Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Our President's Real Intentions in the Iraqi War: An Opinion.

Published on Monday, June 20, 2005 by

They Died So Republicans Could Take the Senate

by Thom Hartmann

Richard Nixon authorized the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up to advance his own political ambitions. Because Nixon's lies were done for the craven purpose of getting and holding political power, his lies - in the minds of the majority of the members of Congress - were elevated to the level of impeachable "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Bill Clinton had sex in the White House with Monica Lewinsky, but Congress concluded he'd lied about it to maintain political power. Another impeachable crime.

The real scandal of the Downing Street Memos, with the greatest potential to leave the Bush presidency in permanent disgrace, is their implication that lies may have been put forward to help Bush, Republicans, and Blair politically. If Bush lied to gain and keep political power, precedent suggests he and his collaborators in the administration may even be vulnerable to impeachment.

Conservatives say the Bush claims of WMD and "mushroom clouds" were a "lie of ignorance." Condoleezza Rice periodically does the talk-show circuit and repeats the "lie of ignorance" myth. "The entire world thought Saddam had WMD," she and other Bush representatives suggest over and over again. "We had bad intelligence."

This is a lie to cover up a more damaging lie. "The entire world" was, in fact, watching and listening to Hans Blix, who was telling us that he couldn't find any evidence of WMD - or any other sort of threat - in Iraq. Most of our allies were convinced that Saddam did not have WMD, or that if he did have some small stockpiles left they were so insignificant and degraded that they were irrelevant. This is why the only permanent member of the UN Security Council to join us in attacking Iraq was Blair's UK: China, France, and Russia didn't believe Iraq represented a threat to them, to us, or even to its neighbors.

Nonetheless, Bush keeps trying to push this lie-to-cover-up-a-lie. In his June 19, 2005 radio address, he suggested that the Saudis who flew the planes into the World Trade Center were actually Iraqis. "We went to war because we were attacked," he said, hoping Americans' memories are short.

US media pundits, knowing the "WMD lie" and the "Saddam attacked us" lie for what they are, mostly suggest that Bush's use of WMD and terrorism to justify invading Iraq was a "lie of convenience." The implicit assumption is that Bush did this because of a "greater good"; that even though he lied, he was doing so to advance America's interests. This helps pundits to feel like they're part of an in-crowd elite who know what's best for America, even if they can't tell the children - er - citizens.

The "lie of convenience" is based on the neocon argument that the US needed a "footprint" in the Middle East to both secure our oil supplies and provide military security to Israel. But it ignores the many nations in the region where we now have military bases (some huge), the power and ability of our navy, and the power of Israel's military. And it doesn't explain how our getting bogged down in Iraq could possibly advance our interests at home or around the world.

Often included in the "lie of convenience" mix is the PNAC suggestion that for America to be safe, we must forcefully project military power all over the world and hold decisive control of the world's largest oil supplies. This flies in the face of most of America's history, starting with George Washington's farewell address warning against "foreign entanglements." It's not only un-American, but is the assumption used throughout history to justify empires, and in every single case has ended up bleeding dry those empires, consigning them to painful contraction or total collapse.

And neither the "lie of convenience" nor the "lie of ignorance" were demonstrably the reasons why Bush invaded Iraq.

So why then did George W. Bush lie us into invading and occupying Iraq?

We know that Bush wanted to massively cut taxes on his corporate sponsors and people, like himself, with substantial inherited fortunes. He wanted to weaken government protections of the environment, children, the poor, the elderly, the ozone layer, and our nation's forests. He wanted his oil-rig and mining-interest friends to have more access to public lands.

We know he wanted to undo Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal by stripping the American workplace (particularly government and schools) of unions, rolling back "socialist" unemployment and Social Security programs, and eliminating SEC and tort restraints on predatory corporate behavior. He'd even campaigned on this platform - particularly Social Security privatization - back in 1978 when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress from Texas.

We know he wanted to increase the police power of the federal government, gut the First and Fourth Amendments, and thus create a "safe and orderly nation" of people under constant surveillance, who never question those in power.

We know he wanted to give billions of our tax dollars to churches he approved of, and bring their leaders into the halls of government. He wanted to pass laws incorporating religious dogma about when human life begins, what is appropriate sexuality, and free churches to use tax-exempt dollars to influence politics.

It was an ambitious agenda. In order to bring about this neoconservative paradise, Bush knew he'd need considerable political capital. And that kind of capital didn't come from his being selected as President by the Supreme Court.

Such political capital - such raw political power - would only come, he believed, by his becoming a "war president."

Bush wasn't the first to realize how war strengthened a president in power, although the Founders saw it as a danger rather than an opportunity.

On April 20, 1795, James Madison wrote, "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few."

Reflecting on war's impact on the Executive Branch of government, Madison continued his letter about the dangerous and intoxicating power of war for a president.

"In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive [President] is extended," he wrote. "Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by both.

"No nation," he concluded, "could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

But freedom wasn't the goal of George W. Bush or his neoconservative Republican colleagues. It was political power. And they were willing to lie us into a war to achieve it.

Writer Russ Baker noted in October, 2004, that Mickey Herskowitz, the man Bush had originally hired to write his autobiography ("A Charge To Keep: My Journey To The White House"), told Baker that George Bush was planning his Iraq invasion - to seize and hold political power for himself and the Republican Party - during his first presidential election campaign.

"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," Herskowitz told Baker. "It was on his mind. He [Bush] said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency."

Bush lied, and Americans died. And continue to die. But politically - at least so far - it has worked out well for Bush.

It was a lie of political expediency, with the war resolution carefully timed just before the 2002 elections to help the Republicans take back the Senate.

It was echoed and amplified and repeated over and over again to help him and other Republicans get elected in 2004.

It wasn't a war for oil - cheap oil was just a useful secondary benefit.

It wasn't a war against terrorism - that was just a convenient excuse.

It wasn't a war to enrich Bush's and Cheney's cronies - those were just pleasant by-products.

It wasn't a war to show Poppy Bush that Junior was more of a man than him - that was just a personal bonus for Dubya.

It was, pure and simple, well planned years in advance, a war to solidify Bush and the Republican Party's political capital.

It was a war for political power. That had to be first. Everything else - oil, profits, ongoing PATRIOT Act powers, easy manipulation of the media - all could only come if political power was seized and held through at least two decisive election cycles.

The Bush administration lied us into an invasion to get and keep political power. It's that simple.

The same reason Richard Nixon authorized Watergate and then lied about the cover-up. The same reason Nixon lied about his "secret plan" to get out of Vietnam.

When Americans - and the US media - finally realize that Bush's lie was just to get "political capital," to increase the "discretionary power of the President" so he could undo Roosevelt's New Deal and seal power across all three branches of government for his Party, they will turn on him and his Republican co-conspirators.

If it comes out in the open before the election of 2006, Republicans could even lose the House and the Senate, which would virtually guarantee investigations of the many other crimes of the Bush administration. (For example, "bribery" is one of two crimes cited in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment - and the Big Pharma/Medicaid and Big Tobacco/lawsuit settlement cases may qualify.)

Probably the only two things that could slow down the American electorate's growing realization of the magnitude and horror of Bush's political lies would be another attack on America or a new Bush-led war into Syria, Iran, or North Korea.

Bush has already shown, by lying us into Iraq, that he's at least capable of the latter. As Jefferson wrote in a letter to James Madison on February 8th 1776, "It should ever be held in mind that insult and war are the consequences of a lack of respectability in the national character."

And already the cons are working the talk-show circuit, threatening the US with a new attack, and recommending we strike now at Iran or Syria. "Be afraid. Be aggressive. Give us more political power."

But if Jefferson was right when he said that the best defense of democracy was an informed electorate, there is still a small window of opportunity for the American press to do the job they've been so carefully avoiding these past five years.

Instead of just reporting that the Downing Street Minutes and memos exist, they can highlight them against the timeline of Bush repeatedly lying during those days before the war. They can quote him saying that he had no plans for war, was working toward peace, and only wanted Congressional authorization to avoid a war, and point out that this was all after - months after - his administration had told the British that war was a sure thing.

Lying, in other words, to get us to go along with an invasion that would cement in Republican control of the Congress and the White House, and, thus, also the courts. Lying for nothing more than "political capital."

