Saturday, December 31, 2005


Celebrate the New Year with a Bit of Humour from JibJab--At Bushie's Expense, of Course! CLICK HERE!

The Unknown Candidate wishes you all a most Happy New Year!

Please accept my sincere gratitude for your support and encouragement over the last four months. I hope to see you all back here in 2006! -- rockin' and rollin' and ready to shake up the status quo and make the world a better place -- healthier, more compassionate, and more peaceful -- for each and every one of us!

Friday, December 30, 2005

The World According to Bush:

Breaking the Law is Legal! And Trampling
the Constitution is Protecting Democracy!

Bushco's Latest "New Rule":
Convince Americans that I, Sir Bushie, can break any law I want whenever I want, and stomp all over the constitution, individual privacy rights (or any other rights), and Executive branch Judicial and Congressional oversight --as long as I think it is necessary to protect Americans in the ongoing and going and going and never stopping War on Terror. what's the difference between that and a dictatorship?

And, uh, King George, since you are steadily eliminating all of our Constitutional rights and destroying our democracy at home, why the heck do we need to establish a "democracy" in Iraq?

What's the point? Bring the troops home!

Related articles:

t r u t h o u t - Jason Leopold | Bush-NSA Spying in Defiance of Congress, Court - NSA inadvertently uses banned 'cookies'

Molly Ivins - Creators Syndicate

Defense Lawyers in Terror Cases Plan Challenges Over Spy Efforts - New York Times

Oh, and one more thing, Sir Chickenhawk, if you are so intent on protecting us, why in blue blazes did you allow Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax to be set free?! How does that fit into your super nifty Iraqi war strategy? Huh?

See Robert Sheer's report: Truthdig - Reports - Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax Set Free
Why is it not bigger news that those infamous Iraqi female scientists once routinely referred to in the media as “Dr. Germ” and “Mrs. Anthrax” have been quietly released from imprisonment in Iraq without any charges being brought by their U.S. captors? Don’t the newspapers and TV networks that all but pre-convicted them of crimes against humanity owe them - and us - the courtesy of an explanation for the sudden presumption of their innocence?"

Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005

OK, so it ain't David Letterman and it sure ain't funny. But here it is anyway: a summary of Juan Cole's Top 10 Myths about Iraq in 2005.

1. The guerrilla war is being waged only in four provinces.
2. Iraqi Sunnis voting in the December 15 election is a sign that they are being drawn into the political process and might give up the armed insurgency.
3. The guerrillas are winning the war against US forces.
4. Iraqis are grateful for the US presence and want US forces there to help them build their country.
5. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran in 1930, is close to the Iranian regime in Tehran.
6. There is a silent majority of middle class, secular-minded Iraqis who reject religious fundamentalism.
7. The new Iraqi constitution is a victory for Western, liberal values in the Middle East.
8. Iraq is already in a civil war, so it does not matter if the US simply withdraws precipitately, since the situation is as bad as it can get.
9. The US can buy off the Iraqis now supporting guerrilla action against US troops.
10. The Bush administration wanted free elections in Iraq.

Read the detailed account here:
Top Ten Myths about Iraq in 2005
By Juan Cole
Information Clearing House

Juan Cole is Professor of History at one of my alma maters, The University of Michigan.

Photo: Juan Cole (

2005: One Heck of a Year.

Paul Krugman reflects on corruption, gullible Americans, lies, hypocrisies, lack of journalistic oversight, and so many more of the wonders of 2005.

Pretty obvious stuff, granted.

"Happens every day."

"Par for the course."

And that's exactly what makes it so scary.

Because, obvious or not, we're beginning to take this kind of stuff for granted. We're getting so inured to Bushco's abuses that nothing shocks us anymore.

And once we lose our ability to be shocked, it's over--they've won. At that point they will have succeeded in wearing us down and conditioning us to accept their "New World Order" while we, like it or not, have calmly and apathetically allowed it to happen.

Every one of us who takes a defeatest attitude or chooses to ignore Bushco's multiple and continuous abuses of power is complicit in the resulting shredding of our constitutional rights and destruction of our democracy.

Just remember one thing as the new year unfolds: If we give up and fail to fight--they are guaranteed to win.
Heck of a Job, Bushie
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

A year ago, everyone expected President Bush to get his way on Social Security. Pundits warned Democrats that they were making a big political mistake by opposing plans to divert payroll taxes into private accounts.

A year ago, everyone thought Congress would make Mr. Bush's tax cuts permanent, in spite of projections showing that doing so would lead to budget deficits as far as the eye can see. But Congress hasn't acted, and most of the cuts are still scheduled to expire by the end of 2010.

A year ago, Mr. Bush made many Americans feel safe, because they believed that he would be decisive and effective in an emergency. But Mr. Bush was apparently oblivious to the first major domestic emergency since 9/11. According to Newsweek, aides to Mr. Bush finally decided, days after Hurricane Katrina struck, that they had to show him a DVD of TV newscasts to get him to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

A year ago, before "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" became a national punch line, the rising tide of cronyism in government agencies and the rapid replacement of competent professionals with unqualified political appointees attracted hardly any national attention.

A year ago, hardly anyone outside Washington had heard of Jack Abramoff, and Tom DeLay's position as House majority leader seemed unassailable.

A year ago, Dick Cheney, who repeatedly cited discredited evidence linking Saddam to 9/11, and promised that invading Americans would be welcomed as liberators - although he hadn't yet declared that the Iraq insurgency was in its "last throes" - was widely admired for his "gravitas."

A year ago, Howard Dean - who was among the very few prominent figures to question Colin Powell's prewar presentation to the United Nations, and who warned, while hawks were still celebrating the fall of Baghdad, that the occupation of Iraq would be much more difficult than the initial invasion - was considered flaky and unsound.

A year ago, it was clear that before the Iraq war, the administration suppressed information suggesting that Iraq was not, in fact, trying to build nuclear weapons. Yet few people in Washington or in the news media were willing to say that the nation was deliberately misled into war until polls showed that most Americans already believed it.

A year ago, the Washington establishment treated Ayad Allawi as if he were Nelson Mandela. Mr. Allawi's triumphant tour of Washington, back in September 2004, provided a crucial boost to the Bush-Cheney campaign. So did his claim that the insurgents were "desperate." But Mr. Allawi turned out to be another Ahmad Chalabi, a hero of Washington conference rooms and cocktail parties who had few supporters where it mattered, in Iraq.

A year ago, when everyone respectable agreed that we must "stay the course," only a handful of war critics suggested that the U.S. presence in Iraq might be making the violence worse, not better. It would have been hard to imagine the top U.S. commander in Iraq saying, as Gen. George Casey recently did, that a smaller foreign force is better "because it doesn't feed the notion of occupation."

A year ago, Mr. Bush hadn't yet openly reneged on Scott McClellan's 2003 pledge that "if anyone in this administration was involved" in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity, that person "would no longer be in this administration." Of course, some suspect that Mr. Bush has always known who was involved.

A year ago, we didn't know that Mr. Bush was lying, or at least being deceptive, when he said at an April 2004 event promoting the Patriot Act that "a wiretap requires a court order. ...When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

A year ago, most Americans thought Mr. Bush was honest.

A year ago, we didn't know for sure that almost all the politicians and pundits who thundered, during the Lewinsky affair, that even the president isn't above the law have changed their minds. But now we know when it comes to presidents who break the law, it's O.K. if you're a Republican.
PHOTO: Paul Krugman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Bush's Brain: Spinning to New Lows for the New Year

Karl Rove resurfaces with more of the same "campaign style" sleaze tactics for the new year. Strategizing about how to reverse Bush's political free fall, younger aides admirably urged more candor about setbacks in the Iraq war.

The resulting strategy was a schizophrenic mixture of shifting tones and a balancing act between Rovian below-the-belt attacks on war critics and a "humbler assessment" of Iraq progress, or lack thereof.

Could it be that Rove is losing some of his brainiac power over Bush? Or maybe just some of his brain cells?

