Monday, July 31, 2006

Bush's Fundamentalism causes havoc in Middle East, by Karen Armstrong

Bush's Fondness For Fundamentalism Is Courting Disaster At Home and Abroad
Affinity with the Christian right has led to banning stem cell research and turning a blind eye to civilian deaths in Lebanon
by Karen Armstrong

From the very beginning, the conflict between religion and modern science was couched in extreme, even apocalyptic rhetoric. Thomas H. Huxley, who popularized the Origin of Species, insisted that people had to choose between faith and science; there could be no compromise: "One or the other would have to succumb after a struggle of unknown duration." In response, conservative Christians launched a crusade against Darwinism. After the first world war, the Democratic politician William Jennings Bryan claimed that there was a direct link between evolutionary theory and German militarism: the notion that only the strong could or should survive had "laid the foundation for the bloodiest war in history. The same science that manufactured poisoned gases to suffocate soldiers is preaching that man has a brutal ancestry."

The struggle continues - nowhere more so than among the Christian right in the US, who still regard the evolutionary hypothesis as surrounded by a murderous nimbus of evil. In 1925, they tried to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools and developed creation science, based on a literal reading of the first chapter of Genesis. More recently, they have tried to introduce into the school curriculum the teaching of intelligent design (ID), which claims that the irreducible complexity of micro-organisms could not have evolved naturally but must be the result of a single creative act. The issue splits the nation down the middle: fundamentalists want to win a battle for God; liberals and secularists are fighting for truth and rationality.

The same passions are likely to be aroused by President Bush's decision last week to veto the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would have loosened the restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research. "This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others," Bush said. "It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."

His opponents point out that while the president zealously champions the rights of the unborn, he is less concerned about the plight of existing American children. The US infant mortality rate is only the 42nd best in the world; the average baby has a better chance of surviving in Havana or Beijing; infant mortality rates are unacceptably high among those who cannot afford adequate healthcare, especially in the African-American community. And, finally, at the same time as Bush decided to veto the stem cell bill, Israeli bombs were taking the lives of hundreds of innocent Lebanese civilians, many of them children, with the tacit approval of the US.

Is there a connection between a religiously motivated mistrust of science, glaring social injustice, and a war in the Middle East? Bush and his administration espouse many of the ideals of the Christian right and rely on its support. American fundamentalists are convinced that the second coming of Christ is at hand; they have developed an end-time scenario of genocidal battles based on a literal reading of Revelation that is absolutely central to their theology. Christ cannot return, however, unless, in fulfilment of biblical prophecy, the Jews are in possession of the Holy Land. Before the End, the faithful will be "raptured" or snatched up into the air in order to avoid the Tribulation. Antichrist will massacre Jews who are not baptized; but Christ will defeat the mysterious "enemy from the north," and establish a millennium of peace.

This grim eschatology, developed in the late 19th century, was in part a reaction to the "social gospel" of the more liberal Christians, who believed that human beings were naturally evolving towards perfection and could build the New Jerusalem here on earth by fighting social injustice. The fundamentalists, however, believed that God was so angry with the faithless world that he could save it only by initiating a devastating catastrophe; they would see the terrible battles of the first world war, which showed that science could be used to lethal effect in the new military technology, as the beginning of the End.

The fundamentalists' rejection of science is deeply linked to their apocalyptic vision. Even the relatively sober ID theorists segue easily into Rapture-speak. "Great shakings and darkness are descending on Planet Earth," says the ID philosopher Paul Nelson, "but they will be overshadowed by even more amazing displays of God's power and light. Ever the long-term strategist, YHVH is raising up a mighty army of cutting-edge Jewish End-time warriors." They all condemn the attempt to reform social ills. When applied socially, evolutionary theory "leads straight to all the woes of modern life," says the leading ID ideologue Philip Johnson: homosexuality, state-backed healthcare, divorce, single-parenthood, socialism, and abortion. All this, of course, is highly agreeable to the Bush administration, which is itself selectively leery of science. It has, for example, persistently ignored scientists' warnings about global warming. Why bother to implement the Kyoto treaty if the world is about to end? Indeed, some fundamentalists see environmental damage as a positive development, because it will hasten the apocalypse.

This nihilistic religiosity is based on a perversion of the texts. The first chapter of Genesis was never intended as a literal account of the origins of life; it is a myth, a timeless story about the sanctity of the world and everything in it. Revelation was not a detailed program for the End time; it is written in an apocalyptic genre that has quite a different dynamic. When they described the Jews' return to their homeland, the Hebrew prophets were predicting the end of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC - not the second coming of Christ. The prophets did preach a stern message of social justice, however, and like all the major world faiths, Christianity sees charity and loving-kindness as the cardinal virtues. Fundamentalism nearly always distorts the tradition it is trying to defend.

Whatever Bush's personal beliefs, the ideology of the Christian right is both familiar and congenial to him. This strange amalgam of ideas can perhaps throw light on the behaviour of a president, who, it is said, believes that God chose him to lead the world to Rapture, who has little interest in social reform, and whose selective concern for life issues has now inspired him to veto important scientific research. It explains his unconditional and uncritical support for Israel, his willingness to use "Jewish End-time warriors" to fulfil a vision of his own - arguably against Israel's best interests - and to see Syria and Iran (who seem to be replacing Saddam as the "enemy of the north") as entirely responsible for the unfolding tragedy.

Fundamentalists do not want a humanly constructed peace; many, indeed, regard the UN as the abode of the Antichrist. The willingness of the US to turn a blind eye to the suffering of innocent people in Lebanon will certainly fuel the rage of the extremists and lead to further acts of terror. We can only hope that it does not take us all the way to Armageddon.

Karen Armstrong is the author of "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism." Email to:

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Black and Blue: Bush, G.O.P. and Black Americans.

Black and Blue
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Wednesday 26 July 2006

According to the White House transcript, here's how it went last week, when President Bush addressed the N.A.A.C.P. for the first time:

The President: "I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party."

Audience: "Yes! (Applause.)"

But Mr. Bush didn't talk about why African-Americans don't trust his party, and black districts are always blue on election maps. So let me fill in the blanks.

First, G.O.P. policies consistently help those who are already doing extremely well, not those lagging behind - a group that includes the vast majority of African-Americans. And both the relative and absolute economic status of blacks, after improving substantially during the Clinton years, have worsened since 2000.

The G.O.P. obsession with helping the haves and have-mores, and lack of concern for everyone else, was evident even in Mr. Bush's speech to the N.A.A.C.P. Mr. Bush never mentioned wages, which have been falling behind inflation for most workers. And he certainly didn't mention the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects African-American workers, and which he has allowed to fall to its lowest real level since 1955.

Mr. Bush also never used the word "poverty," a condition that afflicts almost one in four blacks.

But he found time to call for repeal of the estate tax, even though African-Americans are more than a thousand times as likely to live below the poverty line as they are to be rich enough to leave a taxable estate.

Economic issues alone, then, partially explain African-American disdain for the G.O.P.

But even more important is the way Republicans win elections.

The problem with policies that favor the economic elite is that by themselves they're not a winning electoral strategy, because there aren't enough elite voters. So how did the Republicans rise to their current position of political dominance? It's hard to deny that barely concealed appeals to racism, which drove a wedge between blacks and relatively poor whites who share the same economic interests, played a crucial role.

Don't forget that in 1980, the sainted Ronald Reagan began his presidential campaign with a speech on states' rights in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

These days the racist appeals have been toned down; Trent Lott was demoted, though not drummed out of the party, when he declared that if Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign had succeeded "we wouldn't have had all these problems." Meanwhile, the G.O.P. has found other ways to obscure its economic elitism. The Bush administration has proved utterly incompetent in fighting terrorists, but it has skillfully exploited the terrorist threat for domestic political gain. And there are also the "values" issues: abortion, stem cells, gay marriage.

But the nasty racial roots of the G.O.P.'s triumph live on in public policy and election strategy.

A revelatory article in yesterday's Boston Globe described how the Bush administration has politicized the Justice Department's civil rights division, "filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights."

Not surprisingly, there has been a shift in priorities: "The division is bringing fewer voting rights and employment cases involving systematic discrimination against African-Americans, and more alleging reverse discrimination against whites and religious discrimination against Christians."

Above all, there's the continuing effort of the G.O.P. to suppress black voting.

The Supreme Court probably wouldn't have been able to put Mr. Bush in the White House in 2000 if the administration of his brother, the governor of Florida, hadn't misidentified large numbers of African-Americans as felons ineligible to vote. In 2004, Ohio's Republican secretary of state tried to impose a ludicrous rule on the paper weight of voter registration applications; last year, Georgia Republicans tried to impose an onerous "voter ID" rule. In each case, the obvious intent was to disenfranchise blacks.

