Beltway Media Pleased to Distort GOP Position on Iraq

In the Washington Post's front page story this Sunday about the Democratic Party's position on the Iraq War, the newspaper makes a highly misleading statement about the Republican Party's position. After a comment by Montana Democratic Senate nominee Jon Tester demanding a "plan to move the troops out of Iraq," the Post claims flatly that "no Republican is advocating that the United States maintain high troop levels indefinitely."

One could stretch to make the argument that such a statement is technically true -- no Republican has gone on record saying word-for-word "I want to keep large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq forever." However, top Republican leaders have repeatedly gone on record making statements or taking concrete steps that support actually keeping large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

For example, less than three months ago, Reuters reported that "congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the United States on record against the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country." In other words, despite the Post's claim, Republicans just a few months ago actually went on record as supporting the concept of a permanent, indefinite military presence in Iraq (you can see the video of the congressional debate here). Congressional Democrats' efforts to prevent U.S. troops from being in Iraq indefinitely came after the BBC reported that the administration made massive emergency spending request for base construction that the House Appropriations Committee noted was "of a magnitude normally associated with permanent bases."

A week after that request, "top US General John Abizaid refused to rule out a long-term presence" in Iraq. In fact, this hasn't just been going on this year. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2004 that Bush administration military planners were moving forward with plans for "constructing 14 enduring bases, long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops."

Then there is President Bush, who stated just last week that we will not be reducing troops "while I'm the president."

That was just the latest statement from the administration and the Pentagon about indefinite troop deployments. For example, in May of 2004, international news service AFP reported that the administration quietly announced that it will "keep high force levels in Iraq indefinitely."

Even if you just look at Tester's opponent, Republican Sen. Conrad Burns (R), it's clear that Republicans are quite brazenly advocating for indefinite deployments of large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq -- regardless of what the public thinks about the war. As the Associated Press reported last week, "Burns said the U.S. must show 'great patience and resolve' and stay in Iraq even if public support for the war continues to erode."

Here's the thing -- politicians either support a plan to draw down troops at some point in the future, or they support leaving U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. There is no "middle ground" and there is no "third way." Being for one of those positions automatically means you are against the other position, and vice versa -- it's a zero sum question, no matter how much the Washington Post, the Beltway neoconservatives or D.C. Republican Party operatives try to fudge the issue with warmed over double talk. In other words, this is the one of the times where Bush's black-or-white world view is actually applicable: you are either for ultimately bringing troops home, or you are against ultimately bringing troops home - and thus for leaving them as targets in the Iraqi shooting gallery indefinitely.

Democratic incumbents and candidates have largely united in support of pushing the White House to begin crafting a plan to get troops out of Iraq. That is a position polls show the majority of Americans support -- and a position the stay-in-Iraq-indefinitely Republican Party opposes. While the Post may want to try to create false Democratic rifts in order to fabricate grist for its front page, and may want to push dishonest storylines about the GOP supposedly not being for indefinite troop deployments, the facts speak for themselves.

Military Recruiting 101

Why does the military have direct access to the private information of American high school students? Under the No Child Left Behind legislation, Sec 9528, education funding in America has been turned into a recruiting tool for our military! Buried in this legislation is a section that mandates student's private information be given directly to the military unless the student's parent or guardian opts their records out – meaning that a request letter from the parent or guardian must be submitted to the school to keep the student's records private.

This is essentially a permission slip to keep one's records private instead of a permission slip to authorize access to one's private records. Yes, the law really was intentionally written completely backwards! To make matters worse, no concerted effort is being made to inform students and parents that their personal information is being given out.

While a few organizations have talked about this law, more must be done to educate students and parents on how this issue directly affects them and their private records. I am proud to be working with Congressman McDermott of Washington State, Congressman Stark of California and Congresswoman Woolsey of California to try and build a greater national awareness of what this legislation does to students' right to privacy.

If the military is already given millions in tax-payer dollars for advertising, why does it need direct access to student's private information to aid recruiting? The answer is in a March 6, 2005 Reuters' News Service article that states:

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The Dispassion of the Christian Right

They were livid over SpongeBob Square Pants' participation in a video advocating tolerance, and fuming about Buster the Bunny's visit to a lesbian household. So where's the outrage from the Christian right over the Jeff Gannon Affair? Despite a chunk of time having passed since the Gannon Affair was first uncovered, Christian-right organizations are still cloaked in silence. As of Feb. 24, there wasn't any news about the Gannon Affair available on the web sites of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, or the Traditional Values Coalition. As best as I could determine, no special alerts about the Gannon Affair have been issued; and no campaigns have been launched to get to the bottom of the matter.

Curious about this wall of silence, I phoned several Christian-right groups on Tuesday, Feb. 22, hoping to find someone who could comment on the Gannon Affair. This is what I found:

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Democracy in a Trash Can

These days, schemes to suppress the vote are coming down the pike at a NASCAR-like clip: In July, Michigan State Rep. John Pappageorge told a gathering of party officials at an election strategy meeting of the Oakland County Republican Party that "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election cycle." In Orlando, Fla., members of the Orlando League of Voters – an African-American civic group made up of mostly elderly women that has helped turn out large numbers of Democratic voters in the city – were the subject of an intimidating house-to-house investigation by Governor Jeb Bush's state police, who were supposedly checking out charges of electoral irregularities. The Rev. Jesse Jackson recently charged Republican Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell with "trying to reverse gains made by the civil rights movement by limiting where some Ohioans can cast their ballots," the Palm Beach Post recently reported.

Now, a new voter suppression scheme has been uncovered: One that thwarts the democratic process before voters even exercise their franchise. A voter registration outfit largely funded by the Republican National Committee is being accused of destroying the registration forms of hundreds of newly registered Democratic voters in Nevada.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, when hundreds and perhaps thousands of registered Democrats enter their polling places in Nevada, they will be in for a rude surprise: They won't be allowed to vote. Even though they filled out their registration forms properly and they did it way ahead of the deadline, there will be no record of their being registered to vote. That's because, according to an investigation by Las Vegas television station KLAS, a private voter registration company called Voters Outreach of America – an outfit largely funded by the Republican National Committee – has trashed hundreds of registration forms of registered Democrats.

"Anyone who has recently registered or re-registered to vote outside a mall or grocery store or even government building may be affected," George Knapp, an investigative reporter for the television station's Eyewitness News I-Team, reported. Knapp was able to obtain information about an "alleged widespread pattern of potential registration fraud aimed at Democrats," from former employees of the company.

Over the past few months, Voters Outreach of America has been working the Las Vegas area, sending more than 300 part-time workers to shopping malls, grocery stores, government buildings and busy street corners throughout the city to register voters. The kicker, according to the former workers: Apparently, the company was only interested in Republican registrations.

Knapp reported that two former employees claimed that they had "personally witnessed company supervisors rip up and trash registration forms signed by Democrats."

"We caught her taking Democrats out of my pile, handed them to her assistant and he ripped them up right in front of us. I grabbed some of them out of the garbage and she tells her assistant to get those from me," said Eric Russell, a former Voters Outreach employee.

According to Knapp, Russell said he was able "to retrieve a pile of shredded paperwork including signed voter registration forms, all from Democrats" and he "took them to the Clark County Election Department and confirmed that they had not, in fact, been filed with the county as required by law."

When the I-Team went to talk with Voters Outreach, the company had abandoned its offices and they were rented by someone else. According to the Voters Outreach landlord, the outfit was "evicted for non-payment of rent."

Recently, the Reno Gazette Journal ran the following ad for "Canvassing Neighborhoods in Support of the GOP": "Voter's Outreach of America is hiring door-to-door canvassers asking people to register to vote. Must be at least 18 yrs of age, no felonies, registered to vote and have own transportation. Need good communication skills and professional appearance. ... Paid for by the Republican National Committee."

According to a web site called TOPDOG04.COM, Voters Outreach "has set up registration drives in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Nevada and is accused of the same things [as KLAS-TV reported] in most if not all of these states."

TOPDOG04.COM also reports that in a separate incident, Sproul & Associates, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based Republican consulting firm run by Nathan Sproul, former head of the Arizona Republican party and Arizona Christian Coalition, which has hired Voters Outreach, tried to pass itself off as America Votes, a truly non-partisan voter registration drive.

Sproul & Associates has received nearly $500,000 from the Republican Party this year for "political consulting" according to, and received another $125,000 for voter registration.

In Arizona, Sproul paid Aaron "A.J." James, the director of Voters Outreach of America, "to get as many signatures as possible for [Independent presidential candidate Ralph] Nader," Arizona reported. "'Aaron [James] told me he was out here getting signatures for Nader. So I can only assume that Diane [Burns] was too,' said Derek Lee, who, as owner of Lee Petitions, was part of the traveling petition carnival that descended on Arizona this spring."

On Wednesday, Oct. 13, the Associated Press reported that Sproul "denied ... that a group he hired to register Republicans in Nevada deliberately tore up Democratic voter registration forms." Sproul blamed the controversy on a disgruntled former employee.

A recent report issued by the People for the American Way Foundation and the NAACP documented numerous incidents of voter intimidation and suppression over the past 39 years. The report notes that, as we might expect, the tactics have become "more subtle and subterranean" over time. But it also demonstrates that attempts to suppress the vote persist to this day.

According to the report, "Robbing voters of their right to vote and to have their vote counted undermines the very foundations of our democratic society. Politicians, political strategists and party officials who may consider voter intimidation and suppression efforts as part of their tactical arsenal should prepare to be exposed and prosecuted."

The report concludes by saying: "State and federal officials, including Justice Department and national political party officials, should publicly repudiate such tactics and make clear that those who engage in them will face severe punishment."

Newly registered Nevada voters are being urged to call the Clark County Election Department at 455-VOTE or go to the County's web site to see if they are registered.

Across the country, a coalition of liberal, nonpartisan groups – including People for the American Way, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – will be sending lawyers and law students to key precincts in unprecedented numbers – 2,000 in Florida alone. Their T-shirts and signs will bear the message "Having trouble voting? Call us." They will carry disposable cameras to record infractions.

And, according to the Newhouse News Service, The Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee are going to "dispatch as many as 10,000 lawyers across America on Election Day and have established five post-election 'SWAT teams' to hit the ground running wherever they might be needed."

A Day of Living Dangerously

"I swear I saw dogs eating the body of a woman." – Iraqi man fleeing Samarra

Is the fight for the city of Samarra the beginning of the final battle for Iraq? With the pacification of the city proceeding at a timely clip, is the U.S. finally turning the corner in Iraq? U.S. Major General John Batiste, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, and Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Al-Naqib seem to think so. They all believe a new day is dawning for that troubled city and for the entire country.

Speaking on CNN , Major General Batiste said that the military operation – which included 3000 U.S. marines and 2000 Iraqi national guard troops backed by tanks, warplanes and attack helicopters – resulted in the death of 125 suspected insurgents and the capture of 88. "This is great news for the people of Samarra, 200,000 people who have been held captives, hostages if you will, by just a couple of hundred thugs," Major-General Batiste said.

"It is over in Samarra," Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan told the Al-Arabiya network on October 3. And Iraq's Interior Minister, Falah Al-Naqib, a former member of the Samarra provincial administration, claimed the Iraqi Government was "moving from a defensive to an offensive position to regain control over all of Iraq."

While the U.S. and the Iraqi military claimed they had killed only the bad guys, the Human Rights Ministry, in a letter to the Iraqi Red Crescent, described what happened in the city as a "tragedy" and called for urgent emergency assistance, London's Independent reported. According to the Associated Press , "Of the 70 dead brought to Samarra General Hospital since fighting erupted, 23 were children and 18 were women, hospital official Abdul-Nasser Hamed Yassin said. "Another 160 wounded people also were treated," Yassin added.

In addition, the Independent reported, Samarra residents claimed said that many of the 1,000 insurgents believed to be in the city had escaped before the attack began.

If the pacification of Samarra is good news for the Bush Administration, what are we to make of the following events in Iraq? (The following summary was pulled together by Randy Gould, the editor of the always informative online newsletter, The Oread Daily):
At least 22 were dead and 96 injured in two car bomb attacks Monday, October 3, outside Baghdad's Green Zone government center and in the hotel district. Two American troops were killed by small arms fire at a checkpoint in Baghdad. The Italian Foreign Ministry has notified the family of a kidnapped Iraqi businessman – a longtime resident of Italy – that he has been killed in Iraq. A car bomb exploded near a primary school in the city of Mosul killing seven people, including two children.

Early Monday, U.S. warplanes bombed Fallujah, killing at least 11 people, according to hospital officials. Doctor Adel Khamis of Fallujah General Hospital said seven of the dead were women and children. Another strike in the central al-Jumhuriyah area killed nine people, including three women and four children, said Dr. Khamis – twelve were wounded, including six women and three children, he said. A second strike in the city's southern Al-Shuhada (Martyrs) neighborhood killed two more people, according to Dr. Khamis.

A senior official at Iraq's science and technology ministry was shot dead along with a female civil servant by unknown attackers in Baghdad. A roadside bomb detonated in the city of Ramadi, killing two Iraqis. "Two people were killed and six others injured in a bomb blast ... in the west of the city," said Atallah Dlimi, a police lieutenant. A 13-year-old school girl was killed by mortar fire in a residential area of Baquba, police said, adding that another seven people were injured in the attack.

Poland, a highly-trumpeted U.S. ally in Iraq, should withdraw its troops from the Mideast nation at the end of next year, Poland's defense minister said.
A leading Sunni Muslim religious group blasted the U.S. led Samarra operation calling it a "massacre" and warned the interim government that its U.S.-influenced strategy will plunge the country into more chaos.

Baghdad Burning, a remarkable web log written by a woman in Iraq, pointed out that "Watching the military attacks on Samarra and hearing the stories from displaced families or people from around the area is like reliving the frustration and anger of the war. It's like a nightmare within a nightmare, seeing the corpses pile up and watching people drag their loved ones from under the bricks and steel of what was once a home.

"To top it off, we have to watch American military spokespersons and our new Iraqi politicians justify the attacks and talk about 'insurgents' and 'terrorists' like they actually believe what they are saying... like hundreds of civilians aren't being massacred on a daily basis by the worlds most advanced military technology."

Now, attention will shift back to the long troubled city of Fallujah, the supposed headquarters of Jordanian-born militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Although the U.S. has been carrying out bombing raids over the past several weeks, will the Bush Administration risk a major attack on the city and a series of bloody battles before November 2?

According to the Independent , a coalition spokesman, commenting on an air attack over the weekend said: "A large number of enemy fighters are presumed killed." But residents tell a different story. According to them, the air strike "had killed eight people at the home of Hamad Hdaib Mohammedi, who was known for his opposition to the militants." In addition, "television footage showed the body of a small girl being pulled from the rubble of the house."

On October 5, the Coalition Press Information Center issued a press release that could presage the future: "Iraqi and Multi-National forces today kicked off their most sweeping operation to date in Northern Babil, moving against multiple targets across the central Iraqi province in a continuing campaign to restore security and stability here."

Closing California

If the Republican Party�s pre-convention decision to keep immigration issues and developments in Utah and Colorado – where a xenophobic candidate was defeated and an anti-immigration initiative failed to qualify for the ballot, respectively – out of the spotlight are indicative of a sea-change in the nation�s �immigration wars,� the conservative California Republican Assembly, and Dr. Franklin L. Banker, a Carmichael, California, oncologist, apparently haven�t gotten the news.

The California Republican Assembly, a Monrovia-based, ultra right-wing grassroots GOP group headed by Mike Spence, is aiming to gather enough signatures to qualify another anti-immigrant initiative for the March 2006 state ballot. According to Copley News Service, the Save Our License initiative "is a narrowed version of the polarizing Proposition 187,� a 1994 ballot measure that was handily approved by voters by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

Proposition 187 was later invalidated by the state�s courts, which decided to allow children of illegal immigrants to attend school and receive medical care.

The new initiative would not ban services the courts have already exempted.

"I'm trying to protect the Constitution, trying to protect the great United States of America," Spence told the Pasadena Star-News. "Wave upon wave of immigration throughout history has had a way of integrating itself into American society. Now, we have created a process where that isn't happening. We're not having assimilation, they're not embracing American values."

Spence, who has been in the forefront of efforts to deny driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, told the newspaper that "the will of the voters was betrayed in the deal that ended Proposition 187."

According to the CRA web site, the Save Our License Initiative consists of three main provisions: "First, the government will not provide any benefits not mandated by federal law. Second, the government will defend this law against any and all legal challenges. Third, individual citizens will be granted the power to sue to compel compliance with the law.�

Banker's Brief

Dr. Franklin L. Banker is taking a different approach to the question of immigration. He is cleverly couching his proposal as a pro-environment, anti-population growth and pro-sexuality education measure – with a number of anti-immigrant sections tucked into it. Dr. Banker�s magic number is 373,816 – the number of qualified signatures he needs to collect by October 15, 2004 in order to qualify for the California ballot.

�Dr. Banker�s initiative comes on the heels of the Save Our State initiative – Proposition 187 redux – introduced in California by Paul Nachman, a leader of SUSPS,� Devin Burghart, the director of the Building Democracy Initiative of the Chicago-based Center for New Community and a veteran anti-immigration watcher, told me in a recent e-mail interview. �That initiative went nowhere; it wasn�t even able to garner enough support to get on the ballot. Now, it appears that they�re looking for new ways to package anti-immigrant legislation and make it more appealing to environmentalists as a constituency.�

The good doctor�s effort also appears to be stamped from the same mold as the recent failed �hostile takeover� of the Sierra Club by SUSPS activists and other anti-immigration organizations. �The proposed ballot language is remarkably similar to the way in which anti-immigrant activists pitched their candidates to Sierra Club voters,� said Burghart.

In late May, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced that proponents could begin collecting signatures to qualify the �Population Policy. Legislative Directive. Initiative Statute� for the ballot.

The initiative claims that �California is experiencing extreme population crisis that is economically and environmentally unsustainable� and requires the Governor and State Legislature �to develop comprehensive population policy that enhances quality of life and preserves the environment.� The initiative advocates expanding access to �family planning,� and encourages �small families and responsible sexual behavior� and an end to �illegal immigration.� The initiative also �prohibits driver�s licenses, reduced college tuition, or other benefits [be offered] to illegal immigrants� and �instructs California�s congressional delegation to sponsor federal legislation limiting the yearly number of legal immigrants to the United States to 300,000.�

Anti-immigration fever: Cooling down or heating up?

