Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hijacking Democracy in Iraq

Diligence is the mother of good luck.--Poor Richard

Scott Ritter:
What occurred in Iraq on Jan. 30, 2005 was an American-brokered event, not an expression of Iraqi national unity. The U.S. lowering of the Shi'a vote is a case in point.

The official results of the Jan. 30, 2005 elections are in. The Shi'a emerged as the big winners, grabbing 48 percent of the vote, followed by the Kurds who garnered 26 percent, and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's coalition party netting a paltry 13 percent. Behind the scenes political infighting rages as the victorious political parties vie to get their candidates positioned in the new government. On the surface, this looks like the sometimes messy aftermath of democracy; squabbling, rhetoric, and posturing. The Iraqi elections have been embraced almost universally as a great victory for the forces of democracy, not only in Iraq, but throughout the entire Middle East. The fact, however, is that the Iraqi elections weren't about the free election of a government reflecting the will of the Iraqi people, but the carefully engineered selection of a government that would behave in a manner dictated by the United States. In Iraq, democracy was hijacked by the Americans.

Elections have been used in the past to cover up inherently non-democratic processes. Stalin had elections, as did Hitler. So did Saddam Hussein. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Ba'athist Iraq were not burgeoning democracies, but totalitarian dictatorships. The point here is that elections don't bring democracy. The roots of any democracy lie in a people united in their desire to govern in accordance with a rule of law that guarantees the rights of all. Such people then create conditions in which elections can certify their desire by selecting those who will govern. This produces democracy. What occurred in Iraq on Jan. 30, 2005 was anything but such an expression of Iraqi national unity.

The Iraqi election was an American-brokered event: the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority set the terms of the election, and its date (not sooner than Dec. 31, 2004, but no later than Jan. 30, 2005) in its 'Law number 92,' signed into effect by former CPA chief Paul Bremer on May 31, 2004. The U.S. then had this act certified a week later by the Security Council of the United Nations, which passed resolution 1546, a Chapter VII resolution which carries the weight of international law and which endorsed the U.S.-dictated timetable for elections.

'Law number 92' is part of a larger body of Iraqi law, known as the 'Transitional Administrative Law', or TAL. The TAL was approved by the Interim Iraqi Governing Council on March 1, 2004; on June 1, the IIGC voted on an Annex to the TAL which certified as law all of the CPA's laws, regulations, orders and directives, regardless of the TAL. Iraq today is still governed under these conditions, which provide the U.S. occupiers in Iraq de facto control over what happens behind the scenes in the Iraqi Government. Iraq's 'democratic' elections were held under these conditions.

The main objective of the Iraqi election was to elect a national assembly which would then draft a new constitution by August 2005. This new constitution will be brought up to the national assembly for vote on Oct. 15, 2005. If the constitution is adopted, the new parliamentary elections would be held in December 2005 based on this constitution. If the constitution is rejected, then there will be a new national assembly election (a repeat performance of the Jan. 30 vote), and Iraqis will have another year to sort out their constitutional crisis.

Iraq's future rests on this issue of a new constitution. And herein lies the rub. It is the fervent wish of the Bush administration, and its ally, interim Prime Minister Alawi, that the new National Assembly rubber stamp the interim constitution that is already in place. This constitution contains language which precludes Iraq from becoming an Islamic Republic like Iran, where religious law (i.e., the Shar'ia), versus secular law, reigns supreme. Iraq's Shi'a majority have rejected this notion, and as such will not support the constitution as it currently exists.

The interim Iraqi constitution was dead on arrival. The Bush administration just hasn't accepted this fact. It had no chance of survival had the Shi'a won an outright majority of the vote in the Iraqi election. 'If it [i.e., the percentage of Shi'a votes] had been higher, the [Shi'a] slate would be seen with a lot more trepidation,' a senior U.S. State Department official said, once the official Iraqi election results were announced on Feb. 14. The problem is, there is good reason to believe that the percentage of votes for the Shi'a was higher – much higher. Well-placed sources in Iraq who were in a position to know have told me that the actual Shi'a vote was 56 percent. American intervention, in the form of a 'secret vote count' conducted behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny, produced the Feb. 14 result.

The lowering of the Shi'a vote re-engineered the post-election political landscape in Iraq dramatically. The goal of the U.S., in doing this, is either to guarantee the adoption of the U.S.-drafted interim constitution, or make sure that there are not enough votes to adopt any Shi'a re-write. If the U.S.-drafted Iraqi constitution prevails, the Bush administration would be comfortable with the secular nature of any Iraqi government it produces. If it fails, then the Bush administration would much rather continue to occupy Iraq under the current U.S.-written laws, than allow for the creation of a pro-Iranian theocracy. In any event, the Shi'a stand to lose.

Whether this re-engineering will succeed in the long run has yet to be seen. What is clear, however, is that many senior Shi'a know the real results that occurred on Jan. 30, and will not walk away from what they believe is their rightful destiny when it comes to governing of Iraq: a Shi'a controlled state, operating in accordance with Shar'ia law.

The post-election 'cooking' of the results in Iraq all but guarantees that the Shi'a of Iraq will rally together to secure that which they believe is rightfully theirs. This journey of 'historical self-realization' may very well ignite the kind of violent backlash among the Shi'a majority in Iraq that the U.S. has avoided to date. It could also complicate whatever strategies the Bush administration may be trying to implement regarding Iraq's neighbor to the east, Iran. But in any case, the American 'cooking' of the Iraqi election is, in the end, a defeat for democracy and the potential of democracy to effect real and meaningful change in the Middle East. The sad fact is that it is not so much that the people of the Middle East are incapable of democracy, but rather the United States is incapable of allowing genuine democracy to exist in the Middle East.

Scott Ritter was U.N. chief weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 and is author of Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy, to be published by I.B. Tauris (London) in the summer of 2005.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Bush Republicanism: Destroying the Enlightenment to Save It

When there's more Malice shown than Matter: on the Writer falls the Satyr.--Poor Richard

Over at Press Think, Jay Rosen has been pursuing the thesis that President Bush is self-consciously practicing a strategy of de-certifying and thus delegitimizing the press (This argument is based on the fact that Bush says as much.). It strikes me that there is a further parallel between Rosen's thesis of a conscious Bush policy to decertify the press as a strategy to redefine the political terrain, and Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Bolton's explicitly stated agenda of delegitimizing the United Nations.

Both positions insist that control over the will of a political community must not be ceded to institutions invested in legalistic control: one at the level of the domestic state, the other at the level of the Wilsonian United Nations. They reject heretofore hegemonic legal definitions of the welfare state and international law as illegitimate usurpers of communal sovereignty.

To the degree that reporters act as representatives of the Enlightenment and stand on the side of reason as opposed to group self-interest defined in communal terms, they effectively sustain the legitimacy of the previously hegemonic system. Reporters who are not actively challenging the legitimacy of the welfare state and international law are thus instruments of the enemy, obstacles to the anti-liberal Republican revolution.

One layer of astonishing incoherence steps in when Bush Republicans take up the mantle of anti-fascist justice in the name of the challenge to liberal legalism that DEFINED fascism and its Asian allies. They effectively say, "We must reject the legitimacy of international law by starting an unprovoked war of aggression in order to bring to justice those who are or will be guilty of crimes against humanity such as starting a war of aggression in the manner of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan." Liberal legalism is categorically rejected as inadequate to the task of saving itself. It must be overthrown for the sake of its own salvation.

Under international law, Bush has undertaken exactly what Nuremburg and Tokyo War Crimes tribunals found Nazi Germany and Militarist Japan of: Instigating unprovoked wars of aggression and therefore crimes against humanity.

The self-righteousness of the cloak of the Second World War Bush wants to take into battle against "Terror" (and not coincidentally ideologically strip from the Keynesian welfare state types who actually organized and fought it), is grounded in the very principles of international liberal legalism that the neo-con PNAC imperial project rejects as illegitimate. Bush waves the mantle of the very liberal legal system he rejects both nationally and internationally (Ads with Roosevelt against Social Security are another perfect analogy). Rejection is salvation, delegitimization is constructive reform.

Reporters who have a coherent enough personal identity to acknowledge facts of more than a few hours ago are by definition obstructionist wrenches in this system of blatant "up-is-downism." They are framed as New Class hegemons who obstruct the anti-liberal revolution insofar as they continue to imagine democracy involves checks and balances, debate rather than marching orders and obedience. From this point of view, if they are covering enemies legal concerns are category mistakes and aid and comfort to the enemy. The very subject of international law is thus anathema, and counter-revolutionary from the radical Bushite perspective.

