Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Congress Trims Money for Science Agency

November 30, 2004

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 - Congress has cut the budget for the
National Science Foundation, an engine for research in
science and technology, just two years after endorsing a
plan to double the amount given to the agency.

Supporters of scientific research, in government and at
universities, noted that the cut came as lawmakers
earmarked more money for local projects like the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Punxsutawney Weather
Museum in Pennsylvania.

David M. Stonner, director of Congressional affairs at the
science foundation, said on Monday that the reduction might
be just the beginning of a period of austerity. Congress,
Mr. Stonner said, told the agency to expect "a series of
flat or slightly declining budgets for the next several

In renewing the legal authority for science programs in
late 2002, Congress voted to double the budget of the
science foundation by 2007. The agency finances the work
and training of many mathematicians, physicists, chemists,
engineers, computer scientists, biologists and
environmental experts.

The $388 billion spending bill for the current fiscal year,
approved by both houses of Congress on Nov. 20, provides
$5.473 billion for the National Science Foundation, which
is $105 million less than it got last year and $272 million
less than President Bush requested.

Representative Vernon J. Ehlers, Republican of Michigan,
said the cut was "extremely short-sighted" and showed
"dangerous disregard for our nation's future."

"I am astonished that we would make this decision at a time
when other nations continue to surpass our students in math
and science and consistently increase their funding of
basic research," said Mr. Ehlers, a former physics
professor who is chairman of a technology subcommittee.
"The National Science Foundation supports technological
innovation that is crucial to the sustained economic
prosperity that America has enjoyed for several decades."

Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the senior
Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the
cut was "the most Luddite provision" in the entire bill.

Republicans who helped write the measure said the reduction
was a necessary part of an overall effort to hold down
domestic spending.

Congress, with bipartisan support, doubled the budget of
the National Institutes of Health from 1998 to 2003, and
Mr. Bush often takes credit for completing that increase.
But Mr. Obey said that biomedical research was "heavily
dependent on basic initial research done by agencies like
the National Science Foundation."

Diagnostic imaging techniques, like magnetic resonance
imaging and PET scans, depend heavily on physics, just as
research on the human genome depends heavily on computers
to catalog and analyze billions of bits of data.

Dr. Harold E. Varmus, former director of the National
Institutes of Health, said the budget cut was "very

Dr. Varmus, now president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center in New York, said: "We have the ability to
understand the genome of the cancer cell in our hands. But
we need computational improvements, faster and better
machinery and software to compare the genome of cancer
cells with the genome of normal cells."

While cutting the budget of the science foundation,
Congress found money for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham, the Country
Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, bathhouses in Hot Springs,
Ark., and hundreds of similar projects.

The science foundation helped finance research that led to
Web browsers, like Internet Explorer and Netscape, and to
search engines like Google. Its research has produced
advances in fields from astronomy to zoology, including
weather forecasting, nanotechnology, highway safety and
climate change.

At the University of Southern California, the foundation is
supporting research on an artificial retina, to restore
sight to blind people, and on silicon chips that could be
implanted in the brain to replace neurons damaged by
disease or injury.

Cornelius W. Sullivan, vice provost for research at the
university, in Los Angeles, said the budget cut "sends a
very bad signal to scientists."

Mr. Stonner, of the science foundation, said the cut would
erode the confidence of graduate students and encourage
professors to be more conservative in conceiving and
pursuing new ideas - just the opposite of what the agency

"We hope a lot of researchers will think wild and crazy
thoughts," Mr. Stonner said. "That's how you get
breakthroughs in science."

Todd C. Mesek, a spokesman for the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame, which is receiving $350,000, said the money would be
well spent on education programs to teach children about
language, the mathematics of music and geography ("cities
where rock and roll was fostered"). Some of the money, Mr.
Meek said, will be used for "toddler rock," a music therapy

One of the more contentious provisions in the bill provides
$12 million for the Yazoo Backwater Pumping Plant in

Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, both
Republicans, defended the project, saying it would prevent
floods, save lives and protect homes and businesses.

But Melissa A. Samet, a lawyer at American Rivers, an
environmental group, said: "It's a horrible project. It
will drain wetlands so that farmers can intensify
production. In the process, it will damage natural
resources that are vital to wildlife and clean water."


Saturday, November 27, 2004

The truths vs. the myths about Social Security

 Saul Friedman

November 27, 2004

The e-mail from Rich S. gives us an opportunity to assert some truths about the nation's 70-year-old Social Security System, which may help prevent the Bush administration from souring the coming Social Security debate with the kind of lies that got us into a war.

Rich of Mount Sinai, who drives a school bus, will be going on Social Security next year at age 62, and he'll get a smaller benefit than he'd receive if he waited until he's 66. "To me, this is a penalty for taking it early," he writes, "so why is the government taking one dollar for every two I make over $11,600? Is there a person I can write to voice my displeasure?"

Maybe an explanation will help. In 1983, in an effort to strengthen Social Security, President Ronald Reagan appointed a commission, headed by present Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, to make fixes to the system and build its trust funds so it could pay benefits for the 74 million boomers who start retiring at the end of this decade.

The commission raised payroll taxes to the current 12.4 percent, split between employer and employee. It raised the retirement age to 67, while retaining the early retirement option of 62. But "if you start receiving retirement at 62," said the Social Security Web site, "you will get 80 percent of the monthly benefit because you will be getting benefits for an additional 36 months."

