The New York Times

At Trump's Agriculture Department, a Wide-Open Door for Pesticide Lobbyists

At a private meeting in September, congressional aides asked Rebeckah Adcock, a top official at the Department of Agriculture, to reveal the identities of the people serving on the deregulation team she leads at the agency.

Keep reading... Show less

A Warrant to Search Your Vagina

As debate raged around health care and Russia-gate last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions quietly held a “national summit” of law enforcement representatives to discuss the future of policing.

Keep reading... Show less

The Hard Lesson I Learned About Stripping

TODAY I am a two for one. This is how it works: the first lapdance is free. The second one is 20 bucks. “Tenner Tuesday” is a weekly special, offering a bargain for customers on an otherwise sluggish day where I work, the only strip club for miles.

Keep reading... Show less

Israel's Palestinian Residents Are Treated as Second-Class Citizens

My mother, Zakia, was so proud that my sister and I spoke better Hebrew than Arabic. Osman, my father, believed that by achieving the highest levels of education, we would one day be treated as equal in our country, Israel. He sincerely believed that Palestinians capable of articulating their narrative would win the hearts and minds of Israeli Jews.

Keep reading... Show less

The Companies Making a Profit by Abusing the Poor

In Orange County, Calif., the probation department’s “supervised electronic confinement program,” which monitors the movements of low-risk offenders, has been outsourced to a private company, Sentinel Offender Services. The company, by its own account, oversees case management, including breath alcohol and drug-testing services, “all at no cost to county taxpayers.”

Keep reading... Show less

Obama Is Violating 3 Cardinal Rules of US Diplomacy in Afghanistan

The New York Times carried a very troubling article on the front page on Monday. It detailed how President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had invited Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Kabul — in order to stick a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration — after the White House had rescinded an invitation to Mr. Karzai to come to Washington because the Afghan president had gutted an independent panel that had discovered widespread fraud in his re-election last year.

Keep reading... Show less

Border Fantasies

Members of Congress who voted for the Southwest border fence as the fix for illegal immigration professed shock — shock at the news that the project is running years behind, and billions of dollars ahead, of the Bush administration’s early, rosy projections.

Keep reading... Show less

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

It's too bad so many people are falling into poverty at a time when it’s almost illegal to be poor. You won’t be arrested for shopping in a Dollar Store, but if you are truly, deeply, in-the-streets poor, you’re well advised not to engage in any of the biological necessities of life — like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering. City officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about the ordinances that afflict the destitute, most of which go back to the dawn of gentrification in the ’80s and ’90s. “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a city attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla., said in June, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

Keep reading... Show less

Autopsies of War Dead Reveal Ways to Save Others

From the New York Times:

Keep reading... Show less

Why the Press Is on Suicide Watch

IF you wanted to pick the moment when the American news business went on suicide watch, it was almost exactly three years ago. That’s when Stephen Colbert, appearing at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, delivered a monologue accusing his hosts of being stenographers who had, in essence, let the Bush White House get away with murder (or at least the war in Iraq). To prove the point, the partying journalists in the Washington Hilton ballroom could be seen (courtesy of C-Span) fawning over government potentates -- in some cases the very “sources” who had fed all those fictional sightings of Saddam Hussein’s W.M.D.

Keep reading... Show less

How Far Down the Economic Hole Are We Headed?

And so on the 29th day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill. But the earth did not move. The Dow Jones fell almost 300 points. G.M. and Chrysler together asked taxpayers for another $21.6 billion and announced another 50,000 layoffs. The latest alleged mini-Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, was accused of an $8 billion fraud with 50,000 victims.

Keep reading... Show less

That Was in Fact a Huge Win for Obama Last Week

Am I crazy, or wasn't the Obama presidency pronounced dead just days ago? Obama had "all but lost control of the agenda in Washington," declared Newsweek on Feb. 4 as it wondered whether he might even get a stimulus package through Congress. "Obama Losing Stimulus Message War" was the headline at Politico a day later. At the mostly liberal MSNBC, the morning host, Joe Scarborough, started preparing the final rites. Obama couldn't possibly eke out a victory because the stimulus package was "a steaming pile of garbage."

Keep reading... Show less

The Bush Era Has Been an Eight-Year-Long Madoff-Style Ripoff

Three days after the world learned that $50 billion may have disappeared in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, The Times led its front page of Dec. 14 with the revelation of another $50 billion rip-off. This time the vanished loot belonged to American taxpayers. That was our collective contribution to the $117 billion spent (as of mid-2008) on Iraq reconstruction — a sinkhole of corruption, cronyism, incompetence and outright theft that epitomized Bush management at home and abroad.

Keep reading... Show less

The End of the Financial World as We Know It

We enter the New Year in a strange new role: financial lunatics. We've been viewed by the wider world with mistrust and suspicion on other matters, but on the subject of money even our harshest critics have been inclined to believe that we knew what we were doing. They watched our investment bankers and emulated them: for a long time now half the planet's college graduates seemed to want nothing more out of life than a job on Wall Street.

Keep reading... Show less

Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire?

During the Great Depression, American moviegoers seeking escape could ogle platoons of glamorous chorus girls in “Gold Diggers of 1933.” Our feel-good movie of the year is “Slumdog Millionaire,” a Dickensian tale in which we root for an impoverished orphan from Mumbai’s slums to hit the jackpot on the Indian edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Keep reading... Show less

Cable News Phenom Maddow Doubles Her Audience in a Matter of Days


Rachel Maddow, a woman who does not own a television set, has done something that is virtually unheard of: she has doubled the audience for a cable news channel's 9 p.m. hour in a matter of days.

More important for her bosses at MSNBC is that "The Rachel Maddow Show," her left-leaning news and commentary program, has averaged a higher rating among 25- to 54-year-olds than "Larry King Live" on CNN for 13 of the 25 nights she has been host. While the average total audience of her program remains slightly smaller than that of Mr. King's, Ms. Maddow, 35, has made MSNBC competitive in that time slot for the first time in a decade. The channel at that hour has an average viewership of 1.7 million since she started on Sept. 8, compared with 800,000 before.

Given that advertising dollars -- and the reputations of networks -- rise and fall on prime-time ratings, Ms. Maddow's rise has been closely watched by media executives.

"I'm pinching myself," said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, who used to caution that it "takes two or three years for a show to find its audience." That was certainly true for Keith Olbermann, whose five-year-old "Countdown" program at 8 p.m. (which leads into Ms. Maddow's program) now beats CNN in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic segment every evening.

Mr. Griffin said that Ms. Maddow's advantages included her regular appearances on "Countdown" and her popularity on the Internet, where, he said, "word spread like wildfire" about her new show. Ms. Maddow, a former AIDS activist, was also presumably helped by her four years on the Air America radio network.

Ms. Maddow and every other cable news anchor are beneficiaries of the heightened interest in the presidential campaign. Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor," the highest-rated hour on cable news, reached an average of four million viewers in September; it had two million during the same period a year ago.

Still, Ms. Maddow's ascent is unique in its swiftness. Her program immediately drew almost half a million viewers ages 25 to 54 in a slot where a quarter of a million is more common. Even if her ratings decline after the election -- and history suggests they are likely to -- Mr. Griffin contended that Ms. Maddow's performance confirmed that cable news was "a three-way race now."

Fox News did not comment for this article. Ryan Jimenez, a spokesman for "Larry King Live," said in a statement that the shows couldn't be more different: "While our competitors have moved to partisan extremes, we continue landing the biggest guests because we embrace the vast middle and have a wider appeal," he said.

The daily rhythm of television ratings has required an adjustment for Ms. Maddow, whose broadcasting skills were fine-tuned on the radio.

"You don't get overnights in radio," she said in an interview, discussing the ratings. "This instant 4 p.m. burst of feedback is hard to get used to."

But she has adopted the vocabulary quickly, praising Mr. Olbermann for a "931 in the demo" last Tuesday. (That night, Mr. Olbermann's average of 931,000 viewers 25 to 54 lifted MSNBC to a rare prime-time win over both Fox News and CNN.)

Ms. Maddow acknowledges that much of her success can be attributed to the lead-in from "Countdown," which continues to be MSNBC's marquee program. For years Mr. Olbermann, a vocal critic of the Bush administration, had pushed the network to install a thematically similar program in the 9 p.m. hour, and in August MSNBC decided to replace "Verdict With Dan Abrams" with Ms. Maddow. While Mr. Abrams on occasion bested Mr. King in the ratings, Ms. Maddow's wins are coming at a more frequent rate.

In her first six weeks Ms. Maddow on many nights is retaining more than 90 percent of Mr. Olbermann's audience, a figure that many television executives would envy.

Encouraging the audience to stay put, the two programs often cover similar subjects most nights: on Friday, for example, Ms. Maddow appeared on "Countdown" to discuss the political maneuverings inherent in the contentions of voter registration fraud, and in her following hour she devoted two segments to the same subject.

While Mr. Olbermann watches Mr. O'Reilly's show on a monitor embedded in his desk, Ms. Maddow insists that she has never watched either Mr. King's program or the 9 p.m. program on Fox News, "Hannity & Colmes," which garners more viewers than either of the other shows.

Partly, she said, that lack of competitive interest is an effort to remain original. "I worry every day about the homogenizing forces at work in my professional life," she said, adding that it can be difficult to preserve creativity within cable's production process. It helps, she said, that she does not own a television at home.

Even so, Ms. Maddow said, she has finally committed to getting a set, primarily so that her companion can watch her program. With Ms. Maddow delivering MSNBC a record audience, it might seem that the least the network could do would be to deliver her a television.


© 2008 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Maybe Now People Will Take Their Votes More Seriously

The lesson for Americans suffused with anxiety and dread over the crackup of the financial markets is that the way you vote matters, that there are real-world consequences when you go into a voting booth and cast that ballot.

For the nitwits who vote for the man or woman they'd most like to have over for dinner, or hang out at a barbecue with, I suggest you take a look at how well your 401(k) is doing, or how easy it will be to meet the mortgage this month, or whether the college fund you've been trying to build for your kids is as robust as you'd like it to be.

Voters in the George W. Bush era gave the Republican Party nearly complete control of the federal government. Now the financial markets are in turmoil, top government and corporate leaders are on the verge of panic and scholars are dusting off treatises that analyzed the causes of the Great Depression.

Mr. Bush was never viewed as a policy or intellectual heavyweight. But he seemed like a nicer guy to a lot of voters than Al Gore.

It's not just the economy. While the United States has been fighting a useless and irresponsible war in Iraq, Afghanistan -- the home base of the terrorists who struck us on 9/11 -- has been allowed to fall into a state of chaos. Osama bin Laden is still at large. New Orleans is still on its knees. And so on.

