Sunday, August 31, 2008

Republican Conventions

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, and his vice presidential running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have just reached an agreement about how best to handle the Republican Convention in light of the coming storm.

Unable to find the owner's manual for hurricanes, the Arizona senator approached the current commander-in-chief for tips on how to redact a natural disaster, but Bush was clueless.

Reportedly, Ms. Palin's advice now is to only show Bush after a bikini wax.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Go figure...

"A government that remembers that the people are its master is a good, and wholesome thing."

President George H.W. Bush
1988 nomination acceptance speech at the Republican Party convention.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A question

Now that she's the official VP Republican nominee, we have only one question for Gov. Sarah Palin:

"Where's the moose?"

Playing Poker with John McCain

Apparently, Sen. McCain has chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Palin, a so-called "feminist for life," is a first term governor who reportedly has only served as a city mayor before that. Were McCain to win the White House, she would be next in the line of succession which only goes to show that a candidate who professes to put experience first has, once again, flip-flopped by picking someone with even less "experience" than Obama.

McCain poker: I'll see you one two term senator and raise you with a first term governor.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

August 29, 2005

Don't you find it curious how Vice President Dick Cheney is going to visit Georgia, next week, when he didn't visit New Orleans after Katrina?

And, as for Georgia, it'd be a welcome relief if "humanitarian aid" came in the form of interest, and not navy war ships.

On August 29, 2005, in the hours after Katrina hit, you may recall, Bush and McCain were too busy celebrating the Arizona senator's 69th birthday to notice thousands of those who were displaced, or drowning. Indeed, while they were busy cutting into the birthday cake, FEMA was busy not returning phone calls.

That the vice president has chosen the week of the third anniversary of Katrina to announce his field trip to Georgia is egregious in light of his administration's wanton, and boldfaced disinterest in the the poorest, and most economically disenfranchised, citizens of New Orleans.

The only thing more egregious is the gross neglect of a hurricane-ravaged city, over the past three years, which largely looks today as it did in the days after August 29th, as well as a policy of calculated disinterest in the plight of the homeless, and the indigent, throughout this great nation.

Clearly, if there was a vast reservoir of oil in the city of New Orleans, that would have been the vice president's first stop. Surely, too, Mr. Cheney is thrilled by the prospect of a lucrative reconstruction deal in Ossetia and Abkhazia. Leadership that cares more about rebuilding a foreign country over reviving a national treasure is one that has overstayed its welcome.

Two days from the Republican nominee-in-waiting's birthday, one that is easily remembered as it, coincidentally, happens to fall on the same day as a historic, and monumental, tragedy that resulted from institutionalized mismanagement, it's up to each and every one of us to ensure that John McCain and George W. Bush don't get to celebrate President McCain's 73rd birthday while the rest of us are mired in debt, displaced by foreclosure, or engaged in a battlefield quagmire that has only served to profit the privileged few who now happen to run this country, and are running it into the ground. Oil isn't our biggest import; aristocracy is.

The high priests of privilege have been playing poker with our future, and that of our children. Those who want an economic caste system, who want life and death to be predicated on privilege, belong in their country clubs, not in our government.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Timed Release

Understood there was no accusation of fraud, or embezzlement; nevertheless, explain why this story about Hunter Biden, son of Sen. Joseph R. Biden, is getting high profile coverage when another one, the resignation, (on a Sunday, no less) of Andrew McCain, son of Sen. McCain, from Silver State Bank got such limited press.

This is not to suggest that there was no impropriety, or backroom wheeling and dealing, in which Biden's son and brother had a hand in, only that it's curious timing given Saturday's announcement of Joe Biden as Obama's choice for vice president.

When you consider how much concern there is, and has been, justifiably, about assassinations, in this election year, you can't help but wonder how it is that political assassinations are overlooked,as are character assassinations--the kind in which Sen. McCain routinely engages when talking about his opponent. Doesn't anybody care about character assassinations anymore? We've turned into a nation of tabloid terrorists.

This sort of mudslinging is nothing new in your average garden variety campaign year, but the mainstream press has now become not only a collaborator in the lead-up to an illegal war, but has thrown its hat in the election ring by manipulating release of a story about lawsuits that are more than a year old to coincide with the feel good week of the Democratic convention. This kind of media intervention shows just how masterfully the Bush administration has managed to neutralize the press, and turn America into a three party country that includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and John McCain.

Bias is clearly one four letter word the F.C.C. has yet to fine.

If the mainstream media, in this country, wants to prove to posterity that it has even a sliver of independence, or backbone, left, those newshounds who broke the Hunter Biden story might think about returning the favor, in the days immediately following McCain's veep announcement, and do a much-needed follow-up on Andrew McCain's sudden, and inexplicable, disappearance from Silver State Bank.


"My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference anymore."

President Harry S. Truman

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Way to Go!

Sen. Joe Biden gave an inspired, and inspirational, speech his first as Obama's running mate, in Illinois on Saturday.

There are some, claiming to be experts, who argue that people vote for the person who is at the top of the ticket. Who would disagree? That said, it sure helps to know who's by his side, and I'm not referring to his spouse either.

Anyone who questions the importance of vice presidents must have been living in a shoe box for the past 50 years! One has only to look at Al Gore, and George H.W. Bush, not to mention Dick Cheney, who has been running this country, into the ground, for the past eight years.

While vice presidents aren't in the driver's seat, the vice presidency is part of the executive branch (despite our current vice president's best efforts to secede, and relocate to the Senate.)
Curiously, just about the only time this administration seems willing to surrender, or look for the exit sign, is when they're asked to accept accountability for anything. Whenever that phone just rings and rings at 3 A.M., and turns over to voicemail, you can be sure it's Congress calling for former White House aides, and counsel, to testify under a subpoena.

China isn't the only country hosting the Olympics this year; Washington, D.C. is, too. And, Barack Obama's smartest move yet has been to let the air out of the Republican foreign policy expertise tire by taking as his partner the chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. Well-done. Now America can rest assured that someone will be home, at any time day or night, when that phone call comes for accountability.

Coming soon, too, combat fatigues will be replaced by the working clothes of men and women in this country. The end of a crisis of leadership will jump start an economy mired in doubt, and secrecy as we see leadership that embraces domestic reconstruction not for profit, but for profit- sharing.

We may have a long road ahead, but at least we're on the right one.

Way to go, Joe!

An Open Letter to Joe Biden

Welcome, Joe. You have my vote, and have had it for years now---big fan here.

Do me a favor, though. Please make the focus of your campaign the economy, and not foreign policy. More people are concerned about losing their homes than losing their freedom. How many people take to the streets over the notion of a unitary executive, Supreme Court appointments, or even having their phone calls, and e-mails, monitored by the NSA?

So, please, whatever you do, try and let the other party trip over their potential foreign policy blunders. See to it that the economy is the core issue as, at the moment, it is about the only thing that distinguishes Democrats from Republicans.

We wouldn't want Obama/Biden to be McCain lite.

Why Biden?

Why Joe Biden as Barack Obama's choice for veep? In a word, Georgia!

The events of the past few weeks, i.e. Russian troops storming Georgia, have been ammunition for the neo-cons, and John McCain.

Sen. Biden is a terrific candidate, but my thinking, for what it's worth, is that he wasn't at the top of Obama's short list until McCain's people made "national security," and "experience," the #1 issue. Well, it looks like it just backfired on them with Barack Obama's decision on a new running mate.

A caveat: the Delaware senator's long friendship with McCain might make it more difficult for him to hang tough in this election. And, any attempt to blur the lines between Democratic and Republican party platforms on ending the war in Iraq, and working towards disarmament, can only result in another Nader down the road, maybe as soon as 2012, and one who can win!

It looks increasingly like China, Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela aren't the only countries that have one party.

The differences between the two parties have little to do with foreign policy, but mostly with the economy. It's imperative for both Obama and Biden to stress this, and for Obama/Biden not to become McCain lite.

Friday, August 22, 2008


"Hey! It's become a Dumbocracy. We might as well build a wall. If they win, they deserve it."

Philip Proctor

(Actor, Writer; The Firesign Theatre)

by Michael Winship

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:

Cash Register Conventions

By Michael Winship

Another humid August, a long time ago, and I was working in my father’s small town drugstore, the last summer before my first year of high school.

Today, cash registers are as computerized as ATM’s and tell you everything instantly, from the change owed and the status of inventory to the date, time and wind chill factor in Upper Volta.

Back then, they were electrically powered at least, but you still had to do a lot of the calculating in your head, which is why my dad tended to keep his not-so-mathematically-inclined son in the back of the store, away from the receipts.

