Thursday, August 31, 2006

Quote of the Day

As if all those "appeasers" and "pessimists" weren't enough, Montana Sen. Conrad Burns warned at a fundraiser with Laura Bush yesterday that America must protect itself from a "faceless enemy" of terrorists who "drive taxi cabs in the daytime and kill at night."

-- Tim Grieve

" Fool me Once, Shame on You...

Fool me twice, well, you can't fool me agin"

Spin, Spin, Spin.....BTW, Where in the World is Karen Hughes?
Positive Press on Iraq Is Aim of U.S. Contract

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006; A20

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.

The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.

The request for bids comes at a time when Bush administration officials are publicly criticizing media coverage of the war in Iraq.

The proposal, which calls in part for extensive monitoring and analysis of Iraqi, Middle Eastern and American media, is designed to help the coalition forces understand "the communications environment." Its goal is to "develop communication strategies and tactics, identify opportunities, and execute events . . . to effectively communicate Iraqi government and coalition's goals, and build support among our strategic audiences in achieving these goals," according to the statement of work that is publicly available through the Web site .

A public relations practitioner who asked for anonymity because he may be involved in a bid on the contract said that military commanders "are overwhelmed by the media out there and are trying to understand how to get their information out.

"They want it [news] to be received by audiences as it is transmitted [by them], but they don't like how it turns out," he said. As an example, he said, there are complaints that reports from Iraq sometimes quote Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr more than military commanders.

The proposal calls for monitoring "Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international and U.S. national and regional markets media in both Arabic and English." That includes broadcast and cable television outlets, the Pentagon channel, two wire services and three major U.S. newspapers: The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Monitors are to select stories that deal with specific issues, such as security, reconstruction activities, "high profile" coalition force activities and events in which Iraqi security forces are "in the lead." The monitors are to analyze stories to determine the "dissemination of key themes and messages" along with whether the "tone" is positive, neutral or negative.

The media outlets would be monitored for how they present coalition or anti-Iraqi force operations. That part of the proposal could reflect Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's often-stated concern that the media does not cover positive aspects of Iraq.

In a speech before the American Legion on Tuesday, Rumsfeld said that a search of leading newspapers revealed that a soldier punished for misconduct was written about "10 times" as often as the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in anti-terrorism efforts.

The proposal suggests a team of 12 to 18 people who would provide support for the coalition military command as well as the Iraqi government leadership.

Prospective contractors are also asked to propose four to eight public relations events per month, such as speeches or news conferences, including "preparation of likely questions and suggested answers, themes and messages as well as background, talking points."

An attempt yesterday to reach the contracting officer for this project was not successful. Bids are due Sept. 6, and the 24-month contract is scheduled to begin on Oct. 28.

The Rendon Group, which has represented organizations such as the Iraqi National Congress, currently holds a much smaller year-to-year contract with the military command in Iraq. That contract includes creating an Arabic version of the command's Web site, .
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
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“What Happened in Ohio?: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election.”

Putting the ill in illegitimate.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

10 weeks left to change the subject.

Keep moving the target, Georgie

Rumsfeld's Ghastly Speech to the American Legion

By Fred Kaplan

The fifth anniversary of 9/11 looms before us, and it's hard to say which artifact is gloomier: the awful memory of the attack itself (especially to those of us who witnessed the towers crumbling) or the spectacle of our leaders wrapping themselves in its legacy as if it were some tattered shroud that sanctifies their own catastrophic mistakes and demonizes all their critics.
Already, the sermons are beginning.

Yesterday, speaking before the officers of U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb., Vice President Dick Cheney touted the war in Iraq and denounced the "self-defeating pessimists" who oppose it. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did much the same at the American Legion's convention in Salt Lake City.

Tomorrow, President Bush will give the first of several speeches making the case for staying the course—his third such series since he declared victory three and a quarter years ago onboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.

Cheney's speech passed by almost completely unnoticed, perhaps because it was just too delusional for comment. (Of the war in Iraq: "We wage this fight with good allies at our side." Of present-day Iraq and Afghanistan: "Fifty million people are awakening to a future of hope and freedom." Would that both statements were so.)

The most-publicized portions of Rumsfeld's speech were in the same vein as Cheney's: Today's terrorists pose the same threat as yesteryear's Nazis; critics of the war in Iraq are like the appeasers before World War II; the real problem is that "the media" spreads "lies" and "myths" about how the war is going.

But then Rumsfeld posed four questions. "These are central questions of our time, and we must face them," he said. So, let's face them.

1. "With the growing lethality and availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?"

Well, it depends which "vicious extremists" he's talking about. If he's talking about the leaders of al-Qaida, no, probably not. But, even here, it's a mistake to presume that there are only two choices—appeasement or war. Sometimes, war, at least war fought in a certain style, does as much harm as good.

Rumsfeld should ponder another set of questions that he posed to a handful of top advisers back in October 2003, in a private memo (which was leaked shortly afterward to USA Today):

Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists? The US is putting relatively little effort into a long-range plan, but we are putting a great deal of effort into trying to stop the terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions.

How do we stop those who are financing the radical madrassa schools? Is our current situation such that "the harder we work, the behinder we get"? ... Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madrassas to a more moderate course?

All excellent questions. At the time, I called the memo "pathetic" because Rumsfeld had taken so long to formulate its points. In retrospect, I was too cruel. What's really pathetic is that nearly three years have since passed and the Bush administration still hasn't answered his questions. And what's truly cynical is that Rumsfeld can deliver such a simpleminded speech—charging the critics of the war in Iraq with historical ignorance and "moral confusion"—when he knows the truth is more complicated.

2. "Can we really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?"

Again, it depends what he means by "terrorists." If he's talking about al-Qaida, who is advocating such a thing? If he's talking about, say, Syria or Iran, which are state sponsors of terrorism, it's sheer folly not to negotiate with them, at least on some issues. (Rumsfeld loads the deck by tossing in the phrase "a separate peace.")

Several notable (and quite hawkish) Israelis, including a former director of Mossad, have advocated negotiating with Syria over its support of Hezbollah. Many Americans, of both parties and all persuasions, have urged George W. Bush to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. It's worth recalling that, shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration quietly opened up a line of diplomacy and cooperation with Iran over its shared interest in toppling the Taliban regime of Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld properly lionizes Winston Churchill and, implicitly, Franklin D. Roosevelt for recognizing the threat from Nazi Germany at a time when many dismissed his warnings. But it's a good thing that the Western leaders of World War II weren't as dogmatic as their wannabe-emulators of today. Otherwise, they might not have formed an alliance with the Soviet Union (out of a refusal to negotiate with evil Communists), and they might have therefore lost the war.

3. "Can we truly afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply 'law-enforcement' problems, rather than fundamentally different threats, requiring fundamentally different approaches?"

Once more, Rumsfeld loads the deck. Nobody claims that today's threats are "simply" matters of law enforcement. Obviously, terrorists are not "simply" criminals, and dealing with them requires a mix of approaches, including military. That said, techniques of law enforcement (including police surveillance, border patrol, and international intelligence sharing) have recently broken up more terrorist plots than any military operation.

As George Will (hardly an appeaser) wrote a few weeks ago: "The London plot against civil aviation confirmed … that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg … and High Wycombe, England." Will, a stalwart Republican, went further: "Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement … has validated John Kerry's belief"—expressed in one of the 2004 presidential debates—"that although the war on terror will be 'occasionally military,' it is 'primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation."

4. "And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America—not the enemy—is the real source of the world's trouble?"

This is another red herring. Few Americans, and virtually no contenders in American politics, hold this view.

However, a lot of people in other countries—including countries that are, or should be, our allies—do hold this view. Look at the Pew Research Center's most recent "global attitudes survey," released this past June. In only four of the 15 nations surveyed (Britain, India, Japan, and Nigeria) did a majority of citizens have a favorable view of the United States. In six countries (Spain, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan), Iran had a higher rating than did the United States. (In one more, Russia, the two countries' ratings were tied.) Most remarkable, in all but one country (Germany), America's presence in Iraq was seen as a bigger danger to world peace than either Iran or North Korea.

These views are widespread—and, by the way, they've grown steadily more prominent in the past few years—not because of "the media" or "blame-America-first" liberals, nor because Iran and North Korea have more skillful propagandists (or, if they do, it's time for Condoleezza Rice to hire a better public-diplomacy staff). No, a country's global image is usually formed not by what its leaders say but rather by what they do.

