Saturday, May 05, 2007

La Campagne, C’est moi

The New York Times
May 6, 2007

LILLE, France

It’s hard not to be drawn to a presidential candidate with a name like a Bond girl, a smile like an angel, a figure that looks great in a bikini at 53, a campaign style like Joan of Arc, and a buffet for the press corps brimming with crustless fromage sandwiches, icy chocolate profiteroles, raspberry parfaits, red Bordeaux, espresso and little almond gâteaux. (When in France, let us eat cake.)

Ségolène Royal brought back the sizzle to socialism, raising the ire of Stephen Colbert’s right-wing TV host, who warned that “socialism is always a threat but never more so than when it looks like this.”

At first, Ségolène seemed like the ideal candidate for a country that knew it needed change but didn’t really want change, because she looked like change but wasn’t really going to change anything. But the infatuation dampened, like a spring romance.

I entered the Ségosphere, as her supporters call it, Thursday evening in Lille, for the last big rally — and perhaps last hurrah — of her “serene revolution,” as it’s dubbed.

The unmarried mother of four and daughter of a misogynistic army colonel entered the factorylike hall to a militant techno beat, gliding through the cheering crowd of 20,000 with a radiant smile and bright red jacket. Supporters, including many young ethnic Arab men and older women in head scarves up front, strained to touch and pat her.

On stage, she channeled a divine aura, levitating her arms like a Blessed Virgin statue, presenting herself as a glowing beacon against the forces of darkness, a k a Nicolas Sarkozy. In the Ségosphere, the right-wing front-runner is a brute, Rudy Giuliani without the restraint, while she is a healer. She consciously casts herself as Marianne, the symbol of France — playing “La Marseillaise” at rallies — but comes across more like Marianne Williamson, the New Age spirituality guru, going for the chakra vote.

“What I want, it’s for everybody to unleash this energy they feel within themselves,” she said, “but this energy that is sometimes curbed, curbed by so many blockages, curbed by so many negative speeches, curbed by so many shadows. ... It is not the dark side that I want to awake. It is the side of light, it is the side of hope, it is the part of joy, it is the part of smile, it is the part of France that loves itself as it is.”

Even though her strategy of playing the woman card fell flat, she kept it up in her last week. In Lille, she said she knew some wondered: “Is it really reasonable to choose a woman? Is France going to dare? I want to say: Dare. Dare! You won’t regret it.”

Ségo is bolder than the cautious Hillary, but stumbles into mistakes more often; unlike Hillary, she has not done her homework on foreign policy. Ségo blends a fierce will and feminine style more deftly than Hillary, but is also seen as somewhat cold, porcelain under her porcelain skin, rather than seductive, like Bill Clinton.

Ségo showed verve and grit in her self-professed role as a “gazelle” darting past the sexist old Socialist elephants — not to mention the father of her children, François Hollande, the head of her party, who wanted to run himself. Though Mr. Hollande supports Ségo, she does not seem as dependent as Hillary on getting her man to push people around for her.

France is chauvinistic — women got the vote in 1944 and compose only a small percentage of the National Assembly — but the country seems less neurotic than America about the idea of a woman as president. The trouble with Ségo’s campaign is not her gender. The trouble is that her only vision for France is herself. Hence, her nickname: Egolene.

A Sarko adviser called Ségo “a very pretty gadget” who looked modern but had no real plan to move France out of malaise and into the future.

When Ségo lost her temper at Sarko during Wednesday’s debate, on the issue of disabled children’s going to regular schools, it was denounced as contrived and inaccurate. She wanted to seem assertive and goad her abrasive and volatile rival into boiling over. Instead, he pushed the gender card back, telling her to “calm down” and stereotyping Serene Ségo as too moody and changeable to run a country that likes big, powerful leaders.

“She is not in a good mood this morning; it must be the polls,” he said Friday, after she warned that he was “a dangerous choice,” with “the same neoconservative ideology” as W., someone who could cause the country to erupt.

In a contest between what one Parisian calls “le fou” and “la fausse,” the crazy and the false, France may say oui to le fou.

Is Condi Hiding the Smoking Gun?

The New York Times
May 6, 2007

IF, as J.F.K. had it, victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan, the defeat in Iraq is the most pitiful orphan imaginable. Its parents have not only tossed it to the wolves but are also trying to pin its mutant DNA on any patsy they can find.

George Tenet is just the latest to join this blame game, which began more than three years ago when his fellow Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Tommy Franks told Bob Woodward that Douglas Feith, the Pentagon’s intelligence bozo, was the “stupidest guy on the face of the earth” (that’s the expurgated version). Last fall, Kenneth Adelman, the neocon cheerleader who foresaw a “cakewalk” in Iraq, told Vanity Fair that Mr. Tenet, General Franks and Paul Bremer were “three of the most incompetent people who’ve ever served in such key spots.” Richard Perle chimed in that the “huge mistakes” were “not made by neoconservatives” and instead took a shot at President Bush. Ahmad Chalabi, the neocons’ former darling, told Dexter Filkins of The Times “the real culprit in all this is Wolfowitz.”

And of course nearly everyone blames Rumsfeld.

This would be a Three Stooges routine were there only three stooges. The good news is that Mr. Tenet’s book rollout may be the last gasp of this farcical round robin of recrimination. Republicans and Democrats have at last found some common ground by condemning his effort to position himself as the war’s innocent scapegoat. Some former C.I.A. colleagues are rougher still. Michael Scheuer, who ran the agency’s bin Laden unit, has accused Mr. Tenet of lacking “the moral courage to resign and speak out publicly to try to stop our country from striding into what he knew would be an abyss.” Even after Mr. Tenet did leave office, he maintained a Robert McNamara silence until he cashed in.

Satisfying though it is to watch a circular firing squad of the war’s enablers, unfinished business awaits. Unlike Vietnam, Iraq is not in the past: the war escalates even as all this finger-pointing continues. Very little has changed between the fourth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” this year and the last. Back then, President Bush cheered an Iraqi “turning point” precipitated by “the emergence of a unity government.” Since then, what’s emerged is more Iraqi disunity and a major leap in the death toll. That’s why Americans voted in November to get out.

The only White House figure to take any responsibility for the fiasco is the former Bush-Cheney pollster Matthew Dowd, who in March expressed remorse for furthering a war he now deems a mistake. For his belated act of conscience, he was promptly patronized as an incipient basket case by an administration flack, who attributed Mr. Dowd’s defection to “personal turmoil.” If that is what this vicious gang would do to a pollster, imagine what would befall Colin Powell if he spoke out. Nonetheless, Mr. Powell should summon the guts to do so. Until there is accountability for the major architects and perpetrators of the Iraq war, the quagmire will deepen. A tragedy of this scale demands a full accounting, not to mention a catharsis.

That accounting might well begin with Mr. Powell’s successor, Condoleezza Rice. Of all the top-tier policy players who were beside the president and vice president at the war’s creation, she is the highest still in power and still on the taxpayers’ payroll. She is also the only one who can still get a free pass from the press. The current groupthink Beltway narrative has it that the secretary of state’s recidivist foreign-policy realism and latent shuttle diplomacy have happily banished the Cheney-Rumsfeld cowboy arrogance that rode America into a ditch.

Thus Ms. Rice was dispatched to three Sunday shows last weekend to bat away Mr. Tenet’s book before “60 Minutes” broadcast its interview with him that night. But in each appearance her statements raised more questions than they answered. She was persistently at odds with the record, not just the record as spun by Mr. Tenet but also the public record. She must be held to a higher standard — a k a the truth — before she too jumps ship.

It’s now been nearly five years since Ms. Rice did her part to sell the Iraq war on a Sept. 8, 2002, Sunday show with her rendition of “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Yet there she was last Sunday on ABC, claiming that she never meant to imply then that Saddam was an imminent threat. “The question of imminence isn’t whether or not somebody is going to strike tomorrow” is how she put it. In other words, she is still covering up the war’s origins. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” she claimed that intelligence errors before the war were “worldwide” even though the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Mohamed ElBaradei publicly stated there was “no evidence” of an Iraqi nuclear program and even though Germany’s intelligence service sent strenuous prewar warnings that the C.I.A.’s principal informant on Saddam’s supposed biological weapons was a fraud.

Of the Sunday interviewers, it was George Stephanopoulos who went for the jugular by returning to that nonexistent uranium from Africa. He forced Ms. Rice to watch a clip of her appearance on his show in June 2003, when she claimed she did not know of any serious questions about the uranium evidence before the war. Then he came as close as any Sunday host ever has to calling a guest a liar. “But that statement wasn’t true,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said. Ms. Rice pleaded memory loss, but the facts remain. She received a memo raising serious questions about the uranium in October 2002, three months before the president included the infamous 16 words on the subject in his State of the Union address. Her deputy, Stephen Hadley, received two memos as well as a phone call of warning from Mr. Tenet.