The resulting mish-mash strategy worked to the extent that it boosted Bush's dismal polls ratings by a few points and reversed the downward spiral. But, from an administration point of view, the polls are far from pretty and Bushco's worries are far from over.

Burn out of top aids seems to be another problem, with Andrew Card rumoured to want out. Rove, still under the microscope of Fitzgerald's Plamegate, has a questionable future.

The real problem is, it's all a sham. It's all just a "strategy"-- an ad campaign--designed to change minds about a man and a neo-fascist policy that haven't changed and have no plans to change.

To a population raised on advertising, it seems a good number of us are sufficiently brainwashed into believing the BS propagated by unethical marketers. Bush is basically one big infomercial--promising us the world and delivering nothing.

In the real world, once you waste your money on the advertised cosmetic promising to "give you a face lift without surgery" or the exercise equipment promising to tone your whole body in 10 days -- you won't be fooled again.

Or will you?

Guess we'll have to wait until the next poll results to see.


Read more: Bush Team Rethinks Its Plan for Recovery - Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei - Washington Post

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Propaganda: The War on News

When it comes to governing and communications, I always thought "impropriety" or "the appearance of impropriety" was just as bad as breaking the law -- ethically speaking -- especially when it involves our country's leaders.

Ooops. Silly me.
An internal review finds that efforts aimed at the Balkans, in northern Africa, break no laws. But a defense official says they might backfire.
Washington - US military websites that pay journalists to write articles and commentary supporting military activities in Europe and Africa do not violate US law or Pentagon policies, a review by the Pentagon's chief investigator has concluded. But a senior Defense Department official said this week that the websites could still be shut down to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Read more here: Pentagon's Pro-US Websites Probed - Mark Mazzzetti - Los Angeles Times (Truthout)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

TAKE ACTION: Emergency Campaign to Stop Alito

Planned Parenthood has launched an emergency campaign to stop President Bush's nomination of ultraconservative Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. He poses a danger to women's health and safety, individual rights, and he's the wrong choice for America.

We urgently need at least 100,000 people to contact their senators and express their opposition to Alito. Senate hearings on Alito's nomination start in a few weeks, so now is the time to send a strong message to our leaders before they make their decision.

More than 55,000 people have already taken action -- more than halfway to our goal -- but we need more. So I hope you'll join me and urge your senators to oppose his confirmation at the link below:

Take Action: Emergency Campaign to Stop Alito

Read more about this issue here: Why Courts Matter

And here: Truthdig - Uncovered - The Alito Nomination

Who Will Fill The Political Void?

The Republican Crack-Up
By David Moberg
In These Times

"Democrats should note that the primary prescription for 'bootstrapping' victory over Republican distortions of the electoral system is a stronger labor movement. Indeed, the fundamental problem, more than a weakened center, is that the Democrats have not devised a political response to the class warfare Republicans wage on behalf of the rich and the corporations. It is not an impossible task: On most counts, large majorities of Americans would be with them, if, like Dorothy's companions on the road to Oz, they only had enough courage, heart and brains."

Read Moberg's article here.

Spies R US

As James Bramford delves into the dark underbelly of the NSA, he reminds us that in 2002, TIA (Total Information Awareness), the predecessor to the current data mining spy program, was shut down by the Pentagon after it was revealed by the press, inciting considerable public protest, and it's architect, John Poindexter, eventually left the government.

My, my, how times change after 3 more years of BushCo brain-washing....

NSA, the Agency That Could Be Big Brother
By James Bamford
New York Times & t r u t h o u t

After he was briefed on President Bush's secret operation in 2003, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney.

"As I reflected on the meeting today and the future we face," he wrote, "John Poindexter's TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance."

Senator Rockefeller sounds a lot like Senator Frank Church.

"I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge," Senator Church said. "I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

Twas the night before Christmas and all Through Iraq...

Planes dropped their "gifts" and never looked back.

The children were terrified under their beds
While visions of air raids danced through their heads.

The bombs were relentless until the first light,
when finally, finally, the planes flew out of sight--

Merry Christmas, Iraq, and to all a good night.
Once again, the press neglected to report the news that most needed to be reported this Christmas:

Eyewitnesses described scores of civilians killed by ever increasing US airstrikes--airstrikes that fail to discriminate between the good, the bad and the innocent--but arrive just in time for the holidays.

Now wasn't that oh so Christian of us?

U.S. Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post

Military Confirms Surge in Airstrikes
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post

We seem to be training Iraqi soldiers not to secure their infant democracy, but, rather, to ensure a very bloody civil war:

"Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan."

Not quite according to plan, huh, BushCo?

Read the article here: Kurds in Iraqi Army Proclaim Loyalty to Militia

Bush the Liberal?

David Corn, in this week's 'Nation', discusses the lastest BushCo hypocrisy:

The Bush administration has always professed to believe in a narrow, "strict constructionist" interpretation of the law--at least when it comes to selecting judges.

Yet they become incredibly liberal when it comes to claiming existing laws grant Bush king-like powers, such as snooping on Americans without a warrant.

You can read Corn's article here.

Secrets, Shadows and Vice

Vice Axes That 70's Show
By Maureen Dowd
New York Times

We start the new year with the same old fear: Dick Cheney.

The vice president, who believes in unwarranted, unlimited snooping, is so pathologically secretive that if you use Google Earth's database to see his official residence, the view is scrambled and obscured. You can view satellite photos of the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol - but not of the Lord of the Underworld's lair.

Vice is literally a shadow president. He's obsessive about privacy - but, unfortunately, only his own.

Google Earth users alerted The Times to this latest bit of Cheney concealment after a front-page story last week about the international fears inspired by free Google software that features detailed displays of things like government and military sites around the world.

"For a brief period," they reported, "photos of the White House and adjacent buildings that the United States Geological Survey provided to Google Earth showed up with certain details obscured." So Google replaced those images with unaltered photographs taken by a private company.

Even though the story did not mention the Cheney residence - and even though it's not near the White House - The Times ran a clarifying correction yesterday that said, "The view of the vice president's residence in Washington remains obscured."

Fitting, since Vice has turned America into a camera obscura, a dark chamber with a lens that turns things upside down.

Guys argue that women tend to stew and hold grudges more, sometimes popping up to blow the whistle on a man's bad behavior years later, like a missile out of the night, as Alan Simpson said of Anita Hill.

Yet look at Cheney and Rummy. Their steroid-infused power grabs stem from their years stewing in the Ford White House, a time when they felt emasculated because they were stripped of prerogatives.

Rummy, a Ford chief of staff who became defense secretary, and his protégé, Cheney, who succeeded him as chief of staff, felt diminished by the post-Watergate laws and reforms that reduced the executive branch's ability to be secretive and unilateral, tilting power back toward Congress.

The 70's were also a heady period for the press, which reached the zenith of its power when it swayed public opinion on Vietnam and exposed Watergate. Reporters got greater access to government secrets with a stronger Freedom of Information Act.

Chenrummy thought the press was running amok, that leaks should be plugged and that Congress was snatching power that rightfully belonged to the White House.

So these two crusty pals spent 30 years dreaming of inflating the deflated presidential muscularity. Cheney christened himself vice president and brought in Rummy for the most ridiculously pumped-up presidency ever. All this was fine with W., whose family motto is: "We know best. Trust us."

The two regents turned back the clock to the Nixon era, bringing back presidential excesses like wiretapping along with presidential power. As attorney general, John Ashcroft clamped down on the Freedom of Information Act. For two years, the Pentagon has been sitting on a request from The Times's Jeff Gerth to cough up a secret 500-page document prepared by Halliburton on what to do with Iraq's oil industry - a plan it wrote several months before the invasion of Iraq, and before it got a no-bid contract to implement the plan (and overbill the U.S.). Very convenient.

Defending warrantless wiretapping last week, the vice president spoke of his distaste for the erosion of presidential authority in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam.

"I do believe that, especially in the day and age we live in, the nature of the threats we face, it was true during the cold war, as well as I think what is true now, the president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national security policy," he intoned. Translation: Back off, Congress and the press.