When Social Security became law (over Republican opposition) it was feared that retirees would continue to work and take jobs away from younger workers. Thus for years Congress reduced benefits by a dollar for every two dollars earned over a certain limit, which saved money for the system. But a few years ago, as more retirees went to work, Congress phased out the penalty for beneficiaries over 65. But not for Rich, although he and others like him may earn as much as $12,000 next year without a reduction.

The 1983 changes in the law also rebut a pervasive myth designed to discredit Social Security: that members of Congress think so little of the system that they and other federal employees don't contribute to it. Wrong, says Social Security.

Since January 1984, "All members of Congress, the president, vice president, federal judges and most political appointees" have been covered by Social Security, says Social Security Online. Previously, they were covered by the Civil Service Retirement System. They could retain these benefits or switch to Social Security. Now, all federal employees must enroll in the program.

Social Security taxes were never deductible, but for years the Treasury Department held that Social Security income was not taxable. That changed under Reagan in 1983, when Congress approved a Greenspan Commission proposal to tax up to half of Social Security benefits for persons with relatively high incomes. In 1993, the Clinton administration raised to 85 percent the portion of Social Security benefits taxed, for higher-income persons. The taxes were earmarked for Medicare.

The Greenspan Commission produced many more lesser changes (see www.ssa.gov), but they added up to new security for Social Security and a huge buildup of the trust fund to pay for the boomers. And no matter what you may hear from the administration:

1. Social Security is not in crisis and nowhere near bankruptcy. If nothing is done and the economy grows at a snail's pace, the Social Security retirement system would begin dipping into the trust fund in 2018 to pay benefits. But the system's Republican trustees say the trust fund, with assets of $1.8 trillion (which continues to grow from interest paid on its Treasury holdings), can pay full benefits until 2042, when the youngest boomers will be 78. And if need be, it can continue to pay 70 percent of benefits until 2078.

2. But if the economy does better and Congress makes slight adjustments, more modest than in 1983, like raising payroll taxes 1 percent and ending the wage ceiling on which taxes are collected, Social Security would remain in the black, guaranteeing inflation-adjusted pensions for millions of Americans into the next century. The generation following the boomers is considerably smaller.

3. Don't let anyone tell you the trust fund is not real, that it consists of a bunch of worthless IOUs. The so-called IOUs are U.S. Treasury notes, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. And the Bush administration, which is borrowing heavily from the trust for Iraq (evidence that it's real money), won't dare renege on the debt.

4. Social Security is a uniquely progressive pension, in that the lower your income during your working years, the higher percentage of your salary is replaced by the benefit. Thus, as a retirement insurance system, Social Security deliberately favors America's workers, over higher salaried professionals and executives who can afford to save more and invest.

5. Social Security, which has paid out about $7 trillion through wars and recessions, is not just a pension system. A separate trust fund helps finance Social Security Disability Insurance for 7 million disabled Americans of all ages. And Social Security pays survivor benefits to 4 million children and 5.5 million widows/widowers of beneficiaries who died young.

6. Even if the president says he wants workers to be permitted to invest only part of their Social Security taxes in per- sonal retirement accounts, that would be a first step for his most prominent allies for privatization - Washington's Cato Institute and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, who would eventually replace all of Social Security because they believe the government should not be in the pension business.

Now let an honest debate begin.

Write to Saul Friedman, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY, 11747-4250, or e-mail saulfriedman@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.


Apocalypse (Almost) Now

 November 24, 2004

If America's secular liberals think they have it rough now, just wait till the Second Coming.

The "Left Behind" series, the best-selling novels for adults in the U.S., enthusiastically depict Jesus returning to slaughter everyone who is not a born-again Christian. The world's Hindus, Muslims, Jews and agnostics, along with many Catholics and Unitarians, are heaved into everlasting fire: "Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and . . . they tumbled in, howling and screeching."

Gosh, what an uplifting scene!

If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the co-authors of the series, have both e-mailed me (after I wrote about the "Left Behind" series in July) to protest that their books do not "celebrate" the slaughter of non-Christians but simply present the painful reality of Scripture.

"We can't read it some other way just because it sounds exclusivistic and not currently politically correct," Mr. Jenkins said in an e-mail. "That's our crucible, an offensive and divisive message in an age of plurality and tolerance."

Silly me. I'd forgotten the passage in the Bible about how Jesus intends to roast everyone from the good Samaritan to Gandhi in everlasting fire, simply because they weren't born-again Christians.

I accept that Mr. Jenkins and Mr. LaHaye are sincere. (They base their conclusions on John 3.) But I've sat down in Pakistani and Iraqi mosques with Muslim fundamentalists, and they offered the same defense: they're just applying God's word.

Now, I've often written that blue staters should be less snooty toward fundamentalist Christians, and I realize that this column will seem pretty snooty. But if I praise the good work of evangelicals - like their superb relief efforts in Darfur - I'll also condemn what I perceive as bigotry. A dialogue about faith must move past taboos and discuss differences bluntly. That's what blue staters and red staters need to do about religion and the "Left Behind" books.

For starters, it's worth pointing out that those predicting an apocalypse have a long and lousy record. In America, tens of thousands of followers of William Miller waited eagerly for Jesus to reappear on Oct. 22, 1844. Some of these Millerites had given away all their belongings, and the no-show was called the Great Disappointment.

In more recent times, the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970's was Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth," selling 18 million copies worldwide with its predictions of a Second Coming. Then, one of the hottest best sellers in 1988 was a booklet called "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988." Oops.

Being wrong has rarely been so lucrative.

Now we have the hugely profitable "Left Behind" financial empire, whose Web site flatly says that the authors "think this generation will witness the end of history." The site sells every "Left Behind" spinoff imaginable, including screen savers, regular prophecies sent to your mobile phone, children's versions of the books, audiobooks, graphic novels, videos, calendars, music and a $6.50-a-month prophesy club. This isn't religion, this is brand management.

If Mr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins honestly believe that the end of the world may be imminent, why not waive royalties? Why don't they use the millions of dollars in profits to help the poor - and increase their own chances of getting into heaven?

Mr. Jenkins told me that he gives 20 to 40 percent of his income to charity, and that's commendable. But there are millions more where that came from. Mr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins might spend less time puzzling over obscure passages in the Book of Revelation and more time with the straightforward language of Matthew 6:19, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Or Matthew 19:21, where Jesus advises a rich man: "Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. . . . It will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

So I challenge the authors to a bet: if the events of the Apocalypse arrive in the next 10 years, then I'll donate $500 to the battle against the Antichrist; if it doesn't, you donate $500 to a charity of my choosing that fights poverty - and bigotry.

Gentlemen, do we have a deal?


Hastert Launches a Partisan Policy


By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2004; Page A01

In scuttling major intelligence legislation that he, the president and most lawmakers supported, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last week enunciated a policy in which Congress will pass bills only if most House Republicans back them, regardless of how many Democrats favor them.

Hastert's position, which is drawing fire from Democrats and some outside groups, is the latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats' influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year's intelligence package. Hastert (R-Ill.) now says such bills will reach the House floor, after negotiations with the Senate, only if "the majority of the majority" supports them.

Senators from both parties, leaders of the Sept. 11 commission and others have sharply criticized the policy. The long-debated intelligence bill would now be law, they say, if Hastert and his lieutenants had been humble enough to let a high-profile measure pass with most votes coming from the minority party.

That is what Democrats did in 1993, when most House Democrats opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Bill Clinton backed NAFTA, and leaders of the Democratic-controlled House allowed it to come to a vote. The trade pact passed because of heavy GOP support, with 102 Democrats voting for it and 156 voting against. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the House GOP leader at the time, declared: "This is a vote for history, larger than politics . . . larger than personal ego."

Such bipartisan spirit in the Capitol now seems a faint echo. Citing the increased marginalization of Democrats as House bills are drafted and brought to the floor, Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) said, "It's a set of rules and practices which the Republicans have taken to new extremes."

Price, a former Duke University political scientist and the author of "The Congressional Experience," acknowledged that past congressional leaders, including Democrats, had sometimes scuttled measures opposed by most of their party's colleagues. But he said the practice should not apply to far-reaching, high-stakes legislation such as NAFTA and the intelligence package, which were backed by the White House and most of Congress's 535 members.

Other House Democrats agree. Republicans "like to talk about bipartisanship," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "But when the opportunity came to pass a truly bipartisan bill -- one that would have passed both the House and Senate overwhelmingly and would have made the American people safer -- they failed to do it."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a White House aide when NAFTA passed, said this week, "What is more comforting to the terrorists around the world: the failure to pass the 9/11 legislation because we lacked 'a majority of the majority,' or putting aside partisan politics to enact tough new legislation with America's security foremost in mind?"

Some scholars say Hastert's decision should not come as a surprise. In a little-noticed speech in the Capitol a year ago, Hastert said one of his principles as speaker is "to please the majority of the majority."

"On occasion, a particular issue might excite a majority made up mostly of the minority," he continued. "Campaign finance is a particularly good example of this phenomenon. The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority."

Hastert put his principle into practice one week ago today. In a closed meeting in the Capitol basement, he urged his GOP colleagues to back the intelligence bill that had emerged from long House-Senate negotiations and had President Bush's support. When a surprising number refused, Hastert elected to keep it from reaching a vote, even though his aides said it could have passed with a minority of GOP members and strong support from the chamber's 206 Democrats.

Hastert spokesman John Feehery defended the decision in a recent interview. "He wants to pass bills with his majority," Feehery said. "That's the hallmark of this [Republican] majority. . . . If you pass major bills without the majority of the majority, then you tend not to be a long-term speaker. . . . I think he was prudent to listen to his members."

Some congressional scholars say Hastert is emphasizing one element of his job to the detriment of another. As speaker, said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, "you are the party leader, but you are ratified by the whole House. You are a constitutional officer," in line for the presidency after the vice president. At crucial times, he said, a speaker must put the House ahead of his party.

If Congress eventually enacted an intelligence bill similar to the one rejected last Saturday, Ornstein said, "then it would be unfair to rip Hastert to shreds. But if this either kills the bill or turns it from what would have been" a measure with considerable bipartisan support, he said, "then I think he should be condemned roundly."

Some groups representing families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are already criticizing Hastert. "The failure in leadership of the speaker to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote is particularly troubling because we believe the bill would have passed by a wide majority in the House," the Family Steering Committee said.

In the new Congress that convenes in January, Hastert's strategy may prove sufficient for GOP victories on issues that sharply divide the two parties, such as tax cuts, several analysts said. But on trade issues and other matters that are more divisive within the parties -- and thus require bipartisan coalitions to pass -- he could face serious problems.

Hastert's "majority of the majority" maxim, Ornstein said, "is a disastrous recipe for tackling domestic issues such as entitlement programs, the deficit and things like that."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Thursday, November 25, 2004

AIDS Pandemic Stalks Women

 By Evelyn Kwamboka and Alan Kisia, allAfrica.com
Posted on November 24, 2004, Printed on November 25, 2004

At least 76 percent of young people aged between 15 and 24 living with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are female, according to a global report released yesterday. The report says 57 percent of adults living with AIDS in the region are women.