If the war on terror is "a battle for the future of civilization," as Cheney claimed in his speech (or even if it's merely a serious struggle), and if the United States needs allies to wage it, the president and his team would better spend their time luring allies than beating up on journalists and Democrats. If Rumsfeld is serious, he should revisit the questions he asked back in October 2003. Those—not the cleverly phrased debaters' points he muttered this past Monday—really are some "central questions of our time."

Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slate. He can be reached at

Clinton Ended Welfare, Not Poverty

Published on Wednesday, August 30, 2006 by Truthdig
by Robert Scheer

To hear Bill Clinton tell it, his presidency won the war on poverty three decades after President Lyndon B. Johnson launched it, having changed only the name. Unfortunately, however, for the mothers and their children pushed off the rolls but still struggling mightily to make ends meet even when the women are employed, the war on welfare was not the same battle at all.

Clinton masterfully blurred the two in a recent New York Times opinion column, as did most others on the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, writing as if getting mothers and their children off the welfare rolls is the same as getting them out of poverty. In the absence of any evidence that poverty is tamed, he celebrates a “bipartisan” victory, which was good for his image but not necessarily for those it claimed to help.

The ex-president gloats over the large decrease in the number of welfare recipients as if he is unaware of the five-year limit and other new restrictions which made it inevitable. Nor does he seem bothered that nobody seems to have thought it important to assess how the families on Aid to Families with Dependent Children fared after they left welfare. The truth is we know very little about the fate of those moved off welfare, 70% of whom are children, because there is no systematic monitoring program, thanks to “welfare reform” severing the federal government’s responsibility to help the nation’s poor.

The best estimates from the Census Bureau and other data, however, indicate that at least a million welfare recipients have neither jobs nor benefits and have sunk deeper into poverty. For those who found jobs, a great many became mired in minimum-wage jobs — sometimes more than one — that barely cover the child-care and other costs they incurred by working outside the home.

Yet, in rather the same way that President Bush likes to follow sentences about Sept. 11 with the words “Saddam Hussein” to imply a connection unsupported by facts, Clinton follows his boasts about welfare “reform” by announcing that “child poverty dropped to 16.2 percent in 2000, the lowest rate since 1979” as if that proves a causal relationship.

But if crushing welfare is such a boon to poor children, the effects should be snowballing the further we get from the bad old days, right? Well, no: The same census data Clinton cites for 2000 also records a 12% increase in childhood poverty over the four subsequent years.

Of course, Republican funding cuts to various poverty-related programs have no doubt played a role in this sad stat, as has a bitter resistance to raising the federal minimum wage, which, in real dollars, is now at its lowest point in a half-century. But it is ridiculous to imply, without evidence, that welfare reform is responsible for declines in poverty but is unrelated to increases in poverty.

What we do know unequivocally is that real wages have been declining for workers, both lower- and middle-class, despite increases in productivity. As the New York Times reported on Monday, “wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960s.” These numbers are even more depressing when we realize that the top 1% of wage earners, beneficiaries of Bush’s feed-the-rich tax breaks, now earn an outsized 11.2% of the nation’s total wages.

Now, Clinton knows full well that the playing field is neither level nor fair, so it is unconscionable to have singled out the minuscule welfare program for a big propaganda campaign to improve government efficiency. The overly examined welfare program costs $10 billion a year while the $300 billion already spent on the Iraq war is rarely raised in discussions of taxpayer burden and fiscal responsibility.

The sad reality is that “ending welfare as we know it” was championed by Clinton because it made him appear to be a “new Democrat” and not because it would improve the lives of poor kids. Otherwise, he would not dare boast in his column that “as a governor, I oversaw a workfare experiment in Arkansas in 1980,” because that program was a failure.

In Arkansas today, fully half the children are described in Census Bureau data as “low income,” while 1 out of 10 live in a situation that researchers call “extreme child poverty,” meaning that a family of four survives on less than $9,675 per year.

Yes, Clinton all but ended welfare. Unfortunately, child poverty is again on the rise in Arkansas and throughout the nation.

What Keeps Don Rumsfeld Up at Night?

Hint: It's Not the Body Count in Iraq

by Arianna Huffington

Forget the escalating sectarian violence. Forget the rising influence of Iran. Forget the 100-Iraqi-deaths-per-day. Forget the 2,638 American dead.

For Don Rumsfeld the problem isn't that we are not winning the war in Iraq, the problem is that we are not properly spinning the war in Iraq.

Along with comparing his critics to Hitler appeasers, the beleaguered Defense Secretary has spent the early part of this week making the case that the horrific state of affairs in Iraq is really just a case of bad PR.

"The enemy is so much better at communicating," he whined to a gathering of Veterans of Foreign Wars. "I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say -- all of which are not true -- is harmful."

And during a question-and-answer session with Navy personnel, he bemoaned the ability of terrorist groups -- who, according to Rummy, have "media committees" -- to "manipulate the media," saying, "That's the thing that keeps me up at night."That's all you need to know about Don Rumsfeld. He's not losing sleep over the bloody reality in Iraq (and his role in creating it); he's tossing and turning over the fact that he hasn't been able to package that bloody reality more effectively.

It's all about appearances.

You can just picture him in bed, fuming -- not over the latest body count stats or the latest dire predictions by U.S. generals, but over the latest batch of bad press clippings.

"What bothers me the most is how clever the enemy is," he said. "They are actively manipulating the media in this country... They can lie with impunity."

It wasn't hard to detect a hint of envy in his voice and a wistful look in his eye as he said this. After all, hadn't he and Doug Feith created the Office of Strategic Influence before the war so the Pentagon also could lie with impunity? Damn the New York Times! If it hadn't exposed their plans, America could be winning the spin war (if not the real one).

But even without the OSI, Rummy still manages a little manipulation of his own. During his Navy Q&A, he claimed that the terrorists groups -- using their crack "media committees," no doubt -- had tried to undermine support for the war by falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As if it was it the terrorists' PR geniuses who came up with the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Haditha, the rape and murders in Mahmudiyah, and the long line of civilian casualties from American bombing runs in Afghanistan.

And how about today's report that the sergeant who led the Haditha attack had originally been recommended for a medal for his actions that day? Was that a terrorist media committee plant, too? (If so, maybe Tom Cruise should have replaced his sister with these guys.)

No matter. The facts are besides the point with Rummy. As he's made clear from the beginning, he doesn't see Iraq as a war that needs to be won. For him, it's a PR campaign that needs to be spun.

It's a long, hard media manipulation slog.

The Photo that Haunts George Allen

George Allen: Beyond 'Macaca'
Max Blumenthal reports that Virginia Senator George Allen claimed it was a "mistake" when he called an employee of his Democratic challenger a racist name. But a photo from his past sheds light on his cozy history with white supremacists.

Iraqi Hospitals Are War's New "Killing Fields"

Medical Sites Targeted By Shiite Militiamen

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer

BAGHDAD -- In a city with few real refuges from sectarian violence -- not government offices, not military bases, not even mosques -- one place always emerged as a safe haven: hospitals.

So Mounthir Abbas Saud, whose right arm and jaw were ripped off when a car bomb exploded six months ago, must have thought the worst was over when he arrived at Ibn al-Nafis Hospital, a major medical center here.

Instead, it had just begun. A few days into his recovery at the facility, armed Shiite Muslim militiamen dragged the 43-year-old Sunni mason down the hallway floor, snapping intravenous needles and a breathing tube out of his body, and later riddled his body with bullets, family members said.

Authorities say it was not an isolated incident. In Baghdad these days, not even the hospitals are safe. In growing numbers, sick and wounded Sunnis have been abducted from public hospitals operated by Iraq's Shiite-run Health Ministry and later killed, according to patients, families of victims, doctors and government officials.

As a result, more and more Iraqis are avoiding hospitals, making it even harder to preserve life in a city where death is seemingly everywhere. Gunshot victims are now being treated by nurses in makeshift emergency rooms set up in homes. Women giving birth are smuggled out of Baghdad and into clinics in safer provinces.

In most cases, family members and hospital workers said, the motive for the abductions appeared to be nothing more than religious affiliation. Because public hospitals here are controlled by Shiites, the killings have raised questions about whether hospital staff have allowed Shiite death squads into their facilities to slaughter Sunni Arabs.