Let us hope our Fourth Estate is up to the task.


Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show and a morning progressive talk show on KPOJ in Portland, Oregon. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People," "The Edison Gene", and "What Would Jefferson Do?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Why Are We Condoning Torture?

from "Commonweal,"
Lay Catholic Review of Religion, Politics and Culture, current issue online.(June 17, 2005)


We Know the Facts

Mark Danner, a longtime New Yorker staff writer and a contributor to the New York Review of Books (NYRB), has been documenting the plight of those caught up in war, and the lies told by those who wage war, for years. Commonweal readers may recognize his name from the reporting he did from Central America in the 1980s, especially his exposé of the murder of one thousand innocent peasants by American- trained members of the Salvadoran army (The Massacre at El Mozote). He has been similarly courageous in his reporting for the NYRB about the systematic torture of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere by the U.S. armed forces (Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror).

The June 23 issue of the NYRB features Danner’s commencement address to English Department students at the University of California at Berkeley, where he teaches. The speech is an eloquent, if disheartening, reminder of the fact that under the George W. Bush administration "our government decided to change this country from a nation that officially does not torture to one, officially, that does."

Danner reminds us that, despite the administration’s denials, the fact that torture was condoned by officials at the highest levels of government is well documented in both official Army investigations and elsewhere. "The heart of the scandal, the wrongdoing, is right out in front of us. Virtually nothing of great importance remains to be revealed," Danner writes. Is the Bush administration really above the law?

Danner quotes at length a typically disingenuous answer given by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to a question about the abuse of prisoners. "Never in my experience has frank mendacity so dominated our public life," Danner concludes.

Unlike the Watergate or Iran-Contra scandals, Danner writes, there have been no congressional or judicial investigations of this administration’s wrongdoing. "Those high officials responsible are still in office. Indeed, not only have they received no punishment; many have been promoted."

Danner asks why the American public remains so complacent about this scandal, about this betrayal of the most basic American values. It is a hard question to answer, sometimes even to pose. But someone has to keep asking.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Democracy Imposed? (Views that do not make the mainstream media)

Is This What They Call Democracy?
By Brendan Smith and Zeynep Toufe
t r u t h o u t | Report

Sunday 26 June 2005

Istanbul, Turkey - Today in Istanbul the jury was taken aback by witness testimony from Iraqi war victims and a US Air Force veteran.

"Snipers hunt people in the streets. People attempting to go to health centers are shot at," testified Eman Kmammas, an Iraqi translator. "There are many crippled children. There are thousands of widows and orphans. There are no police for security and there are no courts. Even hospitals are occupied and bombed and burned."

Former US Air Force combat veteran Tim Goodrich stunned the jury by revealing his role in the "softening up" of Iraq months before the US declaration of war. "We were dropping bombs then, and I saw bombing intensify," Goodrich explained to a hushed room. "All the documents coming out now, the Downing Street memo and others, confirm what I had witnessed in Iraq. The war had already begun while our leaders were telling us that they were going to try all diplomatic options first."

This gripping but unsettling revelation came on the second day of proceedings at the World Tribunal on Iraq, held in Istanbul, Turkey, which is collecting evidence of war crimes in Iraq.

Goodrich's testimony had just begun when a 75-foot banner prepared by the Iraqi delegation and composed of harrowing pictures of Iraqi child victims of the war was carried into the courtroom. In the presence of the father of one of the victims shown on the banner, Goodrich and others stood and a moment of silence spread through the room while the banner was carried through the hall. The teeming press contingent rushed to photograph the scene as some members of the audience cried.

While the first day of the trial had concentrated on moral and political issues, emotional testimony from Iraqi witnesses dominated the second day of proceedings. Fadil al Bedrani, an Iraqi journalist who survived the siege of Fallujah, told the audience that he watched as "20-25 persons were running barefoot when an American warplane bombed, killing and wounding them; only one elderly woman and 2 children stayed safe ... the doctors and the staff of the Fallujah hospital were detained; the warplanes bombed the alternative hospital in downtown ... and bombed the medicine warehouses in Nazzal area, killing 4 doctors, and 8 medical workers."

Dahr Jamail, an unembedded journalist who had been reporting from Iraq during the past year, narrated the story told to him by Ali Shalal Abbas from Baghdad. While detained at Abu Ghraib and tortured, Abbas was approached by two men, "one a foreigner and one a translator," who asked him who he was. "I said I'm a human being. They told me, 'We are going to cut your head off and send you to hell, we will take you to Guantánamo.'" Abbas questioned why only Saddam Hussein, who also had people tortured, was put on trial while the Americans were not.

The fate and the rights of the detainees remained a recurring theme at the Tribunal. Iraqi lawyer Amal Sawadi expressed her frustration at being stonewalled by occupation authorities who refused to tell her of the charges against her clients, if there was any evidence, and even if the person was under detention. "All of Iraq has become a vast prison," she sighed. "Is this what they call democracy?"

There was also ample discussion at the Tribunal - supported by nearly 200 non-governmental organizations ranging from Greenpeace to the Vietnam Veterans Against the War - of various forms of resistance. Goodrich, who refused to return to Iraq for an additional tour of duty, urged more soldiers to become conscientious objectors. And to those who questioned his anti-war activism, he responded, "Some people accuse us of being against the troops or unpatriotic, but we are the troops. How can I be unpatriotic by asking our soldiers to come back home alive?"

The Egyptian sociologist Samir Amin urged participants of the more than twenty tribunals held around the world over the last two years to begin a campaign under the slogan "US Come Home" in America and "US Go Home" in the rest of the world.

Eva Ensler, member of the WTI jury and American playwright most famous for her award-winning "Vagina Monologues," told reporters that both the UN and national governments had failed the Iraqi people and that "the people's movement across the world that rose up is an opportunity for the conscience of the world to be heard."

Iraqi and US military testimony was joined by former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Denis Halliday, who argued that the Tribunal has an "obligation to demand full international prosecution of US/UK war leaders as war criminals involved in the destruction of Iraq, the lives of its people and their human rights and well being, through unlawful and unjustifiable armed invasion and military occupation."

For many Iraqis at the proceedings, the Tribunal offered an opportunity to seek justice. Hana Ibrahim, director of the Women's Cultural Center in Baghdad, maintained the WTI's "task in the world is to judge the war criminals, to warn the people of the world, and to leave a trace in history."

Hilal Kuey, spokesperson for the WTI in Istanbul and a lawyer, affirmed the legitimacy of the Tribunal: "We are a real court, if not an official one. Our witnesses are real, our evidence is real. International law has been blocked by guns, our aim is to help clear this blockade."


Brendan Smith is editor of the forthcoming book (with Jeremy Brecher and Jill Cutler) In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt 2005) and co-author of Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity (South End Press, 2002). Zeynep Toufe publishes the blog.

Friday, June 24, 2005


ny tIMES
June 24, 2005
The War President
Paul Krugman


In this former imperial capital, every square seems to contain a giant statue of a Habsburg on horseback, posing as a conquering hero.

America's founders knew all too well how war appeals to the vanity of rulers and their thirst for glory. That's why they took care to deny presidents the kingly privilege of making war at their own discretion.

But after 9/11 President Bush, with obvious relish, declared himself a "war president." And he kept the nation focused on martial matters by morphing the pursuit of Al Qaeda into a war against Saddam Hussein.

In November 2002, Helen Thomas, the veteran White House correspondent, told an audience, "I have never covered a president who actually wanted to go to war" - but she made it clear that Mr. Bush was the exception. And she was right.

Leading the nation wrongfully into war strikes at the heart of democracy. It would have been an unprecedented abuse of power even if the war hadn't turned into a military and moral quagmire. And we won't be able to get out of that quagmire until we face up to the reality of how we got in.

Let me talk briefly about what we now know about the decision to invade Iraq, then focus on why it matters.

The administration has prevented any official inquiry into whether it hyped the case for war. But there's plenty of circumstantial evidence that it did.

And then there's the Downing Street Memo - actually the minutes of a prime minister's meeting in July 2002 - in which the chief of British overseas intelligence briefed his colleagues about his recent trip to Washington.

"Bush wanted to remove Saddam," says the memo, "through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and W.M.D. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." It doesn't get much clearer than that.

