Saturday, September 24, 2005
A note on the whiteboard behind the counter of the coffee bar reminded me. The mostly college-age clerks there usually post some sort of odd birthday (Jimmy Durante was my favorite) or “trivia” question related to the day.
This time it said “Orlando Letelier, a Chilean dissident, was assassinated by a car bomb on September 23, 1976. [Actually it was September 21.] In what city did this happen?”
The answer is posted on another white board nearby: “Washington, D.C.”
I’m sure it is amazing to even politically aware college students that a car bomb assassination could have taken place in the nation’s capital (and not be famous), and it is an eerie counterpoint to the daily news from Iraq. But even I was a little shaken by the memory---and I was there.
Orlando Letelier had been an official in the Salvador Allende government in Chile, an elected government with broad public support but an openly socialist democratic agenda. Entrenched political and corporate interests didn't like it much, and the Cold War heat was on such suspiciously non-captalistic regimes. Allende was assassinated during a military coup in 1973, that brought the now notorious dictator and ruthless murderer, General Augusto Pinochet to power.
Over the next decade Pinochet and his secret police turned “disappeared” into a verb. Thousands of Chileans over the next several decades were disappeared by his secret police.
One of the first was Orlando Letelier, who in 1976 was traveling the world for the Institute for Policy Studies, and organizing boycotts and other opposition to the Chilean dictatorship. On an autumn evening in 1976, a bomb planted in his car exploded on a Washington street, not far from the White House. He was killed instantly. A young American woman, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, his assistant, was also killed. Her husband, Michael Moffitt, was injured.
It later became clear that the Chilean coup and the murder of Allende were at least facilitated by the U.S. government, specifically the CIA. The role of Henry Kissinger was allegedly large. It wasn’t until 2000 or so that the CIA’s involvement in Letelier’s assassination was partially acknowledged. The CIA, directed by George H.W. Bush in 1976, at the very least covered up their knowledge that the Chilean secret police did the hit. They may have been much more involved than that.
At the time I was the editor of a weekly alternative newspaper called Washington Newsworks, and I’m proud to say that our coverage of the Letelier assassination was more extensive that week, and holds up better now, than anyone else’s in town, including the Washington Post.
The real credit goes to Jeff Stein, who did the reporting and wrote the stories. Just about all I did was recognize the importance of it, and I made the decision to put it on the cover and give it full play inside. Jeff Stein now edits the Congressional Quarterly’s newsletter on Homeland Security.
In particular, Jeff’s reporting and our coverage did not buy the official line in the immediate aftermath, that the bomb was planted by leftists. It was G.H.W. Bush himself who convinced the establishment media that Chile’s Secret Police wasn’t involved. That’s why not many people know about this bit of infamous history. Letelier and Moffitt both deserved better then, and they deserve better now.
G.W. Bush likes to make himself out to be the champion of the good and the righteous, and anyone who opposes his definition of the United States as the evildoers. There’s no doubt that there are a lot of evildoers out there, but the U.S. governing establishment that two generations of Bushes represent is hardly innocent. Complicity in assassination and coups in the Americas is only the beginning. They don’t want it particularly known that most of their selected evildoers---especially Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein---were once American-funded American allies, and much of the training of fighters and their arms in Iraq killing American soldiers now, either came directly from the U.S. or began with U.S. intervention in the region during the Nixon or Reagan or Bush the First administrations. Highly placed members of the current administration were involved.
Now we see and hear more and more evidence of the reckless killing of civilians in Iraq, and the officially sanctioned torture of captives, both in the Middle East and at Guantanamo.
The principals of this administration may look at the world in a different way, they may sincerely believe that what they do is for the good of America (or at least their close corporate friends) but if they want to see evildoers, all they need do is look in the mirror.
Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt may be forgotten, but they deserve to be known as heroes more than anyone in this bunch in Washington could ever hope to be.
From Human Rights Watch [excerpts; emphasis added]
U.S. Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers, according to accounts from soldiers released by Human Rights Watch today.
The new report, "Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division," provides soldiers' accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah.
Three U.S. army personnel-two sergeants and a captain-describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan.
According to the soldiers' accounts, U.S. personnel abused detainees as part of the military interrogation process or merely to "relieve stress." In numerous cases, they said that abuse was specifically ordered by Military Intelligence personnel before interrogations, and that superior officers within and outside of Military Intelligence knew about the widespread abuse.
The accounts show that abuses resulted from civilian and military failures of leadership and confusion about interrogation standards and the application of the Geneva Conventions. They contradict claims by the Bush administration that detainee abuses by U.S. forces abroad have been infrequent, exceptional and unrelated to policy.
"The administration demanded that soldiers extract information from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden," said Tom Malinowski, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch. "Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the leadership blamed the soldiers in the field instead of taking responsibility."
The soldiers' accounts show widespread confusion among military units about the legal standards applicable to detainees. One of the sergeants quoted in the report described how abuse of detainees was accepted among military units:
The soldiers' accounts challenge the Bush administration's claim that military and civilian leadership did not play a role in abuses. The officer quoted in the report told Human Rights Watch that he believes the abuses he witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan were caused in part by President Bush's 2002 decision not to apply Geneva Conventions protection to detainees captured in Afghanistan.
"Country is hurtling towards disintegration, Saudis warn" [excerpts; emphasis added]
Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor Saturday September 24, 2005 The Guardian
The Saudi government yesterday warned that Iraq is hurtling towards disintegration and that an election planned for December is unlikely to make any difference. The government said it was delivering this bleak assessment to both the US and British administrations as a matter of urgency.
Saudi fears of a break-up were voiced by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, in an interview with Associated Press published yesterday, and at a meeting on Thursday night with the US media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He said: "The impression is gradually going toward disintegration. There seems to be no dynamic now that is pulling the country together. All the dynamics there are pushing the people away from each other."
