Court nominee to consider. But to carry out that promise might require changing Senate rules that now allow just 41 members to block any judicial nominee. Frist needs 50 votes in the 100-member Senate to change the rules. Vice President Dick Cheney could then break a tie.
The interesting thing, according to the article, is that he doesn't have the full support of his Republican caucus:
Many are nervous about what has become known as the "nuclear option," a rules change would set off a political war that might block the remainder of Bush's domestic agenda. GOP Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, John McCain of Arizona, Olympia Snowe of Maine, John Warner of Virginia and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island have either said they oppose changing the rules or have declined to promise to support the change. Veteran Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Richard Lugar of Indiana won't say either. "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," says Alaska's Ted Stevens, elected to the Senate in 1970 and now its longest-serving Republican.
This is serious stuff. If the Republicans change the rules, the Democrats have vowed to shut down the Senate. And, they can. Harry Reid is being resolute on this issue...and he needs to. This past weekend, for their weekly radio address, former Majority Leader George Mitchell talked about the "nuclear option." Mitchell gave up a federal judgeship when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1980. He is a very, very smart and astute politician. (and, it doesn't hurt to have Mitchell involved to keep Snowe and Collins in line.) Reuters gave the report on his address:
"All Americans should be concerned about the effort by Republican leaders in the Senate to unilaterally change the rules,” Mitchell said in delivering the Democrats’ weekly radio address. “They call it their 'nuclear option.' It’s an apt name because it will destroy any hope of bipartisanship and permanently change the Senate for the worse,” said Mitchell, who served as majority leader from 1989 to 1995....Mitchell said: “Our system of checks and balances is in place for a very good reason. It works. It protects all Americans. During the six years that I served as Senate majority leader, Republicans often used filibusters to achieve their objectives. I didn’t always agree with the results, but I accepted them and we were able to work together on many important issues.”
If Frist moves ahead, this will be an intense battle. And everyone will need to engage.
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Rush Limbaugh's dictionary

Definition of "fraternity prank":
“On the August 4 edition of the nationally syndicated Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh said that (PFC Lynndie) England and the other accused soldiers were engaging in acts that were ’sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank. Sort of like that kind of fun.’”
MediaMatters (8/4/04)

Definition of “fomenting violence":
“[W]ho is it that is responsible for fomenting harm against others? Who is it that cannot tolerate hearing things they disagree with, and who is it that reports to heckling and throwing salad dressing or ice cream pies on conservative Republican speakers? It’s the left, my dear. It is the left, my good friends, that is out there fomenting violence.”
Rush Limbaugh show, (4/1/05)
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Absolutely sick

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog reports that GOP Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said in a speech today that violence against judges is understandable. John says he has read the entire transcript, and that it is 100% correct and in context. He explains:
Just about one hour ago on the Senate floor, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) gave an astounding account of the recent spate of violence against judges, suggesting that the crimes could be attributed to the fact that judges are "unaccountable" to the public. Sources on the Hill went and pulled the transcript of what Cornyn said, and it read: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence." [Senate Floor, 4/4/05] We now have Republican Senators making excuses for terrorists. Explaining why terrorism is understandable. Why terrorists have legitimate concerns. Justifying why the victims of terrorism are really to blame for these heinous crimes. Wonder what Senator Cornyn thinks of rape victims? This is utterly outrageous. Outrageous. The GOP is now embracing domestic terrorists who are trying to undermine our democracy. And they're doing it so they can take down the judges who "killed" Terri Schiavo, and instead impose some Pat Robertson-like theocracy on our country. This is absolutely utterly beyond contempt. And the ultimate irony is that it is people like John Cornyn who now risk inciting violence against judges by giving aid and comfort to these homicidal maniacs. Cornyn should resign immediately.
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Democratic superiority, by the numbers