The U.S. news media largely ignored the memo for five weeks after it was released in The Times of London. Then some asserted that it was "old news" that Mr. Bush wanted war in the summer of 2002, and that W.M.D. were just an excuse. No, it isn't. Media insiders may have suspected as much, but they didn't inform their readers, viewers and listeners. And they have never held Mr. Bush accountable for his repeated declarations that he viewed war as a last resort.

Still, some of my colleagues insist that we should let bygones be bygones. The question, they say, is what we do now. But they're wrong: it's crucial that those responsible for the war be held to account.

Let me explain. The United States will soon have to start reducing force levels in Iraq, or risk seeing the volunteer Army collapse. Yet the administration and its supporters have effectively prevented any adult discussion of the need to get out.

On one side, the people who sold this war, unable to face up to the fact that their fantasies of a splendid little war have led to disaster, are still peddling illusions: the insurgency is in its "last throes," says Dick Cheney. On the other, they still have moderates and even liberals intimidated: anyone who suggests that the United States will have to settle for something that falls far short of victory is accused of being unpatriotic.

We need to deprive these people of their ability to mislead and intimidate. And the best way to do that is to make it clear that the people who led us to war on false pretenses have no credibility, and no right to lecture the rest of us about patriotism.

The good news is that the public seems ready to hear that message - readier than the media are to deliver it. Major media organizations still act as if only a small, left-wing fringe believes that we were misled into war, but that "fringe" now comprises much if not most of the population.

In a Gallup poll taken in early April - that is, before the release of the Downing Street Memo - 50 percent of those polled agreed with the proposition that the administration "deliberately misled the American public" about Iraq's W.M.D. In a new Rasmussen poll, 49 percent said that Mr. Bush was more responsible for the war than Saddam Hussein, versus 44 percent who blamed Saddam.

Once the media catch up with the public, we'll be able to start talking seriously about how to get out of Iraq.


Copyright noted, NY Times


Paschal: I believe the media is finally starting to catch up and pay attention to what ie has been ignording.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

This country has no viable energy policy. Friedman on Toyota and GM.

June 17, 2005
NY Times
Thomas Friedman

So I have a question: If I am rooting for General Motors to go bankrupt and be bought out by Toyota, does that make me a bad person?

It is not that I want any autoworker to lose his or her job, but I certainly would not put on a black tie if the entire management team at G.M. got sacked and was replaced by executives from Toyota. Indeed, I think the only hope for G.M.'s autoworkers, and maybe even our country, is with Toyota. Because let's face it, as Toyota goes, so goes America.

Having Toyota take over General Motors - which based its business strategy on building gas-guzzling cars, including the idiot Hummer, scoffing at hybrid technology and fighting Congressional efforts to impose higher mileage standards on U.S. automakers - would not only be in America's economic interest, it would also be in America's geopolitical interest.

Because Toyota has pioneered the very hybrid engine technology that can help rescue not only our economy from its oil addiction (how about 500 miles per gallon of gasoline?), but also our foreign policy from dependence on Middle Eastern oil autocrats.

Diffusing Toyota's hybrid technology is one of the keys to what I call "geo-green." Geo-greens seek to combine into a single political movement environmentalists who want to reduce fossil fuels that cause climate change, evangelicals who want to protect God's green earth and all his creations, and geo-strategists who want to reduce our dependence on crude oil because it fuels some of the worst regimes in the world.

The Bush team has been M.I.A. on energy since 9/11. Indeed, the utter indifference of the Bush team to developing a geo-green strategy - which would also strengthen the dollar, reduce our trade deficit, make America the world leader in combating climate change and stimulate U.S. companies to take the lead in producing the green technologies that the world will desperately need as China and India industrialize - is so irresponsible that it takes your breath away. This is especially true when you realize that the solutions to our problems are already here.

As Gal Luft, co-chairman of the Set America Free coalition, a bipartisan alliance of national security, labor, environmental and religious groups that believe reducing oil consumption is a national priority, points out: the majority of U.S. oil imports go to fueling the transport sector - primarily cars and trucks. Therefore, the key to reducing our dependence on foreign oil is powering our cars and trucks with less petroleum.

There are two ways we can do that. One is electricity. We don't import electricity. We generate all of our needs with coal, hydropower, nuclear power and natural gas. Toyota's hybrid cars, like the Prius, run on both gasoline and electricity that is generated by braking and then stored in a small battery. But, says Luft, if you had a hybrid that you could plug in at night, the battery could store up 20 miles of driving per day. So your first 20 miles would be covered by the battery. The gasoline would only kick in after that. Since 50 percent of Americans do not drive more than 20 miles a day, the battery power would cover all their driving. Even if they drove more than that, combining the battery power and the gasoline could give them 100 miles per gallon of gasoline used, Luft notes.

Right now Toyota does not sell plug-in hybrids. Some enthusiasts, though, are using kits to convert their hybrids to plug-ins, but that adds several thousand dollars - and you lose your Toyota warranty. Imagine, though, if the government encouraged, through tax policy and other incentives, every automaker to offer plug-in hybrids? We would quickly move down the innovation curve and end up with better and cheaper plug-ins for all.

Then add to that flexible-fuel cars, which have a special chip and fuel line that enable them to burn alcohol (ethanol or methanol), gasoline or any mixture of the two. Some four million U.S. cars already come equipped this way, including from G.M. It costs only about $100 a car to make it flex-fuel ready. Brazil hopes to have all its new cars flex-fuel ready by 2008. As Luft notes, if you combined a plug-in hybrid system with a flex-fuel system that burns 80 percent alcohol and 20 percent gasoline, you could end up stretching each gallon of gasoline up to 500 miles.

In short, we don't need to reinvent the wheel or wait for sci-fi hydrogen fuel cells. The technologies we need for a stronger, more energy independent America are already here. The only thing we have a shortage of now are leaders with the imagination and will to move the country onto a geo-green path.

Copyright, NY Times

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Age, Retirement and the "Adams Principle"

June 21, 2005
New York Times
The Adams Principle
John Tierney

The work ethic is alive and well among America's retirees, or at least the ones who bombarded me with letters after I suggested raising the retirement age for Social Security. They said they would be glad to keep working if I could find them a job.

In theory, this shouldn't be a problem because employers ought to be clamoring for workers as baby boomers hit retirement age and the pool of younger workers shrinks. In reality, though, older workers face discrimination. While some companies are recruiting them, many employers are still leery, partly because of irrational prejudice against the old, but also because of perverse incentives in current policies.

Some of the blame lies with the federal government, which has officially outlawed age discrimination while at the same time makes it inevitable. The antidiscrimination law itself is a reason not to hire an older worker. Given a choice between two equally qualified candidates, whom would you hire, a 35-year-old who could be quickly demoted or fired if he turns out to be incompetent, or a 65-year-old who could sue you for age discrimination?

A more immediate reason not to hire the 65-year-old is that he would be more expensive to add to the company health plan. If federal policy were changed to allow older full-time workers to rely primarily on Medicare instead of on their employer, they'd have a much better shot at jobs.

But it's not enough just to change laws. We need to rethink the old assumption that employees keep getting raises throughout their careers.

This seniority system was built on what economists call an implicit contract with workers: we'll pay you less than you're really worth when you're young, but stick with us and we'll make it up to you by paying you more than you're worth later in your career. Employers kept giving raises to workers even after their productivity started to decline, which typically occurs around age 50, says the economist Vegard Skirbekk (whose finding I shouldn't be publicizing now that I'm 52).

The system made economic sense when employers and employees stuck by the contract. Now they each feel free to abandon the other, but the old assumptions linger and interfere with older workers' attempts to find comparable jobs after they have been downsized.

Some workers refuse to consider a lesser job, and even if they're willing to take a cut in pay and status, employers fear they'll be frustrated and find the new job beneath them. So these workers are retiring earlier even though they're living longer, forcing younger people to work harder to support them.

It would be fairer to redistribute some of this free time so that young people, like harried parents, could enjoy it instead of waiting to get it all as one lump sum. As Ron Lee, a demographer at the University of California, Berkeley, asks, "Why not restructure our life cycles so that we take more leisure when we most need it, earlier on, and less later in life?"

