Blog Archive

Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Worried about Mad Cow yet? Your cattlemen aren't. They are only worried that you might be.
The late Ed Abbey had it right when he declared, "The rancher—with a few honorable exceptions—is a man who strings barbed wire all over the range; drills wells and bulldozes stock ponds; drives off elk and antelope and bighorn sheep; poisons coyotes and prairie dogs; shoots eagles, bears, and cougars on sight; supplants the native grasses with tumbleweed, snakeweed, povertyweed, cow shit, anthills, mud, dust, and flies. And then leans back and grins at the TV cameras and talks about how he loves the American West."
Mondo Washington at Village Voice takes a look at the cattle industry's success in preventing adequate inspections of their product.
In a report released Tuesday by the Corporate Crime Reporter, editor Russell Mokhiber recommended that the "death penalty" should be applied to corporations convicted of defrauding the federal government. "The federal government has the authority to prohibit corporations convicted of serious crimes from doing business with the federal government," said Mokhiber, referring to the False Claims Act, also known as the "whistleblower" act. Under this act, citizens are entitled to sue corporations on behalf of the U.S. government, receiving as much as 30% of any settlement. Per Mokhiber's report:
"This debarment or exclusion authority is considered the equivalent of the death penalty, because for major health care corporations and defense corporations which rely on federal contracts, denying them federal contracts would effectively put them out of business.

"The federal government rarely exercises this authority – although it should more often to deter an ongoing pattern of criminal fraud."

HCA leads the way

The report [PDF download, 295 KB] also ranks the top 100 False Claims Act settlements by amount of the settlement. Leading the list is a $731 million settlement in December 2000 with the Tennessee-based health care giant HCA, which also occupies the number two slot with a $631 million settlement in June 2003. HCA's largest private shareholder is company director Thomas F. Frist, Jr., often named to the annual Forbes 400 Richest Americans list, whose 5,532,259 shares (1.17% ownership valued at approximately $204 million (8-Aug-03)) dwarf the combined 553,903 shares held by the company's top three officers. (Frist was formerly the Chairman, but stepped down in January, 2002.) If the name Frist sounds familiar, it should. Frist is the brother of U.S. Senate majority leader and Tennessee Republican Senator Dr. Bill Frist. Bill Frist's most recent "signature" piece of legislation is of course the pork-laden Medicare prescription drug benefit, from which HCA stands to profit handsomely. Frist has received $990 thousand in campaign contributions from the healthcare industry, including direct contributions from HCA of $24,800, over $9 thousand dollars more than HCA gave to any other candidate. Frist also has a $20 million fortune, most of it in HCA stock.

Whither Dick Cheney?

Among HCA's institutional shareholders is The Vanguard Group, Inc. (9,624,528 shares, 2.03% ownership valued at approximately $355 million). Vanguard also manages the mutual funds Vanguard Specialized-Health Care Fund (6,967,620 shares, 1.47% ownership valued at approximately $246 million (31-Jul-03)) and Vanguard 500 Index Fund (4,284,666 shares, 0.9% ownership valued at approximately $178 million (31-Dec-02)), and almost certainly has investments in HCA in other Vanguard funds. As it turns out, Vanguard also happens to manage between $16.3 and $80.7 million of Vice President Dick Cheney's personal financial assets (15-May-02, Financial Disclosure Report).

Cheney further has a more direct investment (between $500 thousand and $1 million) in HCA via American Express' AXP New Dimensions Fund (8,500,000 shares of HCA, 1.79% ownership valued at approximately $351 million (28-Feb-03)), and has modest investments in seven other American Express funds. He also has modest investments in J.P. Morgan, who ranks in as HCA's third largest shareholder (24,937,532 shares, 5.26% ownership valued at approximately $919 million (30-Sep-03)).

HCA is hardly alone

Of course, HCA is hardly the only healthcare provider to appear on the Corporate Crime Reporter's top 100 list. Indeed healthcare providers occupy the top twelve positions on the list and a full 56 of the judgements appearing on the list are against healthcare providers. Other healthcare providers appearing twice on the top 100 list were Bayer ($271.2 million) and Tenet Healthcare ($72 million).

Defense contractors were also prominent on the top 100 list, occupying 23 spots there. Defense contractors appearing twice on the top 100 list were Northrop Grumman ($191.2 million), Boeing ($129 million), and Teledyne ($112.5 million). Energy giant Shell Oil has the distinction of being the only company appearing on the top 100 list three times ($215 million).

About the top 100 list

The Corporate Crime Reporter top 100 list was compiled from all settlements made since the False Claims Act was last amended in 1986. At that time, the act was amended to reinstate the whistleblower provision and to add provisions for treble damages and protection of the whistleblowers. Since that time, recoveries under the act have skyrocketed, with the government recovering over $12 billion. The top 100 list alone provided a total of $8.2 billion – more than 65 percent – of those recoveries, and in each case in the top 100, the whistleblower(s) received or will receive in excess of $1 million. In the lesser of the two HCA settlements alone, the whistleblower's share of the recovery was over $151 million.

Perhaps even more important to note however is that all recoveries under the False Claims Act were citizen-initiated. None of these cases of fraud were uncovered by government auditors. False Claims Act recoveries thus reflect only a portion of financial fraud recoveries by our government, and certainly, many cases of fraud go undetected entirely. And there is no reason to expect that similar fraud does not take place against group and private health insurance providers.

Think defense is expensive?

The False Claims Act was amended in 1986 in response to public furor over excessive billings by defense contractors ($700 toilet seats, anyone?). Clearly, defense contractor fraud is still a major problem. It has of late however been dwarfed by healthcare fraud.

We have well in excess of 40 million citizens in our country currently without medical coverage, and this number is growing. For those with employer-provided coverage, that coverage is steadily shrinking even as co-pays and employee contributions are rising. For those privately insured, annual premium increases of over 40% are being reported.

The movement for a single-payer healthcare system for our country that covers every citizen is once again gaining steam, being buoyed for these obvious reasons. Detractors of course say that we cannot afford it, ignoring the evidence that we are already paying for it, but simply not getting it. One of many ways to pay for a single-payer system is obvious via this Corporate Crime Reporter publication. Cutting back on health provider fraud will provide literally billions of dollars a year towards this goal. But how can a single-payer system help to do this? Two ways, in fact.

First, a great expense for any medical office or hospital lies in the billing process. There are literally thousands of medical insurance providers, each with their own unique requirements for processing medical claims. All of these offices and hospitals are required to develop a billing staff with expertise in handling all of this. The medical profession itself has been complaining about this for over two decades because developing this expertise costs them money. A single-payer system almost entirely eliminates the need for and the money required to develop this level of expertise. And money removed from this billing process is money that can go into the actual delivery of healthcare.

The second way is actually twofold. First, government auditors will benefit from this single method of paying claims by being better able to better hone their skills at detecting fraud. Second, all basic medical payments will be brought under this single-payer system and this single audit function. Fraudulent billing wherever it occurs will be audited centrally and with a consistency that we simply cannot have under our current system.

Will this alone pay for a single-payer system that covers all of our citizens? It will be a big step, but most likely not. But this is only one of many ways that a single-payer system can wring tens billions of dollars annually out of our current system without at all affecting the healthcare already being provided to those currently covered. Single-payer is simply an idea whose time has arrived.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003
"To be born in misery and deprivation is not one’s fault;
to create and foster it is insidious."

Person of the YearThink they are waiting until after the election to revive the draft? Sorry, but it is already here. They just don't call it that yet. In a wonderful yet troubling tribute, writer Manuel Valenzuela of Axis of Logic agrees with Time magazine in their selection of the American Soldier as "Person of the Year":
The ultimate sacrifice is being paid for reasons that few comprehend, in circumstances that yearn to be understood and for a reality that is hard to believe and accept. The excuses have been many, and many have been impeachable lies and shams. Freedom and democracy are but the latest, found at the bottom of the barrel by Bush, in a last act of desperation, being the hardest to implement, therefore the hardest to prove wrong and question. Now our soldiers are made to believe these audacious deceits, when in fact they die and suffer for much more sinister motives.