With my nimble fingers on the register keys, I was capable of trying to charge you $1,398.06 for a pack of Camels. (I wasn’t allowed to sell condoms or razor blades either, but that wasn’t so much because of my inept and callow youth. They carried a sales commission and it was thought unseemly for the boss’ son to traffic in something from which the other employees could receive a cash bonus.)

That summer, New York State and my hometown each instituted a sales tax, a development for which our cash registers were unsuited – they couldn’t calculate percentages. So we had a chart, which we’d consult after ringing up a sale, at which point we’d add on the pennies and nickels of tax and throw them, separately, into shoeboxes.

Further jumbling this awkward system was the list of what was or was not taxable, some of which seemed to have been determined by rounds of darts in Albany, the state capital. Medicine was not taxable. That made sense. Chewing gum was taxable, unless it was Beeman’s Gum, which was invented by a doctor and contained pepsin – medicinally good for the digestion, so not taxed. Insulin wasn’t taxed either, but the syringes to administer it were.

So, in that spirit of trivial complexity and governmental randomness, as the Democratic and Republican conventions begin in Denver and St. Paul, I give you the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.

The law, passed in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal and the imprisonment of House members Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham (Ney was released just this past Monday), has much to recommend it, outlawing gifts from lobbyists for members of Congress and their staffs. That includes the extravagant parties that trade associations, law firms, advocacy organizations, unions and other lobby groups used to throw at the conventions for the most influential, individual senators and representatives.

At the 2004 Republican National Convention here in New York City, for example, among hundreds of parties, the American Gas Association sponsored nine gala events, which included a “Wildcatter’s Ball” for Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, then chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Pepsico gave Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur, which then cost $60,000 just to rent for the night. House Speaker Dennis Hastert got a wingding at Tavern on the Green, bought and paid for by General Motors.

So change is good. The problem is that many of the new law’s rules are so arcane and convoluted it would take a team of forensic accountants and Talmudic scholars to properly interpret them.

The “toothpick rule,” for example, bans Congress members and their aides from accepting a free meal, but they can snarf up as many free hors d’oeuvres as they like – as long as they’re standing up and not sitting down. No forks, no chairs and you may be within the law.


The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported one party planner for the Republican convention was told that under the law quesadillas with cheese qualified as legal finger food, but including beef or chicken would make them an illicit meal.

According to Tuesday’s New York Times, “Depending on the circumstances, breakfasts are limited to bagels, rolls and croissants, while proteins like eggs are prohibited."

What is more, rules differ for events that are deemed to be ‘widely attended’ -- something that has more than 25 diverse attendees but is not a ballgame or a concert… “Adding to the complexity, state ethics rules also come into play. If a corporation or trade association has an event where state office holders are invited, the ethics rules of each of their states must be followed.” Whew.

All hellishly good-intentioned, perhaps, but while those so inclined are distracted by the minutia of cheese vs. pepperoni, there are loopholes in the way the law is interpreted by the House Ethics Committee through which you can drive a Brink’s truck.

A corporation or other lobby group can no longer celebrate the achievements of one individual congressperson with a big gala, but an entire delegation can be honored – as long as no specific members are named on the invitations or in the programs or during the speeches.

So, US Bank and Visa are hosting a party at the Democratic convention for the freshman House Democrats. AT&T, which has given $3.2 million to Federal candidates in this election cycle, and spent millions more on lobbying, is co-sponsoring a party in Denver for the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, just one of more than a dozen parties the telecom is throwing at the two conventions.

In addition, as per the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, because of exceptions allowed by the Federal Election Commission, “Millions of unregulated dollars are being funneled to the national party conventions through so-called, nonpartisan ‘host committees.’

These committees claim to be helping Denver and the Twin Cities, but they are really just using the sizable donations for political purposes.” This tax-deductible, “soft money” includes the million dollar contributions the Obama campaign has solicited for the skyboxes at Invesco Field during his acceptance speech.

There will be more than 400 parties, and other events at the Democratic and Republican conventions. Corporations and other special interests will contribute more than $100 million. That can buy a lot of influence.

Just a few of the others involved: the Nuclear Energy Institute, Allstate, Wachovia, Union Pacific, ConocoPhillips, Molson-Coors, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Qwest, Target, Staples, SEIU, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, Nancy Watzman, director of the Sunshine Foundation’s interactive Party Time Project, which is monitoring convention activity, noted, “These are all the same people who have a big lobbying presence in D.C., and they all have major issues before Congress and the executive branch.”

Amanda Burk, a Denver party planner told The New York Times, “We’re trying to comply with the law and still make sure people get enough to eat.”

Ms. Burk, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Unlike the more than 37 million Americans who live below the poverty level, lobbyists and the fat cats they represent will never go hungry. Like water inexorably seeking its level, eroding as it travels, they will find a way.

My dad wouldn’t have let these guys anywhere near his cash registers.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs programBill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.

Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Lost and Found for Credibility

Sooner or later, John McCain, the Republican party's designated candidate, may well have to pay a visit to the lost and found of credibility. And, if there is no such lost and found, one may need to be created for that express purpose.

Funny, isn't it, for a party so concerned with creed how little concern there is for credibility.

That said, it would be unfair to move from deriding the current commander-in-chief to knocking John McCain without even making a stop to refuel. After all, aside from the fact that he was against Bush before he was for him, the Arizona senator has tried very hard to distinguish himself from the perennial incumbent, if only by what he laughably calls the "Straightalk Express."

Last night, I got to thinking about how much everyone is saying about how little everyone knows about John Mc Cain. It's kind of like the weather---everyone talks about it, but nobody is doing anything about it.

The Republican candidate's sudden, meteoric rise in the polls makes me wonder at how adept Mr. McCain already is at information control, and he hasn't even been sworn in yet. How many would gamble on a dog and pony show where the winning mutt is in dire need of a distemper shot, but most voters visualize war hero, and not a poster boy for anger management.

After all, not everybody reads The New York Times, The Washington Post, or HuffPost. There is more pulp patriotism in America than pulp fiction. And, so-called "alternative media," in the end, only amounts to preaching to the choir.

So, last night, while thumbing through the bookcase looking for Crime and Punishment, I came upon an old how-to book, "Excel for Dummies," which made me think -- why not "McCain for Dummies," a laundry list of reasons why not to vote for John McCain:

1) In this age of record foreclosures, you've got to love a guy who has so many homes he can't remember how many.

2) Only Christopher Columbus would need to be coached more on geography.

3) Talk about credibility issues---McCain was against lobbies before he was for them.
The highest ranking members of his campaign committee include Charlie Black and Wayne Berman (AT & T, and Verizon, respectively.) Black is now McCain's chief political advisor, and Berman is his national finance co-chair. Both men, lobbyists for the telecommunications industry, will continue to work for immunity from prosecution for those who play ball with the National Security Agency eavesdropping program.

You know you can count on Ma Bell, not Big Brother, to monitor your phone calls with McCain in the White House.

4) How can anyone have as a signature greeting the words "my friends," and be so choleric, at times, he could be mistaken for a cougar?

5) Remember Jack Abramoff? That's good because, thanks to Abramoff, the Keating affair is history. Moreover, any claims that a McCain presidency will fight special interests end here.

6) As to campaign finance reform, take a good look at Vern Buchanan, the Republican South Florida congressman who took over Katherine Harris's seat in a landslide victory of under 400 votes!

Buchanan, former chair of the RNC Finance Committee, was also a top fundraiser for Jeb Bush, hearty endorser of George W. Bush, and donor to McCain's campaign. This ought to give you conspiracy theory folks out there a giant rush!

Mr. Buchanan allegedly violated campaign finance law by coercing employees at his car dealerships to contribute to his campaign, and is now under investigation by the FEC.

7) Oh, and as for those rascals of prospective accountability, the Supreme Court: McCain was for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and David Souter before he was against them. Last Saturday, McCain told a captive audience at Saddleback that, if he had it to do over again, he would never have voted in favor of their nominations.

8) As commander-in-chief, war would be the "last resort" says the Arizona senator, yet Randy Scheunemann, McCain's foreign policy advisor, a lobbyist for Georgia, is also an advisor to Georgian President Saakashvili whose election platform just happens to have included a pledge to take back, or occupy, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, according to The Washington Post. It gets curiouser and curiouser.

No wonder President Saakashvili is such a big fan of Sen. McCain's -- they share the same foreign policy advisor.

9) The Arizona senator wants a $5,000 tax credit to folks who pay out of pocket for their health insurance in an effort to privatize health care, and he will, no doubt, work as hard to privatize social security which means you and I had better start earning in the six figures, or we can forget retirement.

10) He will insure that big business is insulated from higher taxes, follow in Bush's footsteps by not tweaking capital gains, as well as by lowering taxes on the upper one percentile while talking about protecting the middle class . The simple truth is Sen. McCain is as clueless about economics as his former advisor, Phil Gramm, who claims that we're in a "mental recession."