"We would prefer now to die instead of going to the hospitals," said Abu Nasr, 25, a Sunni cousin of Saud and former security guard from al-Madaan, a Baghdad suburb. "I will never go back to one. Never. The hospitals have become killing fields."

Three Health Ministry officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed for discussing such topics publicly, confirmed that Shiite militias have targeted Sunnis inside hospitals. Adel Muhsin Abdullah, the ministry's inspector general, said his investigations into complaints of hospital abductions have yielded no conclusive evidence. "But I don't deny that it may have happened," he said.

According to patients and families of victims, the primary group kidnapping Sunnis from hospitals is the Mahdi Army, a militia controlled by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that has infiltrated the Iraqi security forces and several government ministries. The minister of health, Ali al-Shimari, is a member of Sadr's political movement. In Baghdad today, it is often impossible to tell whether someone is a government official, a militia member or, as is often the case, both.

"When their uniforms are off, they are Sadr people," said Abu Mahdi, another of Saud's cousins. "When their uniforms are on, they are Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Health people."

Abdullah said only a small percentage of the Health Ministry's 30,000 employees are known members of the Mahdi Army. But he acknowledged that militia membership among personnel in the agency's 15,000-member security force might be much higher.

"I have no way of knowing if they are related to Sadr or not," Abdullah said. "If there is no criminal record, we hire them."

Sunnis' increasing suspicion of hospital workers is perhaps the most vivid illustration of their widespread distrust of the Shiite-led government. Suhaib al-Obeidi, 35, a supermarket owner from the heavily Sunni district of Adamiyah, said he lost his final ounce of confidence in the government during a brush with death in a hospital two weeks ago.

On a quiet weekday morning, as Obeidi unloaded canned chicken and Pepsi from a van and into his store, a gunfight broke out on the street and a spray of bullets struck him, he said -- first in his right shoulder, then in his back. As he tried to crawl away, another bored into his leg. A friend shoved his bleeding body into a taxi and took him to nearby al-Nuuman Hospital.

But when they arrived, a friendly doctor warned them that the Mahdi Army was coming to arrest Sunnis, Obeidi said. So they sneaked out to another hospital, Medical City in the Bab al -Muadam district, to get treatment.

"Tell me where you live!" a nurse at Medical City snapped at the arriving patients, Obeidi recalled, as the staff moved residents of mainly Sunni areas into a separate room.

A few moments later, he saw Mahdi Army troops handcuff five Sunni men who were donating blood -- including the friend who had brought him to the hospital -- and haul them out of the hospital, Obeidi said. A Sunni doctor ran up to him and said he would be killed unless he fled immediately.

Wearing only underwear and some bandages the doctor had applied to his wounds, Obeidi escaped in a taxi to the home of his in-laws in the upscale Mansour district. He lay in bed for an hour as he waited for the Sunni doctor to follow him from the hospital. The bed was drenched in so much blood that his family later dumped it in the trash.

"You were only a few minutes away from death," said the doctor, who arrived at the home an hour later. The doctor, one of the few Sunnis at Medical City, asked that his name not be used because he felt it would further endanger his life.

Inside an illegal clinic in a dingy apartment building, the doctor operated on Obeidi for seven hours. But Obeidi hasn't been able to get any follow-up treatment; he has vowed never to set foot in a hospital again, even if he is mortally wounded or deathly ill.

"I'd rather go to the pharmacy and take random simple medicine," he said.

The reluctance of Sunnis to enter hospitals is making it increasingly difficult to assess the number of casualties caused by sectarian violence. During a recent attack on Shiite pilgrims, a top Sunni political leader accused the Shiite-led government of ignoring large numbers of Sunnis who he said were also killed and wounded in the clash, though he was unable to offer even a rough estimate of the Sunni casualties.

"The situation is so bad that people are just treated inside their homes after being attacked by the Shia militias," said the official, Alaa Makki, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, part of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament. "The miserable fact is that most of the hospitals are controlled by these militias."

Qasim Yahya, a spokesman for the health minister, said he had never heard accusations that Sunnis have been taken from hospitals by Shiite militias or Iraqi security forces.

"We are the Health Ministry for all of Iraq. Not for Sunnis, not for Shiites. For everyone," Yahya said. "If a car bomb explosion takes place, do we ask who is Sunni or Shiite? No. We treat all victims, regardless of who they are or what sect they are."

Sahib al-Amiri, a leader in the Sadr movement, said: "These things that are being said in the Baghdad street are untrue. The Mahdi Army's only role is to fight the Sunni insurgents and protect the Shiites."

But the relatives of Sunni hospital patients tell a different story. In the case of Mounthir Abbas Saud, a trip to a hospital set off a chain of events that sparked an ongoing six-month-old drama in which two of his cousins are dead and two more are missing.

It started with cigarettes. As Saud strolled down a street in the Karrada district on Feb. 27 to buy a pack, a powerful car bomb wrenched his right arm off his body, ripped off much of his face and sprayed shrapnel into his lower intestines.

His prognosis was grim. Saud could breathe only with a tube that needed to be cleaned several times an hour. His family flocked to Ibn al-Nafis to watch over him.

Two weeks later, as Saud's cousin Hazim Aboud Saud returned to the hospital after a trip to buy medication for his wounded relative, he saw the facility surrounded by militiamen carrying machine guns, the family said. He watched as the gunmen removed the still severely wounded cousin from the building -- just dragging him on the ground instead of using a stretcher, his family said. The militia members loaded Saud, his brother Khodair and a cousin, Adil Aboud Saud, into an ambulance and drove away.

"They were screaming, 'We haven't done anything wrong! Why are you doing this?' " said Abu Nasr. "They begged the men to at least take care of my wounded cousin properly."

A few days later, Mounthir's bullet-riddled body was discovered in Sadr City, a Shiite slum controlled by the Mahdi Army. His mouth was stuffed with dirt.

When militiamen discovered that one of the cousins, Hazim Saud, a 32-year-old taxi driver, had witnessed the abductions, they quickly kidnapped him, his family said. His body was found March 27 with his hands -- broken and blue from apparent beatings -- bound behind his back and a plastic bag over his head. The death certificate said he had been suffocated.

But the family held out hope that the two men seized with Mounthir Saud -- Khodair and Adil Saud -- were still alive. When another cousin, Haithem Ali Abbas, a judge in Baghdad, received a call from the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry that they had been located, he hurried to the ministry's headquarters to pick them up. He was shot to death by unknown gunmen shortly after he arrived.

The suffering extends even to those who now wouldn't dare enter a hospital. Abu Youssef, a cousin of Mounthir Saud who has a pea-size tumor in his right foot, now walks with a limp and acute pain because he is petrified to see a doctor. Another relative with a condition that causes overproduction of blood cells won't go for his normal treatments anymore.

On a recent weekday morning, Abu Nasr sat in a quiet restaurant in central Baghdad and pulled out a crumpled envelope filled with death certificates and photographs of his recently killed relatives. Sighing heavily and staring frequently at the dirty ground, he said he prayed that someone would rescue the country from the sectarian violence that is ravaging it.

"We don't care whether the government is Shiite, Sunni, American or Iranian. All we want is security and safety," he said. "But no one in the government represents that now."

When asked whether Iraq has already descended into civil war, he said: "Of course. All the Shiites want to do is kill all the Sunnis."

"What is going to happen to us?" he said as he clutched a tiny photo of his dead cousin Mounthir. "What is going to happen to this country?"

Number of Americans without Health Insurance Continues to Grow

by Tony Pugh

WASHINGTON - One of the nation's most vexing public-health problems deepened last year as the number of Americans without health insurance jumped by 1.3 million to 46.6 million, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

Children accounted for 8.3 million of the uninsured, up from 7.9 million in 2004. Nearly 1 in 5 impoverished children lacked coverage in 2005, and 22 percent of Hispanic children were uninsured.

The new estimates, part of an annual census survey, mark the fifth straight year that the ranks of the uninsured have increased. The new data, which show that nearly 16 percent of Americans lack health coverage, caught many by surprise because unemployment rates were fairly stable last year.

"I thought we'd have a little reprieve," said Dr. Catherine Hoffman, senior researcher at the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. "But the problem doesn't seem to be abating even though the economy seemed to have settled in 2005."

The spike in uninsured children, from 10.8 percent in 2004 to 11.2 percent in 2005, is the first in nearly a decade, Hoffman said.

Most experts cited the cost-driven decline of employer-based health coverage and private insurance for the overall increase.

The report also had more upbeat news. After increasing for four straight years, the nation's poverty rate held steady at 12.6 percent in 2005.

And the median household income - the point at which half of households earn more and half less - increased for the first time since 1999, by 1.1 percent to $46,326.

But a closer look tells a more complex story. For the second straight year, full-time male employees saw their earnings decline in 2005, while their female counterparts took a similar hit for the third straight year. The median earnings for men fell 1.8 percent to $41,400. Women saw a 1.3 percent decline to $31,900.

"It's a bizarre situation where the pie is growing pretty dramatically but most people's slices are getting smaller," said Harry Holzer, a visiting fellow at the Urban Institute and former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor.

That wasn't true, however, for high-income workers. The 20 percent of U.S. households with the highest income accounted for more than half the total U.S. household income in 2005. That disparity has widened over the last 10 years, "indicating a higher level of income inequality than in 1995," said David Johnson, the chief of housing and household economic statistics at the Census Bureau. "Also, the share of total income received by the highest 20 percent of households has increased, while the shares received by those in the lowest 60 percent have declined."

The conflicting data reflect growing concern that despite 2 million new jobs in 2005 and consistent gains in productivity, real wages for working Americans haven't kept pace with inflation. Rising costs for food, energy and health care are eroding a greater share of wages for the middle class and working poor.

Those concerns could weigh on voters in the fall.

"Today's numbers are more proof that middle-class life is growing less affordable and less secure under this Republican Congress," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "It is time to take this country in a new direction, with a Congress that responds to the challenges the American people face every day."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Welfare Reform is Not a Success

by Cat Sullivan

Welfare reform has reached its 10th anniversary. Many crow about its success and how wonderful it is that low-income moms are now working for a wage; they are now productive members of society. As if raising children to run this country, fight in the wars we create and teach children to become productive parents themselves is not being productive.

Some things we do know about the impact of what welfare reform has or hasn't done:

The U.S. has increased its poverty levels.

Many welfare families are now part of the working poor and children see their single parent less and less.

We have the highest infant mortality of all the world's developed nations.

Underemployment is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have exponentially raised the presence of whole families becoming homeless.

More Americans now live without health care.

A recent Princeton study on poverty says the poor age faster and have more health issues before the age of 50 because of their stressful lives. More and more older poor Americans are rearing the next generation and more children are being taken from their parents and placed into foster care.

Gov. Chris Gregoire wants to make it harder for mothers to support their children by throwing children off welfare if their mother is not complying with the welfare-to-work rules. However the state's own statistics show that more than 45 percent of non-compliance is not because mothers "want" to disobey their requirements, but because they don't have appropriate transportation, child care or clothing.

Sanctions mean that all support goes away -- funds to pay the rent, buy clothes or school supplies -- and the entire family is left to fend for itself.

We cannot fully blame the governor for being cold-hearted. There have been few studies about the so-called success of welfare. We really don't know how many Washington families left welfare and still have no job or income. We don't know if parents who start a job at $8 an hour are doing any better. What little we do know is that families that leave welfare are still struggling to make ends meet. In some hunger studies, mothers admit they go hungry so their children can eat.

The governor wants to support early learning among low-income children. How will children learn if their families are homeless because the sanction policy takes away what little is left of their safety net?

Until this society's bottom line is about the success of nurtured families to make a living wage and take care of their children, poverty most likely will continue to spread. Welfare policy should be about helping parents care for their children and move their families out of poverty rather than reducing caseload. Right now it is not looking promising that anything has been accomplished except that U.S. poverty is on the rise.

Rumsfeld's Remarks

by Stephen Elliott

Today Donald Rumsfeld, the man who orchestrated the disaster in Iraq, accused the administration's critics as suffering from "moral and intellectual confusion'' about what threatens the nation's security and accused them of lacking the courage to fight back.

That's an interesting statement from a man that invaded a secular nation with a Sunni head of state in response to an attack on America by Al-Qaeda.

He makes the absurd link of appeasing Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. The result: Saddam is in a cell but Osama bin Laden is still at large. Iraq, which was not a threat to America before we invaded, is now so dangerous that it's front page news across America when an American child visits Iraq and is not beheaded.

Rumsfeld talks about a "new type of fascism" and mentions a string of attacks since 9/11. In the process he fails to distinguish between Saddam's Iraq and Al-Qaeda, implicitly tying the war in Iraq - the source of the criticism he is attacking - with the war on terror.

He also criticizes the media for not reporting on all the positive news out of Iraq. Maybe that's because there isn't any. Maybe it is now to dangerous for a journalist in Iraq to leave their hotel.

It's exactly this kind of absurd dishonesty from Rumsfeld that makes the war in Iraq so hopeless. We can't possibly change course in that failed endeavor without first changing our Secretary of Defense. All other approaches are worthless minus that first major step.

I smell an election coming...

Osama as Adolf Hitler. After all, Uncle Rummy once met Hitler, didn't he?
Reclaiming The Issues: Islamic Or Republican Fascism?
by Thom Hartmann

Illusion and Reality

The violence in the Middle East shows the negative consequences of the administration’s contempt for engagement. But the tough talk has failed.

by Flynt Leverett

On the evening of September 11, 2001, I was one of a small group of State Department staffers called in to confer with Secretary of State Colin Powell and work through the night to produce a diplomatic strategy for assembling an international coalition to destroy Osama bin Laden’s base in Afghanistan. Powell took this strategy to the White House on the morning of September 12, and it became the blueprint for marshaling international support for Operation Enduring Freedom, launched months later.

In the weeks following 9-11, my colleagues and I at State developed a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to support the war on terrorism. This strategy envisioned, beyond a military campaign in Afghanistan, a sustained global effort to “wrap up” bin Laden’s operational networks and affiliates in the Middle East and elsewhere. Iraq would continue to be contained. As other state sponsors of terrorism like Iran and Syria came to the United States to offer assistance against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, that help would be accepted; this tactical cooperation would then be used as a platform for persuading these states to terminate their own involvement with anti-Israeli terrorist groups in return for a positive strategic relationship with Washington. The United States would also develop a credible plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In March 2003, the invasion of Iraq clearly committed America to a very different strategy, aimed at creating what President Bush described as a “new Middle East.” The main elements of this alternative strategy were diametrically opposed to the strategy my colleagues and I had outlined a year and a half earlier.


• Beyond Afghanistan, “rogue” regimes were to be uprooted, either by military force (as in Iraq) or through diplomatic isolation and political pressure (as the administration has tried with Iran and Syria). The United States would not offer “carrots” to such states to induce positive changes; diplomatic engagement would be limited to “sticks.”

• Traditional “allies” like Egypt and Saudi Arabia were also to be fundamentally changed, through U.S.-mandated political transformation. Such transformation would bring a wider range of elites into these countries’ decision making; these elites would be more focused on internal reform and grateful to the United States for their empowerment, which would improve the regional security environment.

• In White House meetings, I heard President Bush say confidently that democratization would even facilitate a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by shaping a Palestinian leadership more focused on internal governance (i.e., providing services such as collecting garbage) and less “hung up” on final-status issues like territory, settlements, and Jerusalem.

Three and a half years after the invasion of Iraq and five years after 9-11, the outbreak of armed conflict between Israel and radical groups in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon has revealed how badly the president’s chosen Middle East strategy has damaged the interests of the United States and its allies in the region. The current conflict -- which comes alongside a growing likelihood of strategic failure in Iraq -- shows the negative consequences of the administration’s disdain for diplomatic engagement with problematic but pivotal players in the region. It is far from clear that the administration or, sadly, opposition Democrats will learn the right lessons from this episode. If they do not, the United States will likely suffer further damage to its position in the Middle East, with dangerous implications for America’s ability to protect its interests and ensure the long-term security of Israel.

* * *
The Realist Legacy

The basic flaw in the Bush administration’s Middle East strategy is that it departs from the essential propositions of foreign-policy realism. In his days as the principal architect of American foreign policy under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger established a paradigm for U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East. In this paradigm, American policy should seek always to empower moderates and marginalize radicals. The best way to do this was through careful management of the region’s balance of power, primarily through diplomatic means. The essence of such diplomacy is “carrots-and-sticks” engagement -- credibly threatening negative consequences for regional actors who work against U.S. goals, but also promising strategically significant benefits in exchange for cooperation.

