Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rest in peace Terri Schiavo

Salient points from a NY Times editorial:

One of the most astonishing things about the human experience is the realization that loved ones die. The first time it happens, we are invariably amazed that nearly everyone who has ever lived has weathered an experience so wrenching. We see other humans on the street and in the shops and marvel that they manage to simply go about their business [and] that there is no constant, universal, primal scream in the face of such an awful fact.

That level of grief seldom brings out the noblest emotions. The sufferers can barely make their way through the day, let alone summon their best reserves of patience and compassion for the lucky people who continue to be living.

May Terri Shiavo's husband, parents, siblings, and other loved ones, finally find comfort, or at least closure. I think Terri Schiavo would have wanted that.
The frightening thing about the case was that other people, far more powerful and far less emotionally involved, looked at the world we live in today, in which politics is about maximizing hysteria at the margins.

I hope that we have learned again the importance of loving our democracy more than loving our politicians.

Finally, for the tens of thousands of other people who suffer from being trapped between this world and the next, may their wishes be known, and may their loved ones respect those wishes.

Rest in peace, Theresa Marie. more thing. When we think of Terri Schiavo, rather than the pictures of a debilitated woman used to exploit the public's emotions, I suggest we hold in our memories an image of Terri as I think she would prefer to be remembered:

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dubya's living will

"Laura Bush said on Tuesday that she and her husband have living wills that would guide medical decisions if either of them became incapacitated."

Uhh...given Dubya's impaired mental agility, I think there might be sufficient justification to execute his will now...maybe remove his feeding tube?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

When the soldiers come home

It is hard to admit that one has been used. Some of the crippled will forever insist that the war was needed, that they were protecting their sisters from an Islamic invasion, or Vietnamese, or Chinese. Others will keep quiet and drink too much. Still others will read, grow older and wiser—and bitter. They will remember that their vice president, a man named Cheney, said that during his war, the one in Asia, he “had other priorities.” The veterans will remember this when everyone else has long since forgotten Cheney.

Across America, in places where you might not expect it—in Legion halls and VFW posts, among those who carry membership cards from the Disabled American Veterans—there are men who hate. They don’t hate America. They hate those who sent them. Talk to the wounded from Iraq in five years.

Fred Reed, "Walking Wounded," The American Conservative, January 31, 2005.

Here's what monkey boy is hiding when he says Social Security is in crisis

If President Bush's tax cuts of 2000 are not allowed to expire in 2010, the result will be budget deficits year after year until 2042, when the US Treasury will be in arrears by over 10 percent of GDP.

By contrast, if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, the result is an overall federal budget surplus for every year after 2010, through 2050, eliminating budget deficits for the foreseeable future, and allowing full payment of scheduled Social Security benefits as well as expected growth in spending for Medicare and Medicaid.

From Congressional Budget Office projections, charted by the Economic Policy Institute.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Tom Delay's soul is required in hell

Family of the lawmaker involved in the Schiavo case decided in '88 to let his comatose father die.

"More than 16 years ago, far from the political passions that have defined the Schiavo controversy, the DeLay family endured its own wrenching end-of-life crisis. The man in a coma, kept alive by intravenous lines and oxygen equipment, was DeLay's father, Charles Ray DeLay."

This will be all over everyone's blogs in a matter of minutes, I'm sure, but in case you missed it, here it is.

PBS under attack

This past week, I had the immense pleasure of watching an incredible Masterpiece Theatre production of the great Boris Pasternak drama, Dr. Zhivago. I remain in awe. The film reveals in much more detail than did the Omar Sharif/Julie Christie version the dark side of Bolshevism, and presents a much more realistic potrayal of human weakness.

I have not read the novel, although now I know I must.

What most made an impression upon me was how it seemed the true love was between Tonya and Zhivago--although tragically, Zhivago only realized it too late. In the Omar Sharif/Julie Christie film, Tonya (played by Geraldine Chaplin) was a less-desireable character, seeming too pampered and naive to hold Zhivago's interest. The Tonya in the Masterpiece Theatre version was a much more independent spirit, but held back her own independence for love of Zhivago. It was only after Tonya left for good, giving Zhivago his freedom, that he realized her love was much stronger than any Lara could provide.

I was also struck by the more emotionally challenging scenes which would never have been allowed in the earlier film: a young boy shot at the moment he received his freedom, and a cannibalism scene. It's just a sign of the changing times.

The occasion of seeing that great drama on PBS leads me to a post I've been wanting to do for quite a while about the difficulties PBS is facing again from reactionary Republicans. Public television has been under fire ever since the Reagan administration, and maybe Nixon as well. That's right, PBS, the people who bring you Big Bird, Mister Rogers, acclaimed science programs like NOVA and National Geographic, and yes, controversial but well-researched programs like Frontline that serve our democracy well by asking tough questions.

Most recently, I was shocked and angered when PBS caved in to Republican pressure to cut back the PBS news magazine Now from a full hour program to a half hour format. Complaining that Bill Moyers was too liberal (meaning he reported on the hubris, lies, and hypocrisy of the Bush administration), Republicans in Congress suggested that the program should be co-hosted by someone with conservative credentials--that bow tie twit Tucker Carlson, or Paul Gigot.

Sadly, the Republicans won (I say "Republicans" not "conservatives" because, as is often the case, this is not a "conservative" versus "liberal" battle--it is a one-sided war by Republicans to censor any criticism against them). After Bill Moyers retired, PBS downsized Now to a half hour, and they allowed Tucker Carlson to host his own half-hour program of the most self-righteous blather, hypocrisy, leading questions, and strategically-omitted questions in PBS history. Honestly, I can't recall Bill Moyers ever stating on air that he was a "liberal", but Tucker Carlson promotes his "conservative" beliefs at every opportunity.

There are lots of other signs that the network is in trouble. Earlier this year, Pat Mitchell announced that she would retire next year as the PBS president. She objects to claims that she's leaving because of Republican pressure. Meanwhile, program underwriting is down from $221.9 million in 2001, to $184 million last year. "The risk is the tighter your budgets get, the less you can afford to fail," said the PBS chairman Alberto Ilbarguen. "If you can't afford to fail, you can't afford the risks."

Here are extracts from an exceptionally well-written NY Times editorial:

"...conservatives in Congress and the White House have apparently decided that independence is O.K. only as long as the programming doesn't stray from their political ideology. Since the federal government provides 15 to 20 percent of the budget for public broadcasting, Washington's heavy hand--which comes crashing down with petty and even ludicrous complaints--threatens to choke the creativity out of PBS.

When conservatives attacked the respected Bill Moyers, labeling him a dangerous liberal, PBS offered Tucker Carlson and Paul Gigot. Whatever slightly liberal flavor might be dug out of Moyers broadcasts, those are openly ideological conservative editorialists. Will they do investigations like Mr. Moyers? Will they dig beneath the large, loud surface of TV punditry? If not, how, please, is PBS different from MSNBC?