Apologists for Ms. Rice, particularly those in the press who are embarrassed by their own early cheerleading for the war, like to say that this is ancient history, just as they said of the C.I.A. leak case. We’re all supposed to move on and just worry about what happens next. Try telling that to families whose children went to Iraq to stop Saddam’s nukes. Besides, there’s a continuum between past deceptions and present ones, as the secretary of state seamlessly demonstrated last Sunday.

On ABC, she pushed the administration’s line portraying Iraq’s current violence as a Qaeda plot hatched by the Samarra bombing of February 2006. But that Qaeda isn’t the Qaeda of 9/11; it’s a largely Iraqi group fighting on one side of a civil war. And by February 2006, sectarian violence had already been gathering steam for 15 months — in part because Ms. Rice and company ignored the genuine imminence of that civil war just as they had ignored the alarms about bin Laden’s Qaeda in August 2001.

Ms. Rice’s latest canard wasn’t an improvisation; it was a scripted set-up for the president’s outrageous statement three days later. “The decision we face in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said Wednesday, “is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war, it’s whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11.” Such statements about the present in Iraq are no less deceptive — and no less damaging to our national interest — than the lies about uranium and Qaeda- 9/11 connections told in 2002-3. This country needs facts, not fiction, to make its decisions about the endgame of the war, just as it needed (but didn’t get) facts when we went to war in the first place. To settle for less is to make the same tragic error twice.

That Ms. Rice feels scant responsibility for any of this was evident in her repeated assertions on Sunday that all the questions about prewar intelligence had been answered by the Robb-Silberman and Senate committee inquiries, neither of which even addressed how the administration used the intelligence it received. Now she risks being held in contempt of Congress by ducking a subpoena authorized by the House’s Oversight Committee, whose chairman, Henry Waxman, has been trying to get direct answers from her about the uranium hoax since 2003.

Ms. Rice is stonewalling his investigation by rambling on about separation of powers and claiming she answered all relevant questions in writing, to Senator Carl Levin, during her confirmation to the cabinet in January 2005. If former or incumbent national security advisers like Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski could testify before Congress without defiling the Constitution, so can she. As for her answers to Senator Levin’s questions, five of eight were pure Alberto Gonzales: she either didn’t recall or didn’t know.

No wonder the most galling part of Ms. Rice’s Sunday spin was her aside to Wolf Blitzer that she would get around to reflecting on these issues “when I have a chance to write my book.” Another book! As long as American troops are dying in Iraq, the secretary of state has an obligation to answer questions about how they got there and why they stay. If accountability is ever to begin, it would be best if those questions are answered not on “60 Minutes” but under oath.

Roots of Israel’s Malaise Deeper Than Recent War

International Herald Tribune
May 4, 2007


Israelis have had a lot to digest over the past year. They’ve watched Dan Halutz, their departed army chief, offload his shares on the eve of the Lebanon war last summer. They’ve suffered Defense Minister Amir Peretz gazing at the front through binoculars with the cover on. They’ve seen money best morality in their politics.

So what else is new? A materialist society running blind in the hands of venal leaders is not exactly a first on the planet. But this is Israel, a land bred on a narrative of the heroic, a country that was supposed to be better and aches because it is not, a Middle Eastern democracy that still fights for acceptance in its region.

As a result, the tawdriness hurts in a particular way. How else to understand the outcry over what happened in Lebanon? The war was not a success but nor was it a failure. Thousands of international troops now protect Israel’s northern border. The death toll, even for a little modern war, was modest. But it was embarked on, and conducted with, an almost sleazy irresponsibility, and that seems symbolic.

So there they were, perhaps 100,000 Israelis, perhaps more, in Rabin Square on an airless, hot night this week, demanding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quit, venting their general anger, their frustration, their disquiet, singing wistful songs in a place where the hopes of the 1990s died with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

There were some national flags, but not a lot of them. The national anthem was sung, but in a way that was scarcely rousing. Israelis have grown wary of nationalism. They are more interested in normality right now. They see no hope of a warm peace, the one Rabin promised. It would be enough to be normal and a relief to be dull.

“We have never felt such failure as in this last war,” Eitan Davidi, representing a forum of northern border communities, declared at the rally. “In this war, we were without a mother, without a father, without a state.”

Yes, Golda Meir is gone, and David Ben-Gurion is gone, and a general sells his portfolio just before a war sends the Tel Aviv market plunging more than 8 percent.

Still, Israel has a state all right, one open enough and structured enough to produce a withering report on the war that was the prelude to this demonstration, and vigorous enough to turn Tel Aviv from a small town into a lively metropolis over the past several decades. A messy 34-day war does not a state undo.

Palestinians, by contrast, do not have a state, although they might have had one in 1948 and at various junctures since. I happened to travel to Tel Aviv from Jericho in the West Bank. Nowhere else, perhaps, are distances so small between places that are worlds apart as in the charged, diminutive geography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Things have gone south in Jericho since the “peace of the brave” that Rabin and Yasser Arafat engineered from some elusive, and ephemeral, mix of heart and mind evaporated, leaving only disturbing memories that sit on this area like a film of dust.

A solitary camel that has seen better days greets the visitor, as do assorted donkey-carts. A luxury hotel stands nearly empty. In 2000, there were thousands of foreign tourists in Jericho every day. Today there are virtually none. Palestine-in-embryo is a hard sell for tour operators these days, not a place in which to kick back.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, a pro on the interminable peace-is-not-impossible circuit, resides here. He has a thousand lines to describe the lineaments of the world’s most intractable conflict, and he has no doubt pronounced most of them a thousand times. Still, he perseveres.

“I am the most disadvantaged negotiator in the history of man,” he told me. “I have no army, no navy, no economy, my society is fragmented. I don’t stand a chance with any U.S. senator. Who said life is about fairness and justice? I am the least-advantaged negotiator since Adam negotiated Eve and Eve Adam.”

The self-pity does not mean that Erekat is wrong. The disarray in Gaza and the West Bank could scarcely be more complete. Delivering peace is hard when you cannot deliver the mail or collect the garbage or get various competing security services to put national interest before self-interest.

Several books could be written about whom to blame for this mess. No doubt several will be. But in the end it does not matter in what degree Israelis and in what degree Palestinians have contributed to depositing the latter in a festering cul-de-sac that is not a state but is a breeding ground for radicalism. Only the facts matter.

Confronted by them, Erekat has reached this brisk conclusion: “It’s not negotiating time, it’s decision time. Israel is Israel on the 1967 borders, Palestine is Palestine, minus and plus agreed-upon swaps, minus and plus security arrangements, with a third party role.” That role would be to stabilize any deal.

If that sounds easy, if that sounds obvious, the fact is it is not. The history of the last 59 years proves that. The fact, speaking of facts, is that Israel has now ruled over occupied territory for four decades. Its nature has been conditioned more by these 40 years than by the 19 years that preceded them. Policing the subjugated is corrosive.

On the surface, the Tel Aviv rally was not about peace talks or the Palestinian conflict, but in reality I think it was. It was about the wall-slash-fence rising to disappear the Palestinians from view, the soul-devouring business of lording it over, the dashed hopes, the looking away to the materialist West, and the cost, moral and otherwise, of all that on a weary Israel.

“It is not the country we dreamed of,” said Aaron Liraz, one of the protesters. “But it is our country.”


A Liberal Case for Gun Rights Helps Sway Judiciary

The New York Times
May 6, 2007

In March, for the first time in the nation’s history, a federal appeals court struck down a gun control law on Second Amendment grounds. Only a few decades ago, the decision would have been unimaginable.

There used to be an almost complete scholarly and judicial consensus that the Second Amendment protects only a collective right of the states to maintain militias. That consensus no longer exists — thanks largely to the work over the last 20 years of several leading liberal law professors, who have come to embrace the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns.

In those two decades, breakneck speed by the standards of constitutional law, they have helped to reshape the debate over gun rights in the United States. Their work culminated in the March decision, Parker v. District of Columbia, and it will doubtless play a major role should the case reach the United States Supreme Court.

Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, said he had come to believe that the Second Amendment protected an individual right.

“My conclusion came as something of a surprise to me, and an unwelcome surprise,” Professor Tribe said. “I have always supported as a matter of policy very comprehensive gun control.”

The first two editions of Professor Tribe’s influential treatise on constitutional law, in 1978 and 1988, endorsed the collective rights view. The latest, published in 2000, sets out his current interpretation.

Several other leading liberal constitutional scholars, notably Akhil Reed Amar at Yale and Sanford Levinson at the University of Texas, are in broad agreement favoring an individual rights interpretation. Their work has in a remarkably short time upended the conventional understanding of the Second Amendment, and it set the stage for the Parker decision.

The earlier consensus, the law professors said in interviews, reflected received wisdom and political preferences rather than a serious consideration of the amendment’s text, history and place in the structure of the Constitution. “The standard liberal position,” Professor Levinson said, “is that the Second Amendment is basically just read out of the Constitution.”

The Second Amendment says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” (Some transcriptions of the amendment omit the last comma.)