Indeed, if the maverick knew anything at all about economics, he'd realize that, thanks largely to Bush, and previous Republican presidents, there no longer is a middle class.

And, finally, no one would question Sen. McCain's service to his country, and the sacrifice he has made, or his military record, but ask the group Vietnam Veterans Against McCain about his prisoner of war record, his temper, and see how credible his own comments, those of his campaign, and press coverage, have been.

So it is then that in John McCain, as in George W. Bush, there is a jihad against credibility, and a preemptive war against truth. Remember Bush campaigned as a "compassionate conservative." Ask anyone in Baghdad today just how compassionate his administration has been or, better still, ask the folks in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Ask administrators at the Veterans Administration who want to drastically reduce the number of service members diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to cheat returning soldiers out of justifiable treatment as a result of psychological injury they received in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The specious attacks against Barack Obama's character and patriotism are strictly little league in comparison to the egregious lack of credibility that John McCain has made a career of. And, what kind of character can one have without credibility?

Instead of hiring architects for his future presidential library, it might make more sense for Sen. McCain to come up with a blueprint for that lost and found.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Code Pinko?

Code Pink, as you may know, is a group of progressive women anti-war activists who may soon be called "Code Pinko" if Sen. McCain gets elected.

So, in light of how much fun Paris Hilton has had with the Republican nominee-in-waiting's campaign, it seems only fair, should the incumbency party prevail, to rename November 4th---"Erection Day!"

(with muchas gracias to FIRESIGN THEATRE for the idea of renaming Election Day.)

Ever notice how...

guys have this wonderful ability to dismiss any righteous criticism coming from the opposite sex: call us crazy, and if that doesn't work--call us bitches instead.

"The same Republican neo-cons who...

"The same Republican neo-cons who fabricated the reasons for going to war in Iraq are back, and now they have been paid to trigger a new Cold War with Russia that benefits John McCain. These are dangerous, expensive unwinnable games being played with American lives to benefit Republican politicians and their oil company friends."

Tom Hayden

Monday, August 18, 2008

some friendly words of...

advice for Sen. McCain's speechwriters:

If you want your candidate to be convincing, stop using the phrase "my friends."

One can think of few red flag phrases more compelling than "my friends," and "trust me."

Happy Birthday, RR

Happy Birthday, Robert Redford.

The artistic community, humanity, and the planet, thank him for his many contributions to the creative, and natural, environment.

Best wishes for continued good health and productivity.

(P.S. Puberty would not have been the same without him)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Pay close attention to what Barack Obama said, at Saddleback, was his principal reason for opposing the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Obama expressed justifiable concern about the power that is now inherently vested in the executive branch, of which Chief Justice Roberts is an obdurate supporter.

Make no mistake: there is a defining difference between the two presidential candidates that must not be overlooked. The Democratic presumptive nominee wants to rein in a hyperactive, unitary executive that works to insinuate itself into every nook and cranny by intelligence overreach. Given how comfortably the senator from Arizona fits into his Texan predecessor's shoes, and his gleeful acquiescence with his pro-life, pro-terror Party, one can expect little by way of separation of powers should McCain take the reins in January.

So when the Senate convenes to decide the fate of a federal shield law for reporters, next month, it is imperative to keep in mind that a federal shield law will not just protect confidentiality, and keep journalists from facing prosecution for refusing to be government informers, it will also ensure the free flow of information, something the Bush administration has tried sedulously to obstruct while taking a wrecking crew to the Constitution in a transparent attempt to deconstruct the First Amendment.

We asked for transparency, and this is what we're getting, but the larger question is---what do we plan to do with it?

Last week, as WaPo reported, Robert Mueller, FBI director, personally telephoned the editors of both The Washington Post and The New York Times to apologize for trampeling on the privacy rights, and illegally obtaining phone records of four reporters in a covert Indonesian sting back in 2004. Wouldn't it be "poetic justice" if Mr. Mueller's phone is tapped, too?

Apology not accepted--said a bipartisan pair of Senators, Leahy and Specter, speaking instead to the importance of maintaining the integrity of separation of press and state, and the need for a federal shield law to preclude governmental intrusion into phone, and e-mail records, as well as require some kind of court review, or warrant, to prevent telecoms from buckling to demands to turn over confidential records of journalists.

And, while the Justice Department claims to be in the process of investigating "the F.B.I.'s misuse of records demand," Mueller takes commands from someone, and the demand for reporters' phone records undoubtedly comes from the top--the White House, and/or Dick Cheney.

Doubtless, Cheney instructed Mueller to order the FBI to intercept phone, and e-mail, records from telecoms back in 2004, and continues to do so today, with impunity, and without oversight, which is in flagrant violation of Justice policy which requires approval from the deputy attorney general in order to requisition personal phone records in any investigation.

Apart from the obvious, when sources are compromised, the free flow of information is obstructed, a concern that Obama has addressed, and one that is on the minds of all who value not just a free press, but freedom of speech, in this newfangled ubiquitous presidency, with its creation of an intelligence infrastructure designed to long outlive the Bush years.

Add to the mix the fact that Attorney General Michael Mukasey just confirmed his plans to unleash restrictions on domestic surveillance put in place after the Watergate debacle, thereby effectively giving a vitamin B booster shot to the intelligence industry.

The new rules, in Mukasey's own words, "expressly authorize the FBI to engage in intelligence collection inside the United States." But, as he himself suggests, this is nothing new ---the FBI has long had the capacity for domestic surveillance thanks, in part, to the USA Patriot Act, and even back in the J. Edgar Hoover days. The difference is that the attorney general wants to blur the distinction between "criminal" and "national security" investigations in perpetuity, thereby creating an umbrella of immunity for future intelligence-gathering crews, and executives, from violating Fourth Amendment rights.

What's more, Mr. Mukasey wants to legitimize racial profiling, a policy not invented, but clearly enhanced, over the past seven years, to round up, arrest, detain, and hold without limitation, those of Muslim descent in the name of "national security." And, when the attorney general says that the new rules will "remove unnecessary barriers" what he means is remove the need for a warrant, court review and, essentially, eliminate the need for oversight.

This speaks directly to the FBI's demand for reporters' phone records in 2004----if Mukasey gets his way, the new rules will mean that it's no longer Justice policy to get a court order, or approval from a deputy attorney general, before demanding private phone records of reporters or anyone else.

As you recall, it was the attorney general's idea to officially declare war on terror. This is important because, while informants are customarily used in criminal investigations, Mukasey now wants to relax regulations such that FBI informants can be used in "national security" investigations, and yes, Martha, this means that your next door neighbor can inform on you if you listen to music that homeland security deems seditious, and big brother can track you down if you e-mail a friend in Australia who just happens to have a friend in Bahrain who just happens to know someone who the government has on their terror watch list or, as was the case in 2005 and 2006, you can be under FBI surveillance simply because Maryland state police happen to spot you at a rally opposing the death penalty, or the war in Iraq.

What does this have to do with a federal shield law, and a free press? When the media becomes another branch of government, the executive branch is further insulated from future prosecution, thus the media becomes an effective enabler, not investigator, of government misconduct.

And, it doesn't stop there. To guarantee that Joe McCarthy can rest in peace, it is this administration that seeks to ensure that domestic terrorist clauses of the USA Patriot Act are election-proof so that local law enforcement may be deputized as FBI informants. So, in a city like Los Angeles, for instance, where gang members outnumber police by a ratio of about 12 to 1, police have been instructed to attend Code Pink meetings instead of busting those who sell handguns to minors who are shooting up our inner cities.

Instead of keeping the streets safe from drive-by shootings, your friendly neighborhood black and white might be out combing impeachment rallies. How's that for homeland security? Don't you feel safer already? Rest assured, too, that this is what Sen. McCain has in mind when he uses phrases like "national security." The Arizona senator considers Islamofascism a greater threat to America than random gun violence. (Mind you, if the Islamofascists could come up with an effective lobby, he might reconsider.)

Someday, too, the 43rd President of the United States will be remembered not only for preemptive war, but for what some are already calling "preemptive law enforcement." The feds (FBI, and other federal agencies) are, essentially, outsourcing intelligence-gathering to local law enforcement who, apart from the training, simply don't have the manpower for it.

Mukasey would say this is nothing new either, and he'd be right. The Patriot Act provided for the blurring of boundaries between FBI and local law enforcement; all the proposed rules will do is ensure that the marriage between criminal policing and "terrorist" hunting is finalized.

The same FBI overreach which brought telecoms to their knees, forcing them to turn over private phone records of four reporters is, in the end, a transparent tool of the executive branch to control the flow of information, what the public knows, and when they know it. And, the only branch of government with the horsepower to overrule Justice's proscription against misuse of the confidential records of reporters is the executive branch.