This paradigm guided U.S. policy in the Middle East throughout Kissinger’s tenure in office and through subsequent administrations. At the height of the Cold War, for example, the realist paradigm guided American efforts across three administrations to draw Egypt out of its alliance with the Soviet Union and into a strategic partnership with the United States, which provided subsequent administrations a dramatically improved platform for projecting political influence and, when necessary, military power in the region. By taking Egypt out of the Arab-Israeli military equation through the U.S.-brokered Camp David accords in 1978, the realist paradigm also fundamentally strengthened Israel’s security by rendering impossible a recurrence of a generalized Arab-Israeli war like those of 1948, 1967, and 1973. Similar logic animated America’s ongoing strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia and, after the first Gulf War, the launch of a more comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace process at the 1991 Madrid conference. Although the Clinton administration’s efforts to broker peace treaties between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria in the late 1990s proved unsuccessful, the peace process nonetheless bolstered the American and Israeli positions in the region by establishing conceptual frameworks for an ultimate resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It also provided a practical framework for keeping a lid on “hot spots” such as southern Lebanon and, as a result of Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in the late 1990s, significantly reducing the incidence of anti-Israeli terrorism by groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

* * *
The Bush Experiment

The current Bush administration argues that 9-11 exposed the Middle Eastern “stability” provided by the realist paradigm as an illusion. The region’s radicals -- whether running “rogue” regimes or operating through non-state movements -- were too threatening to be managed through diplomatic engagement and long-term political processes. And so-called “moderate” regimes in the Arab world, while they might cooperate with the United States militarily and strategically, indirectly encouraged radical forces by refusing to liberalize internally; in some cases, these regimes seemed to directly support radicals through internal security strategies that sought to buy off domestic opponents by quietly funding their activities abroad.

To address what it perceived as the shortcomings of realism, the Bush administration articulated its alternative approach to the Middle East. The conceptual discontinuities between the Bush approach and that of its predecessors make the record of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in the five years since 9-11 as close to an “experiment” as one is likely to get in the indeterminate realm of strategic analysis. The results of this experiment so far have been devastating: Over the last five years, U.S. policy in the Middle East has emboldened radicals and weakened moderates.

The Middle East is today more unstable than at any point in the post–Cold War period, and there is no evidence to suggest that this instability will give rise to a more secure and prosperous region in the future.

Look at the trends: With regard to rogue regimes, Saddam may be gone, but Iraq has become a greater source of regional instability than it was during the last years of his rule. Iran’s influence in the region is growing and the Iranian leadership is increasingly inclined to use that influence to threaten U.S. interests. Despite the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon last year, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has actually strengthened its grip on power and bolstered its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. The administration’s biggest success in taming a regional rogue -- Libya’s abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction programs and ties to terrorists -- was achieved through traditional “carrots-and-sticks” engagement with the Quaddafi regime, an idiosyncratic exception to the broader pattern.

Regarding democratization, the administration’s three examples of U.S.-engineered democratic empowerment in the region -- Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon -- are all basket cases. Hamas’ electoral victory earlier this year has invalidated the administration’s “garbage collection” model for lowering Palestinian national aspirations and encouraging Palestinian acceptance of final-status terms less demanding of Israel than those outlined by President Bill Clinton at the end of his tenure. There is no evidence that democracy reduces the incidence of terrorism, and ample evidence from places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that holding more open elections in most Arab societies would produce governments that are more anti-American and less reformist than incumbent “authoritarians.”

* * *
The Current Crisis

Seen against this backdrop, the current conflict represents a deliberate attempt by a loose coalition of some of the Middle East’s more problematic actors -- Hamas, Hezbollah, the al-Assad regime in Damascus, and hard-line elements in the Iranian power structure -- to re-radicalize the Arab-Israeli arena. The conflict began on June 25, when Hamas militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier from inside “Green Line” Israel. The operation -- which was ordered by Hamas’ external branch, lead by Khalid Mishal in Damascus -- grew out of a competition for influence within Hamas between Mishal and Ismail Haniya, leader of the Palestinian Authority’s Hamas government elected in January. Before the outbreak of violence, Haniya and other Hamas leaders in the territories had begun to explore ways to moderate the party’s posture toward Israel (an effort reflected in a recent op-ed by Haniya in The Washington Post). These efforts had no effect on official thinking in Israel or Washington, but they did prompt Mishal to initiate an anti-Israeli terrorist operation calculated to undermine Haniya and assert his own primacy.

By declining to provide avenues for engagement with the international community that might have been politically plausible for Haniya, the Bush administration left him vulnerable to pressure from more extreme competitors. Israel’s military response to Mishal’s provocation -- including the arrest of Palestinian cabinet members -- has further weakened Haniya’s position, but in ways not likely to help Israel in the long run. On July 10, two weeks into the conflict, Mishal gave a high-profile press conference in Damascus, at which he suggested that he, not Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or Haniya, is the true leader of the Palestinian national movement.

Two days after Mishal’s press conference, Hezbollah conducted operations in the Sheb’a Farms area along the Israeli-Lebanese border that resulted in the deaths of eight Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of another two.

Hezbollah claimed that the operations were intended to obtain “bargaining chips” to swap for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. In pre–9-11 days, the disposition of prisoners would have been handled through political channels -- primarily, U.S. engagement with Syria and third-party engagement with Iran and Hezbollah itself. But with the Bush administration’s refusal to engage directly or indirectly with such “bad actors,” there were no operative political channels for dealing with the issue. And with the launching of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had an opening to link his group’s “resistance” activities with the Palestinian cause in a manner that has greatly enhanced his regional standing. Once Hezbollah struck, Israel had no choice but to respond militarily, even if the strategic logic of its response is highly dubious.

Neither Hamas’ external branch nor Hezbollah would have undertaken such provocative initiatives without approval from Syria and Iran. For al-Assad, the operations served to remind the United States and Israel that neither country could solve its security problems in the region without a strategic understanding with Syria. In the post–9-11 period, al-Assad has never been willing simply to accept the Bush administration’s demands, insisting that U.S.-Syrian accommodation provide strategic gains to Damascus as well as Washington -- effectively asking for a road map for normalizing Syria’s relationship with the United States and its place in the region.* As long as Washington gives al-Assad no incentive to cooperate, he will continue to work against U.S. interests.

In Iran, support for Hamas and Hezbollah’s escalatory moves is a way for the most hard-line elements in the Islamic republic’s power structure -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard, which is closely linked to Ahmadinejad’s Abadgaran political movement -- to push back against Tehran’s move toward multilateral nuclear talks including the United States. The reassertion of a more radical line in Iranian foreign policy is one of the most profoundly negative potential consequences of the Bush administration’s refusal to pursue “carrots-and-sticks” engagement with Tehran during the last five years, even though it had opportunities to do so.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has supported the move toward nuclear negotiations with the United States. While Khamenei is unquestionably conservative on many domestic issues, on foreign policy he is a traditional Persian nationalist prepared to think about Iran’s national interests in pragmatic terms. During the tenure of reformist President Mohammed Khatami (1997-2005), Khamenei clearly worked against Khatami’s efforts to liberalize Iranian society, but endorsed Khatami’s many notable changes in the Islamic republic’s foreign policy, such as an opening to Europe and rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states. In the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, Khamenei approved Iranian cooperation with the United States, including a direct and authoritative diplomatic channel, to unseat the Taliban. Iranian diplomats who dealt with U.S. counterparts during this period indicated that there was interest in Tehran in using this cooperation to effect a broader opening to the United States. In 2003 -- when the Islamic republic was not yet spinning centrifuges and enriching uranium -- Khamenei sought to initiate a diplomatic process aimed at resolving differences between the two nations. The Bush administration consistently refused to respond.

After Ahmadinejad took office last year, Khamenei took steps to limit the new president’s influence on the nuclear issue and the broader question of relations with the United States. Ahmadinejad and his allies have been looking for a chance to reassert a harder line in Iran’s foreign policy; the current escalation in the Arab-Israeli arena has given them that chance. Even if pragmatists are able to steer Iran into multilateral nuclear talks, the Bush administration’s continued refusal to contemplate a U.S.-Iranian “grand bargain” means that the talks cannot succeed. And, as Iranian nuclear development proceeds, the quality of any deal that Washington might ultimately be able to negotiate with Tehran will continue to decline.

From the beginning of the current crisis, the Bush administration has clung to the increasingly discredited conceptual foundations of its approach to the Middle East. The president decided to stand back while Israel’s military offensive against Hezbollah proceeded, hoping that, by weakening Hezbollah’s military and political base in Lebanon, conditions would be established to bring about Hezbollah’s disarmament and, by extension, deliver a blow to Iran and Syria. But it is evident that Israeli military action will not achieve these aims.

Hezbollah is not some foreign entity, imposed on Lebanese society by puppet masters in Damascus and Tehran; it is a sectarian political and social movement with enormous popular support among Lebanese Shia, Lebanon’s largest and most disenfranchised communal group. Disarming Hezbollah or moving it to the north would require the removal of the Shia population from southern Lebanon.

* * *
A Recovery Strategy

To repair the American position in the Middle East, the United States must reject the false premises of the Bush approach. The most dangerous illusion guiding recent U.S. policy toward the Middle East is that stability somehow “caused” 9-11.

Under current circumstances, a realist strategy for restoring American leadership in the Middle East would include at least five elements:

• The United States needs to widen its approach to defusing the current crisis to include direct engagement with both Syria and Iran. To facilitate a cease-fire and introduction of a multinational force in southern Lebanon, Washington should recognize that Hezbollah’s disarmament would come about only as part of a broader political settlement in the region.

• The United States should convey its interest in a broader strategic dialogue with the al-Assad regime in Damascus, with the aim of re-establishing U.S.-Syrian cooperation on important regional issues and with the promise of significant strategic benefits for Syria clearly on the table.

• Washington should indicate its willingness to pursue a “grand bargain” with Iran, in which the Islamic republic would accept restraints on its nuclear activities and abandon its support for the terrorist activities of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah in return for U.S. commitments not to use force to change Iran’s borders or form of government, to lift unilateral sanctions, and to normalize bilateral relations.

• The United States and key partners should articulate a more substantive vision for a two-state solution to the Palestinian question, including parameters for resolving key final-status issues that would meet the minimum requirements of both sides. This vision should incorporate the Saudi-initiated Arab League peace plan, which offers normalization of Arab states’ relations with Israel to complement peace treaties that end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.

• While the United States should engage moderate Arab partners more systematically on economic reform and human rights, Washington should drop its insistence on early resort to open electoral processes as a litmus test for “democratization.”

How feasible is the pursuit of such a strategy? Although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her team seem sporadically motivated to try to take policy in a more realist direction, their impact remains limited to tactical matters. It is highly unlikely that the administration will alter its basic strategic orientation.

This focuses attention on the role of Democrats as the nation’s “loyal opposition” and whether the party can articulate a “return to realism” in U.S. foreign policy. The party has little to be proud of in the way it has discharged its role on foreign-policy issues. It has endorsed (or acquiesced to) all of the fundamental tenets of Bush’s revisionist approach to the Middle East. Broad support for the Iraq War among congressional Democrats was intellectually legitimated by “experts” like Kenneth Pollack, who wrote a best-selling book using an analytically flawed assessment of the Iraqi WMD threat to argue that going to war against Saddam was the “conservative” option. Similarly, Democrats have not posed a significant challenge to the administration’s emphasis on democratization in its strategy for the war on terrorism or its non-historical approach to the Palestinian issue.

Democrats have fallen into a “soft neconservatism” that has dulled the party’s voice on foreign policy. Henry Kissinger once observed that the United States is the only country in which the term “realist” is used as a pejorative. The more progressive elements of the Democratic coalition have been especially strident in voicing their antipathy to Kissingerian realism. But it was the 20th century’s greatest Democratic secretary of state, Dean Acheson, who defined a fundamentally realist paradigm for U.S. foreign policy in Europe during the Truman administration that laid the foundations for eventual peaceful victory in the Cold War. America needs that kind of wisdom about the Middle East today. It is time for Democrats to understand that, when it comes to curbing the threats posed by problematic states like Iran, encouraging reform in strategically important states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or ensuring Israel’s long-term future, realism has become the truly progressive position on foreign policy.

Flynt Leverett is senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a visiting professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council and on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff during President Bush’s first term. After leaving the Bush administration because of policy disagreements, he was a foreign-policy adviser to Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

I'm So Broke" Jokes

I'm so broke, I go to KFC and lick other peoples fingers.

I'm so broke me and my girlfriend got married for the rice.

I'm so broke, if a trip around the world cost a nickel, I wouldn't have enough to leave the couch!

I'm so broke that I just went into McDonald's and put a small fry on layaway.

If pickles were 10 cents a truckload I couldn't buy a wart off a cucumber!

I'm so broke, just to rub two nickels together, I'd have to borrow one.

We were so broke, that at Christmas, all we could exchange was glances.

I'm so broke, the bank asked for their calendar back.

I'm so broke, long distance companies don't even call me to switch!

If I stopped on a dime, I'd probably owe it to someone.

I ain't broke, but I'm severely bent.

Someone saw me kicking a can down the street, and when asked what I was doing I said, "Moving."

I'm so broke I can't afford to pay attention!

A guy walked into our house, stepped on a cigarette and my Mom yelled, "Who turned off the heat?"

I'm so broke that when someone saw my Mom walking down the street with one shoe, they said, "Hey, you lost a shoe." She said, "No, I found one."

We're so broke that if someone rings our doorbell I have to yell, "Ding Dong!" out the window.

Monday, August 28, 2006

While the President pats himself on the back . . .

by Rep. Nancy Pelosi

It's no secret that the Bush Administration values politics and press opportunities over policy. But the dichotomy between the White House media campaign marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the harsh reality Gulf Coast residents have been facing these past 12 months is unconscionable. President Bush has devoted more time and preparation to this public relations blitz than to helping the people of the Gulf Coast.

While the President pats himself on the back and touts his Administration's appalling performance, thousands of families are still waiting for FEMA trailers. The incompetence, mishandling, and shear opportunistic greed that has occurred under the President's watch has been stunning - with $2 billion of the $19 billion spent by FEMA having been wasted on fraud and abuse. But even as families continue to wait for temporary housing, the locks on as many as 118,000 trailers used by Gulf Coast hurricane victims have to be replaced because they could be opened by multiple keys. Tests have also revealed that 94 percent of FEMA trailers tested have hazardous levels of formaldehyde gas, a respiratory irritant and carcinogen. When it comes to the health, security and protection of the American people, negligence and failure have no place.

House Democrats have been examining many of the Administration's failures affecting our Gulf Coast citizens. As everyone who lives there and has volunteered or visited already knows, in order to rate the Administration's performance, there needs to be a grade lower than "F." Last week, House Democrats formed a Waste, Fraud and Abuse Truth Squad, chaired by Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA). They will conduct oversight of the Bush Administration's handling of taxpayer dollars, giving the Golden Drain Award to those who fail to provide meaningful oversight or hold the Administration accountable despite documented instances of waste, fraud and abuse.

Last week, the Truth Squad released a detailed report highlighting the financial mishandling and corruption that has marred the recovery process, dedicating the first Golden Drain Award to the President's Hurricane Katrina contract process. You can read the full report here and you may be interested in some of the other reports House Democrats have issued recently on Katrina:

Housing - Democratic Members of the House Financial Services Committee, led by Senior Democratic Member Barney Frank (D-MA), released a report detailing the Bush Administration's housing failures in the year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita seriously damaged the Gulf Coast region. This report demonstrates the Bush Administration's failed response to the housing needs caused by Katrina, which includes the legendary failures of FEMA, the indifference of HUD (the federal agency responsible for housing policy) to the crisis, woefully inadequate requests for housing reconstruction funds, and opposition to numerous Congressional efforts to provide affordable rental housing for working families. The conclusion is inescapable: the Bush Administration's response to the housing crisis spawned by Hurricane Katrina has been an abject failure. Read more >>

Education - One year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the greater New Orleans area, local schools and colleges still have not received the leadership and resources they need from the federal government to truly recover, according to a new report released by Congressman George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Read more >>

