Saturday, November 10, 2007

News about women leaders -- here and across the big pond

By Carol Gee

It is time to catch up again with stories about women in the news. Probably the biggest story is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, with our current president (OCP). The story has it that they will be talking about Iran. From the story it looks like Chancellor Merkel will not be buying the pitch of OCP, and will hang tough. Let us hope the bar-b-que is good. The International Herald Tribune headlined it: "Merkel meeting with Bush; Iran at center of talks." To quote:
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President George W. Bush were meeting this weekend at Bush's ranch in Texas, and German officials said Friday that Iran's nuclear ambitions were likely to dominate the talks.

Merkel, who is making her sixth visit to the United States since taking office two years ago, but her first to the Bush family home, made it clear this last week that any measures taken on Iran must be decided by the UN Security Council. "The international community must pursue its goal of preventing Iran from having nuclear arms with firmness," Merkel told the Berliner Zeitung. "This is a process we should take step by step."

. . . Seeking to win over Merkel to his position, Bush said on German television that "we definitely need Germany's help on issues like Iran," adding, "Germany is a crucial country in terms of building coalitions to deal with the threats we face."

What is our Secretary of State doing this weekend, while her boss is meeting with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel? The Secretary will be there, too, after having met with the editorial board of the Dallas Morning news to give them her views about things. Her overly simplistic, vanilla views reflect the general weakness of U.S. diplomatic efforts. The headline is, "From Pakistan to Russia, Condoleezza Rice shares her assessment of the United States' role." It is a fascinating article that gives important perspective to other elements of my post here today. For examples, a few quotes from the Q & A follow:

What is your read of the situation in Pakistan?

Obviously, it is very strained. We are concerned everyone acts in a way that doesn't lead to greater violence.

What kind of person are you dealing with in Gen. Musharraf?

You can talk and reason with him. He is someone who has tried to fight terrorism. This is a modern man, but this was a bad decision. It wasn't the first time we tried to talk him out of it.

This newspaper has supported the president's Mideast freedom agenda. But given how elections in Iraq and Palestine turned out, why is it in the interest of the U.S., or any Mideast nation, to embrace the freedom agenda?

I don't think the election of Hamas was a disaster for the freedom agenda. Finally, they have to show they don't know how to govern.

You try to give moderates more capacity. That's why launching peace negotiations is important.

Not long ago I blogged about Condoleezza Rice. With things in the Middle East and elsewhere pretty much in an uproar, a little digging revealed that yesterday Rice has sent a State Department diplomat to Georgia, the European nation currently in crisis. He went with a stern message, according to the International Herald Tribune. Evidently, Rice is "disappointed."To quote,

The diplomat, Matthew Bryza, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said by telephone that he would meet with Saakashvili and deliver a clear message from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "I plan to tell the government that it needs to lift the state of emergency immediately," he said. "It is a big disappointment."

On Monday Secretary of State Rice talked with Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf for twenty minutes. According to a Pakistani spokesman the call was "inconsequential."To quote the story from,

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's phone call to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Monday lasted for 20 minutes, the State Department has confirmed.

Musharraf's spokesman, Major General (retired) Rashid Qureshi, told a foreign news agency that "nothing of any consequence" had been discussed.

By comparison Pakistan's opposition leader, Benazir Bhuto's role in Pakistan is far from inconsequential. "Defiant" is how her actions have been characterized by Aljazeera. Their headline read: "Defiant Bhuto vows more protests." To quote:

Benazir Bhutto has vowed to go ahead with a planned rally next week to protest against the emergency rule imposed by General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president.

In a show of defiance, the former prime minister on Saturday joined a small journalists' demonstration in the capital against media restrictions under the state of emergency.

"I have come here to express solidarity with you. I condemn these curbs," she said. reports that the Palestinians have agreed to Israel's security demands as part of a renewed Middle East peace process. Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni has been behind much of what has precipitated the decision. Secretary Rice may try to meet in the Middle East next week. As far as I know, however nothing has ever significantly changed as a result of United States diplomatic efforts between Palestine and Israel, so the local diplomats are still pretty much on their own. To quote from the story:

The Palestinian Authority announced its intention to comply with Israel's security demands as part of the first stage of the so-called road map to peace.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may meet with Palestinian and Israeli representatives as next week to develop a blueprint to talks, Ynetnews reported Friday.

Israeli negotiators confirmed Friday that their Palestinian counterparts agreed to disarming and disbanding terrorist groups operating within the Palestinian Authority, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The negotiators said the agreement came during a meeting between Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni and top Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei.

All the while President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf chugs along in Liberia. She has been busy removing 17,000 names of "ghost workers" from her government's payroll. From (9 November 2007) "Liberia: President Sirleaf Meets Forum of Political Parties Association." To quote:

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says she is committed to holding mayoral elections in Liberia in October 2008. She has assured that she will not violate the principle of elections.

The President gave the assurance today at the Foreign Ministry when she met with the Forum of Political Parties Association in Liberia. The meeting, which focused on issues of national concern, was characterized by a frank exchange of views.

The Liberian leader emphasized that it is her desire to have a constitutional change which would lead to the election of superintendents and expressed her concern about the proliferation of cities in Liberia. The President further revealed that the issue of ghost workers in Liberia's civil service remains a major challenge, stating that 17,000 ghost names were recently discovered on government's payroll.

"Women are making their marks in the Middle East," I wrote back on August 9 of this year. At that time I said,

Middle Eastern women are in the news recently. From voting in Lebanon and Jordan, to fighting to stay alive as Taliban hostages, women's stories are things we need to know about the situation in the region.

Womens' work is never done. It is good news that more and more of us are involved in leadership roles. And it is predictable news that we are having mixed successes. After all, we are only human. . . did that sound like Hillary?

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Good Post Alert -- Barry Crimmins' "Good stories, told well"

By J. Thomas Duffy

While most of the press is concentrating on which celebrity delivered donuts to the picket line, or, that celebrity who is carrying a picket sign, you might come away from these reports without realizing that a real life struggle is taking place.

We talk, of course, about the Writer's Guild of America's strike, against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Another attempt to screw the television and movie writers out of hard-earned income, the people who, historically, have continually had their employment roles firmly written to the bottom of the money pile.

Well, fear not, there is an article of substance out there, and it's Barry Crimmins, in true Hollywood fashion, riding in on the white steed to slap down the bad guys.