And if the Republicans hold on to the House this fall, it will probably only be because of a redistricting plan in Texas that a panel of Justice Department lawyers unanimously concluded violated the Voting Rights Act - only to be overruled by their politically appointed superiors.

So yes, African-Americans distrust Mr. Bush's party - with good reason.

copyright, New York times

Friday, July 28, 2006


Who Grieves For Dead Iraqis?
by Andrew Greeley

What is the worth of a single Iraqi life?

The New York Times reported that during recent months a hundred Iraqis die violently every day, 3,000 every month. In terms of size of population, that is the equivalent of 300,000 Americans a month, 10,000 every day. Yet the typical television clip on the evening news -- an explosion, automatic weapon fire, dead bodies on the streets -- has become as much a cliche as the weather report or another loss by the Cubs. The dead Iraqis are of no more value to us than artificial humans in video games. The Iraqis seem less than human, pajama-wearing people with dark skin, hate in their eyes, and a weird religion, screaming in pain over their losses. Weep with them, weep for them?

Why bother?

Rarely do Americans tell themselves that the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, is responsible for this slaughter. In a spasm of arrogance and power, we destroyed their political and social structure and are now unable to protect them from one another. Their blood is on the hands of our leaders who launched a war on false premises, without adequate forces, without plans for the time after the war and then sent in inept administrators who could not provide even a hint of adequate public services.

As Colin Powell, who knows something about war, unlike the president and his top thinkers, told President Bush, "If you break it, you own it." If you shatter a society, it is yours, and you're responsible for it. The United States shattered Iraq and we are responsible for the ensuing chaos that we are unable to control. So a hundred human beings are killed every day, and the most powerful military in the world (as Messrs. Rumsfeld and Cheney insist) is unable to stop the killing.

On most of the standards for a just war, the invasion of Iraq was criminally unjust. Messrs. Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to invade Iraq the day after the World Trade Center attack. They tried to persuade the people that Iraq was somehow involved in the attack. They insisted that the Iraqis possessed weapons of mass destruction. Their arguments for the war, we all know now, were not true.

There was, therefore, no just cause, no attempt to exhaust all possible alternatives short of war, no real hope for victory, no postwar plan, and no ability to prevent the postwar butchery that was easily predictable to those who understood Iraq. The war leaped from slogan to slogan -- weapons of mass destruction, the critical front in the global war on terror, stay the course, freedom and democracy in Iraq. All these slogans are false.

Were America's leaders deliberately lying? Did they really believe that the Shiites and the Sunnis would not murder one another, or did they know better? One must leave the state of their consciences to God. However, they should have known, and in the objective order, they are criminally responsible for the hundred deaths every day. They should be tried for their crimes, not that such trials are possible in our country.

The hundred who die every day are not merely numbers, they are real human beings. Their deaths are personal disasters for the dead person and also for all those who love them: parents, children, wives, husbands. Most Americans are not outraged. Iraqis are a little less than human. If a hundred people were dying every day in our neighborhoods, we would scream in outrage and horror. Not many of us are lamenting these daily tragedies. Quite the contrary, we wish the newscast would go on to the weather for the next weekend.

Is blood on the hands of those Americans who support the war? Again, one must leave them to heaven. But in the objective order it is difficult to see why they are not responsible for the mass murders. They permitted their leaders to deceive them about the war, often enthusiastically. How can they watch the continuing murders in Iraq and not feel guilty?

How would you feel if the street were drenched with the blood of your son or daughter, if your father was in the hospital with his legs blown off?

We cannot permit ourselves to grieve for Iraqi pain because then we would weep bitter and guilty tears every day.

© 2006 Digital Chicago, Inc.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bill Moyers for President? Absolutely!

Bill Moyers For President? Absolutely!
by John Nichols

Molly Ivins is trying to get Democrats excited about the prospect of running Bill Moyers for president.

"Dear desperate Democrats," the nation's most widely-read liberal newspaper columnist begins her latest missive. "Here's what we do: We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap, and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there."

Ivins makes a great case for why her fellow Texan ought to be on the ballot in 2008.

"Bill Moyers has been grappling with how to fit moral issues to political issues ever since he left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and went to work for Lyndon Johnson in the teeth of the Vietnam War," she writes. "Moyers worked for years in television, seriously addressing the most difficult issues of our day. He has studied all different kinds of religions and different approaches to spirituality. He's no Holy Joe, but he is a serious man. He opens minds--he doesn't scare people. He includes people in, not out. And he sees through the dark search for a temporary political advantage to the clear ground of the Founders. He listens and he respects others."

After making her case, however, Ivins adds what appears to be the "reality" section:

"Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me."

Ivins wants Moyers to make a sympbolic run, with the purpose of shaking up the Democratic party, and perhaps the nation.

"It won't take much money -- file for him in a couple of early primaries and just get him into the debates," the columnist explains. "Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I'm damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who's right. I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win."

But why limit this quest?

Why ask Democratic primary voters to send a message when they can send the best man into the November competition and, if the stars align correctly, perhaps even to the White House?

With all due regard to one of the finest journalists and finest Americans I know, I respectfully disagree with Molly Ivins -- not on the merits of a Moyers candidacy, but on the potential.

I'm not suggesting that Bill Moyers -- with whom I've had the pleasure of working in recent years on media reform issues -- is a sure bet to win the Democratic nomination or the presidency in 2008. I'm not even suggesting that he would be a good bet. But the politics of 2008 are already so muddled, so quirky and so potentially volatile that I believe -- as someone who has covered my share of presidential campaigns -- that Moyers could be a contender.

Moyers would enter the 2008 race with far more practical political experience than Dwight Eisenhower had in 1952, far more national name recognition than Jimmy Carter had in 1976 and far more to offer the country than most of our recent chief executives.

Against the candidates who are lining up for the 2008 contest, Bill Moyers and his supporters would not need to make any excuses.

After all, the supposed Democratic frontrunner is a former First Lady who ran her first election campaign just six years ago. One of the leading Republican contenders is a guy whose main claim to fame is that he did a good job of running the Olympics in Salt Lake City, while another is still best known as the son of a famous football coach. And the strongest Republican prospect, John McCain, is actually more popular with Democrats than with his own partisans.

Consider the fact that a professional body builder is the governor of the largest state in the union, and that the list of serious contenders for seats in Congress and for governorships this year is packed with retired athletes, former television anchorpersons and bored millionaires, and it simply is not that big a stretch to suggest that someone with the government and private-sector experience, the national recognition and the broad respect that Bill Moyers has attained across five decades of public life could not make a serious run for the presidency.

So, Molly, I'll see your suggestion of Bill Moyers, and up the ante to suggest that Moyers really could be a contender.

John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.

© 2006 The Nation

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Faith and Politics, and the Current situation. July 24: Who is the Victim? of what? .

Lebanon is the most obvious victim right now. Their national infrastructure is being destroyed, people are being killed, displaced, injured...

Israelis are also victims, hiding in shelters, facing the reality that their government is responsible for horrible actions, becoming the recipients of new levels of hate and contempt from billions around the world.

US citizens are also victims.
They must watch helplessly as their "elected" leaders watch in silence as Israel destroys a nation. They watch in silence as the Lebanese people are victimized. They watch helplessly, knowing that the reason the US and the Bush administration is silently allowing Israel to pound Lebanon, destroying its infrastructure day after day is because there are neoconservatives at high levels in the US government, all appointed by Bush, who are hungrily, droolingly lusting to attack Syria and Iran. They want to continue their failed, irresponsible imperial campaign to express and make use of the full power of the USA, as the world's only superpower.

Who are the extremist religious fascists?

My evangelical friend warns me to be careful when I discuss born-again evangelicals, and he's right. There are millions of born again evangelicals who are quite rational. But then there are those who have bought the Bush Republican line hook, line and sinker. AND... they also buy the LEFT BEHIND rapture story. They're so excited and happy to see the increase in hostilities in the middle east, they're literally whooping for joy, giddily thrilled that they will be "raptured," taken up by the returning Messiah, along with all the other "believers" while the rest of the humans on the planet either suffer nasty deaths or are "left behind" in a kind of purgatory. Really, these people are struggling with the question of whether they should cancel vacation plans or plans to move, because the mideast crisis is getting hot enough so they will be "raptured" and won't need to travel. These people are HAPPY about the conflict. They Support Bush's hands off approach that allows the kettle to boil. These people make up a major part of Bush's remaining base.