If only as a matter of consistency, Professor Levinson continued, liberals who favor expansive interpretations of other amendments in the Bill of Rights, like those protecting free speech and the rights of criminal defendants, should also embrace a broad reading of the Second Amendment. And just as the First Amendment’s protection of the right to free speech is not absolute, the professors say, the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms may be limited by the government, though only for good reason.

The individual rights view is far from universally accepted. “The overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion supports the near-unanimous view of the federal courts that the constitutional right to be armed is linked to an organized militia,” said Dennis A. Henigan, director of the legal action project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “The exceptions attract attention precisely because they are so rare and unexpected.”

Scholars who agree with gun opponents and support the collective rights view say the professors on the other side may have been motivated more by a desire to be provocative than by simple intellectual honesty.

“Contrarian positions get play,” Carl T. Bogus, a law professor at Roger Williams University, wrote in a 2000 study of Second Amendment scholarship. “Liberal professors supporting gun control draw yawns.”

If the full United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit does not step in and reverse the 2-to-1 panel decision striking down a law that forbids residents to keep handguns in their homes, the question of the meaning of the Second Amendment is almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court. The answer there is far from certain.

That too is a change. In 1992, Warren E. Burger, a former chief justice of the United States appointed by President Richard M. Nixon, expressed the prevailing view.

“The Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to have firearms at all,” Mr. Burger said in a speech. In a 1991 interview, Mr. Burger called the individual rights view “one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Even as he spoke, though, the ground was shifting underneath him. In 1989, in what most authorities say was the beginning of the modern era of mainstream Second Amendment scholarship, Professor Levinson published an article in The Yale Law Journal called “The Embarrassing Second Amendment.”

“The Levinson piece was very much a turning point,” said Mr. Henigan of the Brady Center. “He was a well-respected scholar, and he was associated with a liberal point of view politically.”

In an interview, Professor Levinson described himself as “an A.C.L.U.-type who has not ever even thought of owning a gun.”

Robert A. Levy, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian group that supports gun rights, and a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Parker case, said four factors accounted for the success of the suit. The first, Mr. Levy said, was “the shift in scholarship toward an individual rights view, particularly from liberals.”

He also cited empirical research questioning whether gun control laws cut down on crime; a 2001 decision from the federal appeals court in New Orleans that embraced the individual rights view even as it allowed a gun prosecution to go forward; and the Bush administration’s reversal of a longstanding Justice Department position under administrations of both political parties favoring the collective rights view.

Filing suit in the District of Columbia was a conscious decision, too, Mr. Levy said. The gun law there is one of the most restrictive in the nation, and questions about the applicability of the Second Amendment to state laws were avoided because the district is governed by federal law.

“We wanted to proceed very much like the N.A.A.C.P.,” Mr. Levy said, referring to that group’s methodical litigation strategy intended to do away with segregated schools.

Professor Bogus, a supporter of the collective rights view, said the Parker decision represented a milestone in that strategy. “This is the story of an enormously successful and dogged campaign to change the conventional view of the right to bear arms,” he said.

The text of the amendment is not a model of clarity, and arguments over its meaning tend to be concerned with whether the first part of the sentence limits the second. The history of its drafting and contemporary meaning provide support for both sides as well.

The Supreme Court has not decided a Second Amendment case since 1939. That ruling was, as Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a liberal judge on the federal appeals court in San Francisco acknowledged in 2002, “somewhat cryptic,” again allowing both sides to argue that Supreme Court precedent aided their interpretation of the amendment.

Still, nine federal appeals courts around the nation have adopted the collective rights view, opposing the notion that the amendment protects individual gun rights. The only exceptions are the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, and the District of Columbia Circuit. The Second Circuit, in New York, has not addressed the question.

Linda Singer, the District of Columbia’s attorney general, said the debate over the meaning of the amendment was not only an academic one.

“It’s truly a life-or-death question for us,” she said. “It’s not theoretical. We all remember very well when D.C. had the highest murder rate in the country, and we won’t go back there.”

The decision in Parker has been stayed while the full appeals court decides whether to rehear the case.

Should the case reach the Supreme Court, Professor Tribe said, “there’s a really quite decent chance that it will be affirmed.”

First Republican presidential debate displays a party in deepening crisis

By Patrick Martin
5 May 2007

Thursday night’s presidential debate in Simi Valley, California underscores the shattering impact of the failure of the Bush administration on the Republican Party. Six and a half years after Bush took office—thanks to the Supreme Court, not the votes of the American people—his government is so isolated and unpopular that the Republicans vying to succeed him avoided even mentioning the current occupant of the White House.

Only one of the ten candidates for the Republican presidential nomination used Bush’s name in the course of the 90-minute session (Senator Sam Brownback, while declining to express an opinion on a pardon for convicted White House aide Lewis Libby). Even when moderator Chris Matthews used the last question of the debate to ask each candidate to explain how they would be different from the incumbent president, not one chose to name George W. Bush, whom polls show to be more unpopular than any president since Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation.

Nor did the Republican candidates spend a great deal of time on the most important policy decision of the Bush administration and the central issue in the 2008 elections: the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq In the first round of questions, Matthews asked several of the candidates to give their views on the war. After perhaps five minutes discussion, neither the moderator nor the candidates returned to the subject again.

If one simply lists the subjects that were not addressed in the debate—health care, the economy, poverty, jobs, social inequality, racial discrimination, the federal budget deficit, illegal NSA domestic spying, illegal CIA torture, Guantánamo, the war in Afghanistan—it becomes clear that the “debate” had nothing to do with the serious social and political issues facing the American people.

Instead, the event had more the character of an audition, held to give the candidates an opportunity to voice their views on a series of litmus tests imposed by the Christian fundamentalist elements whose support they are courting in the Republican primaries: abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, the Terry Schiavo case, the teaching of evolution.

Nine out of ten, all but former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said they would welcome a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing the states or the federal government to make abortion illegal. Seven of the ten backed the congressional effort to maintain Schiavo on life support despite overwhelming medical evidence that she was in an irreversible vegetative state. Eight of the ten opposed federal funding of stem cell research. And in response to a direct question, former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson said that businesses should be allowed to fire gay employees because of their sexual orientation.

Three of candidates—Kansas Senator Brownback, Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee—were the most openly theocratic in their outlook, starting with their declaration of opposition to the scientific theory of evolution. Brownback denounced supposed attempts to “run faith out of the public square,” although no advanced industrialized country is so saturated with religious humbug as America He claimed that the United States (whose Founding Fathers were religious agnostics who advocated the separation of church and state) was “a faith-based experiment as a country.” Tancredo invoked religion as the deciding factor on policy issues ranging from immigration to stem cell research, while Huckabee reiterated his criticism of Romney for saying that his Mormon religious beliefs would not influence public policy.

Besides the pandering to the Christian right, the candidates showed the greatest enthusiasm for promising still more tax cuts for the wealthy and business. When Matthews invited them to name a tax they would cut, in addition to preserving all of Bush’s tax cuts, there ensued a stampede to promise bigger and bigger handouts to the rich, to be paid for through greater cuts in social spending.

Rather than engage in any serious evaluation of the legacy of the Bush administration for American society, the candidates sought to posture as the political heirs of a president who left the political stage nearly 20 years ago, Ronald Reagan. Speaker after speaker invoked Reagan’s name as a talisman, as they advocated policies even more reactionary than the attacks on the working class which Reagan carried out in the 1980s.

The speakers invoked Reagan as a mythic figure who supposedly unified America and was a protagonist of great ideas. This is a grotesque distortion of the real record of the mediocre actor and paid speechmaker, whose right-wing policies were widely hated among working people and whose mental faculties had dimmed well before he left office.

The Reagan idolatry was only one of the elements that gave to whole event an overpowering sense of unreality. There were, as well, moments that can only be characterized as bizarre.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, asked to say what he disliked most about America, refused to find a single flaw—not racism, not inequality, not even immorality or drug abuse or some other evil that could be safely decried before his right-wing audience. “Gosh, I love America,” he declared.

Huckabee, asked to give a letter grade on the president’s handling of the war in Iraq, declined, saying—more than four years into the war!—“We’re still in the middle of the exam. Let’s wait and see how it turns out.”

Brownback said that a Supreme Court action stripping women of the right to make their own decisions about child-bearing would be “a glorious day of human liberty and freedom.” Tancredo topped him by declaring the repeal of Roe v. Wade would be “the greatest day in this country’s history.” Presumably to be followed by even greater rejoicing when Brown v. Board of Education is repealed or the Dred Scott decision reinstated.

Senator John McCain, whose campaign has slid in the polls as public opposition to the war in Iraq has increased, reiterated his support for the war and explicitly declared that he would go to war with Iran as well to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. After one blood-curdling promise to pursue Osama bin Laden “to the gates of hell”—without addressing why the current administration has failed to do so—he then inexplicably gave an apparently practiced ear-to-ear grin, sparking some media suggestions that he was cracking under the pressure of a faltering campaign.

Giuliani has also fallen recently in the polls, with his nominal support siphoned off mainly by two non-candidates, former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, now a television actor, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He seemed indifferent to the proceedings and almost oblivious, summed up in his response to the abortion question. It would “be OK” if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and equally OK if it did not.