Small Business - Nearly an entire year after Katrina first touched down in the Gulf Coast, small business owners continue to struggle. A report released by Senior Democratic Member Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Democrats on the House Small Business Committee found that 80 percent of the loans that were approved have still not been put in the hands of Gulf Coast small business owners. In addition, the evaluation also reported that a year later the Bush Administration has failed to take adequate steps to address the myriad of issues which ultimately led to a failed response last year - raising serious concern for hurricane victims this year. Read more >>

Homeland Security - A new report issued by the Democratic Members on the Homeland Security Committee, led by Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), finds that the nation is not much more prepared to effectively protect our communities and respond to catastrophic emergencies. The report, "One Year Later: Katrina's Waste," further develops several significant contracting questions raised late last week by Democratic colleagues on the Government Reform Committee. In addition, the report urges Congress to address the institutional failures and poor emergency financial controls that continue to leave America vulnerable. Read more >>

Federal Government Response - Senate Democratic Leader Reid and I released "Broken Promises: The Republican Response to Katrina," detailing the failed response in the almost one year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast. The hurricanes showed the American people that even so long after 9/11, the government is still not prepared to protect them. The report makes clear the disastrous effects incompetence and mismanagement continue to have on Gulf Coast residents. As the Bush Administration seeks to trumpet its "accomplishments" in the year since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, this report makes clear how much work remains to be done. Read more >>

These reports should serve as a reminder to President Bush that a photo op on the South Lawn of the White House is not going to help the tens of thousands of survivors who are still waiting for housing aid, for their schools and hospitals to re-open, for electricity to come back on in their homes and businesses, and for safe drinking water. The President promised a plan for the region, but all there is to show for it are 10,000 empty, unused trailers in an airfield in Arkansas. I will be traveling to the Gulf Coast today, as will many House Democrats, not to smile or pretend we're doing all we can, but to listen firsthand to residents about what Congress needs to do. As survivors are rebuilding their lives, House Democrats will work to rebuild trust and faith that the federal government is truly working for the people of the Gulf Coast region.

Americans deserve more than no bid contracts, bureaucratic inefficiencies and a too little, too late PR campaign. One year later, the Gulf Coast continues to need the financial, health care, education, housing and small business support that they deserve to turn devastated neighborhoods into thriving communities. And we still need an independent commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to find out what exactly went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to fix it.

I can even give a hint about where the biggest problem is. Start at the top.

An Enron Twist: convicted but not guilty?

A legal precedent could clear Ken Lay, the firm's late founder, making it hard for the US to tap his estate.

By Kris Axtman

If someone is convicted of a crime and dies before exhausting all his appeals, is he innocent?

That's the question now challenging federal prosecutors in the latest twist of the Enron case. A legal precedent could clear the record of Enron founder Kenneth Lay, even though he was found guilty of six counts of conspiracy and fraud, because of his sudden death last month.

The move could also make tens of millions of dollars in his estate off-limits to creditors.

The Justice Department has said it will use all available legal means to reclaim the money related to the criminal charges Mr. Lay was convicted of in May. But those means may be few because of the legal precedent set by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found in 2004 that a person's criminal record is "abated," or wiped out, if he or she dies before having a chance to exhaust all appeals.

The rationale is that someone convicted of a crime should not be denied the right to have the trial's fairness tested, says Brian Wice, a Houston attorney. In this case, it means Lay's conviction, trial, even his indictment will most likely be abated - making him an innocent man.

The lawyer handling Lay's estate has already filed a motion with US District Judge Sim Lake, asking him to erase Lay's criminal record, based on the ruling by the Fifth Circuit, which governors federal courts in Texas.

That may be hard for the public to take, says Ross Albert, an Atlanta lawyer formerly with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"There is a presumption of innocence that comes before every conviction. But Ken Lay, at the time he died, was not presumed to be innocent," says Mr. Albert, who believes the Fifth Circuit is "zealously" protecting the prerogative of the appeals court even though well over 80 percent of all criminal appeals are denied.

Courts do not see eye to eye on the issue of abatement. Just last week, for instance, the Washington State Supreme Court held that convictions will no longer be vacated when a defendant dies during appeal.

The issue is ripe for US Supreme Court review, but it's unlikely that federal prosecutors, known as the Enron Task Force, will take it that far, experts agree.US to fight abatement but is unlikely to win.

Prosecutors have indicated that they will file a motion opposing the request for abatement, but that would require Judge Lake going against legal precedent - something that most agree is highly unlikely.

In going after Lay's money, "it's back to square one for the government," says Mr. Wice. It can sue either Lay's estate in a civil asset-forfeiture case or his wife, Linda Lay, as the executor of the will. Experts agree that a civil-forfeiture suit is the most likely course of action, given the fact that Mrs. Lay was never charged with a crime and would be a very sympathetic witness.

"But a civil-forfeiture case is going to be very time-consuming and expensive," says David Smith, an Alexandria, Va., lawyer and expert in such cases. "You would essentially have to redo the entire criminal case. And because civil discovery is much broader, the case could drag on for years."

What's most likely to happen, these experts say, is that the government will settle with Lay's estate - something that occurs in the vast majority of civil suits.

But others are clamoring for a share as well.

"There is a long line of civil claimants on the Lay money. So there are all kinds of other ways beyond the criminal case to get that money," says Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor on the Enron Task Force who now teaches law at Washington University in St. Louis. "But the longer it takes to get, by virtue of inflation and legal fees, the less there is at the end."

Lay's estate moves to settle suits

Late last week, it appeared that the Lay family was ready to put the litigation behind it. In a civil case brought by employees, lawyers said they were within days of coming to terms with the Lay estate on a settlement over the company's inadequacy in diversifying its retirement plan.

Depending on the sum, that could make the government's settlement plans moot - especially since Lay claimed at trial to have been financially wiped out when Enron's stock became worthless.

Indeed, the Enron Task Force indicated after Lay's death that it will try to hold Jeffrey Skilling, Enron's ex-CEO, accountable for the full amount of restitution. He was found guilty of 19 of the 28 counts he faced.

Prosecutors had initially asked for $139.3 million from Mr. Skilling and $43.5 million from Lay. Now, they are asking Skilling to pay the entire $182.8 million, based on the conspiracy charge, which says anyone involved can be held responsible for 100 percent of the restitution.

In any case, Lay was being asked to forfeit only a tiny fraction of all the money that was lost when Enron collapsed, says Professor Buell. He sees the government's actions as mostly symbolic at this point and says that even if the judge vacates Lay's conviction, it doesn't speak to the merits of the case against him.

No matter the outcome, says Wice, "he's guilty as sin in the public's eye. Try convincing the people in this town otherwise."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bush & Katrina: Return to the Scene of the Crime

by Frank Rich

President Bush travels to the Gulf Coast this week, ostensibly to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Everyone knows his real mission: to try to make us forget the first anniversary of the downfall of his presidency.

As they used to say in the French Quarter, bonne chance! The ineptitude bared by the storm — no planning for a widely predicted catastrophe, no attempt to secure a city besieged by looting, no strategy for anything except spin — is indelible. New Orleans was Iraq redux with an all-American cast. The discrepancy between Mr. Bush’s “heckuva job” shtick and the reality on the ground induced a Cronkite-in-Vietnam epiphany for news anchors. At long last they and the country demanded answers to the questions about the administration’s competence that had been soft-pedaled two years earlier when the war first went south.

What’s amazing on Katrina’s first anniversary is how little Mr. Bush seems aware of this change in the political weather. He’s still in a bubble. At last week’s White House press conference, he sounded as petulant as Tom Cruise on the “Today” show when Matt Lauer challenged him about his boorish criticism of Brooke Shields. Asked what Iraq had to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, Mr. Bush testily responded, “Nothing,” adding that “nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks.” Like the emasculated movie star, the president is still so infatuated with his own myth that he believes the public will buy such nonsense.

As the rest of the world knows, the White House connived 24/7 to pound in the suggestion that Saddam ordered the attacks on 9/11. “The Bush administration had repeatedly tied the Iraq war to Sept. 11,” Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton write in “Without Precedent,” their new account of their stewardship of the 9/11 commission. The nonexistent Qaeda-Saddam tie-in was as much a selling point for the war as the nonexistent W.M.D. The salesmanship was so merciless that half the country was brainwashed into believing that the 9/11 hijackers had been Iraqis.

To achieve this feat, Dick Cheney spent two years publicly hyping a “pretty well confirmed” (translation: unconfirmed) pre-9/11 meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta and a Saddam intelligence officer, continuing to do so long after this specious theory had been discredited. Mr. Bush’s strategy was to histrionically stir 9/11 and Iraq into the same sentence whenever possible, before the invasion and after.

Typical was his May 1, 2003, oration declaring the end of “major combat operations.” After noting that “the battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11th, 2001,” he added: “With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.” To paraphrase the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, this was tantamount to saying that the Japanese attacked us on Dec. 7, 1941, and war with Mexico is what they got.

Were it not so tragic, Mr. Bush’s claim that he had never suggested a connection between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq would be as ludicrous as Bill Clinton’s doomed effort to draw a distinction between sex and oral sex. The tragedy is that the country ever believed Mr. Bush, particularly those Americans who were moved to enlist because of 9/11 and instead ended up fighting a war that the president now concedes had “nothing” to do with the 9/11 attacks.

A representative and poignant example, brought to light by The Los Angeles Times, is Patrick R. McCaffrey, a Silicon Valley auto-body-shop manager with two children who joined the California National Guard one month after 9/11. He was eager to do his bit for homeland security by helping protect the Shasta Dam or Golden Gate Bridge. Instead he was sent to Iraq, where he was killed in 2004. In a replay of the Pentagon subterfuge surrounding the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman, another post-9/11 enlistee betrayed by his country, Mr. McCaffrey’s death was at first officially attributed to an ambush by insurgents. Only after two years of investigation did the Army finally concede that his killers were actually the Iraqi security forces he was helping to train.

“He said we had no business in Iraq and should not be there,” his mother, Nadia McCaffrey, told the paper. Last week’s belated presidential admission that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on America that inspired Patrick McCaffrey’s service was implicitly an admission that he and many like him died in Iraq for nothing as well.

Mr. Bush’s press-conference disavowalof his habitual efforts to connect 9/11 to Saddam will be rolled back by the White House soon enough. When the fifth anniversary of 9/11 arrives in two weeks, you can bet that the president will once again invoke the Qaeda attacks to justify the Iraq war, especially now that we are adding troops (through the involuntary call-up of reservists) rather than subtracting any. The new propaganda strategy will be right out of Lewis Carroll: If we leave the country that had nothing to do with 9/11, then 9/11 will happen again.

But before we get to that White House P.R. offensive, there is next week’s Katrina show. It has its work cut out for it. A year after the storm, the reconstruction of New Orleans echoes our reconstruction of Baghdad. A “truth squad” of House Democrats has cataloged the “waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement” in $8.75 billion worth of contracts, most of which were awarded noncompetitively. Only 60 percent of the city has electricity. Half of the hospitals and three-quarters of the child-care centers remain closed. Violent crime is on the rise. Less than half of the population has returned.

How do you pretty up this picture? As an opening act, Mr. Bush met on Wednesday with Rockey Vaccarella, a Katrina survivor who with much publicity drove a “replica” of a FEMA trailer from New Orleans to Washington to seek an audience with the president. No Cindy Sheehan bum’s rush for him. Mr. Bush granted his wish and paraded him before the press. That was enough to distract the visitor from his professed message to dramatize the unfinished job on the Gulf. Instead Mr. Vaccarella effusively thanked the president for “the millions of FEMA trailers” complete with air-conditioning and TV. “You know, I wish you had another four years, man,” he said. “If we had this president for another four years, I think we’d be great.”

The CNN White House correspondent, Ed Henry, loved it. “Hollywood couldn’t have scripted this any better, a gritty guy named Rockey slugging it out, trying to realize his dream and getting that dream realized against all odds,” he said. He didn’t ask how this particular Rockey, a fast-food manager who lost everything a year ago, financed this mission or so effortlessly pulled it off. It was up to bloggers and Democrats to report shortly thereafter that Mr. Vaccarella had run as a Republican candidate for the St. Bernard Parish commission in 1999. It was up to Iris Hageney of Gretna, La., to complain on the Times-Picayune Web site that the episode was “a huge embarrassment” that would encourage Americans to “forget the numerous people who still don’t have trailers or at least one with electricity or water.”

That is certainly the White House game plan as it looks toward the president’s two-day return to the scene of the crime. Just as it brought huge generators to floodlight Mr. Bush’s prime-time recovery speech in Jackson Square a year ago — and then yanked the plug as soon as he was done — so it will stop at little to bathe this anniversary in the rosiest possible glow
Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who wrote the best-selling account of Katrina, “The Great Deluge,” is worried that even now the White House is escaping questioning about what it is up to (and not) in the Gulf. “I don’t think anybody’s getting the Bush strategy,” he said when we talked last week. “The crucial point is that the inaction is deliberate — the inaction is the action.” As he sees it, the administration, tacitly abetted by New Orleans’s opportunistic mayor, Ray Nagin, is encouraging selective inertia, whether in the rebuilding of the levees (“Only Band-Aids have been put on them”), the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward or the restoration of the wetlands. The destination: a smaller city, with a large portion of its former black population permanently dispersed. “Out of the Katrina debacle, Bush is making political gains,” Mr. Brinkley says incredulously. “The last blue state in the Old South is turning into a red state.”

Perhaps. But with no plan for salvaging either of the catastrophes on his watch, this president can no sooner recover his credibility by putting on an elaborate show of sermonizing and spin this week than Mr. Cruise could levitate his image by jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch. While the White House’s latest screenplay may have been conceived as “Mission Accomplished II,” what we’re likely to see play out in New Orleans won’t even be a patch on “Mission: Impossible III.”

Carter slaps down "subservient" Blair

Former US president Jimmy Carter lashed out at British Prime Minister Tony Blair for being "so compliant and subservient" to the Bush administration in Washington.

"I have been surprised and extremely disappointed with Tony Blair's behaviour," Carter told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper as he promoted his new book "Faith and Freedom."

"I think that, more than any other person in the world, the prime minister could have had a moderating influence on Washington, and he has not," said the 81-year-old former head of state.

He faulted Blair for not having been a constraint on US President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 -- an invasion which, he said, subverted the fight against global terrorism.

"We now have a situation where America is so unpopular overseas that, even in countries like Egypt and Jordan, our approval ratings are less than five percent," said Carter, who was in the White House from 1977 to 1981.

"It's a shameful and pitiful state of affairs, and I hold your British prime minister to be substantially responsible for being so compliant and subservient."


by Katrina Vanden Heuvel

It is staggering. It is horrifying. But, then again, it isn't. It is what we have come to expect of this war and those who have misled our nation into it.

According to the Washington Post, the commanding officer of the battalion involved in the Haditha massacre last November told military investigators "he did not consider the deaths of 24 Iraqis, many of them women and children, unusual and did not initiate an inquiry."

And the New York Times reported last week on the felony assault conviction of David Passaro, a CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan prisoner for two days with "a flashlight and his fists" until the man pleaded to be shot and then died the following day.

These two stories reveal – once again – the lack of accountability and prosecution up the chain of command. Those who sit on high have attempted to erase such "quaint" legal restraints as the Geneva Conventions while blaming the lowest ranking soldiers for waging the war they have created.

In June, Robert Jay Lifton, esteemed psychiatrist and author of many books including Crimes of War: Iraq, wrote in Editor and Publisher of the corrupting nature of the occupation and counterinsurgency in Iraq: "To attribute the likely massacre at Haditha to ‘a few bad apples' or to ‘individual failures' is poor psychology and self-serving moralism. To be sure, individual soldiers and civilians who participated in it are accountable for their behavior, even under such pressured conditions. But the greater responsibility lies with those who planned and executed the ‘war on terrorism' of which it is a part, and who created, in policy and attitude, the accompanying denial of the rights of captives (at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) and of the humanity of civilians (at Haditha)."

This administration's barbaric tactics include undermining the Geneva Conventions, seeking to justify the use of torture, and lying its way into a war that has led to immeasurable suffering and loss of life. In word and deed, it has done unprecedented and perhaps irreparable harm to our constitution, our country--and our troops.

Lifton assigns guilt exactly where it belongs: "Psychologically and ethically, responsibility for the crimes at Haditha extends to top commanders, the secretary of defense, and the White House. Those crimes are a direct expression of the kind of war we are waging in Iraq."

There is a need for a real investigation – not a whitewash – of the real perpetrators of this catastrophic war. Such an investigation will never occur unless we vote for real change this November.

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