Sunday, April 29, 2007

For Whom the Closing Bell Tolls

Another Economic Disconnect
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Last fall Edward Lazear, the Bush administration’s top economist, explained that what’s good for corporations is good for America. “Profits,” he declared, “provide the incentive for physical capital investment, and physical capital growth contributes to productivity growth. Thus profits are important not only for investors but also for the workers who benefit from the growth in productivity.”

In other words, ask not for whom the closing bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Unfortunately, these days none of what Mr. Lazear said seems to be true. In the Bush years high profits haven’t led to high investment, and rising productivity hasn’t led to rising wages.

The second of those two disconnects has gotten a lot of attention because of its political consequences. The administration and its allies whine that they aren’t getting credit for a great economy, but because wages have been stagnant — the median worker’s earnings, adjusted for inflation, haven’t gone up at all since the current economic expansion began in 2001 — the economy feels anything but great to most Americans.

Less attention, however, has been given to the first disconnect: the failure of high profits to produce an investment boom.

Since President Bush took office, the combination of rising productivity and stagnant wages — workers are producing more, but they aren’t getting paid more — has led to a veritable profit gusher, with corporate profits more than doubling since 2000. Last year, profits as a share of national income were at the highest level ever recorded.

You might have expected this gusher of profits, which surely owes something to the Bush administration’s pro-corporate, anti-labor tilt, to produce a corresponding gusher of business investment. But the reality has been more of a trickle. Nonresidential investment — that is, investment other than housing construction — has grown very slowly by historical standards. As a share of G.D.P., nonresidential investment remains far below its levels of the late 1990s, and it has been declining for the last two quarters.

Why aren’t corporations investing, and what does the lack of business investment mean for the economy?

It’s possible that sluggish business investment reflects lack of confidence in the economic outlook — a lack of confidence that’s understandable given the bursting of the housing bubble, which has already caused G.D.P. growth to slow to a crawl.

But as Floyd Norris recently reported in The Times, there is a more disturbing possibility. Instead of investing in physical capital, many companies are using profits to buy back their own stock. And cynics suggest that the purpose of these buybacks is to produce a temporary rise in stock prices that increases the value of executives’ stock options, even if it’s against the long-term interests of investors.

It’s not a far-fetched idea. Researchers at the Federal Reserve have found evidence that company decisions about stock buybacks are strongly influenced by “agency conflicts,” a genteel term for self-dealing by corporate insiders. In the 1990s that kind of self-dealing often led to excessive investment, which at least left a tangible legacy behind. But today the self-interest of management may be standing in the way of productive investment.

Whatever the reasons, we now have an economy with incredibly high profits and surprisingly low investment. This raises some immediate, short-run concerns: with housing still in free fall and consumers ever more stretched, optimistic projections for the economy depend on vigorous growth in business investment. And that doesn’t seem to be happening.

The bigger issue, however, may be longer term. Mr. Lazear was right about one thing: business investment plays an important role in raising productivity. High investment in equipment and software was one major reason for the productivity takeoff that began in the Clinton era, and continued in the early years of this decade.

And low investment may be one reason productivity growth has slowed dramatically over the last three years — another development that hasn’t received as much attention as it should.

In any case, next time someone tells you that any action that might reduce corporate profits a bit — like actually enforcing health and safety regulations or making it easier for workers to organize — will reduce business investment, bear in mind that today’s record profits aren’t being invested. Instead, they’re being used to enrich executives and a few lucky stock owners.

Photo Credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Working the Truth Beat

By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
The initial feeling is shock, and then comes anger, the anger bursting through even before the inevitable sadness sets in.

Two people whom I respected a great deal were killed — one of them insanely and the other absurdly — in the past three weeks.

Julia Campbell was a friend from several years back who had worked as a freelancer at The Times and a number of other media outlets before joining the Peace Corps and going off to the Philippines. I was watching the news on television about a week and a half ago when her photo came on the screen. The story said that she had been reported missing.

A couple of days later the news came that she had been murdered. The authorities have arrested a man who said he bludgeoned her to death with a rock after she accidentally bumped into him.

I remember once when we were hanging out, shooting the breeze about some horror in the news, Julia said to me, “Why is the world the way it is?” She added quickly, as though embarrassed: “I know it’s a ridiculous question. But I wonder.”

David Halberstam died in the most ordinary of ways, like Camus, in the kind of car crash that is such an everyday occurrence it never warrants a second look unless the victim is a celebrity or someone we know.

David and I weren’t close, but we got along well. He was always exceptionally kind to me, very generous with sources and advice, and funny as hell with stories from his legendary past. It’s a cliché, but he was a larger-than-life figure, a big, distinguished-looking man with a carefully cultivated baritone voice and a touch of pomposity that was tempered by a look in his eye and a hint of a smile that let you know that he knew exactly what he was doing.

He was among the very best reporters I’ve ever known.

If there was one thing above all else that David taught us, it was to be skeptical of official accounts, to stay always on guard against the lies, fabrications, half-truths, misrepresentations, exaggerations and all other manifestations of falsehood that are fired at us like machine-gun bullets by government officials and others in high places, often with lethal results.

“You have to keep digging,” he would say, “keep asking questions, because otherwise you’ll be seduced or brainwashed into the idea that it’s somehow a great privilege, an honor, to report the lies they’ve been feeding you.”

On the day after David was killed, a Congressional committee in Washington held a public hearing to explore the extraordinary lies concocted by the government to describe the killing of Cpl. Pat Tillman, a former N.F.L. football player, in Afghanistan, and the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in the very early days of the war in Iraq.

Corporal Tillman was killed by an American soldier in a friendly-fire incident. Instead of telling the truth, the military created an account in which Corporal Tillman, exhibiting extreme bravery, was cut down by enemy fire.

Pat Tillman’s younger brother, Kevin, appalled at what the government had done, told the committee how the corporal had been publicly praised and posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor for what the Army described as his heroic confrontation with the “well-armed enemy.”

The only problem with the Army’s account, said Kevin Tillman, was that “it was utter fiction.”

The initial account of the incident in which Private Lynch was taken prisoner (she was later rescued) was lifted straight from Hollywood, a typical macho fantasy of war. There was no validity to the story, and Private Lynch, very seriously wounded, had had nothing to do with it. Ms. Lynch told the committee that “the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting” was simply not true.

She said she remains “confused as to why they chose to lie.”

A government that will lie about the tragic fates of honorable young Americans like Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch will lie to the public about anything.