If this Congress and president make their political mark on PBS, what's to stop the next president from doing the same? Politicians should not be allowed to trim public broadcasting to their liking"

And here, remarks from my letter to Pat Mitchell:

"At a time when conservative perspectives increasingly dominate the media--and Carlson in particular is a ubiquitous media presence--the decision by PBS to fund and broadcast blatantly conservative programs runs counter to the public broadcasting system's founding mission to "provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard," and to broadcast programs that "help us see America whole, in all its diversity."

If you want to keep me as a supporter, please re-consider the conservative slant of your programming and go back instead to the principles of journalistic integrity that have guided PBS since its inception."

Finally, these letters to the NY Times editorial board:

"As a 16-year old, I am perplexed that conservative groups choose to direct their criticism at PBS.

If I were a parent worried about television content, I would be much more disturbed by the violence and the erectile dysfunction ads that other channels show, and I would not let my children watch TV at all."

Yelena F.
Swarthmore, Pa.

"The attack on PBS by the right is the last straw. What the right really fears is the loss of votes that may result from an informed electorate, and it is therefore willing to destroy the most beautiful programming on television to achieve its ends--shows like 'Nature' and 'Masterpiece Theater' that have imitators on cable television but no real rivals, and the best in children's programming.

Well, I have news for conservatives. I pay taxes, too, plenty of which support policies that I don't support but accept as part of living in one of the greatest societies on earth.

It's time for conservatives to grow up."

Deborah M.

Wal-Mart: Do the crime, do the time

After three recent rulings against Wal-Mart for violating immigration, labor, and environmental laws, citizens might be forgiven for believing that the federal government is on their side, not Wal-Mart's side.

"Ha ha ha. That's a good one," said a Christian Science Monitor editorial.

Take a closer look at the numbers.

Wal-Mart has $285 billion in sales a year. The average Wal-Mart "associate" takes home an average $250 a week--about $13,000 a year.

Here are some recent fines levied against Wal-Mart, presented alongside the equivalent amount that might be levied against an associate for the respective violation, adjusted proportionally to the earnings of an associate.

Child labor violations:
Wal-Mart fine: $135,540
Associate equivalent: 7 tenths of a cent

Clean water violations:
Wal-Mart fine: $3.1 million
Associate equivalent: 16 cents

Immigration violations:
Wal-Mart fine: $11 million
Associate equivalent: 56 cents

In other recent news, Wal-Mart shut down a store in Quebec rather than let its employees form a union, and in Colorado, a union vote failed after workers were intimidated by Wal-Mart.

Jonathan Tasini argues that the only way to force compliance with the law is jail time for Wal-Mart executives. But more fundamentally, says Tasini, flagrant corporate law-breaking is symptomatic of "a deeper flaw in our system: Once a person walks through the door of the workplace, he or she loses basic rights we all take for granted like liberty and free speech. The only way to stop corporate misconduct against workers is to empower people to shape the conditions at work (mainly by having the real right to unionize), and strip away the power corporations have under our system to create conditions that lead to child labor violations."

A good overview of Wal-Mart's tactics can be found in PBS' Store Wars.

Local TV news

When you're watching local TV news (do you even bother?), do get that feeling that you've been sent back to your 6th grade classroom? Do you feel like newscasters are talking down to you in that smooth, slow speaking style, as if your feeble little mind couldn't take in all the big news about that latest money scam or cosmetic procedure?

I attended the Louisiana Bucket Brigade crawfish boil this weekend where, over mudbugs and Abita beer, I had a very interesting conversation with a recovered local TV reporter.

She worked in a few markets (Green Bay, Indianapolis...) for all of the networks over a period of several years. She said the work became extremely mundane and irrelevant, for example, covering the surface details of accidents day after day, instead of reporting stories of significant and broader impact that actually matter to communities.

While working for a Fox affiliate, she decided to leave behind her career when (trying not to get my stories mixed up here), she suggested to her editor a story about proposed management changes to an aquifer that was used by a large portion of the community. She was told that was an old person story--it wouldn't be covered.

Tired of being assigned to do stupid stories, she decided print journalism might be an option. It wasn't--at least not without tremendous sacrifice. Newspapers don't really want to talk to people with broadcast news experience. In any event, almost everyone who thinks they want to be a print journalist has to pay their dues working a number of years for very low pay. It's an unfortunate reality which affords almost no opportunity for people who have worthwhile experience and talent to make a career change.

Skepticism about the journalistic credentials of TV journalists may be merited. The ex-TV reporter openly admitted that when she took a job as an issue activist and canvasser, she was presented with a complex range and depth of information that opened up her eyes to an entirely new understanding of the world. She found herself working on water quality issues of vital importance to whole communities which had little chance of being covered by TV news organizations, or if they were, would be covered in only the most banal manner, and with extreme brevity.

TV journalists can be very defensive about the way they do their jobs. I once wrote to a local news organization to complain that covering a story with one or two sentences can't possibly do justice to an issue. I was answered by a news editor in a very hostile manner, listing the several stories his news team covered, plus weather and sports. His answer was exactly my point. Weather and sports are given way too much time. After adding in advertising and those stupid little feel good human interest stories, there's no time left for in-depth stories on issues of relevance--not that an editor would even consider boring viewers with anything of true significance.

I don't know why I bother to watch local news--maybe just to find something to complain about while observing the sedation of an entire nation of fools as their country goes to hell.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

New revelation about Saudi special treatment after 9-11

FBI documents uncovered by Judicial Watch through an FOIA request prove the claim made by Michael Moore and others that, "in the frenzied days after Sept. 11, 2001, when some flights were still grounded, dozens of well-connected Saudis, including relatives of Osama bin Laden, managed to leave the United States on specially chartered flights."

More importantly, despite Dubya's claims to the contrary, these documents prove that George W. Bush, coddled by the Saudi family, neglected his responsibility to investigate the murder of 3000 Americans, allowing Saudis to leave the country without being asked if they knew anything about the attacks, whether more attacks might be forthcoming, or the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

The NY Times reports that:

...Saudi travelers were not interviewed before departing the country, and F.B.I. officials sought to determine how what seemed to be lapses had occurred, the documents show.

The F.B.I. documents left open the possibility that some departing Saudis had information relevant to the Sept. 11 investigation.

...a 2003 memo said, "it is not possible to state conclusively that no such individuals left the U.S. without F.B.I. knowledge."

"The F.B.I. was more interested in achieving diplomatic success than investigative success," said Christopher J. Farrell, who is director of investigations for Judicial Watch and a former counterintelligence interrogator for the Army.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Tom Benson is a jackass

So the Saints are playing coy again, with Tom Benson crying that the current Saints revenue situation is "ruining us," whining that other owners are gloating about making $100 million more per year than he is with their gleaming new stadiums paid for with taxpayer dollars. "It's real embarrassing to come to these meetings like this and have New Orleans on the bottom of the totem pole."

Boo hoo.