That advice isn't practical for some blue-collar workers who aren't strong enough to keep doing their jobs into their 60's. But they're becoming a smaller and smaller minority - fewer than 10 percent of jobs are physically demanding, according to the economist Eugene Steuerle - and they could still quit early under a disability program even if the retirement age were raised.

Most workers could keep going longer if they and employers reconsidered the old assumption about a career trajectory. They could learn from the example of John Quincy Adams, who was elected to Congress after serving as president. He dismissed objections that the new job was beneath him, and voters didn't discriminate against him for being overqualified.

Adams started his new career at age 63, just about when the typical American man now retires. He wasn't especially spry, once calling his body "a weak, frail, decayed tenement battered by the winds and broken in on by the storm." Yet he stayed on the job until his death at age 80.

He accomplished so much in those years that he is remembered as a better congressman than president. You could call him an inverse example of the Peter Principle, someone who succeeded by being demoted below his level of incompetence.

But I prefer to draw a different lesson. Call it the Adams Principle for employees and employers: if the president can flourish after a demotion, so can anyone else.

For Further Reading:

Age and Individual Productivity: A Literature Survey by Vegard Skirbekk, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, August 2003, working paper.

"Social Security -- A Labor Force Issue" Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Social Security, Committee on Ways and Means by Eugene Steuerle, June 14, 2005.

"Rescaling the Life Cycle: Longevity and Proportionality," by Ronald Lee and Joshua Goldstein, Life Span: Evolutionary, Ecological, and Demographic Perspectives, a supplement to Population and Development Review, v. 29, pp. 183-207, (2003).


Monday, June 20, 2005

Stem cell research: Not on Faith Alone, by Cuomo

New York Times
June 20, 2005
Not on Faith Alone

THERE is a way to get beyond the religious morass created by President Bush's position on embryonic stem cells.

Most scientists agree that while adult stem cells offer hope of a cure for some of the cruelest diseases and injuries, embryonic stem cells hold even greater and surer promise. As a result, while most scientists welcomed Mr. Bush's August 2001 offer of government resources to advance adult stem cell research, they and millions of other Americans were sorely disappointed by his refusal to consider retrieving any stem cells from the many thousands of unused embryos awaiting destruction. To most scientists, his compromise restricting federal financing only to research that used the 20 or so embryonic stem cell lines that had already been developed was politically clever but insufficient, not least because most of those cell lines are of limited and uncertain potential.

Mr. Bush does not deny the greater potential of embryonic stem cells: he says his decision was compelled by his belief that retrieving stem cells from the embryo destroys it, thereby resulting in the killing of a human being that cannot be justified no matter how vast the potential benefits.

The president did not claim his conclusion was based on biomedical science. He said only that it was an expression of his religious faith. Asked in March 2004 about the stem cell issue, his science adviser, Dr. John H. Marburger III (who headed a fact-finding commission on the Shoreham nuclear plant in 1983 when I was governor), said: "I can't tell when a fertilized egg becomes sacred," and added, "That's not a science issue."

No doubt the president's belief that human life begins with fertilization is shared by millions of Americans, including many Christians and evangelists. But it remains a minority view and one that the president applies inconsistently. Although Mr. Bush believes that destroying an embryo is murder, he refuses to demand legislation to stop commercial interests that are busily destroying embryos in order to obtain stem cells. If their conduct amounts to murder as the president contends, it is hardly satisfactory for him to say he will do nothing to stop the evil act other than to refuse to pay for it.

However well the president has negotiated the political shoals, he has produced a moral and intellectual mishmash that has failed to dissuade Congress from going further than he has in advancing stem cell research.

To extricate himself from an untenable position, the president should start by following the successful pattern established in other areas of dealing with the clash of religious and political questions, including the law concerning abortion. The right of true believers to live by their own religious beliefs will be guaranteed: no one will be compelled to use stem cell research or its products, just as no one will ever be compelled to have an abortion. And the nation will respect the right of believers to advocate for changes in our civil law that correspond with their own view of morality.

But our pluralistic political system adopts rights that arise out of consensus, not the dictates of religious orthodoxy; and if such rights are adopted - approving abortions or financing stem cell research on leftover embryos - they will be the law of the land, even if religious dissenters, through their tax dollars, end up helping to pay for things that they find anathema. Every day Americans who abhor the death penalty, contraceptives, abortions and war are required to pay taxes used in part for purposes they consider offensive. That is part of the price we pay for this uniquely successful democracy.

So far neither Mr. Bush nor religious believers have convinced a majority of Americans that the use of embryonic stem cells inevitably entails the murder of a human being. Most Americans, vividly aware of the millions of tragic victims of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer and spinal cord injuries, believe that embryonic stem cell research may provide cures. They will demand that Congress act to realize that potential.

If the president vetoes a bill that advances that potential, he will have to provide more than sincere religiosity to prove that human life exists as early as fertilization, a proposition that even the Roman Catholic Church and other religions have historically disputed.

The best way to test that proposition would be to employ a panel of respected scientists, humanists and religious leaders to consider testimony from bioscience experts describing when consciousness first appears, when viability outside the womb usually occurs, and how other religions treat the subject. They would then provide their conclusions to lawmakers.

Such a panel, the Task Force on Life and the Law, has been operating effectively in New York since 1985, devising public policy to address issues like euthanasia, the definition of death, surrogacy births, the withholding and withdrawing of life-sustaining treatment, reproductive technology and other difficult questions generated by rapid advances in medical technology. The panel's decisions on the definition of death, do-not-resuscitate orders and organ and tissue transplants were all adopted by the Legislature.

If indeed such a panel confirms that Dr. Marburger is right and science cannot supply the proof that human life starts at conception, then the president's position is based only on his particular religious faith. If so, the president would be wrong to deny the rest of America that does not share his faith the vast potential benefits of embryonic stem cells.

Mario M. Cuomo was governor of New York from 1983 to 1995.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Our Butt-Covering Liberal Media

Letter sent to Editorial Page Editor, Herald-Leader, June 18.
Editor of the Editorial Page, Herald Leader
Attn: V. Gallman and R Gatton

Our Butt-Covering Liberal Media

In the recent Downing Street Memo affair, the liberal media proves once again that they are not credible. The memo tells us what many of us have known, that the reasons for the Iraqi war were contrived, that the President misled us into war, and that he knew the intelligence was cooked and, by inference, that his repeatedly affirmed “last resort” being war was a simply a lie.

Now the Washington Post, LA Times and NY Times are telling us that the Memo is not news because they knew all along what Bush was doing. The fact is that none of the supposedly liberal media challenged the run-up to the war at the time. In fact, through Judith Miller (NY Times) and other media leads, our liberal media repeated the White House line that the Iraqi war was justified without critique.

Now these media say the news from British Intelligence Memo that Blair and Bush planned war from 2002 and that intelligence would need to be rigged to justify war is not news. This, excuse me, is simply vast butt-covering.

If the Democrats and progressives want something to be mad about, it should be the continued butt-covering of the mainstream media, who still continue to downplay the Memo which could be first legal proof of the treasonable lying of this President to the American People, costing us thousands of lives and billions of dollars, still with no foreseeable positive outcome.

If this can be proven – others will need to come forth, then what we have is official malfeasance that would make the Clinton and Nixon misbehavior look like kindergarten high-jinks. Where are the genuine journalists of today?

"Potential" terrorists can be held in prison camps for years without trial or proof that they have done anything wrong. Bush lied repeatedly to take us into war– the media agree, “so what?”

When the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton over his cigar and Monica's affections, the US media could print nothing else. “Now, we have the stone, cold evidence of bending intelligence to sell us on death by the thousands, and neither a Republican Congress nor what is laughably called US journalism thought it worth a second look.” (quote by Greg Palast, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy)

Joe Conason asks: “Are Americans so jaded about the deceptions perpetrated by our own government to lead us into war in Iraq that we are no longer interested in fresh and damning evidence of those lies? Or are the editors and producers who oversee the American news industry simply too timid to report that proof on the evening broadcasts and front pages?” (

Media that fails to serve the public interest cannot be credible, and is no barometer of political success.

Paschal Baute
tel 293-5302
4080 Lofgren Ct.
Lexington, Ky 40509

Saturday, June 18, 2005

President must answer to Downing Street Memo, from the Desert Sun.

