Saturday, June 17, 2006
CHICAGO -- Half of the country's water systems are making a potentially hazardous switch, while a bill aims to make national safe drinking water standards voluntary, RAW STORY has learned.
The Small Systems Safe Drinking Water Act makes it voluntary for plumbing companies to comply with national standards. The introduction of the act announces that it's intention is to, "to prevent the enforcement of certain national primary drinking water regulations unless sufficient funding is available or variance technology has been identified."
If your water is tainted with lead, there isn't much you can do about it. The manufacturer probably won't be liable and probably can't be sued.
When plumbing manufactures use pipes containing lead alloys, which are cheaper than most other alloys, the pipes can corrode and react with a new water disinfectant, chloramine. Chloramine reacts with the pipes and lead leaches into household water.
An interview with the EPA about the chemical could not be arranged before press time.
Fifty percent of water systems are making the switch to chloramine from chlorine, said Marc Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
"It's of quite a significant concern," he said of communities switching to chloramine. "The train is already going down the tracks. It's not even possible to have a discussion at this point. There is no slowing the train down."
Edwards concedes that it is difficult for water regulators and the EPA to know what to do. Careers have been devoted to the chloramine switch, he said, all with good intentions. It's hard for those in charge to admit the problem, let alone know what to do about it.
"No one ever considered the potential unintended consequences," he said. "It was not included in the cost benefits analysis."
Chloramine lead spikes are the exception, not the rule, he said. But even if 1 to 2 percent of communities have problems, it could cause enough damage to outweigh all of the chemical's benefits
In 2004, levels of lead skyrocketed in the Washington, D.C. water supply. The spike came after the city switched from chlorine to chloramine.
New chemical has mixed record
By itself, chloramine is not dangerous. In fact, it tends to reduce the amount of potential chemicals chlorine can produce in the drinking water, including carcinogens, said Dave Purkiss, general manager of water treatment and distribution at NSF International.
NSF, a Michigan-based independent nonprofit that test things like food and air, also tests the residential-plumbing equipment manufacturers voluntarily submit. About 80 percent of today's manufacturers, including most national brands, have their products tested by NSF and comply with local regulations, Purkiss said. He said the fears of chloramine are exaggerated.
When Washington, D.C. switched to chloramine, citywide lead levels increased to three times more than the legal limit. Lead levels are now at or below legal limits, according to an EPA report released this May.
The city didn't plan the switch correctly, Purkiss said, and the chloramine started to react with old, exposed layers of lead in pipes. "It led to a big increase of lead in drinking water," he said.
Marc Edwards said it is too soon to tell what should be done about chloramine, but recent studies do link it to high lead levels. He added that the situation--seeing a problem and doing nothing about it--worries him.
"This is just how the space shuttle disaster happened," he said. "I hope I'm being Chicken Little."
Friday, June 16, 2006
After Bush returned from his trip to Iraq this week, President Bush attacked those calling for a timetable for withdrawal. He said Iraqis had “concerns” that a timetable would disrupt their strategy to create a secure and democratic Iraq:
And the willingness of some to say that if we’re in power we’ll withdraw on a set timetable concerns people in Iraq, because they understand our coalition forces provide a sense of stability, so they can address old wrongs and develop their strategy and plan to move forward. They need our help and they recognize that. And so they are concerned about that.
Today, the AP reports that Iraq’s Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, personally asked President Bush to set a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. forces the day before. Iraq’s President, Jalal Talabani, said he supported the request:
Iraq’s vice president has asked President Bush for a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, the Iraqi president’s office said. Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, made the request during his meeting with Bush on Tuesday, when the U.S. president made a surprise visit to Iraq.
“I supported him in this,” President Jalal Talabani said in a statement released Wednesday. Al-Hashimi’s representatives could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Iraqi security forces should be completely in charge of the nation’s security in 18 months.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
While I never discuss classified information received during my years in government, as someone with more than twenty years of intelligence and security experience as a Sam Nunn-John Glenn-Bob Kerrey Democrat I have never seen anything even remotely similar to what has been done in the name of our country at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, probably Haditha, possibly in other cases.
The sick truth is, in Iraq and elsewhere, our country is in a battle of ideas with an enemy that commits mass murder against the innocent and there is a real danger, based on recent polling, that President Bush is in danger of losing this battle of ideas and creating a whole new generation of terrorists.
This is incredible, amazing, and unbelievable and future historians will look back on these days, as many around the world do today, with horror that our President and our Congress allowed this travesty against our tradition and good name to continue to this day.
Here is a solution I have offered privately and obviously unsuccessfully, to a number of high officials in both parties. We should demand a full powered independent commission led by a jurist of internationally recognized integrity and honor, such as Sandra Day O'Connor, and composed of respected figures from all points of view at the stage in their career where they will do what is right.
The kind of people who might serve on this commission could include Howard Baker, Nancy Kassebaum, Bob Kerrey, John Glenn, George Mitchell, Alan Simpson, Cardinal Keeler, Elie Wiesl, or others of eminent stature This commission should have complete confidential access to all classified information relevant to potential abuses; they should issue direct advice to the President and Congress and include a public non-classified report, and have the authority to present their finding to any court of law they deem appropriate.
We have become a nation of secret courts, secret trials, secret defendants, secret evidence and a whole tier of fundamental policies to guard our security that compromise a virtual secret government in key regards which is an open invitation to abuse, with horrifying damage to our national honor, tradition and moral crediblity throughout the world.
We have had an executive branch that claims unilateral power to violate the constitution, our bill of rights and our laws of the land; they claim the power to do this in secret; and then they seek to prosecute, intimidate or bully those who believe that in America we are a nation of laws, with ultimate power residing in an informed citizenry.
There have been efforts to ignore and bypass courts and Congress; and both parties in the Congress, including far too many Democrats, have been derelict in their obligation for oversight. As many checks and balances have been unilaterally surrendered as taken away, and taken together, the abuses that have become far too common are in fact inevitable results of secret government that openly dishonors the very notion of the rule of law.
Having dealt with sensitive intelligence information I am well aware and accept that there must be some limits to public disclosure. For this reason I propose a fairly small number of nationally and globally respected figures who have a history of being trusted with confidential information, and the honor and integrity to fight in appropriate ways for simple justice and the rule of law.
I have written and said this many times, the single most despicable and unacceptable statement I have ever heard in my lifetime of public life, was when Alberto Gonzales described the Geneva Convention as some sort of quaint relic. Geneva was put in place to protect not only our values, but our troops who in my experience, from the Joint Chiefs to the newest enlisted men and women, support Geneva and the values and ideas behind Geneva in overwhelming and almost universal numbers.
It is staggering, that our country has a Vice President who is in fact, the leading lobbyist for torture, of any public figure, who has ever served in a comparable position, in any major democratic nation. It is Orwellian how those who defend this, are usually the same people who mocked and scorned President Clinton for defining what is, is, while they triangulate and evade the hard truth, of what torture, is.
Donald Rumsfeld, in one of his famous memos, once asked, correctly, whether the policy is creating more terrorists than it kills. The blunt and hard truth is, it almost certainly is, and at the least, the continuing toleration of torture and abuse by any name is doing extreme damage to the safety of our troops, is creating new generations of terrorists, and does grave damage to the very policies the President asserts are the most important to our nation.
America does not do torture; we do not do war crimes; we do not cover them up; we do not hide them; we do not redefine them; we do not excuse, tolerate, triangulate or condone acts that are contrary to our national heritage, that destroy our honor and reputation in what Jefferson called the decent opinion of mankind, that create more danger for our troops today, and threaten our communities tomorrow, which may someday be attacked by new terrorists recruited by enemies who exploit the outrage generated by this conduct.
At this point, rather than trust a president or Congress that have allowed this infamy to damage our country for so long, it is time for a highest level, maximum credibility, fully independent commission to put a stop to this, now and forever, once and for all, and send a message to our people and the world that will restore our unquestioned moral leadership, at a time when it is more urgently needed than ever.
by georgia10So now the Republicans want a debate.
Now they want a debate, after refusing to debate some of the most important bills to be introduced, like S. 11, the Standing With Our Troops Act, or H. R. 2131, the "New GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century Act." No debate has been had on S. 2230, the Servicemember Safety Act of 2006, a bill requiring that every servicemember have "complete personal armored protection."
No, instead, they want to debate a non-binding resolution drafted out of political anxiety over midterms than out of true concern for our troops.
They want to talk now? OK. Let's talk.
Let's talk about 2,500 American lives lost. About the 18,490 wounded. About the 337 contractors killed. Let's talk about 40,000--forty thousand Iraqis dead because of our intervention. Or about the journalists killed in Iraq, more than in any war of the past century.
Let's talk about permanent bases. Why don't Republicans explain to the American people why they refuse to rule out a permanent presence in Iraq? They deleted the no permanent bases provision from recent House and Senate bills.
Let's talk about the fact that the Bush administration has admitted it is thinking about leaving some 50,000 troops in Iraq for years, possibly decades.
Let's talk about torture and massacres. Let's talk about innocent detainees at Guantanamo Bay committing suicide. Let's talk about Haditha, where its alleged that over two dozen humans were massacred by American troops. Let's talk about Abu Ghraib, about the stonewalling investigations, about the lack of accountability.
Let's talk about corruption. Let's talk about 21 billion American dollars missing in Iraq. Let's talk about President Bush, who declared that the Inspector General could not investigate these crimes.
Let's talk about Baghdad.
Let's talk about blood.
And while we're at it, let's talk about the real War on Terrorism, the forgotten war taking place in the mountains and streets of Afghanistan. No Republican dares mention Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban. Because to mention them, even in hushed whispers, is to admit that in this real war launched in response to the 9/11 attacks...victory is so, so far away.
But they don't want to talk about this. They don't want to talk about reality. All they want to do is gruesomely rejoice in pictures of dead terrorists in golden frames as evidence of victory. One murderer down...how many more to go?
And so, thirsty for that manufactured controversy upon which they constantly subsist-- Republicans are daring Democrats to vote against this resolution.
Well, I dare them to go to Iraq. I dare each and every member of Congress to fly over there (it will have to be a "surprise" visit you know...). And not in one of those perfectly orchestrated photo ops where everything is planned down to the color of the bullet-proof vests.
I dare them to step one foot outside of the pseudo-reality of the Green Zone. I dare them to venture off a military base, I dare them to walk around without a dozen body gaurds--you know, like ordinary Iraqis do.
I dare them to venture into a war--most of them haven't seen war. Ever. And that is why it's so effortless for them to argue with a straight face that we should "stay the course." It's easy to make such arguments, when you don't live in daily fear of bullets and bombs.
As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down is the empty mantra they have been peddling to the American people. It's true, thank god, that most Iraqis desire peace and are standing up to stabilize their country.
But we cannot ignore that there is a civil war in Iraq. Take off your partisan blinders, oh intentionally oblivious Republicans, and acknowledge the quagmire that we have created. Acknowledge that some Iraqis are standing up, and are granting pardons to those who murdered American troops. That Iraqis are standing up, and are deserting the Iraqi Army in alarming numbers (in some units, desertion is as much as 40%). Acknowledge that Iraqis are standing up and are slaying each other, torturing each other, killing each other at a rate of 30 innocent souls killed a day.
Acknowledge that Iraqis are standing up, all right. And we're standing in quicksand as we stubbornly refuse to budge an inch as Iraq descends into chaos and disorganization.
America's invasion of Iraq was, as we all know now, unnecessary. But what is necessary now is for us to put aside this destructive egotism which has seeped from the Republican Party and stained our foreign policy. Iraq is now an international humanitarian crisis, and it requires an international response.
It's high time this nation takes a grown-up approach to war. This isn't a game. Those are real humans out there, not plastic little soldiers. They live, they bleed, they yearn for home. They have real families and real needs. And this childish game of chicken Republicans are playing with terrorists will fail, and it will fail in the most horrendous and bloody manner. And we will lose.
For "staying the course" is profoundly stupid strategy. It's the strategy of fools, of those who fail to see the cliff before them.
So let the Republicans talk today, let them childishly call us names and baselessly attack our character. It's what they do. They're great at politics, so let them play their theater. Let them play their games with their empty resolutions and deceptive rhetoric.Soon, but never soon enough, there will be grown-ups in Congress again who will have a real debate on this war. It will be a debate aimed at finding solutions for bring our troops home victorious. That is the type of debate our troops deserve, not this--this which keeps them wallowing in the desert with nothing more than a tattered, ineffectual "resolution" to shield them from the relentless storms of violence.
The Joke used to be that Iraq was Arabic for Vietnam. Now Americans may learn that Iraq is worse than Vietnam.
by Nicholas von Hoffman
Is the badly outnumbered American expeditionary force in Iraq in trouble? Is it in danger of being trapped? With all our firepower, are we looking at the possibility of some kind of a military defeat?
As the bad news continues to seep in, debates about exit strategies are going out of date. Another year like the last three and the deteriorating military situation will have us debating what tactics will be necessary to extract our people with a minimum of loss.
We could be moving toward an American Dunkirk. In 1940 the defeated British Army in Belgium was driven back by the Germans to the French seacoast city of Dunkirk, where it had to abandon its equipment and escape across the English Channel on a fleet of civilian vessels, fishing smacks, yachts, small boats, anything and everything that could float and carry the defeated and wounded army to safety.
Obviously, our forces in Iraq will not be defeated in open battle by an opposing army as happened in 1940, but there is more than one way to stumble into a military disaster. Fragmented reports out of Iraq suggest we may be on our way to finding one of them. Defeat can come from overused troops. It does not help that one by one, the remaining members of the Coalition of the Willing give every appearance of sneaking out of town.
We know that US Marines accused of the Haditha massacre should not have been in Iraq. According to the Chicago Tribune , "Many of the US troops in Iraq are now on their second or third tour of duty in a conflict that has stretched beyond original expectations.... The Marine unit in Haditha was on its third rotation in Iraq when the incident allegedly occurred Nov. 19. The same month a year earlier, on a previous tour of duty, the unit had been engaged in fierce house-to-house fighting in the battle to retake Fallujah from insurgents."
Filtering out from Iraq are indicators of a military organization in danger of creeping disintegration. For three years our troops have been in a foreign land fighting God knows who for God knows why for God knows how long and God knows how many times. This now well-quoted paragraph from the June 12 edition of Newsweek hints at the price paid in order and morale: "The wife of a staff sergeant in the 3/1 battalion--members of which are currently accused of murdering Iraqi citizens in Haditha--says that there was 'a total breakdown' in discipline and morale after Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani took over as battalion commander when the unit returned from Fallujah at the start of 2005.... 'There were problems in Kilo Company with drugs, alcohol, hazing, you name it,' she tells Newsweek...'I think it's more than possible that these guys were totally tweaked out on speed or something when they shot those civilians in Haditha.'"
As awful as the killing of the twenty-four civilian Iraqis is, at this hour Haditha's importance is as an indicator of what's happening inside the American military organization there.
The Internet is alive with pessimistic stories and opinions about what may be happening, one of which informs its readers, "Military commanders in the field in Iraq admit in private reports to the Pentagon the war 'is lost' and that the U.S. military is unable to stem the mounting violence killing 1,000 Iraqi civilians a month. Even worse, they report the massacre of Iraqi civilians at Haditha is 'just the tip of the iceberg' with overstressed, out-of-control American soldiers pushed beyond the breaking point both physically and mentally."
The New York Times's John Burns, a good-to-go-to-war man from before the first American smart bomb fell on Baghdad, was on the air the other night warning that, in effect, the invading army had lost both the initiative and control. Readers of Juan Cole's authoritative Informed Comment blog get a daily summing-up of deaths, murders and atrocities not available to TV viewers and ordinary newspaper readers. The simple numbers tell the story of a large and growing bloodbath.
People here in the United States get only fragments of news that are difficult to make sense of, due to the sheer difficulty of reporting on the war. Journalists, even the credulous rah-rah by-jingo types, cannot be faulted, since they take their lives in their hands when they venture out from their bunkers to attempt to cover a story. The recent deaths and maimings of CBS and ABC journalists should have brought home to the public that getting the full story is not possible and getting half or a quarter of a story is problematic.
The Defense Department is not telling what it knows but no wartime government ever, ever tells the truth. Even Abraham Lincoln did not let on how badly things were going, even when they were very bad indeed.
In the south of Iraq, in the Basra region, the British who occupy that sector have all but given up aggressive patrol. They are holed up in their encampments on the defensive. Some reports have it that it is now too dangerous for them to fly helicopters by day. At the point when they must choose between being overrun or withdrawing, the small contingent of British troops facing unknown numbers of militia hidden in and among a hostile population should be able to evacuate the port of Basra even under fire.
The situation for American troops may be even more precarious. While our forces are still able to carry out aggressive patrolling, it nets little except to increase popular hostility, which, of course, makes it yet easier for the various insurgents and guerrilla groups to operate against us. It appears that in many places our people may have simply hunkered down to stay out of trouble. The vast construction projects of a few years ago are all but closed down, too, as the American forces appear to be doing less and less of anything but holding on and holding out.
The shortage of troops, which three years ago was a restraining factor, has become a potential disaster, with the ever-rising level of hostility to the American presence. To stay the course, to win, to realize our objectives, we need a half-million soldiers to pacify that country. If the force levels remain the same for another year and a half, this small, exhausted and overused American force may become so unglued that staying in Iraq will be come impossible. There may be no choice but retreat.
No, that's wrong. There is another choice. Americans can try to make up for their lack of numbers with firepower. Blow what's left of the country to smithereens. The political effects would be unspeakable and the ground troops might well still have to be extracted from their plight.
A half-million pair of boots on the ground can only be gotten by conscription. The chances of reactivating the draft for Iraq are nil. If our political leaders have to choose between a new conscription and risking a defeat, there is no question about what they will do.
Should discipline continue to break down at the platoon and company level, pulling the scattered American forces together and getting them out may be a harrowing experience. Retreat under fire, even if it's harassing guerrilla fire, is difficult even for an army without internal problems.
Air evacuation would mean abandoning billions of dollars of equipment. There is no seaport troops could get to, so the only way out of Iraq would be that same desert highway to Kuwait where fifteen years ago the American Air Force destroyed Saddam Hussein's army.
Dunkirk in the desert.
Nicholas von Hoffman is the author of A Devil's Dictionary of Business, recently published by Nation Books. He is a Pulitzer Prize losing author of thirteen books, including Citizen Cohn, and a columnist for the New York Observer.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said his office had documented massacres with hundreds of victims in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region as well as hundreds of rape cases.
In a report to the UN Security Council, Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the office had documented "thousands of alleged direct killings of civilians by parties to the conflict," including "a significant number of large-scale massacres, with hundreds of victims in each incident."
Ocampo told the council that his office was investigating allegations that some of the groups implicated in the Darfur crimes "did so with specific genocidal intent".
He said identifying those with the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes in Darfur was a key challenge for his probe but said he would not draw any conclusions pending the completion of a "full and impartial investigation".
He said the ICC would need the "full support of the Security Council and the unfettered cooperation of the international community, in particular the government of Sudan".
Ocampo said interviews of victims and witnesses reported that men perceived to be from the Fur, Massalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups were "deliberately targeted".
Evidence cited eyewitness accounts that "the perpetrators made statements reinforcing the targeted nature of the attacks, such as 'we will kill all the blacks' and 'we will drive you out of this land'."
The report also cited a "significant amount of information indicating that thousands of civilians have died since 2003" as a result of lack of shelter and basic necessities for survival after their homes and food stocks were destroyed and their property looted.
Ocampo's office also recorded "hundreds of alleged cases of rape", which the report said was indicative of an endemic practice among some groups involved in the conflict.
It highlighted a "widespread pattern of displacement of civilians, with recent estimates of some two million displaced persons and refugees from Darfur".
"Destruction of property and looting is a prevalent feature of the crimes in Darfur, with reports of destruction and looting in up to 2,000 villages throughout the three Darfur states," it said.
The study covering the October 2002-May 2006 period, also referred to continued reports of direct attacks on humanitarian workers and peacekeepers, including the killing of African Union peacekeepers in 2005 and 2006.
"These attacks are not only grave examples of the potential warcrimes, they also have an impact on the delivery of vital services that exacerbates the suffering of the most vulnerable groups in Darfur," it said.
Meanwhile Sudan's UN envoy Omar Manis said his government had set up a special criminal court to deal with the Darfur crimes.
But New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was aware of only 13 cases that had been brought before that special court to date.
"The cases have involved low-ranking individuals accused of relatively minor offenses. No senior commanders or superiors have been charged for their part in the atrocities," HRW said.
"The cases before the court so far involve ordinary crimes like theft and receiving stolen goods, which don't begin to reflect the massive scale of the destruction in Darfur," Sara Darehshori, senior counsel to the International Justice Program at HRW, said in a statement.
"The Sudanese government must do more than pay lip service to the idea of justice," she added.
The ICC, based in The Hague, is mandated to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It can also try crimes of aggression although member states have not yet agreed on the legal definition for such crimes.
Decades of sporadic conflict in Darfur erupted into all-out war in 2003, when rebels took up arms, accusing the Arab government in Khartoum of neglect and calling for autonomy.
In response, the regime unleashed its Janjaweed proxy militia on Darfur's largely black population. The combined effect of war and famine has resulted in the deaths of up to 300,000 people.
Mess'O'potamia: Bush's Folly Creates the Largest Flow of New Refugees in the World.
June 14th, 2006 2:05 pm
For Iraqis, Exodus to Syria and Jordan Continues
By Sabrina Tavernise / New York Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 13 — In one of the first comprehensive tallies of Iraqis fleeing Iraq since the American-led invasion, an American refugee advocacy group has counted 644,500 Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan in 2005.
The figure, provided by the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nongovernmental group based in Washington, is equal to about 2.5 percent of Iraq's population, and substantiates the overwhelming evidence of an exodus that has been accumulating in Iraqi passport offices and airline waiting rooms in recent months.
It was part of a survey of refugees around the world that was conducted by the committee and was scheduled for release on Wednesday. The number includes Iraqis who have been in Syria and Jordan since the invasion in 2003 but had not previously been counted as refugees, and those who arrived over the course of 2005.
The committee has counted Iraqi refugees in the past, but the most recent figure is by far the largest to date — more than triple the 213,000 recorded in 2004 — and the first big surge since the American invasion. At first, Iraqis living abroad began returning home. But as the war became increasingly deadly, more Iraqis chose to leave.
In all, as of the end of 2005, 889,000 Iraqis have moved abroad as refugees since 2003, according to the group's tally, more than double the 366,000 counted at the end of 2004.
"It's the biggest new flow of refugees in the world," said Lavinia Limón, the committee's president.
The survey bases its count on figures from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other sources, including local nongovernmental organizations and embassies. For that reason, the group considers its count more detailed than that of the United Nations, which offered a rough tally of 2.7 million Iraqis, including 1 million who fled under Saddam Hussein and another 1.2 million who left their homes but remained in Iraq.
In Baghdad, evidence of the departures abounds. Faris al-Douri, a travel agency director, said on Tuesday that airline tickets are booked weeks in advance, and that airlines have added flights to Jordan and Syria. Passport offices are packed.
"As if we were giving out cars, not passports," said Maj. Gen. Yassen al-Yassiry, director of passports for the Iraqi government.
The government issued two million passports from July 2004 to the end of 2005, he said. Some of those were for Iraqis taking holidays, but many were for migration. The government does not track the numbers of citizens leaving for abroad.
The roads to Syria and Jordan, the two most common destinations for Iraqis fleeing the war, are fraught with dangers. Monkath Abdul Razzaq, a middle-class Sunni Arab headed to Syria, watched dolefully as thieves plucked $11,000 from a hiding place in his car. Assad Bahjat, a Christian, also reported being held up on the road to Syria, after waiting for a gun battle to cease near the volatile city of Ramadi.
"Wherever we are, we thank God for every day," Mr. Bahjat said in an e-mail message after reaching the heavily Christian town of Sednaia, "because we are alive and not dead."
Sahar Nageeb contributed reporting for this article.
Throughout his tenure, President Bush and his staff have bragged about their efforts fighting crime. In his 2006 State of the Union address, Bush claimed, “Violent crime rates have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1970s.” In May 2006, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the country had “a violent crime rate at its lowest level in three decades.”
But new FBI statistics released Monday show that crime has actually jumped under the Bush administration. Violent crime in 2005 increased at 2.5 percent, the highest rate in 15 years for violent offenses. In his FY 2007 budget, however, Bush proposed cutting local law enforcement funding by a total of 52 percent. Some examples:
– Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS): Since 1995, COPS has put more than 118,500 new law enforcement officers on the streets. But Bush’s FY 2005 budget proposed cutting funding for the COPS program for the fourth consecutive year, including eliminating all funding for hiring. For FY 2007, Bush is trying to cut COPS by another 76 percent.
– Byrne Justice Assistance Grants: These grants give state and local governments funds to “prevent and control crime and to improve the criminal justice system.” Bush’s FY 2005, 2006, and 2007 budgets proposed eliminating the grants. (Congress hasn’t eliminated them, but has slashed funding each year.)
– COPS Interoperable Communications Grant: Succcessful program awards technology grants to law enforcement and public safety agencies for enhancing communication. Bush proposed eliminating the program in FY 2005, and has again proposed its elimination in FY 2007.
Bush’s motto: Take a bite out of crime (prevention programs).
By ANDREW TAYLOR
The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 13, 2006; 7:33 PM
WASHINGTON -- Despite record low approval ratings, House lawmakers Tuesday embraced a $3,300 pay raise that will increase their salaries to $168,500.
The 2 percent cost-of-living raise would be the seventh straight for members of the House and Senate.
Lawmakers easily squelched a bid by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to get a direct vote to block the COLA, which is automatically awarded unless lawmakers vote to block it.
In the early days of GOP control of Congress, lawmakers routinely denied themselves the annual COLA. Last year, the Senate voted 92-6 to deny the raise but quietly surrendered the position in House-Senate talks.
As part of an ethics reform bill in 1989, Congress gave up their ability to accept pay for speeches and made annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless the lawmakers voted otherwise.
The pay issue has been linked to the annual Transportation and Treasury Department spending bill because that measure stipulates that civil servants get raises of 2.7 percent, the same as military personnel will receive. Under a complicated formula, the increase translates to 2 percent for members of Congress.
Like last year, Matheson led a quixotic drive to block the raise. He was the only member to speak on the topic.
"I do not think that it is appropriate to let this bill go through without an up or down vote on whether or not Congress should have an increase in its own pay," Matheson said.
But by a 249-167 vote, the House rejected Matheson's procedural attempt to get a direct vote on the pay raise.
The pay raise would also apply to the vice president _ who is president of the Senate _ congressional leaders and Supreme Court justices.
This year, Vice President Dick Cheney, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Chief Justice John Roberts receive $212,100. Associate justices receive $203,000. House and Senate party leaders get $183,500.
President Bush's salary of $400,000 is unaffected by the legislation.
Lieberman's No Democrat! A Democrat Wouldn't Choose To Run As An Independent Just To Hold On To Power.
Lieberman camp remains mum after Lamont insists he agree to back primary winner
By Don Michak / Journal Inquirer
A former Democratic state chairman's suggestion that U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman run for re-election as an independent should he lose a party primary was portrayed as irrelevant today by a top aide to the three-term incumbent.
Lieberman's campaign spokeswoman, Marion Steinfels, also repeatedly ducked questions about whether the senator was considering collecting the signatures that by state law would allow him to be listed as an independent candidate on the November ballot.
A spokesman for Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said today that she had received no inquiries from any potential candidate about the steps required to become a petitioning candidate for U.S. senator.
The spokesman said the rules require that such a candidate circulate petitions obtained from the secretary of the state's office within any of the state's 169 towns and return them for verification by the town clerks by 4 p.m. Aug. 9, the day after the Democratic primary.
The petitions are then returned to the secretary of the state's office, which must verify the candidate has at least 7,500 signatures.
"The senator has said that he's always been a Democrat and will always be a Democrat, and that all his efforts are focused on winning the Democratic primary," Steinfels, Lieberman's spokeswoman, insisted. "We're completely focused on Aug. 8, and Joe is going to win."
The spokeswoman's comments came as John Droney, a longtime Lieberman ally and former Democratic Party chieftain, urged Lieberman to immediately start collecting signatures in the event that he were to lose the primary to Greenwich cable executive Ned Lamont.
Droney also branded the contest as "ridiculous."
"I don't believe that a small minority of voters should decide whether or not a three-term U.S. senator, whom I consider a patriot, should be returned to office," he said today. "About 150,000 or 160,000 people will vote in that primary, and when we have about 2 million registered voters in Connecticut, that sample is too small and too radical to accurately reflect Connecticut's viewpoint."
Droney said he had not made his suggestion personally to Lieberman or to his campaign staff and that he had "no idea" of the chances that the senator would heed his advice.
"But I hope he does," he added. "What's really going on here is that you have a national coalition of extreme left-wing bloggers attempting to punish a sitting U.S. senator who doesn't agree with them. And they are putting this on a national stage so they can move on and take control of the Democratic Party nationally and statewide. I think it's incumbent on the leaders of the party to tell these people to go home, that they've got no business using Connecticut as a nuclear blog testing ground."
Lamont, a former Greenwich selectman whom Gov. Lowell P. Weicker appointed to head a state panel overseeing the state pension fund, surprised many by winning twice as many votes as he needed at the Democrats' statewide nominating convention last month to force the primary.
His candidacy, propelled by his opposition to the war in Iraq, has attracted considerable national attention as his poll numbers have risen sharply.
Lamont on Monday began airing radio advertisements pointedly challenging Lieberman "to level with voters about his intentions should he lose the Democratic primary."
"I'll pledge to back you 100 percent if you win," Lamont says in the spot. "And for the good of the party, you'll pledge to support me 100 percent if I'm victorious. What do you say, senator? May the best Democrat win."
The Lamont camp today followed up its latest commercials by asking supporters to add their names to an on-line petition asking Lieberman to accept Lamont's challenge.
"Even if he officially abandoned the party long after leaving its principles behind, we will still win in November," Lamont campaign manager Thomas Swan said in an e-mail message. "What the move would do, however, is divide Democrats across the state, putting in peril campaigns for governor and competitive, top-tier House races. That's why it's so important for you to sign the letter to Senator Lieberman and forward the radio ad to your friends."
By WILL LESTER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 13, 2006; 4:46 PM
WASHINGTON -- The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is a greater threat to Mideast stability than the government in Iran, according to a poll of European and Muslim countries.
People in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Russia rated America's continuing involvement in Iraq a worse problem than Iran and its nuclear ambitions, according to polling by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Views of U.S. troops in Iraq were even more negative in countries like Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan.
America's image rebounded in some countries last year after the U.S. offered aid to tsunami victims, but those gains have disappeared, the Pew poll found.
For example, 52 percent of Russians had a favorable view of the U.S. in 2005, but that slipped to 43 percent in 2006. In India, 71 percent had a favorable view and that slipped to 56 percent this year. In Spain, the favorable rating slipped from 41 percent last year to 23 percent this year.
In Indonesia, the percentage with a favorable view of the U.S. dropped from 38 percent to 30 percent this year. Fewer than a third of the people in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan and Turkey had a favorable view of the U.S.
Iraq is one of many issues that pushes a negative view of the U.S., said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.
"Last year we saw some good news in countries like Russia and India," Kohut said. "That good news being wiped away is a measure of how difficult a problem this is for the United States.
"Western countries share some points of view," Kohut said, noting mutual concerns about Iran's development of a nuclear program and the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections. "But Iraq continues to be divisive."
Iran's nuclear program is seen as a serious threat by international leaders, who have been pressuring Iran to drop that program. Leaders of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany have offered Iran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, incentives to suspend uranium enrichment.
But the war in Iraq trumps the Iranian situation as a perceived danger to the world at a time when the image of the United States and its war on terrorism continues to drop internationally.
The 15-nation poll also found:
_Overall support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism has declined even among close allies. Support for the war on terror has dropped in Britain from 63 percent in 2004 to 49 percent now.
_Favorable opinions of the United States continue to fall, with sharp declines in Spain, Turkey and India.
_People in the United States and European countries are far more likely than those in Muslim countries to view the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections as a negative development.
_Western European nations and predominantly Muslim nations have sharply different views on Iran, which the U.S. claims is developing nuclear weapons.
_Majorities in 10 of 14 foreign countries _ including Britain _ say the Iraq war has made the world more dangerous.
_Concern about global warming is low in China and United States, the two largest producers of greenhouse gases, while high elsewhere.
The polling in 15 countries of samples ranging from about 900 to 2,000 adults was conducted in April and May and has a margin of error ranging from 2 to 6 percentage points. The polling included Muslim oversamples in the European countries. In China, India and Pakistan, the polling was based on urban samples.
The nations in which polling was conducted were China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
On the Net:
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press: http://www.people-press.org
On Thursday, the House of Representatives will hold a debate on the Iraq war. Media reports say Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) “hopes to match the serious, dignified tone of deliberation that preceded the Gulf war, in 1991.”
ThinkProgress has obtained a “Confidential Messaging Memo” from Boehner instructing his caucus to conduct a very different kind of deliberation. Here’s a quick summary:
1. Exploit 9/11. The two page memo mentions 9/11 seven times. It describes debating Iraq in the context of 9/11 as “imperative.”
2. Attack opponents ad hominem. The memo describes those who opposes President Bush’s policies in Iraq as “sheepish,” “weak,” and “prone to waver endlessly.”
3. Create a false choice. The memo says the decision is between supporting President Bush’s policies and hoping terrorist threats will “fade away on their own.”
You can read the confidential memo for yourself HERE.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Over the weekend, two Saudis and a Yemeni committed suicide in their cells at Guantanamo. In response, the State Department’s Colleen Graffy – who “coordinates efforts with a special envoy, Karen Hughes, in a campaign to improve the US image abroad, especially in Islamic countries” - described the suicides as “good PR move to draw attention.” In addition, Guantanamo’s camp commander Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris called the suicides “an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us.”
The comments caused a diplomatic uproar around the world and have led to renewed calls for Guantanamo’s closure. A few examples of the international displeasure from both conservative and liberal editorial boards:
- “In an editorial headlined ‘Bad Language’, the right-leaning Times [of London], normally a defender of Britain’s alliance with the United States, said such rhetoric ‘plays once again into the hands of America’s enemies.’” [Link]
- “France’s Le Monde newspaper condemned Graffy’s comments, saying that they ‘illustrate the gulf which separates American authorities from the rest of the world on this sinister question.’” [Link]
- “Britain’s Guardian newspaper called Harris’ remarks ‘cold and odious.’ ‘It is entirely in keeping with the clinical illegality of America’s treatment of terror suspects since 2001,’ the left-leaning newspaper said.” [Link]
- “Britain’s conservative Daily Mail newspaper said the officials had spoken ‘with utter insensitivity to world opinion’ in an editorial headlined: ‘From the high moral ground to the gutter.’” [Link]
- “Spain’s El Mundo newspaper called the comments ‘gruesome.’” [Link]
The administration immediately had to go “into damage control,” with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack saying, “I would just point out in public that we do not see it as a PR stunt.”
Who's Following the Iraq Money?
Well, there is a lot of money to follow in the current scandal that can be best described as the Bush/Cheney administration, and so far, nobody's doing it.
My bet for the place that needs the most following is the more than $9 billion that has gone missing without a trace in Iraq--as well as $12 billion in cash that the Pentagon flew into Iraq straight from Federal Reserve vaults via military transports, and for which there has been little or no accounting.
As word of massive corruption began to surface in 2003, Congress passed legislation creating an office of Inspector General, assuming that this new agency would monitor the spending on the occupation and reconstruction, and figure why all so much taxpayer money was disappearing, and why only minimal reconstruction was going on in destroyed Iraq, instead of a massive rebuilding program as intended. Bush named an old friend and supporter, Stuart Bowen, to the post--a move that should have put Congress on alert, given this administration's long history of putting cronies in positions of authority.
When the Coalition Provisional Authority was terminated in late 2004, with corruption still rampant and growing, Congress redefined Bowen's position as Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
Bowen, went to work. He uncovered some corruption in a report in early 2006 that sounded scathing enough. Bowen found cases of double billing by contractors, of payments for work that was never done, and other scandals. But he never came up with more than $1 billion or so worth of problems--a small fraction of the total amount of money that was vanishing.
Now we know why so little was done.
It turns out that Bowen was never really looking very hard.
As the signing statement puts it:
Title III of the Act creates an Inspector General (IG) of the CPA. Title III shall be construed in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authorities to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs, to supervise the unitary executive branch, and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The CPA IG shall refrain from initiating, carrying out, or completing an audit or investigation, or from issuing a subpoena, which requires access to sensitive operation plans, intelligence matters, counterintelligence matters, ongoing criminal investigations by other administrative units of the Department of Defense related to national security, or other matters the disclosure of which would constitute a serious threat to national security.Well, since most of the missing money has been going to or through the military in Iraq, and since the president can define just about anything having to do with Iraq as "national security," that pretty much meant nothing of consequence would be discovered by the inspector general in Iraq.
Bowen simply never mentioned to anyone that, courtesy of an unconstitutional order from the president, he was not doing the job that Congress had intended.
This would all be pretty funny except for two things.
First of all, Americans and Iraqis are dying in droves because of the chaos that the U.S. invasion and occupation have created in Iraq--a problem that that $9 billion in missing Congressionally allocated funds, and the bales of US dollars, were supposed to have solved.
Second, and I admit this is pretty speculative on my part, money being like water, it tends to flow to the lowest level, which, from a moral and ethical standpoint, would be the Bush/Cheney administration and the Republican Party machine that put them, and the do-nothing Congress that covers up for them, into office.
My guess is that a fair piece of those many billions of dollars is sloshing around back in the U.S. paying for things like Republican Party electoral dirty tricks, vote theft, bribing of Democratic members of Congress, and god knows what else.
If this seems far-fetched to anyone, remember that this administration has included a number of people who were linked to the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal, when the creative--and criminal--idea was conceived of secretly selling Pentagon stocks of shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and using the proceeds to secretly fund the U.S.-trained and organized Contra fighters who were fighting to topple the Sandinista government in Nicaragua (Congress had inconveniently banned any U.S. aid to the Contras).
It seems to me inconceivable that this corrupt and obsessively power-mad administration would have passed up an opportunity to get its hands on some of the easy money flowing into Iraq over the course of the last three years.
What better way to follow that money than an old-fashioned impeachment hearing into why the president unconstitutionally subverted the intent of Congress in establishing an office of special inspector general for corruption in Iraq?
Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:02:36 PM PDT
Rove, apparently feeling frisky after
cutting a deal with Fitzgerald getting out of legal trouble on the Plame Affair, is back to his old habits.
Rove, one of Washington's most powerful and polarizing figures who is under investigation in the leak of a CIA covert operative's name, chided Democrats for floating the idea of troop reductions in Iraq.
He specifically targeted Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha.
"Like too many Democrats it strikes me they are ready to give the green light to go to war, but when it gets tough, they fall back of that party's old platform of cutting and running. They may be with you for the first few bullets but they won't be there for the last tough battles," he said.
Karl Rove wants to talk about cutting and running? Here's his record:
Except for a lapse of several months, Selective Service records show presidential adviser Karl Rove escaped the draft for nearly three years at the height of the Vietnam War using student deferments [...]
At the time, a full-time student at the university would have had to take 12 hours a quarter. University records show Rove went to school full-time for four of those quarters. But in the autumn and spring quarters of 1971, Rove was a part-time student, registered for between six and 12 credit hours. In his book, The Draft: 1940- 1973, Texas Tech University history professor George Flynn writes that Selective Service regulations required a student with a draft deferment to study "full-time, pursuing a regular degree, and in senior college. But the definition of full time varied from school to school."
Despite the apparent lapse in his full-time status, Rove maintained his deferment.
But Rove is doing what Republicans do best -- use troops for political props, but then trash them when politically expedient. They have no respect for those who have served because they, themselves, haven't given anything to their countries.
No sense of duty. No sense of shared sacrifice. No sense of respect to those who wore combat boots.
Its the modern Republican Party in action.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Three Human Beings Commit Suicide at Bush's Concentration Camp. Bush's Boys Call It An Act of Warfare.
By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 12 June 2006
They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.
-- Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., Commander, Joint Task Force, Guantánamo
Three men being held in the United States military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, killed themselves by hanging in their cells on Saturday. The Team Bush spin machine immediately swept into high gear.
Military officials characterized their deaths as a coordinated protest. The commander of the prison, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., called it "asymmetrical warfare."
Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, said taking their lives "certainly is a good PR move."
Meanwhile, George W. Bush expressed "serious concern" about the deaths. "He stressed the importance of treating the bodies in a humane and culturally sensitive manner," said Christie Parell, a White House spokeswoman.
How nice that Bush wants their bodies treated humanely, after treating them like animals for four years while they were alive. Bush has defied the Geneva Conventions' command that all prisoners be treated humanely. He decided that "unlawful combatants" are not entitled to humane treatment because they are not prisoners of war.
Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions requires that no prisoners, even "unlawful combatants," may be subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment. Incidentally, the Pentagon has decided to omit the mandates of Article 3 Common from its new detainee policies.
Bush resisted the McCain anti-torture amendment to a spending bill at the end of last year, sending Dick Cheney to prevail upon John McCain to exempt the CIA from its prohibition on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners. When McCain refused to alter his amendment, Bush signed the bill, quietly adding one of his "signing statements," saying that he feels free to ignore the prohibition if he wants to.
Bush & Co. are fighting in the Supreme Court to deny the Guantánamo prisoners access to US courts to challenge their confinement. The Court will announce its decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld by the end of this month.
This hardly sounds like a man who believes in humane treatment for live human beings.
The three men who committed suicide, Mani bin Shaman bin Turki al-Habradi,Yasser Talal Abdulah Yahya al-Zahrani, and Ali Abdullah Ahmed, were being held indefinitely at Guantánamo. None had been charged with any crime. All had participated in hunger strikes and been force-fed, a procedure the United Nations Human Rights Commission called "torture."
"A stench of despair hangs over Guantánamo. Everyone is shutting down and quitting," said Mark Denbeaux, a lawyer for two of the prisoners there. His client, Mohammed Abdul Rahman, "is trying to kill himself" in a hunger strike. "He told us he would rather die than stay in Guantánamo," Denbeaux added.
While the Bush administration is attempting to characterize the three suicides as political acts of martyrdom, Shafiq Rasul, a former Guantánamo prisoner who himself participated in a hunger strike while there, disagrees. "Killing yourself is not something that is looked at lightly in Islam, but if you're told day after day by the Americans that you're never going to go home or you're put into isolation, these acts are committed simply out of desperation and loss of hope," he said. "This was not done as an act of martyrdom, warfare or anything else."
"The total, intractable unwillingness of the Bush administration to provide any meaningful justice for these men is what is at the heart of these tragedies," according to Bill Goodman, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the Guantánamo prisoners.
Last year, at least 131 Guantánamo inmates engaged in hunger strikes, and 89 have participated this year. US military guards, with assistance from physicians, are tying them into restraint chairs and forcing large plastic tubes down their noses and into their stomachs to keep them alive. Lawyers for the prisoners have reported the pain is excruciating.
The suicides came three weeks after two other prisoners tried to kill themselves by overdosing on antidepressant drugs.
Bush is well aware that more dead US prisoners would be embarrassing for his administration, especially in light of the documented torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the execution of civilians in Haditha.
More than a year ago, the National Lawyers Guild and the American Association of Jurists called for the US government to shut down its "concentration camp" at Guantánamo. The UN Human Rights Commission, the UN Committee against Torture, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the Council of Europe, have also advocated the closure of Guantánamo prison.
Bush says he would like to close the prison, but is awaiting the Supreme Court's decision. At the same time, however, his administration is spending $30 million to construct permanent cells at Guantánamo.
Dear Republicans: How Can You Support A Party That Doesn't Want People To Vote? I Call That UnAmerican.
Editorial New York Times
Block the Vote, Ohio Remix
If there was ever a sign of a ruling party in trouble, it is a game plan that calls for trying to win by discouraging voting.
The latest sign that Republicans have an election-year strategy to shut down voter registration drives comes from Ohio. As the state gears up for a very competitive election season this fall, its secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, has put in place "emergency" regulations that could hit voter registration workers with criminal penalties for perfectly legitimate registration practices. The rules are so draconian they could shut down registration drives in Ohio.
Mr. Blackwell, who also happens to be the Republican candidate for governor this year, has a history of this sort of behavior. In 2004, he instructed county boards of elections to reject any registrations on paper of less than 80-pound stock — about the thickness of a postcard. His order was almost certainly illegal, and he retracted it after he came under intense criticism. It was, however, in place long enough to get some registrations tossed out.
This year, Mr. Blackwell's office has issued rules and materials that appear to require that paid registration workers, and perhaps even volunteers, personally take the forms they collect to an election office. Organizations that run registration drives generally have the people who register voters bring the forms back to supervisors, who can then review them for errors. Under Mr. Blackwell's edict, everyone involved could be committing a crime. Mr. Blackwell's rules also appear to prohibit people who register voters from sending the forms in by mail. That rule itself may violate federal elections law.
Mr. Blackwell's rules are interpretations of a law the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature passed recently. Another of the nation's most famous swing states, Florida, has been the scene of similar consternation and confusion since it recently enacted a law that is so harsh that the Florida League of Women Voters announced that it was stopping all voter registration efforts for the first time in 67 years.
Florida's Legislature, like Ohio's, is controlled by Republicans. Throughout American history both parties have shown a willingness to try to use election law to get results they might otherwise not win at the polls. But right now it is clearly the Republicans who believe they have an interest in keeping the voter base small. Mr. Blackwell and other politicians who insist on making it harder to vote never say, of course, that they are worried that get-out-the-vote drives will bring too many poor and minority voters into the system. They say that they want to reduce fraud. However, there is virtually no evidence that registration drives are leading to fraud at the polls.
But there is one clear way that Ohio's election system is corrupt. Decisions about who can vote are being made by a candidate for governor. Mr. Blackwell should hand over responsibility for elections to a decision maker whose only loyalty is to the voters and the law.
Bush Continues To Hire Incompetents. Just Exactly Where Does The Buck Stop Mr. President?
By Sebastian Mallaby
Monday, June 12, 2006; A21
Last month President Bush issued a rare apology. "Saying 'Bring it on,' kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal," he confessed. "I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted."
Well done, Mr. President, you've understood that bluster can backfire. Now how about sharing this insight with your ambassador to the United Nations?
John R. Bolton, the ambassador in question, has a rich history of losing friends and failing to influence people. He was notorious, even before arriving at the United Nations last year, for having said that 10 stories of the U.N. headquarters could be demolished without much loss; he had described the United States as the sun around which lesser nations rotate -- mere "asteroids," he'd branded them. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Senate refused to confirm Bolton as U.N. ambassador. "Arrogant," "bullying," and "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be," Sen. George Voinovich called him.
Bush sent Bolton anyway, bypassing the Senate by appointing him during a congressional recess. It soon turned out that dismissing foreign ambassadors as asteroid dwellers was merely a warm-up. As soon as Bolton got to New York, he blew up the preparatory negotiations for a gathering of heads of state, insisting that the other 190 members of the world body immediately agree to hundreds of changes in the summit document.
If Bolton had picked a fight on a worthwhile issue, this might have been justified. But one of the chief aims of his edits was to eliminate all mention of the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals, even though these targets for reducing child mortality and so on are inoffensive. After a week of Bolton-induced bureaucratic battles, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice weighed in, explaining that the administration actually had nothing against the development goals. When the summit convened, Bush himself had to declare during his speech that he supported the targets that his ambassador had repudiated.
Bolton's next triumph was to demand U.N. reform, or rather to pretend to do so. An effort to create a credible human rights council was underway, but Bolton skipped nearly all of the 30 or so negotiating sessions. Then, when the negotiators produced a blueprint for the new council, Bolton declared it unacceptable, leaving furious American allies to wonder why he hadn't weighed in earlier to secure a better outcome. "The job now is to get clarity on what the U.S. wants," the British ambassador said icily. But what Bolton really wanted was quite clear: to allow the negotiations to falter and then to condemn whatever they produced, throwing red meat to his U.N.-hating allies on the right of the Republican Party.
Next, Bolton blundered into U.N. management reform, an issue that may soon precipitate a crisis. The top U.N. officials, led by Secretary General Kofi Annan, had laid out a menu of radical changes, designed to eliminate useless conferences and reports and to move staff to departments that most needed them. Bolton added his own brand of bluster to this plan: If poor countries carried on resisting management reforms, rich countries would stop paying for the organization. The deadline for agreeing on reform is the end of this month, but no breakthrough is in sight. Officials are wondering what to do if U.N. checks start bouncing.
Not many reformers at the United Nations believe that the budget threat achieved anything. To the contrary, Bolton has so poisoned the atmosphere that the cause of management renewal is viewed by many developing countries as an American plot. And if Bolton carries through on his threat to cut off money for the United Nations, the United States will be more isolated than ever. Refusing to fund U.N. officials who are planning for a peacekeeping mission in Darfur is not a winning strategy.
Last week the U.N. deputy secretary general, a pro-American Briton named Mark Malloch Brown, went public with his Bolton frustrations. He pointed out that the United Nations serves many American objectives, from deploying peacekeepers to helping with Iraq's elections. Given this cooperation, the powers that be in Washington should stick up for the United Nations rather than threatening to blow it up. They should not be passive in the face of "unchecked U.N.-bashing and stereotyping."
This merely stated the obvious. If you doubt that U.N.-bashing and stereotyping goes on, ask yourself what gallery Bolton is playing to -- or check out the latest cover of the National Rifle Association magazine, which features a wolf with U.N. logos in its eyeballs. But Malloch Brown's speech didn't seem obvious to Bolton. "This is the worst mistake by a senior U.N. official that I have seen," he thundered in response. "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations."
Which would suit Bolton and his allies perfectly. But it should not suit Bush, at least not now that he's grasped that bluster can backfire. Arriving at the U.N. summit last September, a different Bush greeted the secretary general and gestured at Bolton; "has the place blown up since he's been here?" he demanded, teasingly. Well, it's now time for the new Bush to acknowledge that Bolton's tactics aren't funny. The United States needs an ambassador who can work with the United Nations. Right now, it doesn't have one.
In the desperate and probably futile strategy to embarass the manufacturers into withdrawing this sick product from the market, I am happy to add to the free hype Atrios and troutfishing are providing for the soon-to-be-released Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Perhaps the imminent release under a well-known christianist brand name of a videogame in which people are either converted or killed will focus minds on what these people people are up to.
What is important to remember is that we're not talking here about the insane Phelps marketing a cheap knockoff, someone the right is happy to disown. Nope, the perpetrators of Left Behind: Eternal Forces are part of the network of established goto guys for commentary on religion in the mainstream media, and the gang behind the anti-family Constitutional amendment, and so much other crap. These are among the people who talk to the leaders of the House, leaders of the Senate, and to the president of the United States on a regular basis. They are not outliers in terms of power. But the videogame makes it clear how fanatical they are. The so-called "Christian" Right is eliminationist, anti-American, intolerant, and far removed from the mainstream of religious belief in this country.
Equally important: There is nothing about the worldview of this videogame that cannot be found in the writings and speeches of political operatives like Dobson, LaHaye, Robertson, Falwell, Rushdoony, and others in their milieu (here's a paean to intolerance co-authored by James Dobson's son. ). The particular balance of extremist positions varies to some extent among all these people, but the overall thrust is clear: they advocate replacement of a democratic American republic with a theocracy (Christian Nation)and the conversion or elimination of all non-believers.* The craziest of them - eg Rushdoony - are not merely cynical dirtbags trying to snatch every last nickel they can from ignorant rubes. The worst of them actually believe this stuff. But here's the rub: even the less worse are willing to listen to the worse, and prominent politicians today are are also listening.
It is the very same immoral scum who can't decide whether or not to release an obscenity like Left Behind:Eternal Forces who are succeeding in passing laws to eliminate the right of the poor to receive decent medical care instead of a coat hanger. They are the same folks trying to ban the purchase of contraceptive devices and sex toys. These are the same people who would deny a child a safe, effective vaccination against cancer because it conflicts with their "beliefs." These are the same people who are also the main funders and strategists backing "intelligent design" creationism. These are the same people trying to rewrite the American Constitution for the 21st century so it celebrates bigotry. Finally:
These are the people without whose support the Republican Party believes it would never win an election.
*Oh sure, it's hard to find Dobson saying in public that come the revolution, let's kill all the Jews, scientists, and atheists (I have no idea what he says in private). Occasionally, though sometimes one of them slips a little and lets loose a torrent of xenophobia, racism, and/or anti-semitism (remember Saint Billy Graham to Richard Nixon), or recommends the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as good history, yet still receives fawning coverage by the New York Times. Even so, just a little bit of digging turns up death threats and kill lists against doctors who don't subscribe to extremist theology (see the so-called "Nuremberg Files." Similar sites exist today, for example the one currently at http://forerunner.com/fyi/killer/index.html). A little more digging exposes discussions which hold a woman guilty of accessory to murder if she has an abortion, no punishment specified but the death penalty ominously hovers over the discussion (this ideo being so psychotic and cruel, it's one the mainstreamers don't mention too often, like banning rubbers). Tying this level of rhetoric directly to the famous extremists like Falwell or Dobson is all but impossible, but this is the milieu they inhabit. They know these guys, and they listen to them.
Read the comment on this post left by Seven Star Hand.....should be a post unto itself it's so good!
GEOFFREY NUNBERG is a linguist who teaches at UC Berkeley's School of Information. His new book on politics and language, "Talking Right," will be published next month by PublicAffairs.
June 11, 2006
'TOGETHER, America can do better." The Democrats' awkward new slogan may not say much more than "Anybody would be an improvement on the current bunch of bozos," yet many Democrats are hoping that it will be enough to bring the party back to life this fall. And they may be right, given the widespread discontent with the administration's apparently bottomless bozosity.
But the very ungrammaticality of the Democrats' slogan reminds you that this is a party with a chronic problem of telling a coherent story about itself, right down to an inability to get its adverbs and subjects to agree. Until Democrats can spell out a more explicit and compelling vision for America, it isn't clear how the party can restore its faded luster.
A Democracy Corps study last year showed that Americans are more than twice as likely to say that the Republicans know what they stand for. It's no wonder that the word "Republican" is statistically far more likely than "Democrat" to attract companion terms like "mainstream," "true believer" and "faithful." In the public mind, "Republican" names a movement, whereas "Democrat" suggests a P.O. box number.
