Friday, June 30, 2006

Tierney Touts Tolls

Common sense solutions to our highway doldrums are today's offering from John Tierney in his NY Times op ed. My only real disagreement is with his assertion that should we adopt his reforms, people won't mind paying tolls on previously toll-free Interstates "once they see the cars speeding along in new lanes."

Increasing lanes and tolls at peak times will do little in the way of ameliorating traffic jams and speeding up commute times. Chicago took three years to rebuild and re-configure the Kennedy Expressway some years ago in order to speed the flow of traffic. After making things far worse during the three year construction itself, when it was finally finished motorists were hard pressed to see any significant improvement. Today, things are worse than ever, with longer, more bottlenecked rush hours in all directions.

The fact is, we have too many cars and trucks on the roads to imagine that faster rush hour commutes are any longer a possibility. Only much improved and affordable public transportation can potentially lesson the congestion on the roads.

Life, Liberty and Open Lanes
By John Tierney
The New York Times
You may not be enjoying the roads this weekend, but in Washington we see cause to celebrate. You're not just sitting in a traffic jam. You're part of a national birthday party!

Two score and ten years ago, our forefathers brought forth across this continent the Interstate highway system, which you could call America's pyramids except that the pyramids were so puny. Cheops was a piker next to Dwight Eisenhower, the creator of what is reverently known in Congress as the greatest public works project in history.

Eisenhower's granddaughter and great-grandson came to town this week to fete those 46,000 miles of pavement and to listen to speeches by master builders like Don Young, the Alaska congressman who rules the committee that rules the roads. He didn't mention his most famous achievement in the latest highway bill — the "bridge to nowhere" serving a couple of his constituents — but he did brag about the $286 billion cost of the bill.

"I'll guarantee you next time I'm asking for 600 billion," he said, to ecstatic applause from the bureaucrats and highway contractors in the audience. And there, in that one moment of pure pork-barrel bliss, you could see where Eisenhower went wrong — and why you're stuck in traffic today.

The great debate in planning the system was, of course, how to pay for it. Roads had traditionally been a state responsibility, but the feds became more active during the New Deal, when a national system of freeways was drawn up. The planners meticulously calculated that a system of old-fashioned toll roads would never pay for itself because there'd be too little traffic.

A toll road across Pennsylvania, the planners informed Congress in 1939, would attract only 715 cars per day. The next year the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened. It was soon carrying 6,000 cars a day and more than paying for itself, but the federal bias against tolls persisted anyway.

There were good political reasons for Eisenhower to insist that new Interstates be financed by federal gas taxes instead of tolls: drivers have always resented stopping at toll booths, and members of Congress have always enjoyed doling out money. To further win over critics worried about this new federal role, the program was justified on national security grounds (sound familiar?) and named the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

Drivers loved the freeways at first, but then the roads deteriorated and the lanes clogged. Engineers wanted to ease congestion by adding lanes, but they couldn't even afford to maintain the existing roads. The gas tax revenue shrank because of inflation and because Congress began earmarking it for thousands of pet projects: parks, promenades, museums, streetcars and bridges to nowhere.

Some road enthusiasts — and their lobbyists — have never stopped dreaming of new federal money, which explains the applause for Young. But more pragmatic engineers know that Young will never get his $600 billion, and that much of it would be wasted anyhow. They also realize that there's no way to prevent traffic jams unless you charge drivers — like airplane passengers — a premium at busy times.

The best way to help drivers is to abandon the Interstate model and adopt two reforms. One is for states to keep the taxes paid by their drivers instead of sending the money to Washington — an idea that has been endorsed by the conservative caucus in the House as a cure for their colleagues' earmarking mania.

The other is to end the taboo against tolls. The highway of the future is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, only with electronic toll collectors instead of booths. By relying on drivers instead of Congress for money, road builders in congested places like Southern California and Houston have finally been adding lanes. By raising the tolls at peak times, they're making sure that traffic keeps moving even at rush hour.

These changes are still tough to make politically because voters have gotten so used to the old toll-free Interstates. But once they see the cars speeding along in new lanes, their nostalgia tends to fade.

The Interstate system was lovely in its youth, and on its birthday I suppose we should fondly recall those days when the concrete was new and the lanes were clear and the price seemed right. But there is no such thing as a freeway. After 50 years, it's time to pay the toll.

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

W's Heartbreak Hotel

Elvis must be turning over in his grave ... at the sight of the presumed "King" (George) roaming through his mansion with the Japanese Prime Minister in tow, in an awkward attempt to exercise his considerably rusty diplomatic prowess. Oh, to have been a fly, buzzing about the mansion ....

Velvet Elvis Diplomacy
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

Among the newspaper headlines preserved in Elvis's trophy room in Graceland, hanging next to his size-12 white leather shoes and rhinestone-studded gold lamé suit, is this gem from Aug. 12, 1957: "Rock 'n' Roll Banned, 'Hate Elvis' Drive Launched By Iran To Save Its Youth."

Datelined Tehran, the story began: "Rock 'n' roll has been banned in Iran as a threat to civilization. 'This new canker can very easily destroy the roots of our 6,000 years' civilization,' police said, before launching a 'Hate Elvis' campaign."

Half a century ago, Elvis was considered a wiggly threat to Muslim civilization. But yesterday, the president brought the Japanese prime minister to Elvis's gloriously campy time capsule to thank the fanatical Elvis fan for helping push democracy in the Muslim world.

Junichiro Koizumi seemed to be in an ecstatic trance. Standing near the indoor waterfall in the Jungle Room with Priscilla, Lisa Marie, Laura and George looking on, basking in the avocado glow of a 70's shag rug that covered floor and ceiling, the 64-year-old Japanese leader did Thin Elvis air guitar and Fat Elvis karate chops.