Then there are the Israeli ultra-orthodox Jews. These folks have it pretty sweet. They get to push for a bigger Israel, for settlements in the occupied lands, for upping the conflict, and they are exempt from the draft that affects the rest of the Israelis. The theory is, their little boys are too precious because they are studying the torah, the hebrew version of the bible. I would love to see a few million US jews tell Israel to get rid of the grossly inequal and unfair law. Perhaps if these Israeli chickenhawks had to put their children in the same danger that the rest of the Israelis do, they might take a different tack.

Let's not forget the evangelical Shiite Islamic mullahs in Iran, who would love to see a Pan-Islamic middle east, with all the countries controlled by Islamic-- sharia-- laws. Bush's simple-minded approach to installing democracy in the middle east is not working, not when Islamofascists take this gift and turn around and use the opportunity to end democracy and turn the government into one based on Islamic law, like the taliban had. Iran loves the conflict in Lebanon.

Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine real, lasting peace coming to the middle east while the religious extremists are still making their trouble.

I was talking an old friend who's Jewish. He was saying that there will NEVER be peace in the middle east. I replied that this idea, of a forever war in the middle east is unacceptable. that an Israel forever at war should not be. "But what about Iran," he asked. "What about the ultraorthodox Jews in Israel?" I replied.

Extremist fundamentalist religions are a dangerous threat to the planet. It is possible for fundamentalists to be enlightened, to practice their faiths without forcing their beliefs on others, to respect other faiths. I've met people who practice such faiths. Somehow, we need to come up with ways to enlighten the people of these extremist faiths so they no longer need to support war, killing, conflict and toxic evangelism. I don't have the answer, but this is a challenge I haven't heard discussed very often as a potential solution. We need to start exploring this option instead of bigger and better weapons.

Rob Kall is executive editor and publisher of, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and organizer of several conferences, including StoryCon, the Summit Meeting on the Art, Science and Application of Story and The Winter Brain Meeting on neurofeedback, biofeedback, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology. He is a frequent Speaker on Politics, The art, science and power of story, Positive Psychology, Stress, Biofeedback and a wide range of subjects. See more of his articles here and, older ones, here.

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Comments: Expand Shrink Hide
Bull's Eye

If the evangelicals are so ecstatic about experiencing the rapture, they should travel to Haifa, stand in the middle of the street, bend over and paint a bull's eye on their butt. It won't take long.

by skyreader7 (0 articles, 32 comments) on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 6:06:29 AM

evangelicals who can't wait for the rapture

are cowards. They can't wait to be rescued from the normal stresses and vicissitudes of life.

by RobKall (203 articles, 85 comments) on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 6:23:25 AM

Spiritual immaturity and hypocricy

I live in the US for a long time and it is my sad opinion that in here most of the so- called religious extremists and fanatics do not really believe in their God. They are fanatics because they are a) really shallow people; and b) it suits their needs and interests. If tomorrow morning the NYSE would change its course, those folks would become moslem fundamentalists in a blink of an eye. So are the the so called Jewish fundamentalists. Even short acquaintenance with many of them reveals a 'Pentecostal Jew' that is a person who is totally ignorant, very shallow and extremely immature. That extreme spiritual immaturity is the one common feature of all such kind of pseudo-fundamentalists. They are full of shit.
Their believes are pseudo-believes because they are pseudo-people.

As for the people in the Middle East I would caution again for one reason only: our information here in the US is 99% wrong. So far I have not seen even one correct explanation even on such trivial topic as a difference between Sunni and Shii. Also our media deliberately and with malice conceals the fact that main Sunni people are not Arabs but Turkish. I would even say that the description of other people practiced by our 'experts' is based on their own attitude towards Christianity; as they know that we here imitate Christianity they think that other people are not sincere in their religious convictions either. It is not so.
Rob had listed many correct things but one thing which we here produce in abundance and spread around the world is the deadliest of all. It is hypocricy. We are soaked with it.
In fact, our everyday life here is so full of it that it becomes a part of the character. We live and die with it. And that makes us here the enemies of the world. No other nation has such a concentration of hypocricy now. And people see it, all people see it. And in their cultures it is common to destroy such individuals. That is why there will never be peace in those places which we touch. It is because of us. We deliver evil and then we, being afraid of the disclosure make sure that people cannot unite against us. Like the logical way in the Middle East would be a local treaty between all the local nations to have that area weapon- free and foreigner- free. But we will never let them do that. Because then they will unite against us.
So, the conglomerate of spiritual immature children in shorts send death to others and bask in hypocricy.

by panurg (2 articles, 387 comments) on Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 6:50:29 AM

Add Shallowness and Spiritual Hubris Into the Mix

Spiritual immaturity, you hit the nail on the head. And while we are at it include shallowness and spiritual hubris in that they think theirs is the only true religion. As if all the great religions don't provide a way to God. They want to convince the world that if you don't believe in their religion, in their sect, then you will go to hell.

And then there are the hijackers of religion who are actually political extremists who use religion to justify violence. "God is on our side." Does any half way sane or educated person believe that any religion advocates violence?

It is religious provincialism at its worst.

Once the Dali Lama was interviewed and asked about what was missing in the world in that the world had become such a negative place.

His answer: warm heartedness.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

News Bias in Associated Press, examples. Q.V.

News Bias in the Associated Press
by Peter Phillips

A new study conducted at Sonoma State University shows widespread bias in Associate Press (AP) news reports favoring US government positions.

On October 25, 2005 the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) posted to their website 44 autopsy reports, acquired from American military sources, covering the deaths of civilians who died while in US military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002-2004. The autopsy reports provided proof of widespread torture by US forces. A press release by ACLU announcing the deaths was immediately picked up by AP wire service making the story available to US corporate media nationwide. A thorough check of Nexus-Lexus and Proquest library data bases showed that at least 98 percent of the daily papers in the US did not to pick up the story, nor did AP ever conduct follow up coverage on the issue.

The Associated Press is a non-profit cooperative news wire service. The AP with 3,700 employees has 242 bureaus worldwide that deliver news reports 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to 121 countries in 5 languages including English, German, Dutch, French, and Spanish. In the US alone, AP reaches 1,700 daily, weekly, non-English, college newspapers, and 5,000 radio and television stations. AP reaches over a billion people every day via print, radio, or television.

Alison Weir, Joy Ellison, and Peter Weir of the organization If Americans Knew recently conducted research on the AP's reporting of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The study was a statistical analysis of the AP newswire in the year 2004, looking comparatively at the numbers of Israeli and Palestinian deaths reported. In 2004 there were 141 reports of Israeli deaths in AP headlines and lead paragraphs, while in reality there were only 108 Israeli deaths. During this same period, 543 Palestinian deaths were reported by AP, while 821 Palestinians had actually been killed. The ratio of actual number of Israeli conflict deaths to Palestinian deaths in 2004 was 1:7, yet AP reported deaths of Israelis to Palestinians at a 2:1 ratio.

The same could be said of AP's reporting of children's deaths. Nine reports of Israeli children's deaths were reported by the AP in headlines and leading paragraphs in 2004, while eight actually occurred. Only 27 Palestinian children deaths were reported by AP when actually 179 children died. While there were 22 times more Palestinian children's deaths than Israeli children's deaths, the AP reported 113 percent of Israeli children's deaths and 15 percent of Palestinian children's deaths.

On February 29, 2004 AP widely reported that President Aristide was ousted by Haitian rebels and that the United States provided an escort to take him out of the country to a safe asylum. Within 24 hours an entirely different story emerged through independent radio. Instead of the US being the supportive facilitator of Aristide's safety, Pacifica Radio News reported that Aristide was actually kidnapped by US forces. AP quickly changed their story. On March 1, 2004 an AP report by Deb Riechman said, "White House officials said Aristide left willingly and that the United States aided his safe departure. But in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Aristide said: "No. I was forced to leave."

The last AP report of Aristide's claiming that he had been kidnapped by the US in a State Department coup was on June 27, 2004. Since then there have been 60 news articles by AP including Aristide's name. Of these stories none mentioned Aristide's claim that he was kidnapped by the United States military. None mention the US backing of the coup. AP's bias in favor of the State Department's version of the Aristide's removal seems to be a deliberate case of AP-sanctioned forgetting.

AP is a massive institutionalized bureaucracy that feeds news stories to nearly every newspaper and radio/TV station in the United States. They are so large that top-down control of single news stories is practically impossible. However, research clearly indicates a built-in bias favoring official US government positions. The American people absorb these biases and make political decisions on skewed understandings. Without media systems that provide fair, critical and accurate reporting, democracy faces a dismal future.

Peter Phillips is a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored. University research interns Sarah Randle, Brian Fuchs, Zoe Huffman, and Fabrice Romero assisted with this report.

The full AP bias study is available on-line at

Bush's burned Bridges

Bush's Burned Bridges
The Middle East cataclysm is the last gasp of America's wasted post-9/11 opportunity.
by Rosa Brooks

Things fell apart so quickly.

