Saturday, October 06, 2007

Nobody Knows the Lynchings He’s Seen

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 7, 2007

WHAT'S the difference between a low-tech lynching and a high-tech lynching? A high-tech lynching brings a tenured job on the Supreme Court and a $1.5 million book deal. A low-tech lynching, not so much.

Pity Clarence Thomas. Done in by what he calls "left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony" — as he describes anyone who challenged his elevation to the court — he still claims to have suffered as much as African-Americans once victimized by "bigots in white robes." Since kicking off his book tour on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, he has been whining all the way to the bank, often abetted by a press claque as fawning as his No. 1 fan, Rush Limbaugh.

We are always at a crossroads with race in America, and so here we are again. The rollout of Justice Thomas's memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," is not happening in a vacuum. It follows a Supreme Court decision (which he abetted) outlawing voluntary school desegregation plans in two American cities. It follows yet another vote by the Senate to deny true Congressional representation to the majority black District of Columbia. It follows the decision by the leading Republican presidential candidates to snub a debate at a historically black college as well as the re-emergence of a low-tech lynching noose in Jena, La.

Perhaps most significant of all, Mr. Thomas's woe-is-me tour unfolds against the backdrop of the presidential campaign of an African-American whose political lexicon does not include martyrdom or rage. "My Grandfather's Son" may consciously or not echo the title of Barack Obama's memoir of genealogy and race, "Dreams From My Father," but it might as well be written in another tongue.

It's useful to watch Mr. Thomas at this moment, 16 years after his riveting confirmation circus. He is a barometer of what has and has not changed since then because he hasn't changed at all. He still preaches against black self-pity even as he hyperbolically tries to cast his Senate cross-examination by Joe Biden as tantamount to the Ku Klux Klan assassination of Medgar Evers. He still denies that he is the beneficiary of the very race-based preferences he deplores. He still has a dubious relationship with the whole truth and nothing but, and not merely in the matter of Anita Hill.

This could be seen most vividly on "60 Minutes," when he revisited a parable about the evils of affirmative action that is also a centerpiece of his memoir: his anger about the "tainted" degree he received from Yale Law School. In Mr. Thomas's account, he stuck a 15-cent price sticker on his diploma after potential employers refused to hire him. By his reckoning, a Yale Law graduate admitted through affirmative action, as he was, would automatically be judged inferior to whites with the same degree. The "60 Minutes" correspondent, Steve Kroft, maintained that Mr. Thomas had no choice but to settle for a measly $10,000-a-year job (in 1974 dollars) in Missouri, working for the state's attorney general, John Danforth.

What "60 Minutes" didn't say was that the post was substantial — an assistant attorney general — and that Mr. Danforth was himself a Yale Law graduate. As Mr. Danforth told the story during the 1991 confirmation hearings and in his own book last year, he traveled to New Haven to recruit Mr. Thomas when he was still a third-year law student. That would be before he even received that supposedly worthless degree. Had it not been for Yale taking a chance on him in the first place, in other words, Mr. Thomas would never have had the opportunity to work the Yalie network to jump-start his career and to ascend to the Supreme Court. Mr. Danforth, a senator in 1991, was the prime mover in shepherding the Thomas nomination to its successful conclusion.

Bill O'Reilly may have deemed the "60 Minutes" piece "excellent," but others spotted the holes. Marc Morial, the former New Orleans mayor who now directs the National Urban League, told Tavis Smiley on PBS that it was "as though Justice Thomas's public relations firm edited the piece." On CNN, Jeffrey Toobin, the author of the new best-seller about the court, "The Nine," said that it was "real unfair" for "60 Minutes" not to include a response from Ms. Hill, who was slimed on camera by Mr. Thomas as "not the demure, religious, conservative person" she said she was.

Ms. Hill, who once taught at Oral Roberts University and is now a professor at Brandeis, told me last week that CBS News was the only one of the three broadcast news divisions that did not seek her reaction to the latest Thomas salvos. Mr. Kroft told me that there were no preconditions placed on him by either Mr. Thomas or his publisher. "Our story wasn't about Anita Hill," he said. "Our story was about Clarence Thomas."

In any event, the piece no more challenged Mr. Thomas's ideas than it did his insinuations about Ms. Hill. As Mr. Smiley and Cornel West noted on PBS, "60 Minutes" showed an old clip of Al Sharpton at an anti-Thomas rally rather than give voice to any of the African-American legal critics of Justice Thomas's 300-plus case record on the court. In 2007, no less than in 1991, a clownish Sharpton clip remains the one-size-fits-all default representation of black protest favored by too many white journalists.

The free pass CBS gave Mr. Thomas wouldn't matter were he just another celebrity "get" hawking a book. Unfortunately, there's the little matter of all that public policy he can shape — more so than ever now that John Roberts and Samuel Alito have joined him as colleagues. Indeed, Justice Thomas, elevated by Bush 41, was the crucial building block in what will probably prove the most enduring legacy of Bush 43, a radical Supreme Court. The "compassionate conservative" who turned the 2000 G.O.P. convention into a minstrel show to prove his love of diversity will exit the political stage as the man who tilted American jurisprudence against Brown v. Board of Education. He leaves no black Republican behind him in either the House or Senate.

While actuarial tables promise a long-lived Bush court, the good news is that the polarizing racial politics exemplified by the president and Mr. Thomas is on the wane elsewhere. Fittingly, the book tour for "My Grandfather's Son" began just as word of Harry Dent's death arrived from South Carolina last weekend. An aide to Strom Thurmond and then to Richard Nixon, Mr. Dent was the architect of the "Southern strategy" that exploited white backlash against the civil-rights movement to turn the South into a Republican stronghold.

Mr. Dent recanted years later, telling The Washington Post when he retired from politics in 1981 that he was sorry he had "stood in the way of rights of black people." His peers and successors have been less chastened. One former Nixon White House colleague, Pat Buchanan, said on "Meet the Press" last weekend that it was no big deal for Republican candidates to skip a debate before an African-American audience because blacks make up only about 10 percent of the voting public and Republicans only get about a tenth of that anyway. It didn't occur to Mr. Buchanan that in 21st-century America many white voters are also offended by politicians who snub black Americans — whether at a campaign debate or in the rubble of Hurricane Katrina.

Republicans who play the race card may find that it has an expiration date even in the South. In 2000, Mr. Bush could speak at Bob Jones University when it still forbade interracial dating among its students, and John McCain could be tarred as the father of an illegitimate black child in the South Carolina primary. No more. Just ask the former Senator George Allen, the once invincible Republican prince of Virginia, whose career ended in 2006 after his use of a single racial slur.

Mr. Thomas seems ignorant of this changing America. He can never see past his enemies' list, which in his book expands beyond his political foes, Yale and the press to "elite white women" and "paternalistic big-city whites" and "light-skinned blacks." (He does include a warm mention of Mr. Thurmond, a supporter in 1991, without mentioning that the senator hid away a child fathered with a black maid.) Always eager to cast himself as a lynching victim, Mr. Thomas is far more trapped in the past than the 1960s civil-rights orthodoxy he relentlessly demonizes.

The only way he can live with his various hypocrisies, it seems, is to claim that he's the rare honest, politically incorrect black man who has the guts to tell African-Americans what no other black leader will. Thus he asserted to a compliant Jan Crawford Greenburg of ABC News last week that everyone except him tiptoes around talk of intraracial crime and out-of-wedlock births.

This will come as news to the millions of Americans who have heard Mr. Obama, among other African-American leaders whose words give the lie to this bogus claim. But the fact that America's highest court harbors a justice as full of unreconstructed racial bitterness as Clarence Thomas will prove more eye-opening still.

I Did Do It

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 7, 2007


O.K., folks, you want the truth?

The whole truth and nothing but?

After all this time, you’re still dying to see the mystery solved?

Fine. I did it. Everything A. said — let’s just use the initial because it’s still hard for me to speak the name of my victim and tormentor — was true.

I did what I had to do and I didn’t care if it ruined A.’s life. I didn’t even care if people thought it was obscene.

I knew I was misusing my position, but I enjoyed having that kind of raw power over A. and saying the things I said. It made me tingle all over. I’m not going to deny that.

The liberals have turned A. into an icon. Give me a break. We are talking about a world-class know-it-all — someone prissy, uptight and no fun.

Not the sort of person I’d like to tailgate with, listen to Marvin Gaye with, share Ripple or a Scotch and Drambuie or a blackberry brandy with — if I were still drinking.

Not the kind, like my wife, Ginny, I’d bring along on an expedition in my custom-made motor home — those idyllic times when I get away from the meanness in Washington. Can you imagine that stiff A. spending the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot or hanging at a truck stop?

The liberals championed A. because they wanted to keep abortion safe. They can’t stop reliving the historic face-off, reopening the wound, replaying that whole media circus, wishing it had come out the opposite way.