It is the executive branch, not the FBI, that is criminalizing the flow of information in order to insulate the President from any accountability for his misdeeds, or misadventures, and if the attorney general has his way, this latest proposal will be a malpractice insurance policy for all prospective presidents.

By forcibly, and illictly, confiscating the records of reporters, the FBI is turning the press and the media into government informers who, like Justice and the Supreme Court, are firmly under the thumb of the executive. Knowledge, the best defense against tyranny, is not merely neutralized, it is neutered.

Control of information is the first step in abuse of power. We must never forget that among the most important lessons of Watergate was the crucial role of the press as a safeguard against an imperial, and subversive presidency.

Should, as a consequence of legislation passed under Bush, the FBI yet again get to bully telecoms, and newspaper editors, into collaboration with executive branch mischief the ability to witness, and document, this intrusion will be our only recourse, and the means to do this will be unavailable without a federal shield law.

Impeachment isn't the only recourse against abuse of power, a free press is, too. It is only due to the efforts of two journalists, Woodward and Bernstein, that another executive who attempted to subvert the democratic process as we know it, Richard Nixon, was forced to step down.

September's Senate vote to expand protection for journalists that all but a few states now provide must take into account that a federal shield law won't just protect reporters, and their sources, it will protect all of us from the excesses of any, and all, future unitary executives.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Interactive Headlines...

An AP headline today reads:

"Bush tells Russia to Get Out of Georgia"

How about:

"America tells Bush to Get Out of Iraq"


With admiration for all her good work, and being on the cutting edge of progressive change--from Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D, Oakland:

"Congresswoman Lee is a co-sponsor of H. Res. 1258 and H. Res. 333, meticulously documented resolutions of impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney for high crimes and misdemeanors. The people's trust in their political leaders and institutions is the lifeblood of democracy. Nowhere is that trust more essential than when it comes to deciding whether to go to war. Several of the articles in HR 1258 document President Bush's abuse of the public trust in his decision to launch an unnecessary war in Iraq. Other articles in the resolution explain how the President wrongly abridged the civil liberties of individuals in America under the guise of fighting the War on Terror. She is also co-sponsor of H. Res. 333, which similarly documents the ways and means in which Vice President Dick Cheney's misconduct in office warrants impeachment and removal from office."

Congresswoman Barbara Lee's Newsletter, Summer, 2008.

The House impeachment resolutions, co-sponsored by Barbara Lee, were introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich. And, according to today's Washington Post, this administration is putting the infrastructure in place to turn local law enforcement into mini-FBI agents collecting data on ordinary citizens, and conducting covert surveillance, for long after he leaves office. In other words, thanks to passage of the USA Pariot Act, the expanded powers of domestic surveillance, and "terror" (read: dissent) profiling, aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

It's imperative to remember that November isn't just about electing a new president, but there are some crucially important congressional seats up for grabs, too. January, 2009 must mark the beginning of undoing all the nightmares of this presidency, including the Military Commissions Act which grants immunity from war crimes charges to executives who laid the groundwork for torture in detainee interrogations. Yes, Musharraf, in Pakistan, isn't the only one demanding immunity----Bush's notion of "pre-emption" applies not merely to his foreign policy, but to covering his butt in the face of what Ashcroft, and other high level operatives including Rumsfeld, knew were illicit covert operations both inside, and outside, the United States. Good housekeeping starts with electing a new President, but it doesn't end there. It ends with each and every one of us taking responsibility for the default in judgment, and command, that has been the White House and Congress in the past decade, as well as working for progressive change.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another classic...

"Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."

President George W. Bush on Russia's military intervention in Georgia.

Breaking News

Reliable, and reliably anonymous, sources have told us that presumptive, and presumptuous, Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, has a new campaign slogan:

"Let them eat caviar!"

(Reportedly, when the Senator was informed that Marie Antoniette was referring to her subjects, who she suggested should "eat cake," his response was "My mistake, I thought she meant her friends and family."
A dedicated source, Anon E. Mouse, also said that McCain denies he's ever made any gaffes, and that if you want to see a gaffe, you should go to the zoo. )

Thursday, August 14, 2008

gender equity?

How's this for gender equity---instead of "boycott," why not girlcott?

Michael Winship: "Andrew Bacevich, America and the World"

Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television...

Andrew Bacevich, America and the World

By Michael Winship

In a letter written in 1648, the Swedish statesman, Axel Oxenstierna, chancellor to both King Gustavus Adolphus and Queen Christina, counseled, “Know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed.”

The fighting between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia is an unnerving reminder of that, and of how quickly the balance of global power can be tilted from unexpected directions with barely a warning.

Some hawks and neo-cons called for NATO intervention or even suggested we send in Stinger missiles or the 82nd Airborne as a peacekeeping force. President Bush warned, “Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.” Perhaps, but the reality of the early 21st century is that, in the short run, at least, the president’s words ring hollow.

In spite of past promises of support to Georgia, Russia is key to our efforts in the Middle East and our European allies are dependent on Russia for energy. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have both our military strength and our international credibility stretched perilously thin at a time when oil-rich Russia is reemerging as a superpower. We’ve boxed ourselves in.

It was in that light that I came upon the Oxenstierna quote the other night, while re-reading the late historian Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly, a knowing compendium, from ancient Troy to Vietnam, of the ways in which, given half a chance, those in power will steer their ships of state straight into the rocks. In the first chapter, she also quotes American President John Adams: “While all other sciences have advanced” – you can almost hear him sighing – “government is at a stand; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”

Andrew J. Bacevich probably would agree with all of the above. The retired Army colonel, a West Point graduate, teaches history and international relations at Boston University. His latest book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, explores our nation’s current predicament, not just on the world stage but here at home as well. He spoke with my colleague Bill Moyers on this week’s edition of the PBS series Bill Moyers Journal.

Bacevich speaks truth to power, no matter who’s in power, which may be why those of both the left and right are eager to hear his views. Perhaps it’s also because when he challenges American myths and illusions, he does so from a genuine patriotism forged in the fire of his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam and the death a year ago of his son, an Army lieutenant in Iraq. The Limits of Power is dedicated to the young man but the senior Bacevich, a man of quiet, solid gravitas, holds his grief privately between himself and his family

“Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington, D.C., but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we the people want,” he told Moyers. “And what we want, by and large is… this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods. We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they may happen to be… And we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the books are balanced at the end of the month, or the end of the fiscal year.”

To that end, he says, “One of the ways we avoid confronting our refusal to balance the books is to rely increasingly on the projection of American military power around the world to try to maintain this dysfunctional system or set of arrangements that have evolved over the last 30 or 40 years.”“… I think historians a hundred years from now will puzzle over how it could be that the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, as far back as the early 1970’s came to recognize that dependence on foreign oil was a problem, posed a threat, compromised our freedom of action. How every president from Richard Nixon down… declared, ‘We’re going to fix the problem.’ [But] none of them did.”

He continued, “The clearest statement of what I value is found in the Preamble to the Constitution. There is nothing in the Preamble to the Constitution which defines the purpose of the United States of America as remaking the world in our image, which I view as a fool's errand… I believe that the framers of the Constitution were primarily concerned with focusing on the way we live here, the way we order our affairs. To try to ensure that as individuals, we can have an opportunity to pursue our, perhaps, differing definitions of freedom, but also so that, as a community, we could live together in some kind of harmony. And that future generations would also be able to share in those same opportunities… With the current crisis in American foreign policy, unless we do change our ways, the likelihood that our children, our grandchildren, the next generation is going to enjoy the opportunities that we've had is very slight because we're squandering our power. We are squandering our wealth.”Bacevich believes, “The Congress, especially with regard to matters related to national security policy, has thrust power and authority to the executive branch. We have created an imperial presidency. The Congress no longer is able to articulate a vision of what is the common good. The Congress exists primarily to ensure the reelection of members of Congress."

”That imperial presidency, he says, “has made our democracy a false one. We’re going through the motions of a democratic political system. But the fabric of democracy, I think, really has worn very thin.”

Iraq, Bacevich concludes, “was a fundamental mistake. It never should have been undertaken. And we're never going to do this kind of thing again.” This might, he thinks, “be the moment when we look ourselves in the mirror [and]… see what we have become. And perhaps undertake an effort to make those changes in the American way of life that will enable us to preserve for future generations that which we value most about the American way of life.”

Andrew Bacevich’s words should echo down the corridors of Congress and the halls of the White House, no matter who becomes our next President.

Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"In the 21st Century...

nations don't invade other nations."

John McCain
August 13, 2008

"This is not 1968..."

and this from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed."