GREAT TALKING POINTS from Michael Kinsley in the WaPo:
It was the TV talker Chris Matthews, I believe, who first labeled Democrats and Republicans the "Mommy Party" and the "Daddy Party." Archaic as these stereotypes may be, they do capture general attitudes about the two parties. But we live in the age of the one-parent family, and it is Mom more often than Dad who must play both roles. It has not escaped notice that the Daddy Party has been fiscally misbehaving. But it hasn't really sunk in how completely Republicans have abandoned allegedly Republican values -- if in fact they ever really had such values. Our text today is the statistical tables of the 2005 Economic Report of the President. I did this exercise a while back with the 2004 tables and couldn't quite believe the results. But the 2005 data confirm it: The party with the best record of serving Republican economic values is the Democrats. It isn't even close. The Republican values I refer to are universal. We all want prosperity, oppose unemployment, dislike inflation, don't enjoy paying taxes, etc. These values are Republican only in the sense that Republicans are supposed to treasure them more and to be more reluctant to sacrifice them for other goals such as equality and clean air. Statistics back to 1959 make this clear. A consistent pattern over 45 years cannot be explained by shorter-term factors, such as war or who controls Congress. Maybe presidents can't affect the economy much, but the assumption that they can and do is so prominent in Republican rhetoric that they are stuck with it. So consider: Federal spending (aka "big government"): It has gone up an average of about $50 billion a year under presidents of both parties. But that breaks down as $35 billion a year under Democratic presidents and $60 billion under Republicans. If you assume that it takes a year for a president's policies to take effect, Democrats have raised spending by $40 billion a year and Republicans by $55 billion. Leaning over backward even farther, let's start our measurement in 1981, the date when many Republicans believe that life as we know it began. The result: Democrats still have a better record at smaller government. Republican presidents added more government spending for each year they served, whether you credit them with the actual years they served or with the year that followed. Federal revenue (aka taxes): You can't take it away from them: Republicans do cut taxes. Or rather, tax revenue goes up under both parties but about half as fast under Republicans. It's the only test of Republican economics that the Republicans win. That is, they win if you consider lower federal revenue to be a victory. Sometimes Republicans say that cutting taxes will raise government revenue by stimulating the economy. And sometimes they say that lower revenue is good because it will lead (by some mysterious process) to lower spending. The numbers in the Economic Report of the President undermine both theories. Spending goes up faster under Republican presidents than under Democratic ones. And the economy grows faster under Democrats than Republicans. What grows faster under Republicans is debt. Under Republican presidents since 1960, the federal deficit has averaged $131 billion a year. Under Democrats, that figure is $30 billion. In an average Republican year, the deficit has grown by $36 billion. In the average Democratic year it has shrunk by $25 billion. The national debt has gone up more than $200 billion a year under Republican presidents and less than $100 billion a year under Democrats. As for measures of general prosperity, each president inherits the economy. What counts is what happens next. Let's take just two measures, although they all show the same thing: Democrats do better under every variation. From 1960 to 2005 the gross domestic product measured in year-2000 dollars rose an average of $165 billion a year under Republican presidents and $212 billon a year under Democrats. Measured from 1989, or measured with a one-year delay, or both, the results are similar. And how about this one? The average annual rise in real per capita income -- that's the statistic that puts money in your pocket. Democrats score about 30 percent higher. Democratic presidents have a better record on inflation (averaging 3.13 percent compared with 3.89 percent for Republicans) and on unemployment (5.33 percent versus 6.38 percent). Unemployment went down in the average Democratic year, up in the average Republican one. Almost forgot: If you start in 1981 and if you factor in a year's delay, Republican presidents edge out Democratic ones on inflation, 4.57 to 4.36. Congratulations.
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Report rejects allegations of intimidation at Columbia

From the Boston Globe:
Columbia University's Middle Eastern studies professors did not engage in large-scale intimidation of pro-Israel students, but one angry professor exceeded ''commonly accepted bounds" of behavior in the classroom, a university report said yesterday. A five-member panel criticized Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, for implying that a student should leave his class after she defended Israel's conduct toward Palestinians...Massad did not immediately return a phone call from the AP. He has repeatedly denied allegations that he intimidated the student during a discussion of whether Palestinians might be targets of Israeli ''atrocities." The university has taken no action against him. Bollinger ordered the investigation after a group of students made a video alleging that Middle Eastern studies professors had harassed them. The video was funded by the David Project, a Boston-based pro-Israel group. The committee, appointed by the university, interviewed students, faculty members, administrators, and alumni, and received written statements from others. Some advocates of the students have criticized the committee's makeup, saying it included several faculty members who have expressed anti-Israel views...In a statement posted on Columbia's website in November, Massad said the student-made video ''is the latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel." The strategy of some pro-Israel groups, the professor said, is one ''that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism." The committee said it found no evidence that professors had made anti-Semitic remarks to Jewish students. Bollinger said this was never the issue; ''this was about intimidation."
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Gore Vidal interview