For these reasons, like Time, I agree that our heroic men and women, in overcoming so much with so little and in spite of everything the elite few have done to endanger their lives and futures, should be named 2003’s Person of the Year. The reasons, however, are altogether different. Like so many, I am for our soldiers, against the war, and this article is dedicated to all those who through no fault of their own find themselves caught inside the most frightful nightmare they will ever be forced to endure.

An important reading.

Perhaps as good a sign of this as any is the now frequent issuance to our troops of "stop-loss" orders, orders preventing them from separating from the military on their agreed-upon date. The Washington Post takes a look at this in "Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting":
According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But Fontaine and Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 -- the payroll computer's way of saying, "Who knows?"

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's "stop-loss" orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

So much for the "all volunteer" military.
Monday, December 29, 2003
Scott Ritter, who led the UNSCOM Iraq weapons inspections team from 1996 to 1998, and David Kelly, Ritter's subordinate at that time and the current U.S. leader of the hunt for Iraqi WMDs, were both solicted by MI6 (Britain's CIA equivalent) in that group's effort to exagerate the Iraqi WMD threat, Ritter himself has revealed. Ritter, a stanch opponent of the current Iraq War, said that there was evidence that MI6 continued to use similar propaganda tactics up to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year. “Stories ran in the media about secret underground facilities in Iraq and ongoing programmes (to produce weapons of mass destruction),” said Ritter. “They were sourced to western intelligence and all of them were garbage.”
Religions usually espouse peace and goodwill, so why have they sparked so many conflicts? Karen Armstrong, author of the remarkable "A History of God", offers her thoughts in today's Guardian on how Western monotheism has always fell victim to the more violent aspects of human nature. Now with Bill Moyers also offers a transcript of an interview with her. Both are fairly brief an worthwhile reading. That said, if you are at all interested in the development and traditions of Western monotheism, by all means, read her breakthrough "A History of God". A most scholarly work, it was the book that caused this Atheist to believe once again that religion at its very best is a quite beautiful thing.

No, I didn't convert back. I simply found a new and great respect for what is there.

William Rivers Pitt of t r u t h o u t writes an outstanding recap of the Valerie Plame affair with some new additional comments from Joe Wilson himself. I haven't found the article yet, but supposedly the case is starting to move again, though the White House has supposedly ask Ashcroft to either arrest someone now or delay any action until after the election. No doubt, they are afraid, and well they should be.

Anyone who thinks Joseph Wilson has gone away is a fool. I in fact heard the now infamous "frogwalk Karl Rove" speach he made, and in fact was the one who broke the national story that it could not be interpreted in any fashion other than a direct criminal accusation against Karl Rove. You would have had to have heard Wilson's voice. It was not the voice of a man who walks away from anything. If Ascroft doesn't get up off his ass and arrest someone, we will make this an election theme: how Sonny Boy let his folks piss all over Daddy's CIA. And we will take those little piss-ant Neocons to the cleaners with it.

Sunday, December 28, 2003
Robert Fisk of the UK Independent is doing some of the best first person analysis coming out of Iraq today. In this story, he takes to task a number of different actions taken by coalition forces and how the coalition ended up "reporting" them. His wry conclusion is inescapable:
So let's get this right. Insurgents are civilians. Truck bombs and tanks that crush civilians are traffic accidents. And the "liberated" civilians who live in villages surrounded by razor wire should endure "a heavy dose of fear and violence" to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Somewhere along the way, they will probably be told about democracy as well.

If you want the inside scoop on what's going on with the administration's Neocons, especially now that the Realists are back in the beltway, Jim Lobe is your "go to" man. Of course, the American mainstream press won't touch him (What's new?), but he is widely carried in middle eastern and asian press, often appearing simultaneously in three or four major dailies there.

Forget about Bush's assertion during a nationally broadcast television interview last week that Cheney will be his VP for term two, says Lobe. "Cheney has a large bull's-eye on his back, painted there by Republican 'realists'."

For them, Cheney has become a major liability, not only to Bush's re-election chances, but - as the leader of the administration's imperialist faction with the greatest direct influence on Bush himself - to US economic and strategic interests abroad as well.
Colin Powell of course is the realists' inside man, but more important are those outside realists that seem to be grabbing the reins.
They include top officials of the first Bush administration, including former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who chairs Bush junior's president's foreign intelligence advisory board, and former secretary of state James Baker, who just moved back into the White House as junior's personal envoy charged with persuading Iraq's creditors to forgive tens of billions of dollars of that country's foreign debt.

They also include the former president himself, according to knowledgeable sources who say he has encouraged both Scowcroft and Baker - as well as other prominent foreign-policy Republicans like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel - to try to get Cheney dumped from the ticket next year.

All of these folks have worked with Cheney before when he was Bush 41's Secretary of Defense, and there is no love lost between them and Cheney.

My own call remains the same as it has for the last six months: Cheney's "doctors" will suddenly advise him that a national campaign would be too stressful, and he will bow out for "health reasons". My guess is right after the Dems lock up their candidate, but no later than April.

Friday, December 26, 2003
serial polygamy  n. the practice of replacing one wife by another as a matter of convenient progression, esp., the practice of corporate CEOs of replacing one "used up" trophey wife with a new one.
I'm having a bit of trouble with today's Charley Reese column on immigration in which he speaks of the "unpleasant truths" of Dr. Garrett Hardin. Hardin and his wife spoke of such unpleasant topics as forced population control and self-genocide for those countries and cultures that did not practice some form of this. Reese here seems to both balk at and endorse the necessity of such actions, referring in the end to leaving "our posterity a mongrelized, impoverished cesspool for a country." An inflamatory characterization, to say the least.

But what gives me pause with this is not the concept of immigration control per se, but rather the massive, harsh, and swift forced deportation ("leave no spic behind") schemes I hear being advanced by the fundamentalist [read: racist] camps. I suppose this is one solution, but it seems to me to be both stupid and self-defeating. (What's new?)

The problem with this solution is far more than its severity. It is that it ignores entirely the cause of the problem itself. It simply doesn't matter how many thousands or millions of deportations take place; if the underlying cause of illegal immigration is not addressed, those deported will merely return or be replaced by other illegals. But tell this to the (racist) fundamentalist, and you're likely to just hear of some "shoot to kill" border patrol solution. From bad to worse. Defeated plans then justify wanton slaughter.

The cause of course is poverty. Hungry people simply move to where they have a better chance of finding food. This is simply human nature. And there is food here for the illegal immigrants because there are jobs here for them. The solution then is to eliminate those jobs. If no jobs are here for them, there is simply no reason for them to come.

No, no , no, say the fundamentalists, because they know what would be required in order to eliminate those jobs; the job providers would have to stop providing them, and to do that would require huge fines and incarcerations for those providers. This is an idea that the fundamentalists cannot tollerate; that we would actually jail our own for a problem they see others as creating. This simply goes against their racist mindset.

In fact, I am not that hot on the illegal immigration issue. I've worked next to many of these people, and so they have become very human to me. Even as their presence there was clearly forcing down my own wages, I couldn't think to turn even one of them in. What would that make me?

But this is still a democracy, and so if enough people take up this issue (as many seem to be doing), it will be addressed. But we must not address it with mindless policies of retribution against people only seeking to better themselves. Better to address it by rooting out the cause: those who seek to better themselves on the backs of those who only seek to better fill their bellies.

I.B.M. spokespeople are reluctant to talk or at least to be named in the press, but BIG BLUE is about to join the offshoring/outsourcing crowd. According to the Wall Street Journal last week, as many as 4,730 high-paying white-collar jobs will be shipped overseas to lower-paid foreign workers. "Our competitors are doing it ...", one spokesperson offered as justification. So what's new?

Bob Herbert takes a look.

Geebus! I wonder if they have any of those "ownership" accounts?

Paul Krugman carves out a simple list of New Year's resolutions for the media and its reporting of the upcoming election:
  1. Don't talk about clothes. (It's an insult to the readers.)
  2. Actually look at the candidates' policy proposals. (Like Bush's "ownership society"?)
  3. Beware of personal anecdotes. (Especially those that reinforce your own prejudices.)
  4. Look at the candidates' records. (Bush is not a centrist, and Dean is not a leftist.)
  5. Don't fall for political histrionics. (The "appearance of outrage" is just so much fluff.)
  6. It's not about you. (The race is about the candidates, not the reporters.)
A rather simple list, and things that perhaps any editor should be demanding of his reporters. Too bad so few of them actually are. One might actually come to think that all these editors are demanding the exact opposite!

