Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bush and the F-word in 2006

    Police State or Progressivism in 2007?

    "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - attributed to Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator

    "Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." - Hermann Goering, Hitler's propaganda chief

It's not overstating the case to say that 2007 could be make or break for US democracy.

The Bush administration's cutbacks and rollbacks in 2006 were so frequent and so egregious that many Americans stopped paying attention, gave up hope or else failed to see the onslaught as part of a larger pattern.

Which brings up the f-word.

In 2003, Laurence W. Britt wrote a seminal article comparing fascist regimes, such as Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, to life under Bush. While the term fascism has been widely overused (in August, Rumsfeld even accused war critics of "a new type of fascism") Britt's analysis eerily resonated back then and is worth a second look today.

This two-part series recaps Bush's record in 2006 under the framework of Britt's "fourteen common threads" of fascism and makes predictions for 2007.

***The examples below are more indicative than exhaustive; Project for an Old American Century has a comprehensive links page spanning Bush's presidency.

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

In July, Bush signed the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act so Americans could "express their patriotism here at home without burdensome restrictions."

What burdensome restrictions?

With similar fanfare, he issued a "proclamation" in October noting that patriotism "can help our children develop strength and character."

Less than two weeks later, he authorized the building of 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the US-Mexican border.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

Bush started off 2006 by weakening a new law banning the torture of prisoners. Soon after, the Army shut down a probe into Iraqi prisoner abuse, despite the fact that no Americans involved had even been questioned. In June, the Pentagon decided to strip the US Army Field Manual of Geneva Convention protections which ban "humiliating and degrading treatment." A Brooklyn federal judge ruled that non-US-citizens could be detained and indefinitely held on "the basis of religion, race or national origin."

Bush finally admitted to the existence of secret CIA prisons across the world in September, simultaneously calling for a resumption of military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay.

In October, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, handing Bush the power to identify American citizens as "unlawful enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely without charge. For good measure, the Act eliminated habeas corpus review for aliens and provided retroactive immunity in US courts for officials (such as Bush) who authorized the offending actions.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people's attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice-relentless propaganda and disinformation-were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite "spontaneous" acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and "terrorists." Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

In February, the United American Committee organized rallies across the country to fight so-called Islamofascism and to "unify all Americans behind a common goal and against an enemy that is seeking to destroy values we all hold dearly."

Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) stirred up anti-Muslim bigotry by writing his constituents: "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."

CNN host Glenn Beck got into the act by challenging Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress: "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." Rep. Goode also took a swipe at Ellison, by suggesting that without a tough stance on immigration "there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office." Goode failed to note that Ellison's ancestry in the US traces back over 260 years.

In December, the Inter Press News Agency reported: "Recent polls indicate that almost half of U.S. citizens have a negative perception of Islam and that one in four of those surveyed have 'extreme' anti-Muslim views ... a quarter of people here consistently believe stereotypes such as: 'Muslims value life less than other people' and 'The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred.'"

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

The administration's war spending for FY 2007 is expected to reach $170 billion, with roughly $7 billion per month in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. That has meant cuts to domestic social and development programs.

Bush's proposed FY 2007 budget, for example, slashed funding for a full 141 programs, ranging from educational grants to maternal/child health services to rural fire assistance. The same budget requested $6.4 billion for nuclear "weapons activities."

The line between war and entertainment blurred further in 2006, with three separate military television channels (The Military Channel, the Military History Channel and the Pentagon Channel) beaming 24/7 into millions of Americans' homes. In August, the Army revealed plans to build a 125-acre military theme park, designed to help armchair warriors "command the latest M-1 tank, feel the rush of a paratrooper freefall, fly a Cobra Gunship or defend your B-17 as a waist gunner."

5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

In January, the stridently anti-abortion Samuel Alito was confirmed to the US Supreme Court. Alito had previously argued that the strip-search of a mother and ten-year old girl without a warrant was constitutional.

The following month, the Supreme Court ended an injunction protecting abortion clinics across the country and agreed to reconsider a ban on certain abortion procedures.

In 2005, Bush appointed a veterinarian to handle women's health issues at the FDA, and in 2006, he tapped Eric Keroack for the Health and Human Services Department. Keroack opposes contraception, has described premarital sex as "modern germ warfare," and espouses the bizarre, unscientific belief that casual sex depletes "bonding" hormones, yet is now heading family planning programs for the whole nation.

The National Security Department revised its guidelines regarding access to classified government information in 2006 so that "sexual orientation of the individual" more strongly impacted the granting of security clearances. The Pentagon also admitted to spying on groups opposed to the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.

6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes' excesses.

Tony Snow, an anchor from the slavishly pro-Bush Fox News, became White House Press Secretary. Fox continued featuring propagandist on-screen text, including:

"Attacking Capitalism: Have Dems Declared War on America?"

"Is the Democratic Party Soft on Terror?"

"Dems Helping the Enemy?"

"Is the Liberal Media Helping to Fuel Terror?"

ABC did its pro-Bush part by running a factually-inaccurate miniseries shifting blame for the 9/11 attacks towards Bill Clinton. Intriguingly, an ABC investigative journalist had reported months earlier that the Bush administration was tracking his phone calls to identify confidential sources.

In February 2006, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Bush administration was spending more than a billion dollars each year on PR to promote its dubious policies.

The FCC soon began investigating the administration's fake news reports, but that didn't stop the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from issuing taxpayer-funded misinformation criticizing the global-warming film, An Inconvenient Truth.

In August, the US military offered a $20 million public relations contract to sanitize the carnage in Iraq. Months later, a Pentagon self-assessment unsurprisingly found that the military's propaganda program in Iraq was, in fact, legal.

Thanks to Bush's partisan appointments, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (mandated to prevent political interference in public broadcasting) is now run by: CEO Patricia S. Harrison, former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee; Chairperson Cheryl Halpern, a Republican fund-raiser; and Gay Hart Gaines, an interior designer "long active in Republican Party affairs ... a trustee of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, and a board member and president of the Palm Beach Republican Club."

A recently-declassified Pentagon document entitled "Information Operations Roadmap" states that the Defense Department will "'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system." The document also notes that US forces should be able to "disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum."

Meanwhile, domestic net neutrality remains under threat.

7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting "national security," and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

Congress renewed the US Patriot Act in March, after a well-timed nerve agent scare on Capitol Hill. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Harry Reid and other prominent Democrats spoke of civil liberties yet voted for Patriot II.

Federal agents without warrants continued eavesdropping on the electronic communications of US citizens.

While under investigation in the Plamegate CIA leak case, Presidential advisor Karl Rove promised to turn terror into a congressional campaign issue. Schools in many states began conducting terrorism lockdown drills.

In October, Bush signed the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act, weakening the 200-year-old Insurrection Act and increasing the president's power to deploy troops domestically. According to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), the development "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law."

The Senate finished up 2006 by unanimously voting for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), an unwieldy bureaucracy charged with developing drugs and vaccines to deal with a domestic terrorist attack. BARDA is so secret it will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Other pending "biodefense" legislation not only mandates that US citizens take recommended vaccines or drugs during a "public health emergency affecting national security" but also indemnifies both the US government and biodefense manufacturers against any resulting injuries.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite's behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the "godless." A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

One perk of Bush's pandering to the religious right is the blind devotion he often receives in return. For example, the online Presidential Prayer Team had this "request" for December 28, 2006:

"Pray for President and Mrs. Bush as they spend the Christmas holiday at their Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, TX. Pray for the President as on December 28, he meets with the members of the National Security Council, including Vice President Cheney, Secretaries Rice and Gates, Gen. Peter Pace, Stephen Hadley, and J.D. Crouch ... As candidates continue to declare their intent to run for the presidency, pray for God's guiding of this process, asking Him for godly candidates and for a leader to be elected who will serve Him well."

Bush isn't above blurring the line between divine will and partisan politics himself. In proclaiming a National Day of Prayer this May, he noted: "May our Nation always have the humility to trust in the goodness of God's plans."

God's plans or Bush's plans?

The administration has also broken ground in providing government funding to religious groups - separation of church and state be damned. In FY 2005, for example, religious charities were awarded federal grants totaling $2.15 billion, a 7% increase over 2004. A full eleven federal agencies have now become part of Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program, most recently, the Homeland Security Department.

In February, the IRS reported widespread political activity violations by churches and charities, including using the pulpit to endorse candidates, distributing partisan material and making improper cash donations.


Look for the second half of "Bush and the F-word in 2006: Police State or Progressivism in 2007?"on Tuesday. Part II finishes reviewing Bush's record in 2006, makes predictions for 2007, and discusses how to ensure a more progressive future.

See you Tuesday -

Heather Wokusch is the author of The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now series (listen to Heather's recent interviews on the books with Talk Nation Radio's Dori Smith). Heather can be contacted via her site

Note: Originally published: December 30, 2006

Sen. Kennedy: US Has "Clear Obligation To Stop Ignoring" Iraqi Refugee Crisis


Proud to be an American? Imagine that.

The Criminality of the State


We Can't Ignore Iraq's Refugees

By Edward M. Kennedy
Saturday, December 30, 2006; A21

With the nation still at war in Iraq, each of us is deeply grateful to the brave men and women in our armed forces who celebrated the holidays this year with half their hearts at home and half in Iraq. But this year especially it is essential that we also reflect on another human cost of the war -- the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children who have fled their homes and often their country to escape the violence of a nation increasingly at war with itself.

The refugees are witnesses to the cruelty that stains our age, and they cannot be overlooked. America bears heavy responsibility for their plight. We have a clear obligation to stop ignoring it and help chart a sensible course to ease the refugee crisis. Time is not on our side. We must act quickly and effectively.

Today, within Iraq, 1.6 million people have already fled or been expelled from their homes. An additional 1.8 million, fleeing sectarian violence, kidnappings, extortion, death threats and carnage, have sought refuge in neighboring countries. At least 700,000 are in Jordan, 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Lebanon. Typically they are not living in refugee camps but have relocated in urban areas, where they must draw on their own meager resources to pay for food and shelter, and must depend on the good graces of the host governments.

The neighboring countries, in turn, are under enormous financial stress from the rapidly increasing needs of the refugees. In Jordan, they now make up more than 10 percent of the population -- the equivalent of 30 million people flooding America's shores. These countries are increasingly unable to meet the refugees' basic needs.

Borders are being closed to more and more of these men, women and children, with the result that many who are most in need or in danger are trapped in the Iraqi caldron of violence. As it continues to boil, the humanitarian crisis will only worsen.

The recent report of the Iraq Study Group rightly concluded that if this refugee situation "is not addressed, Iraq and the region could be further destabilized, and the humanitarian suffering could be severe." Sadly, as with so many other aspects of the Iraq war -- from the growing threat of the insurgency to the need to provide adequate armor for our troops -- the administration has failed to recognize the breadth of the crisis and to adjust our policy to address the plain facts on the ground.

There is an overwhelming need for temporary relief and permanent resettlement. Last year, however, America accepted only 202 Iraqi refugees, and next year we plan to accept approximately the same number. We and other nations of the world need to do far better.

Thousands of these refugees are fleeing because they have been affiliated in some way with the United States. Cooks, drivers and translators have been called traitors for cooperating with the United States. They know all too well that the fate of those who work with U.S. civilians or military forces can be sudden death. Yet, beyond a congressionally mandated program that accepts 50 Iraqi translators from Iraq and Afghanistan each year, the administration has done nothing to resettle brave Iraqis who provided assistance in some way to our military. This lack of conscience is fundamentally unfair. We need to do much more to help Iraqi refugees, especially those who have helped our troops.

Our nation is spending $8 billion a month to wage the war in Iraq. Yet to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the refugees who have fled the war, the State Department plans to spend only $20 million in the current fiscal year.

America needs to lead, but we cannot adequately respond to this overwhelming crisis alone. Because of the magnitude of the problem, we also need action by Iraq's neighbors and the rest of the world. An essential first step could be to hold an international conference on the issue -- ideally sponsored by the countries in the region and the United Nations -- to begin to deal with the growing number and needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons. The United States should participate in the conference and provide substantial support for the refugees. Doing so would encourage other nations to address the crisis, help the refugees and displaced persons, and assist the countries shouldering the greatest burden.

Working with Iraq's neighbors and the United Nations, we can encourage rapid action to relieve suffering and save lives. And a productive conference could lead in turn to broader discussions and greater progress on the future of Iraq.

Clearly, in the long term we need to work together to find a way to end the violence and stop the hemorrhaging of lives. In the short term, America needs to respond far more effectively to the needs of the millions of refugees and displaced persons who are suffering so much from the war. Failure to act quickly and cooperatively with other nations will only result in more carnage, chaos and instability in the region.

The writer is a Democratic senator from Massachusetts and incoming chairman of the Senate immigration, border security and refugee subcommittee.

Good Times Are For Hanging the Nigger

Robert Fisk" href="" target="_blank">A dictator created then destroyed by America
“If we ever pass out as a great nation we ought to put on our tombstone 'America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership'.” ---Will Rogers

Saddam was a bad, bad man. Like any nigger, he was bad because he beat down on other niggers without permission, and gassed them and raped them, all by his lonesome. Such is the power of his nigger muslim penis. That’s why it had to Be Destroyed. Did you have a good time, churchmouse, watching the slobber come out of his mouth, the blood run from his ass, did you listen to Toby Keith while his neck stretched? I hope you did. In the Good Old Days, you’d have had some fine Kentucky whiskey and fucked a White Woman in the public square, all by your lonesome, as the shit ran down his leg and the crowd broke into song. The flame from the torches would’ve made your flushed face seem more supernatural, more in touch with your God, more alive. But now you get to share your ecstasy with a million of your kind, and line-dance on his grave with your electronic boots, kickin it across the ether, for all them coolies to feel, even as their sorry towel-headed nonEnglish speaking asses can only receive, like a sorry bitch, and not send, in the medium of your creation, which spreads forth across this globe like Santorum from your mother/sister’s ass. You love watching them slurp it up, don’t you? Don’t you? That’s “entertainment. I’m sorry: “infotainment.” Get with the times, Dyke.

Is this an angry post? /Rummy voice/ Yes, yes it is. Is there something wrong with a nation of “freedoms” and “democracy” that celebrates death, makes it a video game, a holiday event for the children to enjoy? Hell yes.

Don’t think some of us don’t know what this is. It isn’t the Rule of Law. It isn’t “justice” for the victims of the Baath regime. Oh, I’m sorry- did you fail to notice them shooting and getting shot at, daily? Civil War, bitches. Not like you care now. Or: River is posting again. I’m not too angry to link. Just turn up the music, kick back and relax, and know that you don’t live in a Civilized Nation. That’s what you want, and like best, right? Else why would you pay these motherfuckers the millions they make, while perfectly fecund white children starve in the hinterlands of your own nation, the better to ring in the new year of imperialism, with the public humilation of the Great Satan of your own making? That’s what “news” is all about, no? Will Rummy cry over the death of his handshaking buddy? Will KBR be sorry they can’t do business with him anymore? Will the Western, taxpayer supported research MIC companies that sold him poison gas look for a new brown man who’ll test their latest product? Can I make this into a Scrabble post? Perhaps there’s an option on “World of Warcraft” that’ll fit.

Saddam’s last foetid, murderous, CIA-empowered breath blew stank into my addled mind. It asks, rolling over my tongue like filth slopping over a hog’s trough: Will you ever turn it off? Here. I have a kitten, and some children. And some tar. Let me see if I can entertain you now. I already have the matches.