(Remember these words as we approach another forty year milestone--the Democratic Convention)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Boy George's Last Stand-Off

With apologies, in advance, to the British rocker who, I suspect, enjoys a bit of word play and, of course, King George III who, no doubt, doesn't feel a thing, the other George, yes, the current principal at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is getting such a workout these days, he might even consider running for governor of California when Ah-nold's term is up.

Don't you just love the irony of this president, and both candidates for the presidency, in their declared contempt for Russia's invasion, and pummeling, of the "sovereign state" of Georgia, especially in light of what we did to Iraq? After all, what was Baghdad back in 2002--chopped liver? Remember, too, that the U.S. can't claim to have any historical territorial imperative in the Middle East, just an overzealous appetite for oil reserves.

Speaking of which, it looks like it's about oil all over again, a tug of war between Russia and the U.S. for what is a major conduit for the precious stuff that flows from Russia to the west, so whichever superpower controls Georgia, also inherits the portal for oil.

It's no secret that Russia has profited greatly from oil exports, maybe not as greatly as Iraq has made out in recent days nor can Russia point to the record profits of Exxon, and Chevron, but certainly the distribution of the world's most valuable resource will be affected by who holds the purse strings of what the U.S. likes to think of as a fledgling democracy.

Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia's president, now accuses the Russians of "ethnic cleansing." And, while, predictably, we don't hear much from Russia's president, that country's prime minister, and Mr. Bush's enemy twin, Vladimir Putin, returns the compliment by accusing the Georgians of ethnic cleansing.

What we do know is that, for more than four days now, Russia has bombarded Georgia from the sky, and from the ground, bombing civilians, as well as Georgian troops.

Talk about convenient timing---what could be better for a GOP shoe in than a seismic shift in tensions between Russia and the U.S., something 43 has been working to instigate for the past few years. Well, like they say, if you throw enough horseradish against the wall, some of it is bound to stick.

And, forget Boy George, if they're not careful, the Obama and McCain match may come off looking like a remake of Famous and McCandy. After all, it would be easier to take candy from a baby than to take the idea of combat away from McCain; he's hungry for it. He's so hungry for battle, he's even twisted a 1960's song into a military exercise.

The Arizona senator found himself perfectly, and fortuitously, positioned for a photo op in which he denounced Russian aggression, and called for a strong response from NATO. His counterpart, Mr. Obama, chimed in from Hawaii, where he is vacationing, about the importance of protecting Georgia's sovereignty. Isn't it hugely reassuring that both candidates affirm the sovereignty of Georgia. Now maybe both will affirm the sovereignty of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, Syria, and the list goes on.

You can also bet that, by the Republican Convention, candidates of both parties will not only be wearing matching socks, but they will be indistinguishable from each other with respect to foreign policy. If this is what "national security" means more than midway through the first decade of a new millenium, all one can say is "oy!"

We can no more afford the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum politics of convenience now than we could, say, before the beginning of World War I, but in fairness to Barack Obama, he didn't create the wartime presidency. He stepped into the Bush administration's quagmire and, if anything, has done more to neutralize the militaristic paradigm by interjecting dialogue, a fresh concept given a series of run amok Republican cowboys.

Whoever said we don't have a three party system in the U.S. is dead wrong. His latest military misadventure, the most egregious since Chechnya, proves that Putin is also running for president as an Independent while, simultaneously, playing up American hypocrisy.

One thing that would be especially perilous to let slip through the cracks, though, remember that the former Russian president was with the KGB for many years. As we've seen from his crackdown of dissidents, esp. in Chechnya, Mr. Putin is quite adept at employing KGB tactics not unlike his American counterpart, Dick Cheney, who was recently outed by a high level CIA official for allegedly giving the command to forge a letter that falsely links Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. Fascinating, isn't it, how both executives, Cheney and Putin, have had extensive experience with the intelligence branches of their government, CIA and KGB, respectively.

Clearly, even a casual observer might find one or two forged letters intended as catalysts to what is seemingly a sudden, unexpected attempt to topple what some might argue is the puppet regime of a Georgian leader who attended Columbia and Georgetown, and who passes both the American and Israeli smell test. That history rewrites itself is not, in and of itself, a concept that might take one's breath away. Who is behind the rewrite is, of course, another matter.

But, what is breathtaking is the degree of deception and bloodshed that both countries, the U.S. and Russia, have demonstrated in their gluttony for oil, and world domination.

Given that he has about five months left in office, the conflict in Georgia, manufactured or otherwise, may be Boy George's last stand-off before he rides off into the polluted sunset, and the GOP's best chance of occupying what was once a sovereign White House.

By way of update: Russia reportedly had decided to halt all military action against Georgia, a move which will distinguish Putin from his American nemesis. Of course, Sarkosy, the European Union, and the rest of the world is wise not to hold its breath, a dangerous pastime in these flip-flopping war zones where cease-fire often means reload and go for it.

Clearly, the idea of running as an Independent in the U.S. presidential elections doesn't sit well with the Russian prime minister. Maybe, he'll consider running, instead, as John McCain's vice-president. How's that for bipartisanship? (bipolarship?)

If you're old enough to read this, you're a witness to what living in the post-detente era really means. The military option has been the default position for more than half a century. If Bush, Cheney, and Putin have their way, it will be the de facto modus operandi for generations to come.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


A little birdie told me that Barack Obama is about to announce his choice for running mate.

While, admittedly, making predictions can be a dangerous pastime, I'm going on record to predict Barack Obama will choose Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana.

(btw, Bayh is my pick of the litter----progeny of a political family; voted for the Iraq war resolution (will pull in Independents), now acknowledges that the Iraq policy failed; can bring Indiana, as well as much of the Midwest, with roots in Virginia; strong on "national security," a card-carrying centrist who is pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, and gets 100% approval rating from the NAACP, as well as high grades from the ACLU. Many years in public service, not just as senator, but also as governor, of his state.

Outspoken opponent of neoconservative mindset who will get a big thumbs-up from the pro-Israel lobby while, at the same time, probably work with Obama to end the wrenching embargo in Gaza. Hands-on favorite of both Gore and Kerry and, best of all, perfect antidote for those who express concern about Obama's so-called "inexperience." Strong enough to stand up against McCain and any Republican nominee for veep.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Edwards Debacle: Another Page from the Karl Rove Playbook

If I were one of these conspiracy nuts which, of course, I'm not, I might almost think I smell the thorny hand of Karl Rove behind the Enquirer's dogged, intrepid stalking of former senator, and presidential hopeful, John Edwards, but the only other public figure to have an adjective made out of his name since Machiavelli , Rove, has had way too much on his plate lately sabotaging the careers of governors like Don Siegelman, and skirting congressional subpoenas, to dabble in destroying a potential president's career.

That said, the timing of the Edwards revelation can only be described as Rovian.

That it's taken more than a year for a national press that now grovels more than diehard paparazzi to declare the adultery witch hunt over proves that the technological revolution isn't all it's cracked up to be. After all, how long did it take to destroy the careers of other prospective presidential candidates like Gary Hart, Ted Kennedy and, better still, a sitting president, Bill Clinton? And, anyone who doesn't see parallels between John Edward's forced confession of adultery and those other chaps needs to have their eyes checked.

But, the larger question here is why we don't force our presidents to confess their sins in shame when they lie about the number of troops in Vietnam (LBJ), and why we invaded Iraq (GWB?) Maybe because that doesn't sell as many papers, or as much advertising, as anything having to do with sex. And, if that's the case, shame on you, America, for bringing down another good man for the crime of being human, flawed and, arguably, stupid.

When asked whether John Edwards can forget about his future in politics, even his former campaign manager, David Bonior, turned against him: "You can't lie in politics and expect to have people's confidence."

Excuse me, but what do you call what a former Republican president did, while vice president under Ronald Reagan? What do you call it when George H.W. Bush looked a CBS anchor, and camera, indeed, looked America, straight in the eye and said he knew nothing about the illegal sale of arms to the Contras in exchange for release of hostages in Iran?

And, what do you call it when, a couple of decades later, another president lied to Congress, and the American people, about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, took us to war without a formal declaration of war, and one that has cost the lives of many thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians?

To the contrary, it seems to me that one can lie very well in politics and have the people's confidence, but that one must choose one's lies carefully.

In this country of the Puritans, by the Puritans, and for the Puritans, a nation that has shown the World Health Organization, and HIV/AIDS clinics in Africa and Asia, that ideology comes before survival by requiring abstinence-only sex education in order to receive funding, a country that countenances "ghost ships," and the suspension of habeas corpus is appalled because a candidate who could talk about "morals" is a man, after all, and not a god.