Ginny has her heart set on having my memoir reap redemption. A lot of journalists on A.’s side in the last round have come over to my side. They’ve even shown the lighter side of Clarence. My new friend, ABC’s Jan Crawford Greenburg, called me one of “the most complex, compelling, maligned and misunderstood figures in modern history.” And thank you, Steve Kroft. I never thought “60 Minutes” could be so sweet.

A. looks a lot different now — I’ve caught the TV interviews and op-ed opining — but the old self-righteousness is still there.

I have no apologies to make. When you’re born in a backwater shack in Pin Point, Ga.; when you grow up poor, cold and hungry; when you get a bellyful of racial slights and condescension; when you can’t get a job after graduation, even with a degree from Yale, because you’re competing with rich, white, well-connected guys who were legacies at Yale, that’s when the anger boils up in you.

Every Southern black who lived through Jim Crow knows the feeling. From the time I was a kid, when my white classmates made fun of me as “ABC” — “America’s Blackest Child” — the beast of rage against The Man has gnawed at my soul.

Your Yale law degree isn’t worth 15 cents when everyone assumes you got special treatment because of the color of your skin, when, really, it was the witless Wonder Bread elites who got special treatment because of the color of their daddy’s money.

I still have a 15-cent sticker on the frame of my law degree because it’s tainted. I keep it in the basement.

That’s why I refuse, as a justice, to give a helping hand to blacks. I don’t want them to suffer from the advantages I had. Few of them will be able to climb to my heights, of course, but if they do, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they made it on their own, as individuals.

Because Poppy Bush put me on the Supreme Court after I’d been a judge for only a year, I’ll always wonder if I got the job just because of my race. I want to spare other blacks that kind of worry. That’s why I pulled the ladder up after myself — so that my brothers and sisters would have the peace of mind that comes with self-reliance.

I used to have grave reservations about working at white institutions, subject to the whims of white superiors. But when Poppy’s whim was to crown his son — one of those privileged Yale legacy types I always resented — I had to repay The Man for putting me on the court even though I was neither qualified nor honest.

So I voted to shut down the vote-counting in Florida by A. — oh, I’ll just say it: Al — because if he’d kept going he might have won. I helped swing the court in case No. 00-949, Bush v. Gore, to narrowly achieve the Bush restoration.

I know it wasn’t what my hero Atticus Finch would have done. But having the power to carjack the presidency and control the fate of the country did give me that old X-rated tingle.

Al Gore’s true claims didn’t matter in that standoff any more than Anita Hill’s true claims did during my confirmation. That’s the beautiful thing about being a conservative. We don’t push for the truth. We push to win, praise the Lord.

It’s a relief to finally admit it: I’m proud to have hastened Al’s premature political death, hanging by hanging chads. It was, you might say, a low-tech lynching.

Charge It to My Kids

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 7, 2007

Every so often a quote comes out of the Bush administration that leaves you asking: Am I crazy or are they? I had one of those moments last week when Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, was asked about a proposal by some Congressional Democrats to levy a surtax to pay for the Iraq war, and she responded, “We’ve always known that Democrats seem to revert to type, and they are willing to raise taxes on just about anything.”

Yes, those silly Democrats. They’ll raise taxes for anything, even — get this — to pay for a war!

And if we did raise taxes to pay for our war to bring a measure of democracy to the Arab world, “does anyone seriously believe that the Democrats are going to end these new taxes that they’re asking the American people to pay at a time when it’s not necessary to pay them?” added Ms. Perino. “I just think it’s completely fiscally irresponsible.”

Friends, we are through the looking glass. It is now “fiscally irresponsible” to want to pay for a war with a tax. These democrats just don’t understand: the tooth fairy pays for wars. Of course she does — the tooth fairy leaves the money at the end of every month under Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s pillow. And what a big pillow it is! My God, what will the Democrats come up with next? Taxes to rebuild bridges or schools or high-speed rail or our lagging broadband networks? No, no, the tooth fairy covers all that. She borrows the money from China and leaves it under Paulson’s pillow.

Of course, we can pay for the Iraq war without a tax increase. The question is, can we pay for it and be making the investments in infrastructure, science and education needed to propel our country into the 21st century? Visit Singapore, Japan, Korea, China or parts of Europe today and you’ll discover that the infrastructure in our country is not keeping pace with our peers’.

We can pay for anything today if we want to stop investing in tomorrow. The president has already slashed the National Institutes of Health research funding the past two years. His 2008 budget wants us to cut money for vocational training, infrastructure and many student aid programs.

Does the Bush team really believe that if we had a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax — which could reduce our dependence on Middle East oil dictators, and reduce payroll taxes for low-income workers, pay down the deficit and fund the development of renewable energy — we would be worse off as a country?

Excuse me, Ms. Perino, but I wish Republicans would revert to type. I thought they were, well, conservatives — the kind of people who saved for rainy days, who invested in tomorrow for their kids, folks who didn’t believe in free lunches or free wars.

No wonder The Wall Street Journal had a story Tuesday headlined, “G.O.P. Is Losing Grip on Core Business Vote.” It noted that traditional fiscal conservatives were defecting from the G.O.P. “angered by the growth of government spending during the six years that Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.” And no wonder Alan Greenspan told The Journal: “The Republican Party, which ruled the House, the Senate and the presidency, I no longer recognize.”

Of course, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the Democrat David Obey, in proposing an Iraq war tax to help balance the budget was expressing his displeasure with the war. But he was also making a very important point when he said, “If this war is important enough to fight, then it ought to be important enough to pay for.”

The struggle against radical Islam is the fight of our generation. We all need to pitch in — not charge it on our children’s Visa cards. Previous American generations connected with our troops by making sacrifices at home — we’ve never passed on the entire cost of a war to the next generation, said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, who has written a history — “The Price of Liberty” — about how America has paid for its wars since 1776.

“In every major war we have fought in the 19th and 20th centuries,” said Mr. Hormats, “Americans have been asked to pay higher taxes — and nonessential programs have been cut — to support the military effort. Yet during this Iraq war, taxes have been lowered and domestic spending has climbed. In contrast to World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, for most Americans this conflict has entailed no economic sacrifice. The only people really sacrificing for this war are the troops and their families.”

In his celebrated Farewell Address, Mr. Hormats noted, George Washington warned against “ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burdens we ourselves ought to bear.”

Rudy Finds a New Topic

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 6, 2007


“Fiscal. Discipline.”

When Rudy Giuliani wants to make a point, he frequently opens his eyes very wide, eyebrows arched. The effect is eerily like Norma Desmond announcing that she’s ready for her close-up. He was in full Desmond mode this week in New Hampshire, explaining why he should be the next president of the United States.

People who live in New York tend to be a little stunned by the fact that their former mayor is the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Honestly, people, we thought you would have gotten over it by now. That the pictures of him in drag as Rudy/Rudina would have been enough all by themselves. Yet here he is, the leader of the pack. Obviously, the fishnet stockings went over better in South Carolina than we had anticipated.

To his credit, sort of, Giuliani has finally figured out that he cannot simply keep muttering “9/11 ... 9/11 ... 9/11” until February. The trick is finding something else Republicans are interested in, something that he has agreed with them about for more than six months. Which brings us back to: Fiscal. Discipline.

“New York City had government that was way out of control. I reduced the growth of government, and I reduced taxes 23 times,” he tells the voters.

When it comes to taking credit for reducing taxes, Giuliani has a fairly expansionist view. If it happened on his watch, it was his tax cut. If the tax in question happened to be a state tax, well — he urged it. Urging counts.

Giuliani does have bragging rights for coming into a liberal tax-and-spend government burdened with a huge deficit and balancing the budget. Unfortunately, his main opponent, Mitt Romney, has more or less the same résumé. (Amazing how the two most opposite human beings in the world can look so identical on paper.)

“Mayor Giuliani sued the Republican governor to keep in place the commuter tax! I lowered taxes on commuters!” Romney declared at a gathering this week. In response, Giuliani rolled out former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci to call Romney a desperate candidate and a wimpy tax cutter.

Giuliani’s tax-cutting record really is better than Romney’s. That is mainly because the mayor of New York has much more power to control budgets than the president, a governor or pretty much any chief executive this side of Vladimir Putin. (If the New York City Council was lost at sea, it would take months before anyone noticed.) The commuter tax had been imposed by the State Legislature a long time before, and any sane mayor would have fought to keep it. Only a politician like Rudy Giuliani, however, could create so much loathing that New York City legislators preferred losing the revenue for their own city to helping him out.

When Giuliani and Romney talk about what they would do with the federal budget, they differ in very typical ways. Romney has been mind-bogglingly vacuous. Right now he’s running ads bragging that he signed a No New Taxes pledge — a megapander that even Mitt in less desperate times admitted was a gimmick. Obviously, with no new taxes, something’s got to give, and Romney has been extremely unhelpful in explaining exactly what that should be. (“We’ve got to rein in spending!”)