Voting has consequences.

I don't for a moment think that the Democratic Party has been free of egregious problems. But there are two things I find remarkable about the G.O.P., and especially its more conservative wing, which is now about all there is.

The first is how wrong conservative Republicans have been on so many profoundly important matters for so many years. The second is how the G.O.P. has nevertheless been able to persuade so many voters of modest means that its wrongheaded, favor-the-rich, country-be-damned approach was not only good for working Americans, but was the patriotic way to go.

Remember voodoo economics? That was the derisive term George H.W. Bush used for Ronald Reagan's fantasy that he could simultaneously increase defense spending, cut taxes and balance the budget. After Reagan became president (with Mr. Bush as his vice president) the budget deficit -- surprise, surprise -- soared.

In a moment of unusual candor, Reagan's own chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Martin Feldstein, gave three reasons for the growth of the deficit: the president's tax cuts, the increased defense spending and the interest on the expanding national debt.

These were the self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives who were behaving so profligately. The budget was balanced and a surplus realized under Bill Clinton, but soon the "fiscal conservatives" were back in the driver's seat. "Deficits don't matter," said Dick Cheney, and the wildest, most reckless of economic rides was on.

Americans, including the Joe Sixpacks, soccer moms and hockey moms, were repeatedly told that the benefits lavished on the highfliers would trickle down to them. Someday.

Just as they were wrong about trickle down, conservative Republican politicians and their closest buddies in the commentariat have been wrong on one important national issue after another, from Social Security (conservatives opposed it from the start and have been trying to undermine it ever since) to Medicare (Ronald Reagan saw it as the first wave of socialism) to the environment, energy policy and global warming.

When the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the discoverers of the link between chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion, Tom DeLay, a Republican who would go on to wield enormous power as majority leader in the House, mocked the award as the "Nobel Appeasement Prize."

Mr. Reagan, the ultimate political hero of so many Republicans, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In response to the historic Brown v. Board of Education school-desegregation ruling, William F. Buckley, the ultimate intellectual hero of so many Republicans, asserted that whites, being superior, were well within their rights to discriminate against blacks.

"The White community is so entitled," he wrote, "because, for the time being, it is the advanced race…" He would later repudiate that sentiment, but only after it was clear that his racist view was harmful to himself.

The G.O.P. has done a great job masking the terrible consequences of much that it has stood for over the decades. Now the mask has slipped. As we survey the wreckage of the American economy and the real-life suffering associated with the financial crackup of 2008, it would be well for voters to draw upon the lessons of history and think more seriously about the consequences of the ballots they may cast in the future.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

© 2008 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Legal Immigration? Anyone?

One of the false pieties uttered by anti-immigration politicians is that they love immigrants. If that were true, Congress would not be having so much trouble passing a simple law to smooth out a serious kink in the legal immigration pipeline.

Every year Congress authorizes a certain number of permanent-resident visas, or green cards, for immigrants to come to work in the United States or to rejoin their families. And every year bureaucratic delays prevent a certain portion of those visas from being claimed.

The result? Every year thousands of potential green cards vanish, like unused cellphone minutes. The huge backlogs in legal immigration, which span years or even decades for applicants from some countries, continue to fester. The myth of Ellis Island becomes more mythical.

Teachers, nurses, engineers, researchers and other aspiring immigrants who follow the rules, file their paperwork, pay their fees and wait — and wait — get the chilly message that they are not wanted. Some of them feel great pressure to go illegally around the immigration system, instead of through it, as their wait to rejoin their loved ones becomes intolerable.

A House bill that could recapture an estimated 550,000 lost visas, sponsored by Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, has been moving slowly through the committee process despite the best efforts of members like Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, to sabotage it with ridiculously restrictive amendments. One would have granted green cards only to people younger than 40 with college degrees. Another would have eliminated an entire category of family visas, for siblings of citizens.

In the Senate, Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, is insisting that a visa-recapturing amendment be added to a bill reauthorizing E-Verify, the federal database program to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants. For this, he has endured an onslaught of criticism from nativist groups and colleagues, like Jeff Sessions of Alabama. They all have been raising an outcry about a coming flood of new foreigners.

That’s a false alarm. Congress has already authorized these green cards, and many would go to highly skilled workers who have already lived here for years on temporary visas. The bill is as much about keeping workers as gaining them.

It seems unlikely that a visa-recapture bill would make it through this year. But don’t blame Congress’s focus on the economic mess for that. Recapturing visas is a modest fix that should have been made a long time ago. The country needs to build a smoother path to legal entry and citizenship. The blame for its failure to do that lies squarely with the hard-liners who rage against illegal immigrants, but are strangely uninterested in helping people who “play by the rules” and “wait in line.”

The GOP Has Turned a Major Election into an Episode of the Mommy Wars


It turns out there was something more nauseating than the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate this past week. It was the tone of the acclaim that followed her acceptance speech.

"Drill, baby, drill," clapped John Dickerson, marveling at Palin's ability to speak and smile at the same time as an indication of her unexpected depths and unsuspected strengths. "It was clear Palin was having fun, and it's hard to have fun if you're scared or a lightweight," he wrote in Slate.

The Politico praised her charm and polish as antidotes to her lack of foreign policy experience: "Palin's poised and flawless performance evoked roars of applause from delegates who earlier this week might have worried that the surprise pick and newcomer to the national stage may not be up to the job."

"She had a great night. I thought she had a very skillfully written, and very skillfully delivered speech," Joe Biden said, shades of "articulate and bright and clean" threatening a reappearance. (For a full roundup of these comments go here.)

Thus began the official public launch of our country's now most-prominent female politician. The condescension -- damning with faint praise -- was reminiscent of the more overt misogyny of Samuel Johnson.

"A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs," the wit once observed. "It is not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all."

Palin sounded, at times, like she was speaking a foreign language as she gave voice to the beautifully crafted words that had been prepared for her on Wednesday night.

But that wasn't held against her. Thanks to the level of general esteem that greeted her ascent to the podium, it seems we've all got to celebrate the fact that America's Hottest Governor (Princess of the Fur Rendezvous 1983, Miss Wasilla 1984) could speak at all.

Could there be a more thoroughgoing humiliation for America's women?

You are not, I think, supposed now to say this. Just as, I am sure, you are certainly not supposed to feel that having Sarah Palin put forth as the Republicans' first female vice presidential candidate is just about as respectful a gesture toward women as was John McCain's suggestion, last month, that his wife participate in a topless beauty contest.

Such thoughts, we are told, are sexist. And elitist. After all, via Palin, we now hear without cease, the People are speaking. The "real" "authentic," small-town "Everyday People," of Hockey Moms and Blue Collar Dads whom even Rudolph Giuliani now invokes as an antidote to the cosmopolite Obamas and their backers in the liberal media. (Remind me please, once again, what was the name of the small town where Rudy grew up?)

Why does this woman -- who to some of us seems as fake as they can come, with her delicate infant son hauled out night after night under the klieg lights and her pregnant teenage daughter shamelessly instrumentalized for political purposes -- deserve, to a unique extent among political women, to rank as so "real"?

Because the Republicans, very clearly, believe that real people are idiots. This disdain for their smarts shows up in the whole way they've cast this race now, turning a contest over economic and foreign policy into a culture war of the Real vs. the Elites. It's a smoke and mirrors game aimed at diverting attention from the fact that the party's tax policies have helped create an elite that's more distant from "the people" than ever before. And from the fact that the party's dogged allegiance to up-by-your-bootstraps individualism -- an individualism exemplified by Palin, the frontierswoman who somehow has managed to "balance" five children and her political career with no need for support -- is leading to a culture-wide crack-up.

Real people, the kind of people who will like and identify with Palin, they clearly believe, are smart, but not too smart, and don't talk too well, dropping their "g"s, for example, and putting tough concepts like "vice president" in quotation marks.

"As for that 'V.P.' talk all the time I tell ya, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me, What is it exactly that the 'VP' does every day?" Palin asked host Lawrence Kudlow on CNBC sometime before her nomination. "I'm used to bein' very productive and workin' real hard in an administration and we want to make sure that that 'V.P.' slot would be a fruitful type of position."

And, I think, they find her acceptably "real," because Palin's not intimidating, and makes it clear that she's subordinate to a great man.

That's the worst thing a woman can be in this world, isn't it? Intimidating, which appears to be synonymous with competent. It's the kiss of death, personally and politically.

But shouldn't a woman who is prepared to be commander in chief be intimidating? Because of the intelligence, experience, talent and drive that got her there? If she isn't, at least on some level, off-putting, if her presence inspires national commentary on breast-pumping and babysitting rather than health care reform and social security, then something is seriously wrong. If she doesn't elicit at least some degree of awe, then something is missing.

One of the worst poisons of the American political climate right now, the thing that time and again in recent years has led us to disaster, is the need people feel for leaders they can "relate" to. This need isn't limited to women; it brought us after all, two terms of George W. Bush. And it isn't new; Americans have always needed to feel that their leaders were, on some level, people like them.

But in the past, it was possible to fill that need through empathetic connection. Few Depression-era voters could "relate" to Franklin Roosevelt's patrician background, notes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. "It was his ability to connect to them that made them feel they could connect to him," she told me in a phone interview.

The age of television, Goodwin believes, has made the demand for connection more immediate and intense. But never before George W. Bush did it quite reach the beer-drinking level of familiarity. "Now it's all about being able to see your life story in the candidate, rather than the candidate, with empathy, being able to relate to you."

There's a fine line between likability and demagoguery. Both thrive upon manipulation and least-common-denominator politics. These days, I fear, this need for direct mirroring -- and thus this susceptibility to all sorts of low-level tripe -- is particularly acute among women, who are perhaps reaching historic lows in their comfort levels with themselves and their choices.

Just look at how quickly the reaction to Palin devolved into what The Times this week called the "Mommy Wars: Special Campaign Edition." Much of the talk about Palin (like the emoting about Hillary Clinton before her) ultimately came down to this: is she like me or not like me? If she's not like me, can I like her? And what kind of child care does she have?

"This election is not about issues," Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager said this week. "This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." That's a scary thought. For the takeaway is so often base, a reflection more of people's fears and insecurities than of our hopes and dreams.

We're not likely to get a worthy female president anytime soon.


AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

© 2008 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Worries About War Crimes Heat up in the White House


We know what a criminal White House looks like from "The Final Days," Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's classic account of Richard Nixon's unraveling. The cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance boiled over, until it was finally every man for himself as desperate courtiers scrambled to save their reputations and, in a few patriotic instances, their country.