His comments are the most pessimistic about Iraq to be made in public by a Middle East leader in recent months.
Prince Saud, who is meeting Bush administration officials in Washington, said his government warned the US before the war of the consequences of the invasion but was ignored. "It is frustrating to see something that is clearly going to happen, and you are not listened to by a friend, and soon harm comes out of it. It hurts."
Saudi Arabia sits on a council with other Iraqi neighbours - Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria and Turkey - and Prince Saud said the main worry is that the break-up of Iraq "will draw the countries of the region into conflict".
The US response to his warnings was to predict an improvement after the referendum and the election. Prince Saud said: "But what I am trying to do is say that unless something is done to bring Iraqis together, elections alone won't do it."
Prince Saud said a Saudi ambassador in Baghdad would become an immediate target for assassination. "I doubt that he'd last a day."
The prince blamed the unrest partly on a series of US decisions since the invasion. He claimed the US was guilty of alienating the Sunni population by designating "every Sunni as a Ba'athist criminal".
Friday, September 23, 2005
From Associated Press: excerpts
Anti-war groups are using a $1 million ad campaign and a demonstration they say will attract 100,000 people to try to re-energize their movement and pressure the Bush administration to bring troops home.
Organizers of Saturday's protest, which will take marchers past the White House, say it will be the largest since the war began more than two years ago.
Cindy Sheehan, the woman who drew thousands of protesters to her 26-day vigil outside President Bush’s Texas ranch last month, is among those planning to participate.
"We want to show Congress, the president and the administration that this peace movement is thriving," said Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed last year in Iraq. "We mean business and we're not going to go away until our troops come home."
On Thursday, Bush said withdrawing troops right now would make the world more dangerous.
"The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission," he said. "For the safety and security of the American people, that's not going to happen on my watch."
Bush did not plan to be in Washington on Saturday.
The public has grown uneasy with the war throughout the summer, and the financial pressures of recovering from Hurricane Katrina, and possibly Rita, could add to that.
Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they thought the U.S. was spending too much in Iraq, according to an AP-Ipsos poll taken after Katrina. About the same number of respondents said they were not confident how the money would be spent. Almost six in 10 said the U.S. made a mistake in invading Iraq, but less than half wanted to withdraw all forces immediately.
The anti-war effort gained notice last month with Sheehan's protest in Crawford, Texas. But the devastation caused by Katrina, and the government's slow response, have dominated the news the past several weeks.
Still, Brian Becker, national coordinator for ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), says people have not forgotten about the war.
"People are very angry at the Bush administration," Becker said.
The anti-war groups began an advertising campaign Thursday, sponsored by the Win Without War coalition, with an advertisement in The Washington Post and other newspapers. The left side of the double-page ad pictures Bush and administration officials with quotes about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq under the headline "They lied." The right side lists the names of American military personnel killed in Iraq with the headline "They died."
A television spot, sponsored by Gold Star Families for Peace, is running on Fox News Channel and local cable TV. The TV ad features Cindy Sheehan and other relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq.
Police are prepared for a large demonstration, said Sgt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Park Police. Police do not anticipate any trouble on Saturday, he said.
"We meet with these organizers over and over again," said Fear. "We don't expect problems. We expect it to be a peaceful demonstration."
The war protests will coincide with planned demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which hold their annual meetings this weekend. Anti-globalization protesters will eventually join the marchers opposing the Iraq war.
ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice are the main anti-war organizers. The protest will start with a rally at the Ellipse with speakers including Sheehan, actress Jessica Lange and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Protesters will march to the front of the White House down to the Justice Department and then circle back to the Washington Monument for a concert featuring folk singer Joan Baez.
Other protests are planned Saturday in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
From New York Times : "Miles of Traffic as Texans Heed Order to Leave"
[excerpts; emphasis added]
By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
HOUSTON, Sept. 22 - Heeding days of dire warnings about Hurricane Rita, as many as 2.5 million people jammed evacuation routes on Thursday, creating colossal 100-mile-long traffic jams that left many people stranded and out of gas as the huge storm bore down on the Texas coast.
Acknowledging that "being on the highway is a deathtrap," Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers.
Mr. White and the top official in Harris County, Judge Robert Eckels, admitted that their plans had not anticipated the volume of traffic. They maintained that they had not urged such a widespread evacuation, although only a day earlier they invoked the specter of Hurricane Katrina, and told residents that the "time for waiting was over."
Officials also made matters worse for themselves by announcing at one point that they would use inbound lanes on one highway to ease the outbound crush, only to abort the plan later, saying it was impractical.
“It’s Your Choice!”
The Republican Way (via “Operation Offset” and the Heritage Foundation):
Eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and NPR, and
Eliminate subsidized student loans for graduate students, and
Eliminate funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and
Terminate Legal Services, and
Close schools for children of U.S. soldiers, and
Cut grants for local responders, and
Cut healthcare for National Guard, and
Freeze funding for the Peace Corps, the Global AIDS Initiative, U.N. peacekeeping operations and many third-world development programs, and
Eliminate the EnergyStar program to encourage energy efficient appliances, and
Eliminate grants to states and to local communities for energy conservation, and
Reduce federal subsidies for Amtrak, and
Eliminate funding for new light-rail programs, and
Cancel hydrogen fuel initiative, and
or the Democratic Way (as proposed by Bill Clinton, Center for American Progress, etc.)
Repeal the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy (and have lots to spare.)
Thursday, September 22, 2005
By PAM EASTON, Associated Press
GALVESTON, Texas - Gaining strength with frightening speed, Hurricane Rita swirled toward the Gulf Coast a Category 5, 165-mph monster Wednesday as more than 1.3 million people in Texas and Louisiana were sent packing on orders from authorities who learned a bitter lesson from Katrina.