Note to my readers: this is not a small matter, tho it has been ignored by our country's main media. This was a memo from the highest officer in British Intelligence. If true, it suggests a misleading of this great nation into war, which even our generals are now admitting that cannot be won by military means, and which there is no clear exit strategy, no way out.
We have attempted to impose democracy on a country in a region dominated by tribal loyalties. We are in a terrible mess in this situation, losing lives of our brothers and sisters daily and costing the lives of untold numbers of civilians by those who continue to view our country as oppressors.
We have created a unwinnable situation for ourselves and for peace in the world.

President must answer to Downing Street Memo

David Spero
Special to The Desert Sun
June 18, 2005

On May 1, The London Times dropped an atomic bomb on the Bush administration, the Downing Street Memo.

Largely ignored by our country's corporate-owned media, the memo states that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." The memo's content, authenticity and accuracy remain unchallenged.

According to the memo, Bush created an elaborate plot to invade Iraq as early as 2002. Therefor, all that talk about aluminum tubes, portable biological labs and weapons of mass destruction was nothing more than verbal theatrics. Bush's endlessly reiterated phrase that war was to be used "only as a last resort" was deceptive, as were the threats to Saddam to "turn over" weapons of mass destruction. Feeding concocted "evidence" to an angry, gullible America, Bush utilized the unstable political climate after Sept. 11 to drive America into war.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan has been circulating a petition to be hand-delivered to the president. It has more than 500,000 American and 100 congressional signatures on it. Rep. Mary Bono, in lockstep conformity with her Republican colleagues, having already sent Tom Delay a quick $5,000 for his legal defense fund, refuses to sign the petition. The petition requests simply that Bush respond honestly and in detail to the memo's allegations.

This massive scandal will not go away. The president's apparently soiled hands are dyed with the blood of more than 1,700 American soldiers and 100,000 Iraqi citizens. The potential crimes of George Bush reduce Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton's misdeeds into subjects for a comedy act.

But this is no time for laughter.

America's credibility, its conscience and soul, stand at a crossroad. George Bush should be thoroughly investigated by a congressional committee or independent counsel. And, if these allegations hold true, Bush should be impeached and then imprisoned for war crimes against humanity.

Copyright, The Valley Voice, June 18, 2005
David Spero is a poet and author living in Palm Springs

President must answer to Downing Street Memo; YES!

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Downing Street Memo and Bush's Hot Potato.

I have said privately to a conservative friend who thinks Bush is laughable but still the better choice, that I believe #43 will end his presidency in disgrace as a failed president.

Why? Because my assessment of him is that he is a two faced liar from the beginning and that the run up to the war was contrived and unnecessary, and that something is bound to catch up with him. God, my faith tells me, sooner or later, brings down the proud and arrogant. Karma. It is beginning to look as if #43 might be impeachable, if only the major media, heretofore ignoring the story, speaks to the evidence emerging.

Turns out there seems to be real evidence suggesting the deliberate deceit of the American People in the matter of the Iraqi war, which is certainly treasonable. Starting yesterday Congress is beginning to examine it and ask for an investigation. Up to recently, the American public have not been willing to examine much in this arena, but with American soldiers being killed daily and no apparent exit strategy, the hoi polloi are becoming disillusioned.

What's the Deal with the Downing Street Memo?
Village Voice, Patrick Mulvany, June 16
Getting a Grip on the Blair -Bush war scandal.

A group of congressional Democrats held a public forum Thursday in the Capitol to investigate the so-called Downing Street Memo—an account of a British leadership meeting that suggests the Bush administration lied about its intentions and manipulated evidence in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Lawmakers gathered testimony from several witnesses, including former intelligence officials, with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the key decisions that preceded the 2003 invasion.

Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called the Bush administration to task for deceiving the American public during the march to war. The president’s statements in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq contradict the accounts of British intelligence officials as detailed in the Memo, Conyers said. “The veracity of those statements has—to put it mildly—come into question,” he told the assembly.

The Memo has been big, big news in Britain, but had, at least until Thursday, received little attention in the U.S. What follows is a primer on the Memo and its implications.

On July 23, 2002, British prime minister Tony Blair met with several of his top advisers to discuss plans for the future concerning the United States, Iraq, and the United Nations. The minutes from that meeting were marked “secret and strictly confidential.” But on May 1, in the heat of Blair’s campaign for re-election, those minutes—which have come to be known as the Downing Street Memo—surfaced in The Times of London.

The Memo confirmed what many progressives had long suspected: that the Bush administration first decided to start a war in Iraq and then rigged a case to justify it. According to the Memo, Britain’s intelligence chief reported the following assessment with regard to his then recent trip to Washington: “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The British media, from the Guardian to the BBC News, quickly explored the Memo and its implications and subsequently unearthed more documents that cast further doubt on the official Bush-Blair version of the run-up to the war (as well as the preparations for its aftermath). In the meantime, however, the titans of the U.S. press largely dodged the Downing Street bullet. As Media Matters for America noted in a study released June 15, the editorial pages of four of the nation's five largest newspapers - USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times—remained “conspicuously silent about the controversy surrounding the document” in the first six weeks after its publication.

Nonetheless, reactions to the Memo have slowly and quietly gathered steam across the United States. Progressive media outlets including The Village Voice (The Bush Beat, Power Plays),, Democracy Now!, and The Nation have covered the story on a regular basis, and smaller newspapers from Tennessee to Wisconsin have also taken up the issue. As for blogs, Daily Kos launched a campaign to “lift the virtual news blackout” on the story.

On the advocacy front, more than 500,000 people signed a letter to President Bush earlier this month demanding an explanation for the latest revelations, and groups of veterans and peace activists have formed a coalition to push for a formal congressional investigation. Moreover, Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese, among others, have actually raised the prospect of impeachment for President Bush.

With the issue clearly gaining momentum, the key question now is whether the Memo has the muscle to sway not only those who opposed the war in the first place, but also those who at some point supported it.

Neither testimony from Joseph Wilson and Richard Clarke nor the enduring absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has unsettled the American public enough to reopen the debate over the war. Controversy with regard to the Downing Street Memo may also wither away.

But there is a real possibility the issue could gain serious traction in the days and weeks ahead. The people of the United States have become increasingly frustrated with the Iraq war; a recent Washington Post poll found that for the first time since major combat operations began in March 2003, more than half of all Americans feel the war has not made the nation safer. And perhaps even more importantly, the Memo is strikingly concrete; beyond its commentary on intelligence-fiddling and fact-tweaking, it notes quite plainly that “the case was thin” for military intervention in Iraq.

Story by Patrick Mulvaney
What's the Deal With the Downing Street Memo?
Getting a grip on that Bush/Blair war scandal

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Mr. Bush's Selective Moral Blindness, A Challenge

June 14, 2005
Raped, Kidnapped and Silenced

No wonder the Pakistan government can't catch Osama bin Laden. It is too busy harassing, detaining - and now kidnapping - a gang-rape victim for daring to protest and for planning a visit to the United States.

Last fall I wrote about Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman who was sentenced by a tribal council in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300.

Ms. Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing of a local Islamic leader, she fought back and testified against her persecutors. Six were convicted.

Then Ms. Mukhtaran, who believed that the best way to overcome such abuses was through better education, used her compensation money to start two schools in her village, one for boys and the other for girls. She went out of her way to enroll the children of her attackers in the schools, showing that she bore no grudges.

Readers of my column sent in more than $133,000 for her. Mercy Corps, a U.S. aid organization, has helped her administer the money, and she has expanded the schools, started a shelter for abused women and bought a van that is used as an ambulance for the area. She has also emerged as a ferocious spokeswoman against honor killings, rapes and acid attacks on women. (If you want to help her, please don't send checks to me but to Mercy Corps, with "Mukhtaran Bibi" in the memo line: 3015 S.W. First, Portland, Ore. 97201.)

A group of Pakistani-Americans invited Ms. Mukhtaran to visit the U.S. starting this Saturday (see Then a few days ago, the Pakistani government went berserk.

On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest - to stop her from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence her, the police cut off her land line.

After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers released, putting her life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up. Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn yesterday the police bustled her off, and there's been no word from her since. Her cellphone doesn't answer.

Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she had learned that Ms. Mukhtaran was taken to Islamabad, furiously berated and told that President Pervez Musharraf was very angry with her. She was led sobbing to detention at a secret location. She is barred from contacting anyone, including her lawyer.

"She's in their custody, in illegal custody," Ms. Jahangir said. "They have gone completely crazy."

Even if Ms. Mukhtaran were released, airports have been alerted to bar her from leaving the country. According to Dawn, a Karachi newspaper, the government took this step, "fearing that she might malign Pakistan's image."

Excuse me, but Ms. Mukhtaran, a symbol of courage and altruism, is the best hope for Pakistan's image. The threat to Pakistan's image comes from President Musharraf for all this thuggish behavior.

I've been sympathetic to Mr. Musharraf till now, despite his nuclear negligence, partly because he's cooperated in the war on terrorism and partly because he has done a good job nurturing Pakistan's economic growth, which in the long run is probably the best way to fight fundamentalism. So even when Mr. Musharraf denied me visas all this year, to block me from visiting Ms. Mukhtaran again and writing a follow-up column, I bit my tongue.

But now President Musharraf has gone nuts.

"This is all because they think they have the support of the U.S. and can get away with murder," Ms. Jahangir said. Indeed, on Friday, just as all this was happening, President Bush received Pakistan's foreign minister in the White House and praised President Musharraf's "bold leadership."

So, Mr. Bush, how about asking Mr. Musharraf to focus on finding Osama, instead of kidnapping rape victims who speak out? And invite Ms. Mukhtaran to the Oval Office - to show that Americans stand not only with generals who seize power, but also with ordinary people of extraordinary courage.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Our Supine Media and the Imperial White House

"The fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before" was how the former Nixon speech writer William Safire put it on this page almost nine months ago. The current administration, a second-term imperial presidency that outstrips Nixon's in hubris by the day, leads the attack, trying to intimidate and snuff out any Woodwards or Bernsteins that might challenge it, any media proprietor like Katharine Graham or editor like Ben Bradlee who might support them and any anonymous source like Deep Throat who might enable them to find what Carl Bernstein calls "the best obtainable version of the truth."

The attacks continue to be so successful that even now, long after many news organizations, including The Times, have been found guilty of failing to puncture the administration's prewar W.M.D. hype, new details on that same story are still being ignored or left uninvestigated. The July 2002 "Downing Street memo," the minutes of a meeting in which Tony Blair and his advisers learned of a White House effort to fix "the intelligence and facts" to justify the war in Iraq, was published by The London Sunday Times on May 1. Yet in the 19 daily Scott McClellan briefings that followed, the memo was the subject of only 2 out of the approximately 940 questions asked by the White House press corps, according to Eric Boehlert of Salon.

This is the kind of lapdog news media the Nixon White House cherished. To foster it, Nixon's special counsel, Charles W. Colson, embarked on a ruthless program of intimidation that included threatening antitrust action against the networks if they didn't run pro-Nixon stories. Watergate tapes and memos make Mr. Colson, who boasted of "destroying the old establishment," sound like the founding father of today's blogging lynch mobs. He exulted in bullying CBS to cut back its Watergate reports before the '72 election. He enlisted NBC in pro-administration propaganda by browbeating it to repackage 10-day-old coverage of Tricia Nixon's wedding as a prime-time special. It was the Colson office as well that compiled a White House enemies list that included journalists who had the audacity to question administration policies.

Such is the equivalently supine state of much of the news media today that Mr. Colson was repeatedly trotted out, without irony, to pass moral judgment on Mr. Felt - and not just on Fox News, the cable channel that is actually run by the former Nixon media maven, Roger Ailes. "I want kids to look up to heroes," Mr. Colson said, oh so sorrowfully, on NBC's "Today" show, condemning Mr. Felt for dishonoring "the confidence of the president of the United States." Never mind that Mr. Colson dishonored the law, proposed bombing the Brookings Institution and went to prison for his role in the break-in to steal the psychiatric records of The Times's Deep Throat on Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg. The "Today" host, Matt Lauer, didn't mention any of this - or even that his guest had done jail time. None of the other TV anchors who interviewed Mr. Colson - and he was ubiquitous - ever specified his criminal actions in the Nixon years. Some identified him onscreen only as a "former White House counsel.

Frank Rick, NY times, June 12, 2005.

The Illiterate Surgeon, NY Times, Kristof. June 12

The Illiterate Surgeon


Just about the worst thing that can happen to a teenage girl in this world is to develop an obstetric fistula that leaves her trickling bodily wastes, stinking and shunned by everyone around her. That happened four decades ago to Mamitu Gashe.

But the most amazing thing about Ms. Mamitu is not what she endured but what she has become.

Ms. Mamitu's story begins when she was an illiterate 15-year-old in a remote Ethiopian village unreachable by road and with no doctor nearby. She married a local man, became pregnant and after three days of labor, she lapsed into unconsciousness and the baby was stillborn.

"After I woke up, the bed was wet" with urine, she remembers. "I thought I would get better after two or three days, but I didn't."

That's typically how an obstetric fistula arises: a teenage girl, often malnourished and with an immature pelvis, tries to deliver her first baby. The fetus gets stuck, and after several days of labor it is stillborn - but some of the mother's internal tissues have been damaged in that time, and so to her horror she finds herself constantly trickling urine or sometimes feces from her vagina.

Soon she stinks. Her husband normally abandons her, the constant trickle of urine leaves her with terrible sores on her legs, and if she survives at all she is told to build a hut away from the rest of the village and to stay away from the village well. Some girls die of infections or suicide, but many linger for decades as pariahs and hermits - their lives effectively over at the age of about 15.

Fistulas were common in America in the 19th century. But improved medical care means that they are now almost unknown in the West, while the United Nations has estimated that at least two million girls and women live with fistulas in the developing world, mostly in Africa.

This should be an international scandal, because a $300 operation can normally repair the injury. A major effort to improve maternal health in the developing world should be a no-brainer, for it could prevent most fistulas and reduce deaths in childbirth by half within a decade, saving 300,000 lives a year.

But maternal health is woefully neglected, and those suffering fistulas are completely voiceless - young, female, poor, rural and ostracized. They are the 21st century's lepers.

Ms. Mamitu was exceptionally lucky in that she was brought to a hospital here in Addis Ababa that offered free surgery by a saintly husband and wife pair of gynecologists from Australia, Reginald and Catherine Hamlin. Reg is now dead, while Catherine is the Mother Teresa of our time and is long overdue for a Nobel Peace Prize.

After that operation, 42 years ago, Ms. Mamitu was given a job making beds in the hospital. Then she began helping out during surgeries, and after a couple of years of watching she was asked by Dr. Reg Hamlin to cut some stitches. Eventually, Ms. Mamitu was routinely performing the entire fistula repair herself.

Over the decades, Ms. Mamitu has gradually become one of the world's most experienced fistula surgeons. Gynecologists from around the world go to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital to train in fistula repair, and typically their teacher is Ms. Mamitu.

Not bad for an illiterate Ethiopian peasant who as a child never went to a day of school.

A few years ago, Ms. Mamitu tired of being an illiterate master surgeon, and so she began night school. She's now in the third grade.

The Fistula Hospital where Ms. Mamitu works is nicknamed "puddle city" - because patients stroll around dripping urine - but it abounds with joy and hope.

President Bush has increased aid to the developing world generally and to Africa in particular, but a few days ago he rejected Tony Blair's appeal for a further dramatic increase in assistance for Africa. The real stakes in that rejection will be measured in lives like Ms. Mamitu's. I hope that Mr. Bush will reconsider - for the sake of people like those girls with fistula living in huts alone on the edges of hundreds of thousands of villages.

Ms. Mamitu shows us what a tragedy it would be to write them off. A couple of Australians once gave Ms. Mamitu a break, and so today Ms. Mamitu is not a victim at all, but an inspiration.

And, I hope, an inspiration to us to be more generous.