Checks, balances, warrants, civil liberties - they're all so 20th century. Historians must now regard the light transitional tenure of Gerald Ford as the petri dish of this darkly transformational presidency.

Consider this: when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, supported by President Ford, pushed a plan to have the government help develop alternative sources of energy and reduce our dependence on oil and Saudi Arabia, guess who helped scotch it?

Dick Cheney. Then and now, the man is a menace.

PHOTO: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)
For a different take on a similar perspective, read Jonathan Schell's excellent article in the Nation:

The Hidden State Steps Forward
By Jonathan Schell
The Nation

"The Administration of George W. Bush is not a dictatorship, but it does manifest the characteristics of one in embryonic form. Until recently, these were developing and growing in the twilight world of secrecy."

Monday, December 26, 2005

Medicine: Who Decides?

In his latest column, discussing America's health care crisis, Paul Krugman reasons that if costs are to be controlled, someone has to referee doctor's decisions. But who can most effectively do so--the private sector (for profit corporations or individuals) or the public sector (the government)? His conclusion, with which I whole heartily agree, won't surprise those familiar with Krugman's philosophy.

Medicine: Who Decides?
By Paul Krugman
New York Times

Health care seems to be heading back to the top of the political agenda, and not a moment too soon. Employer-based health insurance is unraveling, Medicaid is under severe pressure, and vast Medicare costs loom on the horizon. Something must be done.

But to get health reform right, we'll have to overcome wrongheaded ideas as well as powerful special interests. For decades we've been lectured on the evils of big government and the glories of the private sector. Yet health reform is a job for the public sector, which already pays most of the bills directly or indirectly and sooner or later will have to make key decisions about medical treatment.

That's the conclusion of an important new study from the Brookings Institution, "Can We Say No?" I'll write more about that study another time, but for now let me give my own take on the issue.

Consider what happens when a new drug or other therapy becomes available. Let's assume that the new therapy is more effective in some cases than existing therapies - that is, it isn't just a me-too drug that duplicates what we already have - but that the advantage isn't overwhelming. On the other hand, it's a lot more expensive than current treatments. Who decides whether patients receive the new therapy?

We've traditionally relied on doctors to make such decisions. But the rise of medical technology means that there are far more ways to spend money on health care than there were in the past. This makes so-called "flat of the curve" medicine, in which doctors call for every procedure that might be of medical benefit, increasingly expensive.

Moreover, the high-technology nature of modern medical spending has given rise to a powerful medical-industrial complex that seeks to influence doctors' decisions. Let's hope that extreme cases like the one reported in The Times a few months ago, in which surgeons systematically used the devices of companies that paid them consulting fees, are exceptions. Still, the drug companies in particular spend more marketing their products to doctors than they do developing those products in the first place. They wouldn't do that if doctors were immune to persuasion.

So if costs are to be controlled, someone has to act as a referee on doctors' medical decisions. During the 1990's it seemed, briefly, as if private H.M.O.'s could play that role. But then there was a public backlash. It turns out that even in America, with its faith in the free market, people don't trust for-profit corporations to make decisions about their health.

Despite the failure of the attempt to control costs with H.M.O.'s, conservatives continue to believe that the magic of the private sector will provide the answer. (There must be a pony in there somewhere.) Their latest big idea is health savings accounts, which are supposed to induce "cost sharing" - that is, individuals will rely less on insurance, pay a larger share of their medical costs out of pocket and make their own decisions about care.

In practice, the health savings accounts created by the 2003 Medicare law will serve primarily as tax shelters for the wealthy. But let's put justified cynicism about Bush administration policies aside: is giving individuals responsibility for their own health spending really the answer to rising costs? No.

For one thing, insurance will always cover the really big expenses. We're not going to have a system in which people pay for heart surgery out of their health savings accounts and save money by choosing cheaper procedures. And that's not an unfair example. The Brookings study puts it this way: "Most health costs are incurred by a small proportion of the population whose expenses greatly exceed plausible limits on out-of-pocket spending."

Moreover, it's neither fair nor realistic to expect ordinary citizens to have enough medical expertise to make life-or-death decisions about their own treatment. A well-known experiment with alternative health insurance schemes, carried out by the RAND Corporation, found that when individuals pay a higher share of medical costs out of pocket, they cut back on necessary as well as unnecessary health spending.

So cost-sharing, like H.M.O.'s, is a detour from real health care reform. Eventually, we'll have to accept the fact that there's no magic in the private sector, and that health care - including the decision about what treatment is provided - is a public responsibility.

PHOTO: Paul Krugman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related articles (subscription required):

OPENERS: REFRESH BUTTON; Bouncing Back After a Hard Fall - The Archive - The New York Times

ON THE CONTRARY; The Hidden Price Tag For Health Care - The Archive - The New York Times

New Medicare Drug Plan Is Raising Difficult Issues For Nursing Home Patients - The Archive - The New York Times

AT LUNCH WITH: BARRY S. LEVY; All the World's a Stage (Even the Operating Room) - The Archive - The New York Times

A New Civil Rights Movement

Bob Herbert, in his latest New York Times column, calls for a "new Civil Rights Movement" to address issues of value and behavior within America's black community. He proposes, as a first step, "a summit meeting of wise and dedicated men and women willing to think about creative new ways to approach such problems as crime and violence, out-of-wedlock births, drug and alcohol abuse, irresponsible sexual behavior, misogyny, and so on."

These issues, of course, are by no means exclusive to the black community. They are societal problems which must be addressed by the broader society.

I would therefore propose a similar call to the rest of America, with Herbert's same "first step" summit meeting composed of "wise and dedicated men and women willing to think about creative new ways to approach our broader society issues" including all of those previously mentioned, as well as a thorough appraisal of our overall societal values and their affect on each of these issues.

I applaud Herbert for focusing attention on the problems of black Americans and asking the black community to take some responsibility for solving those problems. However, we are all responsible for helping to create these problems and we all, as a nation, need to take responsibility to solve them.

We need more out-of-the-box thinking, conversation, and ideas from all sectors of our society in order solve the myriad of problems America faces today. And we need to start by acting as one nation, one people, working together to solve problems--instead individual political factions fighting eternally and bitterly for their own selfish interests. We need to fight the deviseness of the current Bush administration politics by coming together -- with or without our politicians' help -- to begin to solve the problems ourselves.

A New Civil Rights Movement
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times

One of the cruelest aspects of slavery was the way it wrenched apart black families, separating husbands from wives and children from their parents.

It is ironic, to say the least, that now, nearly a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation, much of the most devastating damage to black families, and especially black children, is self-inflicted.

You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that some of the most serious problems facing blacks in the United States - from poverty to incarceration rates to death at an early age - are linked in varying degrees to behavioral issues and the corrosion of black family life, especially the absence of fathers.

Another devastating aspect of slavery was the numbing ignorance that often resulted from the prohibition against the education of slaves. It was against the law in most instances for slaves to even learn to read. Now, with education widely (though imperfectly) available, we have entire legions of black youngsters turning their backs on school, choosing instead to wallow in a self-imposed ignorance that in the long run is as destructive as a bullet to the brain.

I remember interviewing a 17-year-old dropout in Brooklyn who had already fathered two children by two different girls. He wasn't working and he wasn't helping to support either child. I asked if he had considered going back to school. He looked at me, puzzled. "For what?" he said.

Most black people are not poor. Most are not criminals. Most are leading productive lives. The black middle class is larger and more successful than ever. But there are millions who are still out in the cold, caught in a cycle of poverty, ignorance, illness and violence that is taking a horrendous toll.

Nearly a third of black men in their 20's have criminal records, and 8 percent of all black men between the ages of 25 and 29 are behind bars.

H.I.V. and AIDS have literally become the black plague. Although blacks are just 13 percent of the overall population, they account for more than half of all new H.I.V. infections. Black women account for an astonishing 72 percent of all new cases among women.

This is frightening.