California�s anti-immigration proposals appear to be running against the tide of recent events: A hardline anti-immigration congressional candidate was soundly defeated in the Republican Party�s recent primary in Utah�s 3rd District; in Colorado, an anti-immigration ballot initiative aimed at changing the state�s constitution by denying the undocumented access to any state services failed to make the ballot.

�If there is any place in America where the anti-immigration message should receive a receptive hearing, it would seem to be Colorado. ... Yet every indication is that the closed-border mentality doesn't play well here politically,� Stephen Moore, the president of the right-wing Club for Growth, recently wrote in The Weekly Standard.

In Arizona, Project Arizona Now, instigators of that state�s anti-immigration initiative – which will be voted on in November – finally managed to gather enough signatures to qualify its ballot initiative after paying a California consulting firm $400,000 to collect signatures. If Arizona's anti-immigrant initiative passes, however, it could prime the pump for California's anti-immigration campaigners.

"Of the two initiative campaigns now circulating petitions in California, the California Republican Assembly-sponsored effort stands a better chance of qualifying for the ballot – and eventually passing – even though it is actually a rehash of the one they initially floated to get on this November�s ballot in California but couldn�t get enough support for it,� Devin Burghart said.

�Given that this effort has the support of this politically powerful organization, it is much more likely to go somewhere than Dr. Banker�s measure,� he pointed out. �There is a significant and growing insurgency within the Republican Party that is coalescing around anti-immigrant politics. Should Bush lose the election, that insurgency is going to bust wide open. It is already surfacing in a number of Congressional races this year.�

President Peter Pan

On this, there can be no question. Regarding Iraq, John Kerry is acknowledging reality. George Bush is not.

Bush embarrassed America when he went before a stony-faced audience at the United Nations Tuesday and claimed that all was well in Iraq, calling it a country well on its way to being a "beacon of freedom in the Middle East." More tellingly, he spent far more time defending his decision to invade in the first place, ignoring the consequences of a war that is now dangerously unraveling.

Meanwhile, Kerry seems to have finally found his voice on Iraq. Kerry is in trouble when he tries to parse his explanation of his vote in favor of war in Congress; no matter how sensible it might or might not be, it plays into the "flip-flop" stereotype Republicans have created for him. But there can be no mistaking the current situation in Iraq, and Kerry is spot on when he thunders, as he did Tuesday, that "the president really has no credibility at this point. He has no credibility with foreign leaders who hear him come before them and talk as if everything is going well... The president needs to live in the world of reality."

Alas, on the most critical issue now facing the country – Iraq and Bush's misbegotten War on Terror – reality is not President Peter Pan's strong suit. White House spinsters will be working hard this week to pretend all is well, crowned by the address to Congress on Thursday of Iraq's appointed U.S. puppet prime minister, Iyad Allawi. Allawi not only has no credibility in his own country, but his government, like U.S. troops, cannot even access nearly half of the country. He is, in the eyes of his countrymen, tainted not only by his past as a thug – first for Saddam and then for Western intelligence agencies – but by the very fact he was installed by and works with the Americans.

If there was ever a chance that Bush's ideal of a democratic Iraq on the American model could be achieved, it's long gone. No politician acceptable to Washington will be accepted at this point by the vast majority of Iraqis. Bush knows this, or at least he should; his intelligence agencies, as well as Congressional Republicans, have been telling him. But he is either stubbornly clinging to his own fantasy world, or, for political reasons, he's refusing to acknowledge the crisis.

The White House hope is that stunts like Allawi's address to Congress can help maintain the fiction of a normalized Iraq, on its intended course, at least until the US election in November. Oddly, it may not matter much to the election; polling suggests that the fiasco in Iraq is not changing the minds of those coveted swing voters. But that's not the point. Every week that goes by where Iraq military strategy is dictated by the political goals of the Bush Administration is a week where the insurgency grows stronger and more soldiers are put in harm's way for crass political purposes.

Kerry, in an unusually pointed speech in New York on Monday, finally got the situation right: "Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions, and... the prospect of a war with no end in sight." His prescription of more foreign assistance may not help much at this point; more radical remedies are probably needed. But at least Kerry understands and acknowledges the situation.

Judging from his public pronouncements, George Bush either doesn't understand what he has created in Iraq, or – even worse – he understands it, but is working his hardest to ensure that the American public is misled. Either way is inexcusable. And either way leads inexorably to John Kerry's conclusion: that Bush does not have the credibility to lead the world, or the United States.

Hijacking Catastrophe

I�m a former full-time journalist turned journalism professor. I continue to commit occasional acts of journalism, and I retain a deep affection for, and commitment to, the craft and its ideals. That�s why it pains me to say this: The performance of the U.S. corporate commercial news media after 9/11 has been the most profound and dangerous failure of journalism in my lifetime.

That�s the bad news. The good news is that the void is being filled by other institutions, including the Media Education Foundation with its new documentary, �Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire.�

That performance of journalists in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq was so abysmal that the country�s top two daily newspapers, the Washington Post and New York Times, eventually were forced to engage in a bit of self-criticism, albeit shallow and inadequate. The U.S. news media�s willingness to serve as a largely uncritical conduit for the lies, half-truths, and distortions the Bush administration used to create the pretext for war showed how easily journalists can become de facto agents of a state propaganda campaign, which in this case mobilized public support for an illegal war.

But the lies that led to the Iraq War are only part of a bigger story, the most important story of the past three years: The Bush administration�s manipulation of the tragedy of 9/11 to extend and intensify the longstanding U.S. project of empire building (and the complicity of most Democrats in that endeavor).

No publication or network in the mainstream of U.S. journalism has offered an independent, critical analysis of that project. Only a few journalists, mostly on the margins, have even dared to take a crack at it. The best consistent work has been in the foreign press or the alternative media in the United States.

This also has been the year of the political documentary, and �Hijacking Catastrophe� is the best film in this genre to date.

(Full disclosure: I was one of the people interviewed for �Hijacking Catastrophe,� and I also have appeared in two other MEF films. I agreed to participate in these projects because, after years of using MEF videos in the classroom, I have come to respect the quality of the work and the integrity of its staff.)

Until this year, MEF had focused primarily on media criticism; its videos examined the effect of mass media on U.S. politics and culture. MEF primarily took as its task the job of explaining the failures of journalists, not doing the work of journalists. With �Hijacking Catastrophe,� directors Sut Jhally and Jeremy Earp also take up that task, covering the tremendously important story of the current phase of the U.S. empire that journalists have let slip through their fingers.

The film concentrates on two major topics: The neoconservative agenda for U.S. domination of the world, which was created long before 9/11, and the selling of that agenda to the U.S. public after 9/11.

The first story goes back to the early 1990s and the end of the Cold War, when policy planners such as Paul Wolfowitz (current deputy secretary of defense) were devising a more aggressive foreign policy and military posture to allow the United States to capitalize on the collapse of the Soviet Union and to dominate the globe in ways that had not previously been possible. At the time, the plans were considered so extreme that the first Bush administration reined in these ideological fanatics; the U.S. empire could go forward but not in such radical form.

During the remainder of the 1990s, these neoconservative planners chafed at what they saw as an insufficiently aggressive approach to expansion of the empire in the Clinton administration. The Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative think tank, was created as a vehicle for promoting this ideology, which was able to take center stage with the George W. Bush administration.

Resistance to such an aggressive and dangerous project remained, however, and the project still had to be sold to the U.S. public. The attacks of 9/11 created the political climate which made that possible.

The second story told by �Hijacking Catastrophe� is how the Bush administration – again, with the Democrats either helping or standing aside, and the news media playing a compliant lapdog role – devised and executed a propaganda campaign to ratchet up and manipulate the public�s fear of terrorism to justify first an illegal, immoral, and counterproductive invasion of Afghanistan (designed to solidify U.S. control in Central Asia) and then an even more blatantly illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq (designed to solidify U.S. control of the Middle East).

Reviews in the Washington Post and New York Times both acknowledged that the film offers a �cogent, concise and engaging� argument and makes a �convincing case� (the case, perhaps, that journalists from those papers should have been reporting all along). Both reviews also note that Jhally�s and Earp�s presentation of �the facts without any funny business� marks �Hijacking Catastrophe� as a film different from �Fahrenheit 9/11,� one that is �more sober, yet no less sobering� than Michael Moore�s movie.

These repeated failures of journalists to hold the powerful accountable should be a subject of serious discussion not just within the profession but for all of us. If journalists don�t provide a truly independent source of news and instead routinely subordinate themselves to power – especially in times of war and national crisis – it�s difficult to imagine how citizens can adequately inform themselves so that they can participate in the political arena in a meaningful way.

But when journalism fails, it�s possible for other institutions to take on some of the news media�s obligations. That doesn�t mean MEF or groups like it can replace existing journalistic institutions on their own. Nor does it mean that Jhally and Earp are holding themselves out to the public as journalists, in the same way that so-called �objective� journalists do.

Instead, films such as �Hijacking Catastrophe� provide information and analysis, coming from a political orientation (critical, dissident, progressive – historically, the hallmarks of great journalism) that is up front. The question isn�t whether the people who made the film and appear in it have a politics – of course they do, just as mainstream journalists and mainstream journalism�s institutions do. The question is whether the information presented is accurate, the judgments made are honest, and the conclusions reached are compelling.

On those criteria, �Hijacking Catastrophe� is one of the best pieces of journalism of recent years.

More information about 'Hijacking Catastrophe,' including how to purchase it, is available on the website.

Searching for the Undecided

BOSTON – This is no place to go hunting for the endangered species of the 2004 election. A real, live, undecided voter is even harder to find than a self-confessed pessimist in this resolutely upbeat Democratic convention.

Nevertheless, the delegates, candidates and party honchos all have indecision on their minds. The good behavior, the careful image-and-message honing has been directed to that incredibly shrinking segment of the population who are uncertain, or – imagine! – just beginning to pay attention.

Ask any pollster within range of the Fleet Center – they are here in numbers just short of bloggers – and they will tell you that the public is more polarized, more locked down than the highways out of Boston. It may be July on Boston Harbor, but it's October in terms of the electorate. As few as 5 percent of voters are undecided.

As any speechwriter worth his software knows, somewhere between 58 percent and 70 percent of these undecided voters are women. These are not the fabled soccer moms. Nor are they just security moms. And they are definitely not Sex and the City singles, to reprise another of the handles that have been used to simplify the undefinable group of women who haven't made up their minds.

At one event, Marie Wilson, who heads a project to get these women to vote, called them "How-am-I-going-to-make-it-today-moms." Fit that on a bumper sticker.

Most of them are between 25 and 40. Two-thirds haven't been to college. Wilson parses their dubiousness about voting this way: "I don't have time, I don't think I know enough and I don't know if it matters." Karen White of EMILY's List, the political action group, describes the undecideds and their larger cohort, the swing voters, as women "who spend 23 hours a day focused on domestic and family issues." That leaves just a few minutes for politics.

It is of course refreshing to see the women who buy their coffee at Dunkin' Donuts and not Starbucks being wooed this earnestly. And who among us isn't charmed when women are the ones having trouble making a commitment?

But in some ways these women should be an easy match for the Democrats. They put issues like health care at the top of their domestic dance card. In answer to a pivotal question, they very strongly disapprove of the direction the country is going. Perhaps most startling, in a recent EMILY's List poll, women swing voters were asked to say something, anything, positive about the country and only 39 percent could come up with an answer.

It isn't just that women are having trouble making up their pretty little minds about what political hat to wear. They aren't wishy-washy. They have strong – but conflicted – feelings.

As Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster puts it, they are torn between national security interests and domestic interests. And on security issues, they are equally torn. They are disproportionately opposed to the war in Iraq and disproportionately worried about safety at home.

When the undecideds talk about Iraq, they talk about loss of life and the possibility of a draft and the money going to rebuild Iraqi schools rather than their own. But at the same time the undecideds are very certain that there is real danger in the world. Indeed as recently as February, 42 percent of women – 47 percent of all mothers – said they worry that they or someone in their families could be victims of terrorism.

It wasn't an accident that Bill Clinton included one line of scripture in his speech: Be Not Afraid. Bush plays this fear like a color-coded terrorism alert. Kerry hasn't yet convinced these women that he can protect the country.

So many are in the unenviable pickle of hating the war and thinking the commander in chief is a strong leader. Agreeing with Kerry on everything from health care to Iraq, but unsure he is strong enough to protect them from terrorists.

Not long ago, the peripatetic Republican pollster Frank Luntz said that a Republican candidate has to show "empathy" for swing women voters by understanding their big problem: the time crunch. When women hear that, Luntz said, they'll listen to the rest of message. It's the empathy, stupid.

For John Kerry, it's the safety, stupid. If he can assure undecided women that he can protect the country, they'll listen to the rest.

Want to know why the word strong has been attached to every evening schedule, every speech, every slogan, every duckling in the Public Garden? The woman who is having trouble making a commitment is looking for a guy who is a strong ... but not silent.

Slouching Toward Theocracy

"If the presidency is a 'bully pulpit' as Teddy Roosevelt claimed," Stephen Mansfield writes in the introduction to his recently published book "The Faith of George W. Bush," "no one in recent memory has pounded that pulpit for religion's role in government quite like the forty-third president." Bush's "unapologetic religious tone" and his willingness to "speak of being called to the presidency, of a God who rules in the affairs of men, and of the United States owing her origin to Providence," also separate him from recent predecessors.

In mid-January, while on a two-state fundraising trip -- during which he squeezed in a few minutes to honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- the president stopped by at Union Bethel A.M.E. Church, a mostly African American church in New Orleans, to once again sing the praises of his faith-based initiative. He told the audience that since he had been unable to garner congressional support for his faith-based initiative, he issued executive orders; recently putting the finishing touches on regulations instructing all federal agencies not to discriminate against religious groups. This executive order makes religious groups eligible for $3.7 billion in Federal program funds dispersed through the Justice Department primarily for programs supporting victims of crime, the prevention of child victimization, and safe schools.

Last week marked the third anniversary of the president's creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI). Over the past three years, executive orders were issued, Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives were established at seven federal agencies, web sites were created, technical assistance to religious organizations was given at seminars and conferences, guidebooks helping religious groups apply for government funds were published, and billions were earmarked for faith-based institutions.

But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for Team Bush. Conservatives and liberals initially opposed the president's initiative; many conservatives eventually got on board, while liberals continue to object to what they characterize as violations of the separation of church and state and the potential for discriminatory hiring practices by many religious organizations fundamentally opposed to hiring gays and lesbians. John DiIulio, the longtime criminologist and political scientist hired to run the OFBCI, resigned after only six months on the job and later was the subject of an Esquire magazine interview highly critical of the administration. A major crisis developed when the Washington Post revealed that top administration officials had tried to solicit support from the Salvation Army by offering a firm commitment that any legislation would allow religious organizations to sidestep state and local anti-discrimination measures barring discriminatory hiring practices on the basis of sexual orientation. And Congress still hasn't developed a comprehensive faith-based legislative package.

On balance, however, the administration has achieved much more than people think. A White House-issued Press Release dated January 15 proudly pointed to seven "Milestones" in the life of the president's faith-based initiative -- from its launch in January 2001 through this month's $3.7 billion executive order. As originally conceived, Bush's faith-based initiative was to be the centerpiece of his administration's domestic agenda, spearheading the final attack on the New Deal and the War on Poverty, transferring a host of government programs from government agencies to the religious sector.

In August 2001, the administration laid the groundwork for doling out money to religious institutions by publishing a report entitled "Unlevel Playing Field," "documenting regulatory and administrative barriers that effectively discriminated against faith-based and community groups in the Federal grants process."

Sixteen months later Bush issued an executive order "directing agencies to take steps to ensure that all policies (including guidance, regulations, and internal agency procedures) are consistent with the 'equal treatment' principles."

During his 2003 State of the Union address, the president proposed an initiative aimed at mentoring children whose parents are in prison, along with a $600 million program "to help addicted Americans find needed treatment from the most effective programs, including faith-based institutions."

In September 2003, HUD received $8 billion for housing programs, and HHS nearly $20 billion for social service programs, a portion of which are competitive grants thus allowing religious institutions to bid to provide services.

The administration also discovered what it calls "religious hiring rights," another way of skirting anti-discrimination laws while and providing back door support for faith-based organizations.

In a position paper titled "Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Organizations: Why Religious Hiring Rights Must Be Preserved," Team Bush argued that religious organizations receiving government grants have the right to hire anyone they please. At least two pieces of legislation with "religious hiring rights" provisions were under consideration by Congress last year: "The School Readiness Act of 2003," H.R. 2210, allows religious organizations receiving government funds for providing Head Start services to discriminate in their hiring practices. That bill is now before the Senate Education Committee.

The $4 billion Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act -- passed by the full House on a party-line 220-204 vote -- also included a similar faith-based exemption. In November, the Senate passed a version that removed the employment-discrimination exemption; it is now being taken up by a House-Senate conference committee.

"Government should not fear faith-based programs. We ought to welcome faith-based programs and we ought to fund faith-based programs," Bush told parishioners at Union Bethel A.M.E. Church in mid-January. "Many of the problems that are facing our society are problems of the heart."

In his recent State of the Union address, the president rolled out another round of faith-based initiatives including encouraging "healthy marriages" among the poor, spending more on abstinence-only sex education for America's teens, and a faith-based release and reentry program for prisoners.

Brother Bush's Faith-based Prison

This past Christmas Eve, Florida Governor Jeb Bush presided over the opening of the nation's first full-fledged faith-based prison. The Governor participated in the dedication ceremonies -- featuring a Roman Catholic mass and speeches by Bush and several clergy members -- that officially opened the remodeled Lawtey Correctional Institute.

Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections, noted that since "faith-based dorms" already exist in 10 Florida prisons, "operating an entire faith-based prison was the next logical step." The idea for an entire prison -- a medium-security facility designed to house 800 men -- devoted to faith-based programs came from state Corrections Secretary James V. Crosby, Ivey said.

The prison works with inmates convicted of felonies such as burglary, holdups, car thefts and assaults and eighty percent of them are within three years of release, Ivey said. Inmates represent at least 26 different religious faiths including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Rastafarians, adherents of American Indian beliefs, and Buddhists.

"This is not just fluffy policy. This is serious policy," Gov. Bush told the London Daily Telegraph.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State are taking the governor seriously. In mid-January, the watchdog group filed a freedom-of-information request with Florida's Department of Corrections to learn more about the program.