Embarrassing? How's this for embarrassing: one quarter of children in Louisiana live below the official poverty line, 50 percent higher than the national average, making Louisiana the second worst state in the country for kids; only 63% of Louisiana high school students graduate; 50 percent of high school teachers aren't certified to teach their subject specialties; 12 percent of Louisiana children have no health insurance; Louisiana has the fourth worst crime rate in the nation, and New Orleans is always a contender for murder capital of the world.

Benson ticked off the options for Louisiana: 1) build a new stadium, 2) renovate the Superdome, or 3) the Saints will leave for Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, not only is Governor Blanco trying to keep the Saints in New Orleans, but she is trying to reduce the $70 million inducement extortion payments owed to the Saints through 2010. That's $15 million a year for...uh...eight at-home games! Last year the state took $7 million out of its economic development fund to pay the Saints. Hmm, I think I could find a better place to invest a couple million bucks to create jobs than in a two-hour football game.

Hey Tom, how about trading in that $20 million yacht for something a little more modest!

When Benson started threatening to leave New Orleans again unless he could get a better deal, he must have gotten the governor's cajun blood boiling. She wasn't going to let that nutria slime get the best of the situation. She told Benson that if he wanted to get a state subsidy on the grounds that he wasn't making enough money to stay in New Orleans, he'd have to open up his books just like every other person who asks for public assistance. It was a shrewd move. Benson hedged a little too long before the Saints closed the season with a miserable eight games won, eight games lost.

How's this for a solution: End the monopoly that sports franchises enjoy!

Imagine a world where any city that wants a team can have one. Imagine a world where you could have more than one team to root for in your state (increasing the chances that, for example, Louisiana might have a winning team). Imagine a world where ridiculous player salaries come back down to earth because there are more teams, there are more job openings, and the money pool is more widely distributed as teams compete for viewers.

Imagine a world where governments don't cave in to team owners, using taxpayer money for boondoggle stadium schemes that only make team owners rich. Imagine a world where governments actually invest our tax dollars in services to give our youth the educations they need to succeed in an ever more challenging world, and to make our nation stronger.

The tide that rises floats sinks all boats

Thank you Bob Herbert:

"President Bush believes in an 'ownership' society, which means that except for the wealthy, you're on your own.

...the era of shared sacrifices is over. This is the era of entrenched exploitation. All sacrifices will be made by working people and the poor, and the vast bulk of the benefits will accrue to the rich.

President Bush has proposed more than $200 billion worth of cuts in domestic discretionary programs over the next five years, and cuts of $26 billion in entitlement programs.

Conservatives insist the cuts are necessary to get the roaring federal budget deficit under control. But they have trouble keeping a straight face when they tell that story.

All the budgets contain more than $100 billion in tax cuts over the next five years, which makes a mockery of the G.O.P.'s budget-balancing rhetoric

It was Herbert Hoover who said: 'You know, the only trouble with capitalism is capitalists. They're too damn greedy.'"

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Alright then, diving in...

Like me, you're sick of everyone pontificating about the Terri Schiavo case, right? You think the government should stay out of it and leave the decision to her family and local authorities? Then you'd agree with two-thirds of Americans who believe it was inappropriate for Republicans to get involved for political gain, according to an ABC poll. Once again, Dubya and the Republicans prove themselves outside of the mainstream.

I ask, is it moral to keep a person alive in a wakeful but unconscious state for 15 years? Is it moral to keep a person artificially alive when the body is trying to shut itself down? Is it moral to play God with someone's life by saying one thing but doing another when you think you can score some political points?

Here's a post I found reprinted in subliminal punk.

By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo's care thus far.

Those of us who read liberal blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schiavo's because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terry Schiavo" mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.

This is why we cannot trust the mainstream media. Most people get their news from television. And television is presenting this issue as a round the clock one dimensional soap opera pitting the "family", the congress and the church against this woman's husband and the judicial system that upheld Terry Schiavo's right and explicit request that she be allowed to die if extraordinary means were required to keep her alive. The ghoulish infotainment industry is making a killing by acceding once again to trumped up right wing sensationalism.

This issue gets to the essence of the culture war. Shall the state be allowed to interfere in the most delicate, complicated personal matters of life, death and health because a particular religious constituency holds that their belief system should override each individual's right to make these personal decisions for him or herself. And it isn't the allegedly statist/communist/socialist left that is agitating for the government to tell Americans how they must live and how they must die.

One of the things that we need to help America understand is that there is a big difference between the way the two parties perceive the role of government in its citizens personal lives. Democrats want the government to collect money from all its citizens in order to deliver services to the people. The Republicans want the government to collect money from working people in order to dictate individual citizen's personal decisions. You tell me which is the bigger intrusion into the average American's liberty?

Via Julia we find real life:

The Friday lunch crowd at Jimmy's Eastside Diner was starting to dwindle. Jerita Collins, a waitress everyone calls Shorty, was carrying several plates when she noticed the television behind the counter airing a Washington, D.C., news conference featuring House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

''It is now 1 o'clock on the East Coast, the time preordained by a Florida state judge to allow for denial of food and water to Terri Schiavo,'' the Texas Republican declared. ``That act of barbarism can be and must be prevented.''

Across the bottom of the screen CNN noted a judge temporarily stopped Terri Schiavo's feeding tube from being removed because Congress had issued subpoenas for the brain-damaged woman to appear in Washington.

As DeLay spoke, Shorty stared at the TV and shook her head. ''This is wrong,'' she said. ``This is incredibly wrong. How can they interfere like this?''

Shorty, 57, a waitress at the Biscayne Boulevard diner for 35 years, should know.

''Two years ago,'' she said, ``I had to make the same decision for my son. It was the hardest thing I ever did. You don't plan on your children dying before you do. You don't even want to think about it.

''But if you love your child,'' she continued, tears welling up in her eyes, ``sometimes you have to let them go.''

Shorty's son, Jerry, was 36 when he died in 2003 from pancreatic cancer. He wasn't married. He had one child who was a minor, so the decisions fell to her.

''Toward the end, he didn't want to be kept alive,'' she said. ``But I wanted him to live. I didn't want him to go. The hospital, they had to tie his hands down so that he couldn't pull his own tubes out.

'After a while, I realized he was ready. I told him how much I loved him and I didn't want him to continue to suffer because of me. He couldn't talk anymore, so he wrote me a note. It said, `Forgive me.' And I looked at it and I said, 'For what? For dying?' And he shook his head yes.''

He died a few days later, on Dec. 29, from a heart attack. By then, Shorty had signed directives for her son's care, including instructions not to resuscitate him if his heart stopped.

On the TV, another politician talked about saving Schiavo.

''These politicians,'' Shorty hissed, her hands trembling with emotion. ``They're just playing a game. It's not about her anymore, it's about them getting what they want. It's about them wanting to look good in front of the people who are pro-life. I'm against abortion, too, but I believe each person has their own right to decide. You know in your heart what is right for you and you have to live with any decision you make.''

Full original post in Hullabaloo.

"For one mom, the personal isn't political," The Miami Herald, 20 March 2005.

James Ridgeway, "Will Bush Face a Backlash in the Schiavo Case?" The Village Voice, 12 March 2005.