Black children routinely get a rough start in life. Two-thirds of them are born out of wedlock, and nearly half of all black children brought up in a single-parent household are poor. Those kids are much more likely to drop out of school, struggle economically, be initiators or victims of violence, and endure a variety of serious health problems.

We can pretend that these terrible things are not happening, but they are. There's a crisis in the black community, and it won't do to place all of the blame on society and government.

I've spent years writing about unfairness and appalling injustices. Society is unfair and racism is still a rampant evil. But much of the suffering in black America could be alleviated by changes in behavior. What's more, those behavioral changes would empower the community in ways that would make it easier to successfully confront opponents in government and push the society in a more equitable direction.

The problems facing black people today are comparable in magnitude to those of the Jim Crow era of the 20th century. There were leaders in those days who were equal to the challenge.

I believe that nothing short of a new movement, comparable in scope and dedication to that of the civil rights era, is required to bring about the changes in values and behavior needed to halt the self-destruction that is consuming so many black lives. The crucial question is whether the leadership exists to mount such an effort.

A good first step would be a summit meeting of wise and dedicated men and women willing to think about creative new ways to approach such problems as crime and violence, out-of-wedlock births, drug and alcohol abuse, irresponsible sexual behavior, misogyny, and so on.

Addressing issues of values and behavior within the black community should not in any way imply a lessening of the pressure on the broader society to meet its legal and ethical obligations. It should be seen as an essential counterpoint to that pressure.

Most important, it should be seen as a crucial component of the obligation that black adults have to create a broadly nurturing environment in which succeeding generations of black children can survive and thrive.

Despite the sometimes valiant efforts of individuals and organizations across the country, we are not meeting that obligation now. And that's because there's a vacuum where our leadership should be.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas! The "War" is Over--At Least For This Year.

As Christmas ends, and with it, the so-called 2005 War on Christmas, Frank Rich puts the whole rediculous conflict to bed, without visions of sugar plums, but with a twinkle of insight into the cynical hypocracies of those who lit the war's fires and fanned the flames for their own rather un-Christian, devisive ends.

I Saw Jackie Mason Kissing Santa Claus
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

THE good news today is that the great 2005 war on Christmas, the conflagration that launched a thousand op-ed pieces and nearly as many battles on Fox News, is now officially over. And yes, Virginia - Christmas won!

Secularists, Jews, mainline Protestants and all the other grinches failed utterly to take Kriss Kringle down. Except at those megachurches that canceled services today rather than impede their flocks' giving and gorging, Christmas is alive and well everywhere in America. Last night NBC even rolled the dice and broadcast "It's a Wonderful Life" in prime time. With courage reminiscent of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's defiance of Stalin, the network steadfastly refused to redub the final scene's cries of "Merry Christmas!" with the godless "Happy holidays!"

As Michelle Goldberg wrote last month in her definitive debunking for Salon, there was in fact no war on Christmas, but rather "a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas." Most of the grievances cited by Christmas's whiniest protectors - red and green banned from residents' wardrobes in Michigan, "Silent Night" censored in Wisconsin - were either anomalous idiocies or suburban legends. The calls for boycotts against chain stores with heathen holiday trees lost their zing when it turned out that even George and Laura Bush's Christmas card had called for a happy "holiday season."

But like every other chapter of irrational hysteria in America's cultural history, from the burning of "witches" in colonial Salem to the panic induced by Orson Welles's radio broadcast of the fictional "War of the Worlds" on the eve of World War II, the fake war on Christmas was not without its hidden meanings. Or not so hidden. If you worked at Fox News, wouldn't you want to change the subject from the war in Iraq to a war in which victory is a slam-dunk?

Rabble-rousing paranoia about a supposed assault on Christmas also has a strong anti-Semitic and far-right pedigree. In Salon, Ms. Goldberg noted that fulmination about supposed Jewish opposition to Christmas dates to Henry Ford's infamous "The International Jew" of 1921. That chord is sounded in the very first anecdote in the book by the Fox News anchor John Gibson, "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought": a devastated father discovers that his 4-year-old son has brought home preschool artwork showing a Hanukkah menorah and Kwanzaa candles, rather than a Christmas tree. But Mr. Gibson goes on to add ecumenically that "not just Jewish people" are out to kill Christmas. As he elucidated on Christian radio, all non-Christians are "following the wrong religion," though he reassures us that they will be tolerated "as long as they're civil and behave."

Even so, much of this manufactured war was more banal than malicious. Like Christmas itself, an anti-Christmas scare is an ideal means for moving merchandise. The first Fox News segment warning darkly of a war on Christmas occurred on Oct. 20 - coincidentally the very day that Mr. Gibson's book hit the nation's bookstores. Many of the five dozen ensuing Fox segments contained lavish plugs for the book or for the Christmas baubles hawked by Bill O'Reilly on his Web site - no yuletide loofahs, alas. (His wares were initially listed as "holiday" gifts until a Web exposé forced a frantic rebranding.) Even Fox News's obligatory show Jew - Jackie Mason, ostensibly representing an organization called Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation - seized the mercantile opportunity, using the "war on Christmas" to plug a stand-up booking on Long Island.

But to fully parse the war-on-Christmas myth, it helps to examine it in the larger context of what "The Daily Show" would call This Year in God. Though religion has always been a fulcrum of culture wars in America, its debased role in that debate has fallen to new lows of lunacy since Election Day 2004. That's when a single vague exit poll found that 22 percent of Americans considered undefined "moral values" in casting their ballots. Ever since, politicians of both parties, Fox News anchors and any other huckster eager to sell goods, an agenda or an image have increased the decibel level of their pandering to "people of faith."

An ersatz war on Christmas fits all too snugly into a year that began with the religious right's (unsuccessful) efforts to destroy the box office and Oscar prospects of Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" and "save" Terri Schiavo and that ended with a federal judge banishing intelligent design from high school biology classes. In his sweeping 139-page opinion, that judge, John Jones III, put his finger on the hypocrisy of many of those most ostentatiously defending faith from its alleged assailants in America. Referring to the fundamentalists on the Dover, Pa., school board, he wrote that it was "ironic" that those who "so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the intelligent design policy." That passage fits much of the dishonesty and cynicism perpetrated in the name of religion in America over the past 12 months.

This was the year that two C.E.O.'s charged with wholesale corporate fraud, Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom and Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth, both made a show of public prayer to ward off legal culpability. In Mr. Scrushy's case, the strategy worked. Faced with the prospect of life in prison and the forfeiture of $279 million, he quit his suburban Birmingham, Ala., church to join a largely blue-collar African-American congregation more in keeping with his potential jury pool, secured his own ordination as a nondenominational minister, and bought local TV time for a prayer show featuring himself, his third wife and various members of the clergy. The jury acquitted him on all 36 felony counts.

"God is good," he proclaimed after his victory news conference. To which one can only add: amen.

A no less unctuous spectacle was provided this year by Bill Frist, the Senate's majority leader and self-infatuated doctor-in-residence. Mr. Frist played God on national television by giving a quack diagnosis of Ms. Schiavo's condition based on a videotape, and then endorsed a so-called Justice Sunday megachurch rally demonizing "activist" judges - including, no doubt, any who may yet pass on the legality of his brilliantly timed stock sales. Though the senator's farcical behavior is worthy of Molière, he is hardly unique among his peers with presidential aspirations. Chastened by a perceived "moral values" deficit that might haunt her in 2008, Hillary Clinton now wears her history as "a praying person" on her sleeve. In June John Kerry told a gathering that he "went back and read the New Testament the other day" - which presumably will prevent him from erroneously citing Job as his favorite New Testament text, as Howard Dean did in 2004.

Liberals have a lot to learn about the God racket, however. The right is masterly at exploiting religion and religious (or quasi-religious) leaders for its own fun and profit. Just look at how a few phone calls from Karl Rove flimflammed Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family into serving as a useful idiot in support of the Harriet Miers nomination long after most other conservative leaders had bailed out.