Which brings me to my Story of the Year for 2003:

The Collapse of American Journalism

Yeah, I know. That story didn't appear in our mainstream news. But did you think it would?
The next Bush con job is headed to a television set near you in his upcoming State of the Union Address. It's called "ownership", and Robert Kuttner takes a look at what it's really all about:
The idea is that American workers aspire to be owners -- of stock for their retirement, homes, businesses, good health insurance, and skills they need to navigate multiple changes of jobs and careers. It sounds just great.

Take a closer look, however, and you will recognize the trademarked Bush combination of inspiring themes coupled with an absence of useful tools. In other words, bait and switch.

Yup! Another round of tax breaks and shelters, this time intending to replace all of the benefits your employer may currently be providing for you.

The problem? If your employer isn't first providing you with enough pay, you'll hardly be able to use any of them. Great tax breaks, except that the only people who'll be able to use them are the people who need them the least. Sound familiar?

And the beat goes on ...

An excellent and extensive post by Billmon reviewing the long rise to power of the Neocons and how that rise is now leading to their fall from grace. Aslo read his follow-up, What is a Neocon?, in which he provides some clarifications as to what (who) a Neocon is and is not.

Both posts also have some very good comments with them. As for my own comments, Billmon suggests that Afghanistan was off the administration's radar screen before 9/11, something my research shows not to be the case:

Afghanistan was never off of the map with this administration. That war was actually scheduled to happen (exactly when it did) back in March, 2001, probably during Cheney's energy task force. (No wonder he wants to hide those records!) The Taliban was offered "a carpet of gold or a carpet of bombs" back in July of 2001, and it wasn't Osama the administration wanted; it was a pipeline contract for Unocal. This is further verified by another fact: It was a mere 22 days from 9/11 until the start of the Afghan War. Just how was it possible for us to create such a grand alliance with the Northern Alliance during that brief period. In fact, we couldn't and didn't. This alliance was developed over a far longer period, and developed specifically to get U.S. ownership of the proposed trans-Afghanistan pipeline.

In other words, 9/11 was not the reason for the Afghan War; it merely provided a good public cover for it. This becomes even more obvious when the war plan is examined. Our troop level never exceeded 5,000 during the formal conflict, the Northern Alliance providing the buck of the force. This level would have been easy to "hide" from an uninterested press as merely a situation where we had "advisors" present. Once the "situation" was one, it would have been trivial to advocate for a greater presence of "peacekeepers".

Commenter globecanvas also notes that the Neocons were already in place for 9/11, to which I added:
In place and in great numbers, all selected of course by Dick Cheney. The Neocons were in fact given staff positions way in excess of the numbers that were needed by an administration seeming not at (even an ideological) war with anyone. This seems quite ominous, for it implies that there was in fact an anticipation of war. But which war?

The Afghan War of course was a done deal even six months before it started, and the Neocons were simply not necessary for the initiation of that war. So they must have been brought on board for the Iraq War. Except that that war wasn't even planned when they were selected, ... or was it?

In fact, the Iraq War was already on Cheney's agenda when he placed his Neocon contingient throughout the administration's foreign policy apparatus. It was nothing to get these selections past Bush, who really had no conception at the time as to who they were. And seeing the documents that we do have from the Cheney energy task force (maps and lists of foreign oil contracts (none with the U.S., by the way)), there can be little doubt that Cheney also was including an Iraq War in his planning with that group.

Which gets to the ominous nature of the timing, numbers, and placements of the Neocons: Why go through all of this trouble if there was no guarantee of an Iraq War? And what did that guarantee turn out to be?

Monday, December 22, 2003
Oh, my God!
 Today's Terror 
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Feel safer yet ?

Yes, it changes automatically, and yes, you can copy this into your own profile also.
Simply click on Ernie or edit this page and look for the TERROR ALERT comments.
From RiverBend at Baghdad Burning come words of new fears taking over the people of Baghdad; the men seem on the verge of war, and the women are afraid. Don't they know it's Christmas?
I once said that I hoped, and believed, Iraqis were above the horrors of civil war and the slaughter of innocents, and I'm clinging to that belief with the sheer strength of desperation these days. I remember hearing the stories about Lebanon from people who were actually living there during the fighting and a constant question arose when they talked about the grief and horrors- what led up to it? What were the signs? How did it happen? And most importantly… did anyone see it coming?
Some do, River. Just never enough.
"studies overwhelmingly show that for every health condition, for every disease, for every cause of death, those who have lower incomes have it much worse than those who have fatter paychecks."
Sunday, December 21, 2003
States in the Red: State Budget Shortfall Map
So how's your state doing on their 2004 budget? Probably not too good.

Alaska, Tennessee, and New Hampshire head the list, each with 37.8% budget shortfalls, with many more following behind with double-digit shortfalls.

Check out how your state is doing with the State Budget Shortfall Map provided by NOW with Bill Moyer.

We were 24 feet down laying 48" Ductile pipe when we heard the all too familiar yell from our spotter "Jeep" above. "WALL!" he screamed.

When you hear that yell, there is no time to check which of the trench walls is caving in on you. Hopefully you guess right and dive away from it. This time, I dove under an 24" concrete conduit carrying 65,000 volts. "Don't break, you son of a bitch," I thought, now watching the cascade of tons of dirt going on around me. It didn't.

It was all over in seconds as it always was. I looked to where my front man, Paul, had been standing and saw only a pile of dirt.

"I think he got inside," Jeep called down as I a frantically looked for the shovel I had dropped. "Show me the end of the pipe!"

By now, Jeep was "skiing" down the collapsed trench-face with his own shovel, and within a minute we had exposed the top of the pipe and made an air hole into it. "What took you so long?" Paul asked calmly, sitting safely up the pipe a way. We openned a hole large enough for him to crwal out. "Come on, let's clean this shit up," he said as he emerged. There was after all more pipe to lay that day.

From the Montgomery County Coroner's Office: The body of Patrick Walters as it was removed from the trench that collapsed and killed him in 2002. The wooden 2-by-4 to the left is being used to break the suction that is still holding onto Patrick's body.Patrick Walters was not so lucky. On June 14, 2002, while working on a sewer pipe in a trench 10 feet deep, he was buried alive under a rush of collapsing muck and mud. He did not breathe the mud that forced its way into his throat. The thousands of pounds of dirt that closed in on him squeezed his body so tightly that he could not even draw another breath. He knew what was happening to him for the several minutes it took for him to die.

The New York Times begins a 3-part series "When Workers Die" with the story of Patrick's death. It is a story of a company with a previous trench death and repeated safety violations. It is a story his family's subsequent fight with an ineffective OSHA to obtain criminal charges against Patrick's employer. It is the story of the extreme dangers that hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers face daily as they try to earn their livings. But mostly, it is a story of government ineptitude and an agency which is failing to meet its most basic charge.

You may notice that my description of Patrick's death differs a bit from the Times version. Mine is the correct version. How do I know? Well, that little story I began this post with is true. I've been there and done it, though that was hardly my closest call. And we knew what we were doing. Patrick's company and thousands more like it do not.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
David Brooks speaks of "The Ownership Society" in today's New York Times:
In his State of the Union address, the president will announce measures to foster job creation. In the meantime, he is talking about what he calls the Ownership Society.

This is a bundle of proposals that treat workers as self-reliant pioneers who rise through several employers and careers. To thrive, these pioneers need survival tools. They need to own their own capital reserves, their own retraining programs, their own pensions and their own health insurance.

Pioneers? I thought we left these behind a century ago.

Of course, Mr. Brooks is not speaking of those pioneers but rather of the new pioneers, the ones impoversed by a government dedicated to the establishment of a caste system that will at last entrench the financial elites firmly at the top of the food chain, leaving a great and permanent distance between them and all below.

My response to Mr. Brooks explains the rest:

This is pure crap, espoused merely to provide a convenient excuse to those who already own for why they do not have to care about those who do not. This is social Darwinism lifted to its highest and most self-serving platform. If we just toss out a few little government-sponsored "savings programs", well, all will be just fine. If folks do not contribute to them, well then, they are simply not personally responsible people. You are thus absolved.