America's real agenda is power

"It is not democracy that is on the march in the Middle East, " said Seamus Milne in the London Guardian. It is "the U.S. military."

The Americans have been crowing about the supposed spread of "freedom" since the Iraq war. Just look at the Iraqi and Palestinian elections, they say. Look at the Lebanese, agitating to get the Syrians out.

Now President Bush is self-righteously insisting that Syria must pull all its troops completely out of Lebanon before the May elections. Only when the troops are gone, he preaches, can the country have a vote that is truly free.

His statement "defies satire." Why didn't that logic apply "to elections held in occupied Iraq, where the U.S. has 140,000 troops patrolling the streets?" Syria, after all, has just 14,000 soldiers in Lebanon, and they are encamped in their mountain bases. And why didn't it apply to elections in "occupied Palestine?"

The rhetoric about democracy is a lie to mask the "relentless expansion of U.S. control." The Americans now have troops in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar--"and in not one of those countries did an elected government invite them in."

Seamus Milne, for the The Guardian (U.K.), quoted in The Week, 25 March 2005.

What's for dinner?

A welcome refinement of the definition that democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner.

Majority rule only works if you're also considering individual rights, because you can't have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

Larry Flynt

Fighting for the American right to drive gas-hog SUVs

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Turn your red state blue

The Democratic Leadership Council and beltway pundits incorrectly subscribe to the depressing notion that the electorate has become more conservative and can't be converted to a progressive philosophy.

Joe Conason argues, to the contrary, that "Whether they now describe themselves as liberal or not, most Americans remain strongly progressive in their views about taxation, health care, education spending, Social Security, environmental protection and corporate regulation."

Endorsing Conason's thesis, Christopher Hayes asks, "What profit a party if it gain a majority and lose its soul?" The Democratic Party can't only want to win elections. It needs to build a constituency that it can use for cover to implement a progressive agenda. It needs to recruit activist missionaries who meet the challenge of converting souls by pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, and affirming people's core beliefs. "If a political party's job is to win elections by doing what is politically expedient, the activist's job is to make doing the right thing politically expedient," Hayes writes.

Hat tip to Atrios for finding the Hayes story.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Do you have what it takes to be a billionaire?

What's your pedigree? Are you married to the right person? Do you have the right hobbies? Did you go to the right schools?

In its new listing of billionaires, Forbes magazine reinforces the myth that people get rich thanks to their character, sweat, and connections. Obviously, these assets increase the likelihood, but (writing for Scott Klinger would like to remind us that the rich are often operating under a different set of rules than the rest of us.

Several of the wealthiest billionaires built their empires on public assets. People like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Steve Ballmer owe much of their wealth to the billions of government taxes invested in developing computer technology. Other billionaires, like the Walton family, pay their Walmart "associates" poverty wages, forcing them on public assistance to get by. Meanwhile, especially in the U.S., tax rates on the wealthy have plummeted, reflecting a shift in the obligations of the wealthy to the rest of society.

Klinger's article points out that the highest income tax rate fifty years ago was 91 percent. Today, the highest rate is 34 percent. Capital gains taxes have gone from 35 percent in 1979, to 15 percent today. But nobody actually paid those high rates. Instead, the government provided loopholes for people to lower their effective rates when they used their wealth productively. Moreover, inherent in those higher tax rates was a belief that people who make lots of money owe an incredible debt to the society that made that wealth possible. Thanks to the anti-government rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and corporate conservatives, the United States has fallen from the generous ideals of the greatest generation, to the self-indulgent vanity of the "me" generation.

The decline of the United States is being driven precisely by this increasing tendency to shift responsibility away from those who should really be held most responsible. Sure, we all have to assume responsibility for the choices we make, but the cruelty of the rules of the economic system ensure that the poor will be punished for their choices.

The same legal system benefits, and even protects, the wealthy. Note the changes to bankruptcy rules in just the last couple of weeks. You can have health insurance, require major health care, and lose your house in bankruptcy. The rich get to shelter their mansions in bankruptcy.

Here's what's wrong with the Forbes mentality. Not a single person on this planet makes anything of themselves, by themselves. The bootstrap theory of pulling yourself up out of hardship is only half of the story. Everyone requires a community of family, friends, and mentors to help them along. Everyone is a product of their education, upbringing, and the environment they grow up in. Most people who make it at something were given a chance by someone else.

From a legal and economic perspective, the concept of a "free market" is mythology. The capitalist system that allows people to risk investments in productive activities to generate a profit is not the law of the universe. It is a creation of human laws and institutions which guide the stream of benefits from particular activities. Because our culture values the opportunities and productive outcomes that can be achieved by unleashing people's business acumen, and rewarding their successes. But in that kind of a system, there are inevitably winners and losers.

The thing is, when you become something, when you make it to the top, when you strike it rich, you owe it to your community to give something back. The winners in a capitalist society need to realize that when they gain something from the system, they are obliged to give some of it back to keep the system healthy, because, ultimately, history demonstrates that there are alternatives, but none of them are very nice.

From those to whom much is given, much is expected.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Bush's deficits are scarier than terrorists

Last year, economists were more concerned about the impact another terrorist attack could have on the economy. This year, large deficits with no end in sight are the biggest concern of economists, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Economists (1).

Just seven months ago, while the Bush campaign was shamelessly exploiting the "wawr on terrah" and whipping up the threat of more terrorist attacks to get dunderhead re elected, not surprisingly, most economists were worried about terrorism.

Now that their faculties have been restored, they're beginning to realize that Bush's fiscal policies present a greater threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden.

I still remember the debates I had with Republicans back in 2000 about how a Bush presidency would be the fiscal ruin of the United States, falling particularly hard on the post baby-boom generations. The end times are nigh.

1) Interview with David Wyss, chief economist of Standard & Poor's, aired on PBS' Nightly Business Report, 21 March 2005.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Slam Mary Landrieu's office

New Orleans' hometown girl, Mary Landrieu, is now playing John Breaux's part of Republican disguised as Democrat, talkin' the talk, but she sure ain't walkin' the walk.

Mary Landrieu joined two other Democrats, Inouye and Akaka (both from Hawaii), in voting to allow oil companies to drill inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

ANWR was established in 1960 so that future generations could experience wild lands unspoiled by human activity.

Thomas Friedman rightly observed that the ANWR vote is not an issue about U.S. independence from foreign oil. ANWR crude, like North Slope crude, will probably be destined for Asia, not the lower 48 states. The Bush administration is pushing ANWR drilling to break the backs of his opponents in the environmental movement.

Meanwhile, again typically unable to handle more than one issue at a time, as the mainstream media has been focused on ANWR, the Bureau of Land Management in the next few days may very well open up for oil drilling a sensitive area of the North Slope around Teshekpuk Lake.

When the BLM invited public comment on a 2004 plan to allow drilling around the lake, the majority of more than 220,000 comments from across the nation were in opposition. Also opposed to drilling around Teshekpuk Lake were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Alaska's North Slope Borough, comprised of Native Americans who subsist by hunting and fishing in the area. They have long opposed any drilling around the lands and waters that they depend upon. See, for example, their testimony at a 1982 public hearing.