All the Republican candidates, not merely Giuliani, seemed to be going through the motions rather than seriously contesting for the nomination. This in part reflects the current bourgeois political landscape, where decisive sections of big business have shifted their support to the Democratic Party and look to the Democrats to carry out the Republican program of war and reaction more effectively than the Bush-Cheney regime.

But a more fundamental process is at work. The Republican right has dominated official American politics for much of the last three decades, despite the fact that only a small fraction of the American public supports its semi-fascist political agenda. Public opinion is now shifting dramatically to the left—reflected, in however a limited fashion, in the 2006 congressional vote, and in polls showing majority support for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The Republican Party itself may well become a casualty of the debacle facing the Bush administration.

See Also:

Military and money dominate opening of US 2008 presidential campaign [17 April 2007]

John McCain at VMI: A blunt statement of US imperialism’s stake in Iraq [13 April 2007]

Whom is John McCain trying to fool? [4 April 2007]

US jobless rate increases: Falling employment, stagnant wages fuel corporate profits

By Jerry White
5 May 2007

Non-farm employment in the US rose by only 88,000 jobs in April, far lower than the 110,000 jobs expected by economists and the slowest rate in more than two years, according to a Labor Department report released Friday. The official jobless rate rose by 0.1 percent to 4.5 percent last month and would have been even higher if more than 339,000 workers had not fallen out of the job market in April due to the lack of decent employment opportunities.

The Labor Department also made a downward revision of its job estimate for March—the second reduction in a row. The weakening job market, along with a collapse in the housing market and the weakest first quarter Gross Domestic Product growth in four years, has prompted some analysts to suggest that the six-year expansion of the US economy has come to an end and that a recession may be around the corner.

The lower than expected employment growth was welcomed on Wall Street because economic insecurity for workers tends to suppress their demands for higher wages, an outcome that will allow corporations to continue to accrue record-breaking profits. Average weekly earnings fell 0.1 percent in April and over the year, average hourly and weekly earnings grew by only 3.7 and 3.4 percent, respectively.

One analyst from Insight Economics said the US Federal Reserve Board would like to see a “gradual upward drift in the unemployment rate to about five percent” to reduce “the pressure on inflation,” using the common euphemism for rising wages.

With wage increases in check, the Federal Reserve, which is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, is not expected to raise interest rates, a measure it could take to drive up unemployment further.

Layoffs jumped 44 percent in April, led by a surge in financial sector job cuts after Citigroup announced it would eliminate 17,000 positions, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an employment consulting firm.

Announced layoffs totaled 70,672 in April, up from 48,997 in March and about 18 percent more than the 59,688 announced in the same month a year earlier. The financial sector now leads all others in job cuts for the year, with 50,221. The automotive sector ranked second with 27,570 announced job cuts this year, Challenger said.

Financial sector cuts in April included more than 6,000 resulting from a weak housing market and its impact on mortgage lenders, Challenger said.

This week, sub-prime lender New Century Financial Corp.—which declared bankruptcy in March—will lay off about 2,000 of its employees after failing to find a buyer for its mortgage loan origination business, according to an Associated Press report.

Construction firms, hard hit by the slowdown in new housing starts, eliminated 11,000 jobs in April. The drop in construction employment is only the beginning, according to analysts who point out that the layoff of finish carpenters, electricians, plumbers and others is lagging behind the decline in housing starts, which only intensified after mid-2006. “Despite the drop in construction, there’s a lot more to go in this sector,” a Goldman Sachs analyst said. “The 11,000 decline pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of layoffs that would be needed to bring payrolls in this sector in line with reduced levels of output.”

Industrial jobs continued to be slashed in April. The Labor Department reported that manufacturing firms cut 19,000 jobs in the tenth straight decline in employment. Machinery companies cut 5,000 jobs, motor vehicles another 5,000 and textile mills 3,000.

May began with new job loss announcements. Intel will lay off as many as 1,000 workers when it stops producing flash memory chips at a fabrication plant in New Mexico this August. IBM laid off 1,315 US workers from its global services division.

The cutback in jobs has coincided with a drive by employers to speed up the output of workers who remain on the job. US productivity grew much more sharply than expected in the first quarter, despite the slowdown in economic activity. This included a 2.7 percent rise in manufacturing productivity.

The increase in output, along with the stagnation of wages, allowed employers to keep the increase in unit labor costs to just 0.6 percent, following a 6.2 percent rise the previous quarter.

Hours worked fell 0.3 percent in the January to March period, the sharpest drop since the second quarter of 2003. Hourly compensation increased 2.3 percent, well below the rate of inflation. In real terms, compensation actually fell by 1.5 percent.

While conditions for American workers continued to worsen, Wall Street continues to celebrate massive corporate profits. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 23.24 points to 13264.62 for its fourth straight record close and the Dow’s 23rd gain in the past 26 sessions—the longest run of its kind since 1944. The central stock market index is up 6.4 percent since the beginning of the year.

The disconnect between booming corporate profits and stock prices on the one hand and the general economic malaise on the other has been the subject of commentary by some more perceptive economists. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, for example, pointed to a recent speech by one of the Bush administration’s top economists, who repeated the often-made claim that higher profits lead to greater investment, high rates of productivity and rising living standards.

In fact, Krugman wrote, high profits had not led to high investment and rising productivity had not led to rising wages. “Since President Bush took office, the combination of rising productivity and stagnant wages—workers are producing more, but they aren’t getting paid more—has led to a veritable profit gusher, with corporate profits more than doubling since 2000.” Krugman further pointed out that profits as a share of national income in 2006 were at the highest level ever recorded.

However, rather than investing in physical capital—machinery, factories, research, and so on—Krugman pointed out, many companies are using profits to buy back their own stock in order to facilitate a temporary rise in stock prices, increasing the value of executives’ stock options, even at the detriment of the long-term health of the company.

See Also:

Corporate asset strippers vie for Chrysler [4 May 2007]

US economic growth slows as housing bubble deflates [28 April 2007]

Top hedge-fund managers average $540 million in income [27 April 2007]

Judith Miller defends New York police repression of antiwar “terrorists”

By Bill Van Auken
5 May 2007

Judith Miller, the former senior correspondent of the New York Times who played a key role as a conduit for the fabricated intelligence about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” used to drag the American public into the Iraq war, has found her way back into print—this time as a mouthpiece for selective and self-serving intelligence released by the New York City Police Department.

Miller left the Times with a hefty severance package a year and a half ago, posing as a martyr for the First Amendment and—as she wrote in her parting statement—a hapless victim of “public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war.”

Her dubious claim to First Amendment credentials stems from her spending 85 days in jail for defying a court order to divulge a confidential source. While the principle of press freedom from judicial coercion is no doubt important, in Miller’s case the source she was protecting was the since-convicted chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, I. Lewis Libby. By all appearances Libby was collaborating with the New York Times reporter in the scheme to punish Joseph Wilson—who blew the whistle on the Bush administration’s false claims about Iraq seeking to buy uranium in Niger—by exposing his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative.

The episode was marked by the same ideologically based intimate ties that Miller established with her sources in the Bush administration, US and Israeli intelligence and the Iraqi exile groups.

This same kind of relationship with the top echelons of the NYPD is revealed in her piece published Thursday on the notoriously right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which was provocatively titled, “When Activists are Terrorists.”

The article amounts to a defense brief for the NYPD brass as it faces multiple lawsuits in relation to the police-state crackdown unleashed against peaceful demonstrators during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Nearly 2,000 people were rounded up during the convention, including people who were not even demonstrating but merely happened to be on city blocks where cops carried out mass arrests using plastic nets to corral everyone in the area.

Many of those arrested were taken to a makeshift detention facility set up in a filthy and contaminated depot on the Hudson River where they were held under inhuman conditions for days before being released. The aim was to keep them off the streets for the duration of the convention based on charges that were—in all but handful of cases—subsequently dismissed.

In March, the New York Times obtained secret documents revealing that in advance of the August 2004 convention, the NYPD intelligence division had carried out a massive and international spying operation targeting a host of nonviolent protest groups, including church groups, opponents of capital punishment and street theater ensembles, based strictly on their opposition to the policies of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq in particular. Political dossiers were established on an unknown number of individuals who were suspected of no crimes.

Last February, a federal judge recognized the blatantly illegal and unconstitutional character of the NYPD’s spying and barred the department from investigating political activity unless there is some evidence of unlawful activity.

The judge also issued an order barring the New York City police from routinely videotaping people engaged in legal political protests.

The court decisions marked the first reversals for the NYPD in its bid to wrest back powers of political repression, spying and infiltration that existed during the period of the infamous Red Squad and that were somewhat curtailed by a 1985 court decision known as the Handschu agreement. The city and its police department have insisted that in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, restrictions on illegal police spying must be rescinded. As the RNC protests demonstrated, the expanded police powers claimed by the NYPD as a tool needed to combat terrorism have been utilized to suppress and intimidate political opponents of the government.

Miller writes, “Stung by the criticism, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, David Cohen, the deputy police commissioner for intelligence, and Paul J. Browne, the NYPD press spokesman, outlined in interviews last week the nature of the police’s concerns.” Playing the same role as state-sponsored stenographer that she filled while reporting on the manufactured Iraqi WMD threat, Miller dutifully sets out in her Wall Street Journal piece to argue the NYPD’s case.

To facilitate the former Times reporter in her mission of rebutting the exposure of police spying by the New York Times, the department apparently gave her access to “600-plus pages of still-secret intelligence documents.” This was the same material that had been leaked to the Times and formed a principal basis of the article written by Jim Dwyer last March.

What is significant about this special access granted to Miller is that city attorneys representing the NYPD have gone into federal court to insist that these same files be kept secret, citing concerns that the media would “fixate upon them and sensationalize them.” They have also demanded that lawyers representing those arrested during the RNC swear under oath that they did not leak the classified documents to the Times.

As Sean Gardiner of the Village Voice reported this week, New York Civil Liberties Union Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn cited Miller’s article in a letter to Manhattan Federal District Court Judge James C. Francis asking him to dismiss the city’s motion to keep secret the documents on police spying in advance of the RNC. “This reporting plainly suggests that the NYPD provided Ms. Miller with the very documents the City is insisting to this Court must be kept secret,” Dunn wrote.

No doubt the distinction between Miller and the run-of-the-mill media is a clear one for the NYPD, whose intelligence deputy commissioner Cohen is a former director of operations at the CIA. After all, while working at the Times, Miller was granted a classified security clearance by the Pentagon, the terms of which required her to withhold any secret information from both the newspaper’s editors and its readers. She had moreover proven she could be trusted with classified material, such as that fed her by the administration about “aluminum tubes” that supposedly exposed a nonexistent Iraqi nuclear weapons program, which became a key pretext for launching the US war.

Based on her reading of the secret documents—“coupled with interviews of senior police officials”—Miller concludes that they do “not show that the police monitored such peaceful groups and individuals because they opposed their political views,” but merely because they wanted to determine the “motivations of people who were planning to attend the convention.” That spying on political groups, with no evidence of criminal activity, to determine their “motivations” violates constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly is not a problem for Miller.

This, she makes clear, is because such violations must be “framed in the context of the threat New York was facing.” She notes that since 9/11, the city had seen “11 separate terrorist plots ... beginning with the still-unsolved anthrax letter attacks of October, 2001 ... to the thwarting of a plot in July 2006 to destroy the PATH subway linking New Jersey to Lower Manhattan...”

How do these events justify surveillance and infiltration of nonviolent groups opposed to the Iraq war? Evidence surrounding the anthrax attacks, which indeed remain unsolved, point to a source connected to the US military’s germ warfare program and right-wing elements. As for the so-called PATH plot, it involved an individual arrested in Lebanon who had no weapons, explosives or money, had neither been to New York City nor apparently had any means of getting there. He was charged on the basis of an Internet “chat” with people he had never even met.

Miller attempts to spice up her account with various facts culled from the intelligence files. They reveal, she says, a scheme to “switch subway signs to disorient [Republican] delegates,” plans to “harass delegates,” and a call to “disrupt Broadway performances attended by delegates ... designated as ‘Chaos on Broadway.’”

She says that NYPD spies also learned that “The Syracuse Peace Council ... which planned to block traffic in New York, held weekend training aimed at ‘building our own radical activist infrastructure.’” Presumably, this lumps the Syracuse pacifists together with the other “terrorist activists” who are the subject of Miller’s article.

Then there are facts thrown in that read like random citations from the police blotter. “A man arrested on Aug. 20 for criminal trespass and possession of burglary tools in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, had been arrested more than 25 times in California for various offenses.” Aside from the fact that the move to the East Coast apparently failed to improve the burglar’s luck, how this justifies political spying is a mystery.

Miller also quotes Cohen, the ex-CIA official at the helm of the NYPD’s intelligence operations, asserting that the arrest of more than 1,800 people—a virtually unprecedented number—actually showed restraint, given the size of the demonstration. She regurgitated his dubious claim that it actually represented “the lowest arrest-to-crowd ratio of any major political gathering.”

Miller concludes her piece by declaring that “it would be a pity” if the court challenge to the NYPD’s political spying served to “dissuade other law enforcement agencies from adopting a similar approach.”

She continues: “For although I am devoted to the First Amendment and privacy rights ... I also want the NYPD to have the tools and programs to protect the city from terrorist attacks. If that means scanning the Internet and sending plainclothes officers to public meetings to learn about planned actions that might turn violent, or be infiltrated and taken over by violent dissidents, so be it.”

The NYPD’s choice of Judith Miller to make its case in defense of political spying sends an unmistakable message. The same methods of political deception and outright criminality used to launch the war of aggression against Iraq continue to be employed in the drive to destroy basic democratic rights within the US itself.

See Also:

Miller takes the FifthUS general withholds testimony in Abu Ghraib abuse trial [19 January 2006]

Burying the lies on Iraq warJudith Miller and the New York Times make a deal [11 November 2005]

French Campaigners Blind to Outside World

International Herald Tribune
May 3, 2007


When an interviewer asked Valéry Giscard d'Estaing the other day what he thought of the minimal attention paid to international affairs in France's presidential election campaign, he corrected his questioner.

There was no interest at all, the former president said. "It's a France living with the shutters closed," he said. "The French have been sitting around talking to themselves as if the world didn't exist."

That's largely because the candidates don't think votes based on foreign policy are there for the taking.

A country confused about how to end the misery of its high unemployment and low growth, France likes the prerogatives that come with United Nations Security Council membership and its hold on big-power status as a nuclear-armed nation. But it doesn't want to hear and think much about its diminished place in the world, or the prospect of new responsibilities and having to take sides.

In the head-to-head television debate Wednesday night between Nicholas Sarkozy, the Gaullist front-runner in the runoff Sunday, and the Socialist Ségolène Royal, international affairs, apart from Turkey's possible entry into the European Union and the EU's constitution, got a total of 17 minutes of attention at 11 p.m. in the back-and-forth that bumped and stumbled over two and a half hours.

No mention of Afghanistan or Iraq; ditto for a problematical America and an increasingly threatening Russia. It was not an evening to bolster France's claim to a slice of international leadership.

Rather it was one of disputed statistics, Royal's bursts of rage and seeming mood swings, and Sarkozy's attempts at transforming the debate's disorder and his opponent's anger into a subliminal it's-me-or-chaos warning to carry him through the final days of the campaign.

Still, the reality about France's place in the world is that Sarkozy thought too much campaign focus on it would bring him unnecessarily close to a vote-getting liability: his nonhysterical, even polite relations with those who, in the majority French view, are the awful-awfuls of the Bush administration.

As for Royal, she left what she thinks of the great beyond in confusion, praising expedient justice in China, and arguing that regardless of who was in power there, America's unilateralist nature inevitably tempted it toward the use of force.

Yet the attentive follower of the campaign could find some palpable foreign policy departures from Jacques Chirac's 12 years of French exceptionalism über alles in the debris of texts and tapes left from the candidates' six months of talk.

Sarkozy, trying hard to upset no one, avoided casting his part of those changes as the rupture in French habits he once made his creed. But the new directions are palpable in the Sarkozy approach, and they are interesting.

On Iran, Sarkozy has turned his back on Chirac's nonchalance about the effect of Iran's emergence as a military force with nukes. That idea is unacceptable, he says. "We can't be weak in this area."

Going beyond any countermeasures Chirac supported, Sarkozy has opened the door to the idea that if new Security Council sanctions against Iran become impossible because of Russian and Chinese resistance, then a group of countries could apply additional sanctions on its own.

"Nothing's excluded a priori," Sarkozy has said. "What counts is effectiveness. On sanctions outside the Security Council, that's not a problem of principle."

Sarkozy's harder position on Iran is complemented by his much tougher vision of Russia, effectively burying the years when Chirac and Gerhard Schröder courted Vladimir Putin.

Sarkozy has made clear that he has no tolerance for Russia inserting itself as a veto power into European business or the Atlantic Alliance.

"On NATO, I want the rapprochement started in Ukraine and Georgia to continue," he said. "The current political dialogue can be a possible first step toward their integration."

Asked by Le Monde if Russia should be allowed to increase its 5 percent interest in EADS, the European aeronautic, space and defense concern in which France is a participant, Sarkozy's plain answer was no. Establishing his sense of the limits of Europe's "strategic partnership" with Russia, he offered an equally plain explanation of why not: Russia's heightened involvement could threaten "our independence and national sovereignty."

Because it would be a direct disavowal of Chirac, who has backed his candidacy, Sarkozy has steered clear anything suggesting a complete overhaul of France's policy in the Middle East, where its influence in Arab countries is deeply diminished and next to nil in Israel.

Sarkozy has also reversed his earlier dismissal of Chirac's thesis of a multipolar world order, to accept his assertion that global power is spread between poles like America, Europe, Russia, China, Asia and Latin America.

But this comes unburdened by Chirac's essential subtext: one insisting that Europe's role is one of a brake or counterweight to America.

Rather, Sarkozy told a television interviewer last month that Europe was not in competition with America on the world stage.

Royal has also taken leave of some of Chirac's positions. Like Sarkozy, she opposes the proposal Chirac initiated with Schröder to drop the EU embargo on selling arms to China.

On Iran, she claims, "I was the first in France to take a very firm position." But this involves a muddled argument, repeated in the debate, that Royal has never explained away.

Contrary to the provisions of the international nonproliferation agreements that are the legal basis for action against Iran's drive for nuclear weapons, Royal wants Iran deprived of all access to civil nuclear power.

Throughout, as much as America has been a charged subject weighing on Sarkozy's campaign, relations with the United States have been a personal problem for Royal, which she never seemed intent to resolve.

While portraying Sarkozy's visit with Bush last year as an act of abject fealty, she was unable after several attempts to set up meetings in America with Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton. Presumably, they saw Royal's description of an incorrigible American hyper-power, largely immune to change no matter who was elected in 2008, as making her a potentially unmanageable guest.

In her last statement two weeks ago on America's role, Royal said, "I believe the world needs a multipolar force, and that the United States must not be considered as a superpower."


The big debate provided no elaboration from either side. Far from a biting or provocative French gaze on the world, reworking Giscard d'Estaing's image, the candidates reflected only faint light from behind France's tightly drawn curtains.

Can This Patient Be Saved?

The New York Times
May 5, 2007

As a surgeon, I’ve seen some pretty large tumors. I’ve excised fist-size thyroid cancers from people’s necks and abdominal masses bigger than your head. When I do, this is what almost invariably happens: the anesthesiologist puts the patient to sleep, the nurse unsnaps the gown, everyone takes a sharp breath, and someone blurts out, “How could someone let that thing get so huge?”

I try to describe how slowly and imperceptibly it grew. But staring at the beast it has become, no one buys the explanation. Even the patients are mystified. One day they looked in the mirror, they’ll say, and the mass seemed to have ballooned overnight. It hadn’t, of course. Usually, it’s been growing — and, worse, sometimes spreading — for years.

Too often, by the time a patient finally seeks help, I can’t help much.

We are adaptable creatures, and while that is generally good, sometimes it’s a problem. We have no difficulty taking prompt action when faced with a sudden calamity, like a bleeding head wound, say, or a terrorist attack. But we are not good at moving against the creeping, more insidious threats — whether a slow-growing tumor, waistline or debt.

It’s as true of societies as of individuals. We did not muster the will to reform our long-broken banking system, for example, until it actually collapsed in the Great Depression.

This is, in a nutshell, the trouble with our health care crisis. Our health care system has eroded badly, but it has not collapsed. So we do nothing.

For at least two decades, polls have shown that most consider our health system seriously flawed. With family insurance premiums now averaging $12,000 a year, the insured fear it will become unaffordable, and businesses regard health benefit costs as their single greatest obstacle to competing globally.

People without insurance are proven to be more likely to die, and 28 percent of working-age Americans are now uninsured for at least part of a year. Emergency rooms, required to care for the uninsured, have become so full they turned away 500,000 ambulances last year. As a result, large majorities support the idea of fundamental change.

Surveys also show, however, that 89 percent of Americans remain satisfied with their own health care and that 88 percent of the insured are satisfied with the coverage they have. So time and again, when confronted with the details and costs of any thoroughgoing reform, our enthusiasm evaporates.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was in the Clinton administration when we lost health reform, partly because of special interests’ attacks, but mostly because the insured feared change more than the status quo. When voters in Oregon, one of our most liberal states, voted down a single-payer plan in a referendum in 2002, it was just the most recent sign of the pattern.

The only time the country has enacted a large-scale health system change was after a collapse. In 1965, when Medicare was created for the elderly and disabled, some 70 percent had no coverage for hospital costs. We’re not that badly off yet. Our health care system is like one of those tumors growing in my patients. The only questions are: When will it become bad enough to make us act? And will that be too late?

Reformers think we’re on the verge of waking up some morning, looking in the mirror and noticing the size of this tumor with enough alarm to do something radical about it. But isn’t it more likely we won’t?

Malcolm Gladwell has argued that when health care costs drive General Motors into bankruptcy, and 300,000 workers lose coverage overnight, that will be the next big crisis to prompt wholesale change. I thought so, too. But it now looks as if G.M. will instead wither slowly, shedding a plant here, a division there. And faced with a slow withering, we all just muddle on.

The case for sweeping reform — for severing health insurance from the workplace and creating a new system — is undeniable. But it’s going to be a long time before the large majority of Americans with decent coverage are persuaded to risk changing what they have. How then to cure a malignant health care system? Can we act before the patient collapses?

The answer is yes, but only if we make changes that alter most people’s coverage gradually, while still providing a path out of this mess. My next column will describe just that.

Atul Gawande, a general surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a New Yorker staff writer, is the author of the new book “Better” and a guest columnist this month.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

IN MEMORIAM (May 4th 1970 -- May 4th 2007)

To those who died 37 years ago on this day at Kent State University at the hands of the fascist stooges of the criminal Nixon-Agnew Regime.



Thursday, May 03, 2007


When That Guy Died on My Show

By Dick Cavett
The New York Times
May 4, 2007

“Hey, Dick, I’ll never forget the look on your face when that guy died on your show.”

I’d say I still get this about 20 times a year, a high number considering that the event referred to happened in 1971.

I’m never sure exactly how to answer. Let’s call the speaker Don. Usually it goes on:

Don: I’ll never forget that.

D.C.: Ah, you were in the audience?

Don: No, I saw it.

D.C. (uneasy): Well, you see that show never aired.

Don: C’mon, you’re kiddin’ me.

D.C.: It’s true. And you’re just one of a lot of people who are so sure that they saw it that they could pass a polygraph test.

Don: How did I see it then?

D.C.: I hate to spoil your fun, but the only way you might have seen it is if you knew a couple of ABC engineers who ran off a copy that night to take home to spook their wives and girlfriends.

Don (with an expression that says, “Why are you pretending I didn’t see it?”): But I just know I saw it.

D.C. (now trying to comfort poor Don who has had a cherished memory threatened): Maybe I described it so vividly the next night that you thought you actually saw it … and it was in all the papers and on the late news shows.

Don (baffled) : Geez, I swear…

D.C.: See, Don we taped so close to air time that they had to quickly put on a rerun. The family hadn’t been notified or anything.

Don (noticeably crestfallen, not seeing): I see.

As I bid Don goodbye, it’s clear that he is convinced I’m crazy. I mentally recite my favorite two-line rhyme:

A man convinced against his will,

Is of the same opinion still.

When I’m doing an appearance somewhere and taking questions from the audience, I can always count on: “Tell about the guy who died on your show!” I generally say, “I will, and I promise you that in a few moments you will be laughing.” (That gets a laugh.) I go on: “First, who would be the logical person to drop dead on a television show? A health expert.” (Laugh.) I go on to explain that he was Jerome I. Rodale, the publisher of (among other things) Today’s Health Magazine. (Laugh.) The irony gets thicker.

He’d been on the cover of The New York Times Magazine that Sunday, and we needed one more guest. He was a slight man, and looked like Leon Trotsky with the little goatee.

He was extremely funny for half an hour, talking about health foods, and as a friendly gesture he offered me some of his special asparagus, boiled in urine. I think I said, “Anybody’s we know?” while making a mental note to have him back.

I brought out the next guest, Pete Hamill, whose column ran in The New York Post. Rodale moved “down one” to the couch. As Pete and I began to chat, Mr. Rodale suddenly made a snoring sound, which got a laugh.

Comics would sometimes do that for a laugh while another comic was talking, pretending boredom. His head tilted to the side as Pete, in close-up as it happened, whispered audibly, “This looks bad.”

The audience laughed at that. I didn’t, because I knew Rodale was dead.

To this day, I don’t know how I knew. I thought, “Good God, I’m in charge here. What do I do?” Next thing I knew I was holding his wrist, thinking, I don’t know anything about what a wrist is supposed to feel like.

Next, in what felt like a quick film cut, I was standing at the edge of the stage, saying, “Is there a doctor in the … (pause) … audience?”

Two medical interns scrambled onto the stage. The next “shot” that I recall was of Rodale flat on the floor. The interns had loosened his shirt and his pants, and were working on him. He was the ghastly pale of a plumber’s candle.

Other memories that seem to come in stop-frame sequence:

- Two stewardesses in the front row who’d been winking and joking with me during the commercial breaks were now crying. I guess from their training and having seen emergencies, they knew the score.

- Watching the awareness that this might just be real start to roll backward through the audience. Their reluctant awareness that this was not part of the show.

- A camera man standing on his tiptoes, his camera pointing almost straight down on Rodale and the “action.”

- Someone running onstage with a small tank of oxygen with a crucial part missing.

- The bizarre feeling of denial that this must be part of the show. After all, we were in makeup and there were stage lights and a band and an audience that had been laughing and clapping only moments earlier.

- Pete Hamill amidst the turmoil, as an ambulance crew arrived, calmly and professionally making notes in his reporter’s notebook. (He got a memorable column for the next day.)

- Finding myself in a fog in my dressing room, discovering a few strange objects in my pocket that someone must have handed me. A ChapStick, a watch and some keys, clearly from the dead man’s pockets.

- A voice in the alley as I got in the car: “Hey, Dick, was that for real?”

I went home and looked up Robert Frost’s poem “Out, Out —,” which contains the words, “… And they, since they/ Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

The next morning, I called my mentor and former boss, Johnny Carson. The story was all over the news. I asked Johnny how I could ever do another show. “It’s like Kennedy’s death, isn’t it, Richard?” he said. “You wondered how anybody could ever do another show. This won’t sound very profound but you just go out and do it. And you’ll get a couple of surprises.”

That night I told the whole story in the (comedy) monologue spot. No laughs then. I dreaded coming back from commercial.

No one referred to the tragic happening, and everything meant to be funny got what seemed clearly to be larger than usual laughs. This, it turned out, was the main surprise Johnny knew was in store for me. Everyone was eager to get back to laughs.

This is the topper: Upon warily deciding to view the sorry event a few weeks later, along with my staff, we noticed three things that, incredibly, no one had recalled Rodale’s saying: “I’m in such good health [he was 72] that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way.” “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred.” And the inevitable “I never felt better in my life!” (The gods and their sense of humor.)

Recently, someone claimed that when he first snored I said, “Are we boring you, Mr. Rodale?” — which I emphatically don’t recall.

Months later, Katharine Hepburn asked me to stop by her house in Manhattan to talk about her possibly coming on my show. As I settled myself in her cozy living room, admiring the charcoal sketch of Spencer Tracy, in she came, plopping herself down on the Persian carpet, the white slacks on her legs forming a long V as if she were a girl playing jacks. Her first words were not “Hello” but “Tell me everything about the man who died.” Her dad was a doctor and she loved, and pretty much practiced on her fellow actors, medicine.

When I got to the part about asking for a doctor, I said, “Why did I take that awkward pause after saying “Is there a doctor … ?”

“Because you knew,” she said, “ ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’ would get a laugh.”

She was right. As always.

The Aussie ‘Big Dry’

The New York Times
May 4, 2007

SYDNEY, Australia

Almost everywhere you travel these days, people are talking about their weather — and how it has changed. Nowhere have I found this more true, though, than in Australia, where “the big dry,” a six-year record drought, has parched the Aussie breadbasket so severely that on April 19, Prime Minister John Howard actually asked the whole country to pray for rain. “I told people you have to pray for rain,” Mr. Howard remarked to me, adding, “I said it without a hint of irony.”

And here’s what’s really funny: It actually started to rain! But not enough, which is one reason Australia is about to have its first election in which climate change will be a top issue. In just 12 months, climate change has gone from being a nonissue here to being one that could tip the vote.

In the process, Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative now in his 11th year in office, has moved from being a climate skeptic to what he calls a “climate realist,” who knows that he must offer programs to reduce global-warming greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, but wants to do it without economic pain or imposed targets, like Kyoto’s. He is proposing emissions trading and nuclear power.

The Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, proposes a hard target — a 60 percent reduction in Australian CO2 emissions from 2000 levels by 2050 — and subsidies for Aussies to retrofit their homes with energy-saving systems. The whole issue has come from the bottom up, and it has come on so quickly that neither party can be sure it has its finger on the public’s pulse.

“What was considered left a year ago is now center, and in six months it will be conservative — that is how quickly the debate about climate change is moving here,” said Michael Roux, chairman of RI Capital, a Melbourne investment firm. “It is being led by young people around the dinner table with their parents, and the C.E.O.’s and politicians are all playing catch-up.”

I asked Mr. Howard how it had happened. “It was a perfect storm,” he said. First came a warning from Nicholas Stern of Britain, who said climate change was not only real but could be economically devastating for Australia. Then the prolonged drought forced Mr. Howard to declare last month that “if it doesn’t rain in sufficient volume over the next six to eight weeks, there will be no water allocations for irrigation purposes” until May 2008 for crops and cattle in the Murray-Darling river basin, which accounts for 41 percent of Australian agriculture.

It was as if the pharaoh had banned irrigation from the Nile. Australians were shocked. Then the traditional Australian bush fires, which usually come in January, started in October because everything was so dry. Finally, in the middle of all this, Al Gore came to Australia and showed his film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“The coincidence of all those things ... shifted the whole debate,” Mr. Howard said. While he tends to focus on the economic costs of acting too aggressively on climate change, his challenger, Mr. Rudd, has been focusing on the costs of not acting. Today, Mr. Rudd said, Australian businesses are demanding that the politicians “get a regulatory environment settled” on carbon emissions trading so companies know what framework they will have to operate in — because they know change is coming.

When you look at the climate debate around the world, remarked Peter Garrett, the former lead singer for the Australian band Midnight Oil, who now heads the Labor Party’s climate efforts, there are two kinds of conservatives. The ones like George Bush and John Howard, he said, deep down remain very skeptical about environmentalism and climate change “because they have been someone else’s agenda for so long,” but they also know they must now offer policies to at least defuse this issue politically.

And then there are conservatives like Arnold Schwarzenegger and David Cameron, the Tory Party leader in London, who understand that climate is becoming a huge defining issue and actually want to take it away from liberals by being more forward-leaning than they are.

In short, climate change is the first issue in a long time that could really scramble Western politics. Traditional conservatives can now build bridges to green liberals; traditional liberals can make common cause with green businesses; young climate voters are newly up for grabs. And while coal-mining unions oppose global warming restrictions, service unions, which serve coastal tourist hotels, need to embrace them. You can see all of this and more in Australia today.

Politics gets interesting when it stops raining.


Kucinich on Cheney at SC Debates 04/26/07

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

US: Los Angeles police violently disperse immigrant rights demonstration

By Rafael Azul
3 May 2007

Police violently broke up an immigrant rights demonstration in Los Angeles on the evening of Tuesday, May 1, attacking demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. Many were injured, including TV news reporters and legal observers.

The crackdown took place in MacArthur Park, at the heart of a Los Angeles neighborhood mostly populated by Central American and Mexican immigrant workers. Hundreds of people had gathered at the park at the conclusion of demonstrations involving tens of thousands throughout the city.

An eyewitness account by Ernesto Arce of KPFK radio indicated that the police initiated a deliberate provocation when police cars drove into the center of the rally, disrupting a performance there. The squad cars were followed by motorcycle cops, and these were followed by riot-equipped police at 5:30 pm.

Less than an hour later, at 6:15 pm, the police descended on the crowd, which included families, reporters and street peddlers. The attack lasted half an hour. People that did not move quickly enough were hit in the back of their legs with police batons

Arce described how the riot squad chased people out of the park. Some of the injured were hit in the back with rubber bullets. Children and families were pushed or struck with batons. The police assault did not stop even after clearing the park. They chased protesters down 7th Street, a major thoroughfare, for six blocks.

Over a dozen volleys of rubber bullets were fired into the crowd. Other witnesses reported seeing police officers beating people with rifle butts and clubs and seeing parents shielding their children. There were reports from the media and from demonstrators that some police officers had removed their badges.

Witnesses that spoke to KPFK radio indicated that police officers provocatively taunted protesters.

News videos show images of people, including camera operators and reporters, being shoved to the ground and beaten. The beatings took place even as people were complying with police orders and moving out of the park. At least ten people were injured, most with head and neck wounds.

The Los Angeles Times reported, “Late Tuesday, a spokesman for Telemundo confirmed that one reporter and three camera operators from Channel 52, the Spanish-language TV station, had been injured and had been taken to a hospital by police. Another TV station, Fox 11, showed video of a Fox camerawoman apparently being struck by a baton-wielding police officer.”

A videotape of the Fox news reporter’s encounter with the police can be found here.

The Times quoted Hamid Khan of the South Asia Network, who was present at the park, describing the police action as an “atrocity.”

LA City Councilman Herb Wesson, an African American, witnessed the police riot and compared it attacks on Civil Rights demonstrators in the 1960s: “I had a flashback of 45 years ago, It was a nightmare to me,” said Wesson.

Police accounts blamed anarchists that were attempting to block a thoroughfare. Officials claimed that some demonstrators threw stones or bottles at police officers. Even if this were true, the response was clearly excessive and indiscriminate. The LA police department evidently wanted to make a show of force in clearing the demonstration, and have seized on the alleged bottle-throwing as a pretext.

Public officials scrambled on Tuesday to contain the public outrage at the brutality, while justifying the police behavior. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted 12 to 0 for an emergency motion to request that the Police Commission and LA Police Chief William Bratton testify before the entire Council.

John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, declared that his organization will initiate an investigation of the incident. Any such investigation will be a whitewash of police actions, a fact indicated by Mack when he sought to blame “some individual officers.”

Both Bratton and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sought to shift blame onto demonstrators, suggesting that some demonstrators may have thrown rocks at the police. Given videotapes of the incident, however, Bratton was forced to acknowledge, “Some of the officers’ actions ... were inappropriate in terms of use of batons and possible use of nonlethal rounds fired.”

Villaraigosa pledged an “immediate and transparent review,” however he indicated the nature of this review by again seeking to justify the police brutality, saying that those who threw rocks at police instigated the violence, but that “members of the media and the public appear to have been caught in the exchange between the LAPD and these instigators.”

This is a fraud. Video evidence clearly shows police officers roughing up nonviolent protesters, seizing and throwing camera equipment, and striking media representatives who were filming the incident with batons.

Legal observers, volunteers sent by the Lawyers Guild, insisted that no order to disperse was given before the police began their assault. Only after the shooting began did a police helicopter give an order to disperse, an order that few people actually heard.

That, added to the video evidence, indicates that the police provocation and the LAPD disciplined sweep that followed was intended to create a pretext to intimidate immigrants and workers peacefully assembling to demand their rights.

Infant mortality rates rising in US

Southern states hardest hit

By Naomi Spencer
3 May 2007

After declining for four decades, infant mortality rates are on the rise in the US. The rise in infant death rates, like a multitude of other social indicators, is a manifestation of the growing inequality in the United States.

This inequality, forcing millions more Americans into poverty and extreme poverty, has been exacerbated by the erosion of the social safety net, beginning under the Clinton administration and escalated by the Bush administration and the initiatives of reactionary state governments.

The national infant mortality rate—defined as the number of children dying within their first year of life per 1,000 live births—stood at 6.9 in 2003, the latest year for which data is available. Internationally, the US ranks at the bottom of developed countries on virtually all measures of child wellbeing, including mortality rates. In regions with poor and especially minority populations, health outcome indicators have steadily and substantially worsened in recent years.

Particularly in the South, where infant mortality rates have long exceeded the national average, deaths have increased significantly in recent years. In certain Southern counties, infant mortality rates are higher than 20 deaths per 1,000 live births—higher than those of Sri Lanka, Poland, and nearly 100 other countries.

Infant mortality in Louisiana rose to 10.4 per 1,000 births statewide in 2005, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In Region 7, the northwestern area of the state encompassing nine parishes, the figures are drastically worse. Caddo Parish, for example, has a rate of 13.3. The Shreveport area registered an appalling 32.7.

“People can’t believe those stats when I tell them,” Northwest Louisiana Coalition for the Health of Women and Children director and registered nurse Linda Brooks told the Shreveport Times. “There is poverty in this area like you’ve never seen and teen pregnancies (15-19 years old) are a big problem, accounting for 55.6 percent of all births.”

Similarly, Mississippi’s infant death rate fell to 9.7 in 2004, but rose again sharply in 2005, to 11.4. Christina Glick, a Mississippi neonatologist and past president of the National Perinatal Association, told the New York Times April 22, “I don’t think the rise is a fluke, and it’s a disturbing trend, not only in Mississippi but throughout the Southeast.” North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama also saw increases.

While data is not yet available for 2006, public health experts have pointed out that the factors driving the increase in 2005—including legislation aimed at cutting social services, the lack of health insurance, poor maternal health, and lack of public health infrastructure in economically depressed areas—have only intensified in the period since.

Millions of low-income families there were dropped from social service programs after exhausting five-year Temporary Assistance for Needy Families limits or failing to meet tightened requirements. In fact, since Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act into law in 1996, the number of Americans receiving cash welfare assistance has fallen by 57 percent. Those that do receive assistance do so on a temporary basis and with strict minimum weekly work-hour requirements.

Especially hard hit by the work requirements were single mothers in persistent poverty regions, including the Deep South, where transportation and decent paying jobs are scarce. After losing benefits, many families simply do without some basic necessities.

These hardships are compounded by the aggressive dismantling of the Medicaid system at the federal and state levels. For example, between 2005 and 2006 Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour oversaw the disenrollment of 54,000 people from the state’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance programs. Some eligible pregnant women were also deterred from enrolling by new requirements, health advocates in Jackson told the New York Times.

But even with Medicaid coverage, lack of transportation, lack of childcare, and inflexible work schedules are formidable obstacles to meeting medical and social service appointments for low-income women. As a result, poor pregnant mothers are less likely to receive regular prenatal care, increasing health risks to their children. Federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau data indicate that babies born to mothers who receive no prenatal care are three times as likely to be low birth weight (less than five-and-a-half pounds), have a much higher risk of disability, and are five times more likely to die before the age of one.

Minority populations are especially vulnerable to infant death. Nationally in 2003, the black population suffered infant mortality rates nearly two-and-a-half times that of non-Hispanic whites, and black infants were more than four times as likely to die from complications of low birth weight. Mississippi and Louisiana have the largest black populations as a percentage of their total population, and are among the poorest states in the nation, both in terms of per capita income and federal funding.

Yet nationwide, poverty is expanding into regions previously considered to be economically thriving and stable, and increasing in every area. While poverty remains most concentrated in urban centers, the growing poverty rate in suburban areas surrounding cities is also growing, as documented by the Census Bureau’s annual population survey.

Significantly, 2006 marked the first time that the suburban poverty population, some 12 million people, was more than the number of urban poor. An analysis by the Brookings Institution of the 100 largest US metropolitan areas—home to two-thirds of the population—found that over the past seven years, suburban poverty has grown at varying rates around major cities, in some places by 33 percent. The result is that, after hovering closely since 1999, the suburban poor now account for 52 percent of the total metropolitan poor.

An Invisible War

The New York Times
May 3, 2007

Paul Rieckhoff looked across the crowded restaurant, which was not far from Times Square.

“During World War II,” he said, “we could be in this place and there would be a guy sitting at that table who was in the war, or the bartender had been in the war. Everybody you saw would have had a stake in the war. But right now you could walk around New York for blocks and not find anybody who has been in Iraq.

“The president can say we’re a country at war all he wants. We’re not. The military is at war. And the military families are at war. Everybody else is shopping.”

Mr. Rieckhoff is an imposing six-foot-two-inch, 245-pound former infantry officer who joined the military after graduating from Amherst College. When he came home from a harrowing tour in Iraq in 2004, he vowed to do what he could to serve the interests of the men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan but have never fully gotten the support they deserve from the government or the public at large.

He wrote a book, “Chasing Ghosts,” which is now out in paperback, and he formed a powerful veterans’ advocacy organization called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Mr. Rieckhoff is not bitter. He’s actually funny and quite engaging (and a good writer). But he has very little tolerance for the negligence and incompetence the government has shown in equipping the troops and fighting the war in Iraq, and he is frustrated by the short shrift that he feels the troops get from the media and the vast majority of Americans.

There’s a gigantic and extremely disturbing disconnect, he says, between the experiences of the men and women in uniform and the perspective of people here at home. “We have a very diverse membership in I.A.V.A.,” he said. “We’ve got Republicans and Democrats and everything in between. But one of the key things we all have in common is this frustration with the detachment that we see all around us, this idea that we’re at war and everybody else is watching ‘American Idol.’

“I think that’s one of the main reasons why so many guys want to go back to Iraq. They come home and feel like: ‘Man, I don’t fit in here. You know, I’m out of place.’ ” Even though there’s never been a clear statement of the military’s mission in Iraq, and the goals have shifted from month to month and year to year, the soldiers and marines who have been sent there have felt that they were carrying out an important task on behalf of the nation.

“It’s tough to have such a serious sense of commitment,” Mr. Rieckhoff said, “and then come home and see so many people focused on such frivolous things. So I think that frustration is serious and growing. And I’ll tell you the truth: I blame the president for that. One of the biggest criticisms of the president, and I hear this across the board, is that he hasn’t asked the American people to do anything.”

Mr. Rieckhoff is convinced that if the public heard more from the soldiers and marines who have actually experienced combat, including those who have been wounded and suffered emotional trauma, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be viewed more seriously. Part of the problem, he said, is that too many civilians have little or no understanding of what war is really like, and of the toll it takes beyond the obvious toll of the dead and wounded.

Among other things, there are family problems, drug and alcohol abuse, untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide — all directly attributable to service in a war zone. “Incredibly,” he writes in his book, “no government agency keeps track of the number of veterans who kill themselves after their service has ended — another sign of how little value is placed on veterans’ long-term well-being.”

I mentioned a young soldier I had interviewed in 2005 who worried that because he had killed three insurgents during a battle in Iraq he might not be “allowed into heaven.” The soldier wondered whether he had “done the right thing.”

Mr. Rieckhoff nodded. “Asking somebody to die for their country might not be the biggest thing you can ask,” he said. “Asking my guys to kill, on my orders — as an officer, that’s difficult. I’m telling that kid to squeeze that round off and take a man’s life. And then he’s got that baggage for the rest of his life. That’s what you have to live with.”

I signaled for the check and we left the restaurant. It was a beautiful, sunlit afternoon. New Yorkers were smiling and enjoying the spring weather. There was no sign of a war anywhere.

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