What all well-set hypocrites like you refuse to acknowledge is the fact that as one's income drops, one cannot simply forego this or that extravagance or cut down on the price one pays for a piece of meat for the family table. At some point, one loses healthcare entirely, at another, one loses their transportation, at a third, one cuts back on food, and at a fourth, one loses their residence. And we are way before one gets to minimum wage.

Oh! But if they had only contributed to these magical accounts. Contributed what? What they never had to contribute to begin with?

The fact of the matter is that blowhards like you, all set in your swanky accomodations, are engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy, and that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

In the meantime, when the administration speaks of "The Ownership Society", understand what they mean. They own. You don't. You are simply a "pioneer".
Goodbye, Horatio Alger
An interesting article pair from Paul Krugman and Thom Hartmann:
  • In "The Death of Horatio Alger", Krugman addresses the movement away from an egalitarian society and towards a return to a caste society:
    Put it this way: Suppose that you actually liked a caste society, and you were seeking ways to use your control of the government to further entrench the advantages of the haves against the have-nots. What would you do?

    One thing you would definitely do is get rid of the estate tax, so that large fortunes can be passed on to the next generation. More broadly, you would seek to reduce tax rates both on corporate profits and on unearned income such as dividends and capital gains, so that those with large accumulated or inherited wealth could more easily accumulate even more. You'd also try to create tax shelters mainly useful for the rich. And more broadly still, you'd try to reduce tax rates on people with high incomes, shifting the burden to the payroll tax and other revenue sources that bear most heavily on people with lower incomes.

    Meanwhile, on the spending side, you'd cut back on healthcare for the poor, on the quality of public education and on state aid for higher education. This would make it more difficult for people with low incomes to climb out of their difficulties and acquire the education essential to upward mobility in the modern economy.

    And just to close off as many routes to upward mobility as possible, you'd do everything possible to break the power of unions, and you'd privatize government functions so that well-paid civil servants could be replaced with poorly paid private employees.

    It all sounds sort of familiar, doesn't it?

  • Krugman address the "what" of what is happening, but does not address the "why". Why would voters harmed by these policies continue to support those who advance them? In "Rush and Rove's Phallic Fixation", Hartmann addresses just this question:
    Rush Limbaugh just declared psychological war on the working white males of America, although most of them probably didn't realize it. This week Limbaugh rolled out a "funny" faux advertisement for the "Hillary Clinton Testicle Lock Box" that now any woman can use to clamp down on men's testicles just like Hillary does.

    This wasn't just a whim of Limbaugh's ... It's part of a sophisticated psychological operations program by conservatives that explicitly targets working men in America ...

    Conservatives have figured out how crucial it is to make sure that the working-class "NASCAR Dad" demographic ... (doesn't) connect their sense of lost masculinity with this conservative administration's anti-worker policies.

    Thus the Hillary Clinton Testicle Lock Box. ... This is psychological warfare of the first order ...

    Thom is onto something here. There is simply no reason for so many working class males to consistantly vote against their interests and those of their families unless there is a deep-seated greater interest in them that transcends these? And what more deep-seated interest can there be in anyone than one's own self-identity?
Goodbye, Horatio Alger.
The People vs. Saddam Hussein
No doubt it was bad news for you if you were around Saddam Hussein and he didn't like you. It tended to make for a very shortened life. Saddam was after all "a despicable tyrant", and so we'll just try him and then do whatever and be done with it. Good plan, but there is one sticking point; that bit about a "fair trial".

Now as I recall, in a fair trial the defendant gets to call witnesses and present evidence in his favor. And that's the problem; what if Saddam does just this? A trio of articles examines what evidence Saddam might offer:

  1. Ted Rall writes a somewhat tongue-in-cheek "Selected Highlights From a Future Transcript" of Saddam's trial:

    • CLAIM: During the 10-year Iran-Iraq War, Saddam committed many war crimes, causing perhaps many hundreds of thousands of deaths and possibly millions.
      COUNTER-CLAIM: In fact, then U.S. Secretary of State George Schulz expressed full support for this war, the Ayatollah Kholmeini's overthrow of the U.S.-sponsored Shah of Iran and the subsequent forceful take-over of the U.S. embassy there being of great U.S. concern. Under a directive by then president Ronald Reagan, Donald Rumsfeld was dispatched to meet with Saddam in Baghdad (12/20/83), a meeting which led to the U.S. providing Saddam with military equipment, chemical precursors, insecticides, aluminum tubes, missile components and anthrax, all intended for use in that war. Furthermore, during this time the CIA continuously delivered Saddam battlefield intelligence obtained from Saudi AWACS surveillance planes, and the Saudis during this time also provided direct financial support to Saddam for this war.

    • CLAIM: Saddam "gassed his own people" (5,000 Kurds at the town of Halabja in 1988).
      COUNTER-CLAIM: In fact, Iraq possessed (U.S. provided) mustard gas at that time. Yet, as Stephen Pelletiere, the main CIA political analyst on Iraq during the 1980s, wrote in The New York Times last January, "The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent--that is, a cyanide-based gas--which Iran was known to use." Iraq was not known to have possess similar "blood agents" at that time nor to have had the technology to develop them. If fact, there are indications that the Kurds were accidentally gassed, merely being downwind from where this gas was released by troops insufficiently trained in their usage.

    • CLAIM: Saddam illegally conducted a war of aggression against Kuwait.
      COUNTER-CLAIM: In fact, the separation of Kuwait from Iraq was imposed by Great Britain after World War I, but never acknowledged by any independent Iraqi government. Furthermore, Kuwait had purchased from National Security Council chief Brent Scowcroft's company something known as "slant drilling" technology, and was actively using it to drill under the established border between Iraq and Kuwait, stealing $14 billion in oil that legally belonged to Iraq. Furthermore, a week before the invasion (7/24/90), U.S. State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said, "We do not have any defense treaties with Kuwait, and there are no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait," and on July 31, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly, testifying before a House foreign affairs subcommittee, confirmed that the U.S. would not send troops to defend Kuwait if it was invaded by Saddam. Similar statements were made by then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie.

  2. Jude Wanniski addresses the question of "The Mass Graves":

    • CLAIM: Saddam is a mass murderer. Rights groups that have been cataloging the abuses of Saddam's regime estimate the toll of missing (and presumed killed) at close to 300,000.
      COUNTER-CLAIM: If fact, only one such "killing field" has actually been located. (3,115 bodies were unearthed at Mahaweel in Southern Iraq recently.) Reports of others are merely anecdotal. They may exist, but have not actually been physically located.

    • CLAIM: But the Mahaweel killing field alone is sufficient to establish Saddam as a mass murderer.
      COUNTER-CLAIM: In fact, the Mahaweel dead have been identified as being killed in the Shiite uprising of 1991 against the Baghdad regime. This uprising was CIA-sponsored and endorsed by George H. W. Bush. Furthermore, it was a civil uprising against the then duly-constituted government Iraq, and as such, that government had a legitimate right to suppress it.

  3. And Pepe Escobar speculates on "How Saddam may still nail Bush":

    • CLAIM: Saddam defied numerous U.N. resolutions over the course of the twelve years between the 1991 and 2003 gulf wars.
      COUNTER-CLAIM: In fact, the almost sole thrust of these resolutions was that Saddam rid Iraq of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. There is simply almost no evidence that he did not, and almost no evidence that he did not do so soon after the earliest resolutions. In fact, the majority of evidence simply indicates that he was not open in his disarmourment.

    • CLAIM: Saddam trained and financed al-Qaeda.
      COUNTER-CLAIM: In fact, this claim is based on pieces of intelligence. (1) The tentative identification of an al-Queda operative from a photograph, an identification that proved to be false. (2) The receipt of medical services in Iraq by an al-Queda operative, services that were rendered however in Kurdish-controlled Iraq.