This means that young women are about three times more vulnerable to HIV infection than their male counterparts. The UN AIDS study attributes the trend to sexual violence against women and girls, unequal access to information, especially between young women and men, gender-power relations and cultural norms like wife inheritance.

The trend has also been linked to the "sugar daddy" syndrome, in which young women have sex with older men for money and other material favors.

"These men are more likely to be infected than younger men and relationships with them are more of violence and exploitation," said Ms. Bella Matabanadzo of the UN Secretary-General's task force on women, girls and AIDS in Southern Africa.

For instance, in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, more than a third of girls aged between 15-19 years said they lost their virginity as a result of force, coercion or trickery. Matabanadzo said in some communities, widows who refused to be inherited were "cleansed sexually," exposing them to HIV infection.

She narrated the tribulations of women whose husbands had died of AIDS, at the hands of relatives. In many cases, they become destitute when the man's relatives take away all the property and even deny them access to their land. Her report was based on studies carried out in nine countries in southern Africa.

The UN calls for strategies that will ensure women have access to education, prevention information and facilities and treatment, and are guaranteed their right to own property.

"The plight of women and children in the face of AIDS underlines the need for realistic strategies that address the interplay between inequality and HIV.

"Focusing programmes on persuading girls to abstain from sex until marriage are of little help to many young women. In some places, the main HIV risk factor for a woman is the fact that she is faithful to a husband with previous or current other sex partners," says the report.

The report notes that the fact that the balance of power in many relationships is tilted in favor of men can have life-or-death implications. Women and girls often lack the power to abstain from sex or insist on condom use – even when they suspect that the man has had other sexual partners and might be infected with HIV.

Unfortunately, a female-controlled prevention method is not yet widely available. Female condoms still require some degree of negotiation and male cooperation and they are significantly more expensive than male condoms. Microbicides, which have anti-HIV activity and can come in form of gels, creams and suppositories, hold out much promise for female-controlled prevention. But these are still under study.

The report also notes that men tend to have better access to AIDS care and treatment. Access to voluntary counseling and testing still poses a significant challenge for girls and women who do not seek reproduction health services, as well as for men who generally are less likely to use health facilities than women.

"As treatment programmes are expanded globally, there is a justifiable concern that many women may miss out on opportunities to receive treatment because they fear that if they discover they are HIV-positive, their partners will become aware of their HIV status.

This article originally appeared in the East African Standard.

© 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/20605/

From Bin Laden, Different Style, Same Message


In Latest Tape, Al Qaeda Leader Dropped Koranic Verses in Favor of Direct Appeal to U.S. Public

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 25, 2004; Page A20

BERLIN -- Gone were the guerrilla fatigues, the rambling religious rhetoric and scenes from his remote mountain hideout. Instead, Osama bin Laden wore a white turban and gold-colored robe as he stood behind a lectern and spoke softly to the camera, looking more like an elected official than the most wanted terrorist in the world.

The imagery and style were different, but bin Laden's message to "the people of America" was the same: You still don't understand why we are at war with each other.

"This is the message which I sought to communicate to you in word and deed, repeatedly, for years before September 11th," the fugitive al Qaeda leader said in a videotape aired around the world on Oct. 29. "But I am amazed at you. Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11th . . . the reasons are still there for a repeat of what occurred."

Eight years after he issued a written declaration of war against the United States, the theme of bin Laden's speech was disbelief that he had failed to make his point with the American people, even after the deaths of nearly 3,000 people on U.S. soil and a succession of bombings, beheadings and other forms of bloodshed around the world.

"This talk of mine is for you and concerns the ideal way to prevent another Manhattan, and deals with the war and its causes and results," he said, in what are believed to be his first videotaped comments in three years.

An examination of bin Laden's speeches over the years shows that the underlying message has remained consistent: Americans have repeatedly humiliated Muslims with a foreign policy that has propped up corrupt governments in the Middle East and perpetuated conflict in the region. Until you prevail on your government to stop, we will strike back.

He did not quote the Koran during his latest, 13-minute speech, and he also avoided the obscure historical references that peppered his previous statements. Instead, he justified his embrace of terrorism in layman's language, explaining his tactics as a logical response to what he depicted as U.S. aggression.

"Should a man be blamed for defending his sanctuary?" he said, speaking in a composed manner and using formal Arabic. "Is defending oneself and punishing the aggressor in kind objectionable terrorism? If it is such, then it is unavoidable for us."

Analysts who have been studying the nuances of bin Laden's most recent speech said it was carefully staged and worded to present him as a polished statesman and the voice of a broad movement, instead of a terrorism-obsessed religious fanatic.

"Usually he gives religious statements, but this was a political statement," said Mustafa Alani, director of the security and terrorism studies program at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "There was no rhetoric. It was straightforward. He never cited the Koran, which for him is very, very unusual."

Bin Laden looked healthy and very much in control of his surroundings, unlike the last time he spoke publicly on video.

In that appearance, in December 2001, bin Laden appeared physically weak and he spoke openly about his mortality. "Regardless if Osama is killed or survives," he said then, "the awakening has started, praise be God." That tape was recorded with an old home video camera around the time of the battle of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan and prompted speculation that bin Laden had been wounded or was sick.

"In that one, he looked quite ill. He seemed like he had a pre-sentiment of death," said Jerrold M. Post, a former CIA profiler who is now a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University. "To the extent that a picture is worth a thousand words, this one . . . reflects an apparent upturn in his health."

Intelligence analysts and other experts said the newest tape was of professional quality, with sophisticated lighting, a hallmark of al Qaeda productions before Sept. 11. Part of the intent, they surmised, was to communicate the impression that bin Laden remained in firm control of his organization and was not a man on the run.

"It seemed to be a reminder that 'I am still here, and I'm still actively directing my cause, and do not forget the role I am playing in this conflict,' " Post said. "He clearly is very PR-minded. There has been a consistency over the years. He is acutely aware of his image."

Although bin Laden has consistently charged that the United States oppresses Muslims, the examples he cites have changed over the years.

In 1996, when he issued his declaration of war against American interests, the primary offense he mentioned was the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. They had used military bases in the kingdom during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and remained there afterward at the request of the Saudi royal family. Having "Crusader warriors" near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina was a grave insult to all Muslims, bin Laden and other conservative members of the faith complained.

U.S. troops largely withdrew from the kingdom by September 2003, but their departure did not end al Qaeda operations in the region. Instead, sympathizers of the group have since increased their attacks on interests of the United States and others they consider to be enemies in the kingdom.

Bin Laden has continued to list U.S. support of the Saudi royal family -- which he regards as corrupt and beholden to outside interests -- as one of his biggest grievances. But he has also displayed a politician's instinct by tapping into two other issues that have inflamed public opinion in the Middle East more recently: the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his videotaped speech last month, bin Laden said he drew the inspiration for the Sept. 11 attacks from his memories of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the bombardment that began the following year of targets in that country by a U.S. battleship. Another factor was the U.S.-led embargo of Iraq after the Gulf War, which he claimed led to "the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known."

"With these images and their like as their background, the events of September 11th came as a reply to those great wrongs," he said. "It confirmed to me that oppression and the intentional killing of women and children is a deliberate American policy."

In a report published last week, the Congressional Research Service said that al Qaeda "has displayed a pragmatic willingness to adapt its statements to changing circumstances while remaining a messianic commitment to its ideological agenda." Bin Laden, it added, "continues to see himself and his followers as the vanguard of an international Islamic movement."

A European intelligence official said bin Laden's strategy has always been to cast himself as a leader of a larger cause and to show that Muslims can successfully stand up to the United States.

"He's trying to pose as a politician," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "If you look back at his old speeches and videotapes, he always sees himself as being on an eye level with the American president. He's trying to show that he's a force to be reckoned with."

While bin Laden has made a name for himself as a sworn enemy of the United States, he also presents himself as a believer in the power of democracy.

By addressing the American people directly, the al Qaeda leader was serving notice that he held them accountable for electing their leaders and, indirectly, for shaping their country's policy toward the Islamic world, said Maha Azzam, an al Qaeda expert and fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

Azzam noted that bin Laden took a similar approach in an audiotape he released in April warning European countries that they had three months to withdraw their support of the U.S. occupation of Iraq or face more terrorist attacks like the bombings on March 11 of four commuter trains in Madrid, in which 190 people were killed and more than 1,800 were injured.

"My reading is that there is a belief on the part of bin Laden as well as other Islamists that democracy works and that voters in the U.S. and Europe can influence foreign policy decisions," Azzam said. "On the one hand, they attack the West. On the other hand, there is recognition that in a democracy, people can hold its leaders accountable. He believes that democracy is a system that can deliver on behalf of its people."

In his last videotape, for instance, bin Laden repeatedly mocked President Bush as an ineffective leader who had failed to serve the interests of the American people.

He made fun of Bush for reading "My Pet Goat" to Florida schoolchildren while hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center. He said that al Qaeda planners assumed they would have at most 20 minutes to carry out the attacks but that it took the Bush administration almost a full hour to respond.

He also compared the Bush family to the royal House of Saud, saying that both ruling clans were "characterized by pride, arrogance, greed and misappropriation of wealth." The war in Iraq, he said, was fought to benefit the U.S. oil industry and companies such as Halliburton but had left the U.S. economy in shambles and the federal government with a huge budget deficit.

The point, bin Laden added, was not that the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry, would be a better choice. Rather, he said, it was that the American people were responsible for the actions of their leaders and that they would face the consequences for U.S. actions in the Middle East.

Toward the end of his speech, he urged Americans "to reflect on the last wills and testaments of the thousands who left you on the 11th as they gestured in despair," a reference to what he claimed the victims of the attacks were thinking as they died.

"It is as if they were telling you, the people of America, 'Hold to account those who have caused us to be killed, and happy is he who learns from others' mistakes,' " bin Laden said.

Researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.


'It was a time of madness'

 Andre Nowacki, a Polish Holocaust survivor, reunites with Hanna Kwiecinska Morawiecka, the woman who helped him and his mother hide from the Nazis for two years

November 25, 2004
Andre Nowacki lives in a condo near the boardwalk in Long Beach, a short walk from the ocean and the house where his 3-year-old granddaughter lives. At 68, Nowacki, a food chemist, runs a thriving consulting business that takes him across the globe. He and his wife celebrated their 38th anniversary this year.

It is a good life, one worlds away from his childhood as a Jew in Warsaw, where he and his mother spent four desperate years hiding from the Germans in occupied Poland.

"It was a time of madness," he remembers. "This is something that nobody will understand unless they were there ... there is nothing that compares, nothing that connects."

Nothing, that is, except the sole surviving member of a Polish Christian family who took extraordinary risks to help Nowacki and his mother evade the Nazis. Yesterday Nowacki was reunited with Hanna Kwiecinska Morawiecka, 73, who sang him songs and brought him books during the two years he hid in their Warsaw apartment, unable to even peer out a window for fear of being caught.

"This is my older sister," Nowacki said, embracing Morawiecka, who had been the youngest of three Kwiecinska daughters. Their emotional reunion at Kennedy Airport was financed by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, a Manhattan-based nonprofit organization that provides financial support to non-Jews who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

For years the Kwiecinskas had assumed Nowacki and his mother had perished, until he tracked down the three daughters, all since married and bearing different names, in Poland and called them nearly 20 years ago. The eldest daughter visited him in 1986, but Nowacki and Morawiecka hadn't seen each other since the end of the war. But the bond the two children closest in age formed during the harrowing years of hiding and fear endured.

Shrugging off fatigue from her long flight, Morawiecka starting chatting animatedly in Polish with the man she said she'd know anywhere because of his big ears. She didn't stop, her eyes bright and hands still gesticulating hours later after she and her daughter Wanda were whisked off to Long Beach to meet Nowacki's family for an early Thanksgiving dinner.

"I loved him dearly," she said of Nowacki as he translated. "But I hated him, because if they were caught, we all would die."

The Kwiecinskas hid the pair in their Warsaw apartment for years. Later, after the shattered city was evacuated following the disastrous Warsaw uprising, the family helped them in the scramble for a safe haven in the countryside.

"Their fate was my fate," Nowacki said. It is a debt, he said, he can never repay.

During the war Nowacki lost everything: his home, his father, even his name. By the time Poland was liberated in 1945, the only documents that Nowacki, who was born Solomon Tejblum, possessed were the forged Christian identity papers that allowed him and his mother to slip out of the Warsaw ghetto in the first place. Of an extended family of 150, he believes only he, his mother and one aunt survived.

When Nowacki and his mother, Helen, came to the Kwiecinskas' apartment in 1942 seeking shelter, they had already endured years of trauma since the Germans invaded Poland three years earlier.

In 1940 his father's knitting factory was taken away and given to a Polish manager after a Nazi decree forced Warsaw's 375,000 Jews into the ghetto. Thanks to the intervention of the manager, a friend, the Tejblums got permits allowing them to work outside the ghetto at the factory, where Haim Tejblum, Nowacki's father, , obtained forged identity papers for himself, his wife and his son. But he was arrested while trying to arrange an escape route through Eastern Europe for the family when Nowacki was just 6 and sent to a concentration camp, where he died.

Soon after, Nowacki's mother, a strong-willed woman with nerves steeled by adversity, walked out of the ghetto with her son and never came back. Blue-eyed, with no trace of a Yiddish accent, she passed for Christian and from then on, her son Solomon became Andre.

Sustained by a lifeline of money from the factory manager, the pair sought anonymity in Otwock, a rural town outside of Warsaw. But they constantly ran into trouble as people began to ask questions, especially about Andre, who looked more Jewish than she.

Eventually the risk of being denounced to the Germans became too dangerous, and the pair returned to Warsaw in 1942, where the factory manager used contacts in the Polish underground resistance to locate a safe house.

Janina Kwiecinska, whose husband was an underground member in hiding from the Germans, was already sheltering other Jews in her apartment when she agreed to take in Nowacki and his mother.

"You cannot describe the risk," the Kwiecinkas took, Nowacki said. "People who were caught were shot ... and some people lost their nerve right there in the middle. The pressure was extraordinary."

Adults sought release in the only sedative left during years of wartime privation: vodka, which Nowacki said was always on the table. "There had to be some escape, just for a minute, just for an hour," he said. Occasionally he would lick the glasses to catch the last drops. "That was enough for me."

Andre played with the girls and the family's two dogs and two cats. The excruciating tedium was punctuated only by the panic of a knock on the door, often from the Gestapo agents who had a habit of scouring the apartment in hopes of finding the girls' father. If there was time, Nowacki shimmied up a ladder to a high cupboard over the front door, where he would bolt the door from inside and remain silent until the agents left. Sometimes there was no time. Once, the Kwiecinska girls had to shove him under the covers of a bed which they then sat on, feigning nonchalance, until the agents left.

"They looked at me," Morawiecka remembered, "and my heart was beating like I could collapse."

The Nowackis hid with their protectors in the basement of the apartment building during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, when Polish insurgents hoping in vain for support from Russian troops just outside the city rose up against the Germans. The Russians did not come, and the movement was crushed, laying waste to most of Warsaw. "When we walked out the building was a pile of rubble," Nowacki said. "There was not a building standing."

Then the two families traveled together to the countryside, facing danger equally because the Christians faced being shot if caught protecting Jews. They slept in barns until they found a farmer who hid them until the war's end. Food was scarce, but for Nowacki it was the beginning of a new life. For the first time in years, "I saw the sunlight, I saw nature, trees and fields," he said. "It was such a chaotic period that somehow we were not afraid anymore."

After the war the families lost touch. The Kwiecinskas returned to Warsaw and Nowacki and his mother settled in the Polish city of Lodz. They emigrated to Palestine five years later, when Nowacki was 14. Nowacki eventually moved to North America, graduating from college in Montreal, where he met his wife.

The next few decades Nowacki, who worked as a food chemist, spent in pursuit "of every American's dream," he said.

To this day Nowacki does not know how the Kwiecinska family found the courage to put their lives on the line for him and other Jewish strangers they hid.

"I don't know if there was a way to rationalize if you were ready to die for a person," he said. "I really don't know if I would take such a risk. Until you are tested, as they were, you cannot know."

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.


from Salon.com

Nov. 25, 2004  |  Avoiding political arguments with Republican relatives may be the best way to enjoy Thanksgiving. But what's best isn't always what's possible. In the election's immediate aftermath -- and following a big meal and a few drinks -- your most dearly beloved conservatives may not be able to resist the urge to gloat. They may even begin to lecture you about the bright future that awaits us all as George W. Bush fulfills his "mandate."

Rather than start screaming about the bloody debacle in Iraq, the nasty campaign against gays, or the pillaging of the environment, just smile and nod until your favorite 'winger pauses for breath (or a bite of pie). Then say, "I hope you're right, of course, for everybody's sake. But have you heard about the President's economic plans?"

As soon as you have everybody's attention, politely explain what Bush and his administration plan to do to the gullible middle-class voters who re-elected him. Remind them how the President promised to make taxes "fairer" and "simpler," to make health care more widely available and to cut the deficit in half.

Nod your head and say yes, you agree, the forthcoming White House tax plan is pure simplicity. It will transfer the tax burden from the wealthy to the workers, from families with high earnings to those in the middle. That means creating new shelters for the richest taxpayers, who will be rewarded with various schemes for tax-free savings and medical accounts. Pretty fair, eh?

Assuming that your Republican relatives despise Hollywood liberals, misbehaving athletes, foul-mouthed hip-hop artists, and George Soros, it's worth pointing out that the Bush tax scheme will greatly benefit such pampered "elitists." And thanks to Bush's repeal of the estate tax, the children of those elitists may never have to pay any income taxes, let alone do any work, for the rest of their lives!

Of course, since the nation's accounts are already in the tank and the President has promised that his tax "reform" won't make matters worse, someone has to pay the difference. And unless your Bush-friendly family member drove to dinner in a Bentley, that duty will fall on him or her. To offset those generous new breaks for Soros, Barbra Streisand and Eminem, the White House wants to eliminate the deductibility of state and local tax payments. For most middle-class taxpayers that will constitute a far larger burden than any benefit from the Bush plan. (Urge everybody to check last year's tax return if they don't believe you. Have them compare the piddling interest from their savings to the amount they deducted in state and local taxes.)

Incidentally, this clever plan will shift an even greater burden onto the blue states, which already pay a disproportionate amount in federal tax revenues while getting less back. It's always good to note that those Republican red states are America's true welfare states.

And while your listeners are still chewing over that piece of gristle, gently inform them about the President's other plan to compensate for the next round of regressive tax cuts. He wants to take away their employer-sponsored health insurance.

Although he neglected to discuss any such proposal during the presidential campaign, when he emphasized his commitment to expand health coverage, Bush reportedly plans to eliminate corporate deductions for health insurance coverage. With company health plans already under tremendous pressure from increasing costs, the elimination of deductibility will make insurance unaffordable for most companies (and will certainly give all employers an excuse for eliminating those benefits). That will leave wage and salary earners to fend for themselves against the big private insurers. Take a generous sip of chardonnay and say, "What a deal!"

Finally, don't forget to mention the President's Social Security "reform." According to the Washington Post, Bush and his advisers have finally figured out how to pay for the trillion-dollar cost of privatizing the system. They're just going to ignore it by taking the costs "off-budget." Or, as one of the plan's proponents at the Cato Institute explained, the White House economists will use "creative accounting" to hide enormous holes in future budgets.

So smile again, a bit sardonically, as you sum up what middle-class Americans, red and blue, can expect as the second Bush regime begins: Higher taxes, exploding deficits and the end of health coverage as we know it.

There's just so much to be thankful for, isn't there?

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Joe Conason writes a twice weekly column for Salon. He also writes a weekly column for the New York Observer. His new book, "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth," is now available. Join Joe Conason along with Ann Richards, David Talbot and others on the Salon Cruise

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

from alternet.org


Dan Green of New York City says of the election results, "You can't be depressed now, the worst is yet to come." Following that good advice, I intended to keep my indignation dry and save the outrage for when it is really needed, kind of like saving room for the pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner. If we're going to get through the next four years, we have to pace ourselves, I concluded.

But here it is, not even three weeks into the new Bush regime, and already I'm jaw-dropped, you've-got-to-be-kidding mad. Here's the record so far:

* Republicans somehow managed to squirrel an obscure little provision into the appropriations bill that gives congressmen or their "agents" the right to look at your IRS return and make what use of it they will. This perverse item was apparently the brainchild of Rep. Ernie Istook of Oklahoma, who is such a hopeless chucklehead it's often hard to take him seriously as a menace. He's chair of the transportation subcommittee of the appropriations committee, and in that position clearly needs to see your tax return. He also voted for funding for light rail in Salt Lake City (he's Mormon), but against light rail funding for Oklahoma City.

What is it with Oklahoma? Even Istook is likely to be out-dumbed by Oklahoma's new senator, Tom Coburn, who believes "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go the bathroom" at a time. No evidence could be found for this peculiar claim. He also described state legislators as "a bunch of crapheads." While I do not agree, I am sympathetic to the perspective.

* Sen. Ted Stevens, who as usual has larded the appropriations bill with an outsize package of goodies for Alaska, assured the Senate that Istook's amendment would be deleted before the bill was sent to the president. He begged, he pleaded. "Do I have to get on my knees?" he asked.

Quick, someone check just how much more in federal spending the 250,000 citizens of Alaska are getting than the rest of us.