At the beginning of this millennium, the Cold War was over, the prosperous United States was the sole remaining superpower and global opinion was largely sympathetic to U.S. aims. In the wake of brutal ethnic wars in Central Europe and Africa, the international community had forged a new determination to prevent conflict and atrocities. The volatile Middle East was quiet, and the world seemed headed toward stability rather than chaos.

Only six years later, things couldn't be more different. The Bush administration's tunnel-vision approach to foreign policy has pushed the U.S. and the world into a devastating tailspin of conflict without end.

In Afghanistan, this year is shaping up to be the deadliest yet for U.S. troops. In Iraq, which President Bush promised would be "a source of true stability in the region," the carnage has been mind-boggling, and by late September, the fighting will have dragged on for 3 1/2 years — the same length of time it took us to defeat Germany in World War II.

The total implosion of the Middle East highlights the continuing decline of U.S. prestige and influence. As Israeli planes — built with our money — pummel Lebanon, our world is becoming ever more perilous and American preeminence ever more fragile.

The violent Hezbollah incursion into Israel was a deliberate provocation, to be sure, but Israel's response has dizzyingly upped the ante. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians — a disproportionate number — already have been killed by Israeli airstrikes. More than a dozen Israeli civilians have died in retaliatory Hezbollah rocket attacks.

And that's just the beginning.

If Syria or Iran gets drawn into the conflict to bail out their Hezbollah client, Israel will retaliate against them as well. Spooked by Iran's burgeoning nuclear capabilities, Israel may be looking for just such an excuse to launch a punishing strike against Iran.

Even if the conflict doesn't spread, it is already hardening the battle lines between the U.S. and our allies and the Muslim world. The conflict will breed a new generation of martyrs, a new generation of hungry children growing up amid the rubble and a new generation of mistrustful, bitter fighters — some of whom will be willing to blow themselves up for the chance of taking Israelis or Americans down with them.

The cataclysm in the Middle East represents the final and total failure of the Bush administration's foreign policy. After 9/11, the world was on our side, and we had a unique opportunity to turn tragedy into triumph, to strengthen the alliances and global institutions that have long sustained American preeminence.

We wasted that opportunity. We promised to make the world safer, but we've turned it into a tinderbox. We promised to unite our allies, but we've sown rage and division. We promised to promote democracy, but we did so through violent and poorly thought-through "regime change" rather than through diplomacy, friendship and foreign aid.

Now Israel, our closest Middle Eastern ally, appears hell-bent on destroying Lebanon — the second most democratic state in the region, which has been struggling successfully to cast off the Syrian yoke.

A year ago, the administration was pledging to support Lebanon's fragile and hard-gained democracy. Today, "the country has been torn to shreds," as Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora bitterly told diplomats. "Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions?"

And as the conflagration worsens, Washington is indecisive and impotent. We might use our leverage with Israel to push for an immediate cease-fire and a long-term political solution, but we lack the courage to criticize Israel. The administration's insistence on the right to unilateral self-defense (no matter how disproportionate) would make any U.S. criticism of Israel hypocritical anyway.

We could use our leverage with Syria to get Syria to make Hezbollah back off, but we have no leverage with Syria. We refuse to have direct discussions with Syria anyway.

We could use our leverage with Iran to get Iran to make Hezbollah back off, but we have no leverage with Iran. And we refuse to have direct discussions with Iran anyway, unless Iran agrees to all our nuclear demands in advance.

And Israel, Syria and Iran all know that they can do as they wish at the moment without fear of a meaningful U.S. response. They understand (as does North Korea's Kim Jong Il) that we're bogged down in Iraq, too overextended to spend time, money or troops to stop the latest catastrophe.

We've burned up every ounce of goodwill we ever had, we've burned every diplomatic bridge we ever had, and now we can do nothing but sit on our hands as the ashes rain down all around us.

Engraved on a wall at the British Imperial War Museum is a phrase attributed to Plato: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." It was meant as a warning about the perils of arrogance and empire — and the Bush administration seems determined to prove the aphorism's truth.

© 2006 Los Angeles Times

Is Bush taking us into World War 3 with Evangelicals still cheering?

Joe Conason: Middle East Crisis Blows Up Bush’s Illusions
Posted on Jul 19, 2006

By Joe Conason

Watching the president of the United States try to fulfill his responsibilities at an international summit is a sobering experience these days. To observe George W. Bush talking trash, chewing with his mouth open and demonstrating his ignorance of geography marks still another step down in the continuing decline of U.S. prestige. It’s the diplomatic equivalent of flag burning.

While Mr. Bush’s little misadventures make headlines, what they symbolize is a collapse of policy and a vacuum of competence that are far more troubling than mere cloddishness. Preoccupied from the beginning of his presidency with Iraq, alienated from our traditional allies and the United Nations, and neglectful of broader American interests in the Middle East, he and his team now confront a sudden crisis for which they seem woefully unprepared.

We are learning what happens when the leadership of “the indispensable nation” takes a mental vacation. We are also beginning to learn why regime change in Iraq, originally sold as the solution to every problem in the region, has proved to be such an enormous liability for us and for our allies.

Recall that when the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq—on the pretext of disarming Saddam Hussein—a new era of peace and democracy was supposed to dawn. Making an example of the toppled Saddam would, according to neoconservative theory, persuade other despots in the region to reform and reconcile themselves to coexistence with Israel, and stimulate the “peace process,” too. (That same theory, of course, similarly predicted flower-strewn parades in Baghdad and enough oil revenues to finance the whole bloody enterprise.)

Indeed, when the weapons of mass destruction didn’t turn up, those anticipated dividends became the retrospective justification for the war.

The illusion of success through muscular statesmanship has given way to a grimmer reality. The Palestinians have elected a government led by the suicide-bombing terrorists of Hamas. The Syrians, after withdrawing from Lebanon, have cemented an alliance with Iran against the U.S. and Israel, and continue to be suspected of aiding the Iraqi insurgents as well as Hezbollah.

The Iranians, having elected a defiant Islamic radical, are pursuing their suspicious nuclear program, predicting the fiery destruction of the Jewish state and supporting proxy terror groups. Wielding unwholesome influence over Shiite forces in Iraq, Tehran is well aware of the constraints imposed on us by the occupation.

The overthrow of Saddam has emboldened the mullahs and spurred their quest for nuclear weapons rather than instilling fear in them. Instead of encouraging moderation and reconciliation, the debacle in Iraq has undermined those objectives.

The neoconservatives’ marvelous theory lies in gory ruins, but they are again banging the drums with as much gusto as if they had been vindicated. The missile barrages between Israel and Lebanon are actually the harbinger of World War III, they burble, and frankly they can’t wait for World War IV. Things haven’t worked out in Iraq, but why not take this opportunity to hit Iran and Syria?

Let us hope that Bush resists this mad counsel. While his performance so far has been dismal, especially in his reluctance to endorse an immediate cease-fire, at least he isn’t promoting a wider war. Yet while he dithers, the killing and destruction continue—which is exactly what Hezbollah and Hamas want.

The president’s disengagement from Israel and Palestine—combined with his strategic blunder in Iraq—created the conditions for the current crisis and the danger of global disaster. By abandoning the traditional American role in peacemaking followed by his father and by President Clinton, Bush permitted the enemies of peace to achieve their aims. Despite the Hamas electoral victory, there was the prospect of a revived peace process in the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the commitment by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to a negotiated settlement, and the endorsement by prominent Palestinian prisoners of a two-state solution. It seems likely that the provocations ordered by the Hamas military chiefs abroad were intended to prevent any tacit recognition of Israel by the local elected officials.

Forced to respond to unprovoked aggression, the wiser Israelis know that they can never obtain security through military force alone. The only way forward for them and for us is to achieve a rapid cessation of hostilities—and to revive international initiative toward a political solution as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, that would require the American president to abandon his own illusions and step forward in a way that seems far beyond his feeble grasp.

To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website,

Paschal: As of this morning news, we are still supplying bombs to Israel.

Monday, July 17, 2006


By George Lakoff, Marc Ettlinger and Sam Ferguson
Rockridge Institute

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. For example, Nancy Pelosi recently charged "The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader." Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point.

Bush's disasters -- Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit -- are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault. Bush will not be running again, but other conservatives will. His governing philosophy is theirs as well. We should be putting the onus where it belongs, on all conservative office holders and candidates who would lead us off the same cliff.

To Bush's base, his bumbling folksiness is part of his charm -- it fosters conservative populism. Bush plays up this image by proudly stating his lack of interest in reading and current events, his fondness for naps and vacations and his self-deprecating jokes. This image causes the opposition to underestimate his capacities -- disregarding him as a complete idiot -- and deflects criticism of his conservative allies. If incompetence is the problem, it's all about Bush. But, if conservatism is the problem, it is about a set of ideas, a movement and its many adherents.