With Rita projected to hit Texas by Saturday, Gov. Rick Perry urged residents along the state's entire coast to begin evacuating. And New Orleans braced for the possibility that the storm could swamp the misery-stricken city all over again.
Forecasters said Rita could be the most intense hurricane on record ever to hit Texas, and easily one of the most powerful ever to plow into the U.S. mainland. Category 5 is the highest on the scale, and only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the U.S. mainland — most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992.
Government officials eager to show they had learned their lessons from the sluggish response to Katrina sent in hundreds of buses to evacuate the poor, moved out hospital and nursing home patients, dispatched truckloads of water, ice and ready-made meals, and put rescue and medical teams on standby. An Army general in Texas was told to be ready to assume control of a military task force in Rita's wake.
But with its breathtaking size — tropical storm-force winds extending 350 miles across — practically the entire western end of the U.S. Gulf Coast was in peril, and even a slight rightward turn could prove devastating to the fractured levees protecting New Orleans.
In the Galveston-Houston-Corpus Christi area, about 1.3 million people were under orders to get out, in addition to 20,000 or more along with the Louisiana coast. Special attention was given to hospitals and nursing homes, three weeks after scores of sick and elderly patients in the New Orleans area drowned in Katrina's floodwaters or died in the stifling heat while waiting to be rescued.
from "Defining a New 'New Deal'"
By William Greider, The Nation; Posted on alternet
[excerpts; emphasis added]
The catastrophe, as many seem to grasp, is one of those big moments that jolt public consciousness and alter the course of national history. I would go further and describe it as an exclamation point that marks a dramatic breakdown for the reigning right-wing orthodoxy, the beginning of its retreat and eventual demise. This by no means insures the restoration of progressive alternatives, but events have at least reopened the argument conservatives thought they had won.
A profound political question is suddenly on the table: Must the country continue to give precedence to private financial gain and market determinism over human lives and broad public values? Or shall we now undertake a radical restoration on behalf of society and people?
New Orleans, strange exception though it seems, is actually an extreme microcosm of the nation's general afflictions and social inequities. It's the place where reform politics can launch its long-deferred counteroffensive. The conservative mindset is flummoxed by these tragic new circumstances.
Republican ideologues acquired governing power by promising to liberate Americans from the government's intrusive powers, but they succeeded all too well. If "market forces" are allowed to design the recovery program, much of New Orleans and environs will be plowed up (think no-bid contracts for Halliburton and Bechtel) and reduced to a theme park for hot jazz, good restaurants and grubby jobs. The President's first noble gesture after the flood was to cut wages for construction workers on public projects.
More encouraging evidence of changed politics comes from the left. Some bold Democrats are doing what they haven't dared to do for many years, even decades: They are invoking their New Deal legacy and applying its liberal operating assumptions to the present crisis. In the totality of the Gulf Coast destruction, the economy and the society have been collapsed. As New Dealers understood, you cannot fix one without fixing the other. And only the federal government has the resources and authority to lead such a complex undertaking.
Senator Edward Kennedy calls for a "Gulf Coast Regional Redevelopment Authority," modeled after FDR's Tennessee Valley Authority, to lead the rebuilding.
Former Senator John Edwards proposes a vast new jobs program, patterned after the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), in which the displaced and the poor are hired at living wages to clean up and rebuild their devastated communities. In the week after Katrina, Representatives Dennis Kucinich and Stephanie Tubbs Jones swiftly rounded up 88 House co-sponsors, including some from Mississippi and Louisiana, for a similar initiative.
As the dimensions of this challenge become clearer, reformers will discover other New Deal models they can emulate and adapt to present circumstances. For instance, in the 1930s Roosevelt's Reconstruction Finance Corporation was a central player in rebuilding the industrial economy, because it acted like a public-spirited investment banker empowered to channel startup capital to collapsed companies, provide temporary protection from creditors and impose equitable terms on how the private firms relate to social priorities. This time cities and schools need similar help.
The government, meanwhile, must quickly become the employer of last resort across the region. Neither local school systems nor small-business employers can recover unless their communities have a large, reliable base of wage incomes -- that is, government-financed jobs to sustain customers and taxpayers.
Recognizing such social-economic connections was the essence of New Deal innovation. Serious politicians need to jump-start their imaginations. This born-again New Deal spirit isn't backward-looking but instead can seize the opportunity to address grave issues -- such as the myriad ecological dangers spawned by our hydrocarbon economy--that status-quo politics neglects, like the New Orleans levees.
This new ferment is only just beginning, but the crisis is young, and the hunger for big reform is rapidly gaining momentum. The media haven't paid much attention so far because the New Deal proposals probably sound like historic relics. But the aptness of the ideas -- aggressive government intervention, integrated across many fronts -- will become clearer to people if Democrats re-educate the electorate.
That re-education can begin if progressives first provoke a big argument among Democrats themselves. What do they now believe about government's obligations to society? This is a good fight to have and, besides, intramural political spats are always newsworthy. This one will be substantive as well. Terrible events have handed Democrats the material for a strong and enduring governing agenda.
William Greider is the author of, most recently, "The Soul of Capitalism" (Simon & Schuster).
© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
The Bad News: It's Mostly Useless
By CARLA K. JOHNSON, The Associated Press [excerpts; emphasis added]
Total U.S. spending on medical research has doubled in the past decade to nearly $95 billion a year, though whether the money is being well spent needs much better scrutiny, a study has found.
The study is part of a special issue of Journal of the American Medical Association devoted to the state of U.S. medical research. What emerges from the issue is a picture of an amorphous, mostly profit-driven system, where industry research focuses on existing drugs and lets discovery-stage research lag behind.
The authors call on the medical industry, government and foundations to do better at investing in research on diseases with fewer effective treatments, such as Alzheimer's, and at translating basic research into new treatments and cures.