    • CLAIM: Saddam chose confrontation over compliance before the second Iraq war.
      COUNTER-CLAIM: In fact, Saddam's negotiators were attempting to deliver everything to Washington on a plate during this period: free access to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look for WMD anywhere in Iraq; full support for the American-penned road map in the Middle East; and the right for American companies to exploit Iraq's oil. U.S. Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle confirmed these attempted negotiations.
This of course is not any sort of endorsement of Saddam. But Saddam will of course attempt to offer a substantial defense, and this is an estimate of what that defense might look like during a full and open "fair trial".
Friday, December 19, 2003
Sept. 11 panel chief "clarifies" remarks
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean to CBS News on Tuesday:
"There are people that, if I was doing the job,
would certainly not be in the position they were in at that
time because they failed. They simply failed."


Asked whether we should at least know if people sitting in the
decision-making spots on that critical day are still in those
positions, Kean said, "Yes, the answer is yes. And we will."

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean to ABC's "Nightline" on Thursday:
"We have no evidence that anybody high in the Clinton
administration or the Bush administration did anything wrong."
Huh? That doesn't sound like a "clarification" to me. It sounds like a retraction.

And the next sound you will be hearing is the sound of "Taps" being played for the 9/11 Commission.

Sorry, it's MY oil !Chris Floyd:
One of the constant refrains we hear from the malcontents carping about George W. Bush's triumphant crusade in Iraq is the charge -- the canard -- that the president and his crack team of advisers "had no plan" for the post-war period, that they've stumbled from crisis to crisis, changing policies without rhyme or reason, or have even "plunged off a cliff," as erstwhile war-hawk Newt Gingrich declared last week.

But to anyone not blinded by partisan ideology or irrational Bush-hatred, the evidence clearly shows that Team Bush has always had a very specific plan for remaking Iraq -- and is following it faithfully to this very day.


Now, is this an evil plan, conceived in ignorance and arrogance, predicated on the war crime of military aggression, an act of terrorism on a scale than bin Laden could only dream of? You bet. But let's be fair: it is a plan. You can't say that Bush hasn't got one.

So what's the plan? Ever heard of Erinys Iraq? Neither had I.
Mark Fiore


Now That Saddam Has Been Caught,
Rebuilding Iraq Is More Important Than Ever
Thursday, December 18, 2003
A Big Victory:

The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that detainees being held by the US military at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba should have access to lawyers and the US court system:

The court said their detention was contrary to US ideals.

It did not accept that the US Government had "unchecked authority".

The ruling relates to the case of a Libyan national captured in Afghanistan and currently being held at Guantanamo. About 660 people are currently being held as "enemy combatants" at the base.

"Even in times of national emergency... it is the obligation of the judicial branch to ensure the preservation of our constitutional values and to prevent the executive branch from running roughshod over the rights of citizens and aliens alike," said the ruling by the appeals court.

It added it could not accept the position that anyone under the jurisdiction and control of the US could be held without "recourse of any kind to any judicial forum, or even access to counsel, regardless of the length or manner of their confinement".

The decision comes shortly after another US federal appeals court ruled that US authorities did not have the power to detain an American citizen seized on US soil as an "enemy combatant".

That ruling, by the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, related to the case of so-called "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla.

This is of course only an appeals court decision, and SS Chief Ashcroft will no doubt move it up the food chain to the more administration-docile Supreme Court.
Two major stories from today and yesterday if you've somehow missed either:
Senator: 'We Received False Security Briefing Prior to Iraq Vote'
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said Monday the Bush administration told him and other senators that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but they had the means to deliver them to East Coast cities. The briefing during which this claim was made occurred shortly before the war authorization vote. No other congressperson has confirmed that this briefing occurred, and Nelson refused to identify who made the claim.
9/11 Chair Says White House Could Have Stopped Attacks
They head of the 9/11 Commission, former New Jersey Governor and Republican Thomas Kean, said publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented. "There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed," Kean said. Asked whether some of these people sitting in the decision-making spots on that critical day are still in those positions, Kean said, "Yes, the answer is yes."

Kean promises major revelations in public testimony beginning next month.

These are of course major stories ... if anyone cares. That might not be the case however. When Bush was interviewed the other night on primetime TV, his interview was competing against a program featuring faux porno-queen Paris Hilton. Paris got better ratings than Bush.

We have a long way to go.

An Inglorious End: The Neocons
So U.S. special envoy Jim Baker is off to Paris, starting a European mission to win consessions aimed at easing Iraq's crippling foreign debt from some of the staunchest opponents to the U.S.-led Iraq war. From Paris, Baker's travels will take him to Germany, Italy, Britain and Russia later in the week, with Germany and Russia clearly the other two cornerstones of Baker's visit. Baker's mission was complicated by a memo issued last week by Paul Wolfowitz to lock out France, Russia and Germany from bidding on $18.6 billion in U.S.-financed reconstruction projects in Iraq. For its part, the White House, furious over the timing of the Wolfowoitz memo, is busy trying to downplay the suggestion that the timing reeked of an internal administration struggle over control of Middle East policy. They needn't have worried however; the Europeans well know who Jim Baker is.

Baker's selection for this mission stands out for many reasons, but perhaps most of all for who wasn't selected for the mission: anyone associated with the Neocons. Boring details? Hardly. This is the beginning of the end of the Neocons' dreams of ruling the world. The Europeans have been waiting for this, and it would be hard to send them a stronger signal of this than Baker's selection.

Baker, principal of the Texas law firm Baker Botts and a long-time Republican "go to" man, has a long and impressive resumé beginning with White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary under Ronald Reagan and following through similarly into Secretary of State for the Bush 41 administration.

More than this however, Baker, considered by many to be the Bush family consiglieri [think: mafia lawyer], also has a long history of putting bread on the Bush family's table. It was Baker as the Senior Counsel to the Carlyle Investment Group who got Bush 41 his job at Carlyle after 41 was booted from office, Baker who similarly got Bush 43 a brief stint with that group (43 was booted from that for not taking the position seriously), and Baker who set the Florida 2000 post-election strategy for the Bush camp, an effort that just two weeks ago Baker himself referred to as, "I fixed the election in Florida for George Bush." (Baker at the time was addressing a group of Russian big-wigs working on one of Dick Cheney's pet projects, Caspian Sea oil. Think: Afghan War.) And it is Baker who handles state-side legal issues for Bush family friend The House of Saud. [Curiously, Baker's trip does not include a visit to Saudi Arabia, to whom Iraq owes $30.7 billion (plus $12 billion in reparations from the first Gulf war), money loaned to Saddam to fight the Iran-Iraq War and for the development of Saddam's nuclear weapons program ($7 billion for this later item alone).]

But Baker is also considered to be one of the Republican foreign policy "Realists" (Colon Powell's camp), a guider of the foreign policy of Bush 41, which decided that an advance to Baghdad during Gulf War I, while possible, was totally unrealistic in terms of the problems that it might cause. The exact same problems, by the way, that Bush 43 has encountered there. Baker is thus a direct threat to the Neocons, and almost certainly is a "gift" from 41 to 43, a gift that no doubt came with many strings attached. What are these "strings"? For one, Baker has been given carte blanche access to Bush 43's ear, and this is the first time in 43's administration that anyone but the Neocons have had such privileged access. Jim Lobe sees it possibly playing out like this:

It may be that, by four or five months from now:
  • Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will have heard the siren song of academia and returned to teach in ivy-covered halls somewhere, and that
  • His deputy, Undersecretary for Policy, Douglas Feith, will have decided he can't really afford to put his young kids through school on a government salary, and that it's time to return to a lucrative law practice, and that
  • Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton will have been advised that the sustained excitement of defending U.S. national sovereignty against all comers -- from Al Qaeda, to the French, to Amnesty International -- was simply too much for his nervous system, and that it was time to take a long vacation with lots of rest; and even that
  • Vice President Dick Cheney will have been sternly warned by his doctors that his chronic heart problems make his participation in a rigorous re-election battle simply out of the question and that he will have to take himself off the ticket for the sake of his own survival, if not for that of his deeply concerned family members.
In other words, everything changes as consiglieri Baker takes up residence next to the Oval Office. What was yesterday is not today. Daddy comes to rescue the wayward son.

And as for the timing of that Wolfowitz memo? Was it deliberate? Was he trying to sabotage Baker's mission? It really doesn't matter. All that matters is whether or not Baker thinks it was. If he does, the next sound you'll be hearing is the door hitting Wolfowitz in the ass.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
An Administration Out of Control
I have few details on this, but my very own Palm Beach Post has just been denied entry into a news conference on Wednesday by Jeb Bush.

The Palm Beach Post services perhaps one million readers in and around Palm Beach County, and is the only major daily that does so.

Why the Palm Beach Post has been excluded from this press conference is unknown, but the Post has recently been running a series that has been highly critical of a particular policy of Jeb's administration.

I'll be looking into this more. I have long sought an alliance with the Post for another story I've been developing. Maybe now they'll listen.

Monday, December 15, 2003
On-slaught of the Freepers
"This justifies everything!"
Consider one response to my Palast posting just below:
  • 2000-2004 President George W. Bush ends hateful liberal evil conspirators.
  • 2004-2008 President George W. Bush reconstructs a once free nation.... the USA.
  • Religious freedom reinstituted.
  • Freedom to pursue reinstituted.
  • Failure unrewarded.
  • Irresponsibility unrewarded.
  • Personal accountability restored.
  • Evil people addressed and brought to justice.
  • Children live.
  • The true disabled protected.
  • The elderly once again respected.
  • The Constitution once again rules.
  • Socialists and Communists go into hiding.
  • Idiots flee.
  • Nasty people go back under rocks.
  • Disgusting people go back into their hidden closets.
  • Proper and winning attitudes prevail as celebratory.
  • Success is no longer a dirty word.
  • The media required to tell the whole truth.
  • Taxation for responsible government based on its function and nothing more.
  • A nation rests and its constitutional republic self rises to heights never thought possible.
  • "Liberal" the dirty word of the century.
  • Rest of world dares not to threaten the strong.
  • Fools are once again shown for what they are.
  • Celebration of the freedom to once again speak for traditions and religious beliefs.
  • Education built on the foundation of conservative values, where liberal indoctrination ends.
  • Criminal justice system operates to justly exonerate the innocent and imprison the guilty.
  • Regulation built for making gub'mint giveaway done away with.
  • Sound fiscal policy streamlines the entirety of government.
  • Redistribution of individual wealth and family wealth placed back in the hands of control of those whom earned it.
  • Iraq becomes island of freedom in a muslim Middle East and thereby bringing peach and stability to the region as freedom is embraced by people who have never known it until now.
Nice platitudes, but infused with all of the keywords of the rabid right. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These are the "pod people".

Consider the conclusion:

Just can't stand it all can you? OH! As I predicted, and to quote on the subject of immigration, "this adiministration does not support blanket amnesty." ..... President George W. Bush, December 15, 2003.

Told you we would be heard. Immediately. Loud and clear.

2004 prediction. Not just winning, but going one better than President Ronald Reagan. ALL 50 STATES.

Delusional indeed. This is what we are up against.
Voting Security Concerns Rise to New Level
From Bev Harris, author of Black Box Voting:
16 DEC 2003, Seattle WA - This is of national interest. Bev Harris, author of "Black Box Voting" and Andy Stephenson, a democratic candidate for Washington secretary of state, have uncovered new holes in the electoral system in King County and in as many as 14 additional states.

These security breaches affect both the optical scan systems (fill-in-the-dot or draw-the-line) and touch screen voting systems, and may also indicate significant security problems with absentee voting procedures.

At the Tuesday press conference, Harris and Stephenson will distribute a packet of documents to support their findings. Whereas electronic voting concerns have focused on complex issues like cryptographic security and computer source code, the new security flaws uncovered by Harris and Stephenson are more serious and also easier to explain. Because the subject matter is sensitive, reporters will want copies of the original documents to substantiate the findings, and these will be released at the news conference.

This information affects four counties in Washington State and locations in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Maryland and Virginia.

"What we have are two intertwined security breaches which deserve immediate attention from the U.S. Congress," says Stephenson. "We need to address procedural safeguards as soon as possible to put a halt to these problems and prevent them from ever happening again."

A 20-page dossier will provide the specific U.S. locations affected, as well as the details on multiple security breaches which may have compromised the integrity of at least two dozen elections.

I haven't yet got Bev's dossier, but am familiar with at least some of what it will certainly include. All of the "official" studies to date on e-vote security focus almost entirely on the e-vote terminals (DREs) themselves. Bev will be covering the machines that tally the results from these (most certainly Diebold's), and if you are worried about the DREs, you haven't seen the tally machines yet. You could steal a whole state at once from these.

The Press Conference itself: 2 p.m. Tue. December 16 - Seattle Labor Temple - 2800 First Ave. - Seattle. When I get a link to Bev's dossier, I'll add it here.

Can we come home now?
Following up on my earlier point (Oh, my God!), I (and most of you) did not get to set the bar on any of this Iraq business. The wingnuts did. Neither I nor you were allowed to even enter the debate (if there ever was one). First, it was WMDs. Then that morphed into "getting Saddam". We did not set those bars; they did! Well, the WMDs weren't there, and we "got Saddam". It's now time to come home.

Democracy? Fine, give them one day of it. (Let's try next Tuesday.) That's all you can "give" anyone. The Iraqi's get to vote on whatever kind of government they want. If they vote for a democracy, fine. They vote against one? Well, that's democracy. A democratic society is fully free to vote to end its own democracy if it desires.

Look. The capture of Saddam is merely a declaration of "open season" in Iraq, and after this, there is only one reason for us to stay there: to divide up the loot. Many Iraqi's think this is why we are there already, more will follow, and this administration has proven itself far to clumsy to be able to not make it appear that way.

Mission accomplished. Time to come home.

From Greg Palast:
Former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was taken into custody yesterday at approximately 8:30pm Baghdad time. Various television executives, White House spin doctors and propaganda experts at the Pentagon are at this time wrestling with the question of whether to claim PFC Jessica Lynch seized the ex-potentate or that Saddam surrendered after close hand-to-hand combat with current Iraqi strongman Paul Bremer III.

Ex-President Hussein himself told US military interrogators that he had surfaced after hearing of the appointment of his long-time associate James Baker III to settle Iraq's debts. "Hey, my homeboy Jim owes me big time," Mr. Hussein stated. He asserted that Baker and the prior Bush regime, "owe me my back pay. After all I did for these guys you'd think they'd have the decency to pay up."

Keep reading.

Economy? What economy?
From the Center for American Progress:
NO POLICY, NO AUTHORITY, NO INFLUENCE: The WP reports that a senior member of the Bush economic team called into question the government's economic vision and raised doubts as to the efficacy of the position of a "manufacturing czar." Deputy Commerce Secretary Samuel Bodman in June "told manufacturers...that it is difficult for the balkanized federal government to develop vision on any policy issue and that, in particular, the Commerce Department has scant political or financial authority to influence government policy on behalf of the nation's ailing manufacturers." Specifically, Bodman said, "I will tell you, it is very hard for this government to have a vision on anything. We are totally stove-piped and we live within these compartments." The manufacturing sector has been in a downward spiral, hemorrhaging jobs for "40 straight months, with employment down nearly 2.8 million from its July 2000 peak." Bodman's comment "feeds into a growing discontent with White House policymaking, even among conservatives. Bruce Bartlett, an economist with the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, said the administration policy apparatus has become too centralized in the White House, with too little interagency cooperation or even input from the Cabinet departments -- the essence of 'stove-piping.'" (For an excerpt of Mr. Bodman's comments, click HERE.)
The Center for American Progress is an excellent new moderate progressive think tank. Among their many offerings is a top notch daily e-mail newsletter covering the full spectrum of political issues. If you only receive one e-mail newsletter, this should be the one. Sign up here.
Oh, my God!   Oh, my God!
Nearly 800 Florida prison inmates are getting a new home the day before Christmas; they'll be moving to the state's Lawtey Correctional Institution, which Gov. Jeb Bush (with the help of federal money) is turning into the nation's first Christian-faith-only rehabilitation center. Think "Jails for Jesus". The plan was announced December 6th at a White House-sponsored news conference in Tampa that highlighted the Bush administration's "faith-based initiative" program. Prisoners who volunteer for the program in the program "will receive religion-based classes in everything from parenting and character building to job training." To be eligible, prisoners will have to be within three years of completing their sentences and have had a clean prison record for the previous 12 months. They will also of course have to agree to be trained in Christian doctrine. Inmates currently assigned to Lawtey but not interested in the programs or are not qualified will be moved.