The idea that Bush is incompetent is a curious one. Consider the following (incomplete) list of major initiatives the Bush administration, with a loyal conservative Congress, has accomplished:

• Centralizing power within the executive branch to an unprecedented degree

• Starting two major wars, one started with questionable intelligence and in a manner with which the military disagreed

• Placing on the Supreme Court two far-right justices, and stacking the lower federal courts with many more

• Cutting taxes during wartime, an unprecedented event

• Passing a number of controversial bills such as the PATRIOT Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare Drug bill, the Bankruptcy bill and a number of massive tax cuts

• Rolling back and refusing to enforce a host of basic regulatory protections

• Appointing industry officials to oversee regulatory agencies

• Establishing a greater role for religion through faith-based initiatives

• Passing Orwellian-titled legislation assaulting the environment -- "The Healthy Forests Act" and the "Clear Skies Initiative" -- to deforest public lands, and put more pollution in our skies

• Winning re-election and solidifying his party's grip on Congress

These aren't signs of incompetence. As should be painfully clear, the Bush administration has been overwhelmingly competent in advancing its conservative vision. It has been all too effective in achieving its goals by determinedly pursuing a conservative philosophy.

It's not Bush the man who has been so harmful, it's the conservative agenda.

The Conservative Agenda

Conservative philosophy has three fundamental tenets: individual initiative, that is, government's positive role in people's lives outside of the military and police should be minimized; the President is the moral authority; and free markets are enough to foster freedom and opportunity.

The conservative vision for government is to shrink it – to "starve the beast" in Conservative Grover Norquist's words. The conservative tagline for this rationale is that "you can spend your money better than the government can." Social programs are considered unnecessary or "discretionary" since the primary role of government is to defend the country's border and police its interior. Stewardship of the commons, such as allocation of healthcare or energy policy, is left to people's own initiative within the free market. Where profits cannot be made -- conservation, healthcare for the poor -- charity is meant to replace justice and the government should not be involved.

Given this philosophy, then, is it any wonder that the government wasn't there for the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Conservative philosophy places emphasis on the individual acting alone, independent of anything the government could provide. Some conservative Sunday morning talk show guests suggested that those who chose to live in New Orleans accepted the risk of a devastating hurricane, the implication being that they thus forfeited any entitlement to government assistance. If the people of New Orleans suffered, it was because of their own actions, their own choices and their own lack of preparedness. Bush couldn't have failed if he bore no responsibility.

The response to Hurricane Katrina -- rather, the lack of response -- was what one should expect from a philosophy that espouses that the government can have no positive role in its citizen's lives. This response was not about Bush's incompetence, it was a conservative, shrink-government response to a natural disaster.

Another failure of this administration during the Katrina fiasco was its wholesale disregard of the numerous and serious hurricane warnings. But this failure was a natural outgrowth of the conservative insistence on denying the validity of global warming, not ineptitude. Conservatives continue to deny the validity of global warming, because it runs contrary to their moral system. Recognizing global warming would call for environmental regulation and governmental efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Regulation is a perceived interference with the free-market, Conservatives' golden calf. So, the predictions of imminent hurricanes -- based on recognizing global warming -- were not heeded. Conservative free market convictions trumped the hurricane warnings.

Our budget deficit is not the result of incompetent fiscal management. It too is an outgrowth of conservative philosophy. What better way than massive deficits to rid social programs of their funding?

In Iraq, we also see the impact of philosophy as much as a failure of execution.

The idea for the war itself was born out of deep conservative convictions about the nature and capacity of US military force. Among the Project for a New American Century's statement of principles (signed in 1997 by a who's who of the architects of the Iraq war -- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby among others) are four critical points:

• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

Implicit in these ideas is that the United States military can spread democracy through the barrel of a gun. Our military might and power can be a force for good.

It also indicates that the real motive behind the Iraq war wasn't to stop Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, but was a test of neoconservative theory that the US military could reshape Middle East geo-politics. The manipulation and disregard of intelligence to sell the war was not incompetence, it was the product of a conservative agenda.

Unfortunately, this theory exalts a hubristic vision over the lessons of history. It neglects the realization that there is a limit to a foreign army's ability to shape foreign politics for the good. Our military involvement in Vietnam, Lebanon, the Philippines, Cuba (prior to Castro) and Panama, or European imperialist endeavors around the globe should have taught us this lesson. Democracy needs to be an organic, homegrown movement, as it was in this country. If we believe so deeply in our ideals, they will speak for themselves and inspire others.

During the debate over Iraq, the conservative belief in the unquestioned authority and moral leadership of the President helped shape public support. We see this deference to the President constantly: when Conservatives call those questioning the President's military decisions "unpatriotic"; when Conservatives defend the executive branch's use of domestic spying in the war on terror; when Bush simply refers to himself as the "decider." "I support our President" was a common justification of assent to the Iraq policy.

Additionally, as the implementer of the neoconservative vision and an unquestioned moral authority, our President felt he had no burden to forge international consensus or listen to the critiques of our allies. "You're with us, or you're against us," he proclaimed after 9/11.

Much criticism continues to be launched against this administration for ineptitude in its reconstruction efforts. Tragically, it is here too that the administration's actions have been shaped less by ineptitude than by deeply held conservative convictions about the role of government.

As noted above, Conservatives believe that government's role is limited to security and maintaining a free market. Given this conviction, it's no accident that administration policies have focused almost exclusively on the training of Iraqi police, and US access to the newly free Iraqi market -- the invisible hand of the market will take care of the rest. Indeed, George Packer has recently reported that the reconstruction effort in Iraq is nearing its end ("The Lessons of Tal Affar," The New Yorker, April 10th, 2006). Iraqis must find ways to rebuild themselves, and the free market we have constructed for them is supposed to do this. This is not ineptitude. This is the result of deep convictions over the nature of freedom and the responsibilities of governments to their people.

Finally, many of the miscalculations are the result of a conservative analytic focus on narrow causes and effects, rather than mere incompetence. Evidence for this focus can be seen in conservative domestic policies: Crime policy is based on punishing the criminals, independent of any effort to remedy the larger social issues that cause crime; immigration policy focuses on border issues and the immigrants, and ignores the effects of international and domestic economic policy on population migration (; environmental policy is based on what profits there are to be gained or lost today, without attention paid to what the immeasurable long-term costs will be to the shared resource of our environment; education policy, in the form of vouchers, ignores the devastating effects that dismantling the public school system will have on our whole society.

Is it any surprise that the systemic impacts of the Iraq invasion were not part of the conservative moral or strategic calculus used in pursuing the war?

The conservative war rhetoric focused narrowly on ousting Saddam -- he was an evil dictator, and evil cannot be tolerated, period. The moral implications of unleashing social chaos and collateral damage in addition to the lessons of history were not relevant concerns.

As a consequence, we expected to be greeted as liberators. The conservative plan failed to appreciate the complexities of the situation that would have called for broader contingency planning. It lacked an analysis of what else would happen in Iraq and the Middle East as a result of ousting the Hussein Government, such as an Iranian push to obtain nuclear weapons.

Joe Biden recently said, "if I had known the president was going to be this incompetent in his administration, I would not have given him the authority [to go to war]." Had Bush actually been incompetent, he would have never been able to lead us to war in Iraq. Had Bush been incompetent, he would not have been able to ram through hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Had Bush been incompetent, he would have been blocked from stacking the courts with right-wing judges. Incompetence, on reflection, might have actually been better for the country.

Hidden Successes

Perhaps the biggest irony of the Bush-is-incompetent frame is that these "failures" -- Iraq, Katrina and the budget deficit -- have been successes in terms of advancing the conservative agenda.

One of the goals of Conservatives is to keep people from relying on the federal government. Under Bush, FEMA was reorganized to no longer be a first responder in major natural disasters, but to provide support for local agencies. This led to the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. Now citizens, as well as local and state governments, have become distrustful of the federal government's capacity to help ordinary citizens. Though Bush's popularity may have suffered, enhancing the perception of federal government as inept turned out to be a conservative victory.

Conservatives also strive to get rid of protective agencies and social programs. The deficit Bush created through irresponsible tax cuts and a costly war in Iraq will require drastic budget cuts to remedy. Those cuts, conservatives know, won't come from military spending, particularly when they raise the constant specter of war. Instead, the cuts will be from what Conservatives have begun to call "non-military, discretionary spending;" that is, the programs that contribute to the common good like the FDA, EPA, FCC, FEMA, OSHA and the NLRB. Yet another success for the conservative agenda.