A further key element of confusion is that prominent cheerleader allies of Bushite strategy at home and abroad, such as Joseph Lieberman and Thomas Friedman, make the case for these very same anti-liberal offensives IN LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC TERMS. Challenging the welfare state is necessary for economic freedom, military expansion is liberation.

The strategies are rationalized on the grounds of communitarian particularism AND universal humanism AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME.

The fact that the latter enable an anti-liberal, anti-humanist revolution of de-certification is a strategic side-effect that both Lieberman and Friedman seem to be completely oblivious to. In other words, Lieberman and Friedman are cheerleading the de-legitimization of liberal humanism in the name of liberal humanism.

Culture War Reference List, Pt. 1

Good Sense is a Thing all need, few have, and none think they want.--Poor Richard

Two more names to add to the list of culture war theorists: Carl Schmitt and Christopher Lasch.

Paul Gottfried:
"According to Schmitt, political groups are essentially life-and-death associations...a number of Schmitt's disciples have advocated regional and populist solutions to the erosion of nation-states...Until recently democracy did mean...the act of self-government by a people united by culture and history...

On a similar note, Christopher Lasch attacks the wayward American elite that has neither a sense of place nor loyalty to anything beyond career ambition. He attributes the present fragility of the American state to the overthrow of the traditional Western bourgeoisie by New Class social planners...

Lasch believes that only blue-collar Americans have not been touched by the treasonous elites, because of their relative isolation from the yuppie gravediggers of traditional culture and morality...Lasch appeals to Middle American virtue against the entrenched elites...

Lasch is correct in claiming that New Class power is linked to globalist projects which demand the blurring of, among other things, regional distinctions. It may therefore by useful to strengthen such distinctions as a counterweight to New Class power. Within politically viable regions there should be controls concerning the franchise, eligibility for welfare assistance and immigration...there is a genuine call for a politically decentralized America, refounded on self-government...

The populist revolt Lasch calls for cannot succeed within the friend-enemy grouping established and dominated by the New Class."

Paul Gottfried, "Reconfiguring the Political Landscape," Telos, no.103, Spring 1995, pp.111-116.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

It's Not Democracy That's on the March in the Middle East

Pray don't burn my House to roast your Eggs.--Poor Richard

Seumas Milne:
For weeks a western chorus has been celebrating a new dawn of Middle Eastern freedom, allegedly triggered by the Iraq war. Tony Blair hailed a "ripple of change", encouraged by the US and Britain, that was bringing democracy to benighted Muslim lands.

First the Palestinians, then the Iraqis have finally had a chance to choose their leaders, it is said, courtesy of western intervention, while dictatorships such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are democratising under American pressure. And then in Lebanon, as if on cue, last month's assassination of the former prime minister triggered a wave of street protests against Syria's military presence that brought down the pro-Damascus government in short order.

At last there was a democratic "cedar revolution" to match the US-backed Ukrainian "orange revolution" and a photogenic display of people power to bolster George Bush's insistence that the region is with him. "Freedom will prevail in Lebanon", Bush declared this week, promising anti-Syrian protesters that the US is "on your side". The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is expected to join the cheerleaders for Arab democracy in a speech today and warn the left not to defend the status quo because of anti-Americanism.

The first decisive rebuff to this fairy tale of spin was delivered in Beirut on Tuesday, when at least 500,000 - some reports said it was more like a million - demonstrators took to the streets to show solidarity with embattled Syria and reject US and European interference in Lebanon.

Mobilised by Hizbullah, the Shia Islamist movement, their numbers dwarfed the nearby anti-Syrian protesters by perhaps 10 to one; and while the well-heeled Beiruti jeunesse dorée have dominated the "people power"

jamboree, most of Tuesday's demonstrators came from the Shia slums and the impoverished south. Bush's response was to ignore them completely. Whatever their numbers, they were, it seems, the wrong kind of people.

But the Hizbullah rally did more than demolish the claims of national unity behind the demand for immediate Syrian withdrawal. It also exposed the rottenness at the core of what calls itself a "pro-democracy" movement in Lebanon. The anti-Syrian protests, dominated by the Christian and Druze minorities, are not in fact calling for a genuine democracy at all, but for elections under the long-established corrupt confessional carve-up, which gives the traditionally privileged Christians half the seats in parliament and means no Muslim can ever be president. As if to emphasise the point, one politician championing the anti-Syrian protests, Pierre Gemayel of the rightwing Christian Phalange party (whose militiamen famously massacred 2,000 Palestinian refugees under Israeli floodlights in Sabra and Shatila in 1982), recently complained that voting wasn't just a matter of majorities, but of the "quality" of the voters. If there were a real democratic election, Gemayel and his friends could expect to be swept aside by a Hizbullah-led government.

The neutralisation of Hizbullah, whose success in driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000 won it enormous prestige in the Arab world, is certainly one aim of the US campaign to push Syria out of Lebanon.The US brands Hizbullah, the largest party in the Lebanese parliament and leading force among the Shia, Lebanon's largest religious group, as a terrorist organisation without serious justification. But the pressure on Syria has plenty of other

motivations: its withdrawal stands to weaken one of the last independent Arab regimes, however sclerotic, open the way for a return of western and Israeli influence in Lebanon, and reduce Iran's leverage.

Ironically, Syria's original intervention in Lebanon was encouraged by the US during the civil war in 1976 partly to prevent the democratisation of the country at the expense of the Christian minority's power. Syria's presence and highhandedness has long caused resentment, even if it is not regarded as a foreign occupation by many Lebanese. But withdrawal will create a vacuum with huge potential dangers for the country's fragile peace.

What the US campaign is clearly not about is the promotion of democracy in either Lebanon or Syria, where the most plausible alternative to the Assad regime are radical Islamists. In a pronouncement which defies satire, Bush insisted on Tuesday that Syria must withdraw from Lebanon before elections due in May "for those elections to be free and fair". Why the same point does not apply to elections held in occupied Iraq - where the US has 140,000 troops patrolling the streets, compared with 14,000 Syrian soldiers in the Lebanon mountains - or in occupied Palestine, for that matter, is unexplained. And why a UN resolution calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon has to be complied with immediately, while those demanding an Israeli pullout from Palestinian and Syrian territory can be safely ignored for 38 years, is apparently unworthy of comment.

The claim that democracy is on the march in the Middle East is a fraud. It is not democracy, but the US military, that is on the march. The Palestinian elections in January took place because of the death of Yasser Arafat - they would have taken place earlier if the US and Israel hadn't known that Arafat was certain to win them - and followed a 1996 precedent. The Iraqi elections may have looked good on TV and allowed Kurdish and Shia parties to improve their bargaining power, but millions of Iraqis were unable or unwilling to vote, key political forces were excluded, candidates' names were secret, alleged fraud widespread, the entire system designed to maintain US control and Iraqis unable to vote to end the occupation. They have no more brought democracy to Iraq than US-orchestrated elections did to south Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. As for the cosmetic adjustments by regimes such as Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's, there is not the slightest sign that they will lead to free elections, which would be expected to bring anti-western governments to power.

What has actually taken place since 9/11 and the Iraq war is a relentless expansion of US control of the Middle East, of which the threats to Syria are a part. The Americans now have a military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar - and in not one of those countries did an elected government invite them in. Of course Arabs want an end to tyrannical regimes, most of which have been supported over the years by the US, Britain and France: that is the source of much anti-western Muslim anger. The dictators remain in place by US licence, which can be revoked at any time - and managed elections are being used as another mechanism for maintaining pro-western regimes rather than spreading democracy.

Jack Straw is right about one thing: there's no happy future in the regional status quo. His government could play a crucial role in helping to promote a real programme for liberty and democracy in the Middle East: it would need to include a commitment to allow independent media such as al-Jazeera to flourish; an end to military and financial support for despots; and a withdrawal of all foreign forces from the region. Now that would herald a real dawn of freedom.

It's Not Democracy That's on the March in the Middle East

Pray don't burn my House to roast your Eggs.--Poor Richard

Seumas Milne:
For weeks a western chorus has been celebrating a new dawn of Middle Eastern freedom, allegedly triggered by the Iraq war. Tony Blair hailed a "ripple of change", encouraged by the US and Britain, that was bringing democracy to benighted Muslim lands.

First the Palestinians, then the Iraqis have finally had a chance to choose their leaders, it is said, courtesy of western intervention, while dictatorships such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are democratising under American pressure. And then in Lebanon, as if on cue, last month's assassination of the former prime minister triggered a wave of street protests against Syria's military presence that brought down the pro-Damascus government in short order.