"The Final Days" was published in 1976, two years after Nixon abdicated in disgrace. With the Bush presidency, no journalist (or turncoat White House memoirist) is waiting for the corpse to be carted away. The latest and perhaps most chilling example arrives this week from Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, long a relentless journalist on the war-on-terror torture beat. Her book "The Dark Side" connects the dots of her own past reporting and that of her top-tier colleagues (including James Risen and Scott Shane of The New York Times) to portray a White House that, like its prototype, savaged its enemies within almost as ferociously as it did the Constitution.

Some of "The Dark Side" seems right out of "The Final Days," minus Nixon's operatic boozing and weeping. We learn, for instance, that in 2004 two conservative Republican Justice Department officials had become "so paranoid" that "they actually thought they might be in physical danger." The fear of being wiretapped by their own peers drove them to speak in code.

The men were John Ashcroft's deputy attorney general, James Comey, and an assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith. Their sin was to challenge the White House's don, Dick Cheney, and his consigliere, his chief of staff David Addington, when they circumvented the Geneva Conventions to make torture the covert law of the land. Mr. Comey and Mr. Goldsmith failed to stop the "torture memos" and are long gone from the White House. But Vice President Cheney and Mr. Addington remain enabled by a president, attorney general (Michael Mukasey) and C.I.A. director (Michael Hayden) who won't shut the door firmly on torture even now.

Nixon parallels take us only so far, however. "The Dark Side" is scarier than "The Final Days" because these final days aren't over yet and because the stakes are much higher. Watergate was all about a paranoid president's narcissistic determination to cling to power at any cost. In Ms. Mayer's portrayal of the Bush White House, the president is a secondary, even passive, figure, and the motives invoked by Mr. Cheney to restore Nixon-style executive powers are theoretically selfless. Possessed by the ticking-bomb scenarios of television's "24," all they want to do is protect America from further terrorist strikes.

So what if they cut corners, the administration's last defenders argue. While prissy lawyers insist on habeas corpus and court-issued wiretap warrants, the rest of us are being kept safe by the Cheney posse.

But are we safe? As Al Qaeda and the Taliban surge this summer, that single question is even more urgent than the moral and legal issues attending torture.

On those larger issues, the evidence is in, merely awaiting adjudication. Mr. Bush's 2005 proclamation that "we do not torture" was long ago revealed as a lie. Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated detainee abuse for the Army, concluded that "there is no longer any doubt" that "war crimes were committed." Ms. Mayer uncovered another damning verdict: Red Cross investigators flatly told the C.I.A. last year that America was practicing torture and vulnerable to war-crimes charges.

Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military's barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, "Torture Team." After Mr. Sands previewed his findings in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Mr. Feith protested he had been misquoted -- apparently forgetting that Mr. Sands had taped the interview. Mr. Feith and Mr. Sands are scheduled to square off in a House hearing this Tuesday.

So hot is the speculation that war-crimes trials will eventually follow in foreign or international courts that Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, has publicly advised Mr. Feith, Mr. Addington and Alberto Gonzales, among others, to "never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel." But while we wait for the wheels of justice to grind slowly, there are immediate fears to tend. Ms. Mayer's book helps cement the case that America's use of torture has betrayed not just American values but our national security, right to the present day.

In her telling, a major incentive for Mr. Cheney's descent into the dark side was to cover up for the Bush White House's failure to heed the Qaeda threat in 2001. Jack Cloonan, a special agent for the F.B.I.'s Osama bin Laden unit until 2002, told Ms. Mayer that Sept. 11 was "all preventable." By March 2000, according to the C.I.A.'s inspector general, "50 or 60 individuals" in the agency knew that two Al Qaeda suspects -- soon to be hijackers -- were in America. But there was no urgency at the top. Thomas Pickard, the acting F.B.I. director that summer, told Ms. Mayer that when he expressed his fears about the Qaeda threat to Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general snapped, "I don't want to hear about that anymore!"

After 9/11, our government emphasized "interrogation over due process," Ms. Mayer writes, "to pre-empt future attacks before they materialized." But in reality torture may well be enabling future attacks. This is not just because Abu Ghraib snapshots have been used as recruitment tools by jihadists. No less destructive are the false confessions inevitably elicited from tortured detainees. The avalanche of misinformation since 9/11 has compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases. The coerced "confession" to the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to take one horrific example, may have been invented to protect the real murderer.

The biggest torture-fueled wild-goose chase, of course, is the war in Iraq. Exhibit A, revisited in "The Dark Side," is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an accused Qaeda commander whose torture was outsourced by the C.I.A. to Egypt. His fabricated tales of Saddam's biological and chemical W.M.D. -- and of nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda -- were cited by President Bush in his fateful Oct. 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech ginning up the war and by Mr. Powell in his subsequent United Nations presentation on Iraqi weaponry. Two F.B.I. officials told Ms. Mayer that Mr. al-Libi later explained his lies by saying: "They were killing me. I had to tell them something."

That "something" was crucial in sending us into the quagmire that, five years later, has empowered Iran and compromised our ability to counter the very terrorists that torture was supposed to thwart. As The Times reported two weeks ago, Iraq has monopolized our military and intelligence resources to the point where we don't have enough predator drones or expert C.I.A. field agents to survey the tribal areas where terrorists are amassing in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the threat to America from Al Qaeda is "comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001," said Seth Jones, a RAND Corporation terrorism expert and Pentagon consultant. The difference between now and then is simply that the base of operations has moved, "roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia."

Yet once again terrorism has fallen off America's map, landing at or near the bottom of voters' concerns in recent polls. There were major attacks in rapid succession last week in Pakistan, Afghanistan (the deadliest in Kabul since we "defeated" the Taliban in 2001) and at the American consulate in Turkey. Who listened to this ticking time bomb? It's reminiscent of July 2001, when few noticed that the Algerian convicted of trying to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium testified that he had been trained in bin Laden's Afghanistan camps as part of a larger plot against America.

In last Sunday's Washington Post, the national security expert Daniel Benjamin sounded an alarm about the "chronic" indecisiveness and poor execution of Bush national security policy as well as the continuing inadequacies of the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Benjamin must feel a sinking sense of dj vu. Exactly seven years ago in the same newspaper, just two months before 9/11, he co-wrote an article headlined "Defusing a Time Bomb" imploring the Bush administration in vain to pay attention to Afghanistan because that country's terrorists "continue to pose the most dangerous threat to American lives."

And so we're back where we started in the summer of 2001, with even shark attacks and Chandra Levy's murder (courtesy of a new Washington Post investigation) returning to the news. We are once again distracted and unprepared while the Taliban and bin Laden's minions multiply in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This, no less than the defiling of the Constitution, is the legacy of an administration that not merely rationalized the immorality of torture but shackled our national security to the absurdity that torture could easily fix the terrorist threat.

That's why the Bush White House's corruption in the end surpasses Nixon's. We can no longer take cold comfort in the Watergate maxim that the cover-up was worse than the crime. This time the crime is worse than the cover-up, and the punishment could rain down on us all.


© 2008 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Obama and McCain Offer Two Very Different Americas


When Barack Obama achieved his historic victory on Tuesday night, the battle was joined between two Americas. Not John Edwards’s two Americas, divided between rich and poor. Not the Americas split by race, gender, party or ideology. What looms instead is an epic showdown between two wildly different visions of the country, from the ground up.



On one side stands Mr. Obama’s resolutely cheerful embrace of the future. His vision is inseparable from his identity, both as a rookie with a slim Washington résumé and as a black American whose triumph was regarded as improbable by voters of all races only months ago. On the other is John McCain’s promise of a wise warrior’s vigilant conservation of the past. His vision, too, is inseparable from his identity — as a government lifer who has spent his entire career in service, whether in the Navy or Washington.

Given the dividing line separating the two Americas of 2008, a ticket uniting Mr. McCain and Hillary Clinton might actually be a better fit than the Obama-Clinton “dream ticket,” despite their differences on the issues. Never was this more evident than Tuesday night, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain both completely misread a one-of-a-kind historical moment as they tried to cling to the prerogatives of the 20th century’s old guard.

All presidential candidates, Mr. Obama certainly included, are egomaniacs. But Washington’s faith in hierarchical status adds a thick layer of pomposity to politicians who linger there too long. Mrs. Clinton referred to herself by the first-person pronoun 64 times in her speech, and Mr. McCain did so 60 times in his. Mr. Obama settled for 30.



Remarkably, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. McCain had the grace to offer a salute to Mr. Obama’s epochal political breakthrough, which reverberated so powerfully across the country and throughout the world. By being so small and ungenerous, they made him look taller. Their inability to pivot even briefly from partisan self-interest could not be a more telling symptom of the dysfunctional Washington culture Mr. Obama aspires to mend.

Yet even as the two establishment candidates huffed and puffed to assert their authority, they seemed terrified by Mr. Obama’s insurgency, as if it were the plague in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Mrs. Clinton held her nonconcession speech in a Manhattan bunker, banishing cellphone reception and television monitors carrying the news of Mr. Obama’s clinching of the nomination. Mr. McCain, laboring under the misapprehension that he was wittily skewering his opponent, compulsively invoked the Obama-patented mantra of “change” 33 times in his speech.



Mr. McCain only reminded voters that he, like Mrs. Clinton, thinks that change is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. He has no idea what it means. “No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically,” he said on Tuesday. He then grimly regurgitated Goldwater and Reagan government-bashing talking points from the 1960s and ’70s even as he presumed to accuse Mr. Obama of looking “to the 1960s and ’70s for answers.”

Mr. Obama is a liberal, but it’s not your boomer parents’ liberalism that is at the heart of his appeal. He never rattles off a Clinton laundry list of big federal programs; he supports abortion rights and gay civil rights with a sunny bonhomie that makes the right’s cultural scolds look like rabid mastodons. He is not refighting either side of the domestic civil war over Vietnam that exploded in his hometown of Chicago 40 years ago this summer, long before he arrived there.

He has never deviated from his much-quoted formulation in “The Audacity of Hope,” where he described himself as aloof from “the psychodrama of the baby boom generation” with its “old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago.” His vocabulary is so different from that of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain that they often find it as baffling as a foreign language, even as they try to rip it off.



The selling point of Mr. Obama’s vision of change is not doctrinaire liberalism or Bush-bashing but an inclusiveness that he believes can start to relieve Washington’s gridlock much as it animated his campaign. Some of that inclusiveness is racial, ethnic and generational, in the casual, what’s-the-big-deal manner of post-boomer Americans already swimming in our country’s rapidly expanding demographic pool. Some of it is post-partisan: he acknowledges that Republicans, Ronald Reagan included, can have ideas.