Copyrighted article, NY Times, June 1, 2005


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"Cheap Grace" in America

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a very exceptional person, a Christian clergyman who challenged Hitler publicly (even returning to Germany after having escaped for a time first to England and then to America). The Nazis arrested him in 1943 and Himmler himself ordered him hanged in April, 1945, just a few weeks before the allied liberation of his concentration camp. Thank God, however, his insightful book, "The Cost of Discipleship", survived the Nazi book burnings. I believe that his idea of "cheap grace" explains not only the hollowness of German Christianity, but that of American Christianity as well.

Why has Christianity in America's Bible Belt been so unable and/or unwilling to recognize the evils of slavery, segregation, black terrorism and white supremacy, if not because of its embrace of the very same concept of "Cheap Grace" ?

How could the unholy alliance of the wealthiest and most bigotted people in America, those who almost worship guns for personal use and can't spend enough of our nation's resources on weapons of mass destruction, those who despise the least fortunate among us, and the political party which best represents all those sentiments, get away with calling themselves a "Christian Coalition", if not because of the prevalence of the notion of "cheap grace" here in America?

for more, see

Monday, June 06, 2005

WAR MADE EASY: Vietnam to Iraq, Perspective

War Made Easy: From Vietnam to Iraq; Atrocities in Our Name.
By Norman Solomon
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 02 June 2005

On February 27, 1968, I sat in a small room on Capitol Hill. Around a long table, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was in session, taking testimony from an administration official. Most of all, I remember a man with a push-broom moustache and a voice like sandpaper, raspy and urgent.

Wayne Morse did not resort to euphemism. He spoke of "tyranny that American boys are being killed in South Vietnam to maintain in power." Moments before the hearing adjourned, the senior senator from Oregon said that he did not "intend to put the blood of this war on my hands." And Morse offered clarity that was prophetic: "We're going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. It's an ugly reality, and we Americans don't like to face up to it."

Near the end of the 1960s, drawing on a careful reading of secret documents and a reappraisal of firsthand observations, Daniel Ellsberg came to a breakthrough realization: "On the basis of the record ever since 1946, 'telling truth to presidents' privately, confidentially - what I and my colleagues regarded as the highest calling and greatest opportunity we could imagine to serve our country - looked entirely unpromising as a way to end our war in and on Vietnam. That conclusion challenged the premises that had guided my entire professional career."

Ellsberg went on: "To read the continuous record of intelligence assessments and forecasts for Vietnam from 1946 on was finally to lose the delusion that informing the Executive Branch better was the key to ending the war - or to fulfilling one's responsibilities as a citizen. It appeared that only if power were brought to bear upon the Executive Branch from outside it, with the important secondary effect of sharing responsibility for later events more broadly, might the presidential preference for endless, escalating stalemate rather than 'failure' in Vietnam be overruled."

It was not very tough to invade and quickly dominate a small country like Grenada or Panama, where resistance could be flattened with military might and subsequent goodies in exchange for elite collaboration. Except for some unlucky combatants and their loved ones, the American people tended to view such wars as easy. In the mid-1980s, media scholar Daniel Hallin commented that "the fear of repeating the Vietnam experience showed signs of giving way to a desire to relive it in an idealized form."

Whatever the circumstances, in the shadow of Vietnam, every subsequent US war seemed to offer the opportunity to do it right, with less muss, less fuss, and more ease. Early in the 1990s, the Gulf War was, for the US forces and the folks back home, mostly a war of air power. And near the end of the decade, the protracted bombing of Yugoslavia was the high-tech archetype of a very good American war waged overwhelmingly from the skies.

Yet the horrific and continuous air-war component of the Vietnam War had not sufficed to spare American troops the tactical need to fight on the ground, nor did it bring victory. And Americans expect to win - which is a key reason why President George W. Bush had difficulty with Iraq as a campaign issue in 2004. The stream of revelations about prewar lies, turning into a flood with significant political impacts after the invasion phase of the war, would have counted for relatively little if not for (to use Paul Krugman's phrase) "how badly things have gone.:

Failure to "win the peace" is failure to really triumph. For the White House and its domestic allies in the realms of government, media, think tanks and the like, the political problem of war undergoes a shift after the Pentagon goes into action in earnest. Beforehand, it's about making the war seem necessary and practical; if the war does not come to a quick satisfactory resolution, the challenge becomes more managerial so that continuation of the war will seem easier or at least wiser than cutting the blood-soaked Gordian knot.

Advocates for humanitarian causes might see the United States as a place where "madmen lead the blind." But that's a harsh way to describe the situation. Our lack of vision is in the context of a media system that mostly keeps us in the dark.


"We took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maximum brutality," war correspondent Michael Herr recalled about the US military in Vietnam. "Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop."

War coverage becomes routine. Missiles fly, bombs fall. Live briefings - with talkative officers, colorful charts and gray videos - appear on cable television, sometimes like clockwork, sometimes with sudden drama. The war is right in front of the American public and very far away.

When a country - particularly a democracy - goes to war, the consent of the governed lubricates the machinery of killing. Silence is a key form of co-operation, but the war-making system does not insist on quietude or agreement. Mere self-restraint will suffice.

Post-9/11 fears that respond more affirmatively to calls for military attacks are understandable. Yet fear is not a viable long-term foundation for building democratic structures or finding alternatives to future wars. Despite news media refusals to be sufficiently independent, many options remain to invigorate the First Amendment while challenging falsehoods, demagoguery and manipulations. While going to war may seem easy, any sense of ease is a result of distance, privilege, and illusion. The United States has the potential to set aside the habitual patterns that have made war a frequent endeavor in American life.

There remains a kind of spectator relationship to military actions being implemented in our names. We're apt to crave the insulation that news outlets offer. We tell ourselves that our personal lives are difficult enough without getting too upset about world events. And the conventional war wisdom of American political life has made it predictable that most journalists and politicians cannot resist accommodating themselves to expediency by the time the first missiles are fired. Conformist behavior - in sharp contrast to authentic conscience - is notably plastic.

"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices," Voltaire wrote. The quotation is sometimes rendered with different wording: "As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities."

Either way, a quarter of a millennium later, Voltaire's statement is all too relevant to this moment. As an astute cliche says, truth is the first casualty of war. But another early casualty is conscience.

When the huge news outlets swing behind warfare, the dissent propelled by conscience is not deemed to be very newsworthy. The mass media are filled with bright lights and sizzle, with high production values and lower human values, boosting the war effort. And for many Americans, the gap between what they believe and what's on their TV sets is the distance between their truer selves and their fearful passivity.

Conscience is not on the military's radar screen, and it's not on our television screen. But government officials and media messages do not define the limits and possibilities of conscience. We do.

This article is an excerpt from Norman Solomon's new book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, which comes off the press in mid-June. For information, go to:

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Deep Throat's Lessons for Whistle Blowers, Patricia O'Connell, Business Week,

By Patricia O'Connell
Deep Throat's Lessons for Whistle-Blowers

Plenty of folks have taken Mark Felt's lonely path
since Watergate days. Here's a look at what it takes
to successfully reveal wrongdoing

Becoming a whistle-blower is one of the loneliest and
most difficult choices one can make in life. Those who
come clean on the wrongdoing they witness in the
corporate suite or in government risk immediate
ostracism. They open themselves up to counterattacks,
loss of livelihood, and sometimes long, costly
litigation, just for the act of speaking out against a
perceived injustice or crime. And even when their
disclosures are revealed to be true, they often have a
difficult time finding work again, as potential
employers fear they can't be trusted.

All of which makes the spate of splashy
whistle-blowing cases in recent years remarkable
indeed. Former Big Tobacco exec Jeffrey Wigand spilled
the beans about what the industry knew and when,
rousing the ire of cigarette giants. (His story was so
dramatic, Hollywood made a movie, The Insider, about

Sherron Watkins famously -- and futilely -- warned
former Enron CEO and Chairman Ken Lay about the energy
giant's financial house of cards. Watkins, persona non
grata at Enron after writing her memo, left several
months later. Since then, she has co-authored a book,
Power Failure, and does consulting and gives lectures.

NOW OUT OF SIGHT. FBI agent Coleen Rowley wrote about
intelligence failures leading to 9/11 -- now she's
mulling a run for Congress. Army Private Joseph M.
Darby stepped forward after seeing the now-notorious
pictures of Iraqi prisoners being abused in Abu
Ghraib. He was recently given the Kennedy Library
Foundation's Profile in Courage Award by Caroline
Kennedy for "upholding the rule of law that we embrace
as a nation." But he and his family have largely
dropped out of sight.