Despite such widespread opposition, Interior Secretary Gale Norton is expected to sign off on the BLM's recommendation this week.

In other matters, Mary Landrieu recently voted in favor of the credit card bankruptcy bill, which legislates personal responsibility for the poor and the sick but not for the rich, and which gives credit card companies the effective cover of the law to continue their irresponsible predatory marketing and lending practices.

Mary Landrieu is now (by my unstudied count) zero for two on critical votes during the current session where she broke Democratic ranks to stand with Republicans in defending corporate interests over people and the environment.

The next critical vote for Mary may be the full Senate confirmation hearings of William G. Myers III to the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals. Myers, who has little courtroom experience, spent much of his career criticizing federal environmental regulations out west on behalf of mining and ranching interests. Senator Patrick Leahy (D, Vt) called Myers the most anti-environmental nominee in all of his years in the Senate.

Myers is one of twelve controversial Bush nominees for lifetime appointments to the federal bench that will soon come up for a vote.

Senate Democrats are going to have a tough fight on these appointments, and they'll need to hear from their constituents and concerned citizens--especially Mary Landrieu!!!

Slam Mary Landrieu's office with your views!

(202) 224-5824

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Got Mercury?

In announcing the EPA's new mercury ruling, the New York Times failed to mention that the author of the new rules represented the worst mercury polluters in the country.

That's right, Jeffrey Holmstead worked for Latham & Watkins, representing utilities and chemical companies. When he was recruited by the Bush administration to write new rules on mercury emissions, he arrived handily equipped with a proposal ready made by his former law firm.

Does anyone see a conflict of interest here?

Martha Keating did. She was an environmentalist appointed by the EPA in 2001 to help revamp the mercury emissions rules--that is, until Bush administration told her it didn't need her help anymore.

Later, she noticed that the mercury rules proposed by the EPA were almost identical to a proposal authored by Latham & Watkins. Whole paragraphs were copied, almost word for word, into the EPA's mercury rules.

The new rules allow power plants to buy rights to pollute rather than clean up their acts, sending the costs--and the mercury--right to your doorstep.

It's kind of hard to have an intelligent debate on an issue when you don't know with whom you're dealing.

Listen to Holmstead squirm as he's put on the spot about his former employment in an interview with David Brancaccio for the PBS news magazine "Now":

BRANCACCIO: You used to work at Latham & Watkins?

HOLMSTEAD: Yes. No, no. I absolutely… I and one of my close colleagues here were both at Latham & Watkins. But Latham & Watkins represents many industries. And this language didn't come in through me or through my colleague. It came in actually without our even knowing about it.

BRANCACCIO: So, I shouldn't worry about a conflict?

HOLMSTEAD: No. There's no conflict. It's certainly something people have tried to make hay out of. And I think that's unfortunate. And that's why I say, "Gee, I wish that someone had told me that this was an issue." And we would've said, "Here's an idea that's come in from an industry, and we ask for comment on it."

I ask, is there anything that George W. Bush has accomplished without misrepresenting his intentions, without deceiving the American people, without lying?

Matthew Wald, "New Rules Set for Mercury of Mercury," New York Times, 16 March 2005.

Now, transcript, 25 June 2004.

Now, transcript, 21 January 2005.

"Environment: Jeffrey Holmstead," Howling at a Wailing Moon, 23 May 2004.

As an addendum, the influence of industry advocates in the formation of public policy is just the way Bush does business. Screw the people!

"President Bush has installed more than 100 top officials who were once lobbyists, attorneys or spokespeople for the industries they oversee..."
Anne C. Mulkern, "Rats in The Kitchen," Denver Post, 23 May 2004, reprinted in Howling at the Moon.

Why Bush hides his Irish roots

John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan never missed a chance to brag about their Irish heritage, said Angelique Chrisafis in the London Guardian. A little wearin' o' the green appeals to all those Irish-American voters.

George W. Bush, though, hasn't said a word about his Celtic ancestors. Perhaps that's because it turns out that he's descended from "the power-hungry warlord who led the Norman invasion of Ireland" in the 12th century and caused 800 years of Irish misery.

The Bush ancestor, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, was known as "Strongbow," because of his prowess with the arrow. Bloodthirsty and reviled, when Strongbow died of a festering ulcer, the Irish said it was the revenge of "Irish saints whose shrines he had violated." Yet he's not even the worst of the Bush line.

George W. is also related to Dermot MacMurrough, Ireland's biggest traitor. MacMurrough was the chieftan who invited the Normans to invade in the first place.

The Irish are aghast at the news of Bush's evil ancestry. But then, they already disliked him. When he visited last year, he was dubbed "the most hated American ever to set foot on Irish soil."

Printed in The Week, 2/11/2005.
Written by Angelique Chrisafis for The Guardian (UK).

Monday, March 14, 2005

Students tell NPR to jump in Lake Wobegon

This may be a little past its freshness date, so to speak, but for those who love community radio, it's always relevant.

Mark Oppenheimer related how a bunch of students organized and convinced the University of New Haven President to reject a plan to turn their music-format college radio station into another NPR affiliate.

Here, excerpted, is his case for independent radio.

These are guys, and some girls, who spend 30 hours a week...for no money, superintending the best college radio station in the state.

"The point of college radio has never been about ratings or mass appeal," said the student station manager. "It's to provide something other stations don't provide."

It was extraordinary to hear the passion of these students. They didn't seem like born activists; rather, they were music fiends, and that's why the station meant everything to them. In this age of fractured media, with the internet and radio and satellite radio and newspapers and TV and movies and books all competing for our attention, these DJs were focused on one thing: music, played on the radio.

The community needs this truly independent radio station as much as the college kids do.

The point, I realized, is that we ought to have a station that takes a stand--a stand on principle--that says: We will play certain music just because it's cool and our enthusiastic, sometimes inexperienced DJs think it's worth playing....And, once in a while, someone will...hear a song that, lo and behold, she thinks is just terrific. And that's reason enough for our station to play this stuff.

I think NPR is a terrific news-gathering operation, but there is a dark side. Much as Fox News does the thinking for a huge chunk of America, NPR spoon-feeds certain tastes to another segment of the country, and that can be just as harmful to diversity of thought. Harmful, too, are the reactionary stances some NPR affiliates take in opposition to the licensing of low-wattage radio signals; NPR, too often, wants to be the only public radio show in town. College radio is one antidote, and those of us who oppose corporate consolidation and monopolies should celebrate it.

Mark Oppenheimer, "Schoolhouse Rock: The students of UNH tell National Public Radio to go jump in Lake Wobegon," New Haven Advocate, 10 February 2005.