Both Iraq and Katrina have enriched the coffers of the conservative corporate elite, thus further advancing the conservative agenda. Halliburton, Lockhead Martin and US oil companies have enjoyed huge profit margins in the last six years. Taking Iraq's oil production off-line in the face of rising international demand meant prices would rise, making the oil inventories of Exxon and other firms that much more valuable, leading to record profits. The destruction wrought by Katrina and Iraq meant billions in reconstruction contracts. The war in Iraq (and the war in Afghanistan) meant billions in military equipment contracts. Was there any doubt where those contracts would go? Chalk up another success for Bush's conservative agenda.

Bush also used Katrina as an opportunity to suspend the environmental and labor protection laws that Conservatives despise so much. In the wake of Katrina, environmental standards for oil refineries were temporarily suspended to increase production. Labor laws are being thwarted to drive down the cost of reconstruction efforts. So, amidst these "disasters," Conservatives win again.

Where most Americans see failure in Iraq -- George Miller recently called Iraq a "blunder of historic proportions" -- conservative militarists are seeing many successes. Conservatives stress the importance of our military -- our national pride and worth is expressed through its power and influence. Permanent bases are being constructed as planned in Iraq, and America has shown the rest of the world that we can and will preemptively strike with little provocation. They succeeded in a mobilization of our military forces based on ideological pretenses to impact foreign policy. The war has struck fear in other nations with a hostile show of American power. The conservatives have succeeded in strengthening what they perceive to be the locus of the national interest —military power.

It's NOT Incompetence

When Progressives shout "Incompetence!" it obscures the many conservative successes. The incompetence frame drastically misses the point, that the conservative vision is doing great harm to this country and the world. An understanding of this and an articulate progressive response is needed.

Progressives know that government can and should have a positive role in our lives beyond simple, physical security. It had a positive impact during the progressive era, busting trusts, and establishing basic labor standards. It had a positive impact during the new deal, softening the blow of the depression by creating jobs and stimulating the economy. It had a positive role in advancing the civil rights movement, extending rights to previously disenfranchised groups. And the United States can have a positive role in world affairs without the use of its military and expressions of raw power. Progressives acknowledge that we are all in this together, with "we" meaning all people, across all spectrums of race, class, religion, sex, sexual preference and age. "We" also means across party lines, state lines and international borders.

The mantra of incompetence has been an unfortunate one. The incompetence frame assumes that there was a sound plan, and that the trouble has been in the execution. It turns public debate into a referendum on Bush's management capabilities, and deflects a critique of the impact of his guiding philosophy. It also leaves open the possibility that voters will opt for another radically conservative president in 2008, so long as he or she can manage better. Bush will not be running again, so thinking, talking and joking about him being incompetent offers no lessons to draw from his presidency.

Incompetence obscures the real issue. Conservatism itself is the villain that is harming our people, destroying our environment, and weakening our nation. Conservatives are undermining American values through legislation almost every day. This message applies to every conservative bill proposed to Congress. The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Real Agenda of the Bush team

July 16, 2006
The Real Agenda

It is only now, nearly five years after Sept. 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power.

Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints. Even when the only challenge was to get required approval from an ever-cooperative Congress, the president and his staff preferred to go it alone. While no one questions the determination of the White House to fight terrorism, the methods this administration has used to do it have been shaped by another, perverse determination: never to consult, never to ask and always to fight against any constraint on the executive branch.

One result has been a frayed democratic fabric in a country founded on a constitutional system of checks and balances. Another has been a less effective war on terror.

The Guantánamo Bay Prison

This whole sorry story has been on vivid display since the Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva Conventions and United States law both applied to the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. For one brief, shining moment, it appeared that the administration realized it had met a check that it could not simply ignore. The White House sent out signals that the president was ready to work with Congress in creating a proper procedure for trying the hundreds of men who have spent years now locked up as suspected terrorists without any hope of due process.

But by week’s end it was clear that the president’s idea of cooperation was purely cosmetic. At hearings last week, the administration made it clear that it merely wanted Congress to legalize President Bush’s illegal actions — to amend the law to negate the court’s ruling instead of creating a system of justice within the law. As for the Geneva Conventions, administration witnesses and some of their more ideologically blinkered supporters in Congress want to scrap the international consensus that no prisoner may be robbed of basic human dignity.

The hearings were a bizarre spectacle in which the top military lawyers — who had been elbowed aside when the procedures at Guantánamo were established — endorsed the idea that the prisoners were covered by the Geneva Convention protections. Meanwhile, administration officials and obedient Republican lawmakers offered a lot of silly talk about not coddling the masterminds of terror.

The divide made it clear how little this all has to do with fighting terrorism. Undoing the Geneva Conventions would further endanger the life of every member of the American military who might ever be taken captive in the future. And if the prisoners scooped up in Afghanistan and sent to Guantánamo had been properly processed first — as military lawyers wanted to do — many would never have been kept in custody, a continuing reproach to the country that is holding them. Others would actually have been able to be tried under a fair system that would give the world a less perverse vision of American justice. The recent disbanding of the C.I.A. unit charged with finding Osama bin Laden is a reminder that the American people may never see anyone brought to trial for the terrible crimes of 9/11.

The hearings were supposed to produce a hopeful vision of a newly humbled and cooperative administration working with Congress to undo the mess it had created in stashing away hundreds of people, many with limited connections to terrorism at the most, without any plan for what to do with them over the long run. Instead, we saw an administration whose political core was still intent on hunkering down. The most embarrassing moment came when Bush loyalists argued that the United States could not follow the Geneva Conventions because Common Article Three, which has governed the treatment of wartime prisoners for more than half a century, was too vague. Which part of “civilized peoples,” “judicial guarantees” or “humiliating and degrading treatment” do they find confusing?

Eavesdropping on Americans

The administration’s intent to use the war on terror to buttress presidential power was never clearer than in the case of its wiretapping program. The president had legal means of listening in on the phone calls of suspected terrorists and checking their e-mail messages. A special court was established through a 1978 law to give the executive branch warrants for just this purpose, efficiently and in secrecy. And Republicans in Congress were all but begging for a chance to change the process in any way the president requested. Instead, of course, the administration did what it wanted without asking anyone. When the program became public, the administration ignored calls for it to comply with the rules. As usual, the president’s most loyal supporters simply urged that Congress pass a law allowing him to go on doing whatever he wanted to do.

Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced on Thursday that he had obtained a concession from Mr. Bush on how to handle this problem. Once again, the early perception that the president was going to bend to the rules turned out to be premature.

The bill the president has agreed to accept would allow him to go on ignoring the eavesdropping law. It does not require the president to obtain warrants for the one domestic spying program we know about — or for any other program — from the special intelligence surveillance court. It makes that an option and sets the precedent of giving blanket approval to programs, rather than insisting on the individual warrants required by the Constitution. Once again, the president has refused to acknowledge that there are rules he is required to follow.

And while the bill would establish new rules that Mr. Bush could voluntarily follow, it strips the federal courts of the right to hear legal challenges to the president’s wiretapping authority. The Supreme Court made it clear in the Guantánamo Bay case that this sort of meddling is unconstitutional.

If Congress accepts this deal, Mr. Specter said, the president will promise to ask the surveillance court to assess the constitutionality of the domestic spying program he has acknowledged. Even if Mr. Bush had a record of keeping such bargains, that is not the right court to make the determination. In addition, Mr. Bush could appeal if the court ruled against him, but the measure provides no avenue of appeal if the surveillance court decides the spying program is constitutional.

The Cost of Executive Arrogance

The president’s constant efforts to assert his power to act without consent or consultation has warped the war on terror. The unity and sense of national purpose that followed 9/11 is gone, replaced by suspicion and divisiveness that never needed to emerge. The president had no need to go it alone — everyone wanted to go with him. Both parties in Congress were eager to show they were tough on terrorism. But the obsession with presidential prerogatives created fights where no fights needed to occur and made huge messes out of programs that could have functioned more efficiently within the rules.

Jane Mayer provided a close look at this effort to undermine the constitutional separation of powers in a chilling article in the July 3 issue of The New Yorker. She showed how it grew out of Vice President Dick Cheney’s long and deeply held conviction that the real lesson of Watergate and the later Iran-contra debacle was that the president needed more power and that Congress and the courts should get out of the way.

To a disturbing degree, the horror of 9/11 became an excuse to take up this cause behind the shield of Americans’ deep insecurity. The results have been devastating. Americans’ civil liberties have been trampled. The nation’s image as a champion of human rights has been gravely harmed. Prisoners have been abused, tortured and even killed at the prisons we know about, while other prisons operate in secret. American agents “disappear” people, some entirely innocent, and send them off to torture chambers in distant lands. Hundreds of innocent men have been jailed at Guantánamo Bay without charges or rudimentary rights. And Congress has shirked its duty to correct this out of fear of being painted as pro-terrorist at election time.