"As bad as television seems, what's good about it hinges on quality writers. Writing has always been hard work but it's become much more difficult over the last twelve years because the networks now own big chunks of all the shows they air. Nitwit suits are leaving their greasy paw prints on every phase of production. If these useless parasites were eliminated from the workforce, things would only get better and plenty of cost would be cut."

Check out his Good stories, told well

And, whether is is financial, baked goods, a cold drink, or honking your car horn as you pass the picket lines, throw your support to the writers.

You'll feel good about it, especially when you see - hopefully - less moronic reality shows on the boob tube in the coming future.

Visit Barry Crimmin's website

Other Barry Crimmins on The Garlic

Bonus Strike Links

Gabriel Spitzer: Ouch! Remembering the 1988 writers' strike; Nasty set-to from which TV never recovered

Scott Collins: A writers' strike nobody wants

Richard Verrier and Claudia Eller/Los Angeles Times : Countdown to a walkout; A fateful e-mail from the union's East Coast branch abruptly halts a final attempt to broker a deal.

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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The mystery of the sub-continent

By Carl

We're all fairly aware of the troubles in Pakistan: suspension of civil rights, a madman desperately holding onto power by playing the terror card, a woman poised to reclaimer family's rule, a nation deeply torn by radical political views... yes, I'm still talking about Pakistan... so as I pondered these things this week, I wondered about something.

Pakistan and India have long had enmity and conflict with each other. At one point, in 1998, they each showed the other its dick by testing nuclear weapons and missile systems.

So why has India kept so quiet over a turmoil in its neighbor's house? There seems to be an answer and it's the horns of the dilemma India finds itself on:

Delhi has a very high stake in the political and security situation in Pakistan stabilising as soon as possible. The future of a tentative peace process that has been under way for nearly four years depends on this.

But increasingly, it is alarmed at the intensity of the confrontation between the Pakistani military and militants in the volatile tribal areas.

Historically some of the militant groups in Pakistan have had links with militants fighting Indian forces in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In the past few years the level of violence in Kashmir has come down and India is keen to keep a lid on it.

India fears a worsening of the situation in disputed Kashmir

But there's a growing perception here that the militants are gaining some ground in Pakistan, a situation which has huge potential consequences for India.

So we see this: India has kept to the sidelines because Musharraf has cracked down on the militants, which means Kashmir has been much more peaceful, while on the other hand, it sees the very same militant groups that it is battling in Kashmir positioning themselves to take power (and the Pakistani nukes).

In other words, as it stands down, it simultaneously has had to stay alert.

Another dilemma: by their silence, India has supported Musharraf. Now that Benazir Bhutto is back, there's a conflict: do you back the dictator who's power structure is shaky, or the former president who is not a guarantee of peace in Pakistan, and is not officially backed by the United States, so not even guaranteed a seat at the table?

The US has remained fairly neutral throughout the history of the India-Pakistan conflicts, with a small lean towards India (world's largest democracy, after all, and a great place to outsource jobs to), until September 11, when the US made a strategic decision to hop under the covers with Musharraf. That couldn't have made India happy, although I'm sure it understood the need.

What you may not be aware of, however, is that shortly after that new approach to Pakistan by the US, the conflict in Kashmir intensified, including a bombing in the Indian parliament. By 2002, Musharraf promised hsi crackdown on the Kashmir militants, and by 2003, things had started to settle down.

A very difficult, complicated puzzle is in place, but then, India invented chess. One would imagine they have some experience in these.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Friday, November 09, 2007

The legacy of George “Herbert Hoover” Bush

By J. Kingston Pierce

I was an early subscriber to Vanity Fair magazine when it was relaunched (after more than four decades out of print) in the 1980s. However, I soon fell out of love with its concentration on Hollywood celebs and the rich and famous, and ceased subscribing. It is only in the last few years, as editor Graydon Carter (formerly of the wonderful Spy magazine) has taken VF in a decidedly more political direction, even devoting his monthly editor’s note to detailed criticisms of the Bush administration, that I’ve started to pay attention to the magazine again. I guess I can forgive VF its movie-star profiles and continued willingness to publish Christopher Hitchens and Dominick Dunne, along with a monthly horoscope, so long as it turns out powerful stories such as this one, and produces outstanding covers (examples A and B).

Renowned American economist Joseph E. Stiglitz’s analysis, in the December issue, of why George W. Bush has been such a disastrous force on the U.S. economy only reinforces my conviction that Vanity Fair is a must-read these days. Coming on the heels of McClatchy Newspapers’ characterization of Dubya as “the biggest-spending president since Lyndon B. Johnson,” an ABC News/Washington Post poll showing that a phenomenal 74 percent of Americans think “the country is headed in the wrong direction” (“the most since the government shut down in a contentious budget battle in early 1996”), and historic voter dissatisfaction with Bush’s performance as president (“Fifty percent of Americans now say they strongly disapprove,” according to the latest Gallup poll); and released amid front-page stories about stock market declines, a slowdown in housing sales, the plummeting value of the U.S. dollar, and Bush’s wasteful spending on a war in Iraq that he isn’t mature enough to end, or at least rethink, Stiglitz’s devastating assessment should serve as a wake-up call to any Americans who haven’t yet connected the dots on how destructive Republican’t Bush’s economic policies have been.

You really need to read the whole essay. However, a few choice excerpts should get you started. In this first one, Stiglitz pre-emptively responds to likely GOP attacks on the credibility of his arguments:

I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris--or even the Yukon--becomes a venture in high finance.

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands--or so he says--that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.

Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.

Later in the piece, Stiglitz writes:

You’ll still hear some--and, loudly, the president himself--argue that the administration’s tax cuts were meant to stimulate the economy, but this was never true. The bang for the buck--the amount of stimulus per dollar of deficit--was astonishingly low. Therefore, the job of economic stimulation fell to the Federal Reserve Board, which stepped on the accelerator in a historically unprecedented way, driving interest rates down to 1 percent. In real terms, taking inflation into account, interest rates actually dropped to negative 2 percent. The predictable result was a consumer spending spree. Looked at another way, Bush’s own fiscal irresponsibility fostered irresponsibility in everyone else. Credit was shoveled out the door, and subprime mortgages were made available to anyone this side of life support. Credit-card debt mounted to a whopping $900 billion by the summer of 2007. “Qualified at birth” became the drunken slogan of the Bush era. American households took advantage of the low interest rates, signed up for new mortgages with “teaser” initial rates, and went to town on the proceeds.