The authors have ties to the industry, medical schools and health companies, doing consulting work and sitting on drug company boards, according to financial disclosures published with the study.
The imbalance between late-stage and early-stage research is growing, the authors wrote, and is due partly to lengthy clinical trials required for new drug approval and partly to pure marketing. Companies often run costly studies to show their drugs work better than competitors' drugs.
In their funding analysis, Moses and his colleagues found that the industry sponsors 57 percent of medical research and the National Institutes of Health pays for 28 percent. That proportion has remained unchanged over the past decade.
The analysis also found that the United States spends about six cents of every health care dollar on medical research. But the nation spends only one-tenth of a cent of every dollar on longer-term evaluation of which drugs and treatments work best at the lowest cost.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
H.G. Wells "Discovery of the Future"
Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Hurricane Rita strengthened into a Category 5 storm as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas and Louisiana, surpassing the power Katrina had when it swept ashore three weeks ago and became the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.
Rita has winds of 165 mph (265 kph), putting it in the highest intensity level on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the National Hurricane Center said. Rita's reach may extend anywhere from northeast Mexico to along the Texas coast and up to the western half of Louisiana, said center spokesman Frank LePore said.
Category 5 storms have winds of 156 mph or stronger. Such storms can blow down trees and shrubs, completely destroy mobile homes and cause major damage to lower floors of buildings near the coast.
``Anything Category 5 and above is likely to cause catastrophic damage,'' LePore said in an interview.
Since record-keeping began, only three Category 5 storms have hit the U.S.: one that hit the Florida Keys in 1935; Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969; and Andrew, which devastated southern Florida in 1992.
Oil Production Threatened
The threat a strengthening Rita poses to oil rigs, refineries and platforms in the Gulf pushed the price of crude oil and gasoline higher. Texas is the producer of a quarter of the nation's refined fuel.
``The Houston area is ground zero of the refining industry,'' said Rick Mueller, an analyst with Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Tilburg, the Netherlands. ``If it suffers the scope of damage caused to refineries in Louisiana by Katrina, we could see rationing and queues at the gas pump. This is something OPEC can't do anything to remedy.''
Federal emergency officials have water, ice, generators and other equipment already in place for Rita, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. He said today that Rita is ``a very different situation that we face in Texas, New Orleans was below sea level.''
Texas Governor Rick Perry yesterday recalled National Guard members sent to help the Katrina recovery effort, so they could help in the state's preparations for Rita. He signed a proclamation stating Rita posed a ``threat of imminent disaster'' along the 367-mile Texas coast and the state Army National Guard mobilized 5,000 personnel and 11 helicopters.
Perry urged coastal residents from Beaumont to Corpus Christi, about 320 miles apart, to leave now. State officials are working to evacuate people from state-run facilities and those who can't leave on their own.
1937- Tolkien publishes The Hobbit.
1948-Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle premiers on NBC.
1949- The Peoples Republic of China and the Federal Republic of
(West) Germany are each declared.
1954- first nuclear submarine, Nautilus, is launched.
1957- Perry Mason with Raymond Burr premiers.
1971- John and Yoko are only guests on Dick Cavett
1981- Sandra Day O'Connor becomes the first woman on the U.S.
from "Fear Itself" posted at The Nation [excerpts; emphasis added]
by DR. MARC SIEGEL
Nervous anticipation is making emotional and physical wrecks of some of us who live in the big cities or obsessively watch the ever-alert cable TV news shows. Politicians on all sides are broadcasting their danger/safety messages via the media's hype apparatus. This tapping into today's fears for political purposes is perhaps even more dangerous than the terrorist acts themselves.
Our post-9/11 fears have become a free-floating anxiety that lacks a specific target. We lack information as to where, when or how, or even whether, the threat is greater today than it was yesterday. We no longer know whom to blame or whom to follow to safety.
The collateral damage of these fears appears to be many Americans' health. We are on perpetual alert status, which stokes safety concerns. This process wears us down and interferes with our ability to function.
If fear is no longer protective, if it has been transformed from an adaptive tool into a symptomatic illness, then we have to find a way to cure it.
We need to be re-educated as a prerequisite to healing fear. We tend to over-personalize much of the information we receive. To correct this tendency, we need a new sense of proportion.
We are scaring ourselves about the wrong things in a way that is clearly a terrorist's delight. (We do much of their work for them.) In 2001 terrorists killed 2,978 people in the United States, including five from anthrax, and we have been obsessed with terrorism and the supposed risks ever since.
Meanwhile, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, in 2001 heart disease killed 700,142 here; cancer 553,768; accidents 101,537; and suicide 30,622. Murders (not including the victims in the attacks of September 11) accounted for 17,330 deaths that year. The number of children who died in their infancy in 2001 was 27,801, and their deaths were no less horrible or frightening for those involved than the attack on the World Trade Center.
Realizing that we have been conned into being afraid is the first step toward learning a new set of skills to assess risk. Fear must be reserved for real danger. Each step away from false worry is a step toward true health.
By MICHELLE SPITZER, Associated Press
UPDATE: GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) - Hurricane Rita took aim at Texas as it grew into a powerful Category 4 storm on Wednesday, and authorities urged residents of Houston and most of the state's coastline to evacuate.
Hurricane Rita strengthened into a Category 3 storm packing 115 mph winds early Wednesday after lashing the Florida Keys and sparking anxiety as it headed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Forecasters feared Rita could further intensify in the Gulf and the storm's most likely destination by week's end was Texas, although Louisiana and northern Mexico were possibilities.
By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The war in Iraq passed a sobering milepost Tuesday when U.S. officials reported 12 more Americans were killed — eight of them members of the armed forces, raising to more than 1,900 the number of U.S. service members who have died in the country since the invasion.
from "Calls for Withdrawal from Iraq Echoing in Washington" at alternet. (Excerpts.) Full story here.