Giuliani, ever the tough-talking warrior, promises he’ll only fill half of the federal civil service jobs that become empty due to retirement, an effort that would reduce the number of workers by close to 20 percent over two terms.

“I have a very, very strong view that the smaller we can make government, the more prosperous our economy is going to be,” he added. This is classic Rudy-rhetoric, which is heavy on the very-very. “When I was mayor of New York City, I worked very, very hard to reduce the size of government. I will do the same thing as president.”

The only problem is that this is never going to happen. To dramatically reduce the number of federal workers over the long run you’d have to eliminate something huge that Congress really likes. Not even Ronald (Holy Be His Name) Reagan did that. Giuliani worked very, very hard during his first term as mayor and cut city jobs by less than 10 percent. By the time his second term was over, many of them were back. Thanks to Bill Clinton, others were being paid with federal funds. The total size of the city’s work force was almost exactly the same as when Giuliani first took office. And partly thanks to the cost of contracting out other services, he left his successor with a budget deficit that was worse than when he started out.

So what do you prefer, American voter, the guy who has a bold plan for controlling spending that is never going to work, or the one who would not say anything specific if you waterboarded him?

Welcome to campaign 2008.

Send in the Clowns

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 6, 2007

It’s embarrassing.

The U.S. is going through a transitional period at least as important as the early post-World War II years. New worlds in energy, technology, the economy and global interdependence are either upon us or coming fast.

Yet much of the nation’s top leadership is either wasting its time on complete nonsense or trying with great determination to push us back to the era of top hat and tails.

Among other things, Republicans are trying to figure out what to do about Larry Craig, the loony senator from Idaho who got caught in a public toilet behaving as if he thought the promised land was just one stall away.

Democrats, unable to do anything about George W. Bush’s policy of eternal war in Iraq, found themselves reduced to fulminating in official Congressional proceedings about the latest wackiness from Rush Limbaugh.

Meanwhile, the president and his priceless band of can’t-get-it-right-wingers, are busy vetoing health insurance for children, dreaming up secret torture protocols, funneling lucrative federal contracts to friends and cronies and fulfilling their paramount mission — making the very rich richer.

So much for leadership.

The nation’s failure to deal constructively with the new realities of employment, education, health care, retirement and so on has taken a toll.

The Times’s David Leonhardt, in a column that ran in September, noted that when Americans think about their lives in relation to the past, they are very upbeat. Life for most Americans is better than it was for their parents and grandparents.

“But,” wrote Mr. Leonhardt, “when the discussion is about the future, the national mood darkens. In one typical poll from last year, only 34 percent of people said they expected today’s children to be better off than people are now, down from 55 percent when a similar question was asked in 1999.”

Americans have every reason to be concerned. A study released last spring showed that men who are now in their 30s earn less than their fathers’ generation did at the same age. The median income for men in their 30s in 1974, in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars, was $40,210. According to the study, which used Census figures compiled for 2004, those annual earnings had dropped to $35,010.

President Bush’s unconscionable veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program comes at a time when the number of uninsured children is rising and employer-based health insurance is going the way of rotary phones and carbon paper. That’s not neglect. That’s willfully doing harm to children.

In the first two or three decades after World War II, there was a broad sense of optimism, a strongly held belief, despite many crises, that Americans could achieve great things. Men and women of talent and vision gave us the Marshall Plan, the G.I. Bill, the interstate highway program, the Peace Corps, the space program, the civil rights movement and much more.

Where is the comparable vision for the early-21st century? Who is rallying America with the clarion call that we can do great things?

From the Republicans, we get the message that the most important thing to hold on to is fear itself. The terrorists are out to get us. From the Democrats, heavily armed with thermometers, barometers and windmills, comes the usual timidity. They behave as if their hearts would stop if they actually took a tough stand.

Meanwhile, there are many millions of Americans who are not doing well, and the nation is not addressing their plight. Thirty-seven million Americans, many of them children, are officially classified as poor. What is not widely known is that another 57 million are struggling just one notch above the poverty line. This is spelled out in a new book, “The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America,” by Katherine Newman and Victor Tan Chen.

Near-poor Americans live in households with annual incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 for a family of four. They work at jobs that are highly unstable and offer few if any benefits. Many of their children would qualify for insurance coverage under the S-chip program that the president so coldly vetoed on Wednesday.

No wonder so many Americans are turned off to politics.

One of the paramount challenges of the new era is the task of getting a legitimate four-year college degree into the hands of as many American young people as possible. A four-year degree has become a virtual prerequisite for a middle-class quality of life. The overall benefits to the country of such an explosive improvement in educational achievement are incalculable.

But at the moment, the geniuses running the country can’t even figure out how to cover the cost of keeping American children healthy. So we’ve got a way to go.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Conservatives Are Such Jokers

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 5, 2007

In 1960, John F. Kennedy, who had been shocked by the hunger he saw in West Virginia, made the fight against hunger a theme of his presidential campaign. After his election he created the modern food stamp program, which today helps millions of Americans get enough to eat.

But Ronald Reagan thought the issue of hunger in the world’s richest nation was nothing but a big joke. Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

Today’s leading conservatives are Reagan’s heirs. If you’re poor, if you don’t have health insurance, if you’re sick — well, they don’t think it’s a serious issue. In fact, they think it’s funny.

On Wednesday, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded S-chip, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health insurance to an estimated 3.8 million children who would otherwise lack coverage.

In anticipation of the veto, William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, had this to say: “First of all, whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it’s a good idea. I’m happy that the president’s willing to do something bad for the kids.” Heh-heh-heh.

Most conservatives are more careful than Mr. Kristol. They try to preserve the appearance that they really do care about those less fortunate than themselves. But the truth is that they aren’t bothered by the fact that almost nine million children in America lack health insurance. They don’t think it’s a problem.

“I mean, people have access to health care in America,” said Mr. Bush in July. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

And on the day of the veto, Mr. Bush dismissed the whole issue of uninsured children as a media myth. Referring to Medicaid spending — which fails to reach many children — he declared that “when they say, well, poor children aren’t being covered in America, if that’s what you’re hearing on your TV screens, I’m telling you there’s $35.5 billion worth of reasons not to believe that.”

It’s not just the poor who find their travails belittled and mocked. The sick receive the same treatment.

Before the last election, the actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s and has become an advocate for stem cell research that might lead to a cure, made an ad in support of Claire McCaskill, the Democratic candidate for Senator in Missouri. It was an effective ad, in part because Mr. Fox’s affliction was obvious.

And Rush Limbaugh — displaying the same style he exhibited in his recent claim that members of the military who oppose the Iraq war are “phony soldiers” and his later comparison of a wounded vet who criticized him for that remark to a suicide bomber — immediately accused Mr. Fox of faking it. “In this commercial, he is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking. And it’s purely an act.” Heh-heh-heh.

Of course, minimizing and mocking the suffering of others is a natural strategy for political figures who advocate lower taxes on the rich and less help for the poor and unlucky. But I believe that the lack of empathy shown by Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Kristol, and, yes, Mr. Bush is genuine, not feigned.

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that’s when he’s speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared “zero tolerance of people breaking the law,” even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren’t getting from his administration.

What’s happening, presumably, is that modern movement conservatism attracts a certain personality type. If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong. If you think ridicule is an appropriate response to other peoples’ woes, you fit right in.

And Republican disillusionment with Mr. Bush does not appear to signal any change in that regard. On the contrary, the leading candidates for the Republican nomination have gone out of their way to condemn “socialism,” which is G.O.P.-speak for any attempt to help the less fortunate.

So once again, if you’re poor or you’re sick or you don’t have health insurance, remember this: these people think your problems are funny.

The Republican Collapse

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 5, 2007

Modern conservatism begins with Edmund Burke. What Burke articulated was not an ideology or a creed, but a disposition, a reverence for tradition, a suspicion of radical change.

When conservatism came to America, it became creedal. Free market conservatives built a creed around freedom and capitalism. Religious conservatives built a creed around their conception of a transcendent order. Neoconservatives and others built a creed around the words of Lincoln and the founders.

Over the years, the voice of Burke has been submerged beneath the clamoring creeds. In fact, over the past few decades the conservative ideologies have been magnified, while the temperamental conservatism of Burke has been abandoned.

Over the past six years, the Republican Party has championed the spread of democracy in the Middle East. But the temperamental conservative is suspicious of rapid reform, believing that efforts to quickly transform anything will have, as Burke wrote “pleasing commencements” but “lamentable conclusions.”

The world is too complex, the Burkean conservative believes, for rapid reform. Existing arrangements contain latent functions that can be neither seen nor replaced by the reformer. The temperamental conservative prizes epistemological modesty, the awareness of the limitations on what we do and can know, what we can and cannot plan.