He grabbed the King's outsized tinted gold-rimmed glasses and slipped them on, as the curator who had handled them with white gloves watched in alarm. And he gamely sang heavily accented bits of "Love Me Tender," "Can't Help Falling in Love With You," "Fools Rush In," "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," and even let loose with "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" until finally Priscilla Presley called out, "We need a karaoke machine!" He even cast Lisa Marie in the Ann-Margret role in his own fantasy "Viva Las Vegas," pulling her close to croon, "Hold me close, hold me tight."

"It's like a dream," bubbled Mr. Koizumi.

It was hard to remember anyone looking this happy in the gloomy cave of the Bush-Cheney administration, where more time is spent spanking allies than treating them.

Mr. Bush seemed out of his element. It's doubtful that W. had ever seen a round, mirrored, white fake-fur canopy bed before, much less an entire suit made of black faux fur. At one point, the president tried to cut off his overexcited guest from Tokyo, a city that loves its Elvis impersonator bars. But Mr. Koizumi would not be stopped.

Surrounded by monkey ceramics and ersatz cow skulls, W. tried to make a serious point about his road-trip summit, saying the visit was "a way of reminding us about the close friendship between our peoples."

In addition to being a respite from other bad news — getting disciplined by the Supreme Court on Gitmo and getting taunted again by Osama — the Graceland getaway was a triumph in personal diplomacy. That was the specialty of this president's father, who made a career of dragging befuddled world leaders off to baseball games, the Air and Space Museum, and sprints on his boat in Kennebunkport.

Poppy used such jaunts as a lubricant to diplomacy and an inducement to closer, chattier relationships. His less curious, less social son tends to think of personal diplomacy more in terms of rewards and punishments, just another way to give or withhold favors, depending on who is going along with his world view.

Yesterday's pilgrimage may have struck some as too kitschy, given that several youngsters in Memphis have been tragically shot by stray bullets recently. But at least goin' to Graceland was a rare display of expertise in the psychology of diplomacy, an area where this administration has been strangely tone-deaf. W. figured out what the Japanese leader was thinking, what he wanted and what mattered in his culture, and exploited it — unfortunately, waiting until Mr. Koizumi was almost out of office.

Bush officials went out of their way not to do this with Saddam when they failed to consider that he might be hyping his W.M.D. arsenal or toying with U.N. weapons inspectors as a chest-thumping exercise aimed at impressing other Arab leaders. The Bush team also repeatedly squandered chances to talk to the Iranians and the North Koreans, ignoring the ways in which the oddball leaders of those countries might be acting out of insecurity, envy, bluster, one-upsmanship and a desire to be respected — sort of how high school girls might behave if they had nukes.

With his small circle of pals and Iraq war defenders — Mr. Koizumi, Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi — drifting off the world stage, and with allies pulling back troops in Iraq, President Bush may soon be as isolated as Elvis was at the end. For the rest of his term and through history, W.'s Heartbreak Hotel is likely to be located in Baghdad.

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

Ding Dong! The Witch is on Life Support!

No surprise. According to a new poll, Katherine Harris doesn't have much GOP support. Now if I could just click my heels three times and wish Bush back to Crawford....

Photo: U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla. gestures as she speaks to supporters Thursday, July 6, 2006, in the Little Havana section of Miami. Harris, who, is bidding to become the Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat began the South Florida portion of her campaign by speaking at a local restaurant. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Swing Nation: Swing Voters Want Change

And that's good news for America!

A new Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (D) Poll of "swing voters" found the following:
  • It is almost impossible to overestimate the anger of swing voters. 73 percent say the country is on the wrong track, 66 percent disapprove of the performance of George Bush and nearly half (49 percent) strongly disapprove. By nearly a 2:1 margin, voters describe the economy in negative terms; nearly one third struggle to make ends meet.

  • Politically, the swing vote swings against the Republicans. In named trial heats, these swing voters prefer Democratic candidates for Congress 45 - 28 percent over the Republicans; the Senate race, influenced disproportionately by Republican travails in Ohio and Pennsylvania, looks even worse for the incumbent party (53 - 31 percent).

  • Swing voters embrace an agenda that invests more money in new clean energy, affordable health care for all and strengthening education with these investments paid for by eliminating recently passed tax cuts for corporations and people making over $200,000 a year. But swing voters also make plain their concerns about the deficit and government accountability.

It's All in the Family

Cheating the public, bending laws, and exhibiting a disregard for all but a handful of ultra-wealthy Americans seems to be a Bush family trait:

Take a look what Jeb has been up to.

Before You Bash, Get the Facts.

If you haven't learned by now that you can't trust what BushCo says, I can only ask, "What planet have you been living on?"

Recent vicious attacks by the White House against the New York Times are characteristically not what they seem. Rather, they have an anti-democratic, Machiavellian goal: intimidation and control of the Fourth Estate.

Ironically, The NY Times was singled out despite the fact that they are the one newspaper arguably most responsible for helping to sell the Iraq war to the American people. Judith Miller, a NY Times reporter, essentially served as a mouthpiece for the propaganda and lies fed to her by the Bush Cabal, helping to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed an immediate threat to our national security.

The fact is that it was common knowledge that the U.S. was tracking the finances of terrorists, and the NY Times did not put our country in jeopardy by publishing the article on bank-tracking.

So, before any of you blindly and gleefully bash the NY Times for treason, educate yourself, and then ask yourself:
  • "What could be more treasonous than government intimidation of and attempts to control the free press?

  • What could be more treasonous than taking a country to war -- for the first time in our history, attacking a sovereign nation that posed no threat to us -- by manipulating intelligence and lying to the Amrican people?

  • What could be more treasonous than the executive branch of the government trampling on the Constitution and the checks and balances designed to protect our democracy by declaring themselves above the law and not subject to it?"