THE more we learned about the scandals enveloping Tom DeLay and his favorite lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, this year, the more we learned of how Mr. Abramoff, the founder of a now defunct Washington yeshiva and two defunct kosher restaurants, manipulated a trinity of Billy Sundays to do his bidding: the Christian Coalition's former executive director, Ralph Reed, the Traditional Values Coalition's Rev. Louis Sheldon (dubbed "Lucky Louie" by Mr. Abramoff) and Dr. Dobson. Though all three are vocal opponents of gambling, they were each recruited for stealth campaigns for the lobbyist's casino and lottery clients. The campaigns were disguised as "anti-gambling" crusades (often because they were in opposition to casinos competing with Abramoff clients), and these pious gentlemen, Lucky Louie included, have denied any knowledge that they were trafficking in the wages of sin. If they're actually telling the truth, they are even bigger dupes than Mr. Abramoff took them for.

To those who fear the worst from a born-again president whose base is typified by these holy rollers and the Christmas demagogues of Fox News, a fundamentalist theocracy seems as imminent in America as it does in the "democracy" we've been building in Iraq. Only last week did Ted Haggard, an evangelical preacher much favored by the White House, fan those fears by insisting to a Jewish television interviewer, Barbara Walters, that anyone who worshiped a different God from Jesus Christ would "unfortunately" be consigned to hell.

But it's also possible that 2005 may turn out to be the year the God card was so wildly overplayed in politics and commerce alike that it began to lose its clout with Americans who are overdosing on the strict speech and belief codes of Christian political correctness. That the judge who ruled so decisively in Pennsylvania's revival of the Scopes trial is a Republican appointed by President Bush is almost enough to make the bah-humbug crowd believe in Santa Claus.

PHOTO: Frank Rich. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas: Made in China

Santa's Chinese elves
By Pallavi Aiyar
Asia Times

"BEIJING - While Santa Claus lives it up with Rudolph at the North Pole, his elves have relocated to southern China's towns and villages.

Some 70% of the world's Christmas ornaments and other paraphernalia now originate in officially atheist mainland China. Tinsel, Santas, mistletoe and artificial trees of every shape and hue are churned out at a relentless pace by thousands of factory workers in Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces.

According to the China General Administration of customs, Guangdong on its own exported more than US$620 million worth of Christmas products in 2004. For the country as a whole, the figure was over $1 billion.

Even the White House now celebrates a "Made in China" Christmas. In 2003, seven of the trees adorning the US president's residence were manufactured in China. In fact more than two-thirds of the world's artificial Christmas trees are made in the single city of Shenzhen...."

Read more.

The bonfire of the inanities

The bonfire of the inanities
By Barry Crimmins
The Boston Phoenix

"For 2005, my annual task of reviewing the past year has been complicated by an old adage: oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Here I sit, tangled in a web that many people began weaving way back when the Gipper was protecting us against deadly pollutants released by old-growth forests. It was a jumble out there this year �one that defies linear documentation."

The Great Diplomat: Bolton threatens U.S. funding for U.N.

Bolton threatens U.S. funding for U.N.

"WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said the United States should withhold U.N.-member dues if reform isn`t made to his liking.

The U.S. dues make up 22 percent of the U.N. budget.

Bolton is pushing for a number of changes in the world body including giving more power to the secretary general, which developing nations see as a power grab, the Boston Globe reports...."


Letter From a Military Mom: Domestic Spying & Incident of Intimidation of Military Families

"Read Robin's letter. Write her. Give her your support--what has been done to her and the other mothers in her group cannot go unanswered! This will only get worse the longer we delay in taking this nation back from the crooks, thugs in whose hands it now is in. Too many Iraqi's; too many of our own; just too many, period have been killed and maimed already! Now moms are being threatened...what next? (Definitely a rhetorical question)

Robin's letter came to me thru VAIW (Veterans Against the Iraq War). I have since exchanged a couple of emails with Robin and phone calls, and plan on helping her get this story out--read her letter and join me. -- Jack Dalton "

Excerpt of Robin's Letter:

"It's simply amazing that my son and others risk their lives for ”Freedom" in Iraq, when his own mother's civil liberties are threatened, and families are intimidated into silence, by the very same Army he is serving. I am hoping after reading this you may direct me as to where I can at least have this concern heard."

I URGE YOU, if you read nothing else on this blog, read this. Then write to Robin and give her your support--in any way you can. It is the LEAST you can do.

Your can reach Robin Vaughan at the following email address:

U.S. Planning to Attack Iran?

Is the U.S. planning to attack Iran sometime after the first of the year? Stranger things have happened. It's highly speculative, but, none-the-less, plausible. (Note: the translation of the article below is not the best. If you read German, go directly to the source by clicking on the link "Der Spiegel" below.)

Speculations over US attack against Iran
By Jürgen Gottschlich
Der Spiegel

"Are the USA planning a rocket attack against targets in Iran? In secret discussions Washington was preparing the Allies for appropriate air strikes in 2006, agencies disclosed today. Especially in the NATO country Turkey, speculations about an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities are taking place." Read more.

Related Articles:

Russia to honor Iran arms deal despite US objection

• Haaretz - Israel News - Moscow formally offers to move Tehran s enrichment program to Russia

NSA-Spying Worse Than White House Claims

As usual, when it comes to W's abuse of power, it's worse than we thought. Current and former government officials tell us that the volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, authorized by President Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged.

Worse yet, "it was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries."

So it seems your friendly American telecommunications company to which many of you pay your hard earned dollars for their services every month, are cooperating with the government to spy on their own customers.

I can hear the new ad campaign now: "Reach out and Tap someone."

The New York Times reports "Since the disclosure last week of the N.S.A.'s domestic surveillance program, President Bush and his senior aides have stressed that his executive order allowing eavesdropping without warrants was limited to the monitoring of international phone and e-mail communications involving people with known links to Al Qaeda.

What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.


Historically, the American intelligence community has had close relationships with many communications and computer firms and related technical industries. But the N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational capability, according to current and former government officials.

Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be significant. 'If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data,' he said."

PHOTO: (Doug Mills/Associated Press) In 2002, President Bush toured the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., with Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was then the agency's director and is now a full general and the principal deputy director of national intelligence.

See Article: Spy Agency Mined Vast Data Trove, Officials Report - Eric Lichtblau and James Risen - New York Times

Related Articles:

Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts - New York Times

Congress Never Authorized Spying Effort, Daschle Says - New York Times

Daschle: Congress Denied Bush War Powers in U.S.

t r u t h o u t - Michael Scherer | Crypto Man After reporting on America's spying operations for 25 years, James Bamford is speaking out against Bush's FISA runaround. He says the wiretapping is illegal.

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Double rebuke for Bush as judges attack terror moves President George Bush faced a rare challenge from the judiciary yesterday when two courts questioned the legality of his expansion of presidential powers in the war on terror.

Judges on Surveillance Court To Be Briefed on Spy Program Some of the judges said they are particularly concerned that information gleaned from the president's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to gain authorized wiretaps from their court.

Alito Memo in '84 Favored Immunity for Top Officials - New York Times

Wiretaps said to sift all overseas contacts - The Boston Globe

Specter Wants Jan. Surveillance Hearings - New York Times


Looks like Britain is going the way of Bushco ... in it's own special way ....

See Britain will be first country to monitor every car journey - by Steve Connor

Bush's False Choices

Bush's False Choices
By Ellen Goodman
The Boston Globe

"So it comes down to September 11, 2001. Again. The president has drawn a great dividing line through the country, separating his supporters from his critics. Again.


It's as if the administration were waving a sampler embroidered with that old saying: If you are keeping your head while all about you are losing theirs, perhaps you don't know the seriousness of the situation.

We have been handed yet another in an endless series of false choices. Those who don't blindly trust the president are dismissed as amnesia victims. Americans who don't connect the dots from 9/11 to Iraq or spying or torture are cast as actors living in a foolish, fearless, fantasy world. Indeed, 9/11 was the day the president became the commander in chief. The words he often repeats were spoken to him by a rescue worker at the World Trade Center: ''Whatever it takes.'