One of the primary tasks of a journalist is to protect the public from such lies by exposing them, and by reporting the truth. David Halberstam was a master at that.

In a larger sense, our job has to do with the question Julia Campbell asked in those days when her heart was set on a career in journalism. We don’t know why the world is the way it is, but the job of the journalist is always in some sense to chase after the answer to that question.

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

Welcome to: Hometown Baghdad

Following is an episode of an ongoing documentary web series following the lives of a few Iraqi 20-somethings trying to survive in Baghdad:

"Brains on Campus"

Trouble Viewing this Video? Or want to see more in the series? Click Here. Or Here.

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What Senator Dubin Knew ... But Didn't Say

Durbin kept silent on prewar knowledge:
"A congressional official familiar with the information about Iraq that was provided to the intelligence committee in 2002 said it did not differ from what the administration was saying publicly about the need to go to war in Iraq.

����'If [Mr. Durbin] thinks the president of the United States is lying to the American public about the war, he's wrong,' the official said.

����The official added that if Mr. Durbin felt so strongly that the administration was misleading the public, 'he should've done something about it.'

����But a spokesman for Mr. Durbin said the senator did publicly voice general, nonspecific concerns about the administration's promotion of the need for military intervention in Iraq prior to the war.

����He added Mr. Durbin could have faced criminal charges if he had publicly revealed specific intelligence details before the Iraq war...."

Bush Has Gone AWOL

Information Clearing House reports:
The following is a transcript of the Democratic Radio Address delivered by Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.) on Saturday April 28, 2007:

“Good morning, this is Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army, retired.

“I am not now nor have I ever been a Democrat or a Republican. Thus, I do not speak for the Democratic Party. I speak for myself, as a non-partisan retired military officer who is a former Director of the National Security Agency. I do so because Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, asked me.

“In principle, I do not favor Congressional involvement in the execution of U.S. foreign and military policy. I have seen its perverse effects in many cases. The conflict in Iraq is different. Over the past couple of years, the President has let it proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued.

“Thus, he lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money, and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies. The Congress is the only mechanism we have to fill this vacuum in command judgment.

“To put this in a simple army metaphor, the Commander-in-Chief seems to have gone AWOL, that is ‘absent without leave.’ He neither acts nor talks as though he is in charge. Rather, he engages in tit-for-tat games.

“Some in Congress on both sides of the aisle have responded with their own tits-for-tats. These kinds of games, however, are no longer helpful, much less amusing. They merely reflect the absence of effective leadership in a crisis. And we are in a crisis.

“Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the President’s management of the conflict in Iraq. And they are right.

“The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place. The war could never have served American interests.

“But it has served Iran’s interest by revenging Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in the 1980s and enhancing Iran’s influence within Iraq. It has also served al Qaeda’s interests, providing a much better training ground than did Afghanistan, allowing it to build its ranks far above the levels and competence that otherwise would have been possible.

“We cannot ‘win’ a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own. Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense. We can now see that it never did.

“A wise commander in this situation normally revises his objectives and changes his strategy, not just marginally, but radically. Nothing less today will limit the death and destruction that the invasion of Iraq has unleashed.

“No effective new strategy can be devised for the United States until it begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq. Only that step will break the paralysis that now confronts us. Withdrawal is the pre-condition for winning support from countries in Europe that have stood aside and other major powers including India, China, Japan, Russia.

“It will also shock and change attitudes in Iran, Syria, and other countries on Iraq’s borders, making them far more likely to take seriously new U.S. approaches, not just to Iraq, but to restoring regional stability and heading off the spreading chaos that our war has caused.

“The bill that Congress approved this week, with bipartisan support, setting schedules for withdrawal, provides the President an opportunity to begin this kind of strategic shift, one that defines regional stability as the measure of victory, not some impossible outcome.

“I hope the President seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill the Congress has sent him. I will respect him greatly for such a rare act of courage, and so too, I suspect, will most Americans.

“This is retired General Odom. Thank you for listening.”

General Odom has served as Director of the National Security Agency and Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the Army’s senior intelligence officer. In his address, General Odom will discuss why he believes President Bush should sign the conference report on the Iraq Accountability Act.

You can download the radio address by clicking here.

Illustration Credit: AWOL Bush -

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Diplomacy at Its Worst

By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
In May 2003, Iran sent a secret proposal to the U.S. for settling our mutual disputes in a “grand bargain.”

It is an astonishing document, for it tries to address a range of U.S. concerns about nuclear weapons, terrorism and Iraq. I’ve placed it and related documents (including multiple drafts of it) on my blog,

Hard-liners in the Bush administration killed discussions of a deal, and interviews with key players suggest that was an appalling mistake. There was a real hope for peace; now there is a real danger of war.

Scattered reports of the Iranian proposal have emerged previously, but if you read the full documentary record you’ll see that what the hard-liners killed wasn’t just one faxed Iranian proposal but an entire peace process. The record indicates that officials from the repressive, duplicitous government of Iran pursued peace more energetically and diplomatically than senior Bush administration officials — which makes me ache for my country.

The process began with Afghanistan in 2001-2. Iran and the U.S., both opponents of the Taliban, cooperated closely in stabilizing Afghanistan and providing aid, and unofficial “track two” processes grew to explore opportunities for improved relations.

On the U.S. side, track two involved well-connected former U.S. ambassadors, including Thomas Pickering, Frank Wisner and Nicholas Platt. The Iranian ambassador to the U.N., Javad Zarif, was a central player, as was an Iranian-American professor at Rutgers, Hooshang Amirahmadi, who heads a friendship group called the American Iranian Council.

At a dinner the council sponsored for its board at Ambassador Zarif’s home in September 2002, the group met Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi. According to the notes of Professor Amirahmadi, the foreign minister told the group, “Yes, we are ready to normalize relations,” provided the U.S. made the first move.

This was shaping into a historic opportunity to heal U.S.-Iranian relations, and the track two participants discussed further steps, including joint U.S.-Iranian cooperation against Saddam Hussein. The State Department and National Security Council were fully briefed, and in 2003 Ambassador Zarif met with two U.S. officials, Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad, in a series of meetings in Paris and Geneva.

Encouraged, Iran transmitted its “grand bargain” proposals to the U.S. One version was apparently a paraphrase by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran; that was published this year in The Washington Post.

But Iran also sent its own master text of the proposal to the State Department and, through an intermediary, to the White House. I’ve also posted that document, which Iran regards as the definitive one.