  • What could be more treasonous than defying American democratic values by condoning torture, thereby putting our own young people serving in the military around the world at grave risk for the same, barbaric, retaliatory treatment?

  • What could be more treasonous than to intentionally--and disingenuously--incite fear in the American people for the sole political purpose of increasing executive powers--at the expense of the freedoms and rights of the American people?
Watch: Keith Olbermann Strikes Back Against NYTimes Bashers

Then get the facts. Read: Top falsehoods about NY Times and Bush bank-tracking program

Related articles:


Today, the spotlight is on you.

What issues are important to you?

What do you want to see discussed in this blog?

What do you want to know about the Unknown Candidate?

Your views are not only appreciated, but encouraged.

Get involved.

We need you.

Post a comment.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

What Color is Your Global Footprint?

Tom Friedman tackles China's growing environmental challenges as the Chinese embark "on a global campaign to amass oil, gas, farms and mining concessions, from Latin America to Africa, with few of the legal, public opinion or peer-pressure constraints of Western firms."

Red China or Green?
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times

NY TimesSelect Non-Subscribers, Click Here. (Thanks once again to The Peking Duck for the reprint.)

Photo credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related Articles:


This isn't me.

You're Invited to Participate in Public Radio Show

I just received the following e-mail and thought I'd share it with you all in the hopes that you might choose to participate:

"Hi known but anonymous,

I'm a producer at Open Source (, a nationally-syndicated public radio show hosted by Chris Lydon.

We're working on a show for tonight about Foreign Policy's Terrorism Index. (Check it out at

Since you've been blogging about the index and covering these issues so exhaustively over on your blog, we'd love to hear from you and your community on the subject. We'll be using comments from our blog thread to shape the show-- we often even bring blog comments on-air, so if the conversation gets you going, please come on down and weigh in.


Greta Pemberton
Blog Producer"
The show airs tonight at 7:00 PM ET. Put on your Thinking Caps and add your two cents. -- TUC

The "Disappeared"

Poof! They're Gone.

Where Are They?

Read Global Spiderweb by Nat Hentoff, a "devastating Council of Europe report on CIA involvement with kidnapping and torture."

One War I Support:

Lieutenant Watada's War Against the War
By Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith
The Nation
"In a remarkable protest from inside the ranks of the military, First Lieut. Ehren Watada has become the Army's first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal. The 28-year-old announced his decision not to obey orders to deploy to Iraq in a video press conference June 7, saying, 'My participation would make me party to war crimes."

Iraqi Insurgents to USA: "Go Home ..."

... and we'll stop all attacks.
"... 11 militant groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks — including those on American troops — if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years."
Gee, I haven't heard much about this on CNN, MSNBC, or FOX News, have you?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Failure of BushCo's War

The U.S. report card on the War on Terror is in. And, not surprisingly, it's abysmal. Experts of all political persuasions overwhelmingly agree on two things:
  • We are not winning the war.
  • The world is becoming a more, not less, dangerous place for Americans.

The Wreckage in the China Shop
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
After all the sound and fury of the past few years, how is the U.S. doing in its fight against terrorism?

Not too well, according to a recent survey of more than 100 highly respected foreign policy and national security experts. The survey, dubbed the "Terrorism Index," was conducted by the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine. The respondents included Republicans and Democrats, moderates, liberals and conservatives.

The survey's findings were striking. A strong, bipartisan consensus emerged on two crucial points: 84 percent of the respondents said the United States was not winning the war on terror, and 86 percent said the world was becoming more — not less — dangerous for Americans.
Read more.

NY TimesSelect non-subscribers read a complete reprint here.

Photo credit: Bob Herbert. (The New York Times)

Declare Your Independence from Politics without Purpose

What better time than July 4th to declare your independence from partisan bickering and polarizing politics.

UNITY 08 will send Congressional leaders from both parties a message that you’re fed up with the paralysis in Washington, D.C by declaring your independence from politics without purpose. We will email the Declaration below and all signatures and comments collected to the Congressional leaders: Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Rep. Denny Hastert (R-Il), Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Add your name and help make history.

Sign the Petition!

"The enemy isn't conservatism. The enemy isn't liberalism. The enemy is bullshit."

Why are the mainstream media so threatened by bloggers?

Read: An open letter to my fellow journalists
By David Neiwert

More Evidence of Class Warfare ...

... elitist lies ... and corporate greed ... all at the expense of -- you guessed it -- the middle class.

It ain't pretty, people. Check it out here.

Take THAT, Michelle Malkin!

To rebut the old-timey anti-freedom posters shamelessly displayed by Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, Project for The Old American Century offers some pro-freedom versions: Propaganda Posters Remixed.

And they encourage you to share and post them widely! (As long as you don't alter the images in any way other than resizing them.)

Take a look; they blow Malkin's efforts away.

Click Here to View Pro-Freedom Posters.

The twisted rants of Ann Coulter

Thanks to Media Matters, for putting together a video that should convince any sane American of any political persuasion that Ann Coulter is either legally insane, possessed by the devil, or simply, one of the most disgusting, despicable, sub-humans ever to walk on the face of this earth.

Click here to watch The Coultergeist spew venom at all those who challenge her hate-filled view of America.

Click here for more conservative misinformation by Ann Coulter.

Court KOs Part of Texas Redistricting

"WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld most of the Republican-boosting Texas congressional map engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay but threw out part, saying some of the new boundaries failed to protect minority voting rights.

The fractured decision was a small victory for Democratic and minority groups who accused Republicans of an unconstitutional power grab in drawing boundaries that booted four Democratic incumbents from office."

Read more.