The recently passed Omnibus Spending Bill contains $100 million for the Access to Recovery drug treatment program announced in SOTU 2003, $50 million for the mentoring of the children of prisoners, and $48 million for the Compassion Capital Fund (CCF), the White House announced.

Seven federal agencies have established Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives including the Departments of Justice, Agriculture, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and the Agency for International Development.

And the initiative is spreading to the states. By the end of January, Team Bush expects at least 20 governors will have faith-based offices or liaisons. In addition, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has opened a faith-based office, as have 180 mayors, including the mayors of Philadelphia, Miami, San Diego, and Denver.

The Grannie Awards

The Academy Award nominations for Motion Picture Excellence were announced on the same day as the New Hampshire Primary. For those of you confused by this bizarre confluence, I have grafted the realms together to hand out a series of awards named after the performances recently seen here in the Granite State. So, grab your socks and drop your cocktails, here they come: this year's Grannies.

The I Can Spin the World Award: Joe Lieberman. Called his fifth-place, single-digit New Hampshire finish a victory. Referred to it as a "split decision for third place." This guy is good. Or spooky.

The Pained Grimace Award: The poor folks standing on the podium behind Senator Lieberman. Forced to smile interminably while he mouthed this incredible drivel.

Most Creative Nickname Award: a tie. John Edwards, "Kentucky Fried Kennedy." And for the real JFK, John Forbes Kerry, "Kaptain Ketchup."

The Shoot Yourself in the Foot Award: General Wesley Clark. Speaking of John Kerry, "He was only a Captain, I was a General." Fine win in a very competitive category.

The Your Sense of Humor is All You Got When You Look at Yourself in the Mirror in the Dark Award: Dennis Kucinich. Speaking of his 1 percent vote in the Granite State on Fox News, "the battle for sixth place continues." 1 percent. That's only 1 percent more than you and I got in New Hampshire, and you weren't even there.

The In Your Face, You Liberal Weenies Award: Former Treasury Secretary and confessed gambling addict William Bennett. Disparaged Kucinich's optimism with an obscure reference to Poker Tournament odds.

The Unclear on the Meaning of the Word "Irony" Award: Chris Mathews. Spent entire week mocking Howard Dean's red-faced Iowa rant.

The Awwwwww Award: John Edwards. Called his run for the Presidency, "the little campaign that could." Kentucky Fried Smurf is more like it.

Tortured Campaign-Speak Award: Joe Lieberman. Talked up his "Joementum." Supposedly a clever twist on momentum. As graceful an idiom as tumbling backhoes.

The Emperor's Clothes Award: John Kerry. For label of "most electable Democrat." Like calling Posh "the smart Spice Girl."

Best Chill Pill Award: Howard Dean. After channeling Joe Cocker in speech following third-place Iowa finish, managed to dial it down. I, for one, was afraid if he won this one, there would be nothing left on stage but bits of chum.

The Loosey Goosey Award: John Kerry. Temporarily ditched suspicions he was Lincoln animatron escaped from Disneyland's Hall of Presidents.

The Pull Out All the Stops Award: Joe Lieberman. Trotted out his 89-year-old mother to campaign for him in sub-zero weather. Back where I come from, that's called elder abuse.

The Mashed Potatoes on Paper Plate Award: New Hampshire. Whiter than the Osmond Family Christmas in Norway Special. If this state were any more Caucasian it would be translucent.

Best Achievement in Special Effects: John Kerry's hair. Unanimous decision.

Will Durst is winging his way west, home to warmth and none too soon.

Istook On Drugs

Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) is a mischievous soul. He doesn't command the media spotlight like fellow Republican Congressman Tom DeLay, and he certainly isn't a household name like former GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich, but there always seems to be some sort of cockamamie "Istook Amendment" circulating in Congress.

A few years back he offered up the so-called Religious Freedom Amendment, a provision that the Anti-Defamation League called a "pernicious and dangerous assault on religious freedom." Now, the longtime conservative congressman is going after free speech.

While the Consolidated Appropriations Act - 2004 (H.R. 2673) was in conference committee, Rep. Istook, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, inserted a provision that would prohibit all local and state transit agencies from displaying marijuana policy reform advertising if they receive funding from the federal government -- which pretty much covers most transit agencies in the country.

Rep. Istook's anti-marijuana reform amendment comes on the heels of his having slashed $90,000 from Washington, DC's transit authority budget in December after discovering that local buses were carrying advertisements -- placed by a Massachusetts-based pro-marijuana legalization group, Change the Climate, Inc. -- that had the tagline, "Enjoy Better Sex! Legalize and Tax Marijuana."

"At a time when the nation and Washington, D.C., area in particular suffer from chronic substance abuse and sexually transmitted disease, I find it shocking that WMATA provides this ad space, and at no cost!" Istook wrote in a Nov. 10 letter to the chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Rep. Istook isn't opposed to advertisements dealing with marijuana per se. As Ron Kampia, the executive director of the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, wrote in a letter to Rep. Istook dated January 15, there are a number of "display ads that discuss the subject of marijuana" -- including one produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy entitled "The Enforcer" -- that are placed on DC Metro system vehicles.

Kampia pointed out that Rep. Istook's support for prohibiting marijuana reform advertisements appears to be a bit disingenuous given the fact that the congressman receives financial support from the alcohol industry. In October 2003, for example, the National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC contributed $5,000 to his campaign coffers.

In addition to the $5,000, Istook received nearly $20,000 from the NBW PAC between 1998 and 2002, according to the Federal Elections Commission Web site. He also got $1,000 from Anheuser-Busch's PAC in October 2002 and $1,000 from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America PAC in September of last year.

"It's fair to say that Rep. Istook is awash in alcoholic beverage industry money," Bruce Mirken, MPP's Director of Communications told WorkingForChange in an e-mail exchange. "Perhaps that's why we hear so much from him about marijuana and so little about alcohol, which is well documented to be far more toxic and far more addictive."

The Istook Amendment "is in direct violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, [and it] is just one more example of the desire by federal officials to have the public hear only one message on the subject of marijuana, and that message is that 'Marijuana is bad and must be prohibited,'" said Steve Fox, the director of government relations for the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project.

"Over the past six years," Fox pointed out, "Congress has given the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to convey this message, but now that advocates of marijuana policy reform want to promote an alternative viewpoint -- with their own money, no less -- marijuana prohibitionists in Congress are trying to silence them. This is called 'viewpoint discrimination,' and it violates the First Amendment."

Rep. Istook is no stranger to the loopy side of censorship and separation of church and state issues. As one of the most conservative members of the House he has, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, compiled a 0 percent record when it comes to voting on issues of concern to the ACLU.

Over the past few years, he has supported such issues as: allowing school prayer during the War on Terror; allowing vouchers in DC schools; allowing vouchers for private & parochial schools; giving federal aid only to schools allowing voluntary prayer; and letting schools display the words "God Bless America." The congressman also supports and sponsored a Constitutional Amendment for school prayer.

In 1998, Istook authored the "Religious Freedom Amendment" which the Anti-Defamation (ADL) said "would take the country back to the days when public schools forced a single religion upon students of myriad faiths."

"The cleverly named 'Religious Freedom Amendment' constitutes one of the most pernicious and dangerous assaults on religious freedom that we have seen in many years," said Howard P. Berkowitz, ADL National Chairman. "It is really religious coercion in disguise and opens the door for public schools to impose prayer and religious ceremony on students, as well as for religious symbols in courthouses and other government institutions. Passage of the Amendment would allow for an unprecedented entanglement of government and religion to the detriment of both."

Rep. Istook isn't alone in his effort to freeze out pro-marijuana advertisements. According to Aaron Houston, the campaign coordinator for Granite Staters [New Hampshire] for Medical Marijuana, Comcast, the largest cable TV provider in the nation, has refused to air its advertisements in support of ending prosecution of medical marijuana users. A late-December picket line at Comcast's Manchester offices organized by Houston's group brought media attention to the issue.

According to a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, Comcast told the group that the company would refuse to run any advertisements supporting any kind of marijuana policy reform, including medical marijuana ads. Although it is company policy nationwide, according to the MPP, Comcast refuses to put it in writing. MPP was looking to spend $10,000 in issue ads before the January 27 New Hampshire primary.

This year alone, the White House drug czar's office will spend $145,000,000 to run anti-marijuana scare ads, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America is receiving $50,000 worth of free airtime "to run its own untruthful TV ads," an MPP spokesperson charged.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Marijuana Policy Project is hoping the "The Istook Amendment" will be removed from the omnibus appropriations bill. If it isn't, the organization is pledging to sue the federal government to have the provision declared unconstitutional. "MPP will not only succeed in this legal fight, but we will also succeed in embarrassing the drug warriors when our legal fight generates free publicity for our issue," Mirken said.

The Warm Flat Earth Society

Reading or watching the news these days can be frustrating. But there's really only one line of reasoning that brings forth in me the urge to slap somebody.

Like, for instance, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell announced to the world last week: "If global warming turns out to be a problem, which I doubt, it won't be solved by making ourselves poorer through energy rationing."

Ebell, and other East Coast pseudo-academic commentators whose fondness for America's fossil fuel consumption is related directly to their paychecks, were then promptly buried under a foot of snow over the weekend. It can't be easy, insisting that the world is flat while having to shovel evidence to the contrary.

As scientists and negotiators from around the world begin their second week in a Milan, Italy U.N. conference on global climate change, one thing is eminently clear: the world is not flat. Major global climate change, triggered by rapidly increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, is an established fact. Human activity as the major cause of it is an established fact. Nobody outside corridors of power in Washington, D.C. and Houston has debated any of this for years. As the body of scientific evidence grows, the scope and speed of climatic changes are, if anything, proving far worse than the most alarmist scientific predictions of only a decade ago, affecting not just temperature -- nine of the ten warmest years in recorded human history have come in the last 14 years -- but extremes in atmospheric pressure, a resulting increase in wind speeds, drought, sea level increases, extreme cold, and extremes in precipitation -- like last weekend's unusually heavy and early East Coast snowfall.

As science has scrambled to track all these changes, and to track the havoc that changing climates are already beginning to wreak on what turns out to be an exquisitely balanced natural world, the phrase "global warming" turns out to be a misnomer -- a euphemism, even, for a cluster of trends so catastrophic that without dramatic human counteraction will, in a matter of decades, threaten food and water supplies and much of the natural and technological infrastructure that we humans have developed to support ourselves. Warming is a symptom -- an important one, as the increased CO2 levels trap more solar radiation in our lower atmosphere -- but only one of many impacts. By using a term that defines the problem as solely one of temperature, we get two levels of denial -- oil company Flat Earthers sneering at "junk science" (didn't Copernicus hear that, too?), or comments like those of Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin, who joked earlier this year that for his country, warming "might even be good. We'd spend less money on fur coats and other warm things."

Putin is a central figure this week in Milan. He is expected to announce -- after an electoral victory Sunday that gives him firmer control over Russia's Parliament -- whether Russia will ratify the 1997 Kyoto accord. But Russia only has this much leverage because the obstinacy of the United States leaves Russia's ratification necessary for the treaty to take force -- and Russia's decision is a question only because, after five years of publicly backing Kyoto, Putin's government has backtracked in the past year due to fierce anti-Kyoto pressure from the Bush Administration.

Bush policy on climate change has been nothing less than a crime against humanity -- and, for that matter, a crime against many of our biosphere's other inhabitants too. But it's not just Bush that's been the problem; it's all of us humans, especially all of us in consumption-happy America. As Bill McKibben -- one of the earliest authors to spotlight climate change as an urgent issue with 1989's The End of Nature -- noted recently, global warming is being thought of by leaders and ordinary people alike "in the way they think about 'violence on television' or 'growing trade deficits,' as a marginal concern to us, if a concern at all."

Bush's calculated efforts to torpedo Kyoto, and the ongoing campaigns by oil and energy companies and by Bush Administation officials to cast doubt on the scientific legitimacy of the issue, are reprehensible, but hardly unique. Kyoto's provisions are far short of the steps actually needed to combat the problem -- but it was American negotiators, headed by then-VP Al Gore, who worked to water down the originally proposed treaty. Afterwards, as 120 countries moved to ratify Kyoto, it was Bill Clinton who refused to submit it to the Senate. Enter Bush next. All the while, the clock has been ticking, the seasons turning, the temperatures rising.

Kyoto's provisions expire in 2011 -- meaning that as we approach 2004 we're at the halfway point before Kyoto expires, and it has not even taken force yet, thanks in large part to Washington. At this point, negotiators in Milan shouldn't be worrying too much about the details of Kyoto. Even if Russia ratifies it, negotiators should be more concerned about hammering out a framework for what comes after Kyoto.

By then, China will be a major industrial power. The landscape of carbon dioxide-spewing humanity has shifted significantly since the 1990 levels that provide Kyoto's benchmarks. Russia's post-Soviet industrial economy collapsed, meaning that its emissions in 2000 were down 22.8% from 1990; Germany, with its East German component and with unilateral EU measures, similarly declined by 13.6%. They will rebound. The EU as a whole increased its emissions in the decade by only 1.5% -- a vast improvement over the past, but still nowhere near the modest targets set by Kyoto.

Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions here in the U.S., already the world's leading spewer, went up a whopping 18.1% in the same decade -- a decade in which a Democratic president and bipartisan Congress backpedaled on previously set fuel efficiency standards, looked the other way while American automakers foisted gas-guzzling SUVs on the public, scrupulously avoided encouraging energy conservation, and gutted budgets for research into renewable energy sources. This decade's Republican-controlled Beltway has continued all this and launched an unprovoked, unilateral invasion of the country with the world's second-largest known reserves of oil.

Both of our major political parties' approaches to global warming seem to take their cue from Dubya's War on Terror declaration -- namely, bully other governments, and urge ordinary Americans to go about our "normal" lives as though nothing was different. I can just hear some pompous legislator on the floor of Congress: "Mr. Speaker, if Americans seek out cars with better gas mileage, it sends the wrong message! It lets other molecules know that THE CARBON DIOXIDE IS WINNING."

But we will have to live differently, because the world is different. It is already the case that there is no going back to our climatic world of 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. Next year, there will be no going back to the world we are in today. The question now is how to slow the planet's human-caused changes, and how to manage or deflect the impact of the more catastrophic ones. These are issues that transcend borders, domestic economies, and the flat-earth stubbornness of one or another elected official.

This week, the headlines will be about Kyoto. Forget Kyoto; by 2011, it will be history. What is needed, with or without Kyoto, is some sort of momentum, from scientists, governments, and the global public, that demands both changes in individual lifestyles -- especially as they relate to fossil fuel consumption -- and changes in public policy at a global level.

We must look farther ahead, beyond the scope of Kyoto. And we must not look very far at all, because a major part of the problem is in our own front yard.

Happy Holidays From Homeland Security

It may seem like decades, but it was just about a year ago that President Bush signed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security and appointed Tom Ridge to be its head. To celebrate the anniversary, Secretary Ridge was scheduled to stop by and see David Letterman on CBS' "Late Show." But if you are one of those who are concerned that you haven't heard from Secretary Ridge in much too long and are yearning for the good old days when you could depend on an alert elevation every few weeks -- especially during the holiday season -- rest easy. Over at the Dept.'s Web site -- where the catchphrase is "Terrorism forces us to make a choice. Don't be afraid... Be Ready" -- there's plenty in the works.

The reason you haven't learned about many of the homeland security projects is because since the February 2003 duct tape/plastic sheeting brouhaha that emptied hardware store shelves across the country of duct tape and provided the nation's comedians and political cartoonists with a barrelful of new material, the Department has been keeping somewhat of a lower profile. (For more on duct tape, see Duct tape fantasies: Americans are ducting up and freaking out. Are you happy now, Mr. President?, and for a whole bunch of duct tape-related cartoons, see

Cashing in on Homeland Security

I'm not sure how much of it is related to making you and your family safer, but homeland security is providing business opportunities galore. The "2004 Homeland & Global Security Summit," organized by Equity International, "the leader in facilitating the corporate involvement in homeland security programs," will hold a major gathering of White House, Congressional, Defense, Administration, and homeland security experts in Washington, D.C. from March 31-April 1.

The purpose of the conference is to brief companies looking to cash in on lucrative homeland security contracts on: federal homeland security spending in 2004 and 2005; state, local, and First Responder spending in 2004 and 2005; Department of Defense priorities and procurement procedures for homeland security spending; Transportation Security Administration priorities and procurement procedures for homeland security spending; Priorities and procurement procedures for health security, food security, and bio terrorism preparedness and response; IT/network security spending and procurement; Security priorities and spending of allied countries around the world; and how to win homeland and global security contracts.

In mid-December, the Minority Business Round Table (MBRT), a national organization of minority-business chief executive officers, will be hosting a conference called "Heart of America: Accessing Business Opportunities with the Department of Homeland Security," at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. This homeland security confab is aimed at getting a piece of the pie for small Hispanic-owned businesses. "Our goal is to open doors for minority-owned businesses to grow within the federal and corporate marketplaces," said Roger A. Campos, president and chief executive officer of MBRT.

The conference, the first of four to be held around the country, will include members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, White House and Congressional members, representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and officials of the DHS Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Representatives from corporate America and key contractors also will be attending.

Wackenhut Detention Center

Speaking of business opportunities, I'm not sure if they'll be specifically discussing immigration issues at the MBRT-sponsored conferences, but did you know that several hundred asylum-seeking immigrants -- waiting for their applications to be processed at the Wackenhut Detention Center in Queens, New York -- recently ended a hunger strike called to protest the horrible conditions at the facility? The Detention Center, owned by the Florida-based Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the second largest private security company in the U.S., is under contract with the Dept. of Homeland Security.

According to the New York Press, "The detainees in Wackenhut have no windows, heat or air conditioning. They have no access to the internet, are not allowed to receive gifts (including books or writing paper) and have no privacy when they use the bathroom. When they leave the facility to be treated by a doctor, they are shackled and wear uniforms that say 'Department of Corrections.'" And these are people that have committed no crimes.

"It's basically a cargo warehouse," Archie Pyati, an attorney from the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights (LCHR), an advocacy group for immigrants and refugees, told reporters Ana Tinsly and James Harbison.

Wackenhut knows how to turn a profit even from immigrants that have little resources and who earn about a dollar day for work performed at the facility. According to Tinsley and Harbison, "Any money given to a detainee goes into a special account that can only be used to buy items at the Wackenhut store." The Wackenhut store routinely charges $2.50 for writing paper and $1 for cans of soda. (For more on Wackenhut security empire, see Eye on Wackenhut, a Web site run by the Service Employees International Union.)