At last there was a democratic "cedar revolution" to match the US-backed Ukrainian "orange revolution" and a photogenic display of people power to bolster George Bush's insistence that the region is with him. "Freedom will prevail in Lebanon", Bush declared this week, promising anti-Syrian protesters that the US is "on your side". The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, is expected to join the cheerleaders for Arab democracy in a speech today and warn the left not to defend the status quo because of anti-Americanism.

The first decisive rebuff to this fairy tale of spin was delivered in Beirut on Tuesday, when at least 500,000 - some reports said it was more like a million - demonstrators took to the streets to show solidarity with embattled Syria and reject US and European interference in Lebanon.

Mobilised by Hizbullah, the Shia Islamist movement, their numbers dwarfed the nearby anti-Syrian protesters by perhaps 10 to one; and while the well-heeled Beiruti jeunesse dorée have dominated the "people power"

jamboree, most of Tuesday's demonstrators came from the Shia slums and the impoverished south. Bush's response was to ignore them completely. Whatever their numbers, they were, it seems, the wrong kind of people.

But the Hizbullah rally did more than demolish the claims of national unity behind the demand for immediate Syrian withdrawal. It also exposed the rottenness at the core of what calls itself a "pro-democracy" movement in Lebanon. The anti-Syrian protests, dominated by the Christian and Druze minorities, are not in fact calling for a genuine democracy at all, but for elections under the long-established corrupt confessional carve-up, which gives the traditionally privileged Christians half the seats in parliament and means no Muslim can ever be president. As if to emphasise the point, one politician championing the anti-Syrian protests, Pierre Gemayel of the rightwing Christian Phalange party (whose militiamen famously massacred 2,000 Palestinian refugees under Israeli floodlights in Sabra and Shatila in 1982), recently complained that voting wasn't just a matter of majorities, but of the "quality" of the voters. If there were a real democratic election, Gemayel and his friends could expect to be swept aside by a Hizbullah-led government.

The neutralisation of Hizbullah, whose success in driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000 won it enormous prestige in the Arab world, is certainly one aim of the US campaign to push Syria out of Lebanon.The US brands Hizbullah, the largest party in the Lebanese parliament and leading force among the Shia, Lebanon's largest religious group, as a terrorist organisation without serious justification. But the pressure on Syria has plenty of other

motivations: its withdrawal stands to weaken one of the last independent Arab regimes, however sclerotic, open the way for a return of western and Israeli influence in Lebanon, and reduce Iran's leverage.

Ironically, Syria's original intervention in Lebanon was encouraged by the US during the civil war in 1976 partly to prevent the democratisation of the country at the expense of the Christian minority's power. Syria's presence and highhandedness has long caused resentment, even if it is not regarded as a foreign occupation by many Lebanese. But withdrawal will create a vacuum with huge potential dangers for the country's fragile peace.

What the US campaign is clearly not about is the promotion of democracy in either Lebanon or Syria, where the most plausible alternative to the Assad regime are radical Islamists. In a pronouncement which defies satire, Bush insisted on Tuesday that Syria must withdraw from Lebanon before elections due in May "for those elections to be free and fair". Why the same point does not apply to elections held in occupied Iraq - where the US has 140,000 troops patrolling the streets, compared with 14,000 Syrian soldiers in the Lebanon mountains - or in occupied Palestine, for that matter, is unexplained. And why a UN resolution calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon has to be complied with immediately, while those demanding an Israeli pullout from Palestinian and Syrian territory can be safely ignored for 38 years, is apparently unworthy of comment.

The claim that democracy is on the march in the Middle East is a fraud. It is not democracy, but the US military, that is on the march. The Palestinian elections in January took place because of the death of Yasser Arafat - they would have taken place earlier if the US and Israel hadn't known that Arafat was certain to win them - and followed a 1996 precedent. The Iraqi elections may have looked good on TV and allowed Kurdish and Shia parties to improve their bargaining power, but millions of Iraqis were unable or unwilling to vote, key political forces were excluded, candidates' names were secret, alleged fraud widespread, the entire system designed to maintain US control and Iraqis unable to vote to end the occupation. They have no more brought democracy to Iraq than US-orchestrated elections did to south Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. As for the cosmetic adjustments by regimes such as Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's, there is not the slightest sign that they will lead to free elections, which would be expected to bring anti-western governments to power.

What has actually taken place since 9/11 and the Iraq war is a relentless expansion of US control of the Middle East, of which the threats to Syria are a part. The Americans now have a military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar - and in not one of those countries did an elected government invite them in. Of course Arabs want an end to tyrannical regimes, most of which have been supported over the years by the US, Britain and France: that is the source of much anti-western Muslim anger. The dictators remain in place by US licence, which can be revoked at any time - and managed elections are being used as another mechanism for maintaining pro-western regimes rather than spreading democracy.

Jack Straw is right about one thing: there's no happy future in the regional status quo. His government could play a crucial role in helping to promote a real programme for liberty and democracy in the Middle East: it would need to include a commitment to allow independent media such as al-Jazeera to flourish; an end to military and financial support for despots; and a withdrawal of all foreign forces from the region. Now that would herald a real dawn of freedom.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The New Republican Party of Big Government: Bush Republicanism and the Collapse of Republican Principles

There's more old drunkards than old doctors.--Poor Richard

Bryan Jones:
One of my favorite George Bush malapropisms is from the 2000 election campaign: "They have miscalculated me as a leader." He meant, of course, that people had miscalculated if they thought he was not a leader.

The president's difficulties with off-the-cuff speech have led to all sorts of assumptions about his intellectual confusion and worse.

But there is nothing confused about this president's agenda. At this point in his presidency, he has fielded the most focused agenda in modern times, to great effect. His success rate in major policy activities is nothing less than astounding. No wonder he has never vetoed a bill!

Ironically, though, this tightly focused and highly successful agenda has led to an incoherent program and with no understandable governing philosophy — for both the president and his party. The legacy of Bush is a modern Republican Party with no anchor, no clear goals, rushing forward doing things, accomplishing much, but putting into place policies that do not add up to a sensible public philosophy to sustain the future.

Such inconsistency leads inevitably to irresponsible public finance. And that is how the Republican Party came to forsake its heritage of small government and fiscal prudence. It has traded a sound and guiding set of principles for a set of confused and self-contradictory assertions that are nevertheless asserted with strong conviction. The inevitable result is poor government.

Ad hoc reasons are generated to cover policy initiatives instead of initiatives being grounded in sound reasoning. Rather than an underlying rationale of limited government, or of Christian values, or of neoconservative power, one gets a set of disconnected and one-time theories to cover what is being done.

For tax cuts, we get "it's the people's money" and "we need an economic stimulus," and "if we 'starve the beast' by limiting its revenue flows, then government will shrink." For the invasion of Iraq, we get "weapons of mass destruction" to "ridding the world of a dictator" to "promoting democracy throughout the world."

Unfortunately, the collective result of a focused, successful agenda and an incoherent public philosophy is government by inconsistency.

This incoherence is brand new. For most of the period since the Great Depression, the Republican Party articulated the case for limited government and fiscal responsibility.

Even when Republicans expanded government — as they did in the Eisenhower years with a commitment to science, space and transportation — they stood rock solid for prudent budgeting. If the government took it on, the taxpayers would have to pony up the means.

The first major change came with the notion, adopted by President Ronald Reagan, that tax cuts would stimulate enough revenue that government would not need to control spending. Reagan tried mightily to get Congress to limit domestic spending (while he pushed large new military initiatives) at the same time taxes were cut.

When the supply-side endeavor failed, yielding huge deficits rather than a balanced budget, Reagan's advisers prevailed on him to support tax increases.

Then congressional Republicans and Democrats together put in place a series of rules — the "pay-go" rules — designed to hold fast to the understanding that budgets needed to be balanced and public finances needed to be restrained. They required offsetting money to fund new programs or new tax cuts. These restraints died in 2001 when President Bush refused to support their renewal.

There isn't any doubt that Bush and the Republican Congress have collaborated to grow government. Fiscal constraints have collapsed, and the small-government/fiscal-prudence wing of the Republican Party lies in ruin.

The extent of the rout is shocking. Since Bush's first inaugural, the outlays (actual spending) of the U.S. government have grown at an annual average of 4.35 percent above inflation, according to calculations I made from the Office of Management and Budget's reported data.

This compares with a per-year average of 1.22 percent during the Clinton administration, 2.96 during the administration of the senior Bush, and 2.66 during the two Reagan terms.