In the master document, Iran talks about ensuring “full transparency” and other measures to assure the U.S. that it will not develop nuclear weapons. Iran offers “active Iranian support for Iraqi stabilization.” Iran also contemplates an end to “any material support to Palestinian opposition groups” while pressuring Hamas “to stop violent actions against civilians within” Israel (though not the occupied territories). Iran would support the transition of Hezbollah to be a “mere political organization within Lebanon” and endorse the Saudi initiative calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iran also demanded a lot, including “mutual respect,” abolition of sanctions, access to peaceful nuclear technology and a U.S. statement that Iran did not belong in the “axis of evil.” Many crucial issues, including verification of Iran’s nuclear program, needed to be hammered out. It’s not clear to me that a grand bargain was reachable, but it was definitely worth pursuing — and still is today.

Instead, Bush administration hard-liners aborted the process. Another round of talks had been scheduled for Geneva, and Ambassador Zarif showed up — but not the U.S. side. That undermined Iranian moderates.

A U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could have saved lives in Iraq, isolated Palestinian terrorists and encouraged civil society groups in Iran. But instead the U.S. hard-liners chose to hammer plowshares into swords.

I’ve chosen the two winners of my second annual “win-a-trip contest.” One is Leana Wen, a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis. The second is Will Okun, who teaches at Westside Alternative High School in Chicago and dabbles in photography and writing.

Leana, Will and I will travel together through Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo. Stay tuned.

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

All the President's Press

By Frank Rich
The New York Times
SOMEHOW it’s hard to imagine David Halberstam yukking it up with Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz and two discarded “American Idol” contestants at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Before there was a Woodward and Bernstein, there was Halberstam, still not yet 30 in the early 1960s, calling those in power to account for lying about our “progress” in Vietnam. He did so even though J.F.K. told the publisher of The Times, “I wish like hell that you’d get Halberstam out of there.” He did so despite public ridicule from the dean of that era’s Georgetown punditocracy, the now forgotten columnist (and Vietnam War cheerleader) Joseph Alsop.

It was Alsop’s spirit, not Halberstam’s, that could be seen in C-Span’s live broadcast of the correspondents’ dinner last Saturday, two days before Halberstam’s death in a car crash in California. This fete is a crystallization of the press’s failures in the post-9/11 era: it illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows. Such is literally the case at the annual dinner, where journalists serve as a supporting cast, but it has been figuratively true year-round. The press has enabled stunts from the manufactured threat of imminent “mushroom clouds” to “Saving Private Lynch” to “Mission Accomplished,” whose fourth anniversary arrives on Tuesday. For all the recrimination, self-flagellation and reforms that followed these journalistic failures, it’s far from clear that the entire profession yet understands why it has lost the public’s faith.

That state of denial was center stage at the correspondents’ dinner last year, when the invited entertainer, Stephen Colbert, “fell flat,” as The Washington Post summed up the local consensus. To the astonishment of those in attendance, a funny thing happened outside the Beltway the morning after: the video of Mr. Colbert’s performance became a national sensation. (Last week it was still No. 2 among audiobook downloads on iTunes.) Washington wisdom had it that Mr. Colbert bombed because he was rude to the president. His real sin was to be rude to the capital press corps, whom he caricatured as stenographers. Though most of the Washington audience failed to find the joke funny, Americans elsewhere, having paid a heavy price for the press’s failure to challenge White House propaganda about Iraq, laughed until it hurt.

You’d think that l’affaire Colbert would have led to a little circumspection, but last Saturday’s dinner was another humiliation. And not just because this year’s entertainer, an apolitical nightclub has-been (Rich Little), was a ludicrously tone-deaf flop. More appalling — and symptomatic of the larger sycophancy — was the press’s insidious role in President Bush’s star turn at the event.

It’s the practice on these occasions that the president do his own comic shtick, but this year Mr. Bush made a grand show of abstaining, saying that the killings at Virginia Tech precluded his being a “funny guy.” Any civilian watching on TV could formulate the question left hanging by this pronouncement: Why did the killings in Iraq not preclude his being a “funny guy” at other press banquets we’ve watched on C-Span? At the equivalent Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association gala three years ago, the president contributed an elaborate (and tasteless) comic sketch about his failed search for Saddam’s W.M.D.

But the revelers in the ballroom last Saturday could not raise that discrepancy and challenge Mr. Bush’s hypocrisy; they could only clap. And so they served as captive dress extras in a propaganda stunt, lending their credibility to the president’s sanctimonious exploitation of the Virginia Tech tragedy for his own political self-aggrandizement on national television. Meanwhile the war was kept as tightly under wraps as the troops’ coffins.

By coincidence, this year’s dinner occurred just before a Congressional hearing filled in some new blanks in the still incomplete story of a more egregious White House propaganda extravaganza: the Pat Tillman hoax. As it turns out, the correspondents’ dinner played an embarrassing cameo role in it, too.

What the hearing underscored was the likelihood that the White House also knew very early on what the Army knew and covered up: the football star’s supposed death in battle in Afghanistan, vividly described in a Pentagon press release awarding him a Silver Star, was a complete fabrication, told to the world (and Tillman’s parents) even though top officers already suspected he had died by friendly fire. The White House apparently decided to join the Pentagon in maintaining that lie so that it could be milked for P.R. purposes on two television shows, the correspondents’ dinner on May 1, 2004, and a memorial service for Tillman two days later.

The timeline of events in the week or so leading up to that dinner is startling. Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004. By the next day top officers knew he had not been killed by enemy fire. On April 29, a top special operations commander sent a memo to John Abizaid, among other generals, suggesting that the White House be warned off making specific public claims about how Tillman died. Simultaneously, according to an e-mail that surfaced last week, a White House speechwriter contacted the Pentagon to gather information about Tillman for use at the correspondents’ dinner.

When President Bush spoke at the dinner at week’s end, he followed his jokes with a eulogy about Tillman’s sacrifice. But he kept the circumstances of Tillman’s death vague, no doubt because the White House did indeed get the message that the Pentagon’s press release about Tillman’s losing his life in battle was fiction. Yet it would be four more weeks before Pat Tillman’s own family was let in on the truth.

To see why the administration wanted to keep the myth going, just look at other events happening in the week before that correspondents’ dinner. On April 28, 2004, CBS broadcast the first photographs from Abu Ghraib; on April 29 a poll on The Times’s front page found the president’s approval rating on the war was plummeting; on April 30 Ted Koppel challenged the administration’s efforts to keep the war dead hidden by reading the names of the fallen on “Nightline.” Tillman could be useful to help drown out all this bad news, and to an extent he was. The Washington press corps that applauded the president at the correspondents’ dinner is the same press corps that was slow to recognize the importance of Abu Ghraib that weekend and, as documented by a new study, “When the Press Fails” (University of Chicago Press), even slower to label the crimes as torture.