Opponents who dismiss this as wussy naïveté do so at their own risk. They at once call attention to the expiring shelf life of their own Clinton-Bush-vintage panaceas and lull themselves into underestimating Mr. Obama’s political killer instincts.

The Obama forces out-organized the most ruthless machine in Democratic politics because the medium of their campaign mirrored its inclusive message. They empowered adherents in every state rather than depending on a Beltway campaign hierarchy whose mercenary chief strategist kept his day job as chief executive for a corporate P.R. giant. Such viral organization and fund-raising is a seamless fit with bottom-up democracy as it is increasingly practiced in the Facebook-YouTube era, not merely by Americans and not merely by the young.



You could learn a ton about the Clinton campaign’s cultural tone-deafness from its stodgy generic Web site. A similar torpor afflicts JohnMcCain.com, which last week gave its graphics a face-lift that unabashedly mimics BarackObama.com and devoted prime home page real estate to hawking “McCain Golf Gear.” (No joke.) The blogs, video and social networking are static and sparse, the apt reflection of a candidate who repeatedly invokes “I” as he boasts of his humility.



Mr. Obama’s deep-rooted worldliness — in philosophy as well as itinerant background — is his other crucial departure from the McCain template. As more and more Americans feel the pain of spiraling gas prices and lost jobs, they are also coming to recognize, as Mr. Obama does, that the globally reviled American image forged by an endless war in Iraq and its accompanying torture scandals is inflicting economic as well as foreign-policy havoc.

Six out of 10 Americans do want their president to talk to Iran’s president, according to the most-recent Gallup poll. Americans are sick of a national identity defined by arrogant saber-rattling abroad and manipulative fear-mongering at home. Mr. Obama closed his speech on Tuesday by telling Americans they “don’t deserve” another election “that’s governed by fear.” Of the three candidates, he was the only one who did not mention 9/11 that night.



Mr. Obama isn’t flawless. But it’s hard to see him hitching up with Mrs. Clinton, who would contradict his message, unite the right, and pass along her husband’s still unpacked post-presidency baggage. A larger trap for Mr. Obama is his cockiness. His own tendency to preen and to coast could be encouraged by recent events rocking the Straight Talk Express: Mr. McCain is so far proving an exceptionally clumsy candidate prone to accentuating everything that’s out-of-touch about his American vision.

Mr. McCain’s speech in a New Orleans suburb on Tuesday night spawned a cottage industry of ridicule, even among Republicans. The halting delivery, sickly green backdrop and spastic, inappropriate smiles, presumably mandated by some consultant hoping to mask his anger, left the impression that Mr. McCain isn’t yet ready for prime-time radio.

But the substance was even worse than the theatrics. Incredibly, Mr. McCain attacked Mr. Obama for being insufficiently bipartisan while speaking to the most conspicuously partisan audience you can assemble in today’s America: a small, nearly all-white crowd that seconded his attack lines with boorish choruses of boos. On TV, the audience came across as a country-club membership riled by a change in the Sunday brunch menu.



Equally curious was Mr. McCain’s decision to stage this event in Louisiana, a state that is truly safe for the G.O.P. and that he’d last visited less than six weeks earlier. Perhaps he did so because Louisiana’s governor, the 36-year-old Indian-American Bobby Jindal, is the only highly placed nonwhite Republican he could find to lend his campaign an ersatz dash of diversity and youth.

Or perhaps he thought that if he once more returned to the scene of President Bush’s Katrina crime to (belatedly) slam that federal failure, it would fool voters into forgetting his cheerleading for Mr. Bush’s Iraq obsession and economic policies. This time it proved a levee too far. The day after his speech Mr. McCain was caught on the stump misstating and exaggerating his own do-little record after Katrina. Soon the Internet was alight with documentation of what he actually did on the day the hurricane hit land: a let-us-eat-cake photo op with Mr. Bush celebrating his birthday in Arizona.



Anything can happen in politics, and there are five months to go. But Tuesday night’s McCain pratfall — three weeks in the planning by his campaign, according to Fox News — should be a clear indication that Mr. Obama must accept Mr. McCain’s invitation to weekly debates at once. Tomorrow if possible, and, yes, bring on the green!

Mr. Obama must also heed Mr. McCain’s directive that he visit Iraq — as long as he avoids Baghdad markets and hits other foreign capitals on route. When the world gets a firsthand look at the new America Mr. Obama offers as an alternative to Mr. McCain’s truculent stay-the-course, the public pandemonium may make J.F.K.’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” visit to the Berlin Wall look like a warm-up act.


© 2007 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Why Americans Are Tuning out the Disaster in Iraq


The night before last week’s Senate hearings on our “progress” in Iraq, a goodly chunk of New York’s media and cultural establishment assembled in the vast lobby of the Museum of Modern Art. There were cocktails; there were waiters wielding platters of hors d’oeuvres; there was a light sprinkling of paparazzi. Then there was a screening. We trooped like schoolchildren to the auditorium to watch a grueling movie about the torture at Abu Ghraib.

Not just any movie, but “Standard Operating Procedure,” the new investigatory documentary by Errol Morris, one of our most original filmmakers. It asks the audience not just to revisit the crimes in graphic detail but to confront in tight close-up those who both perpetrated and photographed them. Because Mr. Morris has a complex view of human nature, he arouses a certain sympathy for his subjects, much as he did at times for Robert McNamara, the former defense secretary, in his Vietnam film, “Fog of War.”



More sympathy, actually. Only a few bad apples at the bottom of the chain of command took the fall for Abu Ghraib. No one above the level of staff sergeant went to jail, and no one remotely in proximity to a secretary of defense has been held officially accountable. John Yoo, the author of the notorious 2003 Justice Department memo rationalizing torture, has happily returned to his tenured position as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. So when Mr. Morris brings you face to face with Lynndie England — now a worn, dead-eyed semblance of the exuberant, almost pixie-ish miscreant in the Abu Ghraib snapshots — you’re torn.

Ms. England, who is now on parole, concedes that what she and her cohort did was “unusual and weird and wrong,” but adds that “when we first got there, the example was already set.” That reflection doesn’t absolve her of moral responsibility, but, like much in this film, it forces you to look beyond the fixed images of one of the most documented horror stories of our time.



Yet I must confess that, sitting in MoMA, I kept looking beyond the frame of Mr. Morris’s movie as well. While there’s really no right place to watch “Standard Operating Procedure,” the jarring contrast between the film’s subject and the screening’s grandiosity was a particularly glaring illustration of the huge distance that separates most Americans, and not just Manhattan elites, from the battle lines of our country’s five-year war. If Tom Wolfe was not in the audience to chronicle this cognitive dissonance, he should have been.

Mr. Morris’s movie starts fanning out to theaters on April 25. We don’t have to wait until then to know its fate. Sympathetic critics will tell us it’s our civic duty to see it. The usual suspects will try to besmirch Mr. Morris’s patriotism. But none of that will much matter. “Standard Operating Procedure” will reach the director’s avid core audience, but it is likely to be avoided by most everyone else no matter what praise or controversy it whips up.



It would take another column to list all the movies and TV shows about Iraq that have gone belly up at the box office or in Nielsen ratings in the nearly four years since the war’s only breakout commercial success, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” They die regardless of their quality or stand on the war, whether they star Tommy Lee Jones (“In the Valley of Elah”) or Meryl Streep (“Lions for Lambs”) or are produced by Steven Bochco (the FX series “Over There”) or are marketed like Abercrombie & Fitch apparel to the MTV young (“Stop-Loss”).

As The New York Times recently reported, box-office dread has driven one Hollywood distributor to repeatedly postpone the release of “The Lucky Ones,” a highly regarded and sympathetic feature about the war’s veterans, the first made with full Army assistance, even though the word Iraq is never spoken and the sole battle sequence runs 40 seconds. If Iraq had been mentioned in “Knocked Up” or “Superbad,” Judd Apatow’s hilarious hit comedies about young American guys who (like most of their peers) never consider the volunteer Army as an option, they might have flopped too. Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires.



This is not merely a showbiz phenomenon but a leading indicator of where our entire culture is right now. It’s not just torture we want to avoid. Most Americans don’t want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time.

That’s why last week’s testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker was a nonevent beyond Washington. The cable networks duly presented the first day of hearings, but only, it seemed, because the show could be hyped as an “American Idol”-like competition in foreign-policy one-upmanship for the three remaining presidential candidates, all senators. When the hearings migrated to the House the next day, they vanished into the same black media hole where nearly all Iraq news now goes. If the Olympic torch hadn’t provided an excuse to cut away, no doubt any handy weather disturbance would have served instead.

The simple explanation for why we shun the war is that it has gone so badly. But another answer was provided in the hearings by Senator George Voinovich of Ohio, one of the growing number of Republican lawmakers who no longer bothers to hide his exasperation. He put his finger on the collective sense of shame (not to be confused with collective guilt) that has attended America’s Iraq project. “The truth of the matter,” Mr. Voinovich said, is that “we haven’t sacrificed one darn bit in this war, not one. Never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people that we lost.”



This is how the war planners wanted it, of course. No new taxes, no draft, no photos of coffins, no inconveniences that might compel voters to ask tough questions. This strategy would have worked if the war had been the promised cakewalk. But now it has backfired. A home front that has not been asked to invest directly in a war, that has subcontracted it to a relatively small group of volunteers, can hardly be expected to feel it has a stake in the outcome five stalemated years on.

The original stakes (saving the world from mushroom clouds and an alleged ally of Osama bin Laden) evaporated so far back they seem to belong to another war entirely. What are the stakes we are asked to believe in now? In the largely unwatched House hearings on Wednesday, Representative Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, tried to get at this by asking what some 4,000 “sons and daughters” of America had died for.

The best General Petraeus could muster was a bit of bloodless Beltway-speak — “national interests” — followed by another halfhearted attempt to overstate Iraq’s centrality to the war on Al Qaeda and a future war on Iran. He couldn’t even argue that we’re on a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people. That would require him to acknowledge that roughly five million of those people, 60 percent of them children, are now refugees receiving scant help from either our government or Nuri al-Maliki’s. That’s nearly a fifth of the Iraqi population — the equivalent of 60 million Americans — and another source of our shame.



The prevailing verdict on the Petraeus-Crocker show is that it accomplished little beyond certifying President Bush’s intention to kick the can to January 2009 so that the helicopters will vacate the Green Zone on the next president’s watch. That’s true, but by week’s end, I became more convinced than ever that in January we’ll have a new policy that includes serious withdrawals and serious conversations with Mr. Maliki’s pals in Iran, even if John McCain becomes president.