Illustration credit: MSNBC

Statement of J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center & Counsel for the Texas Congressional Democrats in the Texas Redistricting Lawsuits

"Today’s decision shows this was a challenge worth bringing. The fact that nine Justices filed six different opinions, each with subparts, says a lot about how splintered and difficult these issues were for the Court. Ultimately, justice and fairness is always a goal worth pursuing, and the fact that the Court found the map violated the rights of Latino voters in South Texas shows the fight was worth it.

This case was never about officeholders or incumbents, it wasn’t even about Democrats and Republicans. It was about protecting the voting rights of all Texans, particularly minority voters.

I am disappointed the Court did not find that a mid-decade redistricting done solely for partisan gain was unconstitutional. This case was as extreme example as one could find of raw partisan politics motivating a redistricting. The State admitted it, the lower court found it to be the motive, and yet the Court says today that replacing a perfectly valid map in mid-decade solely for partisan gain is permissible under the Constitution.

This decision opens the floodgates for partisan redistricting. The Court has essentially ceded the field for the judiciary, and state legislatures have largely been given a free hand to do what they will with Congressional districts. Let the redistricting festivals begin. Today’s decision points to the very serious need for meaningful redistricting reform so that independent commissions, and not partisan gerrymandering politicians, get to draw the lines."

AWOL: GI War Resistance in Canada

A Report by Geoffrey Millard and Sari Gelzer
The Department of Defense has recently reported that 8,000 members of the US military are listed as AWOL. Currently 24 war resisters are known to be in Canada trying to establish citizenship, with an estimated several hundred more living there underground. Truthout's Sari Gelzer and Geoffrey Millard report from Buffalo, New York, and Fort Erie, Ontario, to bring you coverage of Peace Has No Borders, an event that brought US attention to political refugees in Canada. Geoffrey Millard interviews war resisters about their decision to refuse deployment to Iraq and seek asylum in Canada.
To view "AWOL: GI War Resistance in Canada", Click here.

It's Time to Impeach Bush--Here's How.

Trouble Viewing the Video? CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

No Sympathy for MoDo

I have more sympathy for the devil than for Dowd's current fluff.

Then again, everyone deserves a break every once in a while from the wacko-world of Dubya. Let's just hope Dowd's vacation from political commentary is a short one.

With Ann Coulter once more foaming at the mouth, we need all the intelligent, fact-based sarcasm and satire we can get--and pronto.

Sympathy for the Devil
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
I considered myself quite a benevolent boss until I learned that my old assistant Marc was secretly slipping Saint-John's-wort into my smoothies in hopes of perking up my mood.

Maybe I just seemed benign compared with a fellow columnist, whose assistant had such a bad panic attack when her boss was due back from vacation that she had to be rushed to the emergency room, where she was surprised to find herself part of an epidemic of palpitating assistants dreading the return of their bosses.

Or maybe I figured I was a peach because I only asked assistants to help select my cellphone ring — 50 Cent's "In Da Club" or the Fox Sunday football theme? — rather than throwing a cell at them while grabbing their throat, biting their lip and head-butting them, Naomi Campbell-style.

Whatever tart remarks I'd made, I was not in a league with David Spade, whose assistant, Skippy, got so agitated that he shot the star — who was playing a snide assistant on "Just Shoot Me" — with a stun gun. (From now on, my first requirement for assistants is that they always show up for work unarmed.)

So, given my relatively angelic self-image, I was surprised, at a screening of "The Devil Wears Prada," to find myself sympathizing with the devil — Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly, the Anna Wintoury editrix of a top fashion magazine who is described as "a notorious sadist, and not in the good way."

Is it so wrong of Miranda to expect her assistant, Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway), to know how to spell Gabbana, reach Donatella and ban freesia? Is it so bad to want help getting a warm rhubarb compote for Michael Kors? Or to have an assistant who knows what an eyelash curler is?

This was, after all, the business they had chosen, as they say in "The Godfather." It might be heresy for Bergdorf blondes and Park Avenue princesses like the Sykes sisters — Plum, Peach or Apricot — but it doesn't matter if my assistant mixes up camisoles and cardigans in conversation, as she has been known to do. Here in the nation's capital, size 6 is not "the new 14," but a cause for celebration; a knowledge of cloture, not cloche, matters; eyelashes attract less attention than earmarks; and red Fox TV is more essential than red fox Fendi.

It's not that I agree with the contention, espoused in the movie, that if the malevolent Miranda were a man, no one would notice anything except how good she was at her job. Certainly, strong women are more easily caricatured as castrating and shrill termagants and harridans. But that doesn't mean that there aren't some powerful women who are bullies, just as there are male bosses who are bullies. The Devil can wear Timberland.

It just seems better, this time, to side with the Wicked Stepmother than the opportunistic Cinderella.

After a high-fashion makeover, Andy — the character based on Lauren Weisberger, the tall, lithe blonde who worked as an assistant to Anna Wintour at Vogue before writing her whiny hiss-and-tell best-seller — decides to reject the high-end porn of the fashion world, where everyone is "one stomach flu away" from their goal weight, and return to her real values.

Unfortunately, this Cinderella's primary value turned out to be voyeurism, profiting by keeping her nose to the glass and poaching off her glamorous former boss's life. The only thing worse than the Devil who wears Prada is a person who profits from the fact that the Devil wears Prada.

Even with a dazzling performance by lovely Meryl Streep, who tucks the picture in her Chanel bag and runs off on her Manolo stilettos with it, "the story is glossy junk begat of just-plain junk," as Lisa Schwarzbaum writes in Entertainment Weekly.

"The Devil Wears Prada" is not "All About Eve." As a friend noted, it's more like Rona Jaffe's "The Best of Everything" with fashion, a fun look at what it's like to be young, servile and breathlessly climbing in Manhattan, dealing with a tough woman for a boss and the struggle not to let your professional ambition supersede your romantic ambition. (Except for Faye Dunaway in "Network," Hollywood de-eroticizes women in power.)