In his PBS report last week about the journalism breakdown before the war, Bill Moyers said that “the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses.” That’s not universally true; a number of news organizations have owned up to their disasters and tried to learn from them. Yet old habits die hard: for too long the full weight of the scandal in the Gonzales Justice Department eluded some of the Washington media pack, just as Abu Ghraib and the C.I.A. leak case did.

After last weekend’s correspondents’ dinner, The Times decided to end its participation in such events. But even were the dinner to vanish altogether, it remains but a yearly televised snapshot of the overall syndrome. The current White House, weakened as it is, can still establish story lines as fake as “Mission Accomplished” and get a free pass.

To pick just one overarching example: much of the press still takes it as a given that Iraq has a functioning government that might meet political benchmarks (oil law, de-Baathification reform, etc., etc.) that would facilitate an American withdrawal. In reality, the Maliki “government” can’t meet any benchmarks, even if they were enforced, because that government exists only as a fictional White House talking point. As Gen. Barry McCaffrey said last week, this government doesn’t fully control a single province. Its Parliament, now approaching a scheduled summer recess, has passed no major legislation in months. Iraq’s sole recent democratic achievement is to ban the release of civilian casualty figures, lest they challenge White House happy talk about “progress” in Iraq.

It’s our country’s bitter fortune that while David Halberstam is gone, too many Joe Alsops still hold sway. Take the current dean of the Washington press corps, David Broder, who is leading the charge in ridiculing Harry Reid for saying the obvious — that “this war is lost” (as it is militarily, unless we stay in perpetuity and draft many more troops). In February, Mr. Broder handed down another gem of Beltway conventional wisdom, suggesting that “at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback.”

Some may recall that Stephen Colbert offered the same prediction in his monologue at the correspondents’ dinner a year ago. “I don’t believe this is a low point in this presidency,” he said. “I believe it is just a lull before a comeback.” But the fake pundit, unlike the real one, recognized that this was a joke.

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

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps

"There are some things common to every state that's made the transition to fascism. Author Naomi Wolf argues that all of them are present in America today."

Read more.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Most Telling Moment of the Debates

Despite their opposition to the war, none of the candidates would join fellow candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio in urging impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. Are these the kind of Democrats we want to lead us?

Please feel free to cross post or link to your blog.

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Planet of the Apes


By Robert Wright
The New York Times
This week the mystery deepened: Why no space aliens?

On Tuesday, scientists reported finding the most “Earthlike” planet ever, Gliese 581c. Its sun is cooler than ours, but also closer, so Gliese is in that climatic comfort zone conducive to water — hence to life, hence to evolution, hence to intelligent beings with advanced technology. Yet they never phone.

It’s actually a serious question, long pondered by sci-fi types. Since a civilization whose technological evolution was ahead of ours by even a few centuries could contact us from far, far away (and certainly from Gliese, a mere 20 light-years away), what does it mean that we haven’t heard a thing from any corner of this vast universe?

That life got started on few or no other planets? That on other planets giant asteroids kept pressing evolution’s reset button? Or, distressingly, that when civilizations reach the technological level we’ve reached, they tend to wipe themselves out, or at least bomb themselves back into the Stone Age?

O.K., that last one is pretty wild speculation. But you have to admit that current events aren’t wildly at odds with it. There’s an apocalyptic vibe in the zeitgeist, and it’s not hard to imagine how the technological sophistication that got us to the brink of global civilization could be our undoing. Let us count the ways.

(1) Classic nuclear Armageddon. This threat is in remission. Economic interdependence dulls enmity among nuclear powers, and crisis-averting lines of communication have gotten stronger since the cold war. Still, things can change.

(2) Eco-apocalypse. Solving climate change and other global environmental problems is a political nightmare. Nations are tempted to play “free rider” and not join in the sacrifices, since they’ll share the rewards anyway. The good news is that past environmental problems have featured negative-feedback loops: when negligence makes the problem bad enough, political will appears.

(3) Terrorism. Alas, the negative-feedback loop — bad outcomes lead to smart policies — may not apply here. We reacted to 9/11 by freaking out and invading one too many countries, creating more terrorists. With the ranks of terrorists growing — amid evolving biotechnology and loose nukes — we could within a decade see terrorism on a scale that would make us forget any restraint we had learned from the Iraq war’s outcome. If 3,000 deaths led to two wars, how many wars would 300,000 deaths yield? And how many new terrorists?

Terrorism alone won’t wipe out humanity. But with our unwitting help, it could strengthen other lethal forces.

It could give weight to the initially fanciful “clash of civilizations” thesis. Muslim states could fall under the control of radicals and opt out of what might otherwise have become a global civilization. Armed with nukes (Pakistan already is), they would revive the nuclear Armageddon scenario. A fissure between civilizations would also sabotage the solution of environmental problems, and the ensuing eco-calamity could make people on both sides of the fissure receptive to radical messages. The worse things got, the worse they’d get.

So while no one of the Big Three doomsday dynamics is likely to bring the apocalypse, they could well combine to form a positive-feedback loop, a k a the planetary death spiral. And the catalyst would be terrorism, along with our mishandling of it.

Disheartened? There’s more: to avoid mishandling things, we may have to forsake our beloved evolutionary heritage.

We may more often have to resist the retributive impulse that worked fine in the environment where it evolved but now often misfires. We may have to appreciate how our moral condemnations — which can help start wars — are subtly biased by our primate brains in self-serving ways that, in some contexts, no longer serve our selves.

We may have to cultivate our moral imagination, putting ourselves in the shoes of people who hate us. The point wouldn’t be to validate the hate, but to understand it and so undermine it. Still, this understanding involves seeing how, from a certain point of view, hating us “makes sense” — and our evolved brains tend to resist that particular epiphany.

If salvation indeed means transcending engrained irrationality, then the odds may well be against us. But look at the bright side: if you do run into any space aliens, they’re likely to be reasonable creatures.

Robert Wright, author of “Nonzero,” is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and runs the Web site

Photo Credit: Robert Wright (Wikipedia)

The Whiny Fall Guy

More Like an Air Ball
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Poor Slam-Dunk.

Not since Madame Butterfly has anyone been so cruelly misunderstood and misused. Slam-Dunk says that when he pantingly told the president that fetching information on Saddam’s W.M.D. would be a cinch, he did not mean let’s go to war.