General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker define victory as “sustainable security” in Iraq. But both Colin Powell and Gen. Richard Cody, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said last week that current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan are unsustainable and are damaging America’s readiness to meet other security threats. And that’s not all that’s unsustainable. An ailing economy can’t keep floating the war’s $3-billion-a-week cost. A Republican president intent on staying the Bush course will find his vetoes unsustainable after the Democrats increase their majorities in Congress in November. No war can be fought indefinitely if the public has irrevocably turned against it.



Mr. McCain says Americans want “victory,” whatever that means today, and yes, they would if it could be won on the terms promised by Mr. Bush five years ago — fast, and with minimal sacrifice. It’s way too late to ask for years of stepped-up sacrifice now in the cause of a highly debatable definition of “national interests.”

This war has lasted so long that Americans, even the bad apples of Abu Ghraib interviewed by Mr. Morris, have had the time to pass through all five of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief over its implosion. Though dead-enders like Mr. McCain may have only gone from denial to anger to bargaining, most others have moved on to depression and acceptance. Unable to even look at the fiasco anymore, the nation is now just waiting for someone to administer the last rites.


© 2008 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Banks Gone Wild

"What were they smoking?" asks the cover of the current issue of Fortune magazine. Underneath the headline are photos of recently deposed Wall Street titans, captioned with the staggering sums they managed to lose.

The answer, of course, is that they were high on the usual drug -- greed. And they were encouraged to make socially destructive decisions by a system of executive compensation that should have been reformed after the Enron and WorldCom scandals, but wasn't.

In a direct sense, the carnage on Wall Street is all about the great housing slump.

This slump was both predictable and predicted. "These days," I wrote in August 2005, "Americans make a living selling each other houses, paid for with money borrowed from the Chinese. Somehow, that doesn't seem like a sustainable lifestyle." It wasn't.

But even as the danger signs multiplied, Wall Street piled into bonds backed by dubious home mortgages. Most of the bad investments now shaking the financial world seem to have been made in the final frenzy of the housing bubble, or even after the bubble began to deflate.

In fact, according to Fortune, Merrill Lynch made its biggest purchases of bad debt in the first half of this year -- after the subprime crisis had already become public knowledge.

Now the bill is coming due, and almost everyone -- that is, almost everyone except the people responsible -- is having to pay.

The losses suffered by shareholders in Merrill, Citigroup, Bear Stearns and so on are the least of it. Far more important in human terms are the hundreds of thousands if not millions of American families lured into mortgage deals they didn't understand, who now face sharp increases in their payments -- and, in many cases, the loss of their houses -- as their interest rates reset.

And then there's the collateral damage to the economy.

You still hear occasional claims that the subprime fiasco is no big deal. Even though the numbers keep getting bigger -- some observers are now talking about $400 billion in losses -- these losses are small compared with the total value of financial assets.

But bad housing investments are crippling financial institutions that play a crucial role in providing credit, by wiping out much of their capital. In a recent report, Goldman Sachs suggested that housing-related losses could force banks and other players to cut lending by as much as $2 trillion -- enough to trigger a nasty recession, if it happens quickly.

Beyond that, there's a pervasive loss of trust, which is like sand thrown in the gears of the financial system. The crisis of confidence is plainly visible in the market data: there's an almost unprecedented spread between the very low interest rates investors are willing to accept on U.S. government debt -- which is still considered safe -- and the much higher interest rates at which banks are willing to lend to each other.

How did things go so wrong?

Part of the answer is that people who should have been alert to the dangers, and taken precautionary measures, instead blithely assured Americans that everything was fine, and even encouraged them to take out risky mortgages. Yes, Alan Greenspan, that means you.

But another part of the answer lies in what hasn't happened to the men on that Fortune cover -- namely, they haven't been forced to give back any of the huge paychecks they received before the folly of their decisions became apparent.

Around 25 years ago, American business -- and the American political system -- bought into the idea that greed is good. Executives are lavishly rewarded if the companies they run seem successful: last year the chief executives of Merrill and Citigroup were paid $48 million and $25.6 million, respectively.

But if the success turns out to have been an illusion -- well, they still get to keep the money. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Not only is this grossly unfair, it encourages bad risk-taking, and sometimes fraud. If an executive can create the appearance of success, even for a couple of years, he will walk away immensely wealthy. Meanwhile, the subsequent revelation that appearances were deceiving is someone else's problem.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. The huge rewards executives receive if they can fake success are what led to the great corporate scandals of a few years back. There's no indication that any laws were broken this time -- but the public's trust was nonetheless betrayed, once again.

The point is that the subprime crisis and the credit crunch are, in an important sense, the result of our failure to effectively reform corporate governance after the last set of scandals.

John Edwards recently came out with a corporate reform plan, but it didn't receive a lot of attention. Corporate governance still isn't regarded as a major political issue. But it should be.

Does Judith Regan Have the Goods on Rudy Giuliani?


New Yorkers who remember Rudy Giuliani as the bullying New York mayor, not as the terminally cheerful "America's Mayor" cooing to babies in New Hampshire, have always banked on one certainty: his presidential candidacy was so preposterous it would implode before he got anywhere near the White House.

Surely, we reassured ourselves, the all-powerful Republican values enforcers were so highly principled that they would excommunicate him because of his liberal social views, three wives and estranged children. Or a firewall would be erected by the firefighters who are enraged by his self-aggrandizing rewrite of 9/11 history. Or Judith Giuliani, with her long-hidden first marriage and Louis Vuitton 'tude, would send red-state voters screaming into the night.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. But how quickly and stupidly we forgot about the other Judith in the Rudy orbit. That would be Judith Regan, who disappeared last December after she was unceremoniously fired from Rupert Murdoch's publishing house, HarperCollins. Last week Ms. Regan came roaring back into the fray, a silver bullet aimed squarely at the heart of the Giuliani campaign.

Ms. Regan filed a $100 million lawsuit against her former employer, claiming she was unjustly made a scapegoat for the O. J. Simpson "If I Did It" fiasco that (briefly) embarrassed Mr. Murdoch and his News Corporation. But for those of us not caught up in the Simpson circus, what's most riveting about the suit are two at best tangential sentences in its 70 pages: "In fact, a senior executive in the News Corporation organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani's presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik."

Kerik, of course, is Bernard Kerik, the former Giuliani chauffeur and police commissioner, as well as the candidate he pushed to be President Bush's short-lived nominee to run the Department of Homeland Security. Having pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors last year, Mr. Kerik was indicted on 16 other counts by a federal grand jury 10 days ago, just before Ms. Regan let loose with her lawsuit. Whether Ms. Regan's charge about that unnamed Murdoch "senior executive" is true or not -- her lawyers have yet to reveal the evidence -- her overall message is plain. She knows a lot about Mr. Kerik, Mr. Giuliani and the Murdoch empire. And she could talk.

Boy, could she! As New Yorkers who have crossed her path or followed her in the tabloids know, Ms. Regan has an epic temper. My first encounter with her came more than a decade ago when she left me a record-breaking (in vitriol and decibel level) voice mail message about a column I'd written on one of her authors. It was a relief to encounter a more mellow Regan at a Midtown restaurant some years later. She cordially introduced me to her dinner companion, Mr. Kerik, whose post-9/11 autobiography, The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice, was under contract at her HarperCollins imprint, ReganBooks.

What I didn't know then was that this married author and single editor were in pursuit of not just justice, but sex, too. Their love nest, we'd later learn, was an apartment adjacent to ground zero that had been initially set aside for rescue workers. Mr. Kerik believed his lover had every moral right to be there. As he tenderly explained in his acknowledgments in "The Lost Son" -- published before the revelation of their relationship -- there was "one hero who is missing" from his book's tribute to "courage and honor" and "her name is Judith Regan."

Few know more about Rudy than his perennial boon companion, Mr. Kerik. Perhaps during his romance with Ms. Regan he talked only of the finer points of memoir writing or about his theories of crime prevention or about his ideas for training the police in the Muslim world (an assignment he later received in Iraq and botched). But it is also plausible that this couple discussed everything Mr. Kerik witnessed at Mr. Giuliani's side before, during and after 9/11. Perhaps he even explained to her why the mayor insisted, disastrously, that his city's $61 million emergency command center be located in the World Trade Center despite the terrorist attack on the towers in 1993.

Perhaps, too, they talked about the business ventures the mayor established after leaving office. Mr. Kerik worked at Giuliani Partners and used its address as a mail drop for some $75,000 that turns up in the tax-fraud charges in his federal indictment. That money was Mr. Kerik's pay for an 11-sentence introduction to another Regan-published book about 9/11, "In the Line of Duty." Though that project's profits were otherwise donated to the families of dead rescue workers, Mr. Kerik's royalties were mailed to Giuliani Partners in the name of a corporate entity Mr. Kerik set up in Delaware. He would later claim that he made comparable donations to charity, but the federal indictment charges that $80,000 he took in charitable deductions were bogus.

Amazingly, given that he seeks the highest office in the land, Mr. Giuliani will not reveal the clients of Giuliani Partners. Perhaps he has trouble remembering them all. He testified in court last year that he has no memory of a mayoral briefing in which he was told of Mr. Kerik's association with a company suspected of ties to organized crime.

Ms. Regan's knowledge of Mr. Giuliani isn't limited to whatever she learned from Mr. Kerik. She used to work for another longtime Giuliani pal, Roger Ailes, the media consultant for the first Giuliani campaign in 1989 and the impresario who created Fox News for Mr. Murdoch in 1996. A full-service mayor to his cronies, Mr. Giuliani lobbied hard to get the Fox News Channel on the city's cable boxes and presided over Mr. Ailes's wedding. Enter Ms. Regan, who was given her own program on Fox's early lineup. Mr. Ailes came up with its rather inspired first title, "That Regan Woman."

Who at the News Corporation supposedly asked Ms. Regan to lie to protect Rudy's secrets? Her complaint does not say. But thanks to the political journal The Hotline, we do know that as of the summer Mr. Giuliani had received more air time from Fox News than any other G.O.P. candidate, much of it on the high-rated "Hannity & Colmes." That show's co-host, Sean Hannity, appeared at a Giuliani campaign fund-raiser this year.

Fox News coverage of Ms. Regan's lawsuit last week was minimal. After all, Mr. Giuliani dismissed the whole episode as "a gossip column story," and we know Fox would never stoop so low as to trade in gossip. The coverage was scarcely more intense at The Wall Street Journal, whose print edition included no mention of the suit's reference to that "senior executive" at the News Corporation. (After bloggers noticed, the article was amended online.) The Journal is not quite yet a Murdoch property, but its editorial board has had its own show on Fox News since 2006.