Eve Harrington plotted to be rich and famous by becoming Margo Channing. In this age of media exhibitionism, Lauren Weisberger plotted to be rich and famous by writing about how she didn't want to become Anna Wintour. The enterprise is no less vampiric, second-order cruelty as opposed to first-order cruelty.

Whether Anna and Miranda are sacred monsters, at least they are themselves. It's more admirable to be the beast to which the parasite attaches itself than to be the parasite.

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

The Cry of the Wild

By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
Puerto MALDONADO, Peru

The most memorable thing about the Amazonian rain forest isn't the sights. It's the sounds.

Lying awake at night inside a mosquito net at the Tambopata Research Center in the Peruvian Amazon, you hear a symphony playing in the rain forest outside. It sounds like one of those dissonant pieces of modern music: a cacophony of birds, red howler monkeys, wild pigs, frogs, macaws and insects making bizarre clicks, snorts, croaks, chirps, wails and whistles that sound like car alarms, strange doorbell chimes and an orchestral wind section that has lost its music but is playing on anyway. Occasionally, this symphony gets punctuated by the shrill, desperate scream of a human species, who has just encountered a spider in her toilet.

This Amazon rain forest in southeastern Peru is a largely uninhabited wilderness that is home to some of the planet's most endangered wildlife, and one of the world's largest macaw clay licks — a cliff of red clay, where blue, red and gold macaws flock for a dirt breakfast every morning.

Look down in the rain forest and you might see a hunting wasp stinging a caterpillar and depositing its eggs inside. Or, look up in the verdant canopy and you see the hanging nest of Oro Pendula weaver birds. You will notice, though, that the Oro Pendula have located their nest on a branch right next to a large white wasp's nest. Why? So if any predators try to attack the birds they will also rile the wasps — an ingenious natural security system.

But today it's all endangered by what Tim Killeen, a senior biologist and researcher at Conservation International, identifies as three converging forces: rising commodity prices driven by rapid growth in China, plans by leaders in South America to integrate their infrastructure and highways to create a continental economy — which will spark human migration into areas that are important for biodiversity — and some new climate models that predict that global warming could make the Amazon so hot and dry that within a century it could mutate from a rain forest into a savannah.

If all of these trends converge, argues Dr. Killeen, it will create a "perfect storm of environmental destruction that will degrade one of the last great tropical wilderness areas of the planet."

The danger signs abound: Sailing here up the Rio Tambopata on our riverboat, we saw gold miners using big motorized barges and mercury to dredge and sift — and destroy — riverbanks in search of gold. With global gold prices soaring, the incentives to dredge the Tambopata are enormous. Some of the miners clear forests for camps and hunt rare animals for food.

Meanwhile, the Interoceanic Highway, running from the Atlantic coast of Brazil to the Pacific coast of Peru, appears to be heading for completion. More roads lead to more agriculture, logging, mining and oil and gas extraction, which converts more forests to cropland, which releases more climate-changing greenhouse gases.

"The Peruvian government has good policies, but it doesn't have the means to enforce them, and there is huge corruption," explained Diego Shoobridge, director of ParksWatch Peru. The road from Brazil through Peru already exists, "but now they are going to pave it," he added. "Once it is paved, all kinds of vehicles will come with Andean people, and they don't know the forests."

But protests by do-gooders will not stop these forces. It requires a grand strategy.

"We need to put in place a green infrastructure — a system of parks, territories controlled by indigenous communities, land-use regulations, carbon credits for forest protection and green businesses, like eco-tourism — that will create a powerful green economic counterweight to the global economic forces driving deforestation," argued Glenn Prickett, a senior vice president at Conservation International and one of my traveling companions. (My wife is on the C.I. board.)

Indeed, just as the Oro Pendula learned to leverage the wasps' nest to naturally preserve their home, environmentalists have to leverage the riches of the rain forest to naturally preserve the rain forest. That means creating ways for the locals to thrive off it while also protecting it. But that's hard. It is easy to clear-cut a forest for roads or an oil well. It's hard to develop shade-grown coffee or eco-tourism or a Brazil nut factory or a palm tree oil business. But without profitable eco-friendly business alternatives — to counter the eco-hostile ones — the economic predators of this rain forest will eventually have their day.

Photo credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Anoint the Idiot Already.

Bush Ignores Laws He Signs, Vexing Congress
"The President Has Issued 750 Statements That He May Revise or Disregard Measures."
How much more of this will we Americans take? Are we that cowed by Rovian-induced fears and intimidation?

This guy and his cabal of corruption must go--NOW isn't soon enough.

Yet, today, the House of Representatives are attempting to give Bush even more power, by voting for the Line Item Veto.

Will the Senate do the same?

What will YOU do? Anoint him? Or Impeach him?

Related Articles:

Didn't We Do This Already?

Senate Bars Permanent Bases in Iraq--Again
"...the Senate decision Thursday night, June 22, to reinstate the ban on permanent U.S. military bases and the news from Iraq that the new government [has] a strategy for reconciliation that includes a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops provide us reason for hope."

Who is Responsible for Manipulation of Pre-War Intel?

Lawrence Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell:
In Three Words ... "The Vice President"
Watch the Video.

Keep Your Eye on This Guy

Is he the "Real Deal"?

Photo credit: : Photograph provided by 'Meet the Press,' Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., appears during the taping of 'Meet the Press'' with Tim Russert, right, Sunday, June 25, 2006, at the NBC studios in Washington. (AP Photo/Meet The Press, Alex Wong)

Amnesty, Schmamnesty--Do Something!