But, if we're going to talk about morals, let's start with what kind of morals it takes to knowingly, wilfully, and deliberately send more than 4100 service men and women to their death while lying about the pretext for battle. Yes, how can one not feel for Elizabeth Edwards but, more importantly, how can one not feel for our country with yet another promising political career dashed by the "dangerous liaison" mindset that has come to be characteristic of Rovian politics.

John Edwards now joins the lofty company of Teddy Kennedy and Gary Hart, both of whom have been outspoken advocates of the rights of working people, and subjected to exorciation by the mainstream media because they made the mistake of being human. Would anybody even know where Chappaquiddick is if Ted Kennedy happened to have been alone in the car? What's more, why should anybody care? Why is it anybody's damn business what a public figure does in his or her private time?

We may not be sure of much, but you can bet on one thing---if there is a planet 200 years from now, and America is still an independent country and not annexed to China, we're going to look awfully silly to posterity for impeaching a president who lied to a grand jury about an act of adultery on taxpayer's time while giving a president like George W. Bush an honorable discharge from public service at taxpayer expense.

What's tragic here is not marital infidelity; monogamy, after all, is something to strive for, and is never guaranteed, but what is shameful is how we've so trivialized government by our puritanical preoccupation with the private lives of public figures that presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy would run to Canada before running for office. And, the only "cheating" we need concern ourselves with is the fact that we're cheating ourselves.

Of course, it would be unthinkable, and glib not to suggest that those in high profile positions recognize that they are held, by choice, to a higher standard, and greater scrutiny than the rest of us, but to witness men like Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York, who, apart from his dubious business transactions, also had his finger on the pulse of Wall Street corruption, and credit card fraud, reduced to rubble, and humiliated, is a disgrace to the foundation upon which this great country was built.

To think that the importance of John Edwards' message about eradicating poverty, special interests, working toward economic equity, and restoring dignity to the working man and woman, in this country, has been systematically disabled by the predators of prurience who pretend to trade in virtue, is an insult to the American dream.

An extramarital dalliance never stopped a European president from being reelected. Reportedly, one French prime minister's mistress stood only inches away from his wife at his funeral.

It's only in America, home of Salem Bay witch hunts, and Puritans, that we drag our candidates over the coals for marital infidelity while making them heroes for bombing Libya, and Hiroshima. That shame doesn't accompany high crimes and misdemeanors will make us a source of egregious embarrassment for generations to come.

Oh, and there are some who might argue that this country would be a lot better off today if Richard Nixon could have come up with better things to do at the Watergate Hotel.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

The following piece comes courtesy of Bill Moyers' Journal, and Public Affairs Television...

A Novel Approach to Politics

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

ABC News' political blog, "The Note," points out this week that Paris Hilton is issuing policy statements while John McCain nominates his wife for a topless beauty contest. The world's turned upside down. Who could blame a person for thinking that chronicling such oddness is beyond the skills of simple journalists? This is a job for the novelists.

Here, for example, is something straight out of Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. Are you ready for this? The Wall Street Journal reports that, "At a time when scores of companies are freezing pensions for their workers, some are quietly converting those pension plans into resources to finance their executives' retirement benefit and pay.

In recent years, companies from Intel Corp to CenturyTel Inc. collectively have moved hundreds of millions of dollars of obligations for executive benefits into rank-and-file pension plans. This lets companies capture tax breaks intended for pensions of regular workers and use them to pay for executives' supplemental benefits and compensation."

Everyone knows we've been living through one of the great redistributions of wealth in American history – from the bottom up. But this takes the cake, because our tax dollars are subsidizing this spectacular round of robbing the poor to pay off the rich. Sad to say, it's not fiction.And how about this: On the campaign trail John McCain has been sounding like Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, preaching the gospel of oil drilling.

Sure enough, like all other evangelists, who promise heaven and pass the collection plate, the offerings roll in. The website Campaign Money Watch reports that companies lusting to drill off shore have been raining dollars on McCain ever since he saw the light. Earlier this summer, John B. Hess, of Hess Oil, no less, convened his cronies at the ritzy 2l Club here in New York City and collected $285,000 for McCain and the Republican National Committee.

And you thought those rallies recently staged in Washington for more oil drilling were just spontaneous gushers of affection from politicians who give billions in subsidies to… big oil companies. Edna Ferber, those strike-it-rich Texas tycoons in your novel Giant would feel right at home.

Barack Obama's more the Horatio Alger dime novel type, with his rags-to-riches backstory and his emphasis on the little people who've funded his campaign. But not so fast. This is one little David who's got a lot of corporate Goliaths on his side, too.

Big oil has greased the wheels of his campaign machine – albeit far less than John McCain's – and a third of his contributions have come from donations of $1,000 or more. That translates into 112 million bucks – more, in fact, than John McCain has raised from his rich pals.

And although he boasts that he won't take cash from lobbyists or political action committees registered with the Feds, two thirds of Obama's high rollers come from sectors with a keen interest in what government can giveth and taketh away – entertainment, real estate, law and securities and investments. Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers; Obama's been ringing some platinum plated doorbells.

Finally, here's one to send Ayn Rand spinning: The White House projects next year's federal budget deficit at a record $482 billion, and that's not counting a possible $25 billion bailout of the mortgage banks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Or the total costs of fighting in the Middle East, largely kept in the bottom drawer where they're hard to find.

Yet this week, our Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding that by year's end, the Iraqi government – the regime in power because we put them there – may have a budget surplus as high as $79 billion.

Iraq, as in "war torn" Iraq. A surplus! Seventy-nine billion after we've poured $100 billion a year into that country and more than 4100 American lives – so far. Seventy-nine billion based on the record prices we're paying at the gas pumps, and they're not spending it on rebuilding, on getting their electrical systems back on the grid, constructing schools and hospitals and housing, making sure everyone has food and clean water.

Between 2005 and 2007, the GAO report says, only ten percent of the Iraqi budget went toward reconstruction of their own country, which means that once again, American taxpayers have been picking up the slack – $48 billion US allocated for reconstruction costs since we rolled into Baghdad more than five years ago.

By the way, that includes $33 million for a new hotel, office complex and shopping mall at the Baghdad airport.

Admittedly, a lot of those billions doubtless line the pockets of American contractors who've done little if any of what they were hired to do – and endangered Iraqis and our own troops with shoddy, dangerous workmanship.

But remember what former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress back in 2003, before the war? "We're dealing with a county that can really finance its own reconstruction," he said, "and relatively soon.

"Remember, too, what Colin Powell told President Bush before we invaded Iraq – you break it, you buy it.

Julius Caesar came, saw and conquered. George W. Bush broke and bought, and we just keep paying, in money and blood, while billions of oil profits pile up in Iraq as "surplus."

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"economic surge?"

John McCain is so delighted with the surge in Iraq, he likes to think he holds the patent on it. What's more, he's so pleased with it that he's now talking about an "economic surge."

Don't you wish these Republican presidents, and presidential candidates, would have figured out by now that Viagra belongs in their medicine chests, and not in their party's platform.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Will the Real Domestic Terrorist Please Stand Up?

Sunday night, on the 11'oclock news, the local news anchor announced that an incident of "domestic terrorism" reportedly took place at the home of a university researcher in Santa Cruz. It turns out that the home of a UC Santa Cruz biologist was firebombed on Saturday, allegedly by animal rights activists.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up as the anchor calmly, if demurely, uttered the phrase "domestic terrorism." Whatever happened to good old fashioned arson? I quickly checked Google for some of the verbiage contained in HR 1362, the Patriot Act, which pertains to "domestic terrorism," an insidious piece of legislation that overwhelming passed Congress in the months immediately following 9/11. Here is a thumbnail of what I came up with:

According to the Patriot Act, the term `domestic terrorism' means activities that--

`(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; `(B) appear to be intended--
`(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
`(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
`(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
`(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of theUnited States.'

Earlier today, some of journalist Ron Suskind's allegations against the Bush White House, in his upcoming book, "The Way of the World," leaked, namely that the White House, in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, ordered the CIA to forge a hand-written note from the Iraqi government's intelligence tsar to Saddam Hussein so as to create the illusion of a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, thereby implicating Hussein in the World Trade Center bombings.

Suskind writes that "The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001," thereby committing an impeachable offense through an illicit manipulation of domestic intelligence to -- you guessed it--- "influence the policy of a government by intimidation." (Politico).

The author also contends that Habbash (Iraqi intelligence) told the White House there were no weapons of mass destruction well before the invasion of Iraq, and was paid millions in hush money.

Forget "gonzo journalism," White House press secretary Tony Fratto responded by calling Suskind's revelations "gutter journalism." Some "gutter" journalist Suskind is---he won the Pulitzer Prize for a feature he wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Even more egregious than what the author, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, uncovered was the attempt by federal agents, in New York, to silence him. His research assistant was held by feds where he was given the third degree, and had his notes confiscated in violation of both his First Amendment rights, and the constitutional proscription against illegal search and seizure.