During the 1990s, the Journal editorial board published so much dirt about the Clintons that it put the paper's brand on an encyclopedic six-volume anthology titled "A Journal Briefing -- Whitewater." You'd think the controversies surrounding "America's Mayor" are at least as sexy as the carnal scandals and alleged drug deals The Journal investigated back then. This month a Journal reporter not on its editorial board added the government of Qatar to the small list of known Giuliani Partners clients, among them the manufacturer of OxyContin. We'll see if such journalism flourishes in the paper's Murdoch era.

But beyond New York's dailies and The Village Voice, the national news media, conspicuously the big three television networks, have rarely covered Mr. Giuliani much more aggressively than Mr. Murdoch's Fox News has. They are more likely to focus on Mr. Giuliani's checkered family history than the questions raised by his record in government and business. It's astounding how many are willing to look the other way while recycling those old 9/11 videos.

One exception is The Chicago Tribune, which last month on its front page revisited the story of how, after Mr. Giuliani left office, his mayoral papers were temporarily transferred to a private, tax-exempt foundation run by his supporters and financed with $1.5 million from mostly undisclosed donors. The foundation, which shares the same address as Giuliani Partners, copied and archived the records before sending them back to New York's municipal archives. Historians told The Tribune there's no way to verify that the papers were returned to government custody intact. Mayor Bloomberg has since signed a law that will prevent this unprecedented deal from being repeated.

Journalists, like generals, love to refight the last war, so the unavailability of millions of Hillary Clinton's papers has received all the coverage the Giuliani campaign has been spared. But while the release of those first lady records should indeed be accelerated, it's hard to imagine many more scandals will turn up after six volumes of "Whitewater," an impeachment trial and the avalanche of other investigative reportage on the Clintons then and now.

The Giuliani story, by contrast, is relatively virgin territory. And with the filing of a lawsuit by a vengeful eyewitness who was fired from her job, it may just have gained its own reincarnation of Linda Tripp.


© 2007 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Clarence Thomas Whines His Way to the Bank

What's the difference between a low-tech lynching and a high-tech lynching? A high-tech lynching brings a tenured job on the Supreme Court and a $1.5 million book deal. A low-tech lynching, not so much.

Pity Clarence Thomas. Done in by what he calls "left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony" -- as he describes anyone who challenged his elevation to the court -- he still claims to have suffered as much as African-Americans once victimized by "bigots in white robes." Since kicking off his book tour on 60 Minutes last Sunday, he has been whining all the way to the bank, often abetted by a press claque as fawning as his No. 1 fan, Rush Limbaugh.

We are always at a crossroads with race in America, and so here we are again. The rollout of Justice Thomas's memoir, My Grandfather's Son, is not happening in a vacuum. It follows a Supreme Court decision (which he abetted) outlawing voluntary school desegregation plans in two American cities. It follows yet another vote by the Senate to deny true Congressional representation to the majority black District of Columbia. It follows the decision by the leading Republican presidential candidates to snub a debate at a historically black college as well as the re-emergence of a low-tech lynching noose in Jena, La.

Perhaps most significant of all, Mr. Thomas's woe-is-me tour unfolds against the backdrop of the presidential campaign of an African-American whose political lexicon does not include martyrdom or rage. My Grandfather's Son may consciously or not echo the title of Barack Obama's memoir of genealogy and race, Dreams from My Father, but it might as well be written in another tongue.

It's useful to watch Mr. Thomas at this moment, 16 years after his riveting confirmation circus. He is a barometer of what has and has not changed since then because he hasn't changed at all. He still preaches against black self-pity even as he hyperbolically tries to cast his Senate cross-examination by Joe Biden as tantamount to the Ku Klux Klan assassination of Medgar Evers. He still denies that he is the beneficiary of the very race-based preferences he deplores. He still has a dubious relationship with the whole truth and nothing but, and not merely in the matter of Anita Hill.

This could be seen most vividly on 60 Minutes, when he revisited a parable about the evils of affirmative action that is also a centerpiece of his memoir: his anger about the "tainted" degree he received from Yale Law School. In Mr. Thomas's account, he stuck a 15-cent price sticker on his diploma after potential employers refused to hire him. By his reckoning, a Yale Law graduate admitted through affirmative action, as he was, would automatically be judged inferior to whites with the same degree. The 60 Minutes correspondent, Steve Kroft, maintained that Mr. Thomas had no choice but to settle for a measly $10,000-a-year job (in 1974 dollars) in Missouri, working for the state's attorney general, John Danforth.

What 60 Minutes didn't say was that the post was substantial -- an assistant attorney general -- and that Mr. Danforth was himself a Yale Law graduate. As Mr. Danforth told the story during the 1991 confirmation hearings and in his own book last year, he traveled to New Haven to recruit Mr. Thomas when he was still a third-year law student. That would be before he even received that supposedly worthless degree. Had it not been for Yale taking a chance on him in the first place, in other words, Mr. Thomas would never have had the opportunity to work the Yalie network to jump-start his career and to ascend to the Supreme Court. Mr. Danforth, a senator in 1991, was the prime mover in shepherding the Thomas nomination to its successful conclusion.

Bill O'Reilly may have deemed the 60 Minutes piece "excellent," but others spotted the holes. Marc Morial, the former New Orleans mayor who now directs the National Urban League, told Tavis Smiley on PBS that it was "as though Justice Thomas's public relations firm edited the piece." On CNN, Jeffrey Toobin, the author of the new best-seller about the court, The Nine, said that it was "real unfair" for 60 Minutes not to include a response from Ms. Hill, who was slimed on camera by Mr. Thomas as "not the demure, religious, conservative person" she said she was.

Ms. Hill, who once taught at Oral Roberts University and is now a professor at Brandeis, told me last week that CBS News was the only one of the three broadcast news divisions that did not seek her reaction to the latest Thomas salvos. Mr. Kroft told me that there were no preconditions placed on him by either Mr. Thomas or his publisher. "Our story wasn't about Anita Hill," he said. "Our story was about Clarence Thomas."

In any event, the piece no more challenged Mr. Thomas's ideas than it did his insinuations about Ms. Hill. As Mr. Smiley and Cornel West noted on PBS, 60 Minutes showed an old clip of Al Sharpton at an anti-Thomas rally rather than give voice to any of the African-American legal critics of Justice Thomas's 300-plus case record on the court. In 2007, no less than in 1991, a clownish Sharpton clip remains the one-size-fits-all default representation of black protest favored by too many white journalists.

The free pass CBS gave Mr. Thomas wouldn't matter were he just another celebrity "get" hawking a book. Unfortunately, there's the little matter of all that public policy he can shape -- more so than ever now that John Roberts and Samuel Alito have joined him as colleagues. Indeed, Justice Thomas, elevated by Bush 41, was the crucial building block in what will probably prove the most enduring legacy of Bush 43, a radical Supreme Court. The "compassionate conservative" who turned the 2000 G.O.P. convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

While actuarial tables promise a long-lived Bush court, the good news is that the polarizing racial politics exemplified by the president and Mr. Thomas is on the wane elsewhere. Fittingly, the book tour for My Grandfather's Son began just as word of Harry Dent's death arrived from South Carolina last weekend. An aide to Strom Thurmond and then to Richard Nixon, Mr. Dent was the architect of the "Southern strategy" that exploited white backlash against the civil-rights movement to turn the South into a Republican stronghold.

Mr. Dent recanted years later, telling The Washington Post when he retired from politics in 1981 that he was sorry he had "stood in the way of rights of black people." His peers and successors have been less chastened. One former Nixon White House colleague, Pat Buchanan, said on "Meet the Press" last weekend that it was no big deal for Republican candidates to skip a debate before an African-American audience because blacks make up only about 10 percent of the voting public and Republicans only get about a tenth of that anyway. It didn't occur to Mr. Buchanan that in 21st-century America many white voters are also offended by politicians who snub black Americans -- whether at a campaign debate or in the rubble of Hurricane Katrina.

Republicans who play the race card may find that it has an expiration date even in the South. In 2000, Mr. Bush could speak at Bob Jones University when it still forbade interracial dating among its students, and John McCain could be tarred as the father of an illegitimate black child in the South Carolina primary. No more. Just ask the former Senator George Allen, the once invincible Republican prince of Virginia, whose career ended in 2006 after his use of a single racial slur.

Mr. Thomas seems ignorant of this changing America. He can never see past his enemies' list, which in his book expands beyond his political foes, Yale and the press to "elite white women" and "paternalistic big-city whites" and "light-skinned blacks." (He does include a warm mention of Mr. Thurmond, a supporter in 1991, without mentioning that the senator hid away a child fathered with a black maid.) Always eager to cast himself as a lynching victim, Mr. Thomas is far more trapped in the past than the 1960s civil-rights orthodoxy he relentlessly demonizes.

The only way he can live with his various hypocrisies, it seems, is to claim that he's the rare honest, politically incorrect black man who has the guts to tell African-Americans what no other black leader will. Thus he asserted to a compliant Jan Crawford Greenburg of ABC News last week that everyone except him tiptoes around talk of intraracial crime and out-of-wedlock births.

This will come as news to the millions of Americans who have heard Mr. Obama, among other African-American leaders whose words give the lie to this bogus claim. But the fact that America's highest court harbors a justice as full of unreconstructed racial bitterness as Clarence Thomas will prove more eye-opening still.

© 2007 The New York Times

AlterNet is making this New York Times material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Blackwater Tops Among Mercenaries in Rate of Shootings

The American security contractor Blackwater USA has been involved in a far higher rate of shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq than other security firms providing similar services to the State Department, according to Bush administration officials and industry officials.

Blackwater is now the focus of investigations in both Baghdad and Washington over a Sept. 16 shooting in which at least 11 Iraqis were killed. Beyond that episode, the company has been involved in cases in which its personnel fired weapons while guarding State Department officials in Iraq at least twice as often per convoy mission as security guards working for other American security firms, the officials said.

The disclosure came as the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had sent a team of officials to Iraq to get answers to questions about the use of American security contractors there.

The State Department keeps reports on each case in which weapons were fired by security personnel guarding American diplomats in Iraq. Officials familiar with the internal State Department reports would not provide the actual statistics, but they indicated that the records showed that Blackwater personnel were involved in dozens of episodes in which they had resorted to force.

The officials said that Blackwater's incident rate was at least twice that recorded by employees of DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the two other United States-based security firms that have been contracted by the State Department to provide security for diplomats and other senior civilians in Iraq.

The State Department would not comment on most matters relating to Blackwater, citing the current investigation. But Sean McCormack, the department's spokesman, said that of 1,800 escort missions by Blackwater this year, there had been "only a very small fraction, very small fraction, that have involved any sort of use of force."