DHS Resources

According to an August 2003 report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) entitled "Department of Homeland Security: The First Months," as of March 2003, "one in every twelve workers in the federal government -- a total of 160,201 -- was on the DHS payroll." TRAC, "Your Source for comprehensive, independent, and nonpartisan information about federal enforcement, staffing and spending," reports that "most DHS employees are now organized into five directorates -- (1) Border and Transportation Security (BTS), (2) Emergency Preparedness and Response, (3) Science and Technology, (4) Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, and (5) Management." The budget for FY2004 calls for the DHS to receive some $36.2 billion.

If you are wondering about how resources are allocated to the states by the Department, the New York Daily News recently reported that New York, "the world's premier target for terror, gets less homeland security funding per person than virtually any state in the nation." In fact, writes Brian Kates, the state of Wyoming -- not necessarily known as a prime time target for terrorists -- receives $38.31 per person, compared with the $5.47 in counterterrorism funds spent on each New Yorker. California, rated the second state most at risk for attack, receives $5.21 per person in counterterrorism money.

According to Kates, "of the $900 million New York City has determined it needs to counter terrorism, it has received only $84 million from the federal government so far," and expects to receive another $75 million "in the next round of funding." Kates reports that "in fiscal 2003, the federal government provided $3.45 billion for first responders across the nation through three programs mandated by Congress: $1.9 billion in state formula grants; $800 million for high-threat urban areas; $750 million in firefighter assistance grants."

Although New York is ranked number one as a terrorist target, the grants are doled out equally to every state: "regardless of population or the actual threat of terrorism," each state receives "three-quarters of 1% of the $1.9 billion pot."

Last June, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told lawmakers the Bush administration is working on a funding formula "that better takes into account threats, population density and the presence of critical infrastructures." But next year, reports Kates, "the inequity" will get worse: "In fiscal 2004, the total amount distributed on the basis of need will decline. High-threat urban areas will receive about $725 million, a 10% cut, while the other programs will grow to $2.95 billion, a 10% increase."

Although intelligence officials warned that recent attacks abroad might indicate that something is planned for the U.S., in late-November, a Homeland Security spokesman said there was no change in the color-coded threat level, which remained at "yellow" or an elevated risk of attack. "Based on assessment of current intelligence, we have no plans to raise the threat level," department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

The Drug War Consensus

Rush Limbaugh is back on the air, and his listeners have, since Monday, been effusive in their welcoming of him, both on his show and on other local and national right wing talk radio programs.

Since I wrote a column last month describing my use of the same prescription drug that got Limbaugh into trouble, I've had occasion to be on a number of these shows in recent weeks. Without exception, the host, callers, and I wound up in more or less collegial agreement: that the War On Drugs was a failure, irrational, and has served as a pretext for a vast expansion of intrusive state powers; that if a drug user violates the rights of someone else (e.g., by mugging them for drug money), the full weight of the law should come down on them, but otherwise, it's an individual's own responsibility to decide what substances he or she puts in their bodies; and that substance users who become addicts -- of either currently legal drugs (like alcohol) or illegal ones, or a combination -- should be treated by society as having a health problem, not as being criminals.

For many of these hosts, and their listeners, this is a nearly complete reversal from two decades of throw-away-the-key rhetoric. The occasion has been the case of Limbaugh -- a man who, as is the case for any successful entertainer, has cultivated over the years an emotional connection with his fans that leaves them feeling that they have a personal relationship with him. They care about Limbaugh's welfare; they want him to get better. If he has run afoul of the law, they are willing to forgive the transgressions because of what they regard as decades of good deeds and good will.

The general response of liberals, progressives, and other long-time Rush-bashers has been to cry "Hypocrites!!" from the highest rooftops. Well, of course -- but no more so than on any other issue of late where conservatives seem to have astonishing memory lapses concerning their past claims. (Iraq, anyone?) But that's not the point. Those of us -- progressive, liberal, libertarian, or conservative -- who have castigated the War On Drugs for a generation need not to be alienating its newest critics, but welcoming them as allies and figuring out how to forge a consensus as to what type of public policies should replace the failed War.

As an exercise in behavior control, the War on Drugs is over. The drugs won. Efforts to ban ingestion of psychotropic chemicals will always be doomed; for too many people, it's either too much fun or too essential a balm. And technology is about to kick the whole effort into its well-deserved grave. So-called "designer drugs" herald an imminent era in which chemists can put powerful concoctions on the head of a pin. Try keeping that from coming into the country, or your teenager's bedroom. Today, it's difficult; tomorrow, it will be flatly impossible.

Among progressives, critics of the War have claimed for years that the War On Drugs has been ineffective, expensive, an invasion of privacy, racist, ageist, classist, and an excuse for lost civil liberties and an enormous expansion of state power. But we've often failed to acknowledge that abuse of drugs (legal or not) really does hurt both individuals and communities. And therein lies the potential for a consensus that transcends ideology.

Prohibition begets violent crime, but so, at times, do the drugs themselves. Car accidents kill users and their victims alike. Lives waste away. Those of us who want people to be free to put whatever they want into their own bodies -- and that day is coming soon, whether the official War on Drugs ends or not -- have an obligation to also propose realistic, effective ways to prevent the harm that might result.

The answer must start with personal responsibility, and expand into community support through notions like low-income health care and harm reduction models. But the personal responsibility must come first. This is not a comfortable, or popular, thing for progressives to say; it's terrain often occupied by conservatives in denial about social forces. We, instead, will cite root causes like poverty or socialization as reasons why some people do bad things. But there's truth in both. People also do such things because they choose to.

I live in a neighborhood called the Central District, a now-gentrifying part of town that for decades has been the heart of black Seattle. It's also been Seattle's poorest neighborhood, and block-by-block, some parts of it -- including ours -- have a serious problem with drugs and the other social ills, like prostitution and delinquency, that seem to go with it.

A case of a nearby police shooting of a young African-American after he'd attacked several others shows why some segments of the public, especially early on, supported the War On Drugs. Forget the fate of Devon Jackson, the shooting victim, and listen instead to the all-too-common description of his life.

At age 20, Jackson had a long string of arrests. A neighbor says cops took countless guns from his house over the years. Jackson had been smoking "sherms" -- cigarettes dipped into formaldehyde, a concoction which, on its own, was completely legal. So was his heavy drinking. He'd been having increasingly violent outbursts while on a drug binge for 10 days with his girlfriend and pals, including the friend he killed, Dante Coleman. Coleman, 20, also had a history with the law. He worked at a nearby Safeway, having left high school (it's unclear whether he graduated) two years previously.

In the apartment across a narrow hall, consider Samunique Wilson (age six) and Tre Vaugn Ford Spruel (age two), children attacked by Jackson after he killed Coleman. Tre Vaugn had just been picked up by his mom, age 19, from his great-great-grandmother's house, and had been dropped off at the apartment of his mom's friend (Samunique's mom) and her boyfriend, while mom went across the hall to the party. Tre Vaugn's mom is Jackson's sister-in-law; the boy visited his dad on weekends. His uncle, age 18, was later convicted of first-degree murder during a robbery committed following week. Saminique's dad and step-dad weren't mentioned in media accounts; mom is pregnant. Neighbors say the building where Jackson and little Samunique lived has been a notorious, and largely undisturbed, drug and party haven for years.

Even those critics of the War on Drugs who claim that the War has nothing to do with drug use at all, but has instead been a (wildly successful) state tool for social control of the disenfranchised, have a responsibility to explore ways in which we can respond to realities like the world of Devon Jackson. Without such alternatives, it will be impossible to build the broad political coalition needed to curb or even end the War on Drugs.

There was already broad public acknowledgement that the War On Drugs is at best an inappropriate and failed response, and at worst an anti-constitutional outrage. The case of Rush Limbaugh has created inroads of sympathy for those views among the only significant chunk of the public that still believes in the War's premises. But a consensus that a solution has failed is not the same as a consensus on an alternative solution. Without the alternatives, it's all too easy for our society to throw away its Devon Jacksons and Tre Vaugns, and for a destructive mess like the War On Drugs to continue on momentum.

In the world of Devon Jackson, progressives who want to push effectively for a more economically and socially fair society need to be able to acknowledge common sense: a lot of the people involved had life rough, but also engaged in behavior ranging from pretty messed up to grossly irresponsible and destructive. They are not simply victims of society.

Could public policy responses -- health care, day care, education, job training, or (gasp) welfare -- help? Sure. We need more, not fewer, resources for folks on society's margins, resources instead being sucked up in part by the prison-industrial complex the War On Drugs has spawned. But we also must demand that people, families, neighborhoods, and communities -- on the margins or not -- get our own acts together, and hold each other and ourselves accountable for our damaging behavior.

Every U.S. city has plenty of Devon Jacksons visibly waiting to happen. To prevent tragedy, we must insist on a social ethic of personal responsibility--of, first of all, doing no harm to others or to ourselves. We need to teach people to value themselves and to be able to imagine (and care about) the impact of their actions on others. We need to invest in each other and ourselves.

Otherwise, as drug use inevitably spreads and inhibitions recede, the body count will only increase.

Geov Parrish writes for Working Assets.

The Iraq Dossier

On May 1, a little over six months ago, President Bush made his now-infamous flight-suited appearance on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, delivering the message that the war was over and the mission accomplished.

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Ball of Confusion

"Oh, Great Googamooga, can't you hear me talking to you
just a ball of confusion, oh yeah
that's what the world is today, hey"
-- The Temptations, "Ball of Confusion"

"With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying..."
-- The Cranberries, "Zombie"

On Wednesday, November 12, U.S. forces resumed their bombing campaign in Baghdad. The target was a warehouse supposedly used by insurgents, and the blasts "set off explosions that reverberated through the Iraqi capital," according to the Associated Press. Following recent US strikes in Tikrit, the Baghdad bombing was aimed at "a known meeting, planning, storage and rendezvous point for belligerent elements currently conducting attacks on coalition forces and infrastructure," the Pentagon said in a statement. Now that bombing has resumed, do you suppose President Bush will retrace his steps back to the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln and declare that the battle has been re-engaged?

The resumption of US bombing may have been what the top American military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, meant when a day or so earlier he spoke of a "turning point" in the war. According to The New York Times, Lt. Gen. Sanchez "outlined a new get-tough approach to combat operations in areas north and west of Baghdad, strongholds for loyalists of Saddam Hussein."

Lt. Gen. Sanchez made his remarks before news broke of a truck bombing at the headquarters of Italy's paramilitary police in the southern city of Nasiriyah, which killed 31, including 18 Italians, and wounded dozens more.

(By the way, the Pentagon would like to assure you that its bombing raids are precision strikes and no civilians are hurt or killed. And, if there is a little collateral damage along the way, the Pentagon also wants you to know that it's not in the business of keeping a count of those killed. Unlike the Pentagon, however, a recent report by The Project on Defense Alternatives made it its business to investigate the Iraqi body count. The PDA's report "estimated that 13,000 Iraqis, including as many as 4,300 non-combatants, were killed during the major combat phase of the war in Iraq."

What's goin' on?

These days, I'm sure I'm not the only one having a hard time figuring what's going on over at the White House. These are mega-bungles: The failure of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to move forward and its increasingly strained relationship with the Bush Administration; the mounting number of US dead and wounded; the escalating attacks on non-American coalition forces and the withdrawal of a number of international aid agencies from the country; and the eroding support at home for the Bush Administration's occupation.

A few days ago L. Paul Bremer, the US overseer in Iraq, was rushed back to Washington for urgent briefings with the president, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The key agenda item was speeding up the transference of power to the Iraqis and getting US troops the heck out of there.

Only a few days earlier, administration officials floated a notion that the Iraqi Governing Council might be replaced by a Hamad Karzai-type of arrangement; in other words, by a leader selected by the United States.

The White House, sensing that the IGC is not moving quickly enough in hammering out a new Iraqi constitution and setting a timetable for elections, has sent Robert Blackwill, the head of the Iraq political transition portfolio of the National Security Council's Iraq task force, to Iraq to speed things along.

Shortly after the DC meeting, news surfaced in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer of a top-secret intelligence report warning that Iraqis were tiring of the US occupation and were becoming increasingly supportive of the resistance. CNN later reported that according to a senior administration source, the memo notes that: "More Iraqis are 'flooding to the ranks of the guerrillas.' Many of these Iraqis are Sunnis who had previously been 'on the sidelines' but now believe they can 'inflict bodily harm' on the Americans; Ammunition is 'readily available,' making it much easier to mount attacks; and organization coordination is getting "tighter" among foreign insurgents -- "extremists including but not limited to al Qaeda and Hezbollah -- and those 'displaced people' who lost power."

Of major concern to policymakers is the erosion in the homeland of support for the occupation as the US casualties continue to mount: Nearly 400 U.S. soldiers have died since the beginning of the War, and recently the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, reported that more than 7,000 wounded U.S. soldiers have been treated at a single US military hospital -- Landstuhl Regional Medical Center -- in Germany. The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site has the number of wounded at nearly 2300 (an average of nearly 10 soldiers per day).

The daily drip, drip, drip of bad news

And then, there's the drip, drip, drip of daily stories that are, at best, minor annoyances to the White House -- and at worst, a signal of an administration in disarray: What's up with cutting back veterans' benefits and services? Why aren't cameras allowed into Dover Air Force Base to record the homecoming of US casualties? Why hasn't the president visited with families of soldiers killed in Iraq? Which Pentagon whiz kid was behind the manufacturing and marketing of the story of the "rescue" of Jessica Lynch?

Another one of these "minor annoyances" popped up the other day at the press briefing of White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Veteran DC reporter and columnist Helen Thomas asked McClellan whether the 17 US soldiers that had been held prisoner by Iraq would receive the financial compensation, from Iraqi funds held by the US government, recently awarded them by a judge. McClellan's response was Evasion 101.

The Antic Muse Web Blog caught the exchange and published the following excerpts:

Helen Thomas: "Scott, there are 17 former POWs from the first Gulf War who were tortured and filed suit against the regime of Saddam Hussein. And a judge has ordered that they are entitled to substantial financial damages. What is the administration's position on that? Is it the view of this White House that that money would be better spent rebuilding Iraq rather than going to these former POWs?"

McClellan: There is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. That's what our view is."

Thomas: "White House is standing in the way of them getting those awards, those financial awards, because it views it that money better spent on rebuilding Iraq?"

McClellan: "Again, there's simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering... "

Thomas: "Why won't you spell out what your position is?"

McClellan: "I'm coming to your question. Believe me, I am. Let me finish. Let me start over again, though. No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of a very brutal regime, at the hands of Saddam Hussein. . . But again, there is simply no amount of compensation that could ever truly compensate these brave men and women."

Thomas: "Just one more. Why would you stand in the way of at least letting them get some of that money?"

McClellan: That's why I pointed out that that was an issue that was addressed earlier this year. But make no mistake about it, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the torture that these brave individuals went through... "

Thomas: "... you don't think they should get money?

McClellan: "... at the hands of Saddam Hussein. There is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate those men and women who heroically served... "

Thomas: "That's not the issue... "

McClellan: "... who heroically served our nation."

Thomas: "Are you opposed to them getting some of the money?"

McClellan: "This issue was addressed earlier this year, and we believe that there's simply no amount of money that could truly compensate these brave men and women for what they went through and for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein... "

Thomas: "So no money."

Winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis isn't easy when US troops are dropping bombs and shooting at them indiscriminately. The other day the Associated Press reported that US troops in Baghdad "accidentally fired on a car carrying a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. The council member, Mohammed Bahr al-Uloun, escaped injury but the driver was wounded." At a roadblock in Fallujah, "US troops fired on a truck carrying live chickens Tuesday night, killing five civilians."

''They went to bring chickens ... and they came back at 9 or 10 at night and we were waiting for them,'' Khalid Khalifa al-Jumaily, whose two nephews were killed on the truck, told AP. ''The Americans fired on them.''

According to the secret CIA report, there may be as many as 50,000 insurgents, and more appear to be joining every day. "There are thousands in the resistance -- not just a core of Ba'athists. They are in the thousands, and growing every day. Not all those people are actually firing, but providing support, shelter and all that," an intelligence source in Washington familiar with the CIA report told The Guardian.

Bill Berkowitz writes a regular column for

The Real Cost of War

A few nights ago, we took our granddaughter, who recently moved back to Oakland from Oklahoma, to her middle-school orientation. Eleven years ago I sat in that very same auditorium with my daughter -- who was then entering the seventh grade -- and listened to the principal, her assistant and various representatives from the Parent's Association talk about the students' new and exciting journey.

Oakland's schools have never been financially flush and the school district's budget woes have accumulated over the past few years. With Oakland schools now in financial receivership, I expected some belt tightening -- but the news was far worse for my granddaughter and for our small corner of public education:

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Reality Politics and Other Lost Causes

Only 44 days until the California recall election is over. I can hardly wait.

I happen not to live in the state of California. And I have to say that Californians, bless them, all 39 million or however many are now crammed into the once-Golden State, have become nearly as obnoxious as New Yorkers in their assumption that the rest of our country automatically cares about their local affairs.

And so it is that the alternately gleeful or alarmed coverage of California's gubernatorial recall vote is getting kind of tedious. I don't care that 38 million of those 39 million residents will appear on the ballot. I don't care that at least two-thirds of them are celebrities, former celebrities, porn stars, or other misshapen branches of the human family tree.

But I do care, very much, that progressives who sneer at this recall and at the insta-candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger are missing the very important point. Like it or not, California -- unlike New York -- has a solid record as a cultural trendsetter for the nation. And the world, for that matter. Lessons from this campaign will be relevant very soon in every state in the country. In many places -- including the White House -- they already apply. We ignore them at our peril.

First of all, as for the legitimacy of the recall vote itself: Lawdy, I wish every state did this, especially every time the governor and state legislature, regardless of party, slash social programs and load up on new prisons and corporate welfare. This, along with a stunningly inept and typically corrupt approach to the energy-gouging scandal of a few winters ago, has been California Gov. Gray Davis' defining record, and it's why so many people across California's political spectrum despise him. Reactionary Republicans may have organized the recall petitions, but Californians of every stripe signed them, as citizens would in any number of cash-strapped states if given the chance.

As Marc Cooper has noted in L.A. Weekly, the recall is nothing more nor less than a vote of confidence, and Davis has none. Progressives should trust democracy more than this. You can't get much more democratic than throwing the bum out.