By Tom Hayden
Tom Hayden was a leader of the student, civil rights, peace and environmental movements of the 1960s.He is the author of ten books, including "Street Wars" (New Press, 2004)
Congressional debate finally has turned to an exit strategy from Iraq after an interminable period of dominance by proponents of war and occupation, as a result of the Sept. 15 hearing on withdrawal chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey. Twenty-nine members of Congress attended the four-hour forum, including one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina.
After next week's massive anti-war demonstrations, Congress is expected to increase its gradual exploration of how to get out of Iraq. A critical moment will come in January 2006, the start of the election year, when Bush is likely to send a request for another $100 billion in Iraq funding on top of $100-plus billion for Hurricane Katrina. According to the Wall Street Journal, "cutting spending on Iraq is Americans' top choice for financing the recovery from Katrina."
Despite the hearing and intensified anti-war pressure, there remains a huge gap between the minimum demands of the anti-war movement and the maximum that Congressional representatives are able or willing to offer, at least in the short run. But a deep unease runs through both parties and the military. The original neo-conservative "vision" of a quick victory in Baghdad followed by invasions of Syria and Iran seems out of the question (although a sudden bombing of Iran's nuclear site remains possible).
And Democrats, slowly, painfully, pathetically, are beginning their reconsideration. The internal strategic thinking of party leaders was summarized by one member as: "The Republicans can declare victory and leave, but the Democrats can only declare failure and be blamed." Such reasoning leads to abdication of any opposition to the war. But that has begun to change.
One example came in the testimony of former Sen. Max Cleland at the Woolsey hearing. A Vietnam veteran and one of Sen. John Kerry's "band of brothers" in 2004, Cleland issued a Democratic radio message only a month ago in which he said the U.S. should have "a strategy to win or an exit strategy to get out." But by the Woolsey hearing, Cleland had moved to a passionate call for an exit strategy, period:
"Now, however, I have concluded that the best way to support our troops is with an exit strategy from Iraq. We need an exit strategy we choose or it will certainly be chosen for us. The question about Iraq is not whether we will withdraw our forces, but when."
Cleland also testified that "according to a four-star general, there was a five-year plan for the military occupation of the Middle East" before the occupation became bogged down.
In addition to a political accommodation with the Sunnis, there was unanimity on several other key points.
Creating a peace envoy. Marine General Joseph Hoar (ret.) proposed a "paradigm shift that places a major political figure in charge, a special envoy" to move the political process forward. Former Air Force official Antonia Chayes proposed a "third-party mediation process" including someone like former Sen. George Mitchell.
Proposing and enacting military de-escalation steps. Hoar, Chayes and other witnesses all supported the end of search-and-destroy missions, and the only Iraqi-American witness, Anas Shallal argued for the release or reduction of inmates rounded up in sweeps.
No one testified in favor of plans for immediate withdrawal. Witnesses were divided over a one-year timetable for withdrawal, as envisioned in the Woolsey and Feingold plans. On the other hand, all of the witnesses opposed the open-ended "stay the course" position of the Bush administration.
Declaring no interest in permanent bases or control of Iraq's oil. There was strong consensus in favor of such an immediate declaration.
Funding real reconstruction. There appeared to be consensus that economic reconstruction should be pledged through new mechanisms free of the present dominance of U.S. contractors.
© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
UPDATE 1p. Tues (Reuters)
KEY WEST, Fla. - Rita strengthened rapidly on Tuesday to a Category 2 hurricane as it lashed the Florida Keys with flooding rain and strong wind and sparked fears the storm could eventually bring new misery to the Gulf Coast.
Rita went from a tropical storm with top sustained wind of 70 mph early Tuesday to a hurricane with 100 mph wind by early afternoon as it passed just south of the Keys.
(Reuters) [excerpts; emphasis added]
- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday suspended a plan to bring residents back to New Orleans and told all those now in the stricken city to leave because of fears a new storm headed into the Gulf of Mexico could swamp damaged levees and wreak new havoc.
Tropical Storm Rita was moving west from the Atlantic Ocean and expected to enter the Gulf this week, where forecasters said it could grow into a major hurricane.
Current predictions point to a Texas landfall for Rita at week's end, but Nagin said there was a chance it could hit a New Orleans, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina three weeks ago.
"We are suspending all re-entry into the city of New Orleans," Nagin said in a news conference.
"Our levee systems are still in a very weak condition, our pumping stations are still not at full capacity and any type of storm that heads this way and hits us will put the east bank of Orleans Parish in very significant harm's way, so I'm encouraging everyone to leave," Nagin said.
"If we have anything over nine inches of rain and a three-foot surge in any storm we will once again have significant flooding on the east bank," he said.
"Prepare yourself to evacuate Wednesday or even earlier."
Private forecasters said there was a 40 percent chance that damaging hurricane-force winds would directly affect key energy production areas in the Gulf.
Rita was likely to become a major hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph) as it drew strength from warm Gulf waters after passing over the Florida Keys on Tuesday, forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Note: According to other reports, the threat to Gulf oil facilities in Texas sent the price of oil up by $7 a barrel on Monday, the largest one day rise in history.
from a Raw Story report by John Byrne [excerpts, emphasis added]
David Safavian, who oversees $300 billion of annual federal purchasing as director of the Office of Procurement Policy, has been arrested for three criminal charges relating to obstruction of a federal investigation. He resigned quietly last Friday.
The indictment refers to a 2002 trip arranged by Jack Abramoff, a Washington power lobbyist who arranged a trip to Scotland that took powerful House Rep. Bob Ney golfing. Abramoff was joined on the trip by former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and David Safavian.
According to the charges, Safavian "allegedly aided a Washington, D.C., lobbyist in the lobbyist's attempts to acquire GSA-controlled property in and around Washington, D.C."