Some choice quotations from the interview in the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald:
"This is a bubble," he says of America and its imperviousness to world opinion. "Nothing from outside gets in, unlike a European country or even a semi-Asian one like Australia or New Zealand. They all have neighbours, who have media; who have newspapers; who have criticisms to make. They all have dealings. We have nothing but Canada and Mexico, for whom we appear to have contempt in both cases, for quite different reasons. We get no outside information. When was the last time you saw or heard of any coverage of the last Australian election when Master Howard was elevated yet again to the throne? And here we are, a great Pacific power and the only ally we have of importance in the Pacific - putting to one side the strange case of Japan - is Australia, who actually seem more benign than not when they regard America and its empire, and yet we don't know anything about them."...Vidal foresees his colleagues poking through the ashes. "This [country] will die in a pauper's grave, I can tell you," he says. "The great theory, you would think, for the Republican Party, which is the party of corporations, big business and money and of, you know, drip-torture greed, is allowing the place to go broke. There's a two-and-a-half-trillion-dollar deficit."..."Almost every day of my life when I was growing up," Vidal recalls, "my grandfather, sooner or later, would start to talk about the constitution. Always remember: it's based on one phrase, due process of law. You cannot have your life, property or liberty removed without due process of law. And they ended it," he says of the White House of President George Bush, and its introduction, in 2001, of the USA Patriot Act, with its expanded government powers of surveillance and investigation. "It's unthinkable....And when you have an Administration that is dedicated to ever larger lies about everything, including the foundation of our own country and the nature of our own constitution, you've got to get some truth out there."
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Wow. Montana says NO to the USA Patriot Act.

From the Billings Gazette:
Montana lawmakers overwhelmingly passed what its sponsor called the nation's most strongly worded criticism of the federal Patriot Act on Friday, uniting politicians of all stripes. The resolution, which already galloped through the Senate and passed the House 88-12 Friday, must survive a final vote before it officially passes. Montana isn't the first state that passed a resolution, but this resolution is the strongest statement against the constitutional violations of the Patriot Act of any state and almost every city or county. Senate Joint Resolution 19, sponsored by Sen. Jim Elliott, D-Trout Creek, says that while the 2005 Legislature supports the federal government's fight against terrorism, the so-called Patriot Act of 2001 granted authorities sweeping powers that violate citizens' rights enshrined in both the U.S. and Montanan constitutions. The resolution, which does not carry the weight of a law but expresses the Legislature's opinion, encourages Montana law enforcement agencies not to participate in investigations authorized under the Patriot Act that violate Montanans' constitutional rights. It requests all libraries in the state to post a sign warning citizens that under the Patriot Act, federal agents may force librarians to turn over a record of books a person has checked out and never inform that citizen of the request. The resolution asks Montana's attorney general to review any state intelligence information and destroy it if is not tied directly to suspected criminals. It also asks the attorney general to find out how many Montanans have been arrested under the Patriot Act and how many people have been subject to so-called "sneak and peaks," or government searches of a person's property without the person's knowledge. Elliott, a Democrat and rancher from northwestern Montana, sponsored the resolution, but it garnered support from Republicans on the far right of the political spectrum. "Sometimes we just take liberty for granted in the country," said Rep. Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, who keeps a plant called "the Liberty Tree" on his legislative desk. Koopman said his Liberty Tree was "blooming for this bill." "Frankly, what it says to me is that civil liberties are a bipartisan issue in Montana," said Rep. Rick Maejde, R-Trout Creek, who led the House debate for the resolution.
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Smearing the UN

By Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Star:
For years, there's been a determined campaign to smear the United Nations and its secretary-general Kofi Annan in connection with the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. But last week, Annan was cleared of wrongdoing by an independent investigative committee headed by respected former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Specifically, Volcker found Annan did not intervene in the awarding of a lucrative U.N. contract to a company that employed his son Kojo. However, Volcker was highly critical of Kojo, whom he accused of "intentionally" deceiving his father about his relationship with the company. So the lesson seems to be that Kojo is a dishonest guy who shouldn't be secretary-general of the U.N. Fortunately he isn't. Volcker's report should end efforts by right-wing congressmen and commentators to discredit Kofi Annan. But last week Republican congressman Norm Coleman repeated his longstanding call for Annan to resign. (Why? For being a bad father?) The media played up Annan's defiant "Hell, no" response (awfully stubborn, isn't he?). Annan was presented as emerging from the affair politically weakened and bruised, suggesting there's a lingering cloud over him and the U.N. That's what those on the right want us to believe. They've long disliked the U.N., which stands for co-operation among nations and restricting the use of unilateral power. This clashes with the right's desire for a more muscular U.S., free to assert its power unchecked around the world. The right was furious when the Security Council refused to endorse the U.S. invasion of Iraq and even more furious when Annan described the invasion as "illegal." Of course, there were serious problems with the oil-for-food program — notably that Saddam Hussein managed to siphon off billions of dollars. Still, the program managed to provide crucial aid to Iraqis suffering under economic sanctions in the 1990s. U.S. academic Joy Gordon, who has studied those sanctions, notes that France, Russia and China favoured ending them. But Washington insisted they be maintained, blocking even clearly non-military items: incubators, vaccines for infant hepatitis, and cardiac and dialysis machinery. The real agenda here seems to be undermining the U.N., which, for all its flaws, represents the world's best shot at some semblance of international law. Sadly, America today doesn't appear to support international law. In case that sounds like just my opinion, let me quote someone who should know — John Bolton, the Bush administration's choice for ambassador to the U.N. Here's what The New Yorker recently quoted Bolton saying: "It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so — because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States." Constrict the U.S.? It's called the rule of law and it's hard to imagine a civilized world without it.
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Why media ownership matters