Over the past six years, the Bush administration has operated on the assumption that if you change the political institutions in Iraq, the society will follow. But the Burkean conservative believes that society is an organism; that custom, tradition and habit are the prime movers of that organism; and that successful government institutions grow gradually from each nation’s unique network of moral and social restraints.

Over the past few years, the vice president and the former attorney general have sought to expand executive power as much as possible in the name of protecting Americans from terror. But the temperamental conservative believes that power must always be clothed in constitutionalism. The dispositional conservative is often more interested in means than ends (the reverse of President Bush) and asks how power is divided before asking for what purpose it is used.

Over the past decade, religious conservatives within the G.O.P. have argued that social policies should be guided by the eternal truths of natural law and that questions about stem cell research and euthanasia should reflect the immutable sacredness of human life.

But temperamental conservatives are suspicious of the idea of settling issues on the basis of abstract truth. These kinds of conservatives hold that moral laws emerge through deliberation and practice and that if legislation is going to be passed that slows medical progress, it shouldn’t be on the basis of abstract theological orthodoxy.

Over the past four decades, free market conservatives within the Republican Party have put freedom at the center of their political philosophy. But the dispositional conservative puts legitimate authority at the center. So while recent conservative ideology sees government as a threat to freedom, the temperamental conservative believes government is like fire — useful when used legitimately, but dangerous when not.

Over the past few decades, the Republican Party has championed a series of reforms designed to devolve power to the individual, through tax cuts, private pensions and medical accounts. The temperamental conservative does not see a nation composed of individuals who should be given maximum liberty to make choices. Instead, the individual is a part of a social organism and thrives only within the attachments to family, community and nation that precede choice.

Therefore, the temperamental conservative values social cohesion alongside individual freedom and worries that too much individualism, too much segmentation, too much tension between races and groups will tear the underlying unity on which all else depends. Without unity, the police are regarded as alien powers, the country will fracture under the strain of war and the economy will be undermined by lack of social trust.

To put it bluntly, over the past several years, the G.O.P. has made ideological choices that offend conservatism’s Burkean roots. This may seem like an airy-fairy thing that does nothing more than provoke a few dissenting columns from William F. Buckley, George F. Will and Andrew Sullivan. But suburban, Midwestern and many business voters are dispositional conservatives more than creedal conservatives. They care about order, prudence and balanced budgets more than transformational leadership and perpetual tax cuts. It is among these groups that G.O.P. support is collapsing.

American conservatism will never be just dispositional conservatism. America is a creedal nation. But American conservatism is only successful when it’s in tension — when the ambition of its creeds is retrained by the caution of its Burkean roots.

Misleading Spin on Children’s Health

The New York Times
October 5, 2007

Trying to justify his ideologically driven veto of a bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, President Bush and his staff have fired a barrage of misinformation about this valuable program. Before the House votes on whether to override the veto, all members — especially those from Mr. Bush’s party who say they are concerned about millions of uninsured children — must look behind the rhetoric.

Mr. Bush stretched the truth considerably when he told an audience in Lancaster, Pa., that he has long been a strong supporter of the S-chip program. “I supported it as governor, and I support it as president of the United States,” he said. As governor of Texas, Mr. Bush fought — unsuccessfully — to restrict the state’s program to children with family incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level, well below the 200 percent allowed by federal law. As president, he is again trying to shrink the program for the entire country. His proposed five-year budget does not provide enough to continue enrollments at current levels, let alone cover millions of the uninsured.

Mr. Bush’s primary rationales for his veto tend to disintegrate when examined closely. He contends that he wants to refocus the program on the poor — those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. Yet the compromise bill approved by both houses would primarily benefit poorer children. It includes various prods and incentives to get states to enroll many more children who are below 200 percent of the poverty level, and projections suggest that a huge majority of children who would be enrolled in the expansion would come from this low-income group.

Perhaps the most eye-catching argument from the president is that the vetoed bill would have allowed S-chip to cover children in families earning $83,000 a year. That claim hangs on the extremely flimsy thread that New York — where insurance and living costs are higher than in many other parts of the country — has proposed extending the eligibility level to 400 percent of poverty, or $82,600 for a family of four. As far as most states are concerned, the bill would discourage covering such children, by allowing the enhanced S-chip match only up to 300 percent of the poverty level.

What’s driving much of the Republican response to the bill is the White House’s contention that expanding S-chip is “an incremental step toward the Democrats’ goal of a government-run health system.” The only word that conforms to reality here is “incremental.” S-chip is a tiny blip in the federal budget compared with Medicare and Medicaid, the giant government-financed health systems. House members need to think hard whether it is worth denying coverage to millions of uninsured children just to keep the blip a little smaller.

The bill primarily reflects a Senate version that was drafted with great care by key members of both parties. It embodies principles that would normally appeal to many conservatives. S-chip is not an entitlement program like Medicare or Medicaid. Instead, it provides block grants to the states, which can curtail enrollment if funds run out. Nor is S-chip permanent. It will need to be reauthorized again in five years, at which time some future Congress and president will be free to have another slugfest. The White House declined overtures to join in consultations while the bill was being framed, according to Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican sponsor. Like so many other things that Mr. Bush has gotten disastrously wrong, he’d already made up his mind and had no interest in listening to others’ arguments.

Now it is up to Congress to show Mr. Bush that such blind partisanship will not be rewarded. For the sake of America’s children, lawmakers must override the veto.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sinking in a Swamp Full of Blackwater

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 3, 2007


“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster,” Nietzsche said. “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

We’re gazing into the abyss all right, and Blackwater is gazing back.

Besides having an army for hire, brave kids who are paid to fight so that most Americans are not personally touched by war, we have the real mercenaries. And they’re a spooky cadre, careening outside the laws of Iraq, the United States and the military.

President Bush continues to preach that we must defeat the “dark ideology” of extremists with “a more hopeful vision.”

But the compromises W. makes to slog on in Iraq, be it with warlords, dictators or out-of-control contractors, are spreading a dark stain on America’s image.

“Blackwater appears to have fostered a culture of shoot first and sometimes kill, and then ask the questions,” said Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, yesterday at a House hearing.

The Times reports today that Blackwater’s explanation of an incident in Baghdad on Sept. 16 that left 17 dead and 24 wounded is sketchy.

It seems as though a bullet struck an Iraqi man driving his mother to pick up his father, a pathologist, at the hospital. The dead man’s weight, The Times reports, “probably remained on the accelerator and propelled the car forward” toward a Blackwater convoy.

Blackwater guards then unleashed a spray of gunfire and explosives, even though witnesses did not see anyone shooting at the American convoy and even though Iraqis were turning their cars around and escaping the scene.

Newsweek quotes the Iraqi national police as saying that Blackwater vehicles “opened fire crazily and randomly, without any reason”

The Blackwater desperados are a sinister symbol of how little progress we’ve made in Iraq, that V.I.P.’s — or “packages,” as the contractors call them — can’t make a move in the country without the high-priced hired guns of the State Department.

Americans have been antimercenary since the British sent 30,000 German Hessians after George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

But W. outsourced his presidency to Cheney and Rummy, and Cheney and Rummy went to war on the cheap and outsourced large chunks of the Iraq occupation to Halliburton and Blackwater. The American taxpayer got gouged, and so did the American reputation.

The mercenaries inflame Iraqis even as Gen. David Petraeus tries to win their trust.

Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, summoned the 38-year-old crew-cut chairman of Blackwater, Erik Prince, to defend his private security company yesterday.

Once there was the military-industrial complex. Now we have the mercenary-evangelical complex.

Mr. Prince, a former intern to the first President Bush and a former Navy Seal, is from a well-to-do and well-connected Republican family from Michigan.

He and his father both have close ties to conservative Christian groups. His sister was a Pioneer for W., raising $100,000 in 2004, and Erik Prince has given more than $225,000 to Republicans.

Blackwater, in turn, has been the beneficiary of $1 billion in federal contracts, including a no-bid contract with the State Department worth hundreds of millions.

Mr. Waxman yesterday called the State Department “Blackwater’s enabler.” His committee staff summarized State Department reports revealing a cascade of Blackwater trouble.

“In a high-profile incident in December 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed the guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi. Within 36 hours after the shooting, the State Department had allowed Blackwater to transport the Blackwater contractor out of Iraq.”

The State Department chargé d’affaires “suggested a $250,000 payment to the guard’s family, but the Department’s Diplomatic Security Service said this was too much and could cause Iraqis to ‘try to get killed.’ ” In the end, they agreed on a $15,000 payment.