GSA refers to the General Services Administration, which oversees employee purchasing and leasing of federal buildings.
Though indictments for criminal misdoings are not uncommon, the physical arrest of an administration official is rare.
Safavian was a longtime friend of Abramoff. They worked together on the Mississippi Choctaw tribal account. Abramoff now stands accused of bilking the Choctaws out of millions of dollars, though Safavian has not been cited in any wrongdoing.
The new Gallup Poll numbers are devastating for GW Bush. Half or more of those polled would not call him honest and do not think he cares about people like them. Some 63% disapprove of Bushonomics, and 58% disapprove of his overall performance as president.
But while the numbers on his handling of the Katrina disaster earn most of the attention, the new numbers on Iraq may prove to be the most devastating.
Let the CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll official story tell it: “ Fifty-nine percent said they considered the 2003 invasion of Iraq a mistake. That figure is the highest recorded in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.
Only 39 percent said the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. Sixty-three percent said they wanted to see some or all U.S. troops withdrawn from that country.”
There’s evidence everywhere of more and more sentiment in favor of withdrawing the troops, yet no one in Congress (or of course the White House) is offering a credible plan. While Republicans follow their leader to nowhere, Democrats have yet to come to terms with this new reality.
The problem is that Iraq is a no-win situation. Yet it seems to be time to ask the question: which is worse, staying or getting out? It’s probably true that if U.S. troops are withdrawn, it’s likely that something like civil war will break out, and the outcome is likely to be an Islamic state like Iran, dominated by the Sunni Muslins. That’s what the experts say.
But just looking at the headlines from Iraq, it seems that after a Constitution is approved, and voting ensues, and America withdraws some of its forces in a year or so, the outcome will probably be something like a civil war and ultimately an Islamic state like Iran, dominated by Sunni Muslims.
And military experts say that to put down an insurgency like the one in Iraq normally takes from 9 to 12 years.
I don't pretend to be an expert on the region, although it didn’t take an expert to realize that the American occupation would end up this way. But it’s time to hear a plan. There is one suggested by Erik Leaver over at the Yes! Magazine Site. Erik Leaver is policy outreach director for the Foreign Policy In Focus project www.fpif.org at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Here are the basic proposals. Please visit the site to read the rest.
A plan for withdrawal
Once a date for troop withdrawal has been announced, the following steps can facilitate phasing out U.S. involvement and building peace and reconstruction:
1. Reduce number of U.S. troops and end offensive operations. As a first step to withdrawal, the U.S. should declare an immediate cease-fire and reduce the number of troops deployed in Iraq. Continuing offensive operations will only escalate the violence and make Iraq less secure and less safe. The U.S. should pull troops out of major cities and shift troop strength to guarding the borders to stem the flow of foreign fighters and money used to fund the resistance. If Iraqi security forces need help maintaining order, they can invite in outside forces.
2. Declare that the U.S. will not maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq. Congress needs to affirm its commitment to a responsible withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. A congressional resolution clarifying that the U.S. has no plan to control Iraq’s oil, to establish permanent military bases in Iraq, or to suppress Muslims, would deprive insurgents of their central organizing message. Without such a resolution, Iraqis will assume that the U.S. intends to make the occupation a permanent feature of Iraqi life.
3. Hand over the restoration of services to Iraqis. The U.S. government and its contractors have failed to restore public safety, public services, strengthen institutions, or provide jobs. By giving Iraqis control over reconstruction funds, more Iraqis will get jobs and projects will be better targeted to the needs of Iraqis. Lowering the unemployment rate will weaken insurgency recruitment efforts.
4. Put the brakes on fraud, waste, and abuse. Lawmakers should clamp down on the rampant war profiteering that has caused widespread waste, fraud, and abuse. To do this, the U.S. must stop awarding no-bid contracts and open-ended, “cost-plus,” multi-billion dollar contracts such as those awarded to Halliburton and Bechtel, and increase oversight over the military and its contractors.
5. Make reparations. The United States owes a massive financial debt to Iraq. Over time, the obligation must be honored to repay Iraq for the collapse of their economy as a result of the economic sanctions of 1990-2003 and for the damage of the 2003-2005 invasion and occupation. The United States must also follow through on promises of reconstruction funds, beyond the small amount so far released.
6. Enter into negotiations. As with any guerrilla war, the Iraqi resistance is unlikely to be defeated by military means. Political and diplomatic solutions are the keys to ending the violence.
The incompetence of Katrina's response is not reserved to a hurricane. There's an enormous gap between Americans' daily expectations and government's daily performance. And the gap is growing between the enduring strength of the American people -- their values, their spirit, their imagination, their ingenuity, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice -- and the shocking weakness of the American government in contending with our country's urgent challenges.
On the Gulf Coast during the last two weeks, the depth and breadth of that gap has been exposed for all to see and we have to address it now before it is obscured again by hurricane force spin and deception.Katrina stripped away any image of competence and exposed to all the true heart and nature of this administration.
The truth is that for four and a half years, real life choices have been replaced by ideological agenda, substance replaced by spin, governance second place always to politics. Yes, they can run a good campaign -- I can attest to that -- but America needs more than a campaign. If 12 year-old Boy Scouts can be prepared, Americans have a right to expect the same from their 59 year-old President of the United States.
Katrina reminds us that too often the political contests of our time have been described like football games with color commentary: one team of consultants against another, red states against blue states, Democratic money against Republican money; a contest of height versus hair - sometimes. But the truth is democracy is not a game; we are living precious time each day in a different America than the one we can inhabit if we make different choices.
Today, more than ever, when the path taken last year and four years earlier takes us into a wilderness of missed opportunities -- we need to keep defining the critical choices over and over, offering a direction not taken but still open in the future.