This growth is not simply due to a burgeoning defense budget, as non-defense expenditures have increased at a 3.13-percent annual clip, far higher than Bill Clinton's modest 1.82 percent.

More ominously, during the Bush administration, major new entitlement programs have been established, requiring vast sums in the future even if present expenditures are modest.

The Medicare drug-reform law — the largest health-policy initiative since Lyndon Johnson — will cause spending of $100 billion per year by 2015, according to Bush administration estimates.

No Child Left Behind has promised states increased education funding, and the act itself is the most extensive federal intrusion in the field of K-12 education ever.

The proposed partial privatization of Social Security is, truth be told, a vast new entitlement itself, in which current contributors can use their money while still funding the benefits of the retired. By 2015, we'll be spending an additional $200 billion a year for this program.

We pay nothing for these programs now, but they write into law obligations that are very expensive down the road.

Add to this increased national police powers developed in the USA Patriot Act, the important but expensive Homeland Security initiatives, the vast increase in farm subsidies Bush supported in his past term, and the unprecedented centralization of legal matters from state to federal courts, and one gets a rush toward big national centralized government matched only by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

This frenetic activity has had a profound effect on the growth of government. It is easy to detect a strong shift in the government spending exactly at the time Bush took office. Using simple projections, we can calculate that the fiscal path pursued by George H.W. Bush and Clinton would have led to a government approximately 15-percent smaller today than it actually is. [See the accompanying chart at the end of this commentary.]

Yet, these massive new government programs are being, and will be for the foreseeable future, funded from borrowing.

Bush's tax cuts, which were supposed to stimulate revenue growth to offset their costs, have instead driven down federal revenues from almost 21 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2000 to 16.3 percent last year. The tax cuts failed to stimulate enough growth to recoup the lost revenue, and economists predict they will not do so in the foreseeable future. Simultaneously, outlays have grown from 18.4 percent of GDP to 19.8 percent, leading to record-breaking deficits.

Because most of the impacts of the tax cuts are scheduled to take effect later in the decade, we can anticipate even further declines in federal revenue, and hence even larger deficits.

Is the current policy incoherence simply a result of governing and needing to satisfy interest groups? That is likely to be part of the story, but surely major constituencies still exist for prudent financing. In any case, the role of a party philosophy is to steel party members against needless capitulation to interests. Moreover, the policy incoherence is not because of the activities of Congress, the normal home of interest-group politics.

This policy incoherence comes from a strong presidency, and in particular from the strong, focused agenda of this disciplined president.

It is actually quite easy to describe the current policies of the Republican Party: big, intrusive government, providing vast new entitlements and domestic programs, vast new police and "homeland security" intrusions into civil society, and an aggressive military policy coupled with huge tax cuts that lead to ballooning deficits as the entitlements come due and the tax cuts expand on schedule.

The result is Big Government, financed by passing the bulk of the costs on to the future through massive borrowing. It is simply not possible to create a political rationale — an ideology, if you will — that can be stretched to cover these policies.

Even as the fundamental rationale of what has been the Republican Party — limited government, choice and responsibility — have all collapsed, much of the rhetoric of Republican leaders continues to read from the old script. Limited government is inevitably enshrined in the party's platform — the 2004 version says, "We believe that good government is based on a system of limited taxes and spending." Yet that principle no longer guides the GOP.

What does? For many Republicans today, the litmus test of conservatism has become one's commitment to tax cuts.

Tax cuts are justified because, so it is claimed, they inevitably lead to less government. But "starving the beast" — denying government revenue so it will have to shrink — has been a complete failure. It didn't work in the Reagan years, and it hasn't worked for George W. Bush.

Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary. The most sustained deceleration in the growth rate of the federal government in modern times — from 1991 through 2000 — occurred as taxes were raised. Tax increases were paired with program cuts to overcome the monumental deficits caused by the Reagan administration's foolhardy experiment with "supply side" financing, and because Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton agreed that fiscal responsibility was the key to sustained prosperity.

After 2000, as taxes were cut by Bush and the Republican Congress, outlays — in real dollars and as a percent of GDP — rose rapidly. The G.H.W. Bush-Clinton era of responsible finances was over. Without sustained fiscal discipline, government grew as taxes were slashed.

In any case, squawking about tax cuts cannot serve as a unifying public philosophy for a governing party. A more comprehensive and convincing approach is required.

It's a great irony that political scientists and citizens alike should ponder. One of the most focused and disciplined presidents in U.S. history has generated a completely incoherent program, one that saddles his country and his party with a path toward a Third World debt pattern and his party with an incomprehensible governing philosophy.

Fixing the Media: One Reader's "Reality-based Community" is Another Reader's "Fence"

Liberality is not giving much, but giving wisely.--Poor Richard

Jay Rosen's discussion of how Bush is self-consciously "de-certifying the press" resonates strongly with Hunter's (at dKos) superb diary on "fencing," the Republican practice of discrediting candidates and media sources so a debate on issues can't even take place. Frames on issues don't even matter when opponents have their minds made up and aren't even interested in debating the issues (The treatment of Farenheit 9/11 is a good example. Rather than refuting it, perhaps a majority of Repubs simply refused to see it on principle.)

It's easy to say "read the bills, dig into the background, and tell us what they're not saying." Many bloggers already do this daily. The response from the other side is that they are "creating news." The response is the "fencing" maneuver that these unreliably Republican sources must be excluded from the acceptable stream of discussion (this is the Hugh Hewitt, Powerline, Thune-blog job description in a nutshell as a more media target-specific second layer beyond Rush Limbaugh).

In other words, for a large swathe of any readership, "simply reporting" as Jay and Scott call for is the definition of hostile liberal press activism. For this group, anything beyond Bush administration propaganda is defined as "making" rather than "reporting" news. The constant inability to communicate on the comments section to this great blog is a testament to how deeply held these mutually exclusive world views are.

Anyone have a clue about how to actually get broad public exposure to facts discovered from "read[ing] bills, dig[ging] into the background, and tel[ling] us what they're not saying"?

It happens routinely already (at dKos, Informed Comment, Talking Points Memo, Atrios, Indy-weblogs, and many other sites) and is just as routinely dismissed as partisan hackery, misrepresentation, or hatred. How do we get past the filter in the reading public for whom one reader's "reality-based community" is another reader's "fence" of decertification? At this point, the ideological aspect of decertification and legitimizing the social function of reporting cannot be separated from one another.

What would rebuilding trust in the press look like? Hugh Hewitt and Amy Goodman's views on how to reestablish trust would't agree on much. What would reestablish trust for Hewitt would even further degrade it in my eyes. Moving in the direction of Goodman would degrade it for all who are closer to Hewitt. For this very reason, we are in the process of instituting competing media universes. Is that the only solution?

Jay is trying to ask what might make the current system work better. He observes that Bush has made a move here toward decertification. Understanding this strategy does involve the realization that White House reporting has effectively stopped, but it also involves realizing that it has been effectively delegitimized in the eyes of many. Reviving the practice of actually reporting on the White House would add something we don't have under the current system, but it doesn't begin to address the consequences of a strategy that seeks to delegitimize the very act of posing questions to the Commander in Chief that stray from the party line. That defines reality with the party line.

How is it that the Bush Republicans continue to SIMULTANEOUSLY believe that Bush is not doing anything new AND that the press is getting what they deserve because they decertified themselves years ago? Does this refusal to think mean that rational discussion is simply impossible from here on out? What are the alternatives?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Bi-Partisan Consumer's Rights Agenda: Fight Fraudulent Corporate Billing Practices

Early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy, and even more aware of fraudulent corporate billing practices with bi-partisan support.--The New Poor Richard

Everyday I wake up wondering what it will take for the majority to recognize who is screwing them. This diary is immediately inspired by Roselee's dKos Class Warfare diary referencing Bill Moyers explication of the Republican Party's systematic promotion of corporate tyranny. Here is where we start to fight the power with the people on our side.

My issue is this: Who isn't sick of having to pay charges they don't even know are accurate because not answering the phone is the foundation of contemporary corporate business strategy (my HMO is practically a classification state requiring over an hour on hold with three different offices to collate data for ONE VISIT TO ONE CLINIC!)? How many millions of Americans in both parties are tired of getting ripped off by routinely "mistaken" bills they get from their cell phone providers every damn month? Who don't answer the phone when you are actually home from work? This issue should have the tidal political force of the "don't call" lists with more systematic consequences for corporate cronyism.