In 2005, DynCorp reported 32 shootings during about 3,200 convoy missions, and in 2006 that company reported 10 episodes during about 1,500 convoy missions. While comparable Blackwater statistics were not available, government officials said the firm's rate per convoy mission was about twice DynCorp's.

The State Department's incident reports have not been made public, and Blackwater refused to provide its own data on cases in which its personnel used their weapons while guarding American diplomats. The State Department is in the process of providing at least some of the data to Congress. The administration and industry officials who agreed to discuss the broad rate of Blackwater's involvement in violent events would not disclose the specific numbers.

"The incident rate for Blackwater is higher, there is a distinction," said a senior American government official who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss a delicate, continuing investigation. "The real question that is open for discussion is why."

A Blackwater spokeswoman declined to comment.

Blackwater, based in North Carolina, has gained a reputation among Iraqis and even among American military personnel serving in Iraq as a company that flaunts an aggressive, quick-draw image that leads its security personnel to take excessively violent actions to protect the people they are paid to guard. After the latest shooting, the Iraqi government demanded that the company be banned from operating in the country.

"You can find any number of people, particularly in uniform, who will tell you that they do see Blackwater as a company that promotes a much more aggressive response to things than other main contractors do," a senior American official said.

Today, Blackwater operates in the most violent parts of Iraq and guards the most prominent American diplomats, which some American government officials say explains why it is involved in more shootings than its competitors. The shootings included in the reports include all cases in which weapons are fired, including those meant as warning shots. Others add that Blackwater's aggressive posture in guarding diplomats reflects the wishes of its client, the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

Still, other government officials say that Blackwater's corporate culture seems to encourage excessive behavior. "Is it the operating environment or something specific about Blackwater?" asked one government official. "My best guess is that it is both."

Blackwater was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former member of the Navy Seals, and is privately owned. Most of its nearly 1,000 people in Iraq are independent contractors, rather than employees of the company, according to a spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell. Blackwater has a total of about 550 full-time employees, the she said.

Its diplomatic security contract with the State Department is now the company's largest, Ms. Tyrrell said, while declining to provide the dollar amount. The company also provides security for the State Department in Afghanistan, where it also has counternarcotics-related contracts.

In addition to the Sept. 16 shooting in the Nisour area of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said Blackwater employees had been involved in six other episodes under investigation. Those episodes left a total of 10 Iraqis dead and 15 wounded, they said.

Many American officials now share the view that Blackwater's behavior is increasingly stoking resentment among Iraqis and is proving counterproductive to American efforts to gain support for its military efforts in Iraq.

"They're repeat offenders, and yet they continue to prosper in Iraq," said Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who has been broadly critical of the role of contractors in Iraq. "It's really affecting attitudes toward the United States when you have these cowboy guys out there. These guys represent the U.S. to them and there are no rules of the game for them."

Despite the growing criticism of Blackwater and its tactics, the company still enjoys an unusually close relationship with the Bush administration, and with the State Department and Pentagon in particular. It has received government contracts worth more than $1 billion since 2002, with most coming under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to the independent budget monitoring group OMB Watch.

Last year, the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq, reducing the roles of DynCorp and Triple Canopy.

The company employs about 850 workers in Iraq under its diplomatic security contract, about three-quarters of them Americans, according to the State Department and the Congressional Research Service. DynCorp has 157 security guards in Iraq; Triple Canopy has about 250. The figures compiled by the State Department track the number of shootings per convoy mission, rather than measuring against the number of employees.

Just in recent weeks, Blackwater has also been awarded another large State Department contract to provide helicopter services in Iraq.

The company's close ties to the Bush administration have raised questions about the political clout of Mr. Prince, Blackwater's founder and owner. He is the scion of a wealthy Michigan family that is active in Republican politics. He and the family have given more than $325,000 in political donations over the past 10 years, the vast majority to Republican candidates and party committees, according to federal campaign finance reports.

Mr. Prince has helped cement his ties to the government by hiring prominent officials. J. Cofer Black, the former counterterrorism chief at the C.I.A. and State Department, is a vice chairman at Blackwater. Mr. Black is also now a senior adviser on counterterrorism and national security issues to the Republican presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

Joseph E. Schmitz, the former inspector general at the Pentagon, now is chief operating officer and general counsel for Blackwater's parent company, the Prince Group. Officials at other firms in the contracting industry said that Mr. Prince sometimes met with government contracting officers, which they say is an unusual step for the chief executive of a corporation.

No Blackwater employees, or any other contractors, have been charged with crimes related to the shootings in Iraq, although there are a number of American laws governing actions overseas and in wartime that could be applied, according to experts in international law. In addition, a measure enacted last year calls for the Pentagon to bring contractors in Iraq under the jurisdiction of American military law, but the Defense Department has not yet put into effect the rules needed to do so.

Separately, American officials specifically exempted all United States personnel from Iraqi law under an order signed in 2004 by L.Paul Bremer III, then the top official of the American occupation authority. The Sept. 16 shootings have so angered Iraqis, however, that the Iraqi government is proposing a measure that would overturn the American rule and subject Western private security companies to Iraqi law. The proposal requires the approval of the Iraqi Parliament.

In a sign of the Pentagon's concern over private security contractors, Mr. Gates last Sunday sent a five-person team to Iraq to discuss with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, the rules governing contractors. "He has some real concerns about oversight of contractors in Iraq and he is looking for ways to sort of make sure we do a better job on that front," Geoff Morrell, Mr. Gates's spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England sent a three-page memorandum to senior Defense Department officials and top commanders around the world ordering them to ensure that contractors in the field were operating under rules of engagement consistent with the military's.

AlterNet is making this material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

India Outsources its Outsourcing

Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies' campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google. Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company's American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

One of the constants of the global economy has been companies moving their tasks -- and jobs -- to India. But rising wages and a stronger currency here, demands for workers who speak languages other than English, and competition from countries looking to emulate India's success as a back office -- including China, Morocco and Mexico -- are challenging that model.

Many executives here acknowledge that outsourcing, having rained most heavily on India, will increasingly sprinkle tasks around the globe. Or, as Ashok Vemuri, an Infosys senior vice president, put it, the future of outsourcing is "to take the work from any part of the world and do it in any part of the world."

To fight on the shifting terrain, and to beat back emerging rivals, Indian companies are hiring workers and opening offices in developing countries themselves, before their clients do.

In May, Tata Consultancy Service, Infosys's Indian rival, announced a new back office in Guadalajara, Mexico; Tata already has 5,000 workers in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Cognizant Technology Solutions, with most of its operations in India, has now opened back offices in Phoenix and Shanghai.

Wipro, another Indian technology services company, has outsourcing offices in Canada, China, Portugal, Romania and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

And last month, Wipro said it was opening a software development center in Atlanta that would hire 500 programmers in three years.

In a poetic reflection of outsourcing's new face, Wipro's chairman, Azim Premji, told Wall Street analysts this year that he was considering hubs in Idaho and Virginia, in addition to Georgia, to take advantage of American "states which are less developed." (India's per capita income is less than $1,000 a year.)

For its part, Infosys is building a whole archipelago of back offices -- in Mexico, the Czech Republic, Thailand and China, as well as low-cost regions of the United States.

The company seeks to become a global matchmaker for outsourcing: any time a company wants work done somewhere else, even just down the street, Infosys wants to get the call.

It is a peculiar ambition for a company that symbolizes the flow of tasks from the West to India.

Most of Infosys's 75,000 employees are Indians, in India. They account for most of the company's $3.1 billion in sales in the year that ended March 31, from work for clients like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.

"India continues to be the No. 1 location for outsourcing," S. Gopalakrishnan, the company's chief executive, said in a telephone interview.

And yet the company opened a Philippines office in August and, a month earlier, bought back offices in Thailand and Poland from Royal Philips Electronics, the Dutch company. In each outsourcing hub, local employees work with little help from Indian managers.

Infosys says its outsourcing experience in India has taught it to carve up a project, apportion each slice to suitable workers, double-check quality and then export a final, reassembled product to clients. The company argues it can clone its Indian back offices in other nations and groom Chinese, Mexican or Czech employees to be more productive than local outsourcing companies could make them.

"We have pioneered this movement of work," Mr. Gopalakrishnan said. "These new countries don't have experience and maturity in doing that, and that's what we're taking to these countries."

Some analysts compare the strategy to Japanese penetration of auto manufacturing in the United States in the 1970s. Just as the Japanese learned to make cars in America without Japanese workers, Indian vendors are learning to outsource without Indians, said Dennis McGuire, chairman of TPI, a Texas-based outsourcing consultancy.

Though work that bypasses India remains a small part of the Infosys business, it is growing. The company can be highly secretive, but executives agreed to describe some of the new projects on the condition that clients not be identified.

In one project, an American bank wanted a computer system to handle a loan program for Hispanic customers. The system had to work in Spanish. It also had to take into account variables particular to Hispanic clients: many, for instance, remit money to families abroad, which can affect their bank balances. The bank thought a Mexican team would have the right language skills and grasp of cultural nuances.

But instead of going to a Mexican vendor, or to an American vendor with Mexican operations, the bank retained three dozen engineers at Infosys, which had recently opened shop in Monterrey, Mexico.

Such is the new outsourcing: A company in the United States pays an Indian vendor 7,000 miles away to supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border.

In Europe, too, companies now hire Infosys to manage back offices in their own backyards. When an American manufacturer, for instance, needed a system to handle bills from multiple vendors supplying its factories in different European countries, it turned to the Indian company. The manufacturer's different locations scan the invoices and send them to an office of Infosys, where each bill is passed to the right language team. The teams verify the orders and send the payment to the suppliers while logged in to the client's computer system.

More than a dozen languages are spoken at the Infosys office, which is in Brno, Czech Republic.

The American program here in Mysore is meant to keep open that pipeline of diversity.

Most trainees here have no software knowledge. By teaching novices, Infosys saves money and hopes to attract workers who will turn down better-known companies for the chance to learn a new skill.

"It's the equivalent of a bachelor's in computer science in six months," said Melissa Adams, a 22-year-old trainee. Ms. Adams graduated last spring from the University of Washington with a business degree, and rejected Google for Infosys.

And yet, even as outsourcing takes on new directions, old perceptions linger.

For instance, when Jeff Rand, a 23-year-old American trainee, told his grandmother he was moving to India to work as a software engineer for six months, "she said, 'Maybe I'll get to talk to you when I have a problem with my credit card.' "

Said Mr. Rand with a rueful chuckle, "It took me about two or three weeks to explain to my grandma that I was not going to be working in a call center."