All of this spending made the economy look better for a while; the president could (and did) boast about the economic statistics. But the consequences for many families would become apparent within a few years, when interest rates rose and mortgages proved impossible to repay. The president undoubtedly hoped the reckoning would come sometime after 2008. It arrived 18 months early. As many as 1.7 million Americans are expected to lose their homes in the months ahead. For many, this will mean the beginning of a downward spiral into poverty.

Looking ahead to the challenges facing whoever takes up the White House reins from Bush in 2009, Stiglitz opines:

The most immediate challenge will be simply to get the economy’s metabolism back into the normal range. That will mean moving from a savings rate of zero (or less) to a more typical savings rate of, say, 4 percent. While such an increase would be good for the long-term health of America’s economy, the short-term consequences would be painful. Money saved is money not spent. If people don’t spend money, the economic engine stalls. If households curtail their spending quickly--as they may be forced to do as a result of the meltdown in the mortgage market--this could mean a recession; if done in a more measured way, it would still mean a protracted slowdown. The problems of foreclosure and bankruptcy posed by excessive household debt are likely to get worse before they get better. And the federal government is in a bind: any quick restoration of fiscal sanity will only aggravate both problems. ...

Some portion of the damage done by the Bush administration could be rectified quickly. A large portion will take decades to fix--and that’s assuming the political will to do so exists both in the White House and in Congress. Think of the interest we are paying, year after year, on the almost $4 trillion of increased debt burden--even at 5 percent, that’s an annual payment of $200 billion, two Iraq wars a year forever. Think of the taxes that future governments will have to levy to repay even a fraction of the debt we have accumulated. And think of the widening divide between rich and poor in America, a phenomenon that goes beyond economics and speaks to the very future of the American Dream.

As I said before, though, you ought to
read all of Stiglitz’s analysis. It is a cautionary tale of what can happen when an arrogant ideologue, more determined to reward his deep-pocketed friends than to the help the majority of Americans live a better life, and unconcerned with public opinion, is rewarded with election to the highest office in the land. I hope our grandchildren can forgive us the economic carnage Bush leaves behind.

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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Let me get this straight...

By Carl

Mind you, this interview was conducted today...

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has contributed to instability in Pakistan by not fully supporting President Pervez Musharraf as the best bulwark against Islamic fundamentalists, former U.N. envoy John Bolton said on Friday.

Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-06, told a news conference at U.N. headquarters army chief Musharraf was the best hope for keeping Pakistan's nuclear weapons out of the hands of radicals.

The former diplomat, who quit his U.N. job last December after failing to win Senate confirmation and now works at a conservative Washington think tank, urged the administration to drop its focus on elections in Pakistan and "get a grip."

Now, granted, the shit has hit the fan, Pakistan has nukes, and gee, guess what? Al Qaeda is within a hair of getting them for itself now!

But you know, if we had realized what a shit we had as our "ally" in the first place, and what a horribly abstruse excuse for a "democracy" he had installed in Pakistan, we might have solved an awful lot of our problems by removing him then and instituting what the Pakistani people wanted: a moderate democratically elected government, backed by their military bolstered (and overseen) by ours!

But nooooooooooooooooooooo! Instead we went on a fool's errand for a Pyrrhic victory over a tin-plated despot who was of no use or harm to anyone!

Thanks, John, how about a nice hot cup of Shut The Fuck Up for ya?

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More flags, fewer facts

By Capt. Fogg

I've been wondering when the swift boats would put to sea, but perhaps we will have to wait until the Democrats have chosen a candidate so that it doesn't become apparent that anyone and everyone opposing God's Own Party will be attacked. Until then we'll likely have an endless supply of cheap shots lobbed over the fence, like the viral picture of Obama in front of an obscenely large flag without his hand on his heart and the cynical outrage at Hillary Clinton's failure to leave a tip at a Toledo, Iowa diner that inspired a cartoon in today's New York Times. Meanwhile very few of us will have any idea of exactly what their health care proposals contain or what their economic policies would be like.

It's not clear whether a tip was actually left -- the Clinton staff said there was a $100 tip left -- and the photo of Obama was of course taken out of context from a a video that shows the Pledge of Allegiance was not being regurgitated when it was taken, but little by little, the sleaze brokers are going to chip away at the candidates' images, misinterpreting remarks, photoshopping images, and rearranging stories so as to make Democratic candidates seem unpatriotic, disdainful of the common man, and just plain un-American.

Of course, the attempt to remake Barack Obama as a closet Islamic radical didn't work for most of us and his failure to wear the requisite flag pin at every moment didn't really convert anyone to support of the Republican pandaemon and the stories about Hillary hiring hit men to go after an opponent's cat are less that credible, but each new piece of dung flung from their cage does work a slow erosion, a slow character assassination and an insidious diversion away from what America needs to save itself.

I care little where a president puts his hands unless it's into my pocket or onto the red button and I quite frankly don't give a damn about the illegal coercion in pledging allegiance to someone else's God or about flags or cheap jewelry or people who worship them while treating the constitution and our laws and our property with snickering disdain.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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"Love is being stupid together." -- Paul Valéry

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's the real caption to this photo -- our Amusing Photo of the Day -- at The Globe and Mail: "French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, and U.S. President George W. Bush address a press conference in Mount Vernon, Va."

Feel free to think up your own.

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Oblivious centrism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Atrios gets it right:

Let's be clear that "centrism" is, for the most part, a cosmetic pose for the benefit of Beltways journalists who know that The Most Important Thing Is To Be A Centrist.

In terms of what those centrists actually support in terms of policy, I'd say there are roughly 3 kinds of things. Occasionally they live up to their name and push through genuine compromises between left and right. More often than that they push fake "split the baby" compromises which achieve nothing genuine but have the appearance of doing "something."

And, most often, "centrism" is used as a cover for what amounts to bipartisan endorsement of corruption in the name of furthering the Might and Majesty of the establishment powers.

It is also a rigid ideology that demands compromise between "left" and "right," however defined, no matter what, regardless of the merits of either side. And the split down the middle tends, from experience, to favour the right, which has manged in recent years to persuade the media, and many Americans, that the "center" is well to the right of where it really is.

And this Crossfire view of politics only serves to legitimize the extremist positions of the right, as well as their proponents, to bring them into the debate, to take them seriously, and, ultimately, to include them equally in whatever "compromise" is worked out.

This is how the right wins, with oblivious and self-important centrists enabling its hold on power.

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Around the world: Somalia, Georgia, and Burma

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here is another installment in our "Around the World" series, featuring stories that may not have received much attention here in North America (and in Europe, too, perhaps) but that certainly deserve more.

1) Somalia:

Somali insurgents have dragged the bodies of two dead Ethiopian soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu after a day of heavy battles.

Residents say hundreds of people trailed after them, pelting the corpses with stones, chanting "God is Great".

It's Black Hawk Down, again... well, sort of. The Somali government is Ethiopian-backed, and Ethiopian forces occupy the country. The insurgents opposed to the occupation are generally Islamists and militiamen, but the Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia (ALS), a union of opposition groups, is much more diverse, much more a cross-section of Somali society. And, Islamism notwithstanding, it makes a strong case.

A Q&A delving into the complex situation in Somalia is here.


2) Georgia:

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has declared a 15-day, nationwide state of emergency after police broke up a sixth day of opposition protests.

Demonstrations have been banned, only state television can broadcast news.

In a TV address, Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said a coup attempt had been made and Mr Saakashvili said "Russian special services" were behind unrest.

The president has rejected the protesters' accusations of corruption and says he will not quit.

The prime minister initially announced a state of emergency in the capital Tbilisi for 48 hours, but that was later extended to the whole country for 15 days.

Earlier in the day, police had used water cannon, tear gas and batons to break up opposition protests outside parliament.

Yes, as in Pakistan, a state of emergency and a crackdown on anti-government protests, with the military sent into the streets to enforce Saakashvili's tyrannical rule. Saakashvili is now calling for a presidential election in January, and opposition leaders are gearing up to bring him down, but it is hard to believe that the election will be free and fair, that is, that the opposition stands a chance of winning.

A Columbia-educated lawyer, Saakashvili -- more on him here and here -- came to power with 2003's Rose Revolution, which took down former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze. He has guided Georgia aggressively away from Russia, neo-liberalizing its economy and forging close ties with the West, including the U.S., but he is a demagogue, hyping the Russian threat and clamping down on dissent and opposition, and something of a dictator. He is hardly the world's worst leader, and the pro-Russian elements in the country are hardly any better, but there is no doubt he is brutalizing his country.

From The Plank's Eve Fairbanks, on "Yet Another Uncomfortable Predicament for Bush": "Stand by an ally -- or stand with the democratic protesters whom your ally viciously represses? Watch Georgian police power-hose and tear-gas huge crowds of unarmed protesters objecting to President Mikhail Saakashvili's rule in this terribly sad video."

Please take the time to watch it.


3) Burma:

The UN envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has made progress in promoting dialogue between the military rulers and the opposition, the organisation has said.

Mr Gambari has just completed a six-day visit to Burma, during which he met a number of ministers as well as detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The UN said a path to "substantive dialogue" was now under way.

The comments come despite signs that Mr Gambari's visit has made little headway in pushing the junta towards reform.

It's hard to know what to make of this. It was being reported earlier in the week that the totalitarians -- which is what I often call the military junta -- had rejected the U.N.'s mediation plan, but progress seems to have been made -- if, that is, we are to believe Gambari, whose seemingly self-justifying rhetoric may be more positive than the depressing reality of the situation. There may now be dialogue, or the prospect of dialogue, and Aung San Suu Kyi may now be prepared to talk to -- and perhaps cooperate with (whatever that would entail), the totalitarians who have long oppressed her, but it seems unlikely that the junta will talk in good faith, that is, will take the opposition seriously, let alone initiate genuine democratic reform.

In other words, all this may be for show. The totalitarians have their friends, notably in China and India, but they need to show the world, through the U.N., that they are at least open to change (whether they really are or not). The West has already turned its attention away from Burma, the spotlight faded, if not gone, and now the emphasis may be on public relations. Say the right things, persuade Gambari that change may come, and sit tight while everyone moves on.

A great deal of blood has been spilled, much of it monastic, the totalitarians asserting their brutality and crushing their opponents -- and that was that.

What a world we live in.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dubya finally takes a loss

By Edward Copeland

The Senate has joined with the House in actually overriding one of Bush's vetoes for the first time. Sadly, it took a pork-laden water projects bill to unite congressional Democrats and Republicans instead of overriding him on something of real importance such as SCHIP or issues related to war funding:

WASHINGTON -- President Bush suffered the first veto override of his seven-year-old presidency Thursday as the Senate enacted a $23 billion water resources bill despite his protest that it was filled with unnecessary projects.

The 79-14 vote included 34 Republicans who defied the president. Enactment was a foregone conclusion, but it still marked a milestone for a president who spent his first six years with a much friendlier Congress controlled by his Republican Party.

Of course, I'm sure the imbeciles in Congress won't manage to override Dubya's threatened veto of the bill the House passed last night that would outlaw job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Assuming the bill can even make it through the Senate:

"This is truly a historic day," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told her colleagues. "Discrimination has no place in America."

The bill is far from a perfect one, even earning criticism from some gay and lesbian groups:

[T]he bill would prohibit employers from considering sexual orientation in deciding whether to hire, fire or promote someone.

But the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would not cover transgender men and women -- those whose gender identity differs from their birth sex. In a letter to House members, a coalition of nearly 400 gay, lesbian and transgender groups wrote that it opposed the legislation because it "leaves some of us behind."

The House margin wasn't a big enough one to ensure they could override his veto threat anyway and Senate passage remains iffy.

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Feeling like a broken record

By Carol Gee

What is success in Iraq? Our Current President (OCP) seems to feel that his legacy will be the outcome of the war in Iraq. Each week means a new pronouncement about how things are (or will) get better in Mesopotamia, though, OCP does not use that word because of his ignorance of such a derivation. The dilemma for me, and I suspect for thousands of us, is whether to wish OCP well or ill in his quest for success in Iraq. On the one hand, how could we let him win in such a misbegotten adventure, wrong from the start? On the other hand, how could we wish for the indefinite continuation of death and destruction for the Iraqi people and their fledgling government?

Glenn Greenwald has done it again. One of my favorite tough and incisive bloggers, he wades into this question with which I have often wrestled and occasionally written, "What if things got better in Iraq?"

His post today is a very interesting read with an equally intriguing set of comments that follow it. It explores the issues raised by the politicization of war. It reinforces the what seems now to be an antiquated premise, that politics should stop at the water's edge. The war is utterly political when you define it as a win or loss for either party. The November 8 post title reads: "Democrats in big, big trouble because of the Great Iraq War -- again." To quote:

. . . if the violence in Iraq continues to decrease -- and even if one accepts the most dubious of premises in order to see it all in the best possible light (the decrease will endure, it's because of the Magical Surge, the de facto ethnic cleansing can reverse itself, etc.) -- that rather obviously doesn't mean that the war has achieved anything positive, either in that country or for our own. It just means that we have begun to contain some of the monstrous harm which our invasion unleashed there.

I started writing about this idea back in the middle of 2006, well before the Democrats won so handily in the congressional elections that seemed to be a referendum on Iraq. It is important to remember how discouraged Democrats were five months before the election, and how optimistic OCP was. But I was being idealistic. In a (6/14/06) post, "Who Does Not Want Success?" I concluded with this:

Sharing power with the Opposition -
The Iraqi constitution is very new. It is yet to be modified to the satisfaction of all the people living in Iraq, so that power can be shared equitably by all. The U.S. constitution is very old, much modified, and also still vulnerable. If we are not very careful, the executive branch will have far too much power, and the original framers' careful separation of powers doctrine will be in shambles.
Loyal oppositions in both countries want both national their administrations to be successful, but not too successful at gathering power only unto themselves. Utterly partisan leaders cannot have it both ways. There are terrible trade-offs with power grabs. In Iraq lots of people are dying. In the United States, lots of people have opted out of the political process in disgust. Will the 2006 election turnout be as equally disheartening as the other recent ones?

About a year later it was time for another inventory. Democrats now had theoretical control of both houses of congress. Surely things were on the way to getting better with the war. And OCP continued to reiterate that we needed to wait for the official reports promised for September. On 6/19/07 I wrote "Another year without success in Iraq." This time I was trying to be realistic. I quote what I wrote:

The war in Iraq will never be successful as visualized by our current president (OCP) - The incursion was a mistake from the beginning. But the Democrats won the election in 2006! Surely we cannot be disheartened. But we are, because members of Congress have not acted on their election success. They have ceded power to the opposition. So what is the answer now?

There was never a merely military answer for Iraq. The military is a great institution when it sticks with what it does best, defend the United States against enemy attack. Iraq never attacked the U.S. We attacked Iraq - Mistake Number One. But we cannot undo that now.

Iraq has its own answers, which it will discover or not. The U.S. military was never designed to facilitate such processes. (OCP) Bush definitely eschewed "nation building" during his campaign for president. And now that Iraq must rebuild politically from within its own opposed forces, we have kept the military in charge of supporting their efforts, rather than the State Department. That is Mistake Number Two. And we can and must undo that now.

Congress has the answer. Will they find it? The Executive branch of government does not represent the American people. It has not served us, but itself. Nor has Congress, who actually does represent us, has yet to answer as it must. Congress has to withdraw financial support from the military in Iraq, and increase support for diplomatic efforts to help Iraq succeed, if Iraq decides it wants to succeed. Democratic Congressional leaders are making Mistake Number Three. Democrats must not leave the leading to their loyal opponents, the Republicans. These leaders can and must undo their mistake soon.

By August of this year we Democrats had begun to wail about how little success a Democratic Congress had achieved. Civil libertarians among us were livid about the passage at the last minute of the so-called "Protect America Act." Using the same S/SW post title, "Who would not want success?" I focused on disappointment with Democrats and Congressional actions. To quote my conclusion:

A Democratic Congress must succeed when it comes back into session, against the destructiveness of the current administration. And Democratic Congress watchers must find reconciliation with erring legislators, find ways not to "eat our own kind" for behaving badly. It is hard and a stretch, as I said last week in "Dems get mixed reviews," but it will pay off for the country in the end.

It is November 2007 and the election is now less than a year away. Whomever becomes President in 2009 deserves our best wishes for success, but what would that be? I was still left with the recurring question, "Who would not want success?" But I do not have to go through my unrelenting ambivalence any more. My on-the-hand/on-the-other-hand internal argument is over. Glenn Greenwald answered it for me with his conclusion,

. . . if the violence in Iraq continues to decrease . . . that rather obviously doesn't mean that the war has achieved anything positive, either in that country or for our own. It just means that we have begun to contain some of the monstrous harm which our invasion unleashed there.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Let's talk about sex...

By Carl

There's simply no excuse any longer: women are the equal of men. Period. End of discussion. Why in ANY country they should be treated as lesser citizens, nevermind the United States, is beyond my comprehension:

GENEVA (Reuters) - Nordic countries again dominated the World Economic Forum's ranking of gender-equal countries, while New Zealand squeezed into the top five and the United States fell to 31st place.

Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland retained the top four spots in the 2007 Gender Gap Index released by the Swiss-based think tank on Thursday.

The Forum compared four areas: differences between men and women's salaries, access to education, political representation and health including life expectancy.

Nordic countries were "strong performers" in all four areas, although "no country has yet achieved gender equality", it said. All four countries improved their scores for women's economic participation, driven mainly by a decreasing gap between women and men's labor force participation rates and salaries.

Sure, some ass is going to point out that woman are physically inferior in some rigged, arbitrary way (perhaps raw anerobic power), and someone else will point out that women score consistently lower on some arbitrary, rigged scale, say math and science scores in schools.

Bullshit. Men score way lower on other scales than women and if THOSE scales were the ones used to decide opportunity and by inference wealth and power, I'd be wearing a gold lamé thong and serving drinks poolside.

Not that I'm making an endorsement here, but do you want a strong reason to vote for Hillary? Here's one:

The United States, the world's leading economy which had ranked 23rd in 2006, fell back as a result of weaker economic and employment opportunities for women, though female political empowerment improved somewhat over the year, the Forum said.

Don't you agree that this is a horrendous statistic? Not only are women hurt more by our national policies, things are not getting better, but worse!

And yet, our President touts the "strong economy" and spinning the most positive silk out of a pile of feces. Trouble is, the silk still stinks and doesn't look good.

My god, we're 25 places behind the Phillipines, and nine behind Cuba, for Christ's sake!

I'm sure some wise-ass right-wing white male will point out that Switzerland fell into 40th... gee, that's small comfort to the single mom in Kentucky who's struggling to raise two kids while having been let go from the only job she's ever loved, and debating whether to work at Wal-Mart or move.

Is anybody out there? Does anybody care? We risk our entire nation with these offensive and oppressive policies towards people that need our help. In the global economy, with global threats to our nation and her citizens, and with the opening of borders all around the globe, to deny ourselves the resources -- the full abilities, intellect, talents, and efforts as full partners -- of half of our population is not just disgraceful, but idiotic.

(The full rankings are
here... it's an Excel file. A PDF version is here.)

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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"God, I love freedom!"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's one of the stupidest and most ignorant things George W. Bush has ever said:

If you lived in Iraq and had lived under a tyranny, you’d be saying: God, I love freedom, because that’s what’s happened.

And there are killers and radicals and murderers who kill the innocent to stop the advance of freedom. But freedom’s happening in Iraq. And we’re making progress.

He said this during a press conference yesterday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- TP has the clip.

The "freedom's happening" and "we're making progress" lines are stupid and ignorant, of course, but we've heard them before, in various forms. What deserves attention here is the "I love freedom" line.

Of course, Saddam was a brutal dictator, his regime among the most monstrous ever. I don't deny that, and, indeed, the removal of Saddam and the destruction of his regime was what I was hoping for when I supported the war way back when. I am a strong critic of the war and occupation now, like so many others, like the majority of the American people, but such criticism does not imply retroactive support for Saddam and his regime.

Regardless, the "I love freedom" line exposes Bush's massive and profound ignorance as much as anything he's ever said.

Would Iraqis prefer Saddam and his regime to what they have now? No, likely not. Do they "love freedom"? Well, some do, surely, if they have much of an understanding of it at all. But to suggest that Iraqis should be expressing their love of freedom, or of whatever they imagine freedom to be, while the despised U.S. occupation continues, while sectarian violence rages throughout the country, while bodies pile up in the morgues, given the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite militias and al Qaeda and local tribalism and Kurdish separatism and a central government that is impotent and corrupt, given the lack of electricity and health care, given widespread poverty and sickness, given social discord and infrastructural collapse, given a state of chaos and uncertainty -- well, with all that, and more, I think an Iraqi, even one with Saddam and his regime on his mind, would tell Bush to take his freedom and shove it up his ass.

Freedom is great, don't get me wrong -- but what does it mean when you live in fear, when your country is occupied (by America, no less), when you can't even walk safely down the street, when death and destruction are all around you?

Not much -- and you might just think it's not everything it's cracked up to be.

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Fascist friends

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Update: For more on the Giuliani-Robertson copulation, go see Creature over at State of the Day.)

Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani -- on which Edward posted here and which everyone is talking about here (and see also here) -- seems to be, oh, rather odd, given the former's theocratic absolutism and the latter's less-than-stellar theocratic credentials (to put it mildly). Robertson's evident craziness may have something to do with it -- this is the man who said in response to 9/11 that the U.S. "deserved" to be attacked, this among many other such comments over the years -- but, upon reflection, it actually makes sense.

And for a couple of reasons:

1) Steve Benen:

Giuliani has been trying to circumvent religious-right leaders all year, but Robertson has been the exception. Giuliani has been to Regent University, he's been a regular on the Christian Broadcasting Network, and he's sat down a few times with CBN's David Brody. For those of us who've been watching these two, Giuliani and Robertson have been like two peas in a pod for quite some time.

Some of the media reports this morning have suggested this undermines the for Giuliani's campaign among leading evangelicals. These reporters don't appreciate the fact that the religious-right movement has serious schisms — and Robertson hasn't been in the mainstream for years. His principles are malleable, his ideas are embarrassing, and his goal is to have a seat at the table. Robertson goes where the political winds take him.

Dobson, Wildmon, Weyrich, Land, and others are ideologues, not partisans. Robertson is the opposite.

Robertson, like many Republicans, and like many conservatives generally, wants to win. It's that simple. Dobson and his ilk want to win, too, and will in all likelihood support the Republican nominee no matter what, Giuliani or not, but they are also influential as a movement outside the political arena. They may think they're more powerful than they really are, but they are prepared, it seems, to back away from the Republican Party if it refuses to follow their lead and adopt their agenda. They may end up throwing their weight behind Giuliani in the end, if only because Giuliani, to them, is preferable to Clinton or any other Democrat, but, barring a late conversion to fundamentalism from Giuliani, that would be a matter of narrow political calculation and a reluctant move, not the sort of warm embrace Robertson threw around Giuliani yesterday.

Robertson may be crazy, but he is also a partisan -- like Giuliani now, he was a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination -- perhaps more of a partisan than some of the ideologues on the theocratic right. Dobson's fight, in a way, is better than this one election. But what does Robertson have left? Not much, which may explain why he is backing the frontrunner. He wants to win, or at least to be on the winning side, and Giuliani is his preferred horse. In this, he is much more like mainstream conservatives, as well as the neocons, than the theocrats. The former often put power before principle. They are willing to compromise, to risk the taint of hypocrisy, to sell out -- or, to put it more positively, they are political pragmatists who understand that picking the lesser of two or more evils is often what electoral politics comes down to. The latter usually put principle before power, that is, before the short-term acquisition of power (the long-term acquisition of power is another matter -- their goal is the combination of principle and power, or theocracy).

I do not mean to suggest that Robertson is as clear-sighted as the "political pragmatists" I've set up in contrast to theocrats. Nor do I mean to suggest that all mainstream conservatives think this way. But I do think that the desire for power is extremely powerful on the right, more powerful than it is on the left, and this explains in part the success of the Republican Party in recent election cycles, not to mention the wildly disproportionate influence of the conservative movement, serious schisms notwithstanding, over the past generation or so.

2) Andrew Sullivan:

[Robertson] is a charlatan and a religious phony. He has enriched himself at the expense of millions of gullible Christians who did not understand that this man's sole principle is his own power and wealth. It doesn't surprise me that he sees eye to eye with Giuliani. They are very similar characters. But he does represent what may be becoming the consensus among Christianists: that the war on Islamic terrorism is the prime issue; and that the way to tackle it is by increasing military aggression, bombing or occupying Muslim countries, preserving Israel solely to hasten the Apocalypse, and entrenching torture as a pillar of American national security policy. The fusion of Giuliani's authoritarianism with Robertson's Christianism is indeed one future path for the GOP. It is enlightening to me to witness two very similar politicians sink their differences to forge that new, fascistic direction.