How many millions are absolutely livid about trick, secret charges from scheister corporations with secret billing deadlines you are supposed to be morally corrupt for not divining with ESP? Credit rating blackmail that means we all routinely pay fraudulent charges because of the credit report gestapo that enforces for the corporate scam artists?

I say we start a campaign demanding corporations have a minimal transparency in their billing procedures. That they pay double in penalties for any false charges they are proven to have levied on their customers (this would come to tens of billions a year with cell phone companies alone) with routine audits by independent regulatory agencies (because self-regulation by scam artists IS NOT WORKING!). That corporate demands for payment be routinely suspended until they deign to actually communicate with the customers they are trying to screw by providing a minimal customer to customer service staffing level. That damaging credit reports and collection agency action be routinely suspended until the company meets minimal standards and review of the accuracy of their billing (Talk about tyranny of the IRS! The private sector credit report Gestapo makes the IRS look like amateurs when it comes to lack of due process. We currently have almost no rights concerning abuse of credit rating blackmail). Who couldn't favor these common sense demands FOR CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY beyond professional corporate hitmen like POWERLINE?

The current laws are codes of scam artist protection EVEN BEFORE WE GET TO THE NEW CHAPTER OF LOAN SHARK PROTECTION in the latest bill!

Can I get a witness?


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Support Our Troops: Stop the Use of Depleted Uranium Now!

Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.--Poor Richard

How Depleted Uranium Weapons are Killing Our Troops

The following document by Marion Fulk, a nuclear physical chemist, and Leuren Moret, a geo-scientist, provides a concise and essential explanation of the biological response to depleted uranium (DU) particulate internal exposure.

Military research laboratories report that the particulate effect of DU causes 1 million times more damage than the expected damage from the radiation effect alone - genetic damage. Cancer starts with a single alpha particle under the right conditions.

The following letter was written by Marion Fulk, former scientist with the Manhattan Project and nuclear physical chemist at the National [nuclear weapons] Laboratory at Livermore, California.

The letter is addressed to Dr. Chris Busby, a radiation expert who has written independent reports on low level radiation exposure for the British government and the European Parliament.

The use of depleted uranium weapons is causing a nuclear holocaust, with a global effect.

Leuren Moret,
Berkeley, California

December 14, 2004

Dr. Chris Busby
Green Audit
9 Prospect Street
Aberystwyth, Wales SY23 1JJ
United Kingdom

Dear Dr. Busby,

At your request, Marion Fulk and I are providing information and details on internal exposure to depleted uranium particulates.

Mr. Fulk is a nuclear physical chemist, retired from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. He conducted research on rainout of very fine radioactive particulates generated by atmospheric testing for the Nuclear Weapons Program. He holds a high level US Govt. clearance, and is an international expert on radiation and the biological effects from internal exposure.

I am the Past President of the Association for Women Geoscientists, with a background in the Geosciences. I have conducted extensive scientific research on atmospheric dust, the transport and cycling of radionuclides through the environment and through biological systems. I am recognized as an international expert, on the impact on global public health and the health of the environment, from radiation caused by atmospheric testing, nuclear power plants and depleted uranium.

Mr. Fulk and I are actively conducting research on the particulate effect, and internal radiation exposure. The particulate effect is newly recognized as a result of studies on the biological and medical effects of depleted uranium internal exposure.

THREE EFFECTS OF DEPLETED URANIUM INTERNAL EXPOSURE
Internal exposure to depleted uranium is known to have three separate effects which may or may not act together, which may occur at different times, or have delayed effects:

1. Chemical – changes in a substance due to an alteration of its chemical composition caused by changes in its atoms or molecules;

2. Radiological – changes when the nucleus of an isotope undergoes disintegration and releases energy in the form of alpha or beta particles and/or gamma rays. About 30% of radiation damage to cells is caused by the “bullet effect” of the alpha and beta particles tearing through the cells. About 70% of the damage is caused by changes in the cells and biological molecules from the energy dissipated along the pathway of the alpha and beta particles, and gamma rays;

3. Particulate – changes caused by the particle size, the most harmful being nano-particles which are defined as particles with a diameter of 0.1 micron and smaller.

Because you have already provided information about the chemical and radiological effects detailed in the ECRR Report (2003) and the CHERRIE Report (2004), this letter will primarily address the particulate effect.

THE PARTICULATE EFFECT

The “particulate effect” is a new phenomenon. It is now being recognized from research on nano-particles and from the effects of battlefield and downwind exposure to depleted uranium.

The resulting complex of diseases caused by depleted uranium and possible chemical exposure is known as Gulf War Syndrome (Table
1).

Depleted uranium gas and dust, formed on the battlefield, produces large numbers of extremely fine particles. The greatest number by mass on the battlefield are formed in the nano-particle range – 0.1 microns and smaller (1). Coincidentally, international funding and research in the new field of nano-technology has also provided details from studies on the effects of nano-particles, which until now have not been well studied. Recently discoveries have revealed that there is a particulate effect caused by these nano-particles in living tissues. There are now 16 peer-reviewed journals devoted to the new field of nano-technology.

In a normal air sample there are billions of dust particles in a range of sizes. For example there are 1 billion dust particles with a diameter of 0.1 micron per cubic meter. A diameter of 0.1 micron is about 100 times smaller than a blood cell. An average man breathes about 28 cubic meters of air per day, inhaling approximately 28 billion 0.1 micron particles.

This is also the peak population size of invisible atmospheric dust particles, which are transported around the world and remain permanently suspended until they are rained or snowed out of the atmosphere. Nano-particles remain suspended by Brownian motion, and do not behave like larger sized particles. They behave according to the rules of quantum mechanics.

Some nano-particles have catalytic and extraordinary electronic properties, like oxides of uranium, which behave in non-stoichiometric ways. Uranium is a very large and complex atom, with a large cloud of many electrons around the nucleus as well as in the outer shells. Uranium can act as a reducer, donating electrons, or as an oxidizer, scavenging or accepting electrons. Because uranium compounds are unpredictable in the way they behave, uranium is also biologically unpredictable. In this atmosphere of unpredictability characteristic of uranium, anything can happen.

Because uranium and phosphate have an interaction, uranium can interfere with biological processes where the phosphate structure is present. Examples are in the DNA, the histone or Master Code (2) which controls part of the _expression of the DNA, and fragments of the RNA which control part of the _expression of the DNA.

TRANSPORT AND EXPOSURE PATHWAYS

Exposure pathways for depleted uranium can be through the skin, by inhalation, and ingestion. Nano-particles have high mobility and can easily enter the body. Inhalation of nano-particles of depleted uranium is the most hazardous exposure, because the particles pass through the lung-blood barrier directly into the blood. In the blood they are transported throughout the body and may be filtered out by the tissues. Delivery to the cell systems is expedited by transport in the liposomes, and probably in cholesterol.

Because the depleted uranium particles are much smaller than the liposomes or cholesterol, their presence is masked or hidden from the cell defenses, and therefore can end up any place in the cell and tissues. Mild electric shocks can also transport things into cells, as was demonstrated in early lab experiments to modify genes, and the reported mixing of bacterial DNA from lightning strikes (3).

When inhaled through the nose, nano-particles can cross the olfactory bulb directly into the brain through the blood brain barrier, where they migrate all through the brain (4). Many Gulf-era soldiers exposed to depleted uranium have been diagnosed with brain tumors, brain damage, and impaired thought processes. Uranium can interfere with the mitochondria, which provide energy for the nerve processes, and transmittal of the nerve signal across synapses in the brain.

Damage to the mitochondria, which provide all energy to the cells and nerves, can cause chronic fatigue syndrome, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Hodgkin’s disease (5).

SIZE DETERMINES TOXICITY MORE THAN COMPOSITION

A limited number of animal studies have shown that inhaled nano-particles are more toxic than micro-sized particles of the same basic chemical composition (4). Top UK toxicopathologist Vyvyan Howard has reported that nano-particle toxicity is more related to their size than to the material they are made from (6). A good example is gold which is usually inert, but highly reactive at the nano-scale. Dr. Howard has claimed that nano-particles can move across the placental barrier from mother to fetus.

In a study on fish exposed to nano-particles reported by Jim Thomas in The Ecologist, “buckyballs” caused brain damage and genetic changes in fish (7). Prof. Guenter Oberdoester at the Univ. of Rochester Dept. of Environmental Medicine, reported that Teflon particles that were 0.13 microns in diameter (the size of a virus) caused no ill effects in mice. But when mice were exposed to nano-particles 0.02 microns in diameter for just 15 minutes, nearly all the mice were dead within 4 hours.