So it is then that his some of Suskind's notes were, in effect, kidnapped, and held hostage by federal agents working in tandem with an administration whose primary goal has been to "intimidate and coerce a civilian population." Sound familiar?

No one is defending firebombing as a tactic, or suggesting that this isn't a crime, but does it not usually fall under the heading of arson, or vandalism? Can it be that setting fire to a researcher's house is an act of terrorism, rather than vandalism, has something to do with the fact that there is ideology behind the act? And, if that is the case, there can be no better reason to charge the authors of the Patriot Act, as well as the forgeries that brought us into a blatantly unjustifiable war, as "domestic terrorists" themselves.

After all, is it okay to firebomb villages, maim and kill innocent civilians--acts of international terrorism, and consider these acts of domestic heroism because the ideology passes the smell test in the Oval Office?

There can be little doubt that phrases like "domestic terrorism" arise from the mindset of a president like George W. Bush who once famously said "There ought to be limits to freedom." Thankfully, the founding fathers, in their wisdom, established limits to the presidency.


"Oftentimes I have lost myself wholly on the track of the burning that wakens awareness of things."

Federico Garcia Lorca

Monday, August 04, 2008

Major Powers

The six major world powers decided today to seek sanctions against Iran for refusing to collapse its nuclear enrichment program, according to the AP.

And, on Sunday, captain of the "axis of evil" team, Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that diplomacy is the only way to solve the simmering dispute over his declared intention to develop nuclear power. Of course, it's fine for a Republican presidential candidate to overstate the virtues of nuclear energy, but not our designated enemies.

Looks like Ahmadinejad is closer to the Rand research center, which is hardly an anti-war group, than either of the presidential candidates. After all, it was Rand that just released its findings that military action against counterterrorism is effective only 7% of the time. Wonder how often economic embargos are effective? One has only to look at Iraq and Cuba for answers to that question.

While both contenders for our next commander-in-chief are unwilling to take any option "off the table," Obama is more likely to consider talk over saber rattling as McCain plays earthquake under the table confusing global chaos with national security.

Fear is one of the most frequent four letter words in the John McCain foreign policy playbook, and has proven to be his favorite election strategy with the exception of fast rewind. In fact, anyone choosing to sum up Mr. McCain's presidential campaign in one four letter word has found one. And, should he prevail over Barack Obama, in November, it will be victory for not so much for a rich white guy, but for the chronically fearful.

So it is then that major world powers--Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. are also folding their hands, and preparing for war. Guess somebody must have told them that diplomacy causes hemorrhoids.

Happy Birthday

to Barack Obama -- 47 years young today. On to victory in November!

Friday, August 01, 2008

O'Reilly's Revenge

Forget Montezuma when travelling this summer, if you're not careful, you may catch a case of O'Reilly's Revenge. Congressman Robert Wexler, from South Florida, caught it in his own backyard, and he can tell you firsthand what it feels like to have Fox newsman, Bill O'Reilly, expose his principal residence in Maryland as if he were counterfeiting two dollar bills.

Yes, O'Reilly's film crew attempted to do to the congressman from Boca Raton what another film crew did to Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart catching him in a pair of shorts outside his home.

If nothing else, from this latest exploit, Bill O'Reilly proves that dumb is a four letter word. After all, if everyone in South Florida were to be excluded from running for office because their principal residence was somewhere else, there would be no one in Congress representing Florida. Does the phrase "snow bird" mean anything to Mr. O'Reilly?

Moreover, if this is Fox's idea of investigative journalism, Mr. Murdoch may have bit off more than he can chew. Mr. Wexler, the incumbent, a progressive Democrat, never tried to keep his suburban Maryland residence in the closet; he just didn't think it was a campaign issue nor should it be, especially in a week that saw the disclosure of 51,000 jobs lost in July alone.

The larger question is--why is the news channel most often watched by America reporting on where a Democratic member of Congress hangs his hat instead of the fact that unemployment is at a four year high? Can it be because the Republican presidential candidate is, on average, three percentage points behind his Democratic rival in the polls?

Yes, and why, after it's been public record for a decade, all this interest now in where the congressman calls home, and that he's "not really living in Florida" as the Palm Beach Post reports? Does it maybe have a little something to do with the fact that Rep. Wexler is among the most vocal supporters of Barack Obama, human rights, impeachment, and one of the strongest opponents of the Bush White House with its tyranny of perjury?

In a congressional district in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of 2 to 1, you can be sure that this attempted O'Reilly Factor outing has been good for the incumbent's Republican challenger, a man, coincidentally, by the name of Lynch who, until last Tuesday, was only able to raise about a thousand bucks. Thanks to Bill O'Reilly, Mr. Lynch's campaign bank account has grown some, and he has become a proverbial household name with high profile local media coverage.

What was behind O'Reilly's revenge? No doubt, his panties were in a snit because Congressman Wexler joined MoveOn's campaign, and circulated a petition calling Fox out on what they consider Fox News' racist, and fear-mongering campaign against Senator Obama, but did Mr. O'Reilly really have to resort to such Rovian tactics in order to attempt political homicide?

After all, you see where Karl Rove's tactics got him--a Contempt of Congress citation and, oh yes, coincidentally, Rep. Wexler just happened to be on the House Judicary Committee that instigated that contempt citation.

Clearly, too, now that Obama is maintaining a small, but steady, lead over McCain, the indefatigable neo-conmen have decided to go after members of Congress thinking maybe the "con," in the word Congress, applies to them.

Now that we know about the role former Deputy Chief of Staff under President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, played in connection to the fall of a Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, how can we let a rank amateur like Bill O'Reilly usurp Rove's throne, and bring down Robert Wexler?

What's more, what everybody suspected all along, namely that the firing of those nine U.S. attorneys was because they wouldn't play by party rules, and that the Justice Department broke the law by imposing quotas along ideological lines, is common knowledge now, so why would even the most ingenuous among us think, even for an instant, that the O'Reilly Factor is the only one that would like to silence Congressman Wexler, a man who, after all, didn't send lascivious e-mails to congressional pages, take bribes, or use taxpayer money to refurbish his home?

Think about this: if, after all their digging, the only thing Fox can come up with on Wexler is that he maintains his principal residence near his Washington, D.C. office, then I say Diogenes can rest in peace now, and stop looking for his good man---we found him!

Bill Moyers' Web-exclusive interview with Thomas Frank

Courtesy of Bill Moyers, and Public Affairs Television:

Bill Moyers and Thomas Frank discuss Frank’s new book THE WRECKING CREW in this Web-exclusive interview. Bill Moyers is host of Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS (check local listings for time):

Your book describes conservatism as "an expression of American business." Why exclude Democrats? Jimmy Carter triggered the deregulation frenzy. Bill Clinton pushed for NAFTA, signed the Telecommunications Act of l996 which gave the megamedia companies everything they wanted, auctioned off the Lincoln Bedroom, and swooned over Robert Rubin while showing Robert Reich the door. Democratic Congresses were shaking down corporations when George W. Bush was still tipsy in Texas. And who was running Congress during the S&L swindles of the late 80s? Why single out conservatives as the greedy party?

Democrats can be conservatives too, of course. In fact, certain Democrats' embrace of the free-market faith has been just as consequential as the Republicans' own move to the right. When the Democrats gave up on FDR and came around to the ideology of Reagan, the opposition ceased to oppose.

But this was the subject of my 2000 book, ONE MARKET UNDER GOD, which discussed NAFTA and the Telecommunications Act at some length. THE WRECKING CREW is an effort to explain the particular species of corruption we see in Washington today.

Clinton's contributions here were not insignificant, but they were more passive than active. His celebration of outsourcing set up the government-for-profit of the Bush era. His war on federal wages ensured that government would remain an unattractive career option, especially when compared to what's offered by the contractors who are our de facto government today. His failure even to try to reverse certain initiatives of the Reagan years allowed them to harden into permanent fixtures of the Washington scene.

There are other forms of corruption that are particular to liberalism, and that occur more naturally among Democrats. But by and large, the particular mode of corruption I describe in this book is a Republican invention. True believers in the free-market way invented it and feel most comfortable in it. Most Democrats can be embarrassed by their relationship to lobbyists because publicly they pretend to be the "party of the people"; most Republicans are happy to say they believe in market-based government.

You go on to write that the political triumph of conservatism has coincided with the rise of the Washington area to the richest rank of American metropolises. But can't it be said that the ascendancy of liberalism turned government into the cornucopia of spending which became a vast feeding ground for predators of all stripes?