...[G]radually, 9/11 became the all-purpose excuse for . . . whatever it takes. The war in Iraq was conflated with the war on terror, and preemptive strikes were launched against weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist.


Those who criticize the commander in chief wonder if he is the one who's forgotten 9/11. Has he forgotten when the country was united? Has he forgotten when the world was on our side? Has he forgotten that we were the good guys?

As for fear? My generation grew up under the threat of a mushroom cloud. [...] We have no false sense of security in this dangerous world. Nor do we embrace the equally false belief that curtailing liberty automatically makes us safer. We have seen how the promise of protection becomes a protection racket.

''Whatever it takes" does not mean ''whatever the president says it takes." It does not mean becoming our own worst enemies. It does not mean approving torture or domestic spying. And it most certainly does not mean watching silently as a commander in chief takes on the uniform of a generalissimo.

Who owns September 11? The White House has built its own memorial and raised a stiff price of admission. It only allows in those who agree with the president. But the memory and meaning of 9/11 do not belong to any partisan. It's common ground waiting to be recaptured. Whatever it takes."

A Shah With a Turban

I am not a fan, generally speaking, of Thomas Friedman or his point of view. In his latest column, however, I make somewhat of an exception. Friedman cautions W that he had better start dealing with reality when it comes to our dependence on oil, "because three more years of $60-a-barrel oil will undermine everything good in the world that the U.S. wants to do."

What exactly "good in the world" W wants to do is, of course, highly questionable, and could easily be replaced with "evil in the world" ... but I'll let that pass for now.

The point is, good or evil intentions aside, our foreign policy--and the resulting wars and bad will--is based largely on W & Co.'s attempts to control the world's oil supplies and line the pockets of their corporate oil buddies--at our expense.

Long term, the solution has to be alternative energy sources--if for no other reason than eventually we will run out of the stuff, and, until then, no one will be able to afford to purchase it anyway.

Not to mention, eventually we will be unable to breath for all the pollution we have created.

Today, I received my monthly heating bill, and it is 50% more than last year (Merry Xmas!), even though I have set my thermostat far lower than in previous years. I'm far from poor, but it is definitely going to be a struggle to pay this month's bill (almost $800 vs. my highest heating bill ever (and winter has just started!) of around $400 (when temperatures were well below zero for extended periods of time, as opposed to this month's temperatures averaging around 25 degrees).

I can only imagine how many people will freeze to death this winter because of an inability to pay their gas bill.

In America, the richest country in the world, you can't get much more disgraceful than that.

A Shah With a Turban
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times

I'd like to thank Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his observation that the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews was just a "myth." You just don't see world leaders expressing themselves so honestly anymore - not about the Holocaust, but about their own anti-Semitism and the real character of their regimes.

But since Iran's president has raised the subject of "myths," why stop with the Holocaust? Let's talk about Iran. Let's start with the myth that Iran is an Islamic "democracy" and that Ahmadinejad was democratically elected.

Sure he was elected - after all the Iranian reformers had their newspapers shut down, and parties and candidates were banned by the unelected clerics who really run the show in Tehran. Sorry, Ahmadinejad, they don't serve steak at vegetarian restaurants, they don't allow bikinis at nudist colonies, and they don't call it "democracy" when you ban your most popular rivals from running. So you are nothing more than a shah with a turban and a few crooked ballot boxes sprinkled around.

And speaking of myths, here's another one: that Iran's clerics have any popularity with the broad cross-section of Iranian youth.

This week, Ahmadinejad exposed that myth himself when he banned all Western music on Iran's state radio and TV stations. Whenever a regime has to ban certain music or literature, it means it has lost its hold on its young people. It can't trust them to make the "right" judgments on their own. The state must do it for them. If Ahmadinejad's vision for Iran is so compelling, why does he have to ban Beethoven and the Beatles?

And before we leave this subject of myths, let me add one more: the myth that anyone would pay a whit of attention to the bigoted slurs of Iran's president if his country were not sitting on a dome of oil and gas. Iran has an energetic and educated population, but the ability of Iranians to innovate and realize their full potential has been stunted ever since the Iranian revolution. Iran's most famous exports today, other than oil, are carpets and pistachios - the same as they were in 1979, when the clerics took over.

Sad. Iran's youth are as talented as young Indians and Chinese, but they have no chance to show it. Iran has been reduced to selling its natural resources to India and China - so Chinese and Indian youth can invent the future, while Iran's young people are trapped in the past.

No wonder Ahmadinejad, like some court jester, tries to distract young Iranians from his failings by bellowing anti-Jewish diatribes and banning rock 'n' roll.

What is a fact is the danger someone like Ahmadinejad would pose if his country developed a nuclear weapon. But that is where things are heading. Iran today has so much oil money to sprinkle around Europe, it doesn't worry for a second that the Europeans would ever impose real sanctions on Tehran for refusing to open its nuclear program.

"The West has lost its leverage," notes Gal Luft, an energy expert at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. Europe is addicted to Iran's oil and to Iran's purchases of European goods. At the same time, the Iranian regime has been very clever at petro-diplomacy.

After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, "the Iranians knew they needed an insurance policy," Mr. Luft added, "So they did two things: they concentrated on developing a bomb and went out and struck gas deals with one-third of humanity - India and China," the world's two fastest-growing energy consumers. So it is highly unlikely that China would ever allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran.

The whole world seems to be getting bought off these days by oil. Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, just became chairman of a Russian-German gas pipeline project - controlled by the Russian government - that he championed while in office. The man just stepped down as the leader of Germany and now he's working for the Russians! I guess Jack Abramoff was not available.

The word from the White House is that President Bush is trying to figure out a theme for his State of the Union speech and for his next three years. Mr. President, what more has to happen - how many more Katrinas, how much more reckless behavior by Iran, how many more allies bought off by petro-dollars - before you realize that there is only one thing to do for the next three years: lead America and the world in an all-out push to conserve energy, reduce dependence on oil and develop alternatives?

Because three more years of $60-a-barrel oil will undermine everything good in the world that the U.S. wants to do - and that's no myth.

PHOTO: Thomas L. Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related Articles:

Democracy's High Price - Washington Post

And the Saga on Arctic Oil Drilling Continues - Juliet Eilperin - Washington Post

Hey, W., It's Safe! Read This.

Maureen gives W a Christmas gift. She's not writing this Christmas Eve column--her conservative brother, Kevin, is. So Bush gets a reprieve, and we get...well, Kevin--and another brilliant satire.

Hey, W., It's Safe! Read This.
By Maureen Dowd
New York Times

As a Christmas present for our president, who's been going through a rough time lately, I'm not writing the column this Christmas Eve.

In keeping with a holiday tradition I began last year, I'm giving the space to my conservative brother, Kevin, who delights in turning the Gray Lady a vivid shade of red.

I asked Kevin, a salesman and father of three boys who lives in a Maryland suburb of Washington, to write you, dear readers, a letter with his thoughts on the year. You will find his meditation a refreshing, or regrettable, change from me, depending on your perspective. Here it is, unexpurgated:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Maybe it was the extended absence from the stern Franciscan nuns at Nativity grade school. But more likely it was the decorations, the songs, the movies like "A Christmas Carol" and "Miracle on 34th Street," that filled people with an unbridled joy and an unusual generosity of spirit. Christmas has generally been celebrated as both a secular and religious holiday in this country. Recently, the P.C. police have decided that the word Christ carries an unbearable religious aura, so they are working hard to strike the word entirely for the more generic Holiday. The battle for the soul of Christmas has heated up.

So first, I'd like to give a big thank you to Speaker Hastert for ordering the renamed Holiday tree to revert to its original title of Christmas tree. And why not? We do not decorate the tree for Easter or the Fourth of July. It is a Christmas tree.

We live in a country of 295 million people. Eighty percent of them are affiliated with religions. Ten percent don't believe anything at all. Who the hell does Christmas offend?