The exposure to nano-particles below a threshold size killed the mice, but there is no “dictionary disease” to explain the deaths, however the exposure had the effect of a disease.

Particles in the nano-particle range are a “new breed of cat”. They can get into vital process centers of the cell which larger diameter particles cannot reach. The processes are not fully understood.

Sincerely yours,

Leuren Moret and Marion Fulk
Berkeley & Livermore, California

REFERENCES:

1. “Characteristics of Particles and Particle Dispersoids”, HANDBOOK OF CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS 53rd Edition (1961).
http://www.mindfully.org/Nucs/Particle-Dispersoids-TableSep61.htm

2. “Preferential Staining of Nucleic Acid-Containing Structures For Electron Microscopy” H. E. HUXLEY, Ph.D., and G. ZUBAY, Ph.D., Biophysical and Biochemical Cytology 11 (2): 273. (Nov 1961)
http://www.mindfully.org/Nucs/Huxley-Zubay-Staining1nov61.htm

3. “Isolation of Lightning-Competent Soil Bacteria” Hélène Cérémonie, François Buret, Pascal Simonet, and Timothy M. Vogel, Applied and Environmental Microbiology Journal (2004) V. 70 (10) p. 6342-6346.
http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/abstract/70/10/6342?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&searchid=1103085771679_2000&stored_search=&FIRSTINDEX=0&firstpage=6342&fdate=1/1/2004&journalcode=aem

4. AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY MEETING: “Nanomaterials Show Signs of Toxicity” by Robert F. Service, Science 11 April 2003; 300: 243
US Congress. 2003. House of Representatives. Committee on Science Hearing: The Societal Implications of Nanotechnology. April 9, 2003, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

5. “Sandia nanolaser may help extend life-spans by rapidly analyzing possible neuroprotectant drugs” by Neal Singer, Sept. 19, 2003, p.1.
http://www.sandia.gov/LabNews/LN09-19-03/key09-19-03_stories.html#nano

6. “Dangers come in small particles” Hazards Magazine August 2004.
http://www.hazards.org/nanotech/safety.htm

7. “Ten Toxic Warnings” by Jim Thomas, The Ecologist January 2004 p. 13.

Dear Bush Republican: Should we be held responsible for our first principles?

There was never a good Knife made of bad Steel.--Poor Richard

It has been said that beginning from different first premises in political discussions in the US today should not call for accusations of intellectual dishonesty. I wonder. What are the alternatives? Admitting an honest mistake? Self-deception?

At this point in our nation's history, with the competing positions being seeing the Bush administration as a government of war criminal imperialists conspiring with war profiteers and enabled by an embedded corporate media vs. seeing them as lights of freedom and democracy on earth unjustly maligned by a bitterly partisan and demented liberal media, first premises ARE the ISSUE. First premises are EVERYTHING.

It is true that differences here don't necessarily indicate intellectual dishonesty (though that can't simply be ruled out), but they do indicate entirely alternate universes.

When facts are routinely and effectively wished away by major players, where do we turn for genuine political discourse, for discussion of actual policy alternatives? Can we even speak across the divide?

At this point, it's defense of the enlightenment vs. defense of the fundamentalist founder's constitution, defense of the rule of law and civil liberty vs. the freedom of action to secure the nation, transparency in government vs. the classification state as a weapon. These are not principles that can or should be compromised on either side. These issues are much more than a question of civility, they begin to raise the question of whether the nation will survive. This is true FOR BOTH SIDES though their world views are mutually exclusive.

With the stakes being what they are, anger is not only justified, but nearly demanded. How either side can find enough common ground to even communicate successfully is a deep mystery to me. Even the generally acknowledged neutrality of C-SPAN founders on the rock of bias and grinds to a hopeless, mutually exclusive halt during the call-in show.

I read Jay Rosen's weblog, PressThink, for reasons to hope that this profound chasm can be bridged. His insights always refine my understanding of how the media works, but my concern that not only the media, but what little remains of the democratic process, has largely ceased to effectively function remains profound.

For those Republicans who live on the sunny side of the street, good luck when the Republican class warfare agenda (like the new bankruptcy bill) actually becomes law and you achieve Rove's stated goal of returning the US to the nineteenth century. Good luck at the funeral of your relatives who die of cancer from the increased pollution Bush's EPA allowed, at the funeral of your mother who gets Alzheimer's because the concerns of the beef industry not to lower profits by actually controlling Mad Cow Disease matter more to Bush's EPA than your relative's health. Good luck when your relative suffers chronic muscular and nerve pain because Bush's FDA continues to approve drugs hard science says MUST be off the market immediately. Good luck when you try to file a class action suit to challenge the cold corporate calculus that allows the pharmaceutical industry to endanger your children in a premeditated way and you find out that tort reform means this calculus will always pay, even at the expense of your own loved ones.

If you sincerely believe George W. Bush is not engaged in class warfare or increasing legally permissable levels of pollution that endanger your loved ones, or any of the other actions I refer to above, maybe you aren't intellectually dishonest. But it is extremely hard to imagine what world you are living in that would allow you to continue to believe these things aren't happening. Let alone to find fault with the media rather than the party in charge of all three branches of government.

Near the end of the Pacific War, the Japanese began to report imaginary victories, began to make up fantasy numbers of ships and planes that were lost to keep up the will of the Japanese people to fight. They kept reporting the "good news" about all the Asians in the Co-Prosperity Sphere that loved them and who would tell the Japanese how grateful they were for being liberated from Euro-American colonialism, leaving out the news that 75% of the inhabitants of the sphere absolutely detested them as war criminals and murderers.

I see a lot of this narcissism of the Tojo mentality in the contemporary US right-wing religion of media bias. I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

Monday, March 07, 2005

You Want to End Terrorism?

Be at War with your Vice, at Peace with your Neighbors, and let every New-Year find you a better man.--Poor Richard

"They hate our freedom1," as well as "what we see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government [...] they hate our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and to assemble and to disagree with each other2."

Your President is basically telling you it is treasonous to think about how history relates to world opinion of US military action. Be afraid of a government that tells you not to think. This is the mindset of Tojo.

Juan Cole:
Let's think about terrorism in the past few decades in a concrete and historical way, and it is obvious that it comes out of a reaction to being occupied militarily by foreigners. The Muslim Brotherhood developed its Secret Apparatus and began committing acts of terror in the 1940s in Egypt, which the British had virtually reoccupied in order to deny it to the Italians and then Germans. The Brotherhood assassinated pro-British judges and pro-British politicians (the British installed the Wafd Party in power). The Brotherhood had grown to some half a million members by 1948. Some Brothers also volunteered to fight in Palestine against the rise of Israel, which they saw as a colonial settler state...
You want to end terrorism? End unjust military occupations. By all means have Syria conduct an orderly withdrawal from Lebanon if that is what the Lebanese public wants. But Israel needs to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria, as well. The Israeli military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must be ended. The Russian scorched earth policy in Chechnya needs to stop. Some just disposition of the Kashmir issue must be attained, and Indian enormities against Kashmiri Muslims must stop. The US needs to conduct an orderly and complete withdrawal from Iraq. And when all these military occupations end, there is some hope for a vast decrease in terrorism. People need a sense of autonomy and dignity, and occupation produces helplessness and humiliation. Humiliation is what causes terrorism.

Foreign Occupation Has Produced Radical Muslim Terrorism

The New York Times is Your One-Stop Source for Bush Administration Disinformation: Read All About It

Wars bring scars.--Poor Richard

Doug Ireland:
Sunday's New York Times lead front-page story out of Washington is headlined "Rule Change Lets CIA Freely Send Suspects Abroad." It's nice to see the Times finally catching up to the story that the Bush administration has been routinely sending people of being accused of terrorism to despotic allies of Washington, where physical torture is commonplace and will be visited on those suspected terrorists (although the word "torture" only made it into the subhead in the Times story, not the main headline.) A significant number of other major news outlets -- from the WashPost to the Guardian, not to mention the major European dailies and the BBC -- have been reporting this story for months. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about it a year ago. So did my friend Tom Engelhardt, in a particularly tough and prescient piece. However, better late than never, I suppose, where the arteriosclerotic Times is concerned.

But the Times and its reporters, Doug Jehl and David Johnston, missed a hugely significant aspect of this story that strikes at the very heart of our democracy--a story which luckily can be found on the front page of the Sunday Baltimore Sun.