And amazingly -- or perhaps not given who we’re dealing with -- this massive reconstruction project will be overseen not by a team of experienced city planners or developers, but according to the New York Times, by the Chief of Politics in the White House and Republican Party, none other than Karl Rove -- barring of course that he is indicted for "outing" an undercover CIA intelligence officer.
Katrina is a symbol of all this administration does and doesn't do. Michael Brown -- or Brownie as the President so famously thanked him for doing a heck of a job - Brownie is to Katrina what Paul Bremer is to peace in Iraq; what George Tenet is to slam dunk intelligence; what Paul Wolfowitz is to parades paved with flowers in Baghdad; what Dick Cheney is to visionary energy policy; what Donald Rumsfeld is to basic war planning; what Tom Delay is to ethics; and what George Bush is to “Mission Accomplished” and "Wanted Dead or Alive." The bottom line is simple: The "we'll do whatever it takes" administration doesn't have what it takes to get the job done.
This is the Katrina administration.
I still believe America’s destiny is to become a living testament to what free human beings can accomplish by acting in unity. That’s easy to dismiss by those who seem to have forgotten we can do more together than just waging war.
But for those who still believe in the great tradition of Americans doing great things together, it’s time we started acting like it. We can never compete with the go-it- alone crowd in appeals to selfishness. We can’t afford to be pale imitations of the other side in playing the ‘what’s in it for me’ game. Instead, it’s time we put our appeals where our hearts are - asking the American people to make our country as strong, prosperous, and big-hearted as we know we can be - every day. It’s time we framed every question - every issue -- not in terms of what’s in it for ‘me,’ but what’s in it for all of us?
And when you ask that simple question - what’s in it for all of us? - the direction not taken in America could not be more clear or compelling.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Thirty-five percent (35%) of Americans now say that President Bush has done a good or excellent job responding to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. That's down from 39% from before his speech from New Orleans.
The latest Rasmussen Reports survey shows that 41% give the President poor marks for handling the crisis, that's up 37% from before the speech.
"Clinton Levels Sharp Criticism at the President's Relief Effort "
The New York Times [excerpts, emphasis added}
By PHILIP SHENON
Former President Bill Clinton, asked by President Bush to help raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, offered harsh criticism of the administration's disaster-relief effort on Sunday, saying "you can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up."
Mr. Clinton's comments in an interview on the ABC News program "This Week" could prove awkward for the White House, given President Bush's eagerness to involve his Democratic predecessor in a high-profile role to raise money for the hurricane's victims. His remarks came days after the president gave a televised speech from New Orleans, trying to seize the momentum amid other attacks on the administration's performance.
The White House has been under siege from critics, assailed first for the effectiveness of its response to the storm, and challenged more recently by questions about the long-term fiscal implications of its plans for rebuilding in the Gulf states.
"This is a matter of public policy," he said. "And whether it's race-based or not, if you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up and it disproportionately affects black and brown people, that's a consequence of the action made. That's what they did in the 80's; that's what they've done in this decade. In the middle, we had a different policy."
Noting statistics that showed a significant drop in poverty during his presidency, Mr. Clinton said, "You can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up, and when you tell people to go do something they don't have the means to do, you're going to leave the poor out."
Mr. Clinton has reunited with President Bush's father, former President George H. W. Bush, in a fund-raising campaign for Katrina victims, much as they worked together to raise millions of dollars for relief efforts after the Asian tsunami last year. Mr. Clinton said the two had raised $90 million to $100 million so far for hurricane victims.
Mr. Clinton drew a sharp distinction between the performance of the government's disaster-relief agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in his administration and today. "I think we did a good job of disaster management," he said.
While not using the name of Michael D. Brown, the FEMA director who resigned last Monday after criticism of his performance in the Katrina disaster, Mr. Clinton praised the performance of his FEMA director, James Lee Witt, and said Mr. Witt had been especially sensitive to the needs of low-income people because "both of us came out of environments with a disproportionate number of poor people."
"The trouble at federal agencies extends beyond emergency response. Aid is abundant, but prompt and accurate delivery is a problem."
Los Angeles Times [excerpts, emphasis added}
By Nicole Gaouette, Alan Miller and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — The federal government's efforts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina have been hobbled by inadequate planning and coordination, troubled computer systems and confusion over who will pay the costs.
Interviews with federal officials indicate that recovery difficulties have gone beyond the Federal Emergency Management Agency and span key agencies in Washington, where top officials are trying to respond to a huge reconstruction problem for which they had no policies or plans. Large contracts are pouring out of agencies, but the task ahead involves issues Washington hasn't thought seriously about since the 1960s.
FEMA has continued to stumble, leaving tractor-trailers packed with ice and water intended for evacuees sitting out of position for days or sending them to places that had no need. And the agency's rushed efforts to deliver evacuee housing points up a lack of foresight and planning that could have long-term ramifications.
Federal officials responsible for programs designed to help the poor are tangled in questions about rules that vary from state to state. Families that received welfare in Louisiana, for instance, may not be entitled to payments in Texas, where they have been resettled. And almost everywhere, funds for programs such as Head Start were stretched thin before Katrina hit.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
By JOHN PAIN, Associated Press Writer Sunday, September 18, 2005
(09-18) 13:08 PDT MIAMI, (AP) --
Tourists were told to evacuate the lower Florida Keys on Sunday as a new tropical depression strengthened over the Bahamas and moved toward the vulnerable, low-lying island chain.
A hurricane watch was posted for the entire Florida Keys.
"It does look like that there is the potential for it to become a hurricane, near or just before it reaches the Florida Keys," said Daniel Brown, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.
The watch means that hurricane conditions with sustained wind of at least 74 mph are possible by late Monday, according to the Miami-based hurricane center.
Long-term forecasts show the system heading generally toward the west in the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas or Mexico later in the week, but such forecasts are subject to large errors. That means that areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina could potentially be in the storm's path.