* Also stashed away inside the appropriations bill was a provision imposing a domestic gag rule on abortion: no federal money to agencies that require doctors, hospitals or insurers to provide abortions, cover them OR give referrals to abortion providers. Sailed right through the House. Hey, why not put a new abortion restriction in the appropriations bill, along with the kitchen sink?

* Republican House leaders rejected the 9-11 Commission's bill on intelligence reform. Eighty percent of Americans want the intelligence reforms, and our safety is directly at stake. But hey, we're just chopped liver: The reforms would take power away from the Pentagon. And as we all know, we just can't have that.

* The Senate voted 65 to 30 to set funds aside for a special category of "priorities," including a new presidential yacht.

* It's really fascinating to watch the Republican slime machine at work on Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Earle is one of the longest-serving district attorneys in the entire country. His constituents have been re-electing him since 1976. He was one of the first prosecutors in Texas to create a victim assistance program and helped start the Austin Children's Advocacy Center to help abused kids.

He's pretty much a local hero around here, and no D.A. gets that way by being "soft on crime." Earle is death penalty advocate. He is also noted for going after corrupt Democratic politicians in this state, even though he's a Democrat himself. He was willing not only to take on the slam-dunk cases, but also some tough ones just to remind everybody that the law is to be obeyed.

Earle is such a careful craftsman of prosecution that Time magazine selected him as their main example for a major 2003 article to explain how DAs like Earle might bring some resolution to the death penalty debate. Earle has experienced both the good and bad of the death penalty – consequently, he has a special review procedure for cases on which his office seeks capital punishment.

He is widely admired among his peers, and his innovations are often copied. This is the guy the Republicans are blithely dismissing as a "crackpot." Since Earle has been in office almost 30 years and has a fine national reputation, it's ludicrous to dismiss him as a "runaway district attorney." Does anyone at Fox News ever do any research?

* As though things on the legislative side weren't bad enough, Bush and Cheney are moving to make the executive branch all-powerful. You can already see several of the unfortunate characteristics of the first term being intensified in the second. The emphasis on secrecy is already more pronounced, as is the selection of people for loyalty rather than competence.

But we have to save some room for when it gets worse, so I'd like wish absolutely everybody, including the Bush administration, a swell Thanksgiving.

Molly Ivins is a best-selling author and columnist who writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.

DFA meeting in Suffok County

Since you haven't RSVPed yet, you might not know that Suffolk
County Democracy for America Meetup Group has an event in two

See who's coming and help your Organizer better plan the event
by RSVPing:

What: Suffolk County Democracy for America December Meetup

When: Wednesday, December 1 at 7:00PM
Where: To Be Determined

NYTimes.com Article: Editorial: Rolling Back Women's Rights

The article below from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by carlosh@aol.com.

/--------- E-mail Sponsored by Fox Searchlight ------------

An official selection of the New York Film Festival and the
Toronto International Film Festival, SIDEWAYS is the new
comedy from Alexander Payne, director of ELECTION and ABOUT
SCHMIDT. Starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church,
Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen. Watch the trailer at:



Editorial: Rolling Back Women's Rights

November 23, 2004

Dispensing with legislative niceties like holding hearings
or full and open debate, President Bush and the Republican
Congress have used the cover of a must-pass spending bill
to mount a disgraceful sneak attack on women's health and

Tucked into the $388 billion budget measure just approved
by the House and Senate is a sweeping provision that has
nothing to do with the task Congress had at hand -
providing money for the government. In essence, it tells
health care companies, hospitals and insurance companies
they are free to ignore Roe v. Wade and state and local
laws and regulations currently on the books to make certain
that women's access to reproductive health services
includes access to abortion.

It remains to be seen exactly how the measure will work in
practice. But the intention, plainly, is to curtail further
already dwindling access to abortion and even to counseling
that mentions abortion as a legal option. It denies federal
financing to government agencies that "discriminate"
against health care providers who choose for any reason to
disregard state mandates to offer abortion-related
services. This represents a vast expansion of the
"conscience protection" that federal law currently gives to
individual doctors who do not want to undergo abortion

The affront to women's rights, moreover, should not obscure
the serious threat to the First Amendment involved in
enacting what is likely to evolve into a domestic "gag
rule" as, one by one, health care providers order doctors
they employ not to provide patients with information about
the abortion option. This echoes the way Mr. Bush reimposed
a blanket Reagan-era gag rule for providers of reproductive
health services abroad on his first full day in office back
in 2001.

Unfortunately, vocal opposition from Democrats and a
handful of Republican moderates was not enough to stop the
pernicious assault on the rights of millions of women from
becoming law in the rush to pass the spending bill. At
least Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, won a
promise from the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, to
permit a direct vote on a bill repealing this measure not
long into the new Congressional session. In the meantime,
Americans, and American women in particular, are officially
on notice that post-election, the Republican war on
reproductive rights has entered an ominous new phase.



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Here goes......

Well, here we are. After hearing from many of you after the election, your need for continued participation was made clear and a sense that we needed to go a little further than just sharing emails came bursting through.

This is a web log, or in the parlance of the net literati, a blog. You will be able to post your own thoughts, links to other sites, even complete articles. You are free to post anything as long as you do it in a constructive fashion and refrain from abusive behavior. (Unless someone else volunteers, I will determine if you are being abusive.)

Politics is the main course here but some will say that politics is part of everything we do, so post away. Just one thing, please do more than just complain. That is, make an effort to suggest concrete actions that you believe can create real change. This can be anything from meditation to demonstration; use your wisdom and experience to educate us all.

Remember the vows you made the day after the last election and put your anger/fear/concern/disappointment to positive use. Invite your friends to participate and to contribute.

Blog on!


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