AlterNet is making this material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Snow Job in the Desert

In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing the United Nations Security Council, claimed to have proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He did not, in fact, present any actual evidence, just pictures of buildings with big arrows pointing at them saying things like "Chemical Munitions Bunker." But many people in the political and media establishments swooned: they admired Mr. Powell, and because he said it, they believed it.

Mr. Powell's masters got the war they wanted, and it soon became apparent that none of his assertions had been true.

Until recently I assumed that the failure to find W.M.D., followed by years of false claims of progress in Iraq, would make a repeat of the snow job that sold the war impossible. But I was wrong. The administration, this time relying on Gen. David Petraeus to play the Colin Powell role, has had remarkable success creating the perception that the "surge" is succeeding, even though there's not a shred of verifiable evidence to suggest that it is.

Thus Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution -- the author of "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq" -- and his colleague Michael O'Hanlon, another longtime war booster, returned from a Pentagon-guided tour of Iraq and declared that the surge was working. They received enormous media coverage; most of that coverage accepted their ludicrous self-description as critics of the war who have been convinced by new evidence.

A third participant in the same tour, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported that unlike his traveling companions, he saw little change in the Iraq situation and "did not see success for the strategy that President Bush announced in January." But neither his dissent nor a courageous rebuttal of Mr. O'Hanlon and Mr. Pollack by seven soldiers actually serving in Iraq, published in The New York Times, received much media attention.

Meanwhile, many news organizations have come out with misleading reports suggesting a sharp drop in U.S. casualties. The reality is that this year, as in previous years, there have been month-to-month fluctuations that tell us little: for example, July 2006 was a low-casualty month, with only 43 U.S. military fatalities, but it was also a month in which the Iraqi situation continued to deteriorate. And so far, every month of 2007 has seen more U.S. military fatalities than the same month in 2006.

What about civilian casualties? The Pentagon says they're down, but it has neither released its numbers nor explained how they're calculated. According to a draft report from the Government Accountability Office, which was leaked to the press because officials were afraid the office would be pressured into changing the report's conclusions, U.S. government agencies "differ" on whether sectarian violence has been reduced. And independent attempts by news agencies to estimate civilian deaths from news reports, hospital records and other sources have not found any significant decline.

Now, there are parts of Baghdad where civilian deaths probably have fallen -- but that's not necessarily good news. "Some military officers," reports Leila Fadel of McClatchy, "believe that it may be an indication that ethnic cleansing has been completed in many neighborhoods and that there aren't as many people to kill."

Above all, we should remember that the whole point of the surge was to create space for political progress in Iraq. And neither that leaked G.A.O. report nor the recent National Intelligence Estimate found any political progress worth mentioning. There has been no hint of sectarian reconciliation, and the Iraqi government, according to yet another leaked U.S. government report, is completely riddled with corruption.

But, say the usual suspects, General Petraeus is a fine, upstanding officer who wouldn't participate in a campaign of deception -- apparently forgetting that they said the same thing about Mr. Powell.

First of all, General Petraeus is now identified with the surge; if it fails, he fails. He has every incentive to find a way to keep it going, in the hope that somehow he can pull off something he can call success.

And General Petraeus's history also suggests that he is much more of a political, and indeed partisan, animal than his press would have you believe. In particular, six weeks before the 2004 presidential election, General Petraeus published an op-ed article in The Washington Post in which he claimed -- wrongly, of course -- that there had been "tangible progress" in Iraq, and that "momentum has gathered in recent months."

Is it normal for serving military officers to publish articles just before an election that clearly help an incumbent's campaign? I don't think so.

So here we go again. It appears that many influential people in this country have learned nothing from the last five years. And those who cannot learn from history are, indeed, doomed to repeat it.

AlterNet is making this material available in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Why the White House Keeps Hiding Behind General Petraeus

There was, of course, gallows humor galore when Dick Cheney briefly grabbed the wheel of our listing ship of state during the presidential colonoscopy last weekend. Enjoy it while it lasts. A once-durable staple of 21st-century American humor is in its last throes. We have a new surrogate president now. Sic transit Cheney. Long live David Petraeus!

It was The Washington Post that first quantified General Petraeus's remarkable ascension. President Bush, who mentioned his new Iraq commander's name only six times as the surge rolled out in January, has cited him more than 150 times in public utterances since, including 53 in May alone.

As always with this White House's propaganda offensives, the message in Mr. Bush's relentless repetitions never varies. General Petraeus is the "main man." He is the man who gives "candid advice." Come September, he will be the man who will give the president and the country their orders about the war.

And so another constitutional principle can be added to the long list of those junked by this administration: the quaint notion that our uniformed officers are supposed to report to civilian leadership. In a de facto military coup, the commander in chief is now reporting to the commander in Iraq. We must "wait to see what David has to say," Mr. Bush says.

Actually, we don't have to wait. We already know what David will say. He gave it away to The Times of London last month, when he said that September "is a deadline for a report, not a deadline for a change in policy." In other words: Damn the report (and that irrelevant Congress that will read it) -- full speed ahead. There will be no change in policy. As Michael Gordon reported in The New York Times last week, General Petraeus has collaborated on a classified strategy document that will keep American troops in Iraq well into 2009 as we wait for the miracles that will somehow bring that country security and a functioning government.

Though General Petraeus wrote his 1987 Princeton doctoral dissertation on "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam," he has an unshakable penchant for seeing light at the end of tunnels. It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline "Can This Man Save Iraq?" The magazine noted that the general's pacification of Mosul was "a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way." Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon's own June report.

By the time reality ambushed his textbook victory, the general had moved on to the mission of making Iraqi troops stand up so American troops could stand down. "Training is on track and increasing in capacity," he wrote in The Washington Post in late September 2004, during the endgame of the American presidential election. He extolled the increased prowess of the Iraqi fighting forces and the rebuilding of their infrastructure.

The rest is tragic history. Were the Iraqi forces on the trajectory that General Petraeus asserted in his election-year pep talk, no "surge" would have been needed more than two years later. We would not be learning at this late date, as we did only when Gen. Peter Pace was pressed in a Pentagon briefing this month, that the number of Iraqi battalions operating independently is in fact falling -- now standing at a mere six, down from 10 in March.

But even more revealing is what was happening at the time that General Petraeus disseminated his sunny 2004 prognosis. The best account is to be found in The Occupation of Iraq, the authoritative chronicle by Ali Allawi published this year by Yale University Press. Mr. Allawi is not some anti-American crank. He was the first civilian defense minister of postwar Iraq and has been an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; his book was praised by none other than the Iraq war cheerleader Fouad Ajami as "magnificent."

Mr. Allawi writes that the embezzlement of the Iraqi Army's $1.2 billion arms procurement budget was happening "under the very noses" of the Security Transition Command run by General Petraeus: "The saga of the grand theft of the Ministry of Defense perfectly illustrated the huge gap between the harsh realities on the ground and the Panglossian spin that permeated official pronouncements." Mr. Allawi contrasts the "lyrical" Petraeus pronouncements in The Post with the harsh realities of the Iraqi forces' inoperable helicopters, flimsy bulletproof vests and toy helmets. The huge sums that might have helped the Iraqis stand up were instead "handed over to unscrupulous adventurers and former pizza parlor operators."

Well, anyone can make a mistake. And when General Petraeus cited soccer games as an example of "the astonishing signs of normalcy" in Baghdad last month, he could not have anticipated that car bombs would kill at least 50 Iraqis after the Iraqi team's poignant victory in the Asian Cup semifinals last week. This general may well be, as many say, the brightest and bravest we have. But that doesn't account for why he has been invested by the White House and its last-ditch apologists with such singular power over the war.

On Meet the Press, Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the Senate's last gung-ho war defenders in either party, mentioned General Petraeus 10 times in one segment, saying he would "not vote for anything" unless "General Petraeus passes on it." Desperate hawks on the nation's op-ed pages not only idolize the commander daily but denounce any critics of his strategy as deserters, defeatists and enemies of the troops.

That's because the Petraeus phenomenon is not about protecting the troops or American interests but about protecting the president. For all Mr. Bush's claims of seeking "candid" advice, he wants nothing of the kind. He sent that message before the war, with the shunting aside of Eric Shinseki, the general who dared tell Congress the simple truth that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. The message was sent again when John Abizaid and George Casey were supplanted after they disagreed with the surge.

Two weeks ago, in his continuing quest for "candid" views, Mr. Bush invited a claque consisting exclusively of conservative pundits to the White House and inadvertently revealed the real motive for the Petraeus surrogate presidency. "The most credible person in the fight at this moment is Gen. David Petraeus," he said, in National Review's account.

To be the "most credible" person in this war team means about as much as being the most sober tabloid starlet in the Paris-Lindsay cohort. But never mind. What Mr. Bush meant is that General Petraeus is famous for minding his press coverage, even to the point of congratulating the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson for "kicking some butt" in the Nielsen ratings when Mr. Gibson interviewed him last month. The president, whose 65 percent disapproval rating is now just one point shy of Richard Nixon's pre-resignation nadir, is counting on General Petraeus to be the un-Shinseki and bestow whatever credibility he has upon White House policies and pronouncements.

He is delivering, heaven knows. Like Mr. Bush, he has taken to comparing the utter stalemate in the Iraqi Parliament to "our own debates at the birth of our nation," as if the Hamilton-Jefferson disputes were akin to the Shiite-Sunni bloodletting. He is also starting to echo the administration line that Al Qaeda is the principal villain in Iraq, a departure from the more nuanced and realistic picture of the civil-war-torn battlefront he presented to Senate questioners in his confirmation hearings in January.

Mr. Bush has become so reckless in his own denials of reality that he seems to think he can get away with saying anything as long as he has his "main man" to front for him. The president now hammers in the false litany of a "merger" between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and what he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" as if he were following the Madison Avenue script declaring that "Cingular is now the new AT&T." He doesn't seem to know that nearly 40 other groups besides Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have adopted Al Qaeda's name or pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden worldwide since 2003, by the count of the former C.I.A. counterterrorism official Michael Scheuer. They may follow us here well before any insurgents in Iraq do.

On Tuesday -- a week after the National Intelligence Estimate warned of the resurgence of bin Laden's Qaeda in Pakistan -- Mr. Bush gave a speech in which he continued to claim that "Al Qaeda in Iraq" makes Iraq the central front in the war on terror. He mentioned Al Qaeda 95 times but Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf not once. Two days later, his own top intelligence officials refused to endorse his premise when appearing before Congress. They are all too familiar with the threats that are building to a shrill pitch this summer.

Should those threats become a reality while America continues to be bogged down in Iraq, this much is certain: It will all be the fault of President Petraeus.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES