Wednesday, November 30, 2005


By William Fisher

A key pillar of the much-vaunted Middle East democracy initiative of President George W. Bush has collapsed – brought down by Egypt’s insistence that Arab governments should have more control over grants from a new fund designed to help indigenous pro-democracy organizations.

At an international conference attended by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and designed to strengthen local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society in the Middle East, Egyptian officials pressed for language stipulating that only organizations legally registered with their governments were covered by the new fund, known as the Foundation for the Future.

Egypt’s law governing NGOs places numerous restrictions on these organizations.

The U.S. characterized the Egyptian position as inappropriate. "In our view and in the view of other delegations, this would have circumscribed NGO activity," said a senior U.S. official, who briefed reporters traveling with Rice.

The U.S. delegation expressed disappointment with Egypt, which has been a major American ally on key issues, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Bush administration's international fight against terrorism. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit reportedly left before the conference ended

The foundation has commitments of over $50 million to help
nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and professional associations foster freedom and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. The United States has pledged $35 million.

Saudi Arabia and Oman initially supported the Egyptian position, but ultimately all the governments except Egypt agreed to remove language that would have given them control over foreign resources going to groups in their countries.

Several Arab delegates reportedly saw the language of the U.S. draft as another indication that the Bush Administration was attempting to impose democracy “from the outside”. Several delegations said that Arabs want more say in crafting criteria for change.

Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel; it receives roughly $2 billion in U.S. military and economic assistance annually. Since it made peace with Israel more than 25 years ago, it has received tens of billions of dollars from the U.S. It is home to more than half the Arab world's population.
The conference, known as the Forum for the Future, was held in Bahrain and brought together dozens of nations -- including 22 Arab countries and members of the G-8 industrialized countries.

The Forum is a joint U.S.-European initiative launched at the 2004 G-8 summit hosted by President Bush at Sea Island, Georgia. It is a key part of the
Bush Aministration’s Broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Initiative. The first Forum for the Future conference was held last year in Morocco.

Because of the Egyptian action, this year’s Forum ended without an official communiqué. Its planned final declaration would have committed MENA countries to "expand democratic practices, to enlarge participation in
political and public life, to foster the roles of civil society, including NGOs,
and to widen women's participation in the political, economic, social, cultural
and education fields and to reinforce their rights and status in society while
understanding that each country is unique."

Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist who attended the conference, was quoted by The Washington Post as charging that the government of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was holding the region "hostage to its despotism. By so doing," he said, "they leave the field clear for the theocrats . . .The theocrats still have the mosque," a reference to the fact that Egypt's proposed restriction would have limited funds available to secular democracy activists and nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs.

Ibrahim directs a research and advocacy institute in Cairo that monitors elections, conducts voter education projects, and at times criticizes the Egyptian government. In the summer of 2000, he and 27 of his colleagues were arrested and tried before a state security court on several charges allegedly connected to their work. All 28 defendants were found guilty on some of these charges and several were sent to jail. Ibrahim was sentenced to a seven-year term. His conviction was overturned by the Egyptian Supreme Court and he was ultimately acquitted of all charges in a second trial and released in 2003.

Ibrahim heads the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies and is a professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo.

Dr. Omid Safi of Colgate University believes that "The failure of the Forum for the Future yet again brings to light the failure of the Bush administration to grasp that the majority of people in the Middle East will continue to judge U.S. actions not by fancy rhetoric and multi-million-dollar initiatives, but rather by the changing of our foreign policy to one that abides by international human rights agreements and empowers self-determination."

Chili Mallet, a prominent Lebanese law professor and currently a candidate for president of that country, takes a perhaps more fundamental view. Mallet, who played a key role in organizing MENA civil society groups to make their needs known to the G-8, said, “It is disappointing to see declarations going nowhere, when there was so much investment and work with civil society leaders in the countries involved. This only underlines what we described in New York in 2004, and in Rabat earlier this year, that only leaders that resemble the better side of society should be at the helm. This what we call the democratic imperative. The rest, including funding of groups, is secondary and trivial.”

Egypt’s Mubarak – the longest-serving leader in his country’s history – was elected in September to his fifth six-year term as president in the first election in which opposition candidates were allowed to compete. The Constitutional amendment allowing the more open polling was hailed by the Bush Administration as an important step in Egypt’s journey to democracy, but was widely criticized for placing improper restrictions on opposition freedom to field candidates. Mubarak won 88.6% of the votes cast.

But one authoritative observer, Prof. Ed Herman of the University of Pennsylvania, takes a decidedly skeptical and somewhat sinister view of the Forum and similar efforts to introduce democracy by strengthening local civil society.

“I’m afraid I can’t sympathize with what would appear to be the ‘democratic’ position on this, even while I think Mubarak’s and his allies’ behavior is outrageous. I wouldn’t let (George) Soros or The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) into my country if I was head of state as they are agents of an agenda that goes far beyond ‘democracy’, and amounts to a form of subversion.”

George Soros is a Hungarian-born American billionaire whose foundations have funded numerous pro-democracy programs in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere, as well as a not-for-profit group known as, which was a major player in support of Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 election.

The National Endowment for Democracy is a U.S. Government-chartered private corporation whose programs are designed to assist pro-democracy forces in developing countries. Its funding comes largely from the U.S. Government.

Herman’s point of view: “Instead of CIA intervention sub rosa, we now use open methods of intervention aiming toward the same ends: the establishment of an amenable regime that will open its doors to foreign investment and align with the West. This is not giving people freedom or free choice, even though it may use that nominal language and even some degree of real choice in special circumstances. This program is not used in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, but is pushed aggressively in places like Yugoslavia and Venezuela, and not for reasons that have anything to do with democracy in a positive sense.”

He adds: “The definition of an indigenous NGO is a bit tricky, as quite a few of them in contested terrain came into existence with external inspiration and money; and even apart from this it is dangerous to allow foreign resources to influence domestic choices. I can imagine a market savvy indigenous thinking—gee, if I do X I’ll be able to get big bucks from abroad.”

He asks: “Why can’t (Middle East governments and their NGOs) simply be allowed to work things out for themselves? Rotten governments very often are thrown out by their own people, and sometimes foreign intervention helps them preserve their power as they can appeal to national pride. If I had to choose between total non-intervention and real world intervention such as we see emanating from the US and Britain, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose non-intervention. Don’t we have enough of our own problems to keep our hands away from those of distant countries?”

Certainly, the U.S. and other G-8 countries have more than enough problems to deal with. And there is no doubt that all money comes with some strings attached, however subtle they may be. On the other hand, the problems facing civil society organizations under authoritarian governments are simply overwhelming. With state control of media, they have no voice. With restrictions on the contributions they can accept, they have few resources. With state security police watching their every move, they cannot expand their memberships.

We are not talking here about the G-8 invading these countries. We are not talking about the CIA infiltrating NGOs’ memberships. We are talking about modest financial support to strengthen civil society.

It seems to me that the over-arching question is that if wealthy democracies fail to reach out to help struggling reform movements in poorer countries, then who will?

In my view, nobody is not an option.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

America's Corporatocracy Says "No MAS"

by Jason Miller

While he may be dead in the corporal sense, the spirit of Simon Bolivar continues to wage the struggle for freedom from oppression. Hugo Chavez is perhaps the most familiar incarnation of Bolivar's élan vital as he defies the neocolonial policies of the United States, a nation which has supplanted the European colonial empires as looters of Latin American bounty. Bolivar's spiritual essence also burns brightly in Evo Morales, another leader of the poor and oppressed in Latin America. Barring a CIA-orchestrated assasination or sabotage of the election process, in December Morales will be the next democratically-elected president of Bolivia. And deservedly so.

The only thing they have to fear is fear itself....or is there something more?

As they have with Chavez, the United States government and its lapdogs in the mainstream media have vilified Morales. Morales and Chavez are both portrayed as "threats" to the United States and have been characterized as "enemies". It is mind-boggling that the leaders of the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of humanity can view these men or their tiny nations (neither of which have the military might to overpower the state of Rhode Island) as legitimate threats. Is the US power elite suffering from delusional paranoia? Actually, their fears are well-founded, but one needs to analyze the situation a bit more closely to discern the root cause of their trepidations.

The "Least of my Brethren"

Hugo Chavez has publicly castigated the United States (and Bush II in particular) on several occasions. Drawing calls for his assasination from "respected US Christian leader" Pat Robertson, Chavez has clearly stated his intention to use his vast petroleum resources as a geopolitical weapon against the United States. He drew thunderous applause at the UN for his speech in which he maligned the United States government and its policies. As the democratically-elected president of Venezuela, a member of the indigenous population, a survivor of a US-sponsored coup in 2002, and the winner of a recall referendum in 2004, Chavez has utilized his nation's rich oil reserves to wage a war on poverty. He has used oil revenues to provide schools, medical care, and basic necessities at subsidized prices to the 80% of Venezuelans who live below the poverty line. He has also instituted land reforms to provide impoverished farmers an opportunity at ownership.

Aligning himself closely with Fidel Castro, a man who has been a thorn in the collective sides of the United States ruling elite for years, Chavez has drawn further ire from US leaders. Since 1959, Castro has bedeviled the US government as the Cuban leader who deposed Fulgencio Batista, a ruthless dictator whom the US government supported. While ruling Cuba, Batista widened the wealth gap to a chasm (sound familiar?) and dispatched his death squads, which captured, tortured, and murdered thousands of "Leftists". Castro is certainly no saint, but Cuba was not exactly a paradise under America's proxy either.

Trading oil for the use of many of Cuba's superbly-trained physicians, Chavez has parlayed his relationship with Castro to an advantage for the poor of his nation. Ironically, the infinitely benevolent and wise leaders of the United States rejected offers of help from both Chavez and Castro during Hurricane Katrina. While the Bush regime spurned overtures of help from our "enemies", over a thousand Americans died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a result of criminal neglect and incompetence on the part of a US government now geared almost solely to represent and sustain the interests of the wealthy, corporations and the military industrial complex.

Chavez is not alone as the revolution gains momentum

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, a man named Evo Morales represents another incarnation of the spirit of Simon Bolivar as he fights to squelch US imperial interests in his nation. Standing on the brink of winning the presidency in the elections scheduled for December of 2005, Morales represents the next link in the chain of fierce Latin American resistance to US exploitation of their people and resources.

Juan Evo Morales Ayma was born in 1959 in Orinco to a family of indigenous Quechuans, but moved to Chapare province in the 1980's to cultivate coca leaf. Growing coca leaf is a practice dating back to the Incan Empire. While the Indigenous people of Bolivia, who comprise over 50% of the population, chew coca leaves to ease hunger and make folk medicines, coca leaf is also the primary ingredient in cocaine. As part of its "War on Drugs", the United States began a program in the 1990's to eradicate coca production. In 1998, Plan Dignity, a barbaric and violent US-sponsored effort, resulted in the elimination of nearly 80% of coca production and left the campesinos in Bolivia with no economically viable alternative crops to cultivate. Supplied and supported by the United States, the Expeditionary Task Force, a paramilitary unit which the locals called "America's Mercenaries", reportedly engaged in violence and murder. Just imagine if Canada financed paramilitary forces in the United States which wiped out 80% of the production of Sudafed and Iodine because they are used in the manufacture of crystal meth. How long would Americans stand for that?

In response to the intrusive, oppressive policies of the United States and its puppet Bolivian president, Hugo Banzer, Evo Morales emerged as a leader of the Cocaleros, an opposition movement comprised primarily of coca growers. His support in Chapare and Carrasco de Cochabamba was strong enough that he was elected to the national Congress in Bolivia in 1997 by the widest margin amongst the 68 Congresspeople who won in that election.

In the words of Morales:
'There is a unanimous defence of coca because the coca leaf is becoming the banner for national unity, a symbol of national unity in defence of our dignity. Since coca is a victim of the United States, as coca growers we are also victims of the United States, but then we rise up to question these policies to eradicate coca.

'Now is the moment to see the defence of coca as the defence of all natural resources, just like hydrocarbon, oil, gas; and this consciousness is growing. That is why it is an issue of national unity.'

As a leader with widespread popular support, and a powerful force within the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, Morales began to broaden his agenda beyond that of supporting the cultivation of coca. Like Chavez in Venezuela, Morales has emerged as a champion of the poor and oppressed, and by default, a fierce opponent of the blatantly corrupt plutocracy in Washington DC.

The (Corporate) "American Way"

In early 2000, Morales began intense efforts to stymie the imperial policies of the United States, which enable multinational corporations to engage in obscene exploitation of other nations. Demonstrating the depths of the cruelty of the "free market", neoliberal economic policies which the corporatocracy of the United States imposes on other nations, a large multi-national corporation called Aguas de Tanari was on the verge of purchasing the water works in Cochabamba, a Morales strong-hold. Under their business plan, 65% of the locals would not have been able to afford drinking water. Supporting Aguas de Tanari's dreams of imposing nightmares on the people, local laws were passed which criminalized catching and using rain water. Morales and his allies led powerful protests, which included road-blocks, and eventually crushed the despicable effort to inflict misery and suffering to generate profit.

Down, but definitely not out

In early 2002, the Bolivian government issued Supreme Decree 26415, which essentially prohibited the sale of coca-leaf. Riots broke out in Sacaba, which was home to a legal coca market. Four campesinos and three Bolivian soldiers were killed. Pressure from the US embassy led to the removal of Morales from his Congressional seat for his involvement in so called "terrorism" in Sacaba. His removal was later determined to be unconstitutional.

The next round of elections in Bolivia in June of 2002 whisked Morales back into office. In pre-election polling, MAS barely registered with a paltry 4%. However, thanks to powerful opposition to US presence and influence in their nation, 20.94% of Bolivians supported MAS in the election. MAS came in only slightly behind the winning party. Unfortunately for the Bolivian people, they traded one proponent of US policies for another. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada replaced Jorge Quiroga.

Leave our hydrocarbons alone!

Lozada's allegiance to US interests eventually cost him his presidency. Bolivia possesses vast natural gas reserves, which until the Bolivian Gas War in 2003, were exploited by multi-nationals through neoliberal policies instituted by the United States. In October of 2003, the Bolivian military killed nearly one hundred members of the poor and working class who participated in strikes and created road blocks in opposition to the theft of their nation's precious resources. Lozada resigned and fled the country, leaving his vice-president, Carlos Mesa, to rule Bolivia.

More protests against Bolivian government-enabled exploitation of the nation's hydrocarbon resources erupted in mid-2005. Morales was instrumental in the protests and in the subsequent ouster of Mesa as president. Attacking from yet another angle, Morales (and his increasingly powerful MAS party) also called for the indictments of Mesa, Quiroga, and Lozada for their complicity in partnering with multi-national corporations in plundering Bolivian oil and natural gas (without the approval of the Bolivian Congress).

Take another moment to empathize here

Envision LUKoil of Russia seizing control of the oil industry in Alaska. In return for paying small royalties and minimal taxes, LUKoil gets to pump, keep, and sell as much American oil as it chooses. LUKoil profits handsomely while consuming our resources with minimal return to the United States. Somehow, I do not think that would fly with the American public. Yet our government enables powerful corporations to treat Bolivians in this manner. Maybe that is why they are called free market policies. Hypocrisy be thy name.

As Morales gears up for the impending presidential election in December, his commitment to economic justice and human rights in the face of the oppressive, malevolent agenda of the United States government and its proxies in Bolivia remains clear and strong.

Summarizing his position succinctly, Morales stated,

"The worst enemy of humanity is capitalism. That is what provokes uprisings like our own, a rebellion against a system, against a neoliberal model, which is the representation of a savage capitalism. If the entire world doesn't acknowledge this reality, that the national states are not providing even minimally for health, education and nourishment, then each day the most fundamental human rights are being violated."

To what conclusion do the facts lead?

After careful consideration of the facts, it becomes quite clear why the corporate interests and incredibly wealthy hijackers of our constitutional republic in the United States are so desperate to convince their "electorate" that men like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are our "enemies". These men do pose a grave threat. If they maintain their hold on power and continue to advance the Bolivarian Revolution throughout Central and South America, powerful corporations will lose their capacity to commit legal larceny by plundering resources (a practice which leaves much of the Latin American population living in abject poverty). Morales is undermining the charade our government calls the "War on Drugs", which is simply another means of employing military intervention in the region and supporting ruthless leaders who implement policies favorable to the interests of the wealthy elite of the United States.

Yes, Morales is a dangerous man indeed. Like Chavez, he is rising like an ominous storm on the horizon, poised to strike powerful bolts of lightening through the fat wallets of the proponents of neoliberal economic policies (which are modern means of non-violent colonization). The Bush regime has legitimate reasons for fearing these men. They are imminent threats to the health of US cash cows throughout the Latin American region.

Based on the fact that the US government and media are defining Morales and Chavez as our "enemies" because they champion human rights and economic equality for their people in the face of American neocolonialism, I conclude that the Bush regime and many members of our Fourth Estate are morally bankrupt. What is even more distressing about their persistent efforts to convince Americans that Morales and Chavez are Antichrists is the fact that those who stand to "suffer" from this Bolivarian "diabolical scheme" to end US economic exploitation and oppression in Latin America represent a small fraction of the US population.

Who will "feel the pain" if multi-nationals can no longer steal from Latin Americans?

Members of the Bush you really care?

The 1% of Americans who own 33% of the wealth....yawn

Executives and major share-holders of large corporations.....oh, the pain, the pain

Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez are friends to the majority of Americans, and to most of humanity. Each step of success for the Bolivarian Revolution will be a step in the evolution of humanity toward the fulfillment of the teachings and dreams of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other great spiritual leaders throughout human history. Progress for the Bolivarians means regression for the cancer on humanity referred to as neoliberalism, or more appropriately, economic imperial conquest.

So the next time Fox or CNN portrays Morales and Chavez as enemies of the United States, remember that sometimes rooting for the "bad guys" can be a good thing.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


By William Fisher

America’s newest public diplomacy czarina, Karen Hughes, is in dangerous denial and needs professional help.

She believes that how we treat prisoners in the ‘global war on terror’ is unlikely to have a serious adverse affect on how people think of the United States.

Ms. Hughes, longtime Bush confidante and now Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, told the House of Representatives International Relations Committee that the United States treats detainees humanely and in compliance with US laws and values.

In response to a question from Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, she added, "We were sickened as the rest of the world was by the pictures from Abu Ghraib. Democracies are not perfect, but we do hold people responsible."

She was, of course, referring to the convictions of a number of low-level enlisted personnel and reprimands issued to a few higher-ranking officers. And she felt compelled to tell the Committee about the good food and the Korans at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

One of the Congressmen reminded Ms. Hughes that the people of the Arab Street are smart – they know when they’re being conned. They should; they’ve been being conned for years by their own repressive and authoritarian governments. And, despite the self-serving propaganda of government-owned media, they also know that their governments rarely hold anyone responsible or accountable for mistreating prisoners, much less sending them to jail.

But this is a phony comparison. We are not supposed to be them. We are supposed to be us. We are supposed to act to a higher standard.

It should not come as a surprise to Karen Hughes that, thanks largely to the Internet, an awful lot of people in the Middle East and elsewhere know that the Justice Department lawyer, Jay Bybee, who wrote the now-famous memo justifying torture, got promoted to a lifetime appointment as a Federal judge. Or that then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who sold that memo to President Bush, was elevated to Attorney General of the United States. Or that some of the more egregious prisoner interrogation practices were approved by none other than our Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Or that others were okayed by General Ricardo Sanchez, our top Army field commander in Iraq, who is now awaiting his fourth star. Or that General Geoffrey Miller, our commandant at Guantanamo, was sent to Iraq to “migrate” GITMO’s interrogation methods to Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan – and that a top Army general overruled a military investigator’s recommendation that he be reprimanded. Or that Vice President Dick Cheney has been lobbying Congress to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from Senator John McCain’s anti-torture proposal. Or that the Bush Administration will neither confirm nor deny press reports that the United States runs a network of ‘black site’ prisons in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

When people have access to that kind of information, it gets harder and harder to con them.

Yet the best Congress could get from Ms. Hughes was that “We heard a lot more about the crimes than about the punishment” and the assertion that “We treat people humanely” and that getting them to understand that was “a challenge”.

It would be a challenge even if we told the truth – unvarnished and un-politicized. But if we continue to deny that what happened really happened, then the millions we spend on so-called Public Diplomacy will be a shameless waste.

Furthermore, the impact is not only on foreigners. What our country does affects Americans as well.

Nobody has made that case more poignantly than David Ignatius, the columnist for the Washington Post. Here’s what he wrote just before Thanksgiving:

“When I lived abroad, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. It was a
chance to scrounge up a turkey, gather foreign and American friends, and
celebrate what America represented to the world. I liked to give a sentimental
toast when the turkey arrived at the table, and more than once I had my foreign
guests in tears. They loved the American dream as much as I did. I don't think Americans realize how much we have tarnished those ideals in the eyes of the rest of the world these past few years.

“The public opinion polls tell us that America isn't just disliked or feared overseas -- it is reviled. We are seen as hypocrites who boast of our democratic values but who behave lawlessly and with contempt for others.

“I hate this America-bashing, but when I try to defend the United States and its values in my travels abroad, I find foreigners increasingly are dismissive. How do you deny the reality of Abu Ghraib, they ask, when the vice president of the United States is actively lobbying against rules that would ban torture? Of all the reversals the United States has suffered in recent years, this may be the worst.

“We are slowly shredding the fabric that defines what it means to be an American.”

David’s dilemma has particular resonance for me. In more than twenty years of managing programs abroad for the U.S. aid agency and the State Department – including many Thanksgivings in the company of non-Americans – I heard many criticisms of my country – not its people but its policies. In Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, people talked to me about America’s too-cozy relationships with kings and other authoritarian leaders and about our support for Israel and their cruel treatment of Palestinians. In Latin America, they reminded me of CIA-supported death squads and of our support for ruthless dictators. In Africa, I heard about our own country’s history of racial injustice.

But I was always able to explain and often to defend my country’s actions, beginning by acknowledging the truth of much of what I was hearing. In the process, I always felt I was able to make a small contribution to what Mark Brzezinksi recently called America’s “credibility as a standard-setter for human rights and the rule of law.”

Making that small contribution today is a lot tougher. Because our Public Diplomacy seems to begin – and end – with denial. Which turns our Public Diplomacy into Party-in-Power-Diplomacy. I can’t think of a quicker way to kill off The American Dream altogether.

Perhaps I’m simply being naïve, but I don’t want my country’s story told by either Democrats or Republicans. I want it told by Americans. And I want it told straight – not spun.

There are parts of our Public Diplomacy efforts that still work. Exchange programs for students, business people and scholars. And the Voice of America, which does a pretty good job of clearly labeling news and opinion and separating fact from spin. These programs existed long before the ascendancy of Karen Hughes. I’m happy to know she supports expanding them.

But I think it’s time to question whether public diplomacy should be the exclusive province of government at all. Maybe there are better models. PBS, our Public Broadcasting System (pre-Kenneth Tomlinson) comes to mind. So does the 9/11 Commission.

In both cases, Congress provides the money, but – with a few lamentable lapses – keeps its hands off the execution. It transfers responsibility from the party in power to the people in power.

If you believe in The People, this may be a good time to think about empowering them to keep The American Dream alive.


The email below comes from a friend in Iraq. It refers to corruption and the general state of chaos there.

The corruption here in Barzani-ville has only gotten worse since I have been here. But, the good news is the people of Arbil are starting to fight back. There is a movement called the Street Parliament - mostly young people who are fed up and are in the nascent stages of a protest movement. It is good.

The world of Iraq is a disaster - it is worse than mainstream media
portrays it. Michael's comparison of corruption to a car bomb is entirely
inappropriate. Saddam was corrupt, and the streets were safe. Now, Iraqis
do not know if they will survive the next minute. The despair is
noticeable on the faces of my friends. With dismay we watch the country
fall apart, and it seems that none is in a position to turn it around. I
have even heard people advocate an immediate civil war, to get it over

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Open Letter to Dick Cheney

By Mark A. Goldman

Dear Mr. Cheney:

You said in a speech the other day that,

"The suggestion that's been made by some US senators that the President or any member of this Administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

Well, Mr. Cheney, let me tell you that it's not only US Senators who are suggesting such a thing... I'm suggesting it too... suggesting that you are a liar and a deceiver and the prewar intelligence is only part of it.

I understand that you believe that a strong offense is the best defense, so your well written comments and demeanor were expected and are consistent with your usual methodology. But by now you must understand, that in the wake of your nefarious policies, too many innocent men, women, and children are now dead, limbless, blind, burned, tortured, or grieving for me to sympathize with your discomfort or forget what you did to them. It's not that I can't forgive you... it's just that justice and the safety of America's children come first. It serves no purpose for me to wait for you to admit to what you've done... I have to stand up now and say, enough is enough.

You deserve a fair trial--something you would deny to others, I'm sure--but there's no question that you deserve to be tried. I am not a member of Congress or an elected representative, but I have access to enough evidence to justify a warrant for your arrest. And I am not the only one with this evidence. My evidence are the pictures, the articles, the books, the reports, the published first hand accounts of the many ways that you lied and betrayed the innocent people of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to say anything of how you betrayed your own country and the world at large. I see it as treason, and the only thing that allows you to walk free is the fact that most Americans have not taken the time to discover information that is readily available to them... that, and the fact that too many members of Congress and the public are more loyal to their party than they are to the Constitution and the rule of law, while others are simply afraid of losing their jobs (and perhaps rightly so) if they spoke up and told the truth.

The greatest danger the American people face now are not terrorists, but the possibility that you and Bush will not be impeached. For every day, while the American people sleep--ignorant and unaware of your gross infidelity--the rest of the world is looking at the photographs of burned, disfigured, and dismembered children, and they are beginning to believe that it is not just you and your administration who did this to them, but also our elected representatives, and the American people at large... because so far, we have allowed you to keep doing it with impunity. And given the anger and hatred for the injustice that they've been made to suffer, one can easily imagine the retribution exploding onto American soil if you and your conspirators are not repudiated and removed from office very soon.

Our children and grandchildren don't deserve the danger you, Bush, your partners and your predecessors have put them in.

God help us if we have another terrorist attack, because if that happens most Americans might actually believe that you and our criminal president were right all along--that the terrorists hate us because we are free. They might not realize that it's you and Bush, others in your unworthy administration, and some of your predecessors that they hate... not because you are all free, but because you are all criminals.

Most of the American people have not yet read and seen what I've read and seen, so they don't know the truth about what's been done. But if we have another attack like 9/11, it will be because of your treason... and because of you--but not only you--the final nails in the coffin of our democracy could be hammered in, and the weeping that would follow could endure for a hundred years.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


By William Fisher

Years from now, we’re likely to remember two things about Hurricane Katrina: The massive human suffering caused by the incredibly dysfunctional response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, and President Bush’s iconic kudo to FEMA’S clueless head: “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie!”

The ‘Brownie’ the president was referring to was, of course, Michael Brown, then FEMA’s hapless director. Days after Bush’s remark, Brownie was ordered back to Washington and later fell on his sword and resigned in disgrace (though he attempted to defend himself before a Senate hearing and remained on the payroll as a “consultant” for several more months).

But in Washington, there’s always a long line of mediocrities waiting in the wings to serve their country. And President Bush seems to have a particular knack for nominating them.

Here are three of the more recent:

Paul Bonicelli was just appointed to oversee the democracy and governance programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Those programs are mandated to play a central role in Bush's efforts to democratize Iraq and the broader Middle East.

Bonicelli’s background in spreading democracy and good governance? Well, his current post is dean of academic affairs at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, whose motto is: “For Christ and Liberation”. This ultra-fundamentalist institution requires all its students to sign a "statement of faith" declaring that they believe "Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, is God come in the flesh," "Jesus Christ literally rose bodily from the dead," and "all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity."

Bonicelli and PHC have close ties to the Bush Administration and to private right-wing religious groups who form such an important part of Bush’s base. PHC students have been chosen to serve as interns for Karl Rove and for the White House Office of Public Liaison, and students and faculty are frequently invited to White House and inaugural events. In 2002, Bush named Bonicelli along with former Vatican advisor John Klink and Janice Crouse of the ultra-conservative Concerned Women for America, to a U.N. delegation to promote biblical values in U.S. foreign policy – and sparked an outcry of protest from women’s rights advocates.

One has to wonder how Muslims will react to the news that "all who die outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for eternity."

Then there’s Ellen Sauerbrey, nominated to head the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. The mission of the Bureau is to coordinate U.S. response to migration problems arising from war and natural disasters, and to work with international groups on population and reproductive-health issues. The Bureau has a budget of more than $700 million.

Sauerbrey's qualifications? Well, she ran Bush's 2000 presidential campaign in Maryland, and twice ran for governor of that state. And she served as U.S. envoy on women's issues at the United Nations, which means advocating for Bush-administration positions on abortion, abstinence, and reproductive health. Those policies have been widely criticized for frustrating family planning and failing to provide reproductive health services to refugee women.

When asked about her qualifications, Sauerbrey told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she has a big heart: "I think most important you need to have the compassion and caring for helping to protect vulnerable people."

No doubt. But a little experience in refugee affairs wouldn’t hurt either.

Finally, there’s Julie Myers, nominated to head U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and the second largest Federal investigative agency after the FBI. ICE’s mission is to deal with all Customs and Immigration violations occurring within the U.S., including drug shipments over a U.S. border and the detention and deportation of all illegal aliens involved in removal proceedings. ICE runs the largest and most secretive prison system in the U.S. and accounts for close to 80% of all arrests made within the FBI’s joint terrorism task force. It prosecutes more individuals than any other Federal agency.

Her resume? She was a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, and for the past four years held a variety of jobs at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury. At the White House, she was a special assistant to the president for personnel issues. No doubt also helpful was her service as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became a Federal judge and later Secretary of Homeland Security. Equally helpful was her work with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Perhaps even more helpful: She is the niece of now retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

ICE is a massive bureaucracy with tens of thousands of employees and an annual budget of close to $15 billion. It has been widely criticized as dysfunctional. So one might have expected a nominee with extensive experience in management, not to mention immigration issues.

Matthew Issman, national legislative vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, characterized the Myers appointment most succinctly: She "just doesn't pass the smell test and is another indication that this administration created the Department of Homeland Security as window dressing and does not care whether ICE is successful”, he said, adding, "What we need is a strong, law-enforcement leader, not another inexperienced, well-connected lawyer with friends in the White House."

Washington is a town where the best and the brightest co-exist with well-connected political hacks. It defies credulity that the Bush Administration continues to shoot itself in the foot by stubbornly choosing the latter, and thereby setting itself up for another ‘Brownie’.

My shrink says they must have a death wish.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Our Mothers (and Thomas Paine) Warned Us about People like the Disciples of Strauss

By Jason Miller

How much more will the American people endure?

"Find out just what people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

--Frederick Douglass, African-American slave, and abolitionist

229 Years Later Have Passed and True Freedom Still Eludes Most of Us

In support of the brave and intelligent citizens of Vermont who recently passed a resolution to secede from the union, I decided to update and modify our Declaration of Independence to fit the circumstances we are facing in 2005. Despite the numerous distinctions between then and now, in some significant ways, little has changed. Like our Founding Fathers, I enumerated grievances of the Oppressed in my version of the Declaration, and many are similar to those spelled out in the original version drafted in 1776. Even the name of the lead Oppressor remains the same.

I realize this updated Declaration has no authority, and that such a movement towards independence from our corrupt plutocracy would require significant grassroots support and organization to be successful. However, I believe it is crucial to fan the dying embers of the American spirit of independence in a time of unprecedented apathy, conformity, and complicity in the crimes of our abomination of a federal government. George Bush is not fit to lick the boots of a man like Thomas Paine, yet he is one of the most powerful men on the planet. With the might of the US government at their disposal, he and his loyal minions have committed duplicitous, larcenous, and homicidal acts virtually on a continual basis throughout their reign. In a symbolic act of defiance against King George, and an act of support for social justice and human rights, I have signed my revision of the Declaration.

Thomas Paine was one of the few Founding Fathers who championed the rights of the "common people". Paine recognized the universality of human rights, which is why he has not been enshrined in the "American pantheon" with the likes of Washington and Hamilton. Were he alive today, he would once again be vehemently agitating for change as he caught scent of the overwhelming stench emanating from the seemingly grand epicenter of inhumanity rising from the banks of the Potomac River. In deference to Paine's spirit, I wrote this revised version of the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence of the Fifty Colonies and their Poor and Middle Class Inhabitants from the Imperialist Federal Government of the United States of America

The unanimous Declaration of the Fifty Colonies of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political chains which have enslaved them to another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God of each person's understanding and choosing entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions to mankind demands that they need declare the causes impelling them to separate.

We hold these truths to be self-evident and irrefutable, that all Humans are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Human Rights (as delineated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at ---That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among the People, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Governed, --That whenever any Form of Government usurps powers without the Governed's consent and becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that Humans are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of obscene abuses and heinous crimes, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right and responsibility to depose such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Fifty Colonies, their Poor and Middle Classes, and most of the rest of the world; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of the United States [George II], and that of his predecessors [of the Royal Houses of Elephant and Donkey alike] dating back to the reign of King Richard of the Royal Family of Nixon, is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations [by kings and their trusted advisors], all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these Colonies and their Poor and Middle Class inhabitants. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They [King George II and his royal advisors: Lords Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, Gonzalez, and Lady Rice] have refused their Assent to Laws and Policies, most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

They have engaged in acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the city of New Orleans through acts of criminal neglect and gross mismanagement of the aftermath of a natural disaster, the willful creation of a diaspora of the poor Black inhabitants of New Orleans, the suspension of labor laws which would have ensured fair wages to those rebuilding the city, and the dispensation of generous federal contracts to crony corporations to rebuild a city favorable to the interests of the wealthy.

They manipulated facts and presented lies to the American People and to Congress to gain necessary approval of a "preventive", illegal war against the sovereign nation of Iraq on the shifting premises that this nation posed an immediate threat to our national security, that the Iraqi people needed a champion to topple a ruthless dictator, and that their purpose was to spread "freedom and liberty". It has now come to light that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction, had no connections with Osama bin Laden, and was little or no threat to the United States. They knew this prior to the invasion. They subverted a government led by a former US ally whom the US supported when it knew he was committing genocide. They installed a puppet Iraqi regime fortified by 140,000 US military personnel and call it "Democracy". They are responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Their hands drip with the blood of innocents slaughtered using monies from our Treasury and the blood, sweat and tears of our children.

They recruited and trained US military personnel under the pretext that they would be engaged in defending their nation. After enticing young men and women to serve based on blatant lies, They thrust them into imperial conquests like the one in Iraq. They are responsible for the sacrifice of over 2,000 American lives which They sacrificed at their sacred alter of the almighty Dollar.

They have continued to perpetuate, protect, and expand the powers of corrupt, avaricious corporations These cornucopias of avidity for wealth and power pay sub-standard wages, offer minimal benefits to their employees, increasingly utilize inexpensive "offshore" labor, manufacture products in "sweat shops" which egregiously violate the human rights of their employees, profiteer during wars and natural disasters, rape the environment and plunder our precious natural resources, utilize "creative accounting methods" to increase their stock value, capitalize on laws enabling them to create hostile environments for unions, demand virtually endless increases in corporate welfare, and strangle competition through mergers and acquisitions accomplished with their over-inflated stocks.

They have perpetuated and expanded an executive branch of government which is in many ways indistinguishable from the leviathan corporations and wealthy elite which it serves and represents.

They have forsaken their primary responsibility, which is to preserve the universal human rights of their citizenry, and to secure its general welfare. They have rapidly eroded federal domestic programs promoting health care, education, basic infrastructure, and housing, while directing unconscionable sums of public monies to the military industrial complex comprised of current and former government officials and the wealthy elite. They seize the lion's share of taxes from their citizens and spend obscene amounts to finance a grotesquely powerful military [and their imperial adventures], while a significant number of their citizens want for proper education, housing, transportation, and even nourishment.

They have created a rogue military state which engages in terrorism of such magnitude that terrorist acts committed by the Iraqi Resistance, while equally as morally objectionable, are modest in comparison.

They have, through their willful neglect of the general welfare, allowed 46 million Americans to languish with no health insurance, 13% of their citizenry to experience poverty, 3% to experience homelessness, 24% of their Black populace to live in poverty, and 6% of their citizens to experience unemployment. These glaring blights on humanity are inexcusable in the wealthiest nation in history.

They have continued to loosen federal regulations on the "free market" economy, thus further enriching their plutocratic allies while impoverishing more and more Americans. They have worked tenaciously to perpetuate the exportation of Neoliberal economic policies to Latin America, crushing economies throughout that region, and creating chasms between their rich and poor.

They have employed chemical weapons in Iraq, violating numerous treaties, conventions, and International Laws.

They have exposed their own soldiers and the civilian inhabitants of occupied Iraq to the dangers of depleted uranium.

They have employed a variety of illegal and unethical means to manipulate and taint the results of two presidential elections to ensure their ascendancy to the seat of power.

They have enacted laws and policies hostile to science and intellectual viewpoints, thus leading our nation down a path of ignorance and superstition.

They have grossly usurped their powers by intimidating Congress into enacting the Patriot Act, decimating Habeas Corpus and due process by illegally detaining Jose Padilla [an American citizen] for three years, and violating virtually everything for which the Bill of Rights stands by illegally detaining, torturing and murdering accused terrorists at Abu Gharib, Guantanamo Bay, and other undisclosed locations around the world.

They violated Posse Comitatus in New Orleans and have since stated their intention to crush it by deploying US military personnel on a wide scale in future domestic disasters.

They have consistently rewarded or promoted those members of their Royal Court who have committed criminal or grossly incompetent acts.

They have pillaged the public Treasury, dispersing tax monies to their cronies and collaborators in their corrupt schemes. They have created an astronomical national debt which will hang from the necks of future generations as a millstone of astounding proportions.

They have virtually relieved themselves and their wealthy compatriots of their tax obligations. In so doing, They have placed the burden of filling the public coffers on the backs of those who benefit least from their governance [the Poor and Middle Classes].

They have financed and enabled the ruthless Israeli colonial occupation of Palestinian territory, and have allowed elements closely aligned with the radical Likud to shape their foreign policy decisions, particularly in the Middle East.

We [those amongst us who do not remain entranced by the powerful propaganda of the mainstream media] have Petitioned for Redress in humble, reasonable terms in a variety of ways. Our repeated Petitions have been answered by repeated injury. A Prince of the American Royal Family of Bush, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our brethren in the federal government, their corporate allies or the wealthy elite. We have warned them from time to time of their attempts to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of our inalienable rights derived from Natural Law, the US Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We have appealed to their senses of justice and magnanimity, and we have beseeched them to disavow these usurpations based on our common kindred. They have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of Humanity, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the Fifty Colonies of America and their Poor and Middle Classes, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these Fifty Colonies and United Peoples are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent of the United Stated Federal Government; that We are Absolved from Allegiance to the Federal Crown, and that all political connections between them and us, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent People forming a true Constitutional Republic, we have full Power to provide for the General Welfare of the Populace, to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence (by the Higher Power of each person's understanding), we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.


By William Fisher

As George W. Bush’s poll numbers plummet, questions about how his administration ‘sold’ the invasion of Iraq to the American people and its treatment of prisoners continue to dog the beleaguered president, stalling his second-term agenda.

More than two years after the invasion of Iraq, the President still finds himself facing questions about whether the his Administration exaggerated or lied about intelligence relating to Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

Last week, stung by the president’s declining credibility, the White House went on the offensive, declaring that U.S. intelligence had compiled a "very strong case" that Saddam Hussein had banned weapons and accusing congressional critics of hypocrisy because many of them voted for force three years ago.

In a Veteran’s Day speech in Pennsylvania, President Bush said, "It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began…These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will."

National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley also made a rare appearance in the White House pressroom to rebut administration critics. The administration's position, he said, "represented the collective view of the intelligence community" and was "shared by Republicans and Democrats alike."

He said that when Congress authorized the invasion, its members had access to the same intelligence the president had. But other observers point out that Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers, who were dependent on the administration to provide the material.

In the Senate, Democrats mounted a spirited campaign to insist that its Intelligence Committee complete its investigation of whether the Administration manipulated intelligence prior to the invasion of Iraq. The Committee completed Part I of its probe last year, and unanimously found that there had been a massive failure of intelligence about WMD in Iraq. But Part II – how the Administration used – or abused -- intelligence – was never completed. Senate Democrats secured a pledge from the chairman of the committee that the report would now go forward.

The renewed calls for further investigations were strengthened by an investigative article published by the Washington Post, asserting that shortly after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) set up clandestine jails for al Qaeda suspects in at least eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The paper said some were also located in Eastern Europe, although it withheld the specific countries involved at the request of "senior U.S. officials". But Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization, said independent investigation suggests that the secret CIA installations in Eastern Europe are in Poland and Romania.

The disclosure again focused media and public attention on where and how the U.S. treats prisoners captured in the ‘war on terror’.

The Senate voted 91-9 in favor of a measure championed by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republic and a former prisoner of war tortured in Vietnam, that would ban all torture and ‘cruel, degrading or inhumane’ treatment of detainees.

But McCain is locked in a struggle with Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been lobbying the Senate intensely to exempt the CIA from the ban. The White House has hinted that President Bush would veto the measure if the exception were not granted. The legislation is attached to a larger defense bill to fund military operations in Iraq. If the President vetoes it, it would be the first time he has used his veto power.

The Senate also passed an amendment to the defense bill that mandates Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to inform Congress on U.S.-run secret prison facilities in foreign countries,

At the same time, the Republican-led Senate rejected a Democratic effort to establish an independent commission to investigate the U.S. military for its interrogation practices. The 55 to 43 vote was split largely along party lines. The Democrats were trying to set up a panel along the lines of the 9/11 Commission to investigate how the U.S. has been treating detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

The Bush Administration also won another victory in the Senate. The body endorsed a plan introduced by Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republic of South Carolina and a former military lawyer, to limit suspected foreign terrorists' access to U.S. courts. The measure is an effort to reverse a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that has allowed hundreds of detainees held by the military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to challenge their detentions.

But a number of Constitutional scholars see the Graham measure as a serious threat to the U.S. justice system. Prof. Ed Herman of the University of Pennsylvania told IPS the suspension of habeas corpus is "a real step on the road to a totalitarian state." He also called attention to "the brazen illegality of U.S. prisoner abuse, its gross violation of the rule of law that the Cabal pretends to be bringing everywhere."

The Graham proposal would give Congress some oversight of the military process set up to review whether Guantanamo Bay detainees are terrorists and should continue to be held. It would subject those tribunal decisions to limited review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Bush administration has argued that suspected enemy combatants overseas cannot challenge their confinement in U.S. courts and that all matters related to the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists should be left to President Bush.

The amendment to a defense authorization bill was endorsed three days
after the Supreme Court announced it would rule on the legality of military commissions to try Guantanamo Bay detainees. Constitutional authorities
say this could be one of the most important rulings on presidential war powers since World War II.

The White House indicated it would support the plan, but civil liberties
groups called it a step backward and complained it had not received meaningful debate.

The United States would "be free to hold people indefinitely without a hearing and beyond the reach of U.S. law and checks and balances," said a statement by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which has helped many detainees challenge their confinement and treatment in court.

About 260 of the more than 750 prisoners currently or previously held at
Guantanamo Bay have filed habeas corpus petitions in U.S. court, alleging various kinds of abuse, wrongful detention and inadequate medical care.

A large number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been on a hunger strike for several months, and many are being nourished through feeding tubes.

Adding fuel to the prisoner treatment issue are allegations that torture and inhuman treatment persist. Last week, five members of an elite U.S. Army Ranger unit in Iraq were charged with kicking and punching detainees while awaiting movement to a detention facility. And the Pentagon has still not released the ‘second round’ of photos showing detainee mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, despite a court order to do so under a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

At least 108 people have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of them violently, according to government data provided to The Associated Press. Roughly a quarter of those deaths have been investigated as possible abuse by U.S. personnel. There have been 21 homicides.

The war in Iraq and other issues have also cast public doubt on the ethical standards of the Bush Administration. Two weeks ago, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, was indicted by a Federal grand jury. He is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the "outing" of a covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, whose husband accused the administration of taking the U.S. to war under false pretences.

The toll paid by the Administration for war-related and other issues has been high. According to a new poll, almost six in 10 -- 57 percent - say they do not think the Bush administration has high ethical standards and the same proportion says President Bush is not honest. The Associated Press / Ipsos survey found that just over four in 10 say the administration has high ethical standards and that Bush is honest.

Friday, November 11, 2005


By William Fisher

Despite the enormous challenges facing the United States – education, health care, poverty, church and state, race relations, terrorism, Iraq, prisoner abuse, budget deficits, government corruption and inefficiency, to name but a few – a growing number of authorities are finding it revealing that the nomination of Judge Sam Alito to the Supreme Court appears to have come down to a single issue: abortion.

These authorities say the debate over this issue has become not only a thinly-veiled ‘litmus test’ for membership on the High Court, but a barometer of how sharply divided the U.S. is on social issues and the political clout the religious right has achieved over the last two decades.

Since his nomination by President George W. Bush last month, Alito has been engaged in ‘courtesy visits’ with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct hearings on his confirmation beginning in early January.

In these meetings, the word abortion has been studiously avoided by most, with the issue shrouded in such euphemisms as the right to privacy. But the question really being asked by senators on both the right and the left is: Can Judge Alito be counted on to vote to overturn the 1973 Roe versus Wade Supreme Court decision that established a women’s right to have an abortion?

The centrality of this issue was seen a month earlier in the withdrawal of Pres. Bush’s first Supreme Court nominee, White House Counsel Harriett Miers. Ms. Miers was the subject of an aggressive revolt by religious right-wingers – Mr. Bush’s base – who raised doubts that Ms. Miers commitment to reversing Roe v. Wade was strong enough to gain their support.

The basis of the intense interest in Alito’s nomination is that, if confirmed by the Senate, he would replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a “pragmatic conservative” who has often represented the swing vote in 5-4 court decisions.

Today, when conservative Republican senators emerge from their private meetings with Judge Alito, they can barely contain their glee. Sen. Sam
Brownback, the conservative Kansas Republican and staunch opponent of abortion rights, said, "This is the type of nominee I've been asking for," adding that he was convinced that Judge Alito was "open to a review of cases." Brownback is one of the senators who led the successful anti-Miers campaign.

Senators in the ideological center have largely shown a cautiously positive attitude on the nomination. Typical is Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the centrist Connecticut Democrat who backs a woman's right to abortion. Lieberman said he was encouraged by what he heard from Judge Alito.

Recounting their conversation, Sen. Lieberman said Alito’s view is that
“Roe was precedent on which people, a lot of people relied, that it had been precedent for decades and therefore deserves great respect."

Other Senate Democrats have apparently been at least provisionally satisfied that Alito’s respect for legal precedent and “settled law” and would make him unlikely to reverse Roe.

Waiting in the wings is a phalanx of left- and right-leaning special interest groups, geared up – some say eager -- for a media and lobbying battle to move the public and the Senate to their different viewpoints. Some have already spoken out.

For example, the left-leaning Alliance for Justice opposes Alito’s nomination. The advocacy group says, “Influential segments of the radical right torpedoed the nomination of Harriet Miers because she didn’t have a proven record of being a 'movement’ conservative, dedicated to carrying out their political agenda on the bench. The right is now giddy about the nomination of Samuel Alito – undoubtedly because he has such a record. Judge Alito would fundamentally change the balance of the Supreme Court, tipping it in a direction that could jeopardize our most cherished rights and freedoms,” stated AJ president Nan Aron.

On the religious right, Focus on the Family Action founder and chairman James C. Dobson, said, "Perhaps the most encouraging early indication that Judge Alito will make a great justice is that liberal senators such as Harry Reid and Charles Schumer and leftist pressure groups such as People for the American Way and Planned Parenthood have been lining up all day to scream that the sky is falling. Any nominee who so worries the radical left is worthy of serious consideration.”

But that position is not unanimous among religious groups. For example, the newly-formed progressive organization, The Christian Alliance, told IPS, “It is hard to imagine how someone whose vision of justice concludes that a woman has to get her husband's permission to make a decision about her own reproductive health, or that women in the workforce are not unfavorably affected by pregnancy, can effectively sit as a judge on the nation's highest court.”

Rev. Tim Simpson of the Alliance added, “I cannot see how any of the things that he is currently telling Senators during his ‘moderating makeover’ can be taken seriously.”

Observers say that if Alito has managed to convince the right and at least neutralize the left on where he would like come down on the abortion issue, one side or the other is wrong. “They can’t both be right”, said a prominent constitutional law professor who declined to be named.

One reason for the apparent confusion over Alito’s position is his limited but mixed record on this issue.

The best known of Judge Alito's abortion opinions is his dissent in Planned
Parenthood v. Casey, the case the Supreme Court later used to reaffirm and
modify the Roe holding. In Casey, Judge Alito's court reviewed a number of Pennsylvania abortion restrictions and unanimously upheld all but one -- a provision requiring notification of husbands before married women received an abortion.

The provision provided an exception for women who feared physical abuse, but the court majority said it could still constitute an undue burden to women concerned about psychological or economic coercion, harm to their children, or sharing with other relatives what they intended to keep secret.

Judge Alito dissented, reasoning that married women were a minority of those seeking abortions and married women who didn't tell their husbands were a very small minority of those. He concluded that because only a small percentage of women overall would be affected, the provision did not constitute an undue burden to the right of abortion in general.

In at least one case, Judge Alito voted on the pro-choice side of litigation
that split his court. In 1995 he agreed that Medicaid rules that required funding for certain abortions in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's life was at stake, despite contrary Pennsylvania legal restrictions. A judge committed to stop abortions could easily have found a way to an opposite conclusion.

It is unlikely that Alito’s confirmation hearings will shed much more light on how he will rule on abortion-related cases; he is virtually certain to decline to respond to such questions because the issue may well come before the Supreme Court.

So the senate and the special-interest lobbying groups will have to content themselves with trying to read the tea leaves, with the abortion issue seemingly eclipsing all others.


By William Fisher

Ask any non-American to name three leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, and chances are they’ll stop after one: Martin Luther King.

But in fact the movement had many leaders.

Malcolm X went from being a street-wise Boston hoodlum to one of America’s most influential black nationalist leaders, advocating black pride, economic self-reliance, and identity politics. He was assassinated in New York City in 1965.

Stokely Carmichael saw nonviolence as a tactic as opposed to a principle, and was critical of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, who called for integration of African Americans into the existing institutions of white middle class culture.

Medgar Evers, the first field officer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi, was involved in a boycott against white merchants in the city of Jackson and was instrumental in eventually desegregating the University of Mississippi in 1962. Evers was assassinated by white supremacists in 1963.

John Lewis, now a member of the U.S. Congress from Georgia, led the first march across the now-famous bridge in Selma, Alabama, to confront police armed with riot gear, water cannons and dogs. A few days later, he was joined by Rev. King and their actions led to the passage of historic civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965.

There were many others who played key roles in the civil rights struggle. One of them was Rosa Parks, and despite the recent spate of well-publicized events surrounding her death last month at age 92, non-Americans are unlikely to place her in this pantheon of civil rights leaders. Indeed, millions of Americans are among those to whom Mrs. Parks was unknown.

The mythology is that Rosa Parks was just an ‘ordinary black seamstress’, quiet, soft-spoken and retiring, tired after a day’s work, when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a racially segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December, 1955.

But the reality is that Mrs. Parks was an activist long before her arrest on the bus. She had refused to give up her bus seat several times before her well-photographed arrest, and had joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when this simple act alone was potentially life-threatening in the racist atmosphere of America’s deep south in the 1950s.

Parks joined the NAACP at a time when membership could result in murder. She married Ray Parks, a longtime NAACP activist who carried a gun to challenge racial injustice in Alabama.

But December 1, 1955 was not the first time a black person had refused to obey the segregation laws of public transportation. Two black Montgomery women had been arrested earlier that year on the same charge, but Mrs. Parks was jailed. She also was fined $14.

According to Prof. William Jelani Cobb of the traditionally black Spelman College, “During one twelve-month period in the 1940s, the city of Birmingham witnessed some 88 cases of blacks who refused to obey the segregation laws on public transportation. Five months prior to Parks, fifteen year-old Claudette Colvin had refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. She had been ejected and arrested and the local NAACP considered bringing a suit that would challenge segregation on the city's buses, but Colvin was pregnant and unmarried… activists thought she would not be a sympathetic example. Another young black woman, Mary Louise Smith, was arrested shortly after Colvin; but (NAACP leaders) thought her dilapidated home and alcoholic father would be a public relations liability”

Prof. Cobb writes in America Online’s Black Voices, “A combination of factors made (Mrs. Parks’s) refusal a powder-keg moment in civil rights history. Just a year earlier, the Supreme Court had handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the segregationist politicians had responded with the "Southern Manifesto," in which they declared their intent to resist integration at all costs. …And contrary to the popular retellings, her actions that day were not staged -- though they did come at the time when a coalition of activists and local lawyers were planning an assault on the structures of segregation in Montgomery. In the early hours, the local civil rights community found itself scrambling to respond to her arrest and imprisonment.

“Nor was the idea of boycotting segregated buses, which grew from Parks' arrest, unique. The 26 year-old Martin Luther King Jr., and the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), called upon the Rev.T.J. Jemison for advice. Jemison had organized a two-week boycott of the buses in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1953. Together they formulated a plan by which people would pay the MIA, (which) would then dispense funds for travel to the drivers in the carpools -- in order to avoid tickets for operating unlicensed taxi cabs.”

Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system organized by a then
little-known Baptist minister, Rev. Martin Luther King, who later earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. The boycott eventually led to a landmark Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in all taxpayer-funded public services.

Mrs. Parks’s death last month at age 92 triggered an outpouring of admiration, love and ceremony. She became the first woman to lie in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where her casket was viewed by thousands. Speeches by civil rights leaders, senators and congresspersons hailed her as “the mother of the civil rights movement”. Her memorial services in Washington, D.C. and in her adopted home state, Michigan, attracted tens of thousands of mourners, the singing of Aretha Franklin, and eulogies by former President Bill Clinton, both Michigan senators, the governor of the state, NAACP president Julian Bond, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others.

Clinton said, "Let us never forget that in that simple act and a lifetime of grace and dignity, she showed us every single day what it means to be free. She made us see and agree that everyone should be free. God Bless you Rosa Parks."

President Bush said Mrs. Parks' 1955 refusal to give up her seat "was an act of personal courage." Bush described her as "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century" and said that she would always have a "special place" in American history. In 1996, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to civilians making outstanding contributions to American life. In 1999, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Now a number of efforts are being made to carry on Rosa’s legacy and to link it to the anti-Iraq-war peace movement.

The Boston City Council unanimously adopted a resolution supporting Dec. 1 – the 50th anniversary of her arrest – as a nationwide “Day of Absence and Protest Against Poverty, Racism & War”. In New York, a dozen members of the City Council announced the introduction of a resolution declaring December 1 as Rosa Parks Day and called on businesses and schools to close or allow people to attend protest events.

Organizers of the national day have declared, “a relative handful of people who either own, control or profit from the economy must know that we consider the right to live free of war and the right to a job, to be as much of a civil right as the right to sit in the front of the bus. It is time to declare that poor and working people will not sit in the back of the economic bus that only runs to make the rich richer… (This) is the legacy that Rosa Parks has left us”.