This is what now unites conservatives and Republicans across the spectrum even more than the desire for power: the war on terror, anti-Islamism, and authoritarianism. Giuliani may not be the liking of many social conservatives, and he may not be much of one himself, but his positions on the Iraq War and Occupation, Iran, torture, domestic surveillance, and national security generally, as well as on the economy (extreme neoliberalism), are very much in line with those of all conservatives today, from the laissez-faire free-marketers to the neocons to the theocrats, from Wall Street to The Weekly Standard to Colorado Springs. The libertarians may not care for Giuliani, but the Ron Pauls of the world are hardly central to the conservative movement these days.

Giuliani is, in a sense, Singapore -- if Singapore were a superpower with a huge military and political, economic, and cultural influence around the world. I'll put it another way: Giuliani would turn the U.S. into Singapore: an authoritarian free-market state waging a war on terror alongside a war on individual rights both at home and abroad. He would cut taxes and block universal health care. He would warmonger in the Middle East and torture detainees. He would deregulate the economy and spy on American citizens.

Are there contradictions there? Sure. Every ideology, and certainly every political platform, is riddled with contradiction.

But this is what Giuliani stands for, and, more and more, it is evident that what he stands for is fascism, a fascist America that would surpass both in authoritarianism and neoliberalism anything and everything Bush and Cheney have done.

And this, along with the desire for power, is why Robertson, crazy Pat Robertson, put his stamp of approval on him yesterday.

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Show me the money

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've already written about Tyrant Musharraf here and here -- on what he is doing in Pakistan and to the Pakistani people, as well as on his friendly alliance with Bush and Bush's reaction to his power grab. For an excellent analysis of the situation, I highly recommend this piece -- "The Freedom Agenda Fizzles" -- by Fred Kaplan at Slate. Here are a few of key passages:

The state of emergency in Pakistan signals yet another low point in President George W. Bush's foreign policy -- a stark demonstration of his paltry influence and his bankrupt principles. More than that, the crackdown locks us in a crisis -- a potentially dangerous dynamic -- from which there appears to be no escape route.


It should now be clear, if it wasn't already, that Musharraf has been diddling Bush & Co. the past three years or longer.


One consequence of this crisis is that Bush's "freedom agenda" is finally bankrupt. He will never again be able to invoke it, even as a rhetorical ploy, without evoking winces or laughter.

It was bankrupt long before this, I would argue, but the point is well-taken.

Essentially, Bush has given Musharraf about $10 billion in aid (i.e., to fight the war on terror, more specifically, al Qaeda and Taliban forces inside Pakistan) -- and "nearly all of [it] has gone to its military," not to democratic instutitions, or for the purpose of building up democratic institutions, or otherwise for supporting Pakistan's pro-democracy movement. But it's not just that the money has gone to the military, that is, to Musharraf's own instrument of power, an instrument of tyranny, it's that, as Spencer Ackerman explains at TPM Muckraker, no one on this side quite knows where the money has gone:

After Pervez Musharraf declared martial law this weekend, Condoleezza Rice vowed to review U.S. assistance to Pakistan, one of the largest foreign recipients of American aid. Musharraf, of course, has been a crucial American ally since the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, and the U.S. has rewarded him ever since with over $10 billion in civilian and (mostly) military largesse. But, perhaps unsure whether Musharraf's days might in fact be numbered, Rice contended that the explosion of money to Islamabad over the past seven years was "not to Musharraf, but to a Pakistan you could argue was making significant strides on a number of fronts."

In fact, however, a considerable amount of the money the U.S. gives to Pakistan is administered not through U.S. agencies or joint U.S.-Pakistani programs. Instead, the U.S. gives Musharraf's government about $200 million annually and his military $100 million monthly in the form of direct cash transfers. Once that money leaves the U.S. Treasury, Musharraf can do with it whatever he wants. He needs only promise in a secret annual meeting that he'll use it to invest in the Pakistani people. And whatever happens as the result of Rice's review, few Pakistan watchers expect the cash transfers to end.

About $10.58 billion has gone to Pakistan since 9/11. That puts Pakistan in an elite category of U.S. foreign-aid recipients: only Israel, Egypt and Jordan get more or comparable U.S. funding. (That's only in the unclassified budget: the covert-operations budget surely includes millions more, according to knowledgeable observers.) While Israel and Egypt get more money, Pakistan and Jordan are the only countries that get U.S. cash from four major funding streams: development assistance, security assistance, "budget support" and Coalition Support Funds. Pakistan, however, gets most of its U.S. assistance from Coalition Support Funds and from budget support. And it's those two funding streams that have minimal accountability at best.

That's right, there's yet more evidence of gross negligence and lack of accountability in the Bush Administration. But this isn't just about appointing some Bush crony to some position in some government department somewhere, this is about sending billions and billions of dollars to a regional nuclear power run by a military dictator whose record in the war on terror has thus far been sketchy at best -- he has cracked down on Islamists, more or less (and more out of self-interest), but the safe haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwest remains as safe as ever -- and who apparently has no interest whatsoever in democratic reform (and certainly not in sharing power with Benazir Bhutto). Indeed, Musharraf is now in the process of cementing his tyrannical rule -- and it is unaccountable American largesse, a monetary of Bush's friendship, that is propping him up.

We might not know where the money has gone, but we do know that the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement and on Musharraf's other opponents is being funded, in part, by the U.S.

Yes, so much for Bush's freedom agenda.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

War and profit in a high-tech world

By Carol Gee

Oligarchy is what we are dealing with. It is more and more clear that the definition is a fit. It is a logical explanation for what has happened to the United States under the current administration. To quote from Merriam-Webster:

1: government by the few
2: a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes; also: a group exercising such control

Pairing the wars in the Middle East and certain influential sectors of the U.S. economy (information technology and energy), produces the perfect opportunity for war profiteering and erosion of citizen civil liberties when conflated with the so-called war on terror. Today's post is a re-examination to current U.S. trends reinforcing my earlier diagnosis of oligarchy as the root of the problem. (See list of earlier posts below). Quoting from my "Ranting and Raving on Business*" post in April of 2006:

When I pretend that I just arrived on earth in a space ship, this is what I see. Corporations, business interests, multinationals run the world. Big business owns too high a share of media outlets in the U.S. The business lobby has far too much influence over the legislative and executive branches of government. The development of a global economy has cost many American jobs. Business interests have been irresponsible with the environment. Tax cuts for the rich have become the hallmark of the current administration. It makes me want to get back in my space ship and leave."