No matter how eager Slam-Dunk was to tell W. what he wanted to hear while polishing W.’s shoes, that intelligence they craved did not exist. “Let me say it again: C.I.A. found absolutely no linkage between Saddam and 9/11,” the ex-Head Spook writes in his new book, self-effacingly titled “At the Center of the Storm.” Besides, Junior and Darth had already decided to go to war to show the Arabs their moxie.

The president and vice president wanted Slam-Dunk to help them dramatize the phony case. Everyone had to pitch in! That Saturday session in December 2002 in the Oval Office was “essentially a marketing meeting,” Slam-Dunk writes, just for “sharpening the arguments.”

Hey, I feel better.

Slam-Dunk always presented himself as the ultimate guy’s guy, a cigar-chomping spymaster who swapped jokes with the president. But now he shows us his tender side, a sniveling C.I.A. chief bullied by “remote” Condi.

He says Condi panicked in October 2002 and made him call a Times reporter, Alison Mitchell, who covered the Congressional debate about invading Iraq. He told Alison to ignore the conclusions of his own agency, which had said the links between Saddam and terrorist groups were tenuous, and that Saddam would only take the extreme step of joining with Islamic fanatics if he thought the U.S. was about to attack him. His nose growing as long as his cigar, he said nothing in the C.I.A. report contradicted the president’s case for war.

“In retrospect,” Slam writes, “I shouldn’t have talked to the New York Times reporter at Condi’s request. By making public comments in the middle of a contentious political debate, I gave the impression that I was becoming a partisan player.”

Can’t a guy be a lickspittle without being an ideologue?

There were so many nasties trying to push Slam around: Vice, of course, and Wolfie, and Wolfie’s neoconcubine Doug Feith. Once, Slam writes, Wolfie “hounded” a C.I.A. briefer to translate the diary of Abu Zubaydah, a captured Al Qaeda official, even though the C.I.A. had decided it was just misogynistic ramblings “about what he wanted to do with women.” Oh, that sexy beast Wolfie. Look out, Shaha!

But even though he was paid a $4 million advance to settle scores, Slam can’t turn on W. Maybe it’s the Medal of Freedom. “In a way, President Bush and I are much alike,” he writes. “We sometimes say things from our gut, whether it’s his ‘bring ’em on’ or my ‘slam-dunk.’ I think he gets that about me, just as I get that about him.” (He had me at “slam-dunk.”)

The worst meanie was horrid Bob Woodward. Slam socialized with Bob and gave him lots of intel for his best sellers, but then Bob “painted a caricature of me leaping into the air and simulating a slam-dunk, not once but twice, with my arms flailing. Credit Woodward’s source with ... a fine sense of how to make me look ridiculous, but don’t credit him or her with a deep sense of obligation to the truth.”

A deep sense of obligation to the truth is something Slam keenly understands, even though he scurried around like the butler in “Remains of the Day,” trying to toadie up to the president while, as he belatedly admits, W. was going to invade Iraq without debate or casus belli.

He says he warned Paul Bremer about de-Baathifying the Iraqi Army, but hey, he was just a staff guy. That’s probably how the two worst intelligence disasters in our history happened on his watch. He was merely providing intelligence for the guys who wanted to ignore or warp that intelligence and make bad policy. What could he do?

Slam says he was Cassandra. A C.I.A. paper was given to the president’s national security team in September 2002 tot sum up the possible negatives of invading Iraq, including anarchy and a breakup in Iraq, instability in the neighborhood, a surge of terrorism against U.S. interests, oil disruptions, and seething allies.

But it was discreetly tucked away in the back of the briefing book, after the stuff at the beginning about how great it would be to liberate Iraq and end threats to Iraq’s neighbors, and the stuff in the middle about reforming Iraq’s bureaucracy.

Slam gives tips to others who want to engage in public service, including: Don’t forget that there are no private conversations, even in the Oval Office. Another might be: If you worry about your own survival more than your country’s, you might end up as the whiny fall guy.

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

George Tenet Assails Cheney on Iraq

The New York Times reports:
"George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has lashed out against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials in a new book, saying they pushed the country to war in Iraq without ever conducting a “serious debate” about whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

The 549-page book, “At the Center of the Storm,” is to be published by HarperCollins on Monday. By turns accusatory, defensive, and modestly self-critical, it is the first detailed account by a member of the president’s inner circle of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the decision to invade Iraq and the failure to find the unconventional weapons that were a major justification for the war.

“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” Mr. Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, “was there ever a significant discussion” about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

Mr. Tenet admits that he made his famous “slam dunk” remark about the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But he argues that the quote was taken out of context and that it had little impact on President Bush’s decision to go to war. He also makes clear his bitter view that the administration made him a scapegoat for the Iraq war...."

Photo Credit: George Tenet. (Human Rights Watch)


Gilded Once More

The Krug Man notes that we have "gone back to levels of inequality not seen since the 1920's." If you listened to the Democratic Presidential "Debate" last night, pay particular attention to Krugman's comments on hedge fund managers.

Gilded Once More
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
One of the distinctive features of the modern American right has been nostalgia for the late 19th century, with its minimal taxation, absence of regulation and reliance on faith-based charity rather than government social programs. Conservatives from Milton Friedman to Grover Norquist have portrayed the Gilded Age as a golden age, dismissing talk of the era’s injustice and cruelty as a left-wing myth.

Well, in at least one respect, everything old is new again. Income inequality — which began rising at the same time that modern conservatism began gaining political power — is now fully back to Gilded Age levels.

Consider a head-to-head comparison. We know what John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in Gilded Age America, made in 1894, because in 1895 he had to pay income taxes. (The next year, the Supreme Court declared the income tax unconstitutional.) His return declared an income of $1.25 million, almost 7,000 times the average per capita income in the United States at the time.

But that makes him a mere piker by modern standards. Last year, according to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, James Simons, a hedge fund manager, took home $1.7 billion, more than 38,000 times the average income. Two other hedge fund managers also made more than $1 billion, and the top 25 combined made $14 billion.

How much is $14 billion? It’s more than it would cost to provide health care for a year to eight million children — the number of children in America who, unlike children in any other advanced country, don’t have health insurance.

The hedge fund billionaires are simply extreme examples of a much bigger phenomenon: every available measure of income concentration shows that we’ve gone back to levels of inequality not seen since the 1920s.

The New Gilded Age doesn’t feel quite as harsh and unjust as the old Gilded Age — not yet, anyway. But that’s because the effects of inequality are still moderated by progressive income taxes, which fall more heavily on the rich than on the middle class; by estate taxation, which limits the inheritance of great wealth; and by social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which provide a safety net for the less fortunate.

You might have thought that in the face of growing inequality, there would have been a move to reinforce these moderating institutions — to raise taxes on the rich and use the money to strengthen the safety net. That’s why comparing the incomes of hedge fund managers with the cost of children’s health care isn’t an idle exercise: there’s a real trade-off involved. But for the past three decades, such trade-offs have been consistently settled in favor of the haves and have-mores.

Taxation has become much less progressive: according to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, average tax rates on the richest 0.01 percent of Americans have been cut in half since 1970, while taxes on the middle class have risen. In particular, the unearned income of the wealthy — dividends and capital gains — is now taxed at a lower rate than the earned income of most middle-class families.

Those hedge fund titans, by the way, have an especially sweet deal: loopholes in the law let them use their own businesses as, in effect, unlimited 401(k)s, sheltering their earnings and accumulating tax-free capital gains.

Meanwhile, the tax-cut bill Congress passed in 2001 set in motion a complete phaseout of the estate tax. If the Bush administration hadn’t been too clever by half, hiding the true cost of its tax cuts by making the whole package expire at the end of 2010, we’d be well on our way toward becoming a dynastic society.

And as for the social insurance programs —— well, in 2005 the Bush administration tried to privatize Social Security. If it had succeeded, Medicare would have been next.

Of course, the administration’s attempt to undo Social Security was a notable failure. The public, it seems, isn’t eager to return to the days before the New Deal. And the G.O.P.’s defeat in the midterm election has put on hold other plans to restore the good old days.

But it’s much too soon to declare the march toward a New Gilded Age over. If history is any guide, one of these days we’ll see the emergence of a New Progressive Era, maybe even a New New Deal. But it may be a long wait.

Photo Credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Riverbend Leaving Baghdad

How sad.

From Baghdad Burning, Riverbend reports: The Great Wall of Segregation...
…Which is the wall the current Iraqi government is building (with the support and guidance of the Americans). It's a wall that is intended to separate and isolate what is now considered the largest 'Sunni' area in Baghdad- let no one say the Americans are not building anything. According to plans the Iraqi puppets and Americans cooked up, it will 'protect' A'adhamiya, a residential/mercantile area that the current Iraqi government and their death squads couldn't empty of Sunnis.

The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, "Oh look- we're just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!" And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn't enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It's time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of "Shia areas" and Shia out of "Sunni areas".

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq's history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven't been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were- we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea- leaving ones home and extended family- leaving ones country- and to what? To where?

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren't being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn't necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you're wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.
Thanks Al, for the heads-up on this.

She's Not Buttering Him Up

By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Usually, I love the dynamics of a cheeky woman puncturing the ego of a cocky guy.

I liked it in ’40s movies, and I liked it with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, and Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in “Moonlighting.”

So why don’t I like it with Michelle and Barack?

I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal — a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god.

The tweaking takes place at fundraisers, where Michelle wants to lift the veil on their home life a bit and give the folks their money’s worth.

At the big Hollywood fund-raiser for Senator Obama in February, Michelle came on strong.

“I am always a little amazed at the response that people get when they hear from Barack,” she told the crowd at the Beverly Hilton, as her husband stood by looking like a puppy being scolded, reported Hud Morgan of Men’s Vogue. “A great man, a wonderful man. But still a man. ...

“I have some difficulty reconciling the two images I have of Barack Obama. There’s Barack Obama the phenomenon. He’s an amazing orator, Harvard Law Review, or whatever it was, law professor, best-selling author, Grammy winner. Pretty amazing, right?

“And then there’s the Barack Obama that lives with me in my house, and that guy’s a little less impressive. For some reason this guy still can’t manage to put the butter up when he makes toast, secure the bread so that it doesn’t get stale, and his 5-year-old is still better at making the bed than he is.”

She said that the TV version of Barack Obama sounded really interesting and that she’d like to meet him sometime.

Many people I talked to afterward found Michelle wondrous. But others worried that her chiding was emasculating, casting her husband — under fire for lacking experience — as an undisciplined child.

At a March fund-raiser in New York, she tweaked her husband for not “putting his socks actually in the dirty clothes.”

And at a lunch last week with Chicago women, she gave the candidate a fed-up look about that melting butter and said, “I’m like: ‘You’re just asking for it. You know I’m giving a speech about you today.’ ”

She throws in nice stuff, too, about how he’s “the real deal” and a trustworthy “brother.” But this princess of South Chicago, a formidable Princeton and Harvard Law School grad, wants us to know that she’s not polishing the pedestal.

The Chicago Tribune profile of “Barack’s Rock” on Sunday noted that her career had caused her husband discomfort: “Critics have pointed out that her income has risen along with her husband’s political ascent. She sits on the board of a food company that supplies Wal-Mart, which Sen. Obama has denounced for its labor practices.”

The Obamas are both skeptical of hype. Michelle dryly told a reporter at her husband’s Senate swearing-in that perhaps someday, he would do something to earn all the attention he was getting.

But it may not be smart politics to mock him in a way that turns him from the glam J.F.K. into the mundane Gerald Ford, toasting his own English muffins. If all Senator Obama is peddling is the Camelot mystique, why debunk the mystique?

Besides, the coolly detached candidate, striving to seem substantive, is good at turning down the heat himself. He manages to tamp down crowds dying to be electrified. He resists surfing his own wave of excitement.

Michelle conveys the appealing idea that she will tell her husband when he’s puffed up or out of line. She aims high — she ordered her husband to stop puffing on cigarettes as he started campaigning. But then, why didn’t she see the red flags on the Rezko deal?

In order to get a bigger yard for their new house on Chicago’s South Side in 2005, the Obamas got into what the senator now confesses was a “boneheaded” real estate arrangement with a sleazy political dealmaker named Tony Rezko, who has been indicted on influence-peddling charges.

On Monday, The Chicago Sun-Times reported more shady Rezko news: “Obama, who has worked as a lawyer and a legislator to improve living conditions for the poor, took campaign donations from Rezko even as Rezko’s low-income housing empire was collapsing, leaving many African-American families in buildings riddled with problems,” from a lack of heat to no lack of drug dealers and squatters.

Mr. Obama riposted that “it wasn’t brought to my attention.” But isn’t that where a dazzling, tough, smart and connected wife could help a guy out?