More important, however, is who the replacement for the surely doomed Davis might be. At the moment, only two names consistenly dominate polls: Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and Schwarzenegger.

Everyone from career pols to pundits and reporters (especially at the L.A. Times) to progressives have treated Schwarzenegger's campaign -- not to mention his seeming popularity -- with incredulity. And dismay. And disdain. The former world champion weightlifter turned movie star turned one-man industry is, they suggest, a fluke. He's getting poll numbers because of name recognition, or the novelty of his fame intersecting with an electoral campaign. He has no political experience, no experience, really, running or legislating anything beyond his own fame. His campaign will fade when his 15 minutes cycles through, and when he is exposed for the fish out of water that he is.

Nonsense. Schwarzenegger is just as capable of running the state of California as a tired political hack like Bustamante. And voters, contrary to popular pundit wisdom, are smart enough to know it.

I fell into political writing and journalism after a variety of other jobs and careers, and when I began one of the first political myths I was disabused of was the notion that the elected officials running our cities, counties, states, and country were all smart people. Some are, but some are not; it's the normal human range, really, between brilliant policy wonks and walking brain stems. The last two White House occupants show the range clearly enough. Intelligence isn't all it's cracked up to be.

In modern politics, having good ideas for solving difficult public policy questions is a nice attribute to have, but it's certainly not a necessary one. In fact, sometimes it gets in the way. Much more essential are raw ambition, the ability to schmooze and ask for money, and the ability to look and sound personable and competent in from of an audience and a camera.

That's how we elect our public officials now, and Schwarzenegger is as qualified as anyone on these scores. Sure, what candidates actually do matters, but there's no record of that unless they've already been in office. And by then, the advantages of incumbency are so powerful (due mostly to low public interest and the legalized bribery now central to our campaign funding process) that they can only be overcome if the incumbent is stunningly inept.

Like Davis. Which is why he won a tepid election last year, but can't stop the recall this year. His record has become so bad it has angered nearly all his constituents and has overwhelmed the cynical bribery that kept his political star afloat. The recall is likely to draw far more voters than last year's general election that re-elected Davis, for the simple reason that this time it's not more alienating politics as usual.

And this is why Schwarzenegger is for real. Progressives have had a dismal time getting themselves elected and their policies enacted in recent years. The country has instead drifted ever-rightward. It's no coincidence that during this time, while progs and liberals have insisted on talking about what's wrong and how to fix it, the most successful and visible political careers -- from Reagan to Dubya -- have been thick with image and style, and very, very light on the often nonsensical specifics.

For many Americans, both Reagan and now Dubya have been great presidents. This is, in large part, not because of their policies -- which have support, but not in the numbers popularity polls would suggest. It's been a matter of style, the perception that these are decent guys doing a good job.

The fact that Dubya and the fanatics around him are stunningly corrupt, routinely lie, and have hijacked the country hasn't damaged their popularity or power much until recently, when the overreaching and dissembling on Iraq have become too obvious to ignore. But for 30 months, Bush prospered while blithely lying away, and few have cared. Perception has been everything.

Whether such a political environment is healthy is beside the point. Anyone hoping to unseat Bush, or overcome Schwarzenegger in California, had better have some sizzle, some pop, some style. In the last 25 years, Clinton is the only Democrat who has managed the trick nationally. He's also the only Democrat to reach the White House in that time.

Candidates like Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore, or now Kerry, Gephardt, Lieberman, or even Kucinich, miss the lesson of the trendsetters in California. The 2004 presidential hopefuls shouldn't aim to replace Bush so much as to recall him, as we would recall a defective product. (Or one we didn't order in the first place.) They'd also do well to treat their campaigns not as a test of ideas, but as a launch of a competing product.

It's not how a democracy should run. But it's what we've got.

One Hundred Days of Ineptitude

On May 1st, dressed in a naval flight suit, President Bush dropped onto the deck of the USS Lincoln sitting off the coast of California. Posing beneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner the president announced the end to major combat operations in Iraq. One-hundred days later, vacationing on his Crawford, Texas ranch the president assessed the invasion: "We've made a lot of progress in a hundred days, and I am pleased with the progress we've made, but fully recognize we've got a lot more work to do."

Bush's pronouncement was timed with the White House release of a 24-page report called "Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom," detailing "highlights of the successes" in Iraq. Prepared by the White House Office of Global Communications and the staff of L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, the report claims to focus "on 10 areas where the liberation of Iraq has improved the lives of Iraqis and the safety and security of the world."

The report's claims differ significantly from the dozens of daily reports filed by journalists on the ground. Through a finely-honed rose-colored lens the document claims: Electricity "is now more equitably distributed"; water supplies are "now at pre-conflict levels"; the oil distribution system is being repaired and modernized; road repairs are underway and the Baghdad and Basra airports will soon reopen; democracy is being institutionalized -- "more than 150 newspapers are now published in Iraq"; and "health care, previously available only for Baathist elite, is now available to all Iraqis." (For the full report, see

The report fails to mention the ongoing casualties being taken by both U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians.


As of the morning of August 14, "Casualties in Iraq: The Human Cost of Occupation" -- a Web site affiliated with -- places the total American casualties in Iraq since the president's May 1st photo op at 130: 59 have been killed in combat; dozens of have died in accidents; several have committed suicide; two are dead from a still-to-be-explained cluster of pneumonia cases; and three have died mysteriously in their sleep. also has a special Web site called "Forces: U.S. & Coalition/Casualties", which provides a list of coalition casualties and includes pictures of the victims (when available), and the ages, units, hometowns and an explanation of how each soldier died.

Trying to ascertain totals of U.S. wounded in Iraq is a much more difficult task. According to report in the Guardian, the Pentagon puts the number of wounded at 827 but reporter Julian Borger claims that "unofficial figures are in the thousands." Central Command in Qatar claims 926 wounded, but "that too is understated," Borger writes. Lieutenant-Colonel Allen DeLane, who is in charge of the airlift of the wounded into Andrews air base, recently told National Public Radio that "Since the war has started, I can't give you an exact number because that's classified information, but I can say to you over 4,000 have stayed here at Andrews, and that number doubles when you count the people that come here to Andrews and then we send them to other places like Walter Reed and Bethesda, which are in this area also."

Regarding U.S. casualties, the president said that Americans "suffer when we lose life," and that the country "grieves with those who sacrifice."

A report issued August 7th by the Iraq Body Count (IBC) claims that nearly 20,000 civilians have been wounded in the Iraq war. "The maimed civilians of Iraq have been brushed under the carpet," the IBC report said. According to IBC, there have been close to 7,800 deaths since the beginning of the U.S. invasion. In this new report, derived from data gathered from over 300 published reports, the IBC claims that "three times as many injuries as deaths have been reported."

In addition, IBC cites a report from UNICEF which claims that "more than 1,000 children have been injured by unexploded ordnance since the end of the war, including by cluster bombs (and now unguarded) Iraqi munitions, and emphasized that 'the coalition forces have a clear obligation under humanitarian law to remove these dangers from communities'" (For more see,

And, contrary to the White House's assessment that health care is now "available to all Iraqis," the IBC report claims that Iraq's hospitals, "run-down and neglected for years under the sanctions regime, have suffered looting, vandalism, loss of electrical power, the deaths of staff and even (in at least three of them) direct bombardment, all attributable to the war; however heroic the efforts of their staff, there is no denying that the country's health system is now in a desperate state."

Budget Busting

The president was asked to give an estimate of how much it will cost the American people to attempt to stabilize Iraq over the next year. "We generally don't do our estimates on the back of an envelope," he said. President Bush added that he had faith that planners will bring "good, sound data," to Congress "at the appropriate time." Bush's faith in "good, sound" budget data sounds eerily reminiscent to his comments that he had faith in the "good, sound intelligence" that he receives; intelligence that led to him making the phony charge that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, a claim that had been included in his State of the Union address.

According to The Economist, "The price of occupation has been estimated at $1 billion a week, contributing to what is already the largest federal deficit in American history." Hopes that this cost would be covered by oil exports have yet to be realized due to the sabotage of oil pipelines and the hesitancy of private investors to step into such a volatile situation. The president did say that he was trying to line up other nations to chip in with the costs of reconstruction, a project that has thus far met keen resistance.

The Return of Militants

On the 101st day after Bush's May Day declaration, L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) running Iraq, told the New York Times that he feared that hundreds of fighters from Ansar al Islam, a militant organization that the United States had hoped it had destroyed during the war, had returned from their refuge in Iran and may have been responsible for the August 7 car bomb outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad that killed 17 people and wounded dozens of others.

"My initial instinct was to believe that this had to be done from somebody from outside," Bremer told the Times. "But I have been told we captured and spoke to some ex-regime people and that there was part of the Mukhabarat (Iraqi intelligence) that specialized in sophisticated bombing and it is possible that this kind of technique did exist."

The bombing was the most brazen attack thus far in the three-plus-months since Bush's USS Lincoln stunt, and Bremer's remarks seemed to indicate that more attacks of this nature were to be expected.

"Intelligence suggests that Ansar al Islam is planning large-scale terrorist attacks here," Bremer said. "So as long as we have ... substantial numbers of Ansar terrorists around here, I think we have to be pretty alert to the fact that we may see more of this."

Governing without Legitimacy?

A Governing Council, a group of Iraqis appointed by the CPA, was appointed several weeks ago, but according to The Economist, "the council got off to a rocky start, taking more than two weeks to decide who was to be its president," finally choosing "a nine-member rotating presidency, bringing in just about every member with an independent constituency who had a reasonable claim to the job."

Before an election can be held, a constitution must be drawn up. According to The Economist, "Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a senior cleric, has issued a fatwa stating that delegates to a constitutional convention must be elected," a proposal that would present all sorts of problems. The Economist also claims that "the council has a legitimacy problem. Its seeming ineffectualness has been mocked in newspapers, in Friday sermons and by ordinary Iraqis."

In recent comments, Bremer was hopeful that he would be heading home before next summer, and elections could be held sometime in mid-2004. Bremer's plan appears to contradict the comments by Army Lt. Gen. Richard Sanchez, who recently said that U.S. forces would remain in Iraq for two years at an "absolute minimum," and in all likelihood longer.

Fresh from meetings with the Iraq Invasion All-Stars -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Meyers, and the embattled national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, Bush told the press that the hailstorm of criticism the administration was receiving for misleading the public about his reasons for invading Iraq, was "pure politics."

According to a Washington Post reporter, the president repeated that phrase three times and added, "As far as all this political noise, it's going to get worse as time goes on, and I fully understand that, and that's just the nature of democracy." Apparently Bush won't connect the dots between the criticisms the administration is receiving and the misstatements, lies and misinformation it put forward to justify its invasion of Iraq.

While the president told reporters that the country grieves over each U.S. casualty, the 100th day after the president's "Mission Accomplished" dropdown at sea, also saw the obliteration of Adel abd al-Kerim and three of his children in Iraq.

Reports from the scene have it that the Iraqi family was killed by jittery U.S. forces as they slowly approached a checkpoint. According to the Independent's Justin Huggler, "Doctors said the father and his two daughters would have survived if they had received treatment quicker. Instead, they were left to bleed to death because the Americans refused to allow anyone to take them to hospital."

On the 102nd day, Reuters reported that "one soldier was killed and two wounded on Sunday night in a bomb blast in Baqub; three other soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in a combined bomb and rocket-propelled grenade attack Monday near the town of Shumayt, north of Tikrit."

A final note from the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count*:

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Silence of the Media Lambs

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Greg Palast's book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Five months before the November 2000 election, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, moved to purge 57,7000 people from the voter rolls, supposedly criminals not allowed to vote. Almost every one was innocent of crimes -- though the majority were guilty of being African American. BBC reporter Palast asks, "How did 100,000 US journalist sent to cover the election fail to get this vote theft story?"

Investigative reports share three things: They are risky, they upset the wisdom of the established order and they are very expensive to produce. Do profit-conscious enterprises, whether media companies or widget firms, seek extra costs, extra risk and the opportunity to be attacked? Not in any business text I've ever read. I can't help but note that Britain's Guardian and Observer newspapers, the only papers to report this scandal when it broke just weeks after the 2000 election, are the world's only major newspapers owned by a not-for-profit corporation.

But if profit lust is the ultimate problem blocking significant investigative reportage, the more immediate cause of comatose coverage of the election and other issues is what is laughably called America's "journalistic culture." If the Rupert Murdochs of the globe are shepherds of the New World Order, they owe their success to breeding a flock of docile sheep -- snoozy editors and reporters content to munch on, digest, then reprint a diet of press releases and canned stories provided by government and corporate public-relations operations.

Take this story of the list of Florida's faux felons that cost Al Gore the presidential election. Shortly after the U.K. story hit the World Wide Web, I was contacted by a CBS TV network news producer eager to run a version of the story. The CBS hotshot was happy to pump me for information: names, phone numbers, all the items one needs for your typical quickie TV news report. I freely offered up to CBS this information: The office of the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, brother of the Republican presidential candidate, had illegally ordered the removal of the names of felons from voter rolls -- real felons who had served time but obtained clemency, with the right to vote under Florida law. As a result, another 40,000 legal voters (in addition to the 57,700 on the purge list), almost all of them Democrats, could not vote.

The only problem with this new hot info is that I was still in the midst of investigating it. Therefore, CBS would have to do some actual work -- reviewing documents and law, obtaining statements.

The next day I received a call from the producer, who said, "I'm sorry, but your story didn't hold up." And how do you think the multibillion-dollar CBS network determined this? Answer: "We called Jeb Bush's office." Oh.

I wasn't surprised by this type of "investigation." It is, in fact, standard operating procedure for the little lambs of American journalism. One good, slick explanation from a politician or corporate chieftain and it's case closed, investigation over. The story ran on television, but once again, in the wrong country: I reported it on the BBC's Newsnight. Notably, the BBC is a publicly owned network -- I mean a real public network, with no "funds generously provided by Archer Mobil Bigbucks."

Let's understand the pressures on the CBS TV producer that led her to kill the story simply because the target of the allegation said it ain't so. The story demanded massive and quick review of documents, dozens of phone calls and interviews -- hardly a winner in the slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am school of U.S. journalism. Most difficult, the revelations in the story required a reporter to stand up and say that the big-name politicians, their lawyers and their PR people were freaking liars.

It would be much easier, a heck of a lot cheaper and no risk at all to wait for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to do the work, then cover the commission's report and press conference. No one ever lost their job writing canned statements from a press release. Wait! You've watched Murphy Brown so you think reporters hanker to uncover the big scandal. Bullshit. Remember, All the President's Men was so unusual they had to make a movie out of it.

The Election Fix Story Steals Into the States

In London the Guardian and Observer received about two thousand bless-you-Britain-for-telling-us-the-truth-about-our-elections letters from U.S. Internet readers circulating the samizdat presidential elections coverage. I also received a few like this:

You pansey brits seem to think that the average American is as undereducated and stupid as the average british subject..Well comrad [sic], I'm here to tell you . . . . . .which ended with some physically unfeasible suggestions of what to do with the Queen (figure 1.1).

My Observer report went to print within three weeks of the election. The vote count in Florida was still on. Watching the vote-count clock ticking, Joe Conason, the most determined of American investigative reporters, insisted to his editors at, the Internet magazine, that they bring my story back to America. Salon posted "Florida's Ethnic Cleansing of the Voter Rolls" to the Net on December 4, 2000. It wasn't exactly "print," but at least it was American. Still, not one U.S. news editor called, not even from my "sister" paper, the Washington Post, with whom the Guardian shares material and prints an international weekly.

From a news perspective, not to mention the flood of site hits, this was Salon's biggest politics story ever -- and they named Part I their political story of the year. But where was Part II? On their Web site and on radio programs the magazine was announcing Part II would appear in two days... and in two days... and in two days... and nothing appeared. Part II was the story blown off by the CBS Evening News about an additional 40,000-plus voters whom Jeb Bush barred from voting. The fact that 90 percent of these 40,000 voters were Democrats should have made it news... because this maneuver alone more than accounted for Bush's victory.

I was going crazy: Gore had not yet conceded... the timing of Part II was crucial. Where the hell was it? Finally, an editor told me, "The story doesn't check out. You see, we checked with Jeb Bush's office and they said..."

Argh! It was déjà vu all over again.

Another staffer added, as a kind of explanation, "The Washington Post would never run this story."

Well, he had me there. They hadn't, they didn't. Not yet. At least Salon helped me sneak the first report past the border patrols. So God bless America.

While waiting for the United States to awaken, I took my BBC film crew to Florida, having unearthed a smoking-gun document: I had a page marked "confidential" from the contract between the State of Florida and the private company that had purged the voter lists. The document contained cold evidence that Florida knew they were taking the vote away from thousands of innocent voters, most of them Black.

It was February. I took my camera crew into an agreed interview with Jeb Bush's director of the Florida Department of Elections. When I pulled out the confidential sheet, Bush's man ripped off the microphone and did a fifty-yard dash, locking himself in his office, all in front of our cameras. It was killer television and wowed the British viewers. We even ran a confession from the company that was hired to carry out the purge operation. Newsworthy? Apparently not for the United States.

My program, BBC Newsnight, has a film-trading agreement with the ABC television network. A record twenty thousand Net-heads in the United States saw the BBC Webcast; and several banged on the door of ABC TV's Nightline to run our footage, or at least report what we found. Instead, Nightline sent its own crew down to Florida for a couple of days. They broadcast a story that ballots are complex and Blacks are not well educated about voting procedures. The gravamen of the story was, Blacks are too frigging dumb to figure out how to vote. No mention that in white Leon County, machines automatically kicked back faulty ballots for voter correction; whereas in Gadsden County, very Black, the same machines were programmed to eat mismarked ballots. That was in our story, too.

Why didn't ABC run the voter purge story? Don't look for some big Republican conspiracy. Remember the three elements of investigative reporting: risk, time, money. Our BBC/Guardian stories required all of those, in short supply in U.S. news operations.

Finally, in February, my Part II -- the report that was too scary and difficult for Dan Rather's show -- found asylum in the Nation magazine, that distant journalistic planet not always visible to the naked eye.

And then, mirabile dictu, the Washington Post ran the story of the voter purge on page one, including the part that "couldn't stand up" for CBS and Salon . . . and even gave me space for a bylined comment. Applause for the Post's courage! Would I be ungrateful if I suggested otherwise? The Post ran the story in June, though they had it at hand seven months earlier when the ballots were still being counted. They waited until they knew the findings of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Report, which verified BBC's discoveries, so they could fire from behind that big safe rock of Official Imprimatur. In other words, the Post had the courage to charge out and shoot the wounded.