Tierney advises "Republicans in the House who want to spend the summer studying immigration" to "consider the big picture: their jobs."

Funny, seems to me their jobs are just about all the Republicans do consider ....

Just Don't Call It Amnesty
By John Tierney
The New York Times

For New York TimesSelect Non-members: Reprint of Tierney's op ed here.

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Contrad/The New York Times)

A Lesson from China?

Nicholas Kristof's daughter was mortified to learn that Shanghai teachers deemed her third-grade homework to be first-grade level at a Shanghai school.

It seems that, despite largely sub-standard Chinese Universities and inadequate education in rural areas of China, "kids in the good schools in Chinese cities are leaving our children in the dust."

Kristof examines in today's NY Times op ed what we can learn from this, culturally and otherwise.

Chinese Medicine for American Schools
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
"... The blunt fact is that many young Chinese in cities like Shanghai or Beijing get a better elementary and high school education than Americans do. That's a reality that should embarrass us and stir us to seek lessons from China...."
For NY TimesSelect Non-Subscribers: Reprint of Kristof's op ed here.

Photo credit: Nicholas D. Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Monday, June 26, 2006

"The Boss" Mocks Ann Coulter

I often think the wrong people are in politics. Springsteen confirms it: listen to the way he handles an interview, and then ask yourself how come Democrats can't be as frank, effective, and to the point?

Show your support. Buy the CD: We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Springsteen Mocks Ann Coulter, TV Pundits
Editor and Publisher
By E&P Staff
Published: June 23, 2006 1:00 PM ET
NEW YORK Appearing on CNN today to promote his current tour and album of Pete Seeger songs, rocker Bruce Springsteen took note of the current controversy surrounding Ann Coulter in responding to a question about whether musicians should speak out on politics.

Springsteen was asked by Soledad O'Brien if getting flak about his political views, such as backing John Kerry in 2004, made him wonder if musicians should try so hard to be taken seriously on topical issues.

"They should let Ann Coulter do it instead?" he mused, with a chuckle. Then he said, "You can turn on the idiots rambling on, on cable television, every night of the week -- and they say musicians shouldn’t speak up? It’s insane, it’s funny," he said, laughing.

He called politics "an organic part of what I’m doing. ... It’s called common sense. I don’t even see it as politics at this point.''

As for the Iraq war, he commented, "You don’t take your country into a major war on circumstantial evidence -- you lose your job for that. That’s my opinion and I don’t have a problem voicing that. Some people have a problem with that, others don’t."

He revealed that some former fans have mailed records back to him.


Hillary: Privacy = Liberty

Senator Clinton Opens 2006 National Convention with Major Policy Address on Privacy
On June 16, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) delivered the opening address of the ACS 2006 National Convention with a major policy address on privacy in which she announced new proposed legislation to address the security of private information. Declaring privacy to be "synonymous with liberty," Senator Clinton called for greater federal protection for personal data from theft or misuse by private commericial actors, as well as greater Congressional and judicial oversight over domestic surveillance and data-mining programs unilaterally crafted by the executive branch.
I'm not a Hillary fan. But equating "privacy" with "liberty" and proposing a "privacy bill of rights" is both good and smart.

Now if she could only make the same leap when it comes to the Iraq war and equate "peace" with "liberty" instead of "peace" with "occupation".

Trading For a Better World

"... a study completed this month by the International Food Policy Research Institute argues that, with two modest changes, the deal on the table in Geneva could bring about greater global economic growth and greater benefits for poor countries.

The United States and Europe oppose these changes. But instead of defending narrow commercial interests at exorbitant expense, they should embrace this opportunity to advance their larger strategic goals of promoting prosperity and stability among the world's poorest nations."

Read more.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Republicans Eroding Democracy

Bank Data Secretly Reviewed by U.S. to Fight Terror
Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the September 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.
House Bill Would Discourage Church-and-State Suits
A bill that supporters say is targeted at the American Civil Liberties Union may undo a law that forces losing defendants to pay plaintiffs' legal fees in cases involving some rights issues. John Hostettler's (R-Indiana) bill is aimed at changing a law passed in the 1970s making it easier for Americans to sue the government over civil-rights violations.
CREW Forces Department of Labor to Release Anti-Union Docs and Emails
Yesterday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released 108 pages of documents it received from the Department of Labor (DOL) in response to a CREW Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. These documents reveal that the DOL has become anti-labor, disseminating anti-union propaganda and developing relationships with anti-union organizations.
Congress May Bestow Unchecked Spying Powers on President
While dozens of lawsuits challenging the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance of Americans slowly move through the courts, the Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to consider legislation that would effectively legalize the practice. Civil-rights advocates and Constitutional-law experts say several proposed bills attempt to "whitewash" executive wrongdoing before Congress has the opportunity to conduct hearings and gather the facts surrounding the National Security Agency's involvement in warrantless wiretapping and telecommunications data mining.
A Look at Republican Priorities: Comforting the Comfortable
The New York Times editors say "bill would put $760 billion in new debt on the backs of Americans in the name of making a handful of extremely rich people even richer. Congressional leaders may know how to count votes, but otherwise their math is pathetic."
A Look at Republican Priorities: Afflicting the Afflicted - New York Times
At the same time that Republicans are fighting to exempt the richest estates from taxes, they are blocking a raise for the nation's poorest workers.
EU and US "Partners in Crime" on CIA Flights: Amnesty International
Amnesty International urged European states on Wednesday to stop being "partners in crime" with the United States over the alleged kidnapping of terrorism suspects and their transfer to countries that use torture. In a report and a letter addressed to EU leaders meeting on Thursday and Friday in Brussels, the human rights groups backed accusations that the US Central lntelligence Agency ran secret transfer flights and that European countries were aware of it.
Custodians of chaos by Kurt Vonnegut
In this extract from his forthcoming memoirs, Kurt Vonnegut is horrified by the hypocrisy in contemporary US politics.
Illustration credit: Robbie Conal. Poster.