Continued below:
N.Y. Times Has Really Bad Day on Torture, the Constitution, and Pentagon Mendacity

Bush is Reestablishing State-mandated Religion in Explicit Defiance of the Bill of Rights

Cunning proceeds from want of capacity.--Poor Richard

New York State law now requires participation of some children in explicitly religious Salvation Army programs. New York state law thus mandates involuntary religious practice. The Justice Department is spending your tax dollars to defend the reestablishment of religion in New York state.

"Employees said the new policies would inevitably infuse religion into the services the welfare program had long provided — notably in areas such as abortion counseling and HIV prevention — that would conflict with their ethical duties as social workers to furnish proper care.

And because in many cases children and families are required by law to participate in the city-funded programs, they assert that would lead to precisely the sort of government-coerced religion that the Constitution prohibits."

Richard Schmitt:
One of the main jobs at the Justice Department is enforcing the nation's civil rights laws. So when a nonprofit group was accused of employment discrimination last year in New York, the department moved swiftly to intervene — but not on the side one might expect.

The Salvation Army was accused in a lawsuit of imposing a new religious litmus test on employees hired with millions of dollars in public funds.

When employees complained that they were being required to embrace Jesus Christ to keep their jobs, the Justice Department's civil rights division took the side of the Salvation Army.

Defending the right of an employer using public funds to discriminate is one of the more provocative steps taken by a little-known arm of the civil rights division and its special counsel for religious discrimination.

The Justice Department's religious-rights unit, established three years ago, has launched a quiet but ambitious effort aimed at rectifying what the Bush administration views as years of illegal discrimination against religious groups and their followers.

Many court decisions have affirmed the rights of individuals in the public sector not to have religious beliefs imposed on them — the Supreme Court ruling banning school-sponsored prayer in public schools among them. And courts have ruled that the rights of religious groups sometimes need protection too — upholding, for example, their right to have access to public buildings for meetings.

But the argument that a religious institution spending public funds has the right to require employees to embrace its beliefs — and that it will be backed by the Justice Department in doing so — has changed the debate. It is an argument the Bush administration is making in Congress as well as in the courts.

Central to the competing points of view are the protections afforded by the 1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The webpage of the Justice Department unit reads: "Religious liberty was central to the Founders' vision for America, and is the 'first freedom' listed in the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights. A critical component of religious liberty is the right of people of all faiths to participate fully in the benefits and privileges of society without facing discrimination based on their religion."

Likening the effort to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the special counsel for religious discrimination has intervened in an array of religious disputes.

In some cases, the government's stand has been applauded by secular civil rights groups as well as religious groups.

For example, the Justice Department prevailed last year when a Muslim girl's right to wear a head scarf to class was upheld — she had been suspended for violating the dress code at a public school in Oklahoma. The department also has challenged the practice of making residents at some youth detention facilities in the South participate in religious activities.

In other areas, the department is implementing the will of Congress or the Supreme Court. It acted, for example, to enforce a 2000 law that gives preferential treatment to religious groups in zoning disputes over the construction of churches.

But critics say there is a fine line between promoting religious rights and promoting religion, especially in light of the constitutional requirement that the government maintain strict neutrality when it comes to religious activities.

Judging from the cases and investigations the religious unit has launched, the new mission of the Justice Department is overwhelmingly focused on protecting the rights of religious organizations.

Eric Treene, the religious-discrimination special counsel, is the former litigation director of a nonprofit group, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group has been active in suing schools and local governments on behalf of religious groups.

Treene, one of four special counsels in the civil rights division, has no staff and shares a secretary with two other Justice Department lawyers. But a former senior Justice official describes him as widely influential, bird-dogging cases he thinks the department should throw its weight behind and reaching out to religious groups for bias cases he believes the department should investigate.

Neither Treene nor his boss, R. Alexander Acosta, head of the civil rights division, were available for interviews.

Many religious people freely embrace the principle of separation of church and state — in particular when it involves providing publicly funded social services — and don't welcome the attention of the Justice Department on the issue.

"There are many God-fearing people who would say that mostly what they want is for the government to leave religion alone," said Melissa Rogers, founding executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and a visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School.

A number of cases the department has taken on serve specific goals of conservative religious organizations, a key political constituency of the Bush administration.

In three separate lawsuits, the department has filed briefs supporting the Child Evangelism Fellowship. The Christian group has led a national movement to establish after-school Good News Clubs in public elementary schools around the country in which children learn Bible stories and pray, among other activities.

The suits seek to enforce a landmark Supreme Court ruling the group won in 2001 giving it the right to hold Bible club meetings on public school property.

Gordon Todd, a civil rights division official, said in an interview that the Justice Department got involved because some local jurisdictions had refused to open their doors to the religious groups, or imposed new barriers to entry, in defiance of the high court ruling.

"That deserves some follow-up litigation," he said, comparing the enforcement efforts to those the department undertook in the face of local resistance to the Supreme Court's school desegregation cases dating to Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.

Still, some critics wonder whether such cases warrant Justice Department involvement, especially if the litigants are already well-represented by private lawyers.

"This is not the equivalent of the Southern resistance to the black vote that you need to have the Justice Department pursuing it," said Marc Stern, co-director of the Commission for Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress in New York. "The litigation goes very nicely without the United States government intervening."

The religious unit has conducted at least six bias investigations triggered by complaints from a group of Christian lawyers in Texas known as the Liberty Legal Institute.

In December, a Justice Department lawyer launched a probe of an elementary school in Plano, Texas, that had stopped a fourth-grader from handing out candy canes with a religious message at school-sponsored holiday parties.

Based on another complaint, the department investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech University two years ago who would not write letters of recommendation for students unless they affirmed a belief in the theory of evolution.

The professor, Michael Dini, said he was seeking to ensure that his students understood "the central, unifying principle of biology." He agreed to modify his policy under pressure from the Justice Department, requiring that students be able to explain the theory of evolution rather than actually believe in it.

"I think if I am the Justice Department, they like groups like us who bring cases that I think present a very clear picture" of discrimination, said Kelly Shackelford, the Liberty Legal Institute's chief counsel, adding that not all its cases involve Christian conservatives.

The Salvation Army case is the boldest initiative in the Justice Department's recent emphasis on religious rights. And the stakes go well beyond the old-line Christian charitable organization.

The department's position in the case — that religious groups should be able to hire or fire people based on their religious views, even when administering publicly funded programs — is a cornerstone of President Bush's faith-based initiative. The initiative is channeling hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to churches and other religious groups to deliver social services.

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 preserves the right of religious organizations to discriminate in hiring, it does not address the question of whether that applies to groups that accept public funds. That issue has not been legally resolved.

Bush has said he believes that, so long as they do not infuse their social programs with religious messages, religious groups should not have to sacrifice their religious character — by employing nonbelievers or followers of a different faith — in order to qualify for federal funds.

Last week, the House approved an administration-backed bill that would permit such discrimination in hiring. But the Senate has blocked similar legislation in the past, with Democrats arguing that using the law to permit discrimination turns civil rights enforcement upside down.

If Congress again refuses to allow such discrimination, a setback in the Salvation Army case could bolster legal challenges to federal faith-based programs across the country.

In New York, the Salvation Army apparently had long operated without such entanglements, despite a history steeped in religious tradition. The international organization has provided social services to New Yorkers for decades. Its current contracts total about $50 million from the city and state of New York to provide foster care, HIV counseling and other services.

In 2003, according to a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen workers in its Social Services for Children division, the Salvation Army began requiring employees to divulge information about their faiths, including the churches they attended and their ministers.

They were also called on to embrace a new mission statement — included in job postings and job descriptions — that declared the top goal of the social welfare operation is "to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination." The previous mission statement was "to empower each person who enters our doors to live with dignity and hope," and contained no religious references.

Protections against discriminatory employment practices were excised from the employee handbook, and an effort was made to compile a list of homosexual employees, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs — veteran social workers who had grown accustomed to the organization not mixing its religion with the secular social-welfare services it administers — saw the moves as an illegal use of public funds.

"I worked there for 24 years. When I was hired, nobody ever asked me what my religious beliefs were. What they were really looking for were my professional skills, " said Anne Lown, the program's former second in command. She resigned because of the Salvation Army's "illegal infusion of religion" into the workplace, and now heads a child social services program for Catholic Charities in New York.

According to the complaint, the organization was concerned about "the widening gap between the ecclesiastical Salvation Army and the Social Service component of the Salvation Army" in the New York region.

But employees said the new policies would inevitably infuse religion into the services the welfare program had long provided — notably in areas such as abortion counseling and HIV prevention — that would conflict with their ethical duties as social workers to furnish proper care.

And because in many cases children and families are required by law to participate in the city-funded programs, they assert that would lead to precisely the sort of government-coerced religion that the Constitution prohibits.