“The State Department took a similar approach,” the report stated, “upon receiving reports that Blackwater shooters killed an innocent Iraqi, except that in this case, the State Department requested only a $5,000 payment to ‘put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.’ ”

Mr. Prince was pressed by Representative Paul Hodes about the penalty paid by the Blackwater employee who, while drunk and off-duty at a Christmas party, killed the Iraqi guard.

The man was fired. And he had to pay his own airfare home and forfeit his bonuses, amounting to a loss of about $14,697 — slightly less than the amount paid to the family of the Iraqi he blew away.

The Bush administration's ties to Blackwater

Blamed in the deaths of Iraqi civilians, the private security firm has long ties to the White House and prominent Republicans, including Ken Starr.

By Ben Van Heuvelen
Oct. 02, 2007

When Blackwater contractors guarding a U.S. State Department convoy allegedly killed 11 unarmed Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16, it was only the latest in a series of controversial shooting incidents associated with the private security firm. Blackwater has a reputation for being quick on the draw. Since 2005, the North Carolina-based company, which has about 1,000 contractors in Iraq, has reported 195 "escalation of force incidents"; in 163 of those cases Blackwater guns fired first. According to the New York Times, Blackwater guards were twice as likely as employees of two other firms protecting State Department personnel in Iraq to be involved in shooting incidents.

On Tuesday morning, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will hold a hearing on the U.S. military's use of private contractors. When Waxman announced plans for the hearing last week, the State Department directed Blackwater not to give any information or testimony without its signoff. After a public spat between Rep. Waxman and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the State Department relented. Blackwater CEO and founder Erik Prince is now scheduled to testify at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

But the attempt to shield Prince was apparently not the first time State had protected Blackwater. A report issued by Waxman on Monday alleges that State helped Blackwater cover up Iraqi fatalities. In December 2006, State arranged for the company to pay $15,000 to the family of an Iraqi guard who was shot and killed by a drunken Blackwater employee. In another shooting death, the payment was $5,000. As CNN reported Monday, the State Department also allowed a Blackwater employee to write State's initial "spot report" on the Sept. 16 shooting incident -- a report that did not mention civilian casualties and claimed contractors were responding to an insurgent attack on a convoy.

The ties between State and Blackwater are only part of a web of relationships that Blackwater has maintained with the Bush administration and with prominent Republicans. From 2001 to 2007, the firm has increased its annual federal contracts from less than $1 million to more than $500 million, all while employees passed through a turnstile between Blackwater and the administration, several leaving important posts in the Pentagon and the CIA to take jobs at the security company. Below is a list of some of Blackwater's luminaries with their professional -- and political -- résumés.

Erik Prince, founder and CEO: How did Blackwater go from a small corporation training local SWAT teams to a seemingly inseparable part of U.S. operations in Iraq? Good timing, and the connections of its CEO, may be the answer.

Prince, who founded Blackwater in 1996 but reportedly took a behind-the-scenes role in the company until after 9/11, has connections to the Republican Party in his blood. His late father, auto-parts magnate Edgar Prince, was instrumental in the creation of the Family Research Council, one of the right-wing Christian groups most influential with the George W. Bush administration. At his funeral in 1995, he was eulogized by two stalwarts of the Christian conservative movement, James Dobson and Gary Bauer. Edgar Prince's widow, Elsa, who remarried after her husband's death, has served on the boards of the FRC and another influential Christian-right organization, Dobson's Focus on the Family. She currently runs the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, where, according to IRS filings, her son Erik is a vice president. The foundation has given lavishly to some of the marquee names of the Christian right. Between July 2003 and July 2006, the foundation gave at least $670,000 to the FRC and $531,000 to Focus on the Family.

Both Edgar and Elsa have been affiliated with the Council for National Policy, the secretive Christian conservative organization whose meetings have been attended by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer, and whose membership is rumored to include Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Dobson. The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation gave the CNP $80,000 between July 2003 and July 2006.

The former Betsy Prince -- Edgar and Elsa's daughter, Erik's sister -- married into the DeVos family, one of the country's biggest donors to Republican and conservative causes. ("I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party," Betsy DeVos wrote in a 1997 Op-Ed in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.) She chaired the Michigan Republican Party from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2003 to 2005, and her husband, Dick, ran as the Republican candidate for Michigan governor in 2006.

Erik Prince himself is no slouch when it comes to giving to Republicans and cultivating relationships with important conservatives. He and his first and second wives have donated roughly $300,000 to Republican candidates and political action committees. Through his Freiheit Foundation, he also gave $500,000 to Prison Fellowship Ministries, run by former Nixon official Charles Colson, in 2000. In the same year, he contributed $30,000 to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. During college, he interned in George H.W. Bush's White House, and also interned for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Rohrabacher and fellow California Republican Rep. John Doolittle have visited Blackwater's Moyock, N.C., compound, on a trip arranged by the Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying firm founded by former aides of then House Majority Leader Tom Delay. ASG partner Paul Behrends is a longtime associate of Prince's.

Prince's connections seem to have paid off for Blackwater. Robert Young Pelton, author of "Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror," has reported that one of Blackwater's earliest contracts in the national arena was a no-bid $5.4 million deal to provide security guards in Afghanistan, which came after Prince made a call to then CIA executive director Buzzy Krongard. What's more, Harper's Ken Silverstein has reported that Prince has a security pass for CIA headquarters and "meets with senior people" inside the CIA. But Prince's most important benefactor was fellow conservative Roman Catholic convert L. Paul Bremer, former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American occupation government in Iraq. In August 2003, Blackwater won a $27.7 million contract to provide personal security for Bremer. In charge of the Blackwater team guarding Bremer was Frank Gallagher, who had provided personal security for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when Bremer was managing director of Kissinger's consulting firm, Kissinger and Associates, in the 1990s.

By 2005, Blackwater was earning $353 million annually from federal contracts. Blackwater's benefits from government largess haven't ended with Iraq. The company was recently one of five awarded a Department of Defense counter-narcoterrorism contract that could reportedly be worth as much as $15 billion. Blackwater also became involved in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and profited handsomely. According to Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," Blackwater had made roughly $73 million for Katrina-related government work by June 2006, less than a year after the hurricane hit.

Joseph Schmitz, chief operating officer and general counsel: In 2002, President Bush nominated Schmitz to oversee and police the Pentagon's military contracts as the Defense Department's inspector general. Schmitz presided over the largest increase of military-contracting spending in history: As of 2005, 77 companies were awarded 149 "prime contracts" worth $42.1 billion, with hundreds of millions going to Blackwater. Unlike previous I.G.s, Schmitz reported directly to the secretary of defense -- a setup that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers objected to, given Schmitz's oversight responsibility. Schmitz even carried Rumsfeld's "12 principles" for the Pentagon in his lapel pocket. The first principle read, "Do nothing that could raise questions about the credibility of DoD."

Schmitz has many ties to the Republican Party establishment. His father, John G. Schmitz, was a two-term Republican congressman, and his brother, Patrick Schmitz, served as George H.W. Bush's deputy counsel from 1985 to 1993. Joseph himself worked as a special assistant to Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese.

Schmitz resigned in 2005 under mounting pressure from both Democratic and Republican senators, who accused him of interfering with criminal investigations into inappropriately awarded contracts, turning a blind eye to conflicts of interest and other failures of oversight. According to an October 2005 article in Time magazine, Schmitz showed the White House the results of his staff's multiyear investigation into a contract in which the Air Force leased air-refueling tankers from Boeing for more than it would have cost to buy them, then agreed to redact the names of senior White House staffers involved in the decision before sending the final report to Congress. Schmitz informed his staff on Aug. 26, 2005, that he was leaving the Pentagon; in September of that year, he went to work for Blackwater.

J. Cofer Black, vice chairman: Black spent most of his 28-year CIA career running covert operations in the Directorate of Operations, where he worked with Rob Richer (below). At the time of the 9/11 attacks, he was director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. There he was former CIA Director George Tenet's ace in the hole when it came to convincing Bush that the CIA should lead initial U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan after 9/11. Black is, according to published accounts, a man with a flair for the dramatic, the kind of briefer President Bush likes. In one briefing, according to several reports, Black told the president, "When we're through with [terrorists in Afghanistan], they will have flies walking across their eyeballs." (Black also ordered CIA field officer Gary Schroen to bring back Osama bin Laden's head packed in dry ice so Black could show it to Bush.) Black's Afghanistan presentation earned him "special access" to the White House, the Washington Post's Dana Priest reported in December 2005.

Black is also one of the more prominent faces associated with the Bush administration's interrogation and extraordinary rendition policies. In a famous moment, Black told Congress in 2002, "After 9/11, the gloves came off." And the group within the CIA responsible for extraordinary renditions -- operations in which covert agents grab terror suspects and take them to secret prison facilities for interrogations that would normally be prohibited as torture -- fell under Black at the CTC, Priest has reported.