Proponents of faith-based initiatives) view religion as desirable element of federal efforts to address social problems. Proponents of this plan in particular cite a study from the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society of the results of InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a Bible-centered prison-within-a-prison where inmates undergo evangelizing, prayer sessions, and intensive religious counseling. This study claims in its overview that "graduates" from their program had a lower recidivism rate (re-arrest and incarceration) than a similar sample from those who were not part of this program.

But Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) finds this a "clearly unconstitutional scheme". Americans United has previously filed a lawsuit to block an InnerChange Freedom Initiative project operating with public funds at a prison in Iowa, and that case is now pending in federal court.

Which brings us back to the study by UPenn, whose summary of its finding was clearly not bourne out by its tabulated results. The study's conclusions it seems were based on "data culling", a process where undesirable results are removed by selective exclusion of results that do not meet the authors' defintion of the study sample. In this case, only "graduates" of the InnerChange program were included. Then term "graduate" is the key. To be a graduate, one must of course remain in the program until one is released from jail. This clearly makes sense. But in order to be considered a graduate, the released inmate must continue with the program's religious counselling, and must get a job. And this is where the UPenn study falls apart. Getting a decent job is a difficult task for a felon, yet is key to lower recidivism rates. The study's claim of success for the InnerChange program is thus a reflection of employment status and not a reflection of religious study. In fact, when the UPenn study includes those from the InnerChange program who were not subsequently able to obtain employment, they actually had a higher recidivism rate than their comparative sample in the study.

Of course, "Jails for Jesus" is but one component of the administration's faith-based initiatives, which essentially claim that that religious charities can do a better job and do so at a lower cost than their secular counterparts at providing social help services. Indeed, prisons may not be the best test of this idea, as many prisoners will opt for any program that offers them relief from the normal prison environment. But do faith-based programs do any better outside of prison than they do inside? Apparently not, according to a Indiana University-Purdue University study that looked at results of 2,830 people who went through government-funded job training programs run by 27 different groups in Indiana. While graduates' success in job placement rates and starting wages were identical for both secular and faith-based training programs, graduates from the faith-based programs generally worked fewer hours and were less likely to obtain health benefits with those jobs. While this study doesn't prove that faith-based programs cannot work, combined with the InnerChanges study it suggests that faith-based advocates, who generally rely on annecdotal and self-reported evidence to make their case, need to start finding some real numbers instead.

Americans United has not indicated whether or not they will file an additional lawsuit regarding the Florida jail program, but it may actually be an easier case than the InnerChange suit. Naturally, the (fundamentalist) Christian-only nature of the program is identical to the InnerChange program, but Florida offers few in-prison rehabilitation programs, and such offerings would likely have to be diverted away from other prisoners otherwise qualified for them.

Many links for this story provided by Matt Bivens' Jails for Jesus Daily Outrage.

Sunday, December 14, 2003
Oh, my God!
Tim Russett is such a whore!

OK, I'll comment on it. Saddam's capture is very good news. There simply was no way that anyone could reasonably consider leaving Iraq with Saddam still out there. At least now the topic of really leaving can be put on the table.

But what is this crap with Russett bringing Lieberman on his program to comment on Saddam's capture? What in the hell is NBC's interest in promoting Leiberman's taking a pot shot at Dean, and why did Russett sell out to it? Lieberman should have had to pay for that obvious campaign commercial.

And then there's Lieberman's Saddam should be tried in someplace with the death penalty! Iraq has the death penalty, and though I personally oppose it, Iraq gets the first shot! Nobody needs Joe Lieberman telling anyone how Saddam should be tried.

So Joe, you got your free 15 minutes of fame. Hope you enjoyed it. Remember that "Anybody but Bush" mantra? Add your name to it!

Friday, December 12, 2003
If you don't buy this bullet, I'll sell it to the people who will use it to kill you.Chris Floyd's weekly offering.

It seems that Le Mas Ltd. of Arkansas has developed this great new bullet. It'll go through steel, but if it hits your body, it'll explode and pulverize everything within a foot of where it enters. "Frangible" is the term they use to describe it formally; "butt buster" is what afficianados call it, referring to it's ability to kill even if it hits you in the butt.

But it seems there's trouble in this shooter's paradise. Despite the butt-buster's marvelous ability to create untreatable wounds -- guaranteeing an agonizing death to any enemy (or innocent bystander, or victim of friendly fire, etc.) -- the Army has yet to place an order with Le Mas. Army experts say earlier tests show the bullet doesn't wreak appreciably more tissue-ripping havoc than ammo already in stock. Although more tests have been mandated by well-greased Bushist congressmen, Army brass have remained dubious.

But Hell hath no fury like an arms dealer scorned ...

So just what is La Mas Ltd. doing to increase its chances for a military contract? They are threatening the military: If the military does not buy the bullet, the fine Arkansas patriots at La Mas will sell it to people who might use it against our military!
So the Neocons said that we needed to be able to fight two wars at once? Well, as it turns out, they can't even seem to fight one. Enter Afghanistan, where the U.N. has just announced that if the security situation there cannot be improved, they are simply going to have to pull out.

So let's see: The U.N. has already abandoned Iraq, now they are threatening to leave Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden (dead or alive!) is nowhere to be found, Saddam is among the missing, and the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" turned out to be weapons of mass distraction. Good job, George! Good to see that you are on top of things.

James Baker sets off to negotiate Iraqi debt forgiveness with our estranged allies. And at that very moment the deputy secretary of defense releases a "Determination and Findings" on reconstruction contracts that not only excludes those allies from bidding, but does so with highly offensive language. What's going on?
Is this just another case of administration incompetence? Paul Krugman doesn't think so. He is calling it a deliberate sabotage of administration policy by the rogue operators of the failed Neocon dream, an attempt by them to place the blame for their own failures on other countries' refusal to play ball with them.

This stuff is getting unreal. The fact of the matter is that no one is in charge at the White House. Krugman just doesn't hit this point hard enough; whenever the Three Musketeers (Wolfowitz, Feith, and Bolton) don't like some policy being put forth by the administration, they act openly and brazenly to undermine it. That these three have not been reigned in is a clear sign that Bush is simply not in charge of his own administration.

[If the NYTimes has archived this article, use this link.]

On December 6, a convoy of 10 Humvees swooped down on the office of the Iraqi Workers Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). Twenty soldiers stormed into the building, put handcuffs on eight members of the Federation's executive board, and took them into detention. Soldiers painted over the name of the federation on the front of the building a confiscated the few files that the office had. Though the eight were released the next day, no reason for the detentions were provided.

On November 23, two members of the Union of the Unemployed were similarly detained and released. The charge? Having two guns when they were supposed to have only one. One of two had also been arrested twice before by occupation troops for leading demonstrations of unemployed workers.

Neither union has been involved in any insurgent activities, and the IFTU openly advocates against it. So is the Coalition Provisional Authority now getting into union busting? Because this certainly is not about "winning the hearts and minds".

Author David Bacon is a photographer and writer specializing in labor issues. He visited Iraq in October. See Saddam's Labor Laws Live On for his review of that visit and of labor activity in Iraq.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003
The Axis of Evil
Bush:   Iraq, Iran, and North Korea

Gore:   Poverty, Injustice, and Dispair

Who do you think would have done better?

The New York Times has a nice round-up of comments from the various political camps including this by Gerald McEntee, the president of the municipal workers union, which endorsed Dr. Dean last month: "I think this may be the beginning of the end for the other candidates."

This may be be an understatement. Un-noted in the Times article is the fact that Al Gore is one of the original members of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), who earlier in the campaign had openly split with Dean. If Gore's endorsement signals a softening of the DLC position, Dean may well have the nomination wrapped up.

Of course, there is a lot of speculation as to why Gore would come out so early with an endorsement of any of the candidates. Indeed, his former boss, Bill Clinton has indicated the he will not be endorsing anyone until the primaries are completed. Both the Times and Tim Russett suggest that Gore is very impressed by Dean's energizing of the Democratic base, while the Clark camp is suggesting that Gore may be positioning himself for 2008 should Dean gain the nomination but lose the Presidency. The first is perhaps obvious; the second appears a bit cynical, sounding too much like "sour grapes". But even if true, neither really explains the earliness of the endorsement.