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

Want George Bush Impeached?

Paint a sign that says "Impeach" and post it in a public place.

In the video below, the Freeway Blogger gives you a "how-to" kit on reaching 100,000 people with $1.

As he says on his Impeachment Project site: ""If everyone in this country who felt President Bush should be impeached put up a sign, there'd be over 85 million signs."

Trouble viewing this video? Click here.

Also See:

  • Senator: Some See Bush's Impeachment as Option
    "With his go-it-alone approach on Iraq, President Bush is flouting Congress and the public, so angering lawmakers that some consider impeachment an option over his war policy, a senator from Bush's own party said Sunday...."
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Bill Moyers: "Buying the War"

CLICK TO WATCH: Bill Moyers: Buying the War | PBS:
"Four years ago on May 1, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln and delivered a speech in front of a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. Despite profound questions and the increasing violence in Baghdad, many in the press confirmed the White House's claim that the war was won. How did they get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 continue to go largely unreported?"
For transcript of documentary and more information CLICK HERE.


94 Percent of Doctors Tied to Drug Companies

(Click ad for larger view)
I'd call that disgraceful.

HealthDay News reports:
"The ties between doctors and drug manufacturers are close indeed, with virtually all doctors reporting some kind of relationship with industry, even if it's as seemingly innocuous as accepting free food and beverages, a new study has found...."
It should be no surprise to anyone who watches television and is literally bombarded with hundreds of drug commercials touting a drug for every ailment -- real or imagined.

Meanwhile, our manipulative government pretends to wage a war on illegal drugs while doctors and drug companies push possibly far more dangerous prescription drugs, often with unknown long-term side effects and insufficient testing, for every twitch, disorder, quirk, and sniffle, hoping and praying to addict us to their newest "cure."

Made-up maladies like "restless leg syndrome" are the marketing gimmicks of the day.

Buyer, beware. Nothing these days is what it seems.

Photo Credit: Weekend Pundit: January 2004 Archives

Related Articles:

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Drop In Iraqi Violence? Not.

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau reports:

    U.S. officials exclude car bombs in touting drop in Iraq violence

    US officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians. Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional US forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims....
  • BBC NEWS: Despair stalks Baghdad as plan falters:
    The Sunni extremists held responsible for these attacks seem to be making a mockery of the US and Iraqi security plan, which is now into its third month. So far, their surge seems to be having more effect than the American one.
  • Dying for W:
    Robert Parry writes: "The prediction of higher US casualties is already coming true, as al-Qaeda-connected terrorists and Iraqi insurgents adjust their tactics to kill the vulnerable Americans. On April 23, two suicide truck bombers rammed a US Army outpost near Baqubah, exploding two bombs that killed nine American soldiers and wounded 20 others."
  • Marc Ash | Dealing With the Devil:
    Marc Ash writes: "The United States occupation of Iraq will end. The American armies like all occupying armies before them will leave Mesopotamia. This military action has no purpose other than the enrichment of private individuals exacting their will and lining their coffers with the blood of American service members, the Iraqi people and US taxpayer dollars."

Olbermann: Republicans Equal Life; Democrats Equal Death?

Another astute "Special Comment" from Keith:
A special comment about Rudolph Giuliani’s remarks at a Lincoln Day dinner in New Hampshire:


Finally tonight, a Special Comment about Rudolf Giuliani's remarks at a Lincoln Day Dinner in New Hampshire last night.

Since some indeterminable hour between the final dousing of the pyre at The World Trade Center, and the breaking of what Senator Obama has aptly termed "9/11 Fever," it has been profoundly and disturbingly evident that we are at the center of one of history's great ironies.

Only in this America of the early 21st Century could it be true, that the man who was president during the worst attack on our nation, and the man who was the mayor of the city in which that attack principally unfolded, would not only be absolved of any and all blame for the unreadiness of their own governments, but, more over, would thereafter be branded heroes of those attacks.

And now, that Mayor - whose most profound municipal act in the wake of that nightmare was to suggest the postponement of the election to select his own successor - has gone even a step beyond these M.C. Escher constructions of history.

"If any Republican is elected president - and I think obviously I would be best at this - we will remain on offense and will anticipate what (the terrorists) will do and try to stop them before they do it. "

Insisting that the election of any Democrat would mean the country was "back... on defense," Mr. Giuliani continued:

"But the question is how long will it take and how many casualties will we have. If we are on defense, we will have more losses and it will go on longer."

He said this with no sense of irony, no sense of any personal shortcomings, no sense whatsoever.

And if you somehow missed what he was really saying, somehow didn't hear the none-too-subtle subtext of 'vote Democratic and die,' Mr. Giuliani then stripped away any barrier of courtesy, telling Roger Simon of Politico.Com, quote....

"America will be safer with a Republican president."

At least that Republican President under which we have not been safer ... has, even at his worst, maintained some microscopic distance between himself, and a campaign platform that blithely threatened the American people with "casualties" if they, next year, elect a Democratic president - or, inferring from Mr. Giuliani's flights of grandeur in New Hampshire - even if they elect a different Republican.

How dare you, sir?

"How many casualties will we have?" - this is the language of Bin Laden.

Yours, Mr. Giuliani, is the same chilling nonchalance of the madman, of the proselytizer who has moved even from some crude framework of politics and society, into a virtual Roman Colosseum of carnage, and a conceit over your own ability - and worthiness - to decide, who lives and who dies.

Rather than a reasoned discussion - rather than a political campaign advocating your own causes and extolling your own qualifications - you have bypassed all the intermediate steps, and moved directly to trying to terrorize the electorate into viewing a vote for a Democrat, not as a reasonable alternative and an inalienable right ... but as an act of suicide.

This is not the mere politicizing of Iraq, nor the vague mumbled epithets about Democratic 'softness' from a delusional Vice President.

This is casualties on a partisan basis - of the naked assertion that Mr. Giuliani's party knows all and will save those who have voted for it - and to hell with everybody else.

And that he, with no foreign policy experience whatsoever, is somehow the Messiah-of-the-moment.

Even to grant that that formula - whether posed by Republican or Democrat - is somehow not the most base, the most indefensible, the most Un-American electioneering in our history - even if it is somehow acceptable to assign "casualties" to one party and 'safety' to the other - even if we have become so profane in our thinking that it is part of our political vocabulary to view counter-terror as one party's property and the other's liability... on what imaginary track record does Mr. Giuliani base his boast?