The proposals touched off a wrenching debate among some of the organization's most devout employees. The longtime executive director of the social services program, a Lutheran minister, was ousted after voicing objections to the plans, according to the employee complaint.

Ultimately, 18 current and former employees of the social services operation, a number of them in supervisory positions, filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York. Many of them say they are religiously active, but think an important line has been crossed.

"We are not all a bunch of atheists or secular humanists," said one of the plaintiffs, Mary Jane Dessables, who is an elder at her Presbyterian church. But "we are all united in our dismay."

The Salvation Army has moved to dismiss the case, saying that as a private, nonprofit religious organization it is exempt from antidiscrimination laws. New York officials, also defendants in the suit, say they are not legally responsible for the organization's actions.

The Justice Department weighed in last August, calling the employee suit an affront to "the federal statutory and constitutional rights of religious employers to define their character and maintain their religious integrity." The department said the discrimination claims were "irrelevant."

The case is awaiting a decision by a judge.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Moses Didn't Write the Constitution

Pardoning the Bad, is injuring the Good.--Poor Richard

Thom Hartmann:

Two main arguments are being put forward these days about state-sponsored displays of the Ten Commandments. The first is that they are the basis of Anglo-Saxon law, leading to ancient British law, leading to American law. The second is that sometimes the displays of them are purely decorative, part of a larger display of other legal and/or religious symbols (as is seen in the Supreme Court chamber itself).

The decorative/art argument is a reasonable one, and probably the one the Supreme Court will adopt with relation to the Texas display. As the nations' most competent word police, conservatives have apparently focus-group tested the word "museum" and found that it works best to frame this argument (expect to see more of that word soon) and in the real context of a real museum the argument would have legitimacy. Religion - which the Ten Commandments symbolize - is, after all, a very real part of the history of America, for better or worse (just ask the women hanged as witches for over a century in Massachusetts).

But the real issue here is a "camel's nose under the tent" plan of religious conservatives and the new American Christian Taliban to convince the American people that the Ten Commandments are the very basis of American law, and thus should be both displayed in public places and taught in our schools.

The next step from this argument is the assertion that religion is the basis of America itself, and that twisted half-truth that the Founders and Framers did not write a "wall of separation between church and state" into the First Amendment of the Constitution. And then, conservatives will say, religion should inform the decisions of government; government should be subsidizing religion (as it is already with tax breaks and "faith based initiatives"); and religion-based legal perspectives (particularly on issues like abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality) are necessary, since the basis of American law is religion.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams disagreed.

In a February 10, 1814 letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, Jefferson addressed the question directly. "Finally, in answer to Fortescue Aland's question why the Ten Commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England we may say they are not because they never were." Anybody who asserted that the Ten Commandments were the basis of American or British law was, Jefferson said, mistakenly believing a document put forth by Massachusetts and British Puritan zealots which was "a manifest forgery."

The reason was simple, Jefferson said. British common law, on which much American law was based, existed before Christianity had arrived in England.

"Sir Matthew Hale [a conservative advocate for church/state "cooperation"] lays it down in these words," wrote Jefferson to Cooper: "'Christianity is parcel of the laws of England.'"

But, Jefferson rebuts in his letter, it couldn't be. Just looking at the timeline of English history demonstrated it was impossible:

"But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here, then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it...."

Not only was Christianity - or Judaism, or the Ten Commandments - not a part of the foundation of British and American common law, Jefferson noted, but those who were suggesting it was were promoting a lie that any person familiar with the commonly-known history of England would recognize as absurd.

"We might as well say that the Newtonian system of philosophy is a part of the common law, as that the Christian religion is," wrote Jefferson. "...In truth, the alliance between Church and State in England has ever made their judges accomplices in the frauds of the clergy; and even bolder than they are."

In a January 24, 1814 letter to John Adams, Jefferson went through a detailed lawyer's brief to show that the entire idea that the laws of both England and the United States came from the Ten Commandments rests on a single man's mistranslation in 1658, often repeated, and totally false.

"It is not only the sacred volumes they [the churches] have thus interpolated, gutted, and falsified, but the works of others relating to them, and even the laws of the land," he wrote. "Our judges, too, have lent a ready hand to further these frauds, and have been willing to lay the yoke of their own opinions on the necks of others; to extend the coercions of municipal law to the dogmas of their religion, by declaring that these [Ten Commandments] make a part of the law of the land."

It was a long-running topic of agreement between Jefferson and John Adams, who, on September 24, 1821, wrote to Jefferson noting their mutual hope that America would embrace a purely secular, rational view of what human society could become:

"Hope springs eternal," wrote Adams of the preachers trying to take over government. "Eight millions of Jews hope for a Messiah more powerful and glorious than Moses, David, or Solomon; who is to make them as powerful as he pleases. Some hundreds of millions of Mussulmans expect another prophet more powerful than Mahomet, who is to spread Islamism over the whole earth. Hundreds of millions of Christians expect and hope for a millennium in which Jesus is to reign for a thousand years over the whole world before it is burnt up. The Hindoos expect another and final incarnation of Vishnu, who is to do great and wonderful things, I know not what."

But, Adams noted in that letter to Jefferson, the hope for a positive future for America was - in his mind and Jefferson's - grounded in rationality and government, not in religion. "You and I hope for splendid improvements in human society, and vast amelioration in the condition of mankind," he wrote. "Our faith may be supposed by more rational arguments than any of the former."

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a June 5, 1824 letter to Major John Cartwright, "Our Revolution commenced on more favorable ground [than the foundation of the Ten Commandments]. It presented us an album on which we were free to write what we pleased. We had no occasion to search into musty records, to hunt up royal parchments, or to investigate the laws and institutions of a semi-barbarous ancestry. We appealed to those of nature, and found them engraved on our hearts."

After all, only two of the Ten Commandments have long been enshrined in our law - don't kill and don't steal - and those have been part of human society since the stone age (and are even today part of the rules of "stone age" cultures, who have never had contact with modern religion). These two are clearly part of "nature's law," as Jefferson often noted.

Thomas Jefferson was perhaps the most outspoken of the Founders who saw religious leaders seizing political power by claiming religion as the basis of American law to be a naked threat to American democracy.

One of his most well known quotes is carved into the stone of the awe-inspiring Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny imposed upon the mind of man."

Modern religious leaders who aspire to political power often cite it as proof that Jefferson was a Bible-thumping Christian.

What's missing from the Jefferson memorial (and almost all who cite the quote), however, is the context of that statement, the letter and circumstance from which it came.

When Jefferson was Vice President, just two months before the election of 1800 in which he would become President, he wrote to his good friend, the physician Benjamin Rush, who started out as an orthodox Christian and ended up, later in his life, a Deist and Unitarian. Here, in a most surprising context, we find the true basis of one of Jefferson's most famous quotes:

"DEAR SIR, - ... I promised you a letter on Christianity, which I have not forgotten," Jefferson wrote, noting that he knew to discuss the topic would add fuel to the fires of electoral politics swirling all around him. "I do not know that it would reconcile the genus irritabile vatum [the angry poets] who are all in arms against me. Their hostility is on too interesting ground to be softened.

"The delusion ...on the [First Amendment] clause of the Constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists.

"The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, and they [the preachers] believe that any portion of power confided to me [such as being elected President], will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough too in their opinion."

Let us hope that the Supreme Court will affirm that decorative displays of the Ten Commandments - or any religious iconography - are fine in the context of art or, as Sandra Day O'Connor said in a previous decision, as "ceremonial Deism." This will probably allow for the display in the Texas case, as they're part of a much larger display of Texas historical icons, and will also prevent both conservative hysteria or anti-religious witch-hunts in which every last symbol of religion is scraped away from our institutions. (The Greek goddess John Ashcroft covered up with fabric is, after all, an ancient religious symbol. We need rationality here.)

But, more importantly, let's hope that the Court will take this opportunity to affirm the absolute separation of church and state in the United States, and to note, as Jefferson so well pointed out and as this nations Founding generation so well knew, that the Ten Commandments have nothing whatsoever to do with American law, or even its history. And, thus, they need not be displayed as major, focal-point monuments on public property (Judge Moore/Alabama); in classrooms next to the flag (a better display would be that subversive document, the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution of the United States [which never once mentions "God"]); or taught in our schools (next on the Christian Taliban hit-list).

History - and our nation's Founders - teach us that religion is best left to religion, and governance best left to a government answerable to We The People, rather than to Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or their self-appointed contemporary spokesmen.