Go back two generations and you will find the real diversity that made our country the greatest in the world. Immigrants brought their customs with them and were accepted. We were taught by our parents to respect the customs and religious beliefs of other people. Let's reach around and give P.C. a swat, like an annoying child in the back seat of a long trip, before Santa and St. Patrick are casualties of war.

My mother hated political correctness. "In my day," she'd say, "people respected each other and minded their own business." Still good advice.

To the P.C. Elites: The founding fathers guaranteed Freedom OF Religion, not Freedom FROM Religion. Please go away, you are making my hair hurt.

To Target: You better check the sales and profit numbers that are CHRISTMAS related before you ban the word.

To Michael Moore, Rob Reiner, Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin: When did you get back?

To MSNBC: Susan Estrich, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Lanny Davis.

To Hillary: A hearty welcome to the Republican Party.

To Bill O'Reilly: Thank you for dragging the P.C. crowd into the open. Maybe they will learn that America doesn't want to be de-Godded.

To Maureen: Of course Men are Necessary; who else could write this column?

To Jesse Jackson, Sean Penn, Snoop Dog, Susan and Tim: Tookie Williams KILLED four people. Community service does not seem enough.

To Judge Jones of Pennsylvania: No Intelligent Design? You are going to be hoping for a Big Bang if St. Peter is checking ID's.

To President Bush: Stay the Course. The same people that are calling for troop withdrawal were under their beds on 9/12/01 screaming "Kill the Infidels!" Let's fight them there instead of here and bring our troops home with honor as soon as possible.

To my Mom: Thanks for teaching your children to love Christmas as much as you did.

In the 1950's, my mother used to take Maureen and me to the sloping hill outside the Church of the Nativity. There, workers had assembled a giant stable, complete with figures at least four feet high, on a bed of real straw. Driving north on 13th Street, you could see the floodlit display four blocks away. We stood and admired that display with our Jewish and Protestant neighbors. No one seemed offended. Across the top was an angel, holding a sign that said, "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men." Let's save that.

So, my friends, let me wish all of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Blessed Kwanzaa, Feliz Navidad and to all the rest of you: Have a nice day!


PHOTO: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Leak probe not seen to end with Rove, lawyers say

Leak probe not seen to end with Rove, lawyers say
By Jason Leopold
The Raw Story

"Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is not expected to shut down his investigation into the leak of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson when he finishes his inquiry of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove's role in the leak, lawyers close to the probe said." Read more.


Congress plays Scrooge with the Budget

Scrooge is alive and well and living in Washington. It's icy clear that the priorities of our one party government are no longer consistent with those of most Americans: "The U.S. House adjourned for the year after approving a $453 billion Department of Defense budget for fiscal 2006 and $39.7 billion in spending cuts over five years to benefit programs such as Medicaid and student loans...."

Paul Krugman's latest New York Times piece discusses this very issue and the lack of fiscal wisdom evidenced by Bah Humbug Bush budget policies:

The Tax-Cut Zombies
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

If you want someone to play Scrooge just before Christmas, Dick Cheney is your man. On Wednesday Mr. Cheney, acting as president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of legislation that increases the fees charged to Medicaid recipients, lets states cut Medicaid benefits, reduces enforcement funds for child support, and more.

For all its cruelty, however, the legislation will make only a tiny dent in the budget deficit: the cuts total about $8 billion a year, or one-third of 1 percent of total federal spending.

So ended 2005, the year that killed any remaining rationale for continuing tax cuts. But the hunger for tax cuts refuses to die.

Since the 1970's, conservatives have used two theories to justify cutting taxes. One theory, supply-side economics, has always been hokum for the yokels. Conservative insiders adopted the supply-siders as mascots because they were useful to the cause, but never took them seriously.

The insiders' theory - what we might call the true tax-cut theory - was memorably described by David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's budget director, as "starving the beast." Proponents of this theory argue that conservatives should seek tax cuts not because they won't create budget deficits, but because they will. Starve-the-beasters believe that budget deficits will lead to spending cuts that will eventually achieve their true aim: shrinking the government's role back to what it was under Calvin Coolidge.

True to form, the insiders aren't buying the supply-siders' claim that a partial recovery in federal tax receipts from their plunge between 2000 and 2003 shows that all's well on the fiscal front. (Revenue remains lower, and the federal budget deeper in deficit, than anyone expected a few years ago.) Instead, conservative heavyweights are using the budget deficit to call for cuts in key government programs.

For example, in 2001 Alan Greenspan urged Congress to cut taxes to avoid running an excessively large budget surplus. Now he issues dire warnings about "fiscal instability." But rather than urging Congress to reverse the tax cuts he helped sell, he talks of the need to cut future Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Yet at this point starve-the-beast theory looks as silly as supply-side economics. Although a disciplined conservative movement has controlled Congress and the White House for five years - and presided over record deficits - public opposition has prevented any significant cuts in the big social-insurance programs that dominate domestic spending.

In fact, two years ago the Bush administration actually pushed through a major expansion in Medicare. True, the prescription drug bill clearly wasn't written by liberals. To a significant extent it's a giveaway to drug companies rather than a benefit for retirees. But all that corporate welfare makes the program more expensive, not less.

Conservative intellectuals had high hopes that this year President Bush would make up for this betrayal of their doctrine by dealing a death blow to Social Security as we know it. Indeed, he tried. His proposed "reform" would, over time, have essentially phased out the program. And he seemed to have everything going for him: momentum from an election victory, control of Congress and a highly sympathetic punditocracy. Yet the drive for privatization quickly degenerated from a juggernaut into a farce.

Medicaid, whose recipients are less likely to vote than the average person getting Social Security or Medicare, is the softest target among major federal social-insurance programs. But even members of Congress, it seems, have consciences. (Well, some of them.) It took intense arm-twisting from the Republican leadership, and that tie-breaking vote by Mr. Cheney, to ram through even modest cuts in aid to the neediest.

In other words, the starve-the-beast theory - like missile defense - has been tested under the most favorable possible circumstances, and failed. So there is no longer any coherent justification for further tax cuts.

Yet the cuts go on. In fact, even as Congressional leaders struggled to pass a tiny package of mean-spirited spending cuts, they pushed forward with a much larger package of tax cuts. The benefits of those cuts, as always, will go disproportionately to the wealthy.

Here's how I see it: Republicans have turned into tax-cut zombies. They can't remember why they originally wanted to cut taxes, they can't explain how they plan to make up for the lost revenue, and they don't care. Instead, they just keep shambling forward, always hungry for more.

PHOTO: Paul Krugman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Alito Argued to Overturn Roe in 1985 Memo

It's official. Samuel Alito is no friend to free choice--or most other civil rights for that matter.

I urge anyone who values choice and the rights of citizens over government and corporations to write their congressmen and women and tell them not to support Alito for Supreme Court justice.

If we don't make our voices heard in large numbers, we will end up with a lifetime appointed judge who will threaten our liberties for years to come.

Nothing is more important than this: Call and write your representatives now.

Can't view this card? Or want more information: Click Here

Related Stories:
Alito Argued to Overturn Roe in 1985 Memo - t r u t h o u t
Alito Defended Officials From Wiretap Suits By Donna Cassata, The Washington Post

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Just in time for the holidays, your very own Fitzmas Tree to decorate as you see "Fitz" with ornaments
for all the Bush officials you'd like to see investigated or indicted in the CIA Leak Scandal!


Bush's Imperial Offense

Bush's Impeachable Offense
By Michelle Goldberg & t r u t h o u t

"Yes, the president committed a federal crime by wiretapping Americans, say constitutional scholars, former intelligence officers and politicians. What's missing is the political will to impeach him."
Where's the Outrage?
By Arlene Getz

"Bush’s defense of his phone-spying program has disturbing echoes of arguments once used by South Africa’s apartheid regime. Why Americans should examine the parallels."
At Last, 'Impeachment' Talk Appears in Media

'Impeachment' Talk, Pro and Con, Appears in Media at Last
Editor & Publisher

"Suddenly this week, scattered outposts in the media have started mentioning the “I” word, or at least the “IO” phrase: impeach or impeachable offense. The sudden outbreak of anger or candor - or, some might say, foolishness - has been sparked by the uproar over revelations of a White House approved domestic spying program, with some conservatives joining in the shouting."