• We still hope Congress will respond to the Supreme Court’s powerful and unequivocal ruling on Guantánamo Bay and also hold Mr. Bush to account for ignoring the law on wiretapping. Certainly, the president has made it clear that he is not giving an inch of ground.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Courage in Journalism today, NEEDED!

Fighting back against the PR presidency
COMMENTARY | July 13, 2006

The Summer 2006 issue of Nieman Reports is about 'Reflections on Courage.' Veteran Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus thinks that Washington editors and reporters should be brave enough not to cover any statements made by the president or any other government official that are designed solely as a public relations tool, offering no new or valuable information to the public.

By Walter Pincus

Courage in journalism today takes all the obvious, traditional forms -- reporting from a war zone or from a totalitarian country where a reporter's life or safety are issues. In Washington, D.C., where I work, it's a far less dramatic form of courage if a journalist stands up to a government official or a politician who he or she has reason to believe is not telling the truth or living up to his or her responsibilities.

But I believe a new kind of courage is needed in journalism in this age of instant news, instant analysis, and therefore instant opinions. It also happens to be a time of government by public relations and news stories based on prepared texts and prepared events or responses. Therefore, this is the time for reporters and editors, whether from the mainstream media or blogosphere, to pause before responding to the latest bulletin, prepared event, or the most recent statement or backgrounder, whether from the White House or the Democratic or Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. Of course, I'm not talking about reporting of a bomb blowing up in a restaurant, soldiers being shot, police caught in a firefight, a fire, an accident, a home run in the ninth to win a game, an Oscar winner, or a drop in the stock market.

I also am talking solely from the point of view of a reporter who has spent almost 50 years watching daily coverage of government in Washington become dominated by increasingly sophisticated public relations practitioners, primarily in the White House and other agencies of government, but also in Congress or interest groups and even think tanks on the left, right or in the center. Today there is much too much being offered about government than can be fit into print or broadcast on nightly news shows. The disturbing trend is that more and more of these informational offerings are nothing but PR peddled as "news."

At the beginning of the Reagan administration, Michael Deaver -- one of the great public relations men of our time -- began to use an early morning "tech" session at the White House as something more than notice to television producers as to when and where the President would appear each day. He turned that meeting, which began in prior administrations to help network news television producers plan use of their camera crews each day, into an initial shaping of the news story for that evening. He would roughly say President Reagan will appear in the Rose Garden to talk about his crime prevention program and will discuss it in terms of Chicago and San Francisco. That would allow the networks to shoot B-roll matter in those two cities so there would be pictures other than the President speaking when it went on the evening news.

The President would appear, make his statement, perhaps take a question or two, and vanish. After a while, the network White House correspondents would attend these early morning tech sessions and even later print reporters did. On days when there was nothing prepared and the President went off to Camp David or his California ranch, ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson began his shouted questions -- and those flip answers became the nightly news, and not just on television. The Washington Post, which prior to that time did not have a standing White House story scheduled each day (running one only when the President did something new and thus newsworthy), began to have similar daily coverage.

At the end of Reagan's first year, David Broder, the Post's distinguished political reporter, wrote a column about Reagan being among the least involved Presidents he had covered. The result was he received an onslaught of mail from people who repeatedly said they had seen him every night on TV working different issues. The often told Deaver story is that one night CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl met him after narrating a particularly critical piece on Reagan, and Deaver told her as long as the President was on camera smiling it didn't matter what she had said about him. When President George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan and occasionally drifted off the appointed subject, criticism began to appear that he "couldn't stay on message." When Bill Clinton arrived and as President did two, three or four things in a day, some critics went after him for "mixing up the daily message."

The truth of the matter is that with help from the news media, being able to "stay on message" is now considered a presidential asset, perhaps even a requirement. Of course, the "message" is the public relations spin that the White House wants to present and not what the President actually did that day or what was really going on inside the White House. This system reached its apex this year when the White House started to give "exclusives" -- stories that found their way to Page One, in which readers learn that during the next week President Bush will do a series of four speeches supporting his Iraq policy because his polls are down. Such stories are often attributed to unnamed "senior administration officials." Lo and behold, the next week those same news outlets, and almost everyone else, carries each of the four speeches in which Bush essentially repeats what he's been saying for two years.

A new element of courage in journalism would be for editors and reporters to decide not to cover the President's statements when he -- or any public figure -- repeats essentially what he or she has said before. The Bush team also has brought forward another totally PR gimmick: The President stands before a background that highlights the key words of his daily message. This tactic serves only to reinforce that what's going on is public relations -- not governing. Journalistic courage should include the refusal to publish in a newspaper or carry on a TV or radio news show any statements made by the President or any other government official that are designed solely as a public relations tool, offering no new or valuable information to the public.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Twp Moms take on the Luddite-in-Chief, by L. Skenazy, NY Daily News,

Two Moms Take On the Luddite-in-Chief
By Lenore Skenazy
The New York Daily News

Sunday 11 June 2006

When scientists finally discover a cure for juvenile diabetes, what do you say we officially name it the "No Thanks To George W. Bush Treatment"?

Come to think of it, a "No Thanks To Bush Cure for Parkinson's" sounds about right, too. So does a "No Thanks to Bush Spinal Cord Injury Repair Regimen," a "No Thanks to Bush Vaccine for Alzheimer's" and - for good measure - a "No Thanks To Dick Cheney Cure for Heart Disease."

Whom might we thank, at least in part, if and when these great advances are made?

I nominate two New York moms: Susan Solomon and Mary Elizabeth Bunzel. Spurred by their sons' juvenile diabetes, these ladies managed to round up a dream team of topnotch scientists. Then, last month, they opened the country's first independent, nonprofit stem cell research lab, right here in the city. The lab is dedicated to precisely the kind of cutting edge medical research Bush brought to a near standstill five years ago, leaving sick people and their loved ones in the lurch.

"It's as if someone said, 'We can treat your cancer - but only with the drugs that were available in August 2001," says Solomon of the executive order signed by Bush.

That order banned federal funding for the study of new human stem-cell lines. (Stem cells are cells so young and unformed that they have not yet differentiated into the cells that will form, say, a heart or a pancreas. Scientists study their growth to see at what point a disease develops. They also hope to grow these cells into healthy replacements for those damaged by illness or injury.)

It all sounds very promising. But the Bush ban has had what Harold Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, calls a "chilling effect."

Some grad students started avoiding the field, says the Nobel laureate, knowing that they wouldn't be able to get federal grants. Some institutions did the same. The dampening effect was so great that even here in a city of more than 25,000 scientists, Varmus estimates there are only 30 to 50 labs studying new stem-cell lines.

This was driving the two moms crazy.

"We looked at each other and said, 'This is ridiculous! This is New York!'" recalls Solomon, who quit her media consulting job to start the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

After she and Bunzel figured out the big names in the field, they started inviting them to conferences. The idea was to rekindle excitement about a field in danger of stagnating.

"These interactions were extremely effective," says Varmus.

So were the moms. "We called everyone we know," says Solomon, and hit them up for money. It took less than $10 million to open the lab that now serves as a safe haven for scientists - in an undisclosed location.

Call it an underground railroad for stem cell research.

The lab's first project? Understandably, it's a study of diabetes. The moms deserve that much. After all, they have given the city, and science, and all of us who will ever be touched by illness so much more.

No thanks to Bush.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rhetoric Kills, Observe. . .Specifically War Rhetoric from the White House.

De La Toore summarizes the situation in Iraq and refutes the Bush
administration's rhetoric. - Richard

Rhetoric Kills

Miguel De La Torre

Rhetoric kills--specifically the war rhetoric emerging from
Washington D.C. to justify the invasion of a country which posed no
strategic threat to the United States. As we prepare to celebrate
the 4th of July, we can expect many politicians to throw around
slogans like "fighting for freedom," "protecting our liberties"
or "freedom isn't free."

The awful truth is that at no time were our liberties here in the
U.S. ever threatened by the nation of Iraq. Even the most diehard
supporter of Bush's War has to realize what the present
administration has admitted--Iraq had no connection to the 9/11
terrorist attacks, and no weapons of mass destruction existed.

For a while we even floated the idea that Saddam Hussein was a
monster that murdered his own population, and for this reason, to
protect vulnerable innocent life, we had to step in and take him
out. And while no one argues Hussein's tyrannical, brutal and bloody
rule, the fact remains that 10 years of U.S. sanctions killed more
Iraqis than Hussein ever did.