True, most Democrats acknowledge that they have a communication problem, but only in the way that a man with the measles might perceive that he has a complexion problem. Yes, they've let themselves be out-messaged in the bumper-sticker wars. But for all the Democrats' obsession with improving their issue-framing, the Republicans' electoral successes owe relatively little to their snappy line of patter.
In spite of catchphrases such as "No Child Left Behind," "Healthy Forests" and "Clear Skies," voters still give Democrats the edge on education and the environment. The administration's incessant invocations of the "ownership society" couldn't win broad support for privatizing Social Security. And surveys show that rebaptizing the estate tax as the "death tax" didn't have much effect on support for its repeal.
The right's real linguistic triumphs don't lie in its buzzwords and slogans, but in capturing the ground-level language of politics. When we talk about politics nowadays — and by "we," I mean just about everybody, left, right and center — we reflexively use language that embodies the worldview of the right.
Time was, for example, that the media used "elite" chiefly for leaders of finance, industry and the military — as the British press still does. These days, the American press is far more likely to use it to describe "liberal" sectors such as the media, Hollywood or academia, instead of the main beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts. "Elite" has become a placeholder for the effete stereotypes the right has used to turn "liberal" into a label for out-of-touch, latte-sipping poseurs. The phrase "working-class liberal," for example, is virtually nonexistent nowadays, though people have no trouble talking about "working-class conservatives" — the implication being you can't be a liberal if you can't afford the granite countertops.
It goes on. The media are far more likely to pair "values" with "conservative" than "liberal," even as they more often describe liberals as "unapologetic" (liberalism apparently being something people should have qualms about owning up to). And you hear the same tone in the dominant uses of words like "freedom," "bias," "traditional," and many others, even in the so-called liberal media.
Yet when Democrats try to recapture the language of politics, it's often with a clueless literal-mindedness. Sometimes they seem to believe that they can shed the fatuous stereotypes simply by disavowing their own labels. Many people who would have proudly called themselves liberal 40 years ago have abandoned the name in favor of "progressive" — like what Ford did in 1960 when it remarketed the tarnished Edsel line with a different grille under the name of Galaxie, in the hope that nobody would notice it was the same car.
But "liberal" is too deeply etched in the split screens of the American media to be discarded, and Democrats who avoid it in favor of "progressive" only confirm the widespread suspicion that liberals aren't talking the same language as other Americans, even when it comes to pronouncing their own name right.
Or sometimes, Democrats assume that they can neutralize the Republicans' linguistic advantages by co-opting their terminology, insisting, for example, that they have "values" too. But words like "values" have no particular magic in themselves. Since the Nixon-Agnew years, "values" has worked for conservatives because, through disciplined insistence, they've made it the label for a whole file of narratives about liberal arrogance, declining patriotism and moral decay.
It's only in this context that words such as "values," "liberal," and "elite" have acquired their potent political meanings. Democrats can't recapture the language of American politics except by weaving counter-narratives that dramatize their own vision.
That's not a matter of concentrating on symbolic politics while slighting the economic and social programs that brought Democrats to the ball in the first place. From the Progressive reforms of the early 20th century to the New Deal to the Great Society, the most ambitious social and economic programs of the past have always rested on powerful stories that dramatized the stakes and invited people into "a project larger than their own well-being" (as the American Prospect's Michael Tomasky has put it), even as they shaped the language of political discourse in the bargain.
From Jimmy Carter and Mario Cuomo to Bill Clinton and John Edwards, most successful Democratic politicians have been instinctive storytellers. Conventional wisdom credits Clinton's 1992 victory to his insistence that "it's the economy, stupid." But it wasn't just the economy — it was the way he told it, as a story about how "people who work hard and play by the rules get the shaft." That's a miniature narrative, complete with characters and a plot, the size of a capsule movie summary. Today's Democrats, if they choose to, have equally compelling narratives of their own to tell, touching the middle class as much as the working poor. They're stories that dramatize the increasing disparities of wealth and the shift of the tax burden from the rich to the middle class; insecurities over job loss, healthcare, pensions and college education; and a government that has broken faith with the American people.
It's out of stories like those that a new political language will emerge — perhaps with newly vivid understandings of words like "decency" and "fairness," and with a restoration of the neglected Rooseveltian senses of "freedom," encompassing economic and personal security. The words aren't important for their own sake, but for their capacity to evoke stories that conjure up the sense of common mission that can make "Democrat" something more than a synonym for "none of the above."
By BOB HERBERT
I remember fielding telephone calls on Election Day 2004 from friends
and colleagues anxious to talk about the exit polls, which seemed to
show that John Kerry was beating George W. Bush and would be the next
As the afternoon faded into evening, reports started coming in that the
Bush camp was dispirited, maybe even despondent, and that the Kerry
crowd was set to celebrate. (In an article in the current issue of
Rolling Stone, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. writes, "In London, Prime Minister
Tony Blair went to bed contemplating his relationship with
I was skeptical.
The election was bound to be close, and I knew that Kerry couldn't win
Florida. I had been monitoring the efforts to suppress Democratic votes
there and had reported on the thuggish practice (by the Jeb Bush
administration) of sending armed state police officers into the homes
of elderly black voters in Orlando to "investigate" allegations of
As far as I was concerned, Florida was safe for the G.O.P. That left
Republicans, and even a surprising number of Democrats, have been
anxious to leave the 2004 Ohio election debacle behind. But Mr.
Kennedy, in his long, heavily footnoted article ("Was the 2004 Election
Stolen?"), leaves no doubt that the democratic process was trampled and
left for dead in the Buckeye State. Mr. Kerry almost certainly would
have won Ohio if all of his votes had been counted, and if all of the
eligible voters who tried to vote for him had been allowed to cast
Mr. Kennedy's article echoed and expanded upon an article in Harper's
("None Dare Call It Stolen," by Mark Crispin Miller) that ran last
summer. Both articles documented ugly, aggressive and frequently
unconscionable efforts by G.O.P. stalwarts to disenfranchise Democrats
in Ohio, especially those in urban and heavily black areas.
The point man for these efforts was the Ohio secretary of state, J.
Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who was both the chief election
official in the state and co-chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign
in Ohio - just as Katherine Harris was the chief election official
and co-chairwoman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida in 2000.
No one has been able to prove that the election in Ohio was hijacked.
But whenever it is closely scrutinized, the range of problems and dirty
tricks that come to light is shocking. What's not shocking, of course,
is that every glitch and every foul-up in Ohio, every arbitrary new
rule and regulation, somehow favored Mr. Bush.
For example, the shortages of voting machines and the long lines with
waits of seven hours or more occurred mostly in urban areas and
discouraged untold numbers of mostly Kerry voters.
Walter Mebane Jr., a professor of government at Cornell University, did
a statistical analysis of the vote in Franklin County, which includes
the city of Columbus. He told Mr. Kennedy, "The allocation of voting
machines in Franklin County was clearly biased against voters in
precincts with high proportions of African-Americans."
Mr. Mebane told me that he compared the distribution of voting machines
in Ohio's 2004 presidential election with the distribution of machines
for a primary election held the previous spring. For the primary, he
said, "There was no sign of racial bias in the distribution of the
machines." But for the general election in November, "there was
substantial bias, with fewer voting machines per voter in areas that
were heavily African-American."
Mr. Mebane said he was unable to determine whether the machines were
"intentionally" allocated "to create these biases."
Mr. Kennedy noted that this was just one of an endless sequence of
difficulties confronting Democratic voters that stretched from the
registration process to the post-election recount. Statistical analyses
- not just of the distribution of voting machines, but of wildly
anomalous voting patterns - have left nonpartisan experts shaking
The lesson out of Ohio (and Florida before it) is that the integrity of
the election process needs to be more fiercely defended in the face of
outrageous Republican assaults. Democrats, the media and ordinary
voters need to fight back.
The idea of going to war overseas in the name of the democratic process
while making a mockery of that process here at home is just too