During its heyday, liberalism was often depicted in these terms-as a giveaway to special interests, handouts to organized whiners, pork-barrel projects like the TVA. There may have been some merit to those charges-they aren't my subject in this book so I don't know-but whatever they were, they are as nothing compared to the kind of money presently being sent down the chute to defense contractors and homeland-security operators and so on.
As for Washington's wealth, it is uniquely a phenomenon of the era of privatization and outsourcing, not of liberalism.

You seem to dismiss, if not denigrate, the term "culture of corruption." If that doesn't fit the nexus between K Street, the White House, Congress and contract-dispensing federal agencies, what does?

My problem with the term "culture of corruption" is that the word "culture" is being used generically-to mystify and accuse, not to define. I wanted to get down to specifics: What, exactly, is corrupt about this culture? How did it get that way? What's responsible for it? The Democrats' talk about a "culture of corruption" implies that simply voting for Democrats will fix it; when we know more about this culture we discover that it goes far too deep for such a simple solution.

You argue that the sprawling spectacle surrounding Jack Abramoff was not just a matter of a "few bad apples." So was the whole orchard rotten?

It's not the apples, it's the trees themselves. It's systemic. It's structural. It's the logical consequence of the philosophy of government currently in place. It has nothing to do with individuals except for the handful of geniuses who invented it all.

I read the muckraker David Graham Phillips, whom you quote in your book. A hundred years ago he was writing about The Treason of the Senate when the biggest names in the world's "greatest deliberative body" were serving "interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be, and vastly more dangerous; interests that manipulate the prosperity produced by all, so that it heaps up riches for the few; interests whose growth and power can only mean the degradation of the people." Ralph Nader couldn't say it better. So what's new?

Morally, those sentiments are right on-target. What's new is (a) the unthinkable is back; (b) it's infinitely more complex; and (c) it's ideological. The Vanderbilts had their own U.S. Senator because that way they could grab more, but the people doing it today are motivated at least partially by ideology. They have a theoretical justification for what they've done: the market is always and in every case better than the bureaucracy.

What's more, many of the people I describe in the book understand themselves as crusaders against corruption. They think *they* are the muckrakers, demanding more and more deregulation or privatization. Government should get out of the marketplace altogether. By what right does it regulate insider trading or price fixing? Get off our backs!

When exactly when was it the government that you believed in as a kid in Kansas - apparently schools there taught the Preamble to the Constitution --- was reengineered, as you put it, "into a device for our exploitation?"

You require several pages - riveting pages, I will admit - to describe a "fantastic misgovernment." Distill the essence of it for a bumper sticker or t-shirt.

Bad government is the natural product of rule by those who believe government is bad.
Or: Cynicism spawns corruption, which spawns cynicism.
Or: Bring back the regulators before the system self-destructs.

Conservatives are fond of writing op-eds and going on television to say, "Don't look at us. It was the Republicans!" Are we really talking about a colossal case of mistaken identity here? Were the souls of conservatives actually hijacked and implanted in Republican bodies bought at a local taxidermist shop?

It is true that not all Republicans are conservatives-we used to have some pretty liberal ones out in the midwest. Also some pretty clean ones, especially in Kansas City, where the Dems were the party of Pendergast.

But the distinction is constantly abused by conservatives in order to get their movement off the hook when their one-time leaders' numbers plummet. One day Jack Abramoff is their maximum leader; when it's discovered that he's been ripping off his clients, suddenly he's not a conservative anymore. One day George W. Bush is thought to be in daily contact with the Almighty; when his numbers tank, he's an "impostor" who's tricked the movement. They once said the same things about Reagan, incidentally.

Incidentally, all of this is a basic logical fallacy called "No True Scotsman." Scotsman A says, "No Scotsman puts soy milk on his porridge." Scotsman B says, oh yeah? I know a Scotsman who puts soy milk on his porridge. Scotsman A then replies, "well, no *true* Scotsman puts soy milk on his porridge."

Many years ago I reported for a documentary on the Iran-Contra scandal - when President Reagan was waging a "secret" war against the Sandinistas and his hirelings in the basement of the White House traded arms for hostages to finance it. In your description of that scandal you write that two great conservative themes converged: "freedom fighters" and political entrepreneurship. Right?

Yes. The right of those years was infatuated with the idea of "freedom fighters"-the contras in Nicaragua, the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, Jonas Savimbi in Angola, and whatever that brutal gang was called in Mozambique. To conservatives these guys seemed to represent a kind of sixties in reverse, in which the glamorous guerrillas were now on our side. And, yes, they thought Jonas Savimbi was glamorous.

They supported these figures with entreneurial methods: asking millionaires to contribute to nonprofits which would then buy supplies for the contras (and supplies for the fundraiser); transforming their control of the state into cash (selling weapons to Iran). Their ultimate ambition was supposed to be called "The Enterprise": a foreign policy instrument completely free from the scrutiny of Congress.

And you think some of what we've seen under this regime evolved - pardon the secular language - from that convergence?

The entrepreneurship is officially woven into the fabric of the state now: "Government should be market-based," Bush says. Entrepreneurship is what gave you both the catastrophic depopulating of FEMA and the lucrative but ineffectual recovery effort after Katrina. Or look at Iraq, where much of our foreign-policy apparatus is indeed private and is almost completely beyond scrutiny. Try phoning Blackwater and asking them why they do the things they do.

Two years ago my documentary "Capitol Crimes," which we're repeating and updating this Friday night, reported on how conservatives in Washington ganged up to promote sweat shops on American territory. You devote a chapter to this story and call it Bantustan That Roared." Give our readers a peek into what you mean.

"Bantustans," or "homelands," were a tool of the apartheid government in South Africa. They were supposedly separate countries in which the black population could be theoretically housed, leaving South Africa proper for the whites.

Generally speaking, the bantustans had two industries: casino gambling and low-wage manufacturing. One of them was ferociously libertarian, and much beloved of American conservatives. And they were all propped up ideologically by appeals to racial or ethnic pride.

Each of these elements was present in Saipan, to one degree or another. The raging libertarianism, the casino gambling, the sweatshop manufacturing-exploiting, in this case, imported Filipinos and Chinese-and the constant use of ethnic pride to excuse the whole rotten thing. I say Saipan "roared" because, while the bantustans pretty much sucked for everyone who lived there, it has been a great success for some.

Tom DeLay went there with a gaggle of conservatives in two and called the sweat shops "a petri dish of capitalism." How about that for a vision of America's future?
DeLay was right. That's what we're becoming. Democracy is over. It's rule by money, now: plutocracy, the pre-thirties system.

What do you make of the fact that Norquist is still riding high, despite the seamy business he carried on of using his organization to funnel money from Abramoff's clients to Ralph Reed? Does his constituency just not care about such things?

Apparently not. Maybe they think Norquist is just a good entrepreneur. I met him, by the way, and found him a charming and very intelligent man.

Who are the real casualties of THE WRECKING CREW?

It's ordinary working people. Thirty or forty years ago, it was possible to work a blue-collar job and enjoy a middle-class standard of living. In fact, it was common. It was the American way. The reason it was so common, though, was because we decided to make it that way and used government as our instrument.

That instrument is no longer under our control. Someone else is at the wheel, and they're steering us in a different direction. So can good little liberals go to bed at night now and sleep soundly knowing the Good Democrats have slain the monsters and reclaimed the castle?

No. Unfortunately, the system I describe is part of the landscape in Washington now. It's structural. It's an industry. It's not going down without an enormous fight. Besides, rather than putting away this very profitable game, a lot of Democrats seem excited to try their hand at it.
(Other Democrats, though, are trying to get to the bottom of things. Some Republicans, too. There used to be one called John McCain that I liked.)

Years ago the WALL STREET JOURNAL banned subversive - liberal - writers from their editorial pages. Suddenly you pop up as a columnist on the op-ed page. Are you Rupert Murdoch's fig leaf?

How did it happen? This wasn't supposed to be the Age of Miracles

I have never met or spoken to Rupert Murdoch. The editor of their op-ed page is the one who offered me a spot. I was as surprised by the invitation as you are, since one of my previous books was basically an extended commentary on the JOURNAL's opinion page over the course of the 1990s.

I personally think that one of the reasons I've ended up at the JOURNAL is, ironically, the famous "liberal bias" critique. I've always suspected that one of the reasons I've never been offered a regular, permanent place in any prominent mainstream publication is that everyone in big-media-land is terrified of seeming too liberal, and hiring someone like me would obviously expose them to terrific blasts from the right. Well, one of the only publications in America that is totally immune to that critique is the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Which means they're free to hire me.

Has living in Washington made you cynical? Or was it the ripping of the veil in "The Wizard of Oz" that destroyed your faith?

The literature of Washington is, by and large, the literature of cynicism and disillusionment. I wanted to update it for our time. But I prefer the word "skeptical," since I believe good government is possible.