Privacy Invasions R Us

Since 9/11, domestic spying projects have become as American as apple pie, the 4th of July and baseball. And like baseball in the age of free agency -- when eligible players can switch teams when their contracts expire -- it's difficult to follow the multitude of spy ops without a scorecard. With "The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," otherwise known as the Patriot Act II, now under consideration by Congress, now is an opportune time to review some of the projects offered up by the Bush Administration since 9/11. Not every cranky proposal has passed muster: Some have already been kyboshed; some are operational; and some are still in development.

Let's start with the USA Patriot Act -- whose full name is "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." The Patriot Act was introduced by the administration, sailed through Congress and signed into law less than two months after 9/11. It essentially gave the government "new power to wiretap phones, confiscate property of suspected terrorists, spy on its own citizens without judicial review, conduct secret searches, snoop on the reading habits of library users," describes Matt Welch, the Los Angeles correspondent for the National Post, and an editor of the L.A. Examiner.

Patriot Act II aims to "fill in the holes."

There are Terrorist Watch Lists currently being maintained by nine federal agencies. These lists, while not standardized, contain a "wide variety of data" including biographical information and, in some cases, biometric data such as fingerprints. An April 2003 General Accounting Office (GAO) Report, concluded that "the federal government's approach to developing and using terrorist and criminal watch lists in performing its border security mission is diffuse and nonstandard."

Early in 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced his intentions to expand the Neighborhood Watch program. He earmarked $1.9 million in federal funds to help the National Sheriff's Association double the number of participant groups to 15,000 nationwide. Neighborhood Watch, which began as a fairly low-key crime-prevention tool focused on neighborhood break-ins and burglaries, was earmarked for a broader role -- surveillance in the service of the "war on terrorism."

Highway Watch was established in 1998 by the American Trucking Association for truckers to report on a variety of common highway situations -- stranded motorists, drunk drivers, changing road conditions, poor signage, accidents, etcetera. Now, watching for suspicious terrorist activity is a major part of its activities.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration announced it is developing a system called the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening Program II (CAPPS II), which will screen names, addresses, birth dates and other data regarding passengers.

Local police departments in a number of cities have re-instituted domestic surveillance programs that had been barred after revelations that the government had spied on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other so-called subversive individuals and groups.

Some cities are experimenting with e-surveillance, which allows residents to log on to their computers and monitor strategically placed video cams for criminal or terrorist activities.

There are a number of what could be called "big-ticket items" under development: DARPA's controversial Total Information Awareness became Terrorism Information Awareness and is now facing extinction; the granddaddy of all neighbor-versus-neighbor spy-ops, Operation TIPS, was killed by Congress but appears to have morphed into something called the Talon project -- overseen by the omnipresent Paul Wolfowitz; and LifeLog, a project that aims to gather as much information about an individual's activities as possible, is also under construction.

Total... er, Terrorism Information Awareness

Last fall, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon's research arm, unveiled its Total Information Awareness (TIA) project. This project was the brainchild of retired Admiral John Poindexter, who had been working as a DARPA contractor at the Arlington, VA-based Syntek Technologies, Inc. In November 2002, the Washington Post reported that Syntek "helped develop technology to search through large amounts of data."

The veteran of Iran-Contra veteran intended Total Information Awareness to be the mother of all data retrieval systems, sweeping information garnered from e-mail, Internet use, travel, credit-card purchases, telephone and bank records, driver's licenses and much more, into one very smart database.

Enough of a stink was raised about TIA that DARPA went back to the drawing board. In late May, the agency issued a 108-page report, which Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation found "disappointing." Tien told Wired News that "after more than a hundred pages, you don't know anything more about whether TIA will work or whether your civil liberties will be safe against it. DARPA is constantly trying to assuage privacy concerns. Their mantra is, 'We always operate within current law.'"

DARPA came up with one change -- they gave it a new name. Right-to-privacy advocates won't have Total Information Awareness to kick around any more. Conceding that the original name may have freaked out many Americans who hold dear the right to privacy, the Pentagon rechristened the project the "Terrorism Information Awareness" program -- a name DARPA hoped would silence the critics.

According to the TIA Web site, "The goal of the TIA program is to revolutionize the ability of the United States to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists -- and decipher their plans -- and thereby enable the U.S. to take timely action to successfully preempt and defeat terrorist acts."

"While it's not even clear if the technology exists to make TIA work," Cynthia Webb pointed out at, "the Pentagon is already dedicating serious cash to the endeavor: $9.2 million is budgeted for the program this year; $20 million next fiscal year and $24.5 million in 2005,".

The cosmetic changes by DARPA may not have been enough to save TIA. The Senate recently denied all funds for the Terrorism Information Awareness program.

Snipping Operation TIPS

Last year, the Department of Justice, in concert with several other agencies, was on the cusp of launching Operation TIPS (the Terrorist Information and Prevention System), a project that aimed to enlist one million workers to act as extra eyes and ears for the president's war on terrorism. A wave of negative pre-launch publicity from privacy advocates, civil libertarians, liberal and conservative legislators and newspaper editorialists forced the government to moonwalk on TIPS.

A message was quickly posted at the Operation TIPS web site saying that the government had "never intended" for workers to call the hotline for "anything other than publicly observable activities." Expressing concern about "safeguarding against all possibilities of invasion of individual privacy," the DoJ claimed that the hotline number would "not be shared with any workers, including postal and utility workers, whose work puts them in contact with homes and private property." That didn't satisfy the critics and in July 2002, Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) introduced legislation banning Operation TIPS. Ultimately, TIPS was excluded from the final version of the Homeland Security Act.

Eliminating TIPS, however, didn't mean an end to the government efforts to involve ordinary citizens in the defense of the homeland.

Talon: The son of TIPS?

In early May, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz "directed the heads of military departments and agencies" to begin creating a database that would contain "raw, non-validated" reports of "anomalous activities" within the U.S., Wired News reported in late June. This new domestic spying system, called Talon, will develop a "mechanism to collect and rapidly share reports 'by concerned citizens and military members regarding suspicious incidents.'"

Wolfowitz, one of the neo-conservative architects of the Bush Administration's pre-emptive strike doctrine and a longtime advocate of invading Iraq, will oversee Talon's development. (Wolfowitz was also recently handed another new task by Secretary of Defense Donal Rumsfeld -- the authority to decide which terrorist captives should be tried by military tribunals.)

Details about Talon -- first reported at Kitetoa, a French security web site -- remain sketchy. Peter S. Probst, a former Pentagon terrorism expert and currently a terrorism consultant and program director for the Virginia-based Institute for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, thinks the Talon program is necessary to protect DoD property and personnel. "It would be derelict not to keep track of anomalous incidents. This is just common sense," Probst told Wired News.

Lee Tien, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that Talon raises similar red flags as Operation TIPS did. "What is the value in accelerating the speed of the rumor mill?" Tien told Wired News. "You have a wealth of really weak data that ends up percolating its way through the system. How will they ensure that there's no opportunity for people's dossiers to become tainted?"
It's unclear "whether Talon reports would become part of the Pentagon's controversial Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program, or whether the data would be shared with other government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security," reports Wired News. The Talon system "appears to have grown out of Eagle Eyes, an antiterrorism project developed by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Launched in April 2002, Eagle Eyes is a neighborhood watch-type program that 'enlists the eyes and ears of Air Force members and citizens in the war on terror,' according to the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) website."


Then, there is LifeLog. In late-May, Defense Tech's Noah Schactman reported that the same folks at DARPA who had designed the Internet and given the world the global positioning satellite system (GPS) had come up with "a stunningly ambitious research project designed to gather every conceivable bit of information about a person's life, index all the information and make it searchable." It is called LifeLog, and it aims to catalogue every step you take and every move you make.

Schactman: "The embryonic LifeLog program would take every e-mail you've sent or received, every picture you've taken, every web page you've surfed, every phone call you've had, every TV show you've watched, every magazine you've read, and dump it into a giant database. All of this -- and more -- would be combined with a GPS transmitter, to keep tabs on where you're going; audio-visual sensors, to capture all that you see or say; and biomedical monitors, to keep track of your health.

"This gigantic amalgamation of personal information could then be used to 'trace the 'threads' of an individual's life,' to see exactly how a relationship or events developed," according to a DARPA briefing.

That's your domestic surveillance scoreboard. What's coming next is anybody's guess. One can't help but wonder: If 9/11 hadn't happened, what would the best and the brightest be working on?

Revisiting Low Power Radio

For the first time in memory, this past week has been a bad one in Washington, D.C. for enormous broadcast conglomerates.

The massive media ownership deregulation pushed through the FCC last month by Republican chairman Michael Powell generated a remarkable amount of resistance from a burgeoning, and relatively new, media democracy movement. Deregulation opponents had vowed to override the FCC by taking the fight to the Republican-controlled Congress. It seemed like a futile notion, but Wednesday, the powerful, Republican-run House Appropriations Committee panel took the first step toward doing exactly that, voting 40-25 to block the portion of the FCC's decision that expanded from 35 percent to 45 percent the percentage of national TV households one company's stations could reach.

The vote wouldn't affect other portions of the FCC decision, and it would still need to be reconciled with a Senate bill; the White House has vowed to veto the House move. Nonetheless, even if it goes no farther -- and it will - - the House vote is an important measure of just how widespread dissatisfaction with corporate control of America's media has become, and that such dissatisfaction transcends usual ideological labels.

But beyond the headlines, another development on the media democracy front last week may have far greater long-term implications for the ability of ordinary people to be heard on the airwaves.

Before Dubya came to power and Michael Powell assumed the FCC's reins, the media democracy movement that is now bedeviling him cut its teeth on another FCC fight -- Low Power FM (LPFM). A 1999 decision by the FCC, when it was under Democratic control, created a vast new category of non-commercial, low power FM stations. The stations were to be locally run, with a radius of about 2-3 miles, and promised to give access to the airwaves to thousands of community, church, and activist groups across the country.

It never happened -- at least, not as originally envisioned by the FCC. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and National Public Radio mobilized Congress to effectively gut the program by passing as law a more stringent set of technical requirements. The NAB/NPR bill eliminated over 80 percent of the proposed stations, including most of the ones in larger cities and towns. Commercial broadcasters, as well as NPR, claimed (despite the FCC's claims to the contrary) that the FCC's original criteria would create unacceptable interference to existing stations.

Congress bought the idea, and as a result, while some Low Power FM stations are now broadcasting, and many others are in the pipeline, only one open frequency for a low power station is available in any of the country's top 50 markets -- as opposed to over a dozen each that would have been available in some cities under the original proposal.

That was three years ago. Last week, however, results came back in from a technical study that Congress ordered as part of its legislation, a study intended to determine definitively whether the original, more lax FCC guidelines would in fact pose a threat to existing stations.

The verdict: almost never.

The study, farmed out by the FCC to Mitre Corp., conducted field research and also asked for listener feedback, using the relatively poor-quality analog receivers common in many households rather than the much higher-quality receivers the FCC had originally used to determine interference levels. The researchers still found almost no problems, either from complaining listeners or from their own field readings.

In the mostly rural areas where it has been available, the volume of applications for LPFM facilities has far exceeded the FCC's expectations, proving that there's an enormous demand for such voices. The FCC, of course, is now in different, more business-friendly hands, and is probably disinclined to revisit the previous commission's proposal. And in the intervening three years, big media corporations as well as NPR affiliates have rushed to install new translators that would now block some possible LPFM frequencies in larger cities. But the upshot is that media activists now have the data to go back to the FCC and to Congress demanding both that the LPFM program be expanded to its original scope and that a moratorium be placed on new translator applications until the LPFM question is re-examined.

More broadly, for years the NAB, as the lobbying arm of the country's largest media conglomerates, has had free run of Capitol Hill; it has been among the most effective of the trade lobbying groups, with "triumphs" like the appalling Telecommunications Act of 1996 to its credit. Its LPFM reversal in 2000 was another such triumph -- but now, media activists and other broadcast lobby opponents can use the LPFM example to discredit the piteous cries of well-heeled lobbyists.

The damage that LPFM would supposedly cause to broadcasters simply didn't exist, and the case for re-instating the original proposal is overwhelming. Now, with any luck, a powerful new form of community and neighborhood broadcasting can be made available to the vast majority of the country's people.

For over 70 years, publicly owned airwaves have been leased out essentially at no charge to a broadcast industry increasingly dominated by a handful of homogenous (and often dreadfully idiotic) voices. For the last quarter- century, radio and television have gotten farther and farther away from the notion of local programming, local ownership, and community service. Finally, the trend may be reversing.

Geov Parrish is columnist for

Romper Room

Remember, way back in December 2000, after the U.S. Supreme Court finally stole, er, ruled that George W. Bush would become the next President of the United States?

One of the primary themes to emerge -- from the ornate hotel lobbies of Washington, from the mouths of AM talk radio hosts, from the new regime's sneering acolytes in cowboy hats and fur-trimmed coats -- was that at last, finally, grown-ups would be running Washington, D.C. No more semen-stained dresses. No more fags in uniform and half-assed missile attacks. No more her. No more children running the world.


At least with Clinton you knew that the most powerful man in the world had reached adolescence, if not much beyond it. But all current evidence suggests that the world is now being run by 7-year-olds.

Oh, to be sure, petulant little children are announcing themselves all around the world these days, from surly little bullies like Ahmad Chalabi (who, after spending years on various playgrounds stealing other kids' lunch money, have come home to be handed a shiny new bicycle called Iraq), to the angry little brat in North Korea trying to get his parent's attention ("I've got uranium now!" "Now I've got a missile!" "Now I'm arming it! Watch me! I really am!" "I said I really am! I mean it this time!!"). Kim Jong II needs time out and a nap; Chalabi needs reform school.

But the most alarming spectacle is in Washington itself, where Peter Pan went and recruited his whole grade school class.

The result is calamity almost beyond words to describe: an appetite for cool comic-book foreign policy, emphasis on blowing stuff up, combined with a Never-Never Land insistence on how the world works and economics learned from watching older siblings play Monopoly.

Little kids, you'll recall, can be incredibly cruel. And so it is in D.C. these days, a dramatic step down from the last depressing administration, where the Clinton crew (including, no doubt, Janet Reno) had at least discovered girls. This collection hasn't even matured enough yet to learn right from wrong, or that actions have consequences, or even to experience the essential step in human development of understanding that the world doesn't start and stop with them, that other people think and act and feel just like they do. Empathy. Instead, this bunch stays at home, watches TV, and plays army all day. It's a nice day; they should at least go outside and play. Clinton needed to be grounded. Junior needs to have his toys taken away.

You want proof? What was Junior's sole major "accomplishment" before daddy's friends got him elected governor of Texas? He used daddy's allowance money and bought a baseball team. These are rich children. Too much attention is being paid to "rich," and not enough to "children."

But more and more, the emperor's outgrown clothes are showing, especially in recent days as the little tyke has finally been confronted in public with truths that contradict his carefully constructed play world. First, he really did go outside and play, to Africa, just to get away from it. But reality dogged him there, too, so mostly he's been pouting and insisting that the tooth fairy really does exist, there is a Santa Claus, Saddam really did buy uranium from Niger. ("And all that other stuff I made up last week is true, too!")

Frankly, the pile of toys Junior's no longer interested in is starting to clutter the living room floor, and Junior also keeps tripping over his now-discarded Disney videos, too. (He's not much for reading.) It's not like he's ever learned, or been made, to clean up his own messes. And he still believes all the stories in those old videos, too -- Iraq's mystery weapons in trailers, made out of propane tanks, and the cool spy-movie ties to Al-Qaeda and stuff. He still can't tell fact from fiction.

But confronted with it, he's reacting the way many small, spoiled kids do -- by blaming his friends, starting with the one he doesn't know very well, the guy who already lived in his new neighborhood when he got here, little Georgie Tenet. ("Hey, I only made him fall on a play sword! It didn't really hurt.") Every time Junior does this, he squeezes his eyes real tight and hopes it'll all just go away so he can go play army s'more. (He's also supposed to be doing homework -- he hates math! -- but video games are more fun.)

The other little kids in Junior's clubhouse are acting about the same way -- except for little Rummy, who likes to torture the neighbor's cats when nobody's looking. Rummy's gonna be trouble when he gets older.

For years, the adults around Junior and his little pals have been making excuses for their behavior. All kids are above average. It was a misunderstanding. He didn't mean to break it. He's really not that dumb. He just learns differently. Isn't he cute? The parents are rich, so teachers are circumspect, even when the extra lessons they give don't stick or he makes Family Circus-style mispronouncements.

But the behavior coming out of Washington these days has become too destructive, too aberrant to ignore, as it sometimes does when spoiled kids are never reigned in from their excesses. These kids are very spoiled, and their excesses are scaring all the adults in the neighborhood, if not the world. Frankly, it would be a huge improvement if this batch got old enough to discover girls.

But that's a long way away, and meantime they're really, really wed to their fantasies and their cruelty and their denials. And their moms and dads don't seem to care. Many, many people could die before Junior and his friends get old enough that they start to learn right from wrong.

At this point, the best hope is that they move to another neighborhood.

The Hate Goes On

The bile is dead. Long live the bile.

Michael Savage's abrupt departure from television, like his entry into it, has drawn attention all out of proportion to its importance. Last weekend, Savage's once-weekly cable talk show was cancelled by MSNBC due to an angry exchange with a gay caller. Savage, returning an insult, suggested that the caller die of AIDS. As a result, according to a network spokesman, "The decision to cancel the program was not difficult."

Neither was MSNBC's decision to launch Savage's program last March. It did so knowing full well that Savage's history -- indeed, his media raison d'etre -- was this sort of bile. For adding a single program stuck in the ghetto of weekend daytime, MSNBC got reams of free publicity for its shift to more conservative political fare. Progressive groups from GLAAD to NOW helped out, launching advertiser boycott campaigns that caused two major advertisers, Kraft and Proctor & Gamble, to pull out -- but that probably netted the cable network far more in additional free press. Struggling networks love well-publicized boycotts of controversial programs.

Progressive activists are now claiming victory over Savage's firing, proclaiming that it stands as proof that even the most vile media hatemongers cannot cross certain lines, and that when they do -- as Savage does regularly -- they can be held accountable. But everyone else is happy, too. MSNBC got publicity and credibility among the true believers for its new righter-than-Fox format. And Savage -- whose audience in other media is enormous -- stands confirmed in his bigotries. He will continue to do just fine, thank you.