P.S. to you New Orleanians and anyone else who listens to its webcast, another great college/community radio station, WTUL, is in the middle of its yearly Marathon fundraiser, and it needs your help.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Justice denied to Vietnamese Agent Orange victims

If the United States Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes disability claims of 10,000 U.S. Vietnam veterans made ill from Agent Orange, then why was a lawsuit by 4 million Vietnamese plaintiffs thrown out of court?

The primary ingredient in Agent Orange is dioxin, a chemical linked to cancer, diabetes, and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and American veterans. The United States sprayed over 21 million gallons of the chemical on Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.

In denying the lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein said he didn't think Agent Orange should be considered a poison banned by international rules of war like other herbicides. He argued that research which proves the linkages between Agent Orange and illness was inadequate.

This guy has been living in a cave for the last 30 years. Even the VA recognizes the well-established harmful affects of Agent Orange.

Associated Press, "Judge Dimisses Agent Orange Lawsuit," New York Times, 10 March 2005.

Official U.S. government information on Agent Orange:

Dubya out of touch with the American people

A new poll shows just how much Dubya's budget is out of touch with the American people.

The poll gave respondents a list showing how much the Bush administration has budgeted in 17 areas of the discretionary budget, and for Iraq.

Respondents were then asked to adjust the budget to reflect their own priorities.

Here's what the American people did to President Bush's budget:

Defense spending was cut by an average of 31%. Two-thirds of respondents chose to cut the defense budget.

Funds for Iraq were cut by an average of 35%, again with two-thirds of respondents opting for cuts.

61% of respondents chose to put aside money for deficit reduction.

Education spending was increased by 39%.

Funds for job training were increased by 263%.

Funds for medical research were increased by 53%.

Veterans benefits were increased by 40%.

Funds for conservation and the development of renewable energy were increased by 1090%. That is not a typo. 70% of respondents opted for increases in this area.

Hats off to The Gadflyer

Read the complete poll results at the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A favorite topic -- mainstream media sucks!

Minimum Security

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

John Ashcroft and the NRA support terrorists

That's right. Suspected terrorists are purchasing guns, and there isn't a damn thing law enforcement can do thanks to NRA lobbying that successfully stripped down the background check law. It's just one more case where the Bush administration has allowed right-wingnuts to obstruct the safety of Americans.

At least 47 people on the FBI terrorist watch list purchased guns during a nine month period in 2004 according to the Government Accountability Office. Many of these people were wanted for questioning as part of terrorism investigations into Islamic militant groups.

The FBI complains that it can't do its job effectively because the background check is too strict in its protection of the gun owner privacy. The NRA fought Congress on the ability of the FBI to use the gun database, arguing that it would amount to a registry of gun owners nationwide. registering your car is an imposition on your right to privacy?

Further frustrating law enforcement officials, background check records can be destroyed after just 24 hours, allowing terrorists to cover their tracks. Moreover, John Ashcroft didn't allow the FBI to cross-check terrorist watch lists with gun-purchase records until February 2004, arguing that the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms was more important.

Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat from New Jersey, is writing legislation that will require federal officials to keep records of guns purchased by terrorist suspects for a minimum of 10 years.

Wow, so if terrorists attack American citizens with guns, at least we'll know they bought them--or rather, would have known, if we hadn't destroyed the records, just like Dubya was told that terrorists were planning to attack us with hijacked planes, but was too busy clearing brush in Crawford to do anything about it.

That's some crack "wawr on terrah" you got there Mr. Prez'dent! I sure am glad people decided not to change horses in the middle of a war. I feel so much safer knowing you're running the country.

Eric Lichtblau, "Terror Suspects Buying Firearms, U.S. Report Finds," New York Times, 8 March 2005.

Monday, March 07, 2005

WMD double standard

Although noble in its criticism of the Bush administration's ongoing plans to create a nuclear bunker buster, a New York Times editorial erred in suggesting that the world has been free of nuclear warfare since World War II (1).

The United States military has left behind radioactive waste from the use of millions of rounds of depleted uranium shells in both wars against Iraq, and in Kosovo.

Wherever these rounds have been used, rates of cancer, birth deformities, and other ailments have significantly increased among the in-country population and among military troops.

For the United States to be an honest advocate against nuclear proliferation, it should first abandon its use of all forms of nuclear weapons.

"There is a moral point to be made here. This war was about Iraq possessing illegal weapons of mass destruction -- yet we are using weapons of mass destruction ourselves," said Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagon's depleted uranium project. "Such double-standards are repellent" (2).

Rokke claims that the Pentagon has deliberately covered up their own evidence found in Los Alamos lab studies on the dangers of contact with depleted uranium to "make sure that we [Pentagon officials] don't disrupt the future use of depleted uranium munitions" (3).

1) "A Destabilizing Bit of Research," New York Times, 6 March 2005.

2) Neil Mackay, "US forces' use of depleted uranium weapons is 'illegal'," Sunday Herald, 30 March 2003.

3) Dan Bjarnason, "Silver Bullet: Depleted Uranium", CBC.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Mideast perestroika?

Much is being said about fresh winds of democracy which now appear to be blowing across the Arab world in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia (1).

Arabs disagree about how much American influence is shaping forces for greater democracy in the Mideast, but they agree that the message of the Bush administration that it will no longer support repressive governments has helped.

Nevertheless, even for Arabs impressed with the January 30th election turnout in Iraq, "the country remains a synonym for frightening, violent chaos," said Ghassan Salame, a former Lebanese cabinet minister, who questions whether "democracy deserves such instability and such a sacrifice of people."

Meanwhile, Americans should ask themselves if these changes couldn't have been achieved without 1500 American casualties, over 11,000 American wounded, the subversion of truth and manipulation of intelligence, and the committing of troops into harms way without a formal declaration of war as required by the Constitution.

Furthermore, movements for democracy in the Mideast have been crushed before. Parliamentary elections allowed in a handful of elections in the 1990's proved ineffectual, and foreign influence has stifled people's desire for democracy in many instances (United States' support for Saddam Hussein just for starters).

Obviously, democracy is the form of government people deserve, but we might also want to ask what is the best way to support democratic movements--with 150,000 troops ready to pull a trigger? Ultimately, the people themselves must have the courage to stand up for their rights.

"You need democrats to produce democracy," said Mr. Salame. "Neither American tanks or domestic institutions can do it, you need democrats."

Furthermore, the Bush administration, and the neocons for whom he is a pliant minion, don't want democracy for the Iraqis. They want democracy for corporations. Long before Bush stole the 2000 and 2004 elections, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Perlowitz, among others, wanted to destabilize the Middle East so that corporations could plunder its oil and economies (2).

1) Neil MacFarquhar, "Unexpected Whiff of Freedom Proves Bracing for the Mideast", New York Times, 6 March 2005.

2) "Post Iraq II," Realtique, 5 March 2005.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Social Security Piratization

Workers now in their 40s would suffer the deepest cuts in guaranteed retirement benefits payable under current law. At the same time, they have the least chance to recoup reductions by investing in stocks and bonds.

Jim Barnett, "Privatization Plan Likely Would Hurt Workers Now in Their 40s," NewHouse News Service, 1 March 2005.