"Defense and war contracting system out of control" -- I was reminded of this in an e-mail from fellow blogger "betmo," who was "cleaning out her inbox." To quote from her enclosure,"Ending War for Profit," by Katrina Vanden Heuvel:

. . . CEO pay is a symptom of a much broader problem - one that will only be addressed if we recognize that the entire defense and war contracting system is out of control.

“Companies like Halliburton/KBR and Blackwater are only the tip of the iceberg,” Anderson says. “We now have contractors conducting intelligence background checks, processing Freedom of Information Act Requests, writing the President’s daily brief, helping run prisons like Abu Ghraib, etc.”

After years of almost zero oversight, these broader questions are finally being examined - at least to a degree . . . It is a systemic problem for a democracy to link corporate profits and war-making, and it has metastasized as this war has been increasingly privatized (there are now more contractors than soldiers in Iraq). Good small-d democrats need to keep watch on current legislation, hold our representatives accountable and and demand that they take bolder action to bring this system to an end.

Another powerful female writer, Naomi Wolf, proposes an even stronger diagnosis than oligarchy, fascism. Peace Garden posted about her new book entitled The End of America. The blogger includes a video appearance by Wolf and a quote from Alternet:

. . . provocative new book "The End of America" which talks about the parallels between the Bush Administration's tactics and those of fascist dictatorships of the last century.

The same language, images, manipulation that would-be despots have used in the past to break down existing democracies are being employed now. From Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s, and on and on, Wolf finds that all these despots do that same things. Mussolini created the blueprint, Hitler followed suit, Stalin studied Hitler and these methods just get passed down to the next generation of dictators throughout the world. Wolf has summarized their method is ten points:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Wolf argues that all of these methods are underway in the United States right now.

"Fascistic" was also the word used by another of my very favorite bloggers, "cscs" at TPMCafe on 11/5/07. To quote from his "Privatized Spies":

There's something creepy and fascistic seeping through John Ashcroft's NYT op/ed today.

. . . Throughout this whole warrantless wiretapping business, one area that I don't think has been explored enough is the way our government is relying on corporations to do their spy work. We see it here with AT&T's "communities of interest" programming code. And it's that same scent of fascism we smell when we see Blackwater SUVs roaming the streets of New Orleans.

Speaking of that scent, the best line of this whole article defending immunity for telecommunications companies -- Ashcroft repeatedly calls the idea of taking them to court, "unfair" -- was this, at the end:

"John Ashcroft was the United States attorney general from 2001 to 2005. He now heads a consulting firm that has telecommunications companies as clients."

Of course.

Thank goodness for the information we are gathering these days about how tangled the so-called war on terror, oligarchy and Fourth Amendment privacy rights have become. A crucial piece of the puzzle was contained in a very important post November 2, also at TPMCafe. Titled, National Security Mission Creeps: Forget Terrorists, Feds Want Hackers, Steve Clemons' post reveals the apparent motivation behind the government's demands for customer telephone records that began even before 9/11/01. In Clemons' quote of a Shane Harris National Journal story the government's actions are very revealing. To quote Clemons:

Now, Shane Harris of National Journal has a huge story on the interaction between telecom firm Qwest and the National Security Agency in which the alleged reasons for the government wanting access to massive call records was not to chase down terrorists but to look for individual and foreign government computer network hackers.

. . . This is even more indication of the Orwellian realities that the Bush administration has foisted on America. I was talking to some conservative Republicans from Oklahoma, Nevada and Nebraska the other day -- and they are deeply ashamed of Bush and the fact that this happened under their own party's watch.

There is no reason why in cases of national security that the NSA could not have secured warrants for their requests from Qwest and other firms. They are engaging in Soviet style impunity.

The constitutional rights to privacy is a matter closely related to oligarchy in the Bush administration. Hat tip to Maud Newton for this -- The Register reports that there is "No email privacy rights under Constitution, US gov claims." To quote from the story:

On October 8, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati granted the government's request for a full-panel hearing in United States v. Warshak case centering on the right of privacy for stored electronic communications. At issue is whether the procedure whereby the government can subpoena stored copies of your email - similar to the way they could simply subpoena any physical mail sitting on your desk - is unconstitutionally broad.

This appears to be more than a mere argument in support of the constitutionality of a Congressional email privacy and access scheme. It represents what may be the fundamental governmental position on Constitutional email and electronic privacy - that there isn't any. What is important in this case is not the ultimate resolution of that narrow issue, but the position that the United States government is taking on the entire issue of electronic privacy. That position, if accepted, may mean that the government can read anybody's email at any time without a warrant.

In conclusion there is the Yahoo! China story. It belongs in this post because of the very ironic nature of this corporation's trouble with Congress. Over and over Congress has neglected its responsibility to uphold American civil liberties in the face of a wide variety of breaches of the law by the administration. When telecoms were asked to help spy on Americans, Quest refused but most other companies went along. Congress will probably grant them immunity from prosecution or lawsuit for that. But Members seemed outraged yesterday at Yahoo! for not protecting a Chinese dissident's privacy. Where are they when WE need them?! I quote from Yahoo's coverage of their own story:

A US congressional panel on Tuesday rejected Yahoo's defense for not providing full information over the jailing of a Chinese "cyber dissident," accusing the Internet giant of "negligent" and "deceptive" behavior.

Michael Callahan, Yahoo's executive vice president and general counsel, had apologized in a letter to the House of Representatives committee on foreign affairs, citing a misunderstanding for the incomplete information.

Tom Lantos, the panel's chairman, sharply rebuked Yahoo Tuesday for not providing full information in a congressional probe into the American company's role in landing Chinese journalist Shi Tao behind bars.

"Yahoo claims that this is just one big misunderstanding. Let me be clear -- this was no misunderstanding. This was inexcusably negligent behavior at best, and deliberately deceptive behavior at worst," Lantos said, according to a draft of his opening statement for a congressional hearing on the case Tuesday.

Previous S/SW posts on the subject of "oligarchy":

  1. Independence Day round-up -- 7/4/07
  2. Independence at risk -- 7/4/06
  3. *Ranting and raving on business -- 4/4/06

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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