Abramoff: Deal to Squeal?

Lobbyist Nears Terms on Plea Deal
By Anne E. Kornblut
The New York Times

The word in Washington is that Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under indictment for fraud, is near completion of a plea agreement which could set the stage fro him to become a crucial witness against "at least a dozen lawmakers and their former staff members."

Abuse of Power: Erosion of our Liberties and Rights

On wiretapping, Bush isn't listening to the Constitution
By Edward M. Kennedy
The Boston Globe

"THE PRESIDENT is not above the law; he is not King George. Yet, with sorrow, we are now learning that in this great land we have an administration that has refused to follow well-crafted, longstanding procedures that require the president to get a court order before spying on people within the United States. With outrage, we learn that this administration believes that it does not have to follow the law of the land."
The Freewheeling Executive
By Aziz Huq

"The administration seems to believe Congress has signed off on an "anything goes" approach to counterterrorism."
Terror agency operates in U.S.

"The Pentagon's newest counterterrorism agency, is carrying out intelligence collection, analysis and operations within the United States and abroad, according to a Pentagon fact sheet on the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, provided to The Washington Post."
All Eyes On You: How Spy Chips Are Quietly Reshaping Privacy
By Martin H. Bosworth

"You may not realize it, but that pack of disposable razors you just bought can enable you to be tracked wherever you go. Same with that discount card you used to buy the razors in the first place."
Congressional Perks: How the Trappings of Office Trap Taxpayers
NTUF Policy Paper 131
By Peter J. Sepp

"Since the founding of the Republic, Americans have had a healthy skepticism of the concentration of power. The Framers of the Constitution established a system they hoped would prevent not only the disproportionate accumulation of influence in one branch of government, but also the disproportionate accumulation of privilege.

Today, Members of the United States Congress enjoy a vast web of perquisites that benefit them personally as well as professionally...."
Harold Pinter, John Le Carré And The Media

"The most effective way to control people is to control their assumptions about the world. The task of propaganda is to apply power-friendly labels and make them stick - it is the key to everything."
On Hill, Anger and Calls for Hearings Greet News of Stateside Surveillance
By Dan Eggen and Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Congressional leaders of both parties called for hearings and issued condemnations yesterday in the wake of reports that President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 allowing the National Security Agency to spy on hundreds of U.S. citizens and other residents without court-approved warrants."
Bush: I refused to discuss it BEFORE I discussed it.


Bush Declines to Discuss Report on Eavesdropping
By Christine Hauser
The New York Times

President Bush said today that he would not discuss ongoing intelligence operations in the United States, after a report in The New York Times said he secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States.

"We do not discuss ongoing intelligence operations to protect the country, and the reason why is that there's an enemy that lurks, that would like to know exactly what we're trying to do to stop them," Mr. Bush said in an interview to be broadcast this evening on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer."


President Acknowledges Approving Secretive Eavesdropping
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer

"President Bush said yesterday that he secretly ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans with suspected ties to terrorists because it was 'critical to saving American lives' and 'consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution.'"

Bush Vows to Continue Spying on Americans
The Associated Press

Reacting to Bush's vow to continue spying on Americans, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said the president's remarks were "breathtaking in how extreme they were." Feingold said it was "absurd" that Bush said he relied on his inherent power as president to authorize the wiretaps. "If that's true, he doesn't need the Patriot Act because he can just make it up as he goes along. I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush."

Washington - President Bush said Saturday he has no intention of stopping his personal authorizations of a post-Sept. 11 secret eavesdropping program in the US, lashing out at those involved in revealing it while defending it as crucial to preventing future attacks.
Bush's Fumbles Spur New Talk of Oversight on Hill
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer

"After a series of embarrassing disclosures, Congress is reconsidering its relatively lenient oversight of the Bush administration."
Pushing the Limits Of Wartime Powers
By Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post

"In his four-year campaign against al Qaeda, President Bush has turned the U.S. national security apparatus inward to secretly collect information on American citizens on a scale unmatched since the intelligence reforms of the 1970s."
This Call May Be Monitored ...
New York Times

"After 9/11, says The New York Times, Americans expected some reasonable and carefully measured trade-offs between security and civil liberties. They trusted their elected leaders to follow long-established democratic and legal principles and to make any changes in the light of day. But President Bush had other ideas. He secretly and recklessly expanded the government's powers in dangerous and unnecessary ways that eroded civil liberties and may also have violated the law."
Violating the Constitution
By Karen Kwiatkowski
t r u t h o u t Editorial

Retired USAF lieutenant colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who spent two years at NSA headquartes, discusses the fact that President Bush signed an executive order that allegedly allowed the collection and operational intelligence use of international telephone or electronic mail conversations, even if one or more participants were Americans. She says many questions must be asked and answered, including the most important one: "Is it right?"

NEWS: Iraq & The War on Terror

VIDEO SPECIAL | Dahr Jamail: Reporting on Iraq

A Film By Sari Gelzer
t r u t h o u t - MultiMedia

Dahr Jamail shares the stories of Iraqi civilians he interviewed while spending 8 months in occupied-Iraq as an independent journalist. Through his reports of torture, and a healthcare system that is being impeded by American troops, Dahr reveals the urgency for withdrawal from Iraq.
Iraq: Game Over
By Robert Dreyfuss

"The victory of the Shiite religious bloc means the big winner in the Iraqi elections is Iran. Next stop: civil war."
Chomsky on Terror and Iraq

"Author and activist Noam Chomsky joined Amsterdam Forum this week and took questions from listeners from around the world on Iraq and the War on Terror."
McCain says some torture justified
The Seattle Times

"WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, who pushed the White House to support a ban on torture, suggested Sunday that harsh treatment of a terrorism suspect who knew of an imminent attack would not violate international standards."
US sets Saddam's scientists free
BBC NEWS | World | Middle East |

"Eight former aides to Saddam Hussein - including two women accused of making biological weapons - have been released from US custody in Iraq.

The freed detainees no longer pose a security threat, a US spokesman said.

They include Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, nicknamed by the US 'Mrs Anthrax' and Rihab Taha, also known as 'Dr Germ'."
Iraq fuel price hike sparks protests
By Sinan Salaheddin
Associated Press

"Violent demonstrations broke out across Iraq and the oil minister threatened to resign Monday after the government raised the prices of gasoline and cooking fuel by up to nine times."
Bush Administration Remains Detached From Reality.
By Juan Cole

"The history of guerrilla insurgencies is replete with groups that simulaneously fought on both the political and paramilitary fronts. Listen to how angry the Sunni politicians are, as they speak out in the wake of the elections, both at Bush and at the Shiites, and you get a sense of how detached the Bush administration remains from reality."
Want a real picture of Iraq today? Here's the inside perspective.
MUST READ, but, Warning--View Discretion Advised:

Articles from inside Iraq
Behind the Steel Curtain: The Real Face of the Occupation

Dirty Means, Genocide and Mass Destruction

"'I just want to know why, I want a justification” Modhhir began, “the bombing began on Nov 5, loud speakers were saying stay at home, do not move out, and we did. 15 minutes later the bombing began. They did not announce evacuation. We had no chance to leave. On Nov 7, we heard that our uncle’s house was bombed. We could not go to check; we went to the nearest American troops and told them. They accompanied us, and this is what we found....'"
Iraqi Letters: Road to Anti-Americanism
A blog from Iraq about Iraq, war, America, occupation, government, democracy, religion, terrorism... and politics.

"I wrote this post with a heavy heart, fully aware of the existence of millions of Americans who do not fit the gloomy picture the post portrays… but sometimes it may be more useful in the long run to face ugly conclusions."
Iraqi Parties Complain of Vote Irregularities
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service

Hey, they're learning democracy from the best, right? Voter fraud? It comes with the territory.