Black later went to the State Department, where one of his roles was to begin coordinating security for the 2004 Olympics in Greece. In 2003, the State Department gave Blackwater a contract to train the Olympic security teams.

In 2004, Black left the State Department to join Blackwater, part of what Harper's Silverstein termed a "revolving door to Blackwater" from the CIA. In addition to his work with Blackwater and his own company, Total Intelligence Solutions, Black also recently joined the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, where he serves the Republican hopeful as senior advisor for counterterrorism and national security.

Rob Richer, vice president for intelligence: Richer was head of the CIA's Near East division -- and the agency's liaison with King Abdullah of Jordan -- from 1999 to 2004. In 2003, he briefed President Bush on the nascent Iraqi insurgency. In late 2004, he became the associate deputy director in the CIA's Directorate of Operations, making him the second-ranking official for clandestine operations. He left the agency for Blackwater in the fall of 2005, effectively taking the agency's relationship with Abdullah with him. The CIA had invested millions of dollars in training Jordan's intelligence services. There was an obvious quid pro quo: In exchange for the training, Jordan would share information. Jordan has now hired Blackwater's intelligence division -- headed by Richer -- to do its spy training instead. The CIA isn't happy, writes Silverstein: "People [at the agency] are pissed off," said Silverstein's source. "Abdullah still speaks with Richer regularly and he thinks that's the same thing as talking to us. He thinks Richer is still the man."

Fred Fielding, former outside counsel: After four Blackwater employees were tortured and killed in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, their families brought a wrongful-death lawsuit against Blackwater, charging that the company had not provided adequate arms, armor and backup. Blackwater feared that if it was found liable for its employees' deaths, a floodgate of future litigation could be opened. To fight the suit, Blackwater hired Fielding, the consummate Republican insider. Dan Callahan, a lawyer representing the families, told Salon he was shocked when he learned Fielding would be representing the company. "How the hell," Callahan says he wondered at the time, "did I draw Fred Fielding on this case?"

Fielding has had a long career as a lawyer to prominent Republicans. From 1970 to 1972, he was an associate White House counsel in the Nixon administration; from 1972 to 1974, he was present for the denouement of that administration as deputy White House counsel. Under President Reagan, he served as White House counsel from 1981 to 1986, where he was the boss of a young assistant counsel named John Roberts, now the chief justice of the United States. After the 2000 election, he served the current administration as transition counsel, and he also held a spot on the 9/11 Commission. In January 2007, Bush chose him as White House counsel.

Ken Starr, outside counsel: According to Callahan, Fielding represented Blackwater as outside counsel for about six months beginning in February 2005. After Fielding left the case, the law firm Greenberg Traurig, which was once home to Jack Abramoff and worked for George W. Bush in the Florida recount, represented Blackwater till October 2006. Blackwater then hired another high-profile lawyer with impeccable Republican credentials -- Ken Starr, now the dean of Pepperdine Law School in California. Starr was appointed to the federal bench by Reagan, was U.S. solicitor general under George H.W. Bush and was on Bush's shortlist to replace William Brennan on the Supreme Court. He is best known, however, as the independent counsel who investigated Bill Clinton. He revealed the intimate details of Clinton's affair with intern Monica Lewinsky in the infamous Starr Report and set in motion Clinton's impeachment by Congress.

Blackwater continues to assert that the state of North Carolina lacks jurisdiction in the wrongful-death lawsuit against the security firm. On Oct. 18, 2006, Starr petitioned Chief Justice Roberts on behalf of Blackwater, asserting that the company was "constitutionally immune" to the lawsuit. "If companies such as Blackwater must factor the defense costs of state tort lawsuits into [their] overall costs," argued Starr, "Blackwater will suffer irreparable harm." Roberts denied the petition on Oct. 24. In December, Starr filed a motion to bring the matter before the entire Supreme Court. The motion was denied in February.

Additional reporting by Tracee Herbaugh.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Scratchpad: Mon. 1 Oct. 2007

Actor Ron Silver says the Democrats are a bunch of pacifist pussies in the face of al-Qaeda and only Rudy Giuliani can save America. IOW -- more litanies of fear (the facts be damned) from chickenhawk Republicans &/or Republican Permanent Oil-War Camp collaborators.

Mr. Silver, you were once a reasonably good actor (e.g. Enemies: A Love Story) -- the Jewish Al Pacino-- but then what happened? The roles dry up? (Give a guy like that too many shekels and suddenly he’s a Rothschild!) Furthermore, do you know what facts are? If “the West” is truly in the Great Life & Death Struggle the big bad Republican warmongering profiteers should make their case, push for a 20 million man military draft and get serious. And like the neo-conservative historian Bernard Lewis said with regards to getting involved militarily in the Middle East: “Get tough or get out!”

From where does this fear truly emanate--from outside or from within the psyches of the fear-mongers themselves? And why?

It’s the Power Elite fearing for its own political-economic dominance. Fearing for their own lives. It’s all about the big apes trying to get the stupid little apes all riled up so they gladly run off to sacrifice themselves for the totem of the alleged “Free” Market--which of course supercedes Country or Democracy or the God &/or gods of Our Fathers. This same bunch tend to condemn and reject things like fact-based public education, news and information (unless their faction controls the content and flow).

The Ruling Class must be protected at all costs. They are an endangered species.


We’ve all heard it repeated: You can’t stop globalization.

Why not?

Such blanket statements-become-slogans are just more illusions.

Francis Fukuyama found that out after saying that history was over and liberal democracy and free markets had won.

John Ralston Saul has recently declared Globalization dead.

If history has any lesson to teach its this: The human capacity for self-deception is unlimited.

[Acknowledgement to a former history professor of mine.]

Of course, that cuts all ways.

Personally, I think there are all sorts of lessons, my favorite being: A lot of it is just a matter of luck.

“The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong but time and chance happens to them all…” Etcetera.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Scratchpad: Sun. 30 Sept. 2007

How many persons in the States of the Neo-Confederacy celebrate John Wilkes Booth’s Birthday?

Take a wild guess.

It’s just another thing they do but don’t talk about down in Dixie.


Slow news day? That’s good. You want things to move slow…and peaceful.

Trouble comes soon enough.


Supreme Court Justice David Souter hates computers. He doesn’t have a cell phone. He likes reading by natural light. However, he does drive a car, so…

A semi-Luddite? Anyway…it sure beats pubic-hair on coke cans jokes…


Bill Clinton said Kyoto or something like it wouldn’t hurt the US economy.

He believes it would spark a massive drive for the creation of alternative energy sources, storage and distribution requiring new jobs for millions of workers.

But don’t expect a bunch of Oil Men and their cronies who prefer War to Progress to push for such things. Or even think of such things. Unless they can somehow get a stranglehold on the Sun.

(Although it would still be a good idea to rescind NAFTA. And repeal Taft-Hartley.)


Ooops! Speak of the Devil…

A group representing some of the world’s leading banks will urge the United States and other industrial nations this week to move quickly to introduce a lightly regulated system for trading carbon emissions permits.

Permit-trading systems offer banks a potentially vast new business. For it to grow, leading economies — particularly the United States — will need to set limits on the quantities of greenhouse gases that can be released and to allow companies in other parts of the world to buy emissions permits.

“Where politicians opt to implement carbon constraints, then it should be cap-and-trade,” said Imtiaz Ahmad, head of emissions trading at Morgan Stanley in London and vice president of a lobbying group called International Carbon Investors and Services, which is being created to represent the banks.

The banking companies, which include Citigroup, Lehman Brothers Holdings and Morgan Stanley, are giving strong signs that Wall Street wants Washington to open the way to reduced emissions using a trading system based on the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement the United States did not ratify, rather than by enacting carbon taxes.


The idea of price caps has been floated by Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who has suggested a so-called safety valve provision to prevent the price of carbon trading from rising too high.

Carbon traders say emissions permits could become the world’s largest commodities market if developed economies agree to take part in second-phase Kyoto negotiations, to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in December.
[ Source: Banks Urging U.S. to Adopt the Trading of Emissions ]

Further comment: So things are changing. If not by one door then by another. Therefore…Pay attention…!


That jerk Tim Russert--in the spirit of the cynical all-White Male "journalist" political horse-race mentality-- referred to Barack Obama as a thoroughbred in the stable. I'm surprised the King Kong analogy hasn't been applied yet. (Please tell me there were no deliberate Don Imus-Bill O'Reillyesque undertones there?)

What really got me immediately was how everyone at the table with the exception of Tavis Smiley was perfectly comfortable with the tack of the conversation. (Of course, the omnipresent Patrick J. ‘I Never Met a Nazi War Criminal I Didn’t Like’ Buchanan is exempt from this criticism. Since being damnably rehabilitated the received wisdom on the subject matter is: “O well you know. It‘s just Pat…” Yeah…Just Pat…Your neighborhood friendly rightwing reactionary bigoted SOB…! )

I really wish the official unofficial Corporate Media Apparatchiks Club would raise the level of their commentary...or else just shut the hell up!

If time appears to be going backward that's because it is in the interests of the Dominant Class to keep some trends going in that direction. If you really remember, the retrogressive Reagan 80s were in many respects the Return or the Revenge of the 1950s.

Maybe John Carpenter's They Live isn't so far from the truth...

BTW--Can somebody please wake me when we get to the 21st century...? Thx


Blackwater mercenaries’ record of murder in Iraq

By Kate Randall
1 October 2007

In the aftermath of the bloody shooting incident in Baghdad on September 16 involving hired guards of Blackwater USA, more information is coming to light about the operations of this and similar mercenary outfits in Iraq.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry contends that as many as 20 Iraqis were killed and several dozens wounded in the massacre, and that the security contractors’ actions were unprovoked. To date, Blackwater has released no account of the incident, and has maintained that its guards fired in self-defense.

New details of the September 16 shootings and other violent incidents involving Blackwater demonstrate that the security firm has operated with impunity in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq, firing on unarmed civilians without provocation. US State Department reports, which likely underestimate violent incidents involving Blackwater, show that since the beginning of the year Blackwater guards have been deployed on 1,873 missions and have discharged weapons in the course of 56 of these.

Despite widespread outrage in the civilian population over the episode, and calls by the Iraqi government for the security firm to leave the country, armed Blackwater convoys continue to patrol through Baghdad, escorting American diplomats.

According to information provided to the New York Times by an American official who was briefed on a US investigation into the September 16 shooting, during the incident at least one guard continued to fire on civilians while others called on him to stop. At least one guard reportedly drew a weapon on another who would not stop shooting. A Blackwater spokesperson would not confirm any of these details.

The episode began at around 11:50 a.m., when diplomats with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) were meeting about a mile northwest of Nisour Square in a guarded compound.

A bomb exploded a few hundred yards from where the USAID diplomats were meeting. Instead of waiting 15-30 minutes for things to calm down, the customary practice, the Blackwater convoys began carrying the diplomats south, toward the Green Zone, which would take them through Nisour Square.

At least four sport utility vehicles operated by Blackwater stopped in lines of traffic that were entering the square from the south and west, and some armed guards exited their vehicles and took up positions.

At 12:08 p.m., at least one guard shot at the driver of a car approaching the square, killing the driver, who has not be identified. More shots were fired, killing a woman in the passenger seat—Mahisin Muhsin, a doctor—and the baby she was holding. A grenade or flare was then fired into the car, setting it on fire.

Traffic officer Ali Khalaf, who was on the scene, told Agence France-Presse that the Americans continued to shoot: “The Americans fired at everything that moved, with a machine gun and even with a grenade launcher. There was panic. Everyone tried to flee. Vehicles tried to make U-turns to escape. There were dead bodies and wounded people everywhere. The road was full of blood. A bus was also hit and several of its occupants were wounded.”

He added that two small black helicopters hovering overhead swept down and sprayed the scene with machine-gun fire.

One of those killed was Ghania Hussein, a mother of eight, who was riding in a bus towards the square with her daughter Afrah Sattar. As the Blackwater guards turned toward the bus, Sattar cried out, “They’re going to shoot at us, Mama.” Moments later a bullet pierced her mother’s skull and she was dead.

“They are killers,” Attar said of the Blackwater guards. “I swear to God, not one bullet was shot at them. Why did they shoot us? My mother didn’t carry a weapon.”

In the wake of the September 16 massacre, numerous US investigations into the incident as well as the activities of Blackwater and other security firms have been launched. While these investigations are an effort at damage control, they also reflect tensions over the operations of the hired mercenaries—both between the US military and the State Department, and between the Bush administration and the puppet Iraqi regime.

A joint American-Iraqi inquiry was set up by the American Embassy and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense following the shootings, comprised of five State Department officials, three US military officials and eight Iraqis. While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had originally said Blackwater should immediately leave Iraq, he backed down and agreed to await the inquiry’s findings. As of last Saturday, the commission had yet to meet and had not responded to Iraqi government requests for information.

Last Friday, the US State Department announced it was sending a team to Iraq to evaluate security measures used to guard US diplomats. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, has not taken action to change any policies in regard to the 842 Blackwater guards working for the department. The State Department continues to defend the security firm, saying the guards were ambushed in Nisour Square and reacted appropriately.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte claimed the State Department exercised “close in-country supervision” of Blackwater. “I personally was grateful for the presence of my Blackwater security detail, largely comprised of ex-Special Forces and other military, when I served as ambassador to Iraq,” he said.

The State Department is under pressure from the Iraqi government to investigate seven incidents involving Blackwater since the beginning of the year, and department officials say their review will consider five of them.

The Iraqi government has threatened to try the Blackwater guards under Iraqi law and is considering legislation that would bring the supervision of private contractors under its control. This is unlikely as, under provisions put in place by the US following the 2003 invasion, US military and foreign contractors are immune from prosecution under Iraqi law.

One of the incidents the Maliki government wants investigated took place September 9, a week before the latest Blackwater shootings. Batoul Mohammed Ali Hussein, a clerk in the Iraqi customs office in Diyala province, had come to Baghdad for the day in connection with paperwork at the central office near the fortified Green Zone.

According to an account in the Seattle Times, as she walked out of the customs building a US Embassy convoy under Blackwater protection was passing through. When the guards ordered construction workers to move back, the workers responded by throwing rocks. Witnesses said the guards then sprayed the intersection with bullets.

“Hussein, on the opposite side of the street from the construction site, fell to the ground, shot in the leg. As she struggled to her feet and took a step, eyewitnesses said, a Blackwater security guard shot her multiple times. She died on the spot,” the Seattle Times reported. “Before the shooting stopped, four other people were killed in the beginning of eight days of violence.”

Three days later, Blackwater guards were back in Al-Khilani Square terrorizing Baghdad residents and hurling frozen bottles of water into windshields and store windows.

Another incident involved a shooting last Christmas eve of an Iraqi guard for the Iraqi vice president by a drunken Blackwater contractor, who was whisked out of the country after the killing, infuriating the Iraqi government. While this killing is being investigated by the US Justice Department, it is unclear what laws will be applied as the crime occurred overseas.

As Iraqi anger mounts to the bloody death toll and unprovoked violence by security contractors, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has sent a five-man team to Iraq to investigate relations between US military forces and these private firms. The actions of these hired mercenaries are focusing new attention on the crimes of the US occupation and on the growing debacle in Iraq.

Last week, Gates’s top deputy sent a three-page directive to senior Pentagon officers ordering them to review rules governing contractors’ use of arms and to reportedly begin legal proceedings against those who have violated military law. In a copy of the directive obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Dep. Defense Secretary Gordon R. England wrote, “Commanders have UCMJ [US Uniform Code of Military Justice] authority to disarm, apprehend and detain DoD [Department of Defense] contractors suspected of having committed a felony offense” in violation of the rules for use of force.

This is the same Defense Department, is should be noted, that has refused to prosecute any high-ranking military officers in connection with the multiple atrocities in Iraq that have become public knowledge, from Abu Ghraib, to Haditha, to Mahmudiya, to Fallujah, etc. It is, moreover, well established that the “rules of engagement” promulgated by commanders in Iraq permit, if not encourage, the murder of Iraqi civilians.

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Bush administration’s request for an additional $189.3 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, Gates said, “My concern is whether there has been sufficient accountability and oversight in the region over the activities of these security companies.”

The defense secretary’s comments highlight tensions between the US military and the hired mercenaries of Blackwater USA and other security contractors operating in Iraq: US companies DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, and British-run Aegis Security and Erinys International. An estimated 20,000 to 48,000 armed contractors from at least 25 private security companies are currently operating in Iraq.

As a rule, these contractors earn far more than US military soldiers. Blackwater guards providing security to US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and other diplomats can earn as much as $1,000 a day, more than ten times the pay of the lowest paid American soldier and more than a four-star general.

Many come from backgrounds in the Navy Seals and the Army’s Delta Force, and flaunt a hunger for blood and violence and open distain for the civilian population. They drive at high speeds through Iraqi neighborhoods, leaning out of vehicles with leveled weapons, hurling obscenities at residents.

In a civil court case last month in Virginia against Triple Canopy, two former employees of the contractor testified that their supervisor—formerly from the military—shot randomly into two Iraqi civilian vehicles on the airport road in Baghdad, telling them he wanted to “kill somebody” before leaving for vacation. He denied it.

These mercenaries are part of the privatization of US military operations. When the US invaded Iraq in March 2003, they bought the largest force of private contractors ever deployed in modern warfare. While during the first Gulf War the ratio of troops to private contractors was about 60 to 1, in the current war in Iraq privately employed operatives outnumber US troops, with 180,000 contract personnel involved in both security and other tasks from more than 100 countries, compared to the official US military presence of 160,000 troops.

In the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, vast sums of money have been funneled into the pockets of Bush administration cronies and US multinational corporations. While US spending on mercenary and private contracting services is not readily available, some congressional estimates indicate that 40 cents of every dollar spent on the war goes to private contractors. An estimated $2 billion a week is spent on US operations in Iraq.

Multimillion- and billion-dollar profits are channeled to companies like Haliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney formerly served as CEO. In the early days of the war, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) was awarded a no-bid contract to extinguish oil well fires in Iraq estimated at tens of millions of dollars. KBR also has thousands of military contractors on the ground in Kuwait and Turkey as part of a government contract worth close to a billion dollars.

Blackwater USA has government contracts totaling at least $800 million, providing security to US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and other diplomats. Only recently, it was awarded a large State Department contract to provide helicopter services in Iraq.

Cofer Black, former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and former head of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, is Blackwater vice-chairman. Former CIA divisional head Robert Richer joined the company as vice president of intelligence in 2005.

The North Carolina-based company has trained more than 20,000 mercenaries ready to be deployed in wars around the world. Blackwater has also hired at least 60 Chilean commandos trained under the Pinochet dictatorship.

Under conditions of growing opposition to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has assembled a de facto shadow army of shock troops that can be used to wage this and other unpopular military ventures in the global “war on terror.” These mercenaries are not accountable to Congress, the US military or international laws governing war and war crimes.

The recent spate of violent killings carried out by the Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq must serve as a warning of the threat posed by a ruling elite that subordinates the interests of the vast majority of the population to its profits and imperialist adventures. These fascistic mercenary elements are being groomed to be thrown against workers and youth in the US who resist the escalating attacks on their living standards and democratic rights.

Enron’s Second Coming?

The New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist
October 1, 2007

In May 2005 NYSE Magazine featured an article titled “American Dream Builder” — a glowing profile of Angelo Mozilo, the chairman and C.E.O. of Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest mortgage lender. The article portrayed Mr. Mozilo as a heckuva guy — a man from a humble background determined to help other people, especially members of minority groups, achieve the American dream of homeownership.

The article didn’t mention one of Mr. Mozilo’s other distinguishing characteristics: the extraordinary size of his paychecks. Last year Mr. Mozilo was paid $142 million, making him the seventh-highest-paid chief executive in America.

These days, of course, Mr. Mozilo doesn’t look like such a wonderful guy, after all. Instead, he’s starting to bring back memories of other people who used to be praised not just as great businessmen but as great human beings — people like Enron’s Ken Lay and WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers.

So far, nobody has accused Mr. Mozilo of breaking the law. Still, what we’re learning from the housing mess is that the crisis of corporate governance, which made headlines in the early years of this decade, never went away.

At this point it appears that Mr. Mozilo achieved the rare feat of victimizing three distinct groups.

First were the borrowers. As The Times’s Gretchen Morgenson reported in August, Countrywide often led customers to “high-cost and sometimes unfavorable loans” that, among other things, generated “outsize fees to company affiliates providing services on the loans.”

Then there are the investors who bought those Countrywide mortgages directly or indirectly, in the form of financial instruments created by slicing and dicing claims on borrowers.

You can’t especially single out Countrywide for the failure of investors to realize how much risk they were taking on — that’s a failure with many fathers, including everyone from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, which were far too free with their AAA ratings, to Alan Greenspan, who assured us that while there might be a bit of “froth,” there was no national housing bubble.

But Countrywide made more questionable loans than anyone else — and its postbubble behavior does stand out. As Ms. Morgenson reported in yesterday’s Times, Countrywide seems peculiarly unwilling to work out deals that might let borrowers hold on to their homes — even when such a deal, by avoiding the costs of foreclosure, would actually work to the benefit of both sides.

Why block mutually beneficial deals? As the article points out, Countrywide can make money from the fees it charges on foreclosures, while the losses from mortgages that could have been saved, but weren’t, are borne by others.

Last but not least, since it may be the key to the whole story, is the victimization of Countrywide’s own stockholders.

Last year Mr. Mozilo’s huge compensation drew a protest from a group of shareholders including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Pension Plan. But the worst was yet to come.

In late 2006, even as Countrywide began using shareholders’ money to buy back its own stock at more than $40 a share — it’s now worth only $19 — Mr. Mozilo was selling. Between November 2006 and August 2007 — that is, during the months before investors fully realized the extent to which his company would be hurt by the subprime mortgage crisis — he unloaded $138 million worth of Countrywide’s stock.

Again, unless the stock sales lead to insider-trading charges, there’s nothing in this story that involves illegality. Still, how can it be that so soon after Enron, WorldCom and other scandals rocked the business world, we’re once again hearing about executives cashing in just before their companies are revealed as less successful than advertised? The answer, of course, is that we never dealt properly with those scandals.

Here’s what I wrote back in May 2003:

“Last summer it seemed, briefly, as if the torrent of scandals — and the revelations about how closely some of our politicians were tied to scandal-ridden companies — would bring about a public backlash against corporate malfeasance. But then the topic largely vanished from the news, driven out by reports about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and all that. And after the midterm elections, which put apologists for corporate insiders back in control of all the relevant Congressional committees, we might as well have had the sirens sound the all-clear.”

Sure enough, C.E.O. paychecks, which came partway back to earth in 2002, more than doubled between 2003 and 2006. And with those huge paychecks came renewed incentives for malfeasance. Once again, executives could become richer than Croesus by creating the illusion of success, even for a little while.

There is one big difference this time: the number of victims — misled borrowers, homeowners whose neighborhoods are being destroyed by foreclosures, investors who thought they were buying safe assets — is even larger.

Christian Conservatives Consider Third-Party Effort

By David D. Kirkpatrick
The New York Times
September 30, 2007

Alarmed at the chance that the Republican party might pick Rudolph Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate in an attempt to stop him.

The group making the threat, which came together Saturday in Salt Lake City during a break-away gathering during a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, includes Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps the most influential of the group, as well as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie and dozens of other politically-oriented conservative Christians, participants said. Almost everyone present expressed support for a written resolution that “if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third party candidate.”

The participants spoke on condition of anonymity because the both the Council for National Policy and the smaller meeting were secret, but they said members of the intend to publicize its resolution. These participants said the group chose the qualified term “consider” because they have not yet identified an alternative third party candidate, but the group was largely united in its plans to bolt the party if Mr. Giuliani became the candidate.

A revolt of Christian conservative leaders could be a significant setback to the Giuliani campaign because white evangelical Protestants make up a major portion of Republican primary voters. But the threat is risky for the credibility of the Christian conservative movement as well. Some of its usual grass-roots supporters could still choose to support even a pro-choice Republican like Mr. Giuliani, either because they dislike the Democratic nominee even more or because they are worried about war, terrorism and other issues.

In recent polls by the Pew Research Center, Mr. Giuliani has received a plurality of support from white evangelical Protestant voters despite a rising chorus of complaints from Christian conservative leaders about his liberal views on social issues and his unconventional family life. Some players in the movement not present at the meeting may be open to Mr. Giuliani as the lesser of two evils.

Rev. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network, for example, has provided relatively generous coverage to Mr. Giuliani and his campaign. Gary Bauer, a Christian conservative political advocate and a Republican primary candidate eight years ago, said that, speaking by phone to the meeting, he urged the group to proceed with caution. “I can’t think of a bigger disaster for social conservatives, defense conservatives, and economic conservatives than Hillary Clinton in the White House,” Mr. Bauer said.

Still, he added, “But I do believe there are certain core issues for the Republican Party—low taxes, strong defense and pro life— and if we nominate some who is hostile on one of those three thing it will blow up the GOP.”

For months, Christian conservatives have been escalating their warnings about the risk that nominating Mr. Giuliani could splinter the party. Dr. Dobson wrote a column declaring that he would waste his vote before casting it for either Mr. Giuliani or a Democrat who supports abortion rights like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Richard Land, the top public policy official of the Southern Baptist Convention, has said that nominating a Republican candidate who supports abortion rights would make white evangelical votes “a jump ball” between the Republicans and Democrats, with other issues taking the fore.

Many Democrats, including Senator Clinton, are doing their best to soften the edges of their support for abortion rights, emphasizing they favor policies that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

But participants in the group that endorsed the resolution said they reached their position hearing an assessment of the state of the Republican primary from Mr. Perkins, who acts as a point man in Washington for the movement. Mr. Perkins told them that Mr. Giuliani could plausibly win the primary if he carried Florida, which is also a state with many conservative Christian voters, and now was the best-chance to stop any momentum behind the campaign.

The Giuliani campaign had no comment on the discussion of a third-party candidate.

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