"Once it reaches the Gulf, really everybody should pay attention at that point," Brown said.
By NEIL A. LEWIS New York Times [excerpts, emphasis added]
A hunger strike at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has unsettled senior commanders there and produced the most serious challenge yet to the military's effort to manage the detention of hundreds of terrorism suspects, lawyers and officials say.
As many as 200 prisoners - more than a third of the camp - have refused food in recent weeks to protest conditions and prolonged confinement without trial, according to the accounts of lawyers who represent them. While military officials put the number of those participating at 105, they acknowledge that 20 of them, whose health and survival are being threatened, are being kept at the camp's hospital and fed through nasal tubes and sometimes given fluids intravenously.
One law enforcement official who has been fully briefed on the events at Guantánamo said senior military officials had grown increasingly worried about their capability to control the situation. A senior military official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the situation as greatly troublesome for the camp's authorities and said they had tried several ways to end the hunger strike, without success.
The comments of the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, probably because their accounts conflict with the more positive descriptions in official military accounts, generally mirrored the statements of lawyers for the detainees, who have received their information from face-to-face interviews with their clients.
Clive Stafford Smith, a British lawyer for several of the detainees, said he was visiting some of his clients in August when the most recent strike began. He said that a detainee, Omar Deghayes, told him that the strike was largely to protest their long imprisonment without being charged with any crime as well as the conditions of their confinement.
He said that Mr. Deghayes, a Libyan who has lived in London, told him: "Look, I'm dying a slow death in this place as it is. I don't have any hope of fair treatment, so what have I got to lose?"
Bill Clinton's Global Initiative in New York attracted international movers and shakers from world leaders, major US pols and CEOs to Oprah and Brad Pitt. Clinton also proposed this week that the Bush tax cuts for the super rich be repealed to pay for Katrina zone relief and reconstruction.
We come not to bury the New York Times columnists but to praise them. Well, some of them.
But though we praise we also bid a fond farewell. The Times columnists are disappearing as we speak behind the veil of a $49.95 a year subscription fee ($39.95 if you act today! And I do mean today!)
The Captain considered coughing up the dough. But the price is high, and seems even higher when it includes paying for celebrated columnist you don't want. It's too much like cable TV. Since health insurance is unaffordable, and gasoline is getting there, this seems not a hard decision. If a sad one.
I might even pay something if there was some choice-- a menu system, for instance. Paul Krugman is the closest to being essential. It's nice to read Frank Rich summing things up on Sunday. I'd be happy to select Bob Herbert, Nicholas Kristof and John Tierney.
But I refuse to pay for the easy arrogance of Thomas Friedman; I'll contentedly skim David Brooks for free but exercise my right under capitalism to refuse to pay for it, and even though I might agree fairly often with Maureen Dowd's politics, I can't stand the idea of reading her column, and I have not done so for years. So contributing to her upkeep with additional funds is out of the question.
So I bid farewell, at least until this particular experiment in cable net journalism fails, with a few excerpts from the Last Free Columns we poor folks will see.
From Frank Rich (I'll provide the link, but hurry!), writing about Bush and the week in Katrina zone:
Like his father before him, Mr. Bush has squandered the huge store of political capital he won in a war. His Thursday-night invocation of "armies of compassion" will prove as worthless as the "thousand points of light" that the first President Bush bestowed upon the poor from on high in New Orleans (at the Superdome, during the 1988 G.O.P. convention). It will be up to other Republicans in Washington to cut through the empty words and image-mongering to demand effective action from Mr. Bush on the Gulf Coast and in Iraq, if only because their own political lives are at stake.
It's up to Democrats, though they show scant signs of realizing it, to step into the vacuum and propose an alternative to a fiscally disastrous conservatism that prizes pork over compassion. If the era of Great Society big government is over, the era of big government for special interests is proving a fiasco. Especially when it's presided over by a self-styled C.E.O. with a consistent three-decade record of running private and public enterprises alike into a ditch.
What comes next? Having turned the page on Mr. Bush, the country hungers for a vision that is something other than either liberal boilerplate or Rovian stagecraft. At this point, merely plain old competence, integrity and heart might do.
And here is Nicholas Kristof doing what these columnists do best: highlighting an outrage that got by everybody else. In this case, Bushcorps adding to its astonishing record of denying global warming (and forcing others to do so), refusing to sign a nuclear proliferation treaty (and destroying this year's conference), and refusing to be subject to the International Court and other tribunals, effectively shortcircuiting the international rule of law.
This time they've almost outdone themselves. They've refused to condemn genocide.
President Bush doesn't often find common cause with Cuba, Zimbabwe, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. But this month the Bush administration joined with those countries and others to eviscerate a forthright U.N. statement that nations have an obligation to respond to genocide.
It was our own Axis of Medieval, and it reflected the feckless response of President Bush to genocide in Darfur. It's not that he favors children being tossed onto bonfires or teenage girls being gang-raped and mutilated, but he can't bother himself to try very hard to stop these horrors, either.
It's been a year since Mr. Bush - ahead of other world leaders, and to his credit - acknowledged that genocide was unfolding in Darfur. But since then he has used that finding of genocide not to spur action but to substitute for it.
Mr. Bush's position in the U.N. negotiations got little attention. But in effect the United States successfully blocked language in the declaration saying that countries have an "obligation" to respond to genocide. In the end the declaration was diluted to say that "We are prepared to take collective action ... on a case by case basis" to prevent genocide.
That was still an immensely important statement. But it's embarrassing that in the 21st century, we can't even accept a vague obligation to fight genocide as we did in the Genocide Convention of 1948. If the Genocide Convention were proposed today, President Bush apparently would fight to kill it.
Oh well. The Captain will just have to write his own opinions. They will be available here, of course. And as always, for free.