Hats off to the 18 1/2 Minute Gap

We post-baby boomers have been taking it on the chin paying higher payroll taxes for over 20 years. We were told back then that our contribution would fix Social Security for future generations.

Meanwhile, the baby boom generation, and the people their voting power put into office, kept consuming government services, spending irresponsibly, and swallowing up the surplus in a wash of government debt.

We had a chance to fix the problem, thanks to the fiscal discipline of Bill Clinton and a booming economy that generated trillions in projected surpluses, but Bush spent the surplus, and more, on tax cuts he gave to his rich friends, and on an unnecessary invasion of Iraq.

Now Bush tells us the best deal we can get is to forget about what we've contributed to Social Security, and hope that private accounts will save the day. Meanwhile, he plans to dig us into a fiscal hole all the way to China (not just a figure of speech--80 percent of US Treasury Bonds are held by China and Japan). So we'll have to pay off the debt mess as well.

By the time we retire, we'll have paid for our retirements three times over.

Shuffling paper around doesn't make us safer

Dubya said today that the job of the new Director of National Intelligence, once confirmed, will be "to take the information and make sure it is coordinated in its distribution to not only the White House, but to key players in my administration."

The question that citizens and Congress should be asking President Bush is, "And what exactly is your sorry ass going to do once something hits your desk?"

I'm going to keep pounding on this issue, because I'm convinced, as are many other Americans, that 9/11 happened, not because the intelligence wasn't there, and not even because the intelligence wasn't shared. I believe that President Bush was adequately warned that something was going to happen, he knew the time frame, methods, and select locations, and that ultimately, he is individually culpable for not taking action when action was needed.

Bush is not just a misguided leader, he's a total failure. If there is any justice in the world, the people will come to their senses and force him to wear the yoke of 9/11 around his neck.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bush administration knew Al Qaeda would attack

American citizens should be extremely concerned about the reliability of President Bush's claim that "We're on a constant hunt for bin Laden. We're keeping the pressure on him, keeping him in hiding" (1).

An FBI whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds, was fired from her job as a contract linguist in 2002 after complaining that the war against Al Qaeda was plagued by ineptitude at the FBI in the critical area of intelligence translation. Fluent in Azerbaijani, Farsi, and Turkish, Edmonds complained repeatedly about sloppy and incomplete translations produced by bureau linguists before and after 9/11. She also complained that the bureau allowed diplomatic sensitivities with some nations to affect the translation of important intelligence. Finally, Edmonds accused a Turkish linguist of protecting acquaintenances who came under suspicion (2).

For her courage and integrity, Mrs. Edmonds was fired. How's that for reforming the ailing intelligence services? See a problem? Keep your mouth shut.

Now, a federal appeals court said the Mrs. Edmonds' suit should not proceed, because it would cause "significant damage to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." Who are we protecting anyway? It's not as though sensitive intelligence has to make the evening news. They can keep the sensitive stuff in the judge's quarters.

Is it any wonder the Bush Administration hasn't captured Osama bin Laden yet?

This isn't the first time Edmonds has appeared in the news. Back in April, 2004, the White House obtained a gagging order from a court, citing a rarely used "state secrets privilege". It seems the Bush Administration was embarrassed by her claims that senior officials knew full well of Al Qaeda's plans to attack the U.S. with aircraft months before September 11th (3).

Edmonds said she gave the 9/11 Commission "details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

She contends that President Bush and Condaleeza Rice were parsing words when they said there was no way anyone could have predicted that people would attack with hijacked airplanes.

"President Bush said they had no specific information about 11 September and that is accurate but only because he said 11 September," Edmonds said. Contrary to President Bush's assertion, however, Edmonds argued that there was plenty of general information about the use of airplanes and that an attack was months away.

As evidence continues to mount that President Bush knew more than he admits, Americans should demand that a more complete accounting for past mistakes than the 9/11 Commission performed, not just to punish people who weren't doing their jobs, but to make sure that everything really is being done now to prevent another attack.

1) "Bush: Stopping Bin Laden 'Greatest Challenge'," New York Times, 3 March 2005.

2) John Files, "Justice Depart. Opposes Bid to Revive Case Against F.B.I.," New York Times, 26 February 2005.

3) Andrew Buncombe, "I Saw Papers That Show US Knew al-Qa'ida Would Attack Cities With Airplanes," Independent/UK, 2 April 2004, reprinted in, 28 February 2005.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

John Negroponte's betrayal of American principles

Y'all can move off the edge of yer seats. Here is my promised backgrounder on John Negroponte.

Notwithstanding the improbability of Dubya uttering the word “incalculable” when he announced in February that John Negroponte was his nominee for the Director of National Intelligence post, President Bush stated that Negroponte’s experience as Ambassador to Iraq over the last several months was “an incalculable advantage for an intelligence chief” (1). Bush could have also cited credentials Negroponte earned in a shadowy past that included working as an obedient foreign service officer during the Vietnam War, and Ambassador to Honduras at a time of social upheaval and revolution in Central America.

Negroponte’s nomination comes at a time when the Pentagon is considering a “Salvador option” in Iraq (2). A Pentagon source suggested that by creating a climate of fear among Iraq’s Sunni population, the United States military might be able to make progress in defeating the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation."

The “Salvador option” refers to the United States’ training, financing, and equipping of army elements in El Salvador, “allegedly” including death squads, which intimidated perceived “sympathizers” of El Salvador’s FMLN insurgents. The height of shame was the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which Salvadoran troops rounded up and slaughtered hundreds of poor campesinos. A majority of the victims were women, children, and the elderly (3).

As Salvadoran soldiers were lining up villagers to execute them in cold blood, John Negroponte was serving as the Ambassador to El Salvador’s neighbor, Honduras. When the previous ambassador, Jack Binns, refused to tone down reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by death squads in Honduras, Ronald Reagan fired him. Negroponte was sent to transform Honduras into a base for covert military operations against the Sandanista government of Nicaragua, and against the FMLN guerillas in El Salvador (4).

Ambassador Negroponte oversaw the establishment of two military bases in Honduras for U.S. troops, and for Contra terrorist units responsible for 50,000 Nicaraguan deaths and billions of dollars in damages to Nicaragua’s infrastructure (5). After the U.S. Congress placed limits on financing Contras, or Salvadoran soldiers in Honduras, Negroponte convinced the Honduran government to build a Regional Military Training Center on Honduran territory.

When Hondurans began to protest the presence of foreign military forces inside their borders, Ambassador Negroponte, at the very least, was guilty of concealing the human rights abuses committed by the Honduran death squads. Negroponte, and his CIA station chief, Donald Winter, worked closely with the chief architect of the Honduran death squads, General Gustavo Alvarez. Trained in torture and counter-insurgency at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, and having witnessed close up the use “Dirty War” tactics in Argentina in the 1970’s, Alvarez created a special intelligence unit of the armed forces, Battalion 3-16, to eliminate Honduran civilians opposed to the presence of the Contras and U.S. “yanqui” troops (6).