So, help me understand, how do you convince an Iraqi mother who
watched her baby die of a preventable illness due to U.S. sanctions
that our present military presence is in fact noble?

How do you convince Iraqis of our good intentions in protecting
basic human rights after the revelation of U.S. death squads killing
unarmed civilians, including women and children, in Hamdania and
Haditha came to light?

How can we claim any moral authority to teach Iraqis about securing
individual liberties after the exposure that torture was
systematically utilized by U.S. military personnel in prisons like
Abu Ghraib and Camp Nama?

Only rhetoric can gloss over the inconvenient truth about our
presence in Iraq.

Our rhetoric may not work in Iraq, but it surely works at the home
front. Nevertheless, rhetoric about the price of protecting our
freedoms, freedoms that were never threatened by Iraq, has only
brought early death to many of our nation's best and brightest who
exchanged life for romantic and misguided notions of patriotism.
They marched to war believing the rhetoric, fighting and dying in
vain. There is something morally reprehensible about asking our
young to die for empty slogans.

But aren't our troops bringing about democracy in Iraq? Isn't
democracy-building a tedious venture requiring great sacrifices?
Isn't the spilling of U.S. blood needed to water the seeds of
democracy in Iraq? Isn't this alone a noble reason to fight?

Claiming that the reason for the war is democracy building after the
original reasons to take up arms proved hollow is just as vacuous.
Iraqis determining their destiny through a democratic system is the
last thing the U.S. wants for Iraq. In fact, the U.S. will do
everything in its power to prevent open and fair elections from ever
taking place.

Why? Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority has more in common with
Shiite Iran than the rest of the Sunni Arab region. Left to their
own devices, Iraq is more a natural religious ally with the anti-
Israel, anti-U.S. Iran. If an open and free election was held, Iraq
would cast their lot with Iran, forming a powerful counterbalance to
U.S. influence in the region. For this reason, Iraq can never be
allowed to determine its own destiny. Whatever democracy is
established must be a pro-U.S. corporation, and pro-Israel
democracy, whether the people want it or not.

To convince an American public who have a sense of their own
goodness that an aggressive war against a people who were never a
threat against us requires the misappropriation of rhetorical

Bringing "stability" to the region really means establishing
security for U.S. companies, i.e. Halliburton and Bechtel, to profit
obscenely. Establishing "freedom" does not mean freedom to determine
one's destiny but the freedom of Iraqi markets to be penetrated by
U.S. corporations. Protecting our "national security" is coded
language for keeping open our access to Iraqi oil.

"Terrorist" or "supporters of terrorists" is understood to be anyone
who questions the U.S. political and economic hegemony. The previous
generation called them "communists."

And "fighting the war against terrorism" becomes cover for the
government participating in activities that undermine the same basic
freedoms we claim we are fighting for. Such activities include
illegal wiretapping, surveillance, and more recently, obtaining of
bank records.

But what if Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction? Wouldn't the
war have been worth it?

One thing is clear; the U.S. government knew Iraq had neither
weapons of mass destruction nor a delivery system for those weapons
prior to the invasion. In fact, it is precisely because they lacked
any form of defense that we invaded. If indeed they had such
weapons, or if we truly suspected that they were armed, we would
have never invaded.

How can we be sure of this? Look toward the other two members of the
so-called "axis of evil." Both Iran and North Korea do have weapons
of mass destruction, a powerful deterrent to U.S. invading those
countries. This is why we have done absolutely nothing except try to
find a diplomatic solution through compromises. If these countries
did not have weapons to deter our military, they would have by now
been invaded under the same precepts used to invade Iraq.

What then is the dangerous lesson learned by small countries who are
defensive before the military might of a rogue superpower? Quickly
obtain weapons of mass destruction for defensive purposes. Invading
Iraq has made the world more dangerous, in spite of all the rhetoric
to the contrary.

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute
and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology
in Denver.

Jesus is not a Republican.

Religion Taking A Left Turn?
July 10, 2006 (CBS) At a church in Washington, hundreds of committed Christians met recently and tried to map out a strategy to get their values into the political debate.

But these are not the conservative Christian values which have been so influential lately. This is the religious left.

"Jesus called us to love our neighbor, love our enemy, care for the poor, care for the outcast, and that's really the moral core of where we think the nation ought to go," Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches told CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell.

The National Council of Churches represents about 50 million Christians in America — the majority of them mainline Protestants.

"Jesus never said one word about homosexuality, never said one word about civil marriage or abortion," Edgar said.

He calls this movement the "center-left" — and it's seeking the same political muscle as the conservative Christians, a group with a strong power base in the huge Evangelical churches of the South.

But the left has its own Evangelical leaders, such as the Rev. Tony Campolo.

"We are furious that the religious right has made Jesus into a Republican. That's idolatry," Campolo said. "To recreate Jesus in your own image rather than allowing yourself to be created in Jesus' image is what's wrong with politics."

The Christian left is focusing on:
# Fighting poverty
# Protecting the environment
# Ending the war in Iraq

"Right now the war in Iraq costs us $1 billion per week," said Rev. Jim Wallis, a Christian activist. "And we can't get $5 billion over ten years for child care in this country?"

To try to attract young voters and the attention of politicians who want their votes, leaders of the religious left are promoting issues like raising the minimum wage.

"Nine million families are working full time," Wallis said. "Working hard full time, responsibly, and not making it."

Three decades ago liberal religious leaders had a powerful influence on politics.

In the 1960s and 70s they led demonstrations against civil rights abuses and the war in Vietnam. But when those battles were over, the movement seemed to lose energy, while the Christian right had become well organized and committed to having its voice and concerns heard.

After years of sitting on the sidelines, it will take more than meetings and talking points to make the liberals into a political power again.

"The Christian right has a ground game," said Mark Silk of Trinity College's religious studies department. "Thus far the Christian left mainly has an air game: they want to throw positions, they want to talk to the media, but do they have the networks in place on the ground to get people out to vote?"

So, it remains to be seen whether there's any action behind the words. But there's no doubt they're on a mission.

"I've watched a generation die. And I watched them shift from idealism to a 'me' generation that was only orientated to consumerism and it hurt, and I wondered whether we ever would come back." Campolo said. "But the pendulum is swinging."

©MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Political Brain, by Michael Shermer, research by psycholgosits Drew Westen, noted.

The Political Brain
A recent brain-imaging study shows tha tour poliical predilections are a proeuct of unconscious confirmation bias.
By Michael Shermer, in Scientific American, July 20,2006, p. 36.

"The human understanding when it has adopted an opinion ...draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises. . .in order by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain the inviolate." --Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620.

"Pace Will Rogers, I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a libertarian. As a fiscal conservative and social liberal, I have found at least something to like about each Republican or Democrat I have met. I have close friends in both camps, in which I have observed the following: no matter the issue under discussion, both sides are equally convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly supports their position.

This surety is called the confirmation bias, whereby we seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirmatory evidence. Now a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study shows where in the brain the confirmation bias arises and how it is unconscious and driven by emotions.

Psychologist Drew Westen led the study, conducted at Emory University, and the team presented the results at the 2006 annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men--half self-described as "strong" Republicans and half as "strong" Democrats--were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.

The neuroimaging results, however, revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning-the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex-was quiescent. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions; the anterior cingulate, which is associated with conflict resolution; the posterior cingulate, which is concerned with making judgments about moral accountability; and-once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable-the ventral striatum, which is related to reward and pleasure.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," Westen is quoted as saying in an Emory University press release. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involve in resolving conflicts." Interestingly, neural circuits engaged in rewarding selective behaviors were activated.

"Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones," Westen said.
The implications of the findings reach far beyond politics.

A jury assessing evidence against a defendant, a CEO evaluating information about a company or a scientist weighing data in favor of a theory will undergo the same cognitive process. What can we do about it?

In science we have built-in self-correcting machinery. Strict double-blind controls are required in experiments, in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters know the experimental conditions during the data-collection phase. Results are vetted at professional conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. Research must be replicated in other laboratories unaffiliated with the original researcher. Disconfirmatory evidence, as well as contradictory interpretations of the data, must be included in the paper. Colleagues are rewarded for being skeptical. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

We need similar controls for the confirmation bias in the arenas of law, business and politics. Judges and lawyers should call one another on the practice of mining data selectively to bolster an argument and warn juries about the confirmation bias. CEOs should assess critically the enthusiastic recommendations of their VPs and demand to see contradictory evidence and alternative evaluations of the same plan. Politicians need a stronger peer-review system that goes beyond the churlish opprobrium of the campaign trail, and I would love to see a political debate in which the candidates were required to make the opposite case.

Skepticism is the antidote for the confirmation bias."

P. 36, Scientific American. July 20, 2006.