Politicking at Our Troops Expense

It's beyond shameful. It's beyond sinful. It's just another day in the Bush regime--a day full of lies, manipulations, and political machinations.

Bob Herbert reminds us all, that as long as BushCo reigns, one must look for the subtext beneath the headlines, the photo-ops, and the sound bites, lest we continue to allow ourselves to be misled by the most destructive, inept, devious, inhumane, and irresponsible regime in American history.

God help us all if we don't pay attention.

Playing Politics With Iraq
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
If hell didn't exist, we'd have to invent it. We'd need a place to send the public officials who are playing politics with the lives of the men and women sent off to fight George W. Bush's calamitous war in Iraq.

The administration and its allies have been mercilessly bashing Democrats who argued that the U.S. should begin developing a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces. Republicans stood up on the Senate floor last week, one after another, to chant like cultists from the Karl Rove playbook: We're tough. You're not. Cut-and-run. Nyah-nyah-nyah!

"Withdrawal is not an option," declared the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, who sounded like an actor trying on personas that ranged from Barry Goldwater to General Patton. "Surrender," said the bellicose Mr. Frist, "is not a solution."

Any talk about bringing home the troops, in the Senate majority leader's view, was "dangerous, reckless and shameless."

But then on Sunday we learned that the president's own point man in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, had fashioned the very thing that ol' blood-and-guts Frist and his C-Span brigade had ranted against: a withdrawal plan.

Are Karl Rove and his liege lord, the bait-and-switch king, trying to have it both ways? You bet. And that ought to be a crime, because there are real lives at stake.

The first significant cut under General Casey's plan, according to an article by Michael Gordon in yesterday's Times, would occur in September. That, of course, would be perfect timing for Republicans campaigning for re-election in November. How's that for a coincidence?

As Mr. Gordon wrote:

"If executed, the plan could have considerable political significance. The first reductions would take place before this fall's Congressional elections, while even bigger cuts might come before the 2008 presidential election."

The general's proposal does not call for a complete withdrawal of American troops, and it makes clear that any withdrawals are contingent on progress in the war (which is going horribly at the moment) and improvements in the quality of the fledgling Iraqi government and its security forces.

The one thing you can be sure of is that the administration will milk as much political advantage as it can from this vague and open-ended proposal. If the election is looking ugly for the G.O.P., a certain number of troops will find themselves waking up stateside instead of in the desert in September and October.

I wonder whether Americans will ever become fed up with the loathsome politicking, the fear-mongering, the dissembling and the gruesome incompetence of this crowd. From the Bush-Rove perspective, General Casey's plan is not a serious strategic proposal. It's a straw in the political wind.

How many casualties will be enough? More than 2,500 American troops who dutifully answered President Bush's call to wage war in Iraq have already perished, and thousands more are struggling in agony with bodies that have been torn or blown apart and psyches that have been permanently wounded.

Has the war been worth their sacrifice?

How many still have to die before we reach a consensus that we've overpaid for Mr. Bush's mad adventure? Will 5,000 American deaths be enough? Ten thousand?

The killing continued unabated last week. Iraq is a sinkhole of destruction, and if Americans could see it close up, the way we saw New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, they would be stupefied.

Americans need to understand that Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq was a strategic blunder of the highest magnitude. It has resulted in mind-boggling levels of bloodshed, chaos and misery in Iraq, and it certainly hasn't made the U.S. any safer.

We've had enough clownish debates on the Senate floor and elsewhere. We've had enough muscle-flexing in the White House and on Capitol Hill by guys who ran and hid when they were young and their country was at war. And it's time to stop using generals and their forces under fire in the field for cheap partisan political purposes.

The question that needs to be answered, honestly and urgently (and without regard to partisan politics), is how best to extricate overstretched American troops — some of them serving their third or fourth tours — from the flaming quicksand of an unwinnable war.

Photo credit: Bob Herbert. (The New York Times)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Road From K Street to Yusufiya

By Frank Rich
The New York Times
AS the remains of two slaughtered American soldiers, Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, were discovered near Yusufiya, Iraq, on Tuesday, a former White House official named David Safavian was convicted in Washington on four charges of lying and obstruction of justice. The three men had something in common: all had enlisted in government service in a time of war. The similarities end there. The difference between Mr. Safavian's kind of public service and that of the soldiers says everything about the disconnect between the government that has sabotaged this war and the brave men and women who have volunteered in good faith to fight it.

Privates Tucker and Menchaca made the ultimate sacrifice. Their bodies were so mutilated that they could be identified only by DNA. Mr. Safavian, by contrast, can be readily identified by smell. His idea of wartime sacrifice overseas was to chew over government business with the Jack Abramoff gang while on a golfing junket in Scotland. But what's most indicative of Mr. Safavian's public service is not his felonies in the Abramoff-Tom DeLay axis of scandal, but his legal activities before his arrest. In his DNA you get a snapshot of the governmental philosophy that has guided the war effort both in Iraq and at home (that would be the Department of Homeland Security) and doomed it to failure.

Mr. Safavian, a former lobbyist, had a hand in federal spending, first as chief of staff of the General Services Administration and then as the White House's chief procurement officer, overseeing a kitty of some $300 billion (plus $62 billion designated for Katrina relief). He arrived to help enforce a Bush management initiative called "competitive sourcing." Simply put, this was a plan to outsource as much of government as possible by forcing federal agencies to compete with private contractors and their K Street lobbyists for huge and lucrative assignments. The initiative's objective, as the C.E.O. administration officially put it, was to deliver "high-quality services to our citizens at the lowest cost."