For this, I see two possibilities, with both likely as contributing factors. First, Gore may want to short circuit the nomination process to avoid the inevitable (and already begun) descent into nastiness as the campaign continued. It serves no end to feed the eventual candidate's weaknesses to the opposition. Second, Gore may be eyeing the opposition's quite formidible war chest, and may be trying to prevent the funneling off of Democratic funds to arguments between Democrats. Of course, both of these fall under the general heading of uniting the party, and the earlier that is done, the better their chances in the general election. And certainly if Gore is seen as spearheading that effort, it will do his reputation no harm.

Monday, December 08, 2003
On Face the Nation:
Overall intelligence has been "very, very good," (White House Chief of Staff Andy) Card said Sunday. But, he added, "Intelligence is a collection of dots, and then an analysis on how those dots might be connected. Some of those dots may not be what they appear to be, and some of the connections may not have been what people would have suggested."
So that's it! If you want to call pre-war inteligence "very, very good," redefine the word intelligence. Look carefully at the sleight of hand as Andy clearly attempts to redefine intelligence as only the individual data points, and not as the analysis of those data points. Of course, this is nonsense; it's the equivalent of holding an election and then not counting the votes. And once this attempted redefinition is removed, Card is explicitly admitting what he is wishing to appear to be denying: That pre-war intelligence was indeed very, very poor.
"Sunday truths"
I am persuaded that there is no limit in the absurdities that can, by government action, come to be generally believed. Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay and better food than falls to the lot of the average man, and I will undertake, within thirty years, to make the majority of the population believe that two and two are three, that water freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State. Of course, even when these beliefs have been generated, people would not put the kettle in the refrigerator when they wanted it to boil. That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on in daily life. What would happen would be that any verbal denial of the mystic doctrine would be made illegal, and obstinate heretics would be 'frozen' at the stake. No person who did not enthusiastically accept the official doctrine would be allowed to teach or to have any postion of power. Only the very highest officials, in their cups, would whisper to each other what rubbish it all is; then they would laugh and drink again.

Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, 1950

Sunday, December 07, 2003
This hurt's. I like Tom Friedman. I really do. [Full disclosure: I root for lots of underdogs -- just because they are.] But too often of late, he just gets so silly. And so I now also have to jump on the "beat on Tom" bandwagon.

It's not like I haven't criticized Tom before, by the way, but this is rediculous. Here's the key passage:

A cynic might say that Mr. Bush was always interested only in stripping Iraq of its W.M.D. But with no W.M.D. having been unearthed thus far in Iraq, and with the costs of the war in lives and dollars soaring, the president felt he needed a new rationale. And so he focused on the democratization argument.

But there is another explanation, one that is not incompatible with the first but is less overtly cynical. It is a story about war and events and how they can transform a president.

OK, Tom, Presidents can and sometimes do get transformed by war. But they generally don't wait to get transformed by it until four months after they claim it is over.

Let me see if I can explain this to you in terms you can understand, Tom. Bush only went to the Democracy meme because the WMD meme got yanked out from under his feet. He had to go to a new meme when this happened because if he did not, that $130 billion and over 400 "transfer tubes" wouldn't have even had the pretense of a meaning.

But in your mind, Tom, Bush might just suddenly have "found religion" four months too late? Kind of like he "found religion" after drinking himself to oblivion for twenty years? And this is what we are supposed to want as the leader of the most powerful nation in history? Someone who can't figure out why he's doing anything until after it is done? Pleeeze!

Look, Tom. It's bad enough having to watch the White House flail around looking for new excuses for their screw ups. Do we really have to watch you do it too?

Thursday, December 04, 2003
More invitations to violence
I recently sent an article by John Dear to a conservative friend of mine. Dear is a Catholic priest in New Mexico who has been quite vocal in his opposition to the Iraq War and clearly war in general. My conservative friend had obviously thought that I sent this article as an invitation to re-open a discussion of our opposing views on the war, when in fact my actual intent was to address the violence meme I most recently discussed in "An invitation to violence" (directly below), my review of the handling of the recent FTAA protests in Miami.

Consider this passage from Dear's article, in which he describes events which occured when his local National Guard recieved its deployment orders for Iraq:

But I was surprised the following morning to hear 75 soldiers singing, shouting and screaming as they jogged down Main Street, passed our St. Joseph's church, back and forth around town for an hour. It was 6 a.m., and they woke me up with their war slogans, chants like "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and "Swing your guns from left to right; we can kill those guys all night."

Their chants were disturbing, but this is war. They have to psyche themselves up for the kill. ... The screaming and chanting went on for one hour. They would march passed the church, down Main Street, back around the post office, and down Main Street again. It was clear they wanted to be seen and heard. ...

Suddenly, at 7 a.m., the shouting got dramatically louder. I looked out the front window of the house where I live, next door to the church, and there they were--all 75 of them, standing yards away from my front door, in the street right in front of my house and our church, shouting and screaming to the top of their lungs, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Their commanders had planted them there and were egging them on.

I was astonished and appalled. I suddenly realized that I do not need to go to Iraq; the war had come to my front door. ... This, I think, is a new tactic. ... I decided I had to do something.

Now some may consider this a simple isolated incident, and certainly no physical harm came to Dean, but equally certain is that these Guardsmen were acting under direct orders from their superior officer, orders clearly issued in violation of the law with the exact intent of harassing and physically intimidating a civilian, and a Catholic priest at that. Apparently, not even men of the cloth are to be spared from this sort of threat. But where did this superior officer ever get the idea that this was acceptable military conduct?

I've been recently been increasing my focus on this violence meme that a number of "conservative" commentators seem hell-bent on establishing (or perhaps re-establishing) of late. While "An invitation to violence" does not directly address the efforts of these commentators, it does address the results of these efforts; the idea that violence is becoming an acceptable element of civil discourse. Of course, detractors will be quick to suggest that I am some sort of conspiracy nut; that it is silly to think that these commentators actually want such violence to occur (they claimed the same during Vietnam), and sillier still to think that they are in alliance with any that might eventually perpetrate such violence. There is of course no such conspiracy, but that is not the point. The point is that by constantly using violent imagery, these commentators seek to desensitize others to the idea of violence against US (and other) civilians. This desensitization takes many forms, and I would suggest that both this incident with Father Dear and the Miami incidents are warning signs that this violence meme is taking hold.

Other recent signs of this come via Atrios in the form of two recent Letters to the Editor:

  • First, we have a letter from a medical doctor suggesting a "solution" to Iraqi dissident activity: For each US soldier killed in Iraq, we should simply go to the nearest Mosque and kill the first five Iraqis we encounter there. "After all," the doctor says, "this is a 'Holy War'." This from a man who has taken an oath "above all, do no harm," an open advocacy for the murder of innocent civilians in clear violation of the international rules of war. The doctor apparantly believes that no one but the dead Iraqis would suffer grevous harm by their executions.

  • A second letter, this one from a US sailor: "I love ... my freedom. ... I call these people traitors; they call themselves protesters. They are nothing more than an infectious disease that infests the minds and hearts of the Americans ... Traitors should be hanged." Apparently the "freedom" this sailor "loves" does not include free speech, and his wording clearly suggests that he approves of extreme military involvement in civilian policing, long banned under our country's laws in any but the most extreme circumstances. To this sailor however, such conduct is perhaps simply "another day at the office."
Of course, one might just dismiss these two letters as aberations; certainly there are angry people everywhere, but how to explain that these two newspapers chose to publish this advocacy of violence, and totally illegal violence at that? One would expect that a responsible editorial staff would at least cover themselves with a direct statement (as opposed to the one buried in their editorial policy statement) that their choice to publish these letters was not an endorsement of these recomendations, but of course, neither newspaper chose to do so. And so the violence meme becomes louder and more acceptable.

AROUND the BLOGS: David Neiwert's "The political and the personal" on this subject (which I've previously linked) has gotten a wonderful reception, being reprinted and linked well over a dozen times. Dave provides two follow-ups on this (here and here) which are well worth reading. --- Avedon Carol comments on an article by Jim Henley in Boiling Frogs at Sideshow. Her caution: Because this is how it starts.