Which party held the presidency on September 11th, 2001, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party held the mayoralty of New York on that date, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party assured New Yorkers that the air was safe, and the remains of the dead, recovered - and not being used to fill pot-holes, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party wanted what the terrorists wanted - the postponement elections - and to whose personal advantage would that have redounded, Mr. Giuliani?

Which mayor of New York was elected eight months after the first attack on the World Trade Center, yet did not emphasize counter-terror in the same city for the next eight years, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party had proposed to turn over the Department of Homeland Security to Bernard Kerik, Mr. Giuliani?

Who wanted to ignore and hide Kerik's Organized Crime allegations, Mr. Giuliani?

Who personally argued to the White House that Kerik need not be vetted, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party rode roughshod over Americans' rights while braying that it was actually protecting them, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party took this country into the most utterly backwards, utterly counter-productive, utterly ruinous war in our history, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party has been in office as more Americans were killed in the pointless fields of Iraq, than were killed in the consuming nightmare of 9/11, Mr. Giuliani?

Drop this argument, sir. You will lose it.

"The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us," Mr. Giuliani continued to the Rockingham County Lincoln Day Dinner last night. "Never, ever again will this country be on defense waiting for (terrorists) to attack us, if I have anything to say about it. And make no mistake, the Democrats want to put us back on defense."

There is no room for this.

This is terrorism itself, dressed up as counter-terrorism.

It is not warning, but bullying - substituted for the political discourse now absolutely essential to this country's survival and the freedom of its people.

No Democrat has said words like these. None has ever campaigned on the Republicans' flat-footedness of September 11th, 2001. None has the requisite, irresponsible, all-consuming, ambition. None is willing to say "I Accuse," rather than recognize that, to some degree, all of us share responsibility for our collective stupor.

And if it is somehow insufficient, that this is morally, spiritually, and politically wrong, to screech as Mr. Giuliani has screeched ... there is also this: that gaping hole in Mr. Giuliani's argument of 'Republicans equal life; Democrats equal death.'

Not only have the Republicans not lived up to their babbling on this subject, but last fall the electorate called them on it.

As doubtless they would call you on it, Mr. Giuliani.

Repeat, go beyond Mr. Bush's rhetorical calamities of 2006.

Call attention to the casualties on your watch, and your long, waking slumber in the years between the two attacks on the World Trade Center.

Become the candidate who runs on the Vote-For-Me-Or-Die platform.

Do a Joe McCarthy, a Lyndon Johnson, a Robespierre.

Only, if you choose so to do, do not come back surprised nor remorseful if the voters remind you that "terror" is not just a matter of "casualties." It is, just as surely, a matter of the promulgation of fear.

Claim a difference between the parties on the voters' chances of survival - and you do Osama Bin Laden's work for him.

And we - Democrats and Republicans alike, and every variation in between - We - Americans! - are sick to death, of you and the other terror-mongers, trying to frighten us into submission, into the surrender of our rights and our reason, into this betrayal of that for which this country has always stood.

Franklin Roosevelt's words ring true again tonight.

And, clarified and amplified, they are just as current now, as they were when first he spoke them, 74 years ago.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself" - and those who would exploit our fear, for power, and for their own personal, selfish, cynical, gain.

Good night, and good luck.

Gun Crazy America

Hooked on Violence
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
Two days after the massacre at Virginia Tech, a mentally disturbed man with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun opened fire in a house in Queens, killing his mother, his mother’s disabled companion and the disabled man’s health care aide. The gunman then killed himself.

Sixteen months ago, in the basement of a private home in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, four aspiring rappers, aged 19 to 22, were summarily executed in a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire. Two teenagers were arrested five months later, and one was charged as the gunman.

I had coffee the other day with Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and she mentioned that since the murders of Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, well over a million Americans have been killed by firearms in the United States. That’s more than the combined U.S. combat deaths in all the wars in all of American history.

“We’re losing eight children and teenagers a day to gun violence,” she said. “As far as young people are concerned, we lose the equivalent of the massacre at Virginia Tech about every four days.”

The first step in overcoming an addiction is to acknowledge it. Americans are addicted to violence, specifically gun violence. We profess to be appalled at every gruesome outbreak of mass murder (it’s no big deal when just two, three or four people are killed at a time), but there’s no evidence that we have the will to pull the guns out of circulation, or even to register the weapons and properly screen and train their owners.

On the day after Christmas in 2000, an employee of Edgewater Technology, a private company in Wakefield, Mass., showed up at work with an assault rifle and a .12-gauge shotgun. Around 11 a.m. he began methodically killing co-workers. He didn’t stop until seven were dead.

An employee who had not been at work that day spoke movingly to a reporter from The Boston Globe about the men and women who lost their lives. “They were some of the sweetest, smartest people I’ve ever had the chance to work with,” he said. “The cream of the crop.”

The continuing carnage has roused at least one group of public officials to action: mayors. “We see the violence that is happening in America today,” said Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. “Illegal guns are rampant. Go into almost any classroom in Boston — sixth and seventh grade, eighth grade, high school — and 50 percent of those kids know somebody who had a gun.”

The mayor noted that since the beginning of the year, more than 100 people have already been killed in Philadelphia, and nearly 80 in Baltimore. Most of the victims were shot to death.

Last year Mayor Menino and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, at a meeting they hosted at Gracie Mansion, organized a group of mayors committed to fighting against illegal firearms in the U.S. “It is time for national leadership in the war on gun violence,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. “And if that leadership won’t come from Congress or come from the White House, then it has to come from us.”

The campaign has grown. There were 15 mayors at that first gathering. Now more than 200 mayors from cities in 46 states have signed on.

When asked why Mayor Bloomberg had become so militant about the gun issue, John Feinblatt, the city’s criminal justice coordinator, mentioned the “human element.” He said: “I think it’s because he’s watched eight police officers be shot. And because, like all mayors, he’s the one who gets awakened, along with the police commissioner, at 3 in the morning and 4 in the morning, and has to rush to the hospital and break the news that can break somebody’s heart.”

Those who are interested in the safety and well-being of children should keep in mind that only motor vehicle accidents and cancer kill more children in the U.S. than firearms. A study released a few years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health compared firearm mortality rates among youngsters 5 to 14 years old in the five states with the highest rates of gun ownership with those in the five states with the lowest rates.

The results were chilling. Children in the states with the highest rates of gun ownership were 16 times as likely to die from an accidental gunshot wound, nearly seven times as likely to commit suicide with a gun, and more than three times as likely to be murdered with a firearm.

Only a lunatic could seriously believe that more guns in more homes is good for America’s children.

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