Great piece in the Seattle Times by Amy Goodman and David Goodman that summarizes the problems with corporate media ownership:
George Bush must have been delighted to learn from a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that 56 percent of Americans still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the start of the war, while six in 10 said they believe Iraq provided direct support to the al-Qaida terrorist network — notions that have long since been thoroughly debunked by everyone from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to both of Bush's handpicked weapons inspectors, Charles Duelfer and David Kay. Americans believe these lies not because they are stupid, but because they are good media consumers. Our media have become an echo chamber for those in power. Rather than challenge the fraudulent claims of the Bush administration, we've had a media acting as a conveyor belt for the government's lies. As the Pentagon has learned, deploying the American media is more powerful than any bomb. The explosive effect is amplified as a few pro-war, pro-government media moguls consolidate their grip over the majority of news outlets. Media monopoly and militarism go hand in hand. When it comes to issues of war and peace, the results of having a compliant media are as deadly to our democracy as they are to our soldiers. Why do the corporate media cheerlead for war? One answer lies in the corporations themselves — the ones that own the major news outlets. At the time of the first Persian Gulf War, CBS was owned by Westinghouse and NBC by General Electric. Two of the major nuclear weapons manufacturers owned two of the major networks. Westinghouse and GE made most of the parts for many of the weapons in the Persian Gulf War. It was no surprise, then, that much of the coverage on those networks looked like a military hardware show. We see reporters in the cockpits of war planes, interviewing pilots about how it feels to be at the controls. We almost never see journalists at the target end, asking people huddled in their homes what it feels like not to know what the next moment will bring. The media have a responsibility to show the true face of war. It is bloody. It is brutal. Real people die. Women and children are killed. Families are wiped out; villages are razed. If the media would show for one week the same unsanitized images of war that the rest of the world sees, people in the U.S. would say no, that war is not an answer to conflict in the 21st century. But we don't see the real images of war. We don't need government censors, because we have corporations sanitizing the news. A study released last month by American University's School of Communications revealed that media outlets acknowledged they self-censored their reporting on the Iraq invasion out of concerns about public reaction to graphic images and content. The media organizations in charge of vetting our images of war have become fewer and bigger — and the news more uniform and gung ho. Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations), Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries). As Phil Donahue, the former host of MSNBC's highest-rated show who was fired by the network in February 2003 for bringing on anti-war voices, told "Democracy Now!," "We have more [TV] outlets now, but most of them sell the Bowflex machine. The rest of them are Jesus and jewelry. There really isn't diversity in the media anymore. Dissent? Forget about it." The lack of diversity in ownership helps explain the lack of diversity in the news. When George W. Bush first came to power, the media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looked at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ninety-two percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was even less diversity of opinion on the airwaves. During the critical two weeks before and after Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations where he made his case for war, FAIR found that just three out of 393 sources — fewer than 1 percent — were affiliated with anti-war activism. Three out of almost 400 interviews. And that was on the "respectable" evening news shows of CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS. These are not media that are serving a democratic society, where a diversity of views is vital to shaping informed opinions. This is a well-oiled propaganda machine that is repackaging government spin and passing it off as journalism. For the media moguls, even this parody of political "diversity" is too much. So as Gen. Colin Powell led the war on Iraq, his son, Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led the war on diversity of voices at home. In the spring of 2003, Michael Powell tried to hand over the airwaves and newspapers to fewer and fewer tycoons by further loosening restrictions on how many media outlets a single company could own. Powell tried to scrap 30-year-old rules that limited the reach of any television network to no more than 35 percent of the national population, and limits on cross-ownership that, for example, prevented newspapers from buying television or radio stations in the same city. The new rules would have allowed a broadcast network to buy up stations that together reached 45 percent of the national population. The attack on the existing media-ownership rules came from predictable corners: Both Viacom, which owns CBS, and Rupert Murdoch's conservative FOX News Channel were already in violation, and would be forced to sell off stations to come into compliance with the 35-percent limit. The rule change would enable Murdoch to control the airwaves of entire cities. That would be fine with Bush and the Powells, since Murdoch is one of their biggest boosters. Murdoch declared in February 2003 that George W. Bush "will either go down in history as a very great president or he'll crash and burn. I'm optimistic it will be the former by a ratio of 2 to 1." Murdoch leaves nothing to chance: His FOX News Channel is doing all it can to help. It looked like Powell, backed by the Bush White House and with Republican control of Congress, would have no trouble ramming through these historic rule changes. The broadcast industry left nothing to chance: Between 1998 and 2004, broadcasters spent a boggling $249 million lobbying the federal government, including spending $27 million on federal candidates and lawmakers. This would normally be called bribery. At the FCC, it's just business as usual. You would think that FCC deregulation, affecting millions of Americans, would get major play in the media. But the national networks knew that if people found out about how one media mogul could own nearly everything you watch, hear and read in a city, there would be revolt. The solution for them was simple: They just didn't cover the issue for a year. The only thing the networks did was to join together — and you thought they were competitors? — in a brief filed with the FCC to call for media deregulation. And then, something remarkable happened: Media activists — an unlikely coalition of liberals and conservatives — mounted a national campaign to defeat Powell and stop the corporate sell-off. The FCC received 2 million letters and e-mails, most of them opposing the sell-off. The Prometheus Radio Project, a grass-roots media activism group, sued to stop the sale of our airwaves, and won in federal court last June. These are hopeful signals that the days of backroom deals by media titans are numbered. Powell announced his resignation as chairman of the FCC in January. Arguably the worst FCC chairman in history, Powell led with singular zeal the effort to auction off the public airwaves to the highest corporate bidder. In so doing, he did us all a favor: For a brief moment, he pulled back the covers on the incestuous world of media ownership to expose the corruption and rot for all to see. Kevin Martin, Bush's newly appointed FCC chairman, will, according to an FCC insider, be even worse than Powell. Leading conservative and right-wing religious groups have been quietly lobbying the White House for Martin to chair the FCC. Martin voted with Powell on key regulations favoring media consolidation, and in addition has been a self-appointed indecency czar. The indecency furor conveniently grabs headlines and pushes for the regulation of content, while Martin and the media moguls plan sweetheart deregulation deals to achieve piecemeal what they couldn't push through all at once. This is the true indecency afflicting media today. The major media conglomerates are among the most powerful on the planet. The onrush of digital convergence and broadband access in the workplaces and homes of America will radically change the way we work, play and communicate. Fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) from the regional Bells, Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony, bundled services from cable companies, and increased capacity in satellite and wireless technologies will transform the platforms on which we communicate. Who owns these platforms, what is delivered over them and, fundamentally, in whose interest they work are critical issues before us now. Given the wealth of the media companies and their shrewd donations into our political process, the advocates for the public interest are in far too short a supply. A blow against media ownership consolidation — now or in the future — will have far-reaching implications, as critical information gains exposure to a caring, active public. Instead of fake reality TV, maybe the media will start to cover the reality of people struggling to get by and of the victories that happen every day in our communities, and in strife-torn regions around the globe. When people get information, they are empowered. We have to ensure that the airwaves are open for more of that. Our motto at "Democracy Now!" is to break the sound barrier. We call ourselves the exception to the rulers. We believe all media should be.
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