Hundreds of students, workers, human rights activists and others were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by Honduran death squads. Also disappeared were missionaries and an American Jesuit priest, Father James Carney (7).

Although Negroponte denies any personal knowledge of human rights abuses in Honduras, Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson conducted a 14-month investigation for the Baltimore Sun which demonstrated that Negroponte learned about the crimes committed by Battalion 3-16 from numerous sources (8).

Then a junior political officer for the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, Rick Chidester told the Sun that he was ordered to delete from the State Department’s 1982 annual human rights report most of his evidence of human rights abuses committed by the Honduran military. When the State Department’s report was finally released, Chidester joked that the report for Honduras looked like the human rights report for Norway (9).

John Negroponte deliberately misled Congress about death squad killings of dissidents in Honduras because the truth would have forced Congress to obey provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits military assistance to any government that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The result would have been a cessation of congressional funding of training, logistical, and tactical operations of the Contras, and of the Salvadoran Army, in Honduran territory.

If the State Department had not lied about human rights abuses in Honduras, and Central America generally, Senator Patrick Leahy said “billions of American tax dollars would have been saved, a large number of lives would have been saved, and the governments would have moved toward democracy quicker” (10).

Equally important, John Negroponte’s cleansing of Honduran human rights reports was a betrayal of the ideals of the American people, and of the democratic virtues which the American people so ardently defend. In the great global struggle of the United States against the Soviet Union, instead of standing for the greatest of United States democratic principles, John Negroponte represented the worst tendencies of a nation that turned its back on movements for justice. The United States stooped to the lowest vices of its enemy—ruthlessly crushing movements for self-determination and representative democracy, instead defending military dictatorships that crushed dissent utilizing the cruelest tactics of torture and murder.

That’s certainly no way to make friends in the world. And as we learned from the blowback of United States support for the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, which led to the formation of Al Qaeda, the hypocrisy of United States foreign policy can be a powerful argument for the recruitment of terrorists.

Now, rumors of a “Salvador option” for Iraq suggests that the United States may once again be contemplating adding kidnapping, torture, and murder of civilians to its “arsenal of democracy.” People outside the inner sanctum of the Pentagon might be justified in wondering whether Pentagon officials wouldn’t benefit from some Civics 101 lessons in the right to face your accusers in a court of law to defend yourself from charges made against you, or of being tried by a jury of your peers. More rational minds might question whether a policy of extra-judicial intimidation will dry up the swamp of insurgents and terrorists, or draw more recruits to their cause.

With plenty of experience in burying evidence of human rights abuses, the occasion of John Negroponte’s confirmation hearings for the Director of National Intelligence post might be a good time for a debate on the merits and legality of a “Salvador option” program for Iraq specifically, and more generally, to underscore the need to uphold democratic principles as a vital and integral strategy in the struggle against terrorism.

1) Mark Glassman, “Bush Names Iraq Envoy as Nation’s 1st Intelligence Chief,” New York Times, 17 February 2005.

2) Michael Hirsh and John Barry, “The Salvador Option,” MSNBC/Newsweek, 14 January 2005.

3) Mark Danner, “The Truth of El Mozote,” The New Yorker, 6 December 1993.

4) David Corn, “Negroponte’s Sins…On Film,” The Nation, 2 March 2005.

5) Miguel D’Escoto, “A Nicaraguan Priest Remembers the CIA's Contra War: Reagan was the Butcher of My People,” “Democracy Now!” syndicated radio/TV program, printed in, 9 June 2004.

6) Jim Lobe, “Congress Ignores ‘Dirty War’ Past of New Iraq Envoy”, Inter Press Service, 30 April 2004, printed in, 3 March 2005.

7) Toni Solo, “John Negroponte: Dorian Gray goes to Iraq,” Znet, 3 May 2004.

8) Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson, “A carefully crafted deception,”, 18 June 1995.

9) Ibid.

10) Ibid.

Bush's budget reflects new low in moral values

Beth Quinn
February 14, 2005

"Budgets are moral documents, revealing our true priorities."
– Jim Wallis, "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It"

We liberals have screwed up.

You know how? We've allowed the debate about moral values to be defined by the Religious Right.

By their definition, there are only two moral issues: abortion and gay marriage. All other aspects of our society – poverty, health care, war, the environment – have been left out of the discussion.

They shouldn't be. They are all moral issues, as Jim Wallis points out in his book "God's Politics," a must-read for us all. We might even discover common ground through this brilliant theologian.

If we expand the debate about morality, as Wallis suggests, we must look at how we spend money. How is our morality reflected in our spending priorities?

Examined in that light, Bush's proposed budget is one of the most immoral documents ever produced in our nation's history. It bolsters greed even as it cuts off help for the poor, the sick, the disabled, our school children, our veterans and our elderly.

Consider the following items in Bush's budget:

A cut in food stamps for the poor by $1.1 billion over the next decade, which means hunger. Allowing people to be hungry is immoral.

The elimination of school funding in areas like gifted and talented programs, vocational education, literacy and anti-drug efforts. That's bad public policy, and it makes a lie of No Child Left Behind. Immoral.

A 50 percent cut in the rental assistance program for people with disabilities. Sorry. Letting the crippled and blind go homeless is immoral.

A freeze on funds for veterans' health care despite rising costs and the newly wounded. Breaking promises to our soldiers is immoral.

A $60 billion cut in Medicaid for the poor, which means one of two things – sick people without care or higher local taxes to offset Bush's cuts. Immoral.

A reduction of $80 million in heating subsidies for the poor, which means cold people. A lot of them are elderly. That means old, cold people. Meanwhile, the oil barons are jacking up oil prices. Immoral.

There's also the extra $81 billion Bush is planning to spend this year on his war. That's not even in the budget. It's "extra."

I'm no math genius, but I do know that when I spend money that's not part of my budget, I have to put it on a credit card. That's called a debt – or maybe it's a deficit. I don't know the difference, but it all sounds like "owing money to someone else."

And if I drop dead carrying a huge debt, I'll just be passing a major IOU on to my boys. That's immoral. I want to leave them with an inheritance, not a debt.

And I want to leave them well-tended property, not a run-down mess. Bush's plan to slash funds for the Environmental Protection Agency creates garbage for our kids to clean up. Immoral.

And then there's the moral values kicker: Greed.

At the same time Bush is turning his back on the poor, he's asking Congress to make permanent his tax breaks for the rich. The old lady in the unheated apartment next door might be eating dog food and cutting her blood pressure pills in half, but by God the multimillionaires deserve a break. They've got pools to heat, vacations to take and champagne to drink.

In the Bible, caring for the poor is the most important moral (and political) issue. Individuals as well as entire cultures are judged by how well they take care of those who can't take care of themselves. By that measure, America was once a very moral society.

Not any more. The weird, uptight Religious Right has hijacked the moral values issue, narrowing the debate to gay sex and unwanted pregnancies. And their president has hijacked the treasury for a spending plan that reflects corrupt morals and incomplete values.

It's time for the rest of us to redefine the debate.