The talk host issued what must rank as one of the more absurd, and insincere, apologies of all time on Monday. "If my comments brought pain to anyone, I certainly did not intend for this to happen," he said, asking for his "many listeners in the gay community to accept my apologies for any inadvertent insults which may have occurred."

May have occurred? Run the tape, please. Inadvertent? Sorry, when I told you to go die of a horrible disease I meant it as the highest compliment; it just came out wrong.

Savage didn't intend to cause pain -- just titillate his viewers and listeners. And if that audience includes "many" gays, they must surely be of the self-loathing type.

Those fans, tuning in this week on the hundreds of radio stations in every major American city and most smaller ones, are doubtless being treated to Savage's account of his MSNBC demise as filtered through his usual blistering rants on PCness: sodomites controlling the world, and so forth. His cancellation is just more fodder for a guy who rose to media prominence on a local San Francisco AM radio station due to his willingness to stand out for the sheer poisonousness of his anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-minority, anti-immigrant bile. MSNBC knew exactly what it was getting.

Savage still has his radio base, of course; most of the stations that air him do so as part of a day-long, nationally syndicated hate echo chamber alongside Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Dr. Laura, and a handful of others. All of them are relentlessly promoted across multiple media formats. Savage, at the moment, also has a briskly selling book, "The Savage Nation," that packages more of his dubious wisdom.

The problem, ultimately, with figures like Savage isn't that they encourage listeners to hate one or another constituency. It's that they use myths, exaggerations, unrepresentative anecdotes, and tortured logic to stake out extreme political and cultural positions; encourage listeners to identify, as a "community" of their own, with this fantasy club; and then encourage the audience to hate anyone who's not a member of the club.

This is how a figure like Limbaugh or Hannity, at the very center of power of a political party that now controls the White House, both houses of Congress, and a majority of governorships and state legislatures, can still posture either as an outsider or a triumphant bully as needed. Savage, by pushing the envelope, encourages the outsider tendencies even though he himself is wealthy, powerful, and an industry unto himself.

This media phenomenon has been essential in allowing the Bush Administration to set new standards in telling bald-faced lies, confident of its ability to have them endlessly repeated and their critics insulted into silence or insignificance. It also ensures that any genuine public policy debate on any topic can be drowned out in the familiar language of screamed insults followed immediately by a commercial break.

Michael Savage has a loyal audience that is his as long as he wants it, or until he becomes eclipsed by the next hate radio phenom who pushes the envelope still farther. The format itself isn't going away until the audience gets bored or dies off -- neither of which is likely. Media conglomerates see loyal audiences and the profits they bring, and they're under no obligation to care about ancient FCC notions like public service or the Fairness Doctrine. They'll keep hiring Savage and his fellow travelers. Eventually, some outlets will instead embrace alternative figures like Michael Moore, for the same reason -- large numbers of loyal fans who respond to humor, outrage, and appeals to emotion.

In the end, progressives are best off trying to counter-program rather than censor. With figures like Savage, the problem is not one or another talking head, media programmer, or corporate advertiser, but the lack of accountability inherent in corporate media. And ultimately, the "problem" is the audience for such programs -- a segment of America that seemingly prefers to define itself by sneering at everyone else. So long as people hate, until they hear something they like better, Michael Savage will always have a job.

Geov Parrish is a WorkingForChange columnist.

Escalating Secrecy Wars

"Any sources and methods of intelligence will remain guarded in secret. My administration will not talk about how we gather intelligence, if we gather intelligence, and what the intelligence says. That's for the protection of the American people."
-- President George W. Bush, New York Times, Sept. 14, 2001

"The seriousness of the [unauthorized disclosures] issue has outpaced the capacity of extant administrative and law enforcement mechanisms to address the problem effectively."
-- Attorney General John Ashcroft, Letter to the Speaker of the House, Oct. 15, 2002

For an administration obsessed with secrecy, the recent musings of Dr. James B. Bruce might be just what the doctor ordered. In the current edition of Studies in Intelligence, Dr. Bruce recommends "stiff new penalties to crack down on leaks, including prosecutions of journalists that publish classified information," according to the May 22 edition of Secrecy News.

Last summer, Dr. Bruce, a veteran CIA employee, told the Institute of World Politics that "We've got to do whatever it takes -- if it takes sending SWAT teams into journalists' homes -- to stop these leaks." According to, a right wing online publication, Bruce declared that "Somehow there has evolved a presumptive right of the press to leak classified information. I hope we get a test case soon that will pit the government's need to prosecute those who leak its classified documents against the guarantees of free speech. I'm betting the government will win."

In his latest attack on leakers, titled "The Consequences of Permissive Neglect: Laws and Leaks of Classified Intelligence" (Studies in Intelligence: Journal of the American Intelligence Professional -- Volume 47, No. 1, 2003), Dr. Bruce maintains that intelligence gathering efforts and secrecy "is under assault," from the U.S. press which acts as an "open vault of classified information on U.S. intelligence collection sources and methods." The problem is being exacerbated by "the scope and seriousness of leaks coupled with the power of electronic dissemination [of information] and search engines."

U.S. newspapers, magazines, television, books, and the Internet are not only revealing information about "how secret intelligence works," but they are also divulging "how to defeat it," according to Dr. Bruce. To prevent "unauthorized disclosure" there must be "a frontal assault on many levels" including "a range of legal solutions that have not been tried before, some of which are controversial." Establishing these remedies will not be easy because "freedom-of-the-press advocates" and professional journalists "exert disproportionate influence on this debate."

Dr. Bruce also rails against the "myths" that "leaks do not do much harm" and "that the government over-classifies everything -- including intelligence -- and classifies way too much." He claims: "The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) has experienced roughly a hundred leaks just since 2000 that have damaged U.S. imagery collection effectiveness. Many dozens of leaks on the activities and programs of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) have also helped foreign adversaries develop countermeasures to spaceborne collection operations. DIA and the military services, too, have suffered collection losses as a result of media leaks."

"There are laws that already criminalize the disclosure of certain specific categories of information to an unauthorized person," Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists and editor of Secrecy News, told me in a telephone interview. "These categories include revealing the names of intelligence agents that are under cover; classified cryptographic material -- information pertaining to U.S. government codes or communications intelligence; information relating to nuclear weapons design and a few other areas." Disclosure of anything in these areas is prohibited and is punishable by law. The specific media outlet as well as an individual reporter is subject to prosecution.

"Leaks of classified information outside of these categories," said Aftergood, "are treated differently. In these cases, the person who leaks the information is subject to penalties while the person who receives the information isn't. What Dr. Bruce is proposing is that the person who receives the information be liable for possessing or publishing any classified information."

A short bio published at the Web site of Georgetown University indicates that Dr. Bruce is a member of the University's Security Studies Program and who teaches a course titled "Intelligence and U.S. National Security Policy." At Central Intelligence headquarters, Dr. Bruce serves as Vice Chairman of the DCI (Director of Central Intelligence) Foreign Denial and Deception Committee in the National Intelligence Council (NIC). In this capacity the bio states, "He is responsible for Intelligence Community work on foreign denial and deception issues." As decoded by Dr. Bruce, this means he works "to understand how foreign adversaries learn about, then try to defeat, our secret intelligence collection activities."

Dr. Bruce's twenty years of service at the CIA includes stints as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Science and Technology in the National Intelligence Council; Branch Chief in the Office of European Analysis; Chief of Counterintelligence Training in the DCI Counterintelligence Center; and as senior analyst in both CIA Directorates of Intelligence and Operations. Is Dr. Bruce a stalking horse for the administration? A loose cannon firing his own broadside? "Some people have suggested that the [Bruce] piece is meant to be a trial balloon, but I don't find that persuasive," Aftergood said. "I don't think trial balloons are floated in Studies in Intelligence.

"At this time, Dr. Bruce's position seems further to the right than even the position of Attorney General Ashcroft," Aftergood said. "The administration has other proposals in the hopper, but none of them involve penalties for the media; because of the First Amendment, and because the media might revolt. After all, it was the media that led the opposition to a measure to criminalize all leaks, legislation that was eventually vetoed by President Clinton.

"There is, however, a continuing tug of war around these issues," said Aftergood. "Clearly the Bush Administration is the most secretive administration in decades or longer. What remains open is the response from other branches of government," Aftergood said. "The outcome [of the fight over classified documents] is going to depend on who is willing to stand up and fight. The usual suspects, as important as they are, are not enough to change the equation. The more people in Congress stand up to rebuke the administration [on secrecy questions] the better off we'll all be."

An example of the administration's not so secret obsession with secrecy was evident in late March when President Bush issued an order delaying by three years the release of millions of government documents. The order also gave the government "new powers... to keep information classified indefinitely if it falls within a broad definition of national security," the Washington Post reported.

Exempt from automatic declassification in the future is "information that would assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction"; information that would harm "national security emergency preparedness plans or reveal current vulnerabilities"; information "that would impair the application of state of the art technology within a U.S. weapon system"; and information that would "impair relations between the United States and a foreign government."

President Bush called the order an attempt to balance national security and open government: "Our nation's progress depends on the free flow of information. Nevertheless, throughout our history, the national defense has required that certain information be maintained in confidence in order to protect our citizens, our democratic institutions, our homeland security, and our interactions with foreign nations."

Is there a possibility that Dr. Bruce's concerns will be addressed by Congress? In May, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) issued its "Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2004 for Intelligence and Intelligence-Related Activities" report. In a section called "Security and Counterintelligence: Protecting against unauthorized disclosures of classified information," SSCI said that it wanted "to encourage the Executive Branch to adopt a new and more aggressive approach to leak issues. The Committee recommends that the U.S. Government consider the workability of aggressive criminal and civil enforcement, even civil compensatory remedies (e.g., liquidated damages)."

For the final word on the classification question, here is what the Washington, DC-based National Security Archive (NSA), an organization that has battled for access to classified documents since its founding in 1985, had to say in a May 23rd NSA press release, announcing the publication of its new collection of declassified documents. Titled "CIA Stamped Secret on Santa Claus, Blacked Out Joke on North Pole Terrorism," the press release charges that the CIA "classified and withheld from a Freedom of Information Act release a 25-year-old joke item in a weekly terrorism report about the terrorist threat to Santa Claus and the North Pole."

On a more serious note, NSA's compilation "illustrate[s] the arbitrary and capricious decision making that all too often characterizes the U.S. government's national security secrecy system." Other items include "intelligence budgets that are still classified from 1947 (!) and the locations of nuclear weapons such as the Jupiter missiles in Italy that were only deployed for a few years... [as well as] cover-ups, such as death squad activities in El Salvador that would have undermined Congressional approval for military aid."

Then there's this curious sidebar: The Memory Hole's Russ Kick pointed out that less than one week after publishing the article containing Bruce's SWAT Team reference, removed it from its Web site. Why? "NewsMax offered no explanation, but [Secrecy News' Steven] Aftergood reported that 'one source said that Mr. Bruce's remarks... had been made "off the record" and were never intended to be quoted or publicized.'" Bruce's current piece appears in the annual "unclassified" edition of Studies in Intelligence.

Headstart on Discrimination

Last week, the House Education and the Workforce Committee passed "The School Readiness Act of 2003," H.R. 2210. A Republican-sponsored provision in the bill allows religious organizations receiving government funds to provide Head Start services to discriminate in their hiring practices. If retained in the final version, thousands of Head Start workers could lose their jobs. In addition, hundreds of thousands of parent volunteers who serve as teachers' aides and chaperones could also be displaced.

The controversial exemption in H.R. 2210 is part of an ongoing campaign by the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies to allow faith-based organizations to circumvent state and local civil rights laws by inserting civil rights exemptions into as many pieces of social service legislation as possible.

In late June, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Organizations stuffed a position paper into each Congressperson's mailbox spelling out its position on the "religious hiring rights" of faith-based organizations. Titled "Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Organizations: Why Religious Hiring Rights Must Be Preserved," the position paper argues that religious organizations should be allowed to hire whomever they please regardless of whether they receive government funding.

In what the document characterizes as a "commonsense and fair approach," the Bush administration maintains that despite receiving government funds, religious organizations "should retain their right to hire those individuals who are best able to further their organizations' goals and mission."

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains an exemption that allows churches, mosques and synagogues to hire only members of their faith if they so choose. Last December, President Bush issued an executive order extending this exemption to faith-based organizations that receive government grants.

Congressional Republicans recently added the same type of language to legislation dealing with the Head Start program. The House Education and the Workforce Committee's bill extended the Head Start program for five years. Tucked inside the bill -- which offers several controversial changes to the Head Start program -- is a provision allowing faith-based organizations that receive government funding to discriminate in their hiring practices.

H.R. 2210 could profoundly affect both Head Start workers and volunteers. Workers "could lose their jobs if they fail their employer's religious tests," says the American Civil Liberties Union. And parents, many of whom started as volunteers and became teachers, could "be blocked from climbing the ladder out of poverty."

According to a Press Release by Americans United for Separation of Church & State, the current bill would "permit religious discrimination in staffing of Head Start and jeopardize the positions of thousands of teachers and parent volunteers." Although the Head Start program is not religious in nature, some faith-based organizations provide Head Start services at church-owned facilities.

"This is outrageous," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Head Start is not a religious program, and there is absolutely no reason for this change. Thousands of teachers will have their jobs placed in jeopardy by this proposal, and tens of thousands of children could have their lives disrupted."

"Liberals hate this, but I think most Americans understand the fairness of [the provision] and the appropriateness of that," Andrea Lafferty of the Tradition Values Coalition told Focus on the Family's Family News in Focus. "There are people who hate God. There are people who hate Christians. There are people who hate people of faith and do not want faith-based organizations to be involved in anything."

The Rev. Ronald J. Sider, head of Evangelicals for Social Action, a 3,000-member group that encourages evangelical Christians to work for the poor, told the Washington Post that the White House seems to be making "a more aggressive, vigorous attempt to explain to the public what the situation is and to make the case for religious freedom in hiring. It indicates that they're serious -- and they darn well better be, because it's crucial to a whole lot of us," he said. "I think the administration understands that the very identity of faith-based organizations is at issue in hiring rights.

Protestors Are Not Terrorists

You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that [protest]. You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act." -- Mike Van Winkle, spokesperson, the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC)

Under the guise of President Bush's all-consuming, yet amorphous, war against terrorism, police agencies across the country are spying and compiling dossiers on citizens exercising their constitutional rights. The Bush administration -- all war against terrorism, all the time -- has consistently supported policies and legislation allowing for the collection and cataloging of data on the political, religious, or social views of individuals and organizations regardless of whether they present any imminent threat to the nation's safety. The administration has also spent obscene amounts of money to spy on its citizens while money for education and social services is drying up.

"Right now... the FBI and other federal agencies do not have 'to show reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause,'" Village Voice columnist and longtime civil libertarian Nat Hentoff recently wrote. "They merely have to make 'the broad assertion that the request is related to an ongoing terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation.'"

In early April, equating political protest with terrorism caused the most violent incident involving police and anti-war protesters since the US launched its invasion of Iraq. On the morning of April 7, acting on warnings from the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC), the Oakland, California police department indiscriminately fired wooden slugs at and injured several non-violent anti-war protesters -- and several non-protesting Port workers as well -- at the Port of Oakland. According to a report in the Oakland Tribune, "Days before... Oakland police were warned of potential violence at the Port... by California's anti-terrorism intelligence center, which admits blurring the line between terrorism and political dissent."

'Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder'

A recent compendium of definitions compiled by the Tri-Valley Herald -- headlined "Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder" -- pointed out that government agencies have different takes on what constitutes terrorism and who might be considered terrorists. Here are a few:

"Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.'' -- FBI

"Terrorism means any activity that involves an act that is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive to critical infrastructure or key resources; and is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state or other subdivision of the United States; and appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.'' -- Homeland Security Act, Nov. 19, 2002.

"Domestic terrorism means activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.'' USA PATRIOT Act, Oct. 25, 2001.

"Terrorist Threat: A person commits an offense if he threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with intent to: cause a reaction of any type to his threat by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies; place any person in fear of imminent bodily injury; or prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building, room, place of assembly, place to which the public has access, place of employment or occupation, aircraft, automobile, or other form of conveyance, or other public place; or cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas or power supply or other public service.'' Texas Penal Code.

"Terrorism is the threat to carry out any act that would be a violation of criminal law in California for the purpose of intimidating or coercing a civilian population, its government or any of its subdivisions; retaliating against or influencing the policy of the government; or carrying out any other activities which reasonably place the residents of this state in fear for their future health, safety or welfare.'' -- California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC), Sept. 25, 2001.

Spying free for all

"You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that [protest]," CATIC spokesperson Mike Van Winkle said. "You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act." Information provided by CATIC spurred Oakland police fire those wooden slugs at anti-war protesters in early April.

CATIC, which receives $6.7 million a year in state funds, was "touted as a national model for intelligence sharing and a centerpiece of Gov. Gray Davis and Attorney General Bill Lockyer's 2002 reelection bids," reports the Oakland Tribune. It "has quietly gathered and analyzed information on activists of various stripes almost since its creation."

In Atlanta, the city's police department "routinely places under surveillance anti-war protesters and others exercising their free-speech rights to demonstrate," reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "This use of police resources is highly questionable and can very much have a chilling effect on people's sense that they can exercise their constitutional rights without appearing in somebody's database," state Rep. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta), the House majority whip, told the newspaper. "This harkens back to some very dark times in our nation's history."

These ramped up police activities since 9/11 are not unique to Oakland or Atlanta: According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "the Los Angeles Police Department... is authorized to keep files on anti-war protesters it deems capable of 'a significant disruption of the public order.' Miami police videotape demonstrators and infiltrate rallies with plainclothes officers, said Detective Joey Giordano with the Miami-Dade Police Department. Most of the surveillance, he said, is targeted at Haitian and Cuban immigrants protesting federal policies."

Legitimate concerns about a potential terrorist attack in the US cannot be allowed to morph into open season for eviscerating the civil liberties of peaceful citizens exercising their first amendment rights. Sharper and more focused standards are needed to prevent local police departments from running amuck. As Geov Parrish reported in these pages earlier this week, "the Global Intelligence Working Group (GIWG), a committee charged with advising Congress on intelligence sharing, presented a first draft of a plan to create a uniform set of intelligence standards that would cover all types and levels of U.S. law enforcement." Final recommendations are supposed to be issued in October.

If the erosion of civil liberties doesn't freak you out and/or piss you off, consider this: In this age of humongous state deficits and massive budget cuts to social programs, police departments across the country are not only acting like J. Edgar Hoover-like spies, they are spending ungodly amounts of taxpayer money in the process.

Whither Democracy?

Well, wasn't that a surprise?

Monday morning, in perhaps the most widely and keenly anticipated decision in its history, the Federal Communications Commission soberly considered the desires of large corporations, on the one hand, and the requirements of a functional democracy, on the other. Guess who won?

In this case, "considered" means "glanced at" -- not to be confused with a process in which the outcome was seriously in doubt. The FCC voted 3-2 for changes widely desired by the country's largest media conglomerates. The three "yes" votes came from the FCC's two Bush Administration appointees, and from Michael Powell, Colin's son, who was named FCC Chair when Bush assumed office and who has spearheaded the drive for further deregulation.

The suspense in the proceedings came not from a question of whether large networks and group owners would be newly allowed to buy each other, smaller chains, or additional stations, or whether the same company could own broadcast outlets and a daily newspaper in the same market, but to what extent. Would the complete abandonment of public concerns favored by Powell and his allies be mitigated by the unprecedented public and Congressional outcry? Would that outcry sway the vote of one of the two Bush appointees, Republican Kevin Martin?

No, and no. The newspaper/broadcast crossownership ban is over, a move that by the time you read this will already have sharply reduced media diversity in more than one major city. Companies may also now own two network TV stations in one market, and in larger cities, three. The one "compromise" was an easing of the television ownership limits so that one company can own stations now reaching 45 rather than 35 percent of the country. Powell had wanted the limit abolished entirely -- but give Time-Warner-AOL, Viacom/CBS, and Disney time to ramp up to the 45% limit (say, three days) and further measures can and probably will be considered.

Given the massive consolidation after the last big media deregulatory move -- the now-legendary Telecommunications Act of 1996, perhaps the most corporate welfare ever ladled out by Congress at one sitting -- critics of Monday's decision were uniformly grim. The two dissenting Democrats, FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, were unambiguous. Copps: "The more you dig into this order, the worse things get." Adelstein called the decision "likely to damage the media landscape for decades to come."

FCC Chair Powell -- continuing the Bush Administration's rhetorical tradition of taking a policy's greatest weakness and calling it a shining strength -- praised his own handiwork as a move that would "advance our goals of diversity and localism."

Advance it right out the door and into the dumpster. Every community in America experienced the effects after 1996. Radio stations that once had local DJs and news are now computer-programmed jukeboxes. Clear Channel Communications, the most successful benefactor of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has gone from 14 stations to over 1,200 (of 10,000 in the U.S.), with many of them strictly satellite feeds running identical songs and DJs at the same time. The only "localism" is when DJs pre-record their voice tracks, with a two-second station ID that is then mixed into the generic patter. "Twenty minutes after the hour" was never heard on radio stations until the same voice was being broadcast in five time zones. Even in larger markets -- the kind where three or four local jocks or talk radio hosts might be hired for the daylight hours -- the actual programming is controlled by company HQ or a centralized consultant, and then executed by computer. The days of a DJ picking out his or her favorite song -- or even agreeing to play yours -- are long, long gone. That's the "localism" trend Powell has just accelerated.

Clear Channel, of course, has also become the poster company for the larger downsides of media consolidation: monopolistic practices and political censorship. Every large media company now has extensive holdings in a variety of media genres -- from radio and TV to newspapers, magazines, the web, books, movies, video and audio production houses, advertising agencies, concert promotion, outdoor billboards, and so on. Clear Channel has also become one of the country's largest billboard owners and by far its largest concert promoter, and has used its influence to control who gets airplay at up to eight stations in a given market and who gets access to a given city's most attractive performance venues. It's a nasty business that strikes at cultural diversity in the way only monopolies can.

Clear Channel has also figured in a number of political censorship and ethical controversies, from its notorious list of "banned" songs in the aftermath of 9/11 (e.g., "Peace Train") to its recent sponsorship, in a number of cities, of pro-war rallies intended to counter opposition to Bush's invasion of Iraq. Monopolies can do that, especially when what they monopolize is a city's largest platforms and soapboxes.

The crux of the attention and controversy, stemming from Powell's announcement last fall that the FCC would undertake a comprehensive review of media ownership regulations, has been the balance between corporate greed and the need, recognized since the Founding Fathers, for a functional democracy to rest on a well-informed citizenry. Americans, by contrast, are not well-informed about most of the public policy matters central to our lives. The months of non-coverage network TV has given to this decision were a perfect, ironic example. Moreover, we've also been taught, by repeated example, not to care -- that public policy is boring, and that we can't influence it anyway. Hey, is the ballgame on yet?

Since the Reagan Administration's first significant moves toward media deregulation two decades ago, four presidencies have championed corporate greed over these democratic necessities. Without that long-term trend, the judiciary would not now be stacked with anti-regulatory zealots. Powell's omnibus review was in turn justified by a little noticed D.C. federal appeals court decision -- four days before 9/11 -- that signaled its intent to strike down the newspaper cross-ownership rule, and by extension many other limits on companies' ability to freely buy as many media properties as they could. Such rulings, ignoring the reality that media isn't simply another for-profit industry like widget-making, put democracy in the same bought-and- sold category as any other tradable commodity.

There is some noise in Congress about trying to rein in Monday's decision; the FCC undoubtably will face legal challenges as well. But the damage will be done regardless. The FCC is now free to approve sales under its own newly-promulgated rules. If Time-Warner-AOL and Viacom decide tomorrow to buy 90% of our country's television (with Disney and Clear Channel as minority stockholders, natch), what court or legislator would be willing to later undo the sale?

It's hard to remember the last time any major public policy shift in our country clearly served to foster democracy rather than further cripple it. The Bush Administration has been particularly vicious in auctioning our country off to the highest bidders -- i.e., their friends. It has also been particularly vicious in attempting to marginalize or punish (or, at the fringes, criminalize) democratic expressions of dissent. Imagine the gratitude, and eagerness to repay favors, of the large corporations who have been given -- essentially for free -- our public airwaves, and who thus control the most widely seen and heard venues for any such opposition. Imagine, down the road, what a Fearless and Beloved Leader with the ruthlessness of Dubya and the empathy of Clinton could do with such a capacity.

And then start patronizing, supporting, and creating media alternatives to the pablum of the big companies. Popularize the notion that television and radio are largely corporate monopolies -- not the places where a marketplace of ideas can flourish -- and that the less TV we watch, the more we'll know about our world.

The alternative is an ignorant monoculture, and the ultimate perversion of democracy. It is a media landscape with ever-fewer voices, the eerie flip side of e pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Summer Reading for the Activist in You

While you've been out protesting the Bush Administration's abominable, unprovoked invasion of Iraq, a number of new books have come out that deserve consideration by the literate (or simply new) activist. This weekend, here are three of the better ones -- and one really bad one.

Having done the same for nuclear weapons in 1982's "Fate of the Earth", Jonathan Schell sets out to write the definitive narrative of the past and potential of nonviolent people power in "The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People". As any cursory reading of this feature's daily history notes might guess, it's an enormous task -- analogous to writing the history of warfare. But while any attempt to take a Howard Zinn "People's History of the United States" approach to the history of the world is by definition spotty, Schell's greatest contribution is in also examining where such approaches could lead us.

For Schell, the utility of drawing lessons from non-military solutions to conflict, from the Greeks to (especially) Gandhi and MLK, is in contrasting them with civilization's development of increasingly deadly military strategies -- and their inherent drawbacks in the 21st Century. Schell believes Americans have shortchanged the power demonstrated in the nearly bloodless fall of dozens of despotic regimes, from communist to military to fascist, since 1985 -- including several installed by the United States and, most spectacularly, the entire Soviet bloc. In the dangers of brute force, he very much has American Empire in mind: "The danger, now as in other times, is that democracy's basic nonviolent principles, so promising for the peace of the world, can be undermined by the very power the system generates, bringing itself as well as its neighbors to ruin."

Schell emerged, with Fate, as a global leader of the nuclear abolitionist movement, and he continues to have weapons of mass destruction very much on his mind. He credits Bush, in casting about for post-9/11 rationales, for correctly pegging WMDs as a serious problem, but thinks Bush's Pax Americana solution is ludicrous. Only cooperative approaches can solve it: "The days when humanity can hope to save itself from force with force are over." And he credits "cooperative power" and the nonviolent activism it suggests as being not only morally powerful, but being the only practical and effective way to counter overwhelming brute force.

Schell is after Big Questions and Big Answers here; the result can sometimes be astonishing overgeneralizations. But his concise, lucid prose and his exploration of both the history and potential of nonviolent, cooperative politics are welcome contributions to the far too small collection of books in this genre. People despairing for an alternative to George Bush's militarism will find it invaluable.

Two other fine new books I've read of late deserve a plug in this space. Now that Iraq has been liberated and the neocons are busy deciding who's next -- rather than whether there should be a next -- it's hard to imagine a more important book to read than Chris Hedges' new, devastating critique of war's addictiveness, "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning". This book will do the impossible: change how you think about war. Hedges, a New York Times reporter who spent nearly two decades in war zones from El Salvador to Kosovo, calls himself a recovering war addict, and he describes in riveting detail the horror and seductiveness of combat, both at an immediate personal level and for whole societies.

Hedges is not a pacifist; he avers that war is sometimes necessary, and his devastating description of the civilian impact of the nearly four-year siege of Sarajevo before international forces got around to intervening makes his point compellingly. But his is a cautionary tale that war be not only a last resort, but a very, very, very last resort. The chicken hawks now running our country should step away from the photo ops, give back their borrowed uniforms, and be forced to recite whole chapters of Hedges' book, from memory, at the next ten National Security Council meetings. As for the rest of us, if you want to understand the fever and the disease that has overtaken Bush's America, read this book.

"Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor" is hard for me to review with total objectivity, because of its two editors; I've edited the writing of one, Tara Herivel, and corresponded for years with the other, the invaluable Prison Legal News co-publisher (and lifer Washington state inmate) Paul Wright. So take my somewhat slanted word for it: "Prison Nation" is chock-full of outstanding essays, by authors you'll know and authors you'll want to know, that span the range of prison issues and activism. It's as good an overview of Gulag America as has come out since, well, Wright's "The Celling of America, with the difference that in the years since "Celling" prison populations have continued to increase (despite dropping crime rates), civil liberties have continued to be trashed, and, with the budget crises and social safety net destruction afoot in all 50 states, the nature of America's prisons as a vicious form of class warfare has never been clearer.

The enemy has been winning on all fronts, usually away from the public's view. "Prison Nation" is the welcome corrective, the spotlight on the shadows, the glimpse -- if we don't get busy -- into all of our futures.

It's impossible, of course, to summarize -- in a column where I only occasionally consider books or pop culture -- all the books, good and dreadful, that come across my transom. But one deserves special note, if only because I've wondered just why, for all these years, Alexander Cockburn reserves such bitter (and frequently hilarious) venom for social critic Todd Gitlin.

Now I know. Consider this, the very first sentence of the newly published Letters to a Young Activist, Gitlin's contribution to an "Art of Mentoring" series based on Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:

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Bremer of Iraq

When L. Paul Bremer III sets down in Iraq as the U.S.'s new overseer of reconstruction, he'll be bringing a lot of baggage along with him. Chosen by President Bush for his expertise in counter-terrorism, crisis management and diplomacy, Bremer has a resume that includes extended service in the Reagan Administration, an eleven-year stint at Kissinger & Associates, and the co-chairmanship of the Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force.

That President Bush has turned to a civilian and a skilled negotiator -- the president called Bremer a "can-do-type person" -- is indicative of the administration's fear that events in post-war Iraq are in danger of spinning out of control. Bremer, the current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Marsh Crisis Consulting, a subsidiary of the Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC), will take the reins of the multi-billion dollar reconstruction project from retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the administration's first civil administrator, and assume command over the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs.

Early commentary on this leadership change focused on whether Bremer's appointment was a victory for a beleaguered State Department. While Secretary of State Colin Powell may be in need of victories, the Washington Post pointed out that Bremer is "a hard-nosed hawk who is... supported by Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz." Furthermore, "White House aides said the appointment affirms Bush's satisfaction with Pentagon control over Iraq until a new government is in place." Bremer's appointment indicates that there continues to be substantial support for the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Dr Ahmad Chalabi.

Robert Gelbard, a retired career diplomat who led post-conflict efforts in Haiti, Bosnia and East Timor, told Newsday that "In terms of finding someone to manage this process, which has not started out well, I do not believe that [the White House] could have done better" than to select Bremer. According to Gelbard, administration sources believed that Garner "was not sophisticated enough to supervise the transition."

Who is L. Paul Bremer and why is the White House counting on him?

Bremer is a consummate insider with roots in several presidential administrations: During his twenty-three year diplomatic service career, he was stationed in Afghanistan, Malawi, Norway, and also served as Ambassador to the Netherlands. In 1989 he joined the powerful New York-based Kissinger Associates, and in late 2001, along with former Attorney General Edwin Meese he co-chaired the Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force, which created a blueprint for the White House's Dept. of Homeland Security. For two decades Bremer has been a regular at Congressional hearings and is recognized as an expert on terrorism and homeland security.

According to the Web site of Financial Executive International, Bremer currently sits on the board of directors of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., Akzo Nobel NV, the Harvard Business School Club of New York and The Netherland-America Foundation. He is also a Trustee of the Economic Club of New York, and is a member of The International Institute for Strategic Studies and The Council on Foreign Relations.

Bremer's bread and butter issue is terrorism. According to the World Socialist Web Site, in 1981, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig appointed him as his special assistant in charge of the department's "crisis management" center. From there he became Reagan's ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism -- a tenure that coincided with Reagan Administration-sponsored "low intensity" wars in Central America and Africa. Although Bremer co-chaired the Operations Sub-Group at the National Security Council along with Oliver North, according to Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archive, Bremer was on the "periphery" of the Iran/Contra Scandal.

Bremer has consistently espoused a get-tough stance towards terrorists. In an August 5, 1996, Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled "Terrorists' Friends Must Pay a Price" Bremer called on the Clinton administration to "get serious about the fight against terrorism." Bremer advised Clinton to deliver ultimatums to Libya, Syria, Iran and Sudan telling them to close down terrorist bases or they will "receive the full weight of American might." Ironically, Iraq was not mentioned in the piece.

In September 1999, Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert named Bremer Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism. This commission reviewed America's counter-terrorism policies and, in June 2000, it reported its recommendations to the President of the United States and to the Speaker.

Two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bremer wrote: "Our retribution must move beyond the limp-wristed attacks of the past decade, actions that seemed designed to "signal" our seriousness to the terrorists without inflicting real damage. Naturally, their feebleness demonstrated the opposite. This time the terrorists and their supporters must be crushed. But," he added, "we must avoid a mindless search for an international 'consensus' for our actions. Tomorrow, we will know who our true friends are."

In October 2001, the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation named Bremer and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III as co-chairs of its Homeland Security Task Force. The Task Force's January 2002 report titled "Defending the American Homeland" claimed the U.S. was "dangerously vulnerable" to terrorist attacks. It made a number of recommendations including: increasing security at U.S. borders, encouraging greater sharing of information among various federal law enforcement agencies and with local law enforcers, changing federal law to allow greater monitoring of foreigners in the United States, securing federal computer networks and information systems better, moving ahead with the plan to bury nuclear waste beneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada, improving communications with the public in the event of attack or increasing threats and "unleash[ing] market forces to mobilize the private sector to promote infrastructure security." A number of these recommendations have already been put in place.

The Homeland Security Task Force fused the war against terrorism to the mission of the Heritage Foundation -- privatization, de-regulation and smaller government -- maintaining that "many government initiatives, such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), antitrust legislation, liability concerns, and current tax policies, inhibit the development of a true partnership for security between the private sector and the government."

In June 2002, President Bush appointed Bremer to the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council. Composed of American businessmen, academics and political leaders, the Council ostensibly provides the President with independent advice on the defense of the American homeland.

Bremer is also listed as a senior advisor to William J. Bennett's Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT). A few months back he was a featured speaker at the AVOT-sponsored "teach-in" at UCLA. At that event, former CIA chief R. James Woolsey described the war against terrorism as a "fourth world war."

A month after 9/11, Jeffrey W. Greenberg, Marsh & McLennan Companies' chairman and chief executive, recognized that the terrorist attacks, which killed 295 of its employees, was also a new business opportunity. "Within days of the twin towers' destruction," the Wall Street Journal reported, Greenberg and top company officials "began planning to form a new subsidiary to sell insurance to corporate customers at sharply higher rates than were common before Sept. 11." The company also "accelerated plans to launch a new consulting unit to capitalize on heightened corporate fears of terrorism." On October 11, Marsh Crisis Consulting was launched with Bremer at its head. Bremer told the Journal that the unit would concentrate on catastrophic risks, those that in some cases could put a company out of business.

In addition to retaining retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, Bremer's team in Iraq is being peopled with former Iraqi exiles and assorted Reagan and Bush I retreads. Doug Henwood, editor of the Left Business Observer, told Inter Press Service's Emad Mekay in late April that the selection process is "very much like the Bush administration itself -- a bunch of private sector alumni called upon to perform the task in government they were performing in the private sector."

Mekay noted that recent appointees included "agricultural industrialist" Dan Amstutz, who will "lead the US government's agriculture reconstruction efforts in Iraq" and Peter McPherson, a long-time Washington insider and deputy US treasurer in the Ronald Reagan administration, who will be "financial coordinator" for the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). His deputy in Iraq will be George Wolfe, a senior US Treasury Department lawyer.

Bremer's greatest challenge will be to create the trappings of a democracy while ensuring that a fundamentalist Islamic government does not win control over the country. If the Shiite majority prevails in democratic elections, post-war Iraq could take on a decidedly anti-American cast. Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told WBAI Radio's Doug Henwood in late April that such a government would not want the U.S. to control its oil or establish military bases on its soil -- and would not be likely to recognize Israel.

What special expertise about Iraq or the Middle East is Bremer bringing to Iraq? None, says a former senior State Department official who has worked with Bremer. He is a "voracious opportunist with voracious ambitions," the official told Newsday. "What he knows about Iraq could not quite fill a thimble. What he knows about any part of the world would not fill a thimble. But what he knows about Washington infighting could fill three or four bushel baskets."

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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