The result was low-quality services at high cost: the creation of a shadow government of private companies rife with both incompetence and corruption. Last week Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who commissioned the first comprehensive study of Bush administration contracting, revealed that the federal procurement spending supervised for a time by Mr. Safavian had increased by $175 billion between 2000 and 2005. (Halliburton contracts alone, unsurprisingly, went up more than 600 percent.) Nearly 40 cents of every dollar in federal discretionary spending now goes to private companies.

In this favor-driven world of fat contracts awarded to the well-connected, Mr. Safavian was only an aspiring consigliere. He was not powerful enough or in government long enough to do much beyond petty reconnaissance for Mr. Abramoff and his lobbying clients. But the Bush brand of competitive sourcing, with its get-rich-quick schemes and do-little jobs for administration pals, spread like a cancer throughout the executive branch. It explains why tens of thousands of displaced victims of Katrina are still living in trailer shantytowns all these months later. It explains why New York City and Washington just lost 40 percent of their counterterrorism funds. It helps explain why American troops are more likely to be slaughtered than greeted with flowers more than three years after the American invasion of Iraq.

The Department of Homeland Security, in keeping with the Bush administration's original opposition to it, isn't really a government agency at all so much as an empty shell, a networking boot camp for future private contractors dreaming of big paydays. Thanks to an investigation by The Times's Eric Lipton, we know that some two-thirds of the top department executives, including Tom Ridge and his principal deputies, have cashed in on their often brief service by becoming executives, consultants or lobbyists for companies that have received billions of dollars in government contracts. Even John Ashcroft, the first former attorney general in American history known to immediately register as a lobbyist, is selling his Homeland Security connections to interested bidders. "When you got it, flaunt it!" as they say in "The Producers."

To see the impact of such revolving-door cronyism, just look at the Homeland Security process that mandated those cutbacks for New York and Washington. The official in charge, the assistant secretary for grants and training, is Tracy Henke, an Ashcroft apparatchik from the Justice Department who was best known for trying to politicize the findings of its Bureau of Justice Statistics. (So much so that the White House installed her in Homeland Security with a recess appointment, to shield her from protracted Senate scrutiny.) Under Henke math, it follows that St. Louis, in her home state (and Mr. Ashcroft's), has seen its counterterrorism allotment rise by more than 30 percent while that for the cities actually attacked on 9/11 fell. And guess what: the private contractor hired by Homeland Security to consult on Ms. Henke's handiwork, Booz Allen Hamilton, now just happens to employ Greg Rothwell, who was the department's procurement chief until December. Booz Allen recently nailed a $250 million Homeland Security contract for technology consulting.

The continuing Katrina calamity is another fruit of outsourced government. As Alan Wolfe details in "Why Conservatives Can't Govern" in the current Washington Monthly, the die was cast long before the storm hit: the Bush cronies installed at FEMA, first Joe Allbaugh and then Michael Brown, had privatized so many of the agency's programs that there was little government left to manage the disaster even if more competent managers than Brownie had been in charge.

But the most lethal impact of competitive sourcing, as measured in human cost, is playing out in Iraq. In the standard narrative of American failure in the war, the pivotal early error was Donald Rumsfeld's decision to ignore the advice of Gen. Eric Shinseki and others, who warned that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure the country once we inherited it. But equally reckless, we can now see, was the administration's lax privatization of the country's reconstruction, often with pet companies and campaign contributors and without safeguards or accountability to guarantee results.

Washington's promises to rebuild Iraq were worth no more than its promises to rebuild New Orleans. The government that has stranded a multitude of Americans in flimsy "housing" on the gulf, where they remain prey for any new natural attacks the hurricane season will bring, is of a philosophical and operational piece with the government that has let down the Iraqi people. Even after we've thrown away some $2 billion of a budgeted $4 billion on improving electricity, many Iraqis have only a few hours of power a day, less than they did under Saddam. At his Rose Garden press conference of June 14, the first American president with an M.B.A. claimed that yet another new set of "benchmarks" would somehow bring progress even after all his previous benchmarks had failed to impede three years of reconstruction catastrophes.

Of the favored companies put in charge of our supposed good works in Iraq, Halliburton is the most notorious. But it is hardly unique. As The Los Angeles Times reported in April, it is the Parsons Corporation that is responsible for the "wholesale failure in two of the most crucial areas of the Iraq reconstruction — health and safety — which were supposed to win Iraqi good will and reduce the threat to American soldiers."

Parsons finished only 20 of 150 planned Iraq health clinics, somehow spending $60 million of the budgeted $186 million for its own management and administration. It failed to build walls around 7 of the 17 security forts it constructed to supposedly stop the flow of terrorists across the Iran border. Last week, reported James Glanz of The New York Times, the Army Corps of Engineers ordered Parsons to abandon construction on a hopeless $99.1 million prison that was two years behind schedule. By the calculation of Representative Waxman, some $30 billion in American taxpayers' money has been squandered on these and other Iraq boondoggles botched by a government adhering to the principle of competitive sourcing.

If we had honored our grand promises to the people we were liberating, Dick Cheney's prediction that we would be viewed as liberators might have had a chance of coming true. Greater loyalty from the civilian population would have helped reduce the threat to American soldiers, who are prey to insurgents in places like Yusufiya. But what we've wrought instead is a variation on Arthur Miller's post-World War II drama, "All My Sons." Working from a true story, Miller told the tragedy of a shoddy contractor whose defectively manufactured aircraft parts led directly to the deaths of a score of Army pilots and implicitly to the death of his own son.

Back then such a scandal was a shocking anomaly. Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, the very model of big government that the current administration vilifies, never would have trusted private contractors to run the show. Somehow that unwieldy, bloated government took less time to win World War II than George W. Bush's privatized government is taking to blow this one.

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