It was a still-anonymous tipster who informed New York
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer about insurance
kickbacks, setting off a chain of events that left the
industry reeling -- and former AIG (AIG ) CEO Henry
Greenberg, an icon of the business, in disgrace. What
fate awaits the tipster when his or her identity is

Yet, when it comes to whistle-blowing, none of them
comes close to Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, the
recently revealed source who helped Washington Post
reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unravel the
Presidential scandal Watergate -- and the Presidency
of Richard Nixon.

HERO OR TRAITOR? Whistle-blowing is a funny thing:
For every person who thinks it's noble, someone else
thinks such a break in ranks is the ultimate
disloyalty. Indeed, look at the reaction to the
revelation about Felt. Some praise him as a hero.
Others -- most vociferously and not suprisingly,
former members of the Nixon Administration -- are now
calling him a traitor.

Patrick Buchanan, a former Nixon speechwriter, was
quoted in The New York Times on June 2 as saying, "I
think Deep Throat is a dishonorable man. I think Mark
behaved treacherously. I'm unable to see the nobility
of the enterprise, sneaking around in garages, moving
pots around, handing over material he got in the
course of the investigation."

With the "final secret" -- in the words of former
Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee -- now broken, it's
worth looking back at the granddaddy of all
whistle-blowers and see what lessons can be learned:

Follow the money: That was the advice Deep Throat gave
Bernstein and Woodward, and the money trail was one of
the things that led them to the White House. In
corporate scandals, it's usually all about money, and
often the cash leads to the very top as well -- with a
few stops along the way, at various high-ranking
executives' offices. In her memo to Enron's Lay,
Watkins raised pointed questions about aggressive
accounting. She was following the money.

Cover your tracks: According to Woodward, Felt was
adamant about not talking on the phone, and he
insisted on meeting in underground garages,
communicating through an elaborate series of signals
that involved moving a flower pot and flag on
Woodward's apartment balcony, and a hand-drawn clock
in Woodward's copy of The New York Times. And
according to Woodward and Bernstein, Felt was careful
in what he said to them, mindful not to break the law.

Clearly, such subterfuge helped keep Felt's identity
secret -- and his job at the FBI -- safe, which
presumably kept him in the loop and enabled him to be
a long-term asset to the investigation. And Felt was
smart, but he was also very lucky that his identity
wasn't revealed sooner. Just witness the fury now
aimed at a 91-year-old man in frail health.

Better yet, don't leave any tracks: It's interesting
to wonder how Felt, a old-fashioned G-man right down
to his wool-checkered blazers and fedora, might have
inadvertently spilled the beans in this age of e-mail,
security cameras, and corporate computer networks.
It's hard enough not to leave a paper trail, much less
a digital trail. On the bright side, it's also harder
for the bad guys to cover their tracks these days.
Spitzer, for one, has shown how modern prosecutors can
make amazingly strong cases out of e-mail trails.

One person can make a difference: It's tempting to be
cynical and think an individual can't take on a
corporation like Enron or an institution like the
military or the White House. Watkins' warning was for
naught -- at least in terms of preventing a problem.
But her actions and information were critical in
helping to shed light afterward on the mess at Enron,
which in part centered on such specious accounting
schemes and vehicles as Raptor and Condor.

But one person isn't enough: To be effective, a
whistle-blower has to find the right conduit. And
chances are good it might not be someone the
whistle-blower trusts in the next cubicle or in the
office down the hall. For all the criticism leveled at
Felt for not following "procedure" and not bringing
his concerns to his superiors at the FBI or the
Justice Dept., it's hard to imagine that going to FBI
Director L. Patrick Gray -- Nixon's hand-picked choice
for the job -- about illegality at the White House
really would have been a great idea.

Make sure your confidante is trustworthy: No doubt The
Washington Post was deeply chagrined at having been
scooped by Vanity Fair on the story it's famous for.
Yet Woodward -- who still works for the Post -- and
Bernstein were right to honor the pledge they made to
keep Felt's identity a secret until his death or his
releasing them from their promise. Kudos also to
former editor Bradlee, the only other person privy at
the time to Deep Throat's identity. Laws protecting
whistle-blowers are imperfect at best. If someone goes
to the press, they should feel safe doing so.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that
good men do nothing": So wrote 18th century Irish
philosopher and politician Edmund Burke. O.K., so he
excluded "women" from that phrase, but considering
when he lived, he can be forgiven. However, include
both genders, and his wisdom shines brightly still.

When good men and women do something true and right,
evil is sometimes vanquished. That's the highest ideal
that a whistle-blower can aspire to, even if others
may question his or her motives. Critics think Felt's
motives were less than pure. He never hid his disdain
for Nixon and his minions, whom he regarded as
"Nazis," Woodward revealed in the Post's June 2
editions. Felt was also passed over for the FBI
director's job twice. But he did what he thought was

Perhaps Woodward and Bernstein would have untangled
the gnarly mess of Watergate without Felt's help.
Maybe someone else would have come forward to reveal
the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib if Darby hadn't.
Rowley wasn't the only person in the FBI, let along
elsewhere, to point out the intelligence failures
surrounding 9/11. Had Wigand lost heart, another exec
might have told the truth about the tobacco industry.

But as any historian will tell you, such speculation
-- while fun -- ultimately leads to a futile dead end.
JUNE 3, 2005

We'll never know. What's important is what did happen.
Felt, and many whistle-blowers after him, made a
difference. But first, they made a choice.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Suspicious Treatment and USA reputation abroad.

ContraCosta Times, June 1, 2005.

Suspicious treatment

FIRST, THERE WERE THE SICKENING photos smuggled out of Abu Ghraib prison a year ago that shocked the world and fueled anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East. Then, there were allegations from prisoners recently freed from Guantanamo Bay that U.S. military guards had beaten false confessions out of them and desecrated the Quran. Then, earlier this month, the New York Times reported that military interrogators at a U.S. prison in Afghanistan had killed detainees during questioning, then tried to cover up the cause of death. The interrogators didn't believe one of the men was involved in terrorism, but had beaten him to death -- allegedly by accident -- anyway.

Now, Amnesty International U.S.A. has released a scathing report calling the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "the gulag of our times." The report's authors accuse Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other top U.S. officials of being "architects of torture."

The human rights watchdog organization called on foreign governments to use international law to investigate U.S. officials for their abuse of detainees accused of having terrorist ties.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has obtained 1,000 pages of U.S. government tribunal transcripts under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that offers chilling, firsthand accounts of alleged prisoner abuse. In one case, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner told a military panel that American soldiers had beaten him so badly, he now wets his pants.

Vice President Dick Cheney insists that the prisoners are "peddling lies" and that the Guantanamo detainees have been "well-treated, treated humanely and decently." President Bush blasted the Amnesty report Tuesday, calling it "absurd."

Yet, it is quite unsettling that prisoners in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq have told strikingly similar stories.

Bush administration officials' unapologetic defense of military conduct at Guantanamo and other U.S. military prisons -- in the face of mounting evidence of serious problems -- is symptomatic of its increasingly familiar refusal to acknowledge mistakes and take responsibility. This arrogant stonewalling must not be allowed, especially when so much is at stake.

The well-publicized mistreatment of Muslim detainees at U.S.-run military prisons has severely damaged the United States' reputation abroad. It is the height of hypocrisy to talk of spreading democracy while our government tramples all over individual civil liberties. In the United States, a person is innocent until proven guilty, yet Muslim detainees are essentially guilty until proven innocent. Nearly 600 people have been held without charges. Up until a year ago, they could not even challenge their detentions in U.S. courts. The U.S. government had argued that as foreigners on foreign soil, they had no legal recourse, which is absurd as well as un-American.

It is high time that President Bush and Congress appoint a bipartisan panel to investigate the allegations of abuse of terrorist suspects. People on both sides of the ideological spectrum have called for such a commission, ranging from conservative former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., to the Center for American Progress on the left.

If, as Rumsfeld claims, released detainees are a bunch of liars, the administration has nothing to hide. It should welcome such an inquiry to lay the supposedly false charges to rest, once and for all.

Copyright, Times, June 1, 2005.