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Hanging Saddam

Dec 30, 2006

By Mike Whitney

“There’s no way to describe the loss we’ve experienced with this war and occupation. There is no compensation for the dense, black cloud of fear that hangs over the head of every Iraqi. Fear of the Americans in their tanks, fear of the police patrols in the black bandanas, fear of the Iraqi soldiers wearing their black masks at the checkpoints.” Riverbend; blogs from Baghdad

The execution of Saddam Hussein is another grim chapter in the catalogue of war crimes perpetrated against the Iraqi people. It is a gratuitous act of barbarism devoid of justice.

What right does Bush have to kill Saddam? What right does the author of Abu Ghraib, Falluja, Haditha and countless other atrocities have to pass judgment on the former leader of a nation which posed no threat to the United States?

Let’s be clear, the lowliest, most ruthless Iraqi has more right to rule Iraq than the most upright American. That’s what’s meant by “self determination”. When we honor “self rule” we avoid bloody interventions like the invasion of Iraq.

Bush believes that killing Saddam will achieve the “closure” which has eluded him through 4 years of occupation. But he is mistaken. Saddam’s death will only eliminate any opportunity for a political solution. Reconciliation will be impossible and Saddam will die as a hero.

Is that what Bush wants?

Or does Bush really know what he wants? Perhaps, he is just a war-mongering psychopath completely disconnected from reality.

Capital punishment is a moral evil. The state never has the right to kill its own people regardless of their crimes; Saddam is no exception. But the premeditated murder of Saddam is particularly appalling, because it is stupid as well as unjust. It cuts off dialogue with the very people (the Ba’athist-led resistance) who need to be entered into the political process to achieve normalization. Bush is destroying his last chance for a negotiated settlement and paving the way for America’s total defeat.

It’s complete madness.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, told the Times Online that “the deposed president could be hanged ‘within hours’” and that his death sentence would be executed by Saturday at the latest.

Munir Haddad, the presiding judge on the appeals court, said, “All the measures have been done. There is no reason for delays.”

Plans are already underway to film the entire event.

It’s impossible to imagine a more fitting summary of 6 years of Bush rule than video-footage of Saddam’s limp figure dangling at the end of a rope. The pictures will no doubt replace the iconic photos of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner who appeared in headlines across the world.

The United States will pay a heavy price for Bush’s savagery. The war is already going badly and this latest travesty will only quicken America’s inevitable withdrawal.

America has become a moral swamp, its leaders incapable of wisdom or mercy. Hanging Saddam only adds to our mutual disgrace and exposes the real face of American justice.

Where Were the Mass Graves?

The execution of Saddam Hussein

Cenk Uygur


As I watched nonstop coverage of Saddam's Death Watch, I was told over and over that this was a heinous mass murderer. There were mass graves. That up to 300,000 people were killed during his reign.

Then they told us what he was actually convicted for -- 148 dead in Dujail. That's a terrible crime.

But there's at least that amount of people killed every two days in Iraq now.

Now, I looked into the mass grave claims and the US government found graves that contained hundreds of bodies in some places. And prosecutors claimed that Saddam gassed 5,000 Kurds in Northern Iraq.

This hardly adds up to 300,000 killed. I am not saying that he didn't kill that many, I just don't know why we didn't do our homework and convict him all of his crimes. As Robert Jackson, the lead prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials famously said, "We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow."

We need history on our side on this one. Remember we invaded the whole country and turned it upside down because Saddam was such a bad guy. It would have been nice to prove how bad. I don't know why the trial seemed so rushed and third rate. Actually, I do know why. It's because Iraq is a complete mess and this whole fiasco is being run by the same incompetents who have screwed everything else up.

Please spare me the nonsense about how the Iraqis are a sovereign government and they were running the trial and we had nothing to do with it. Saddam did cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people when he started a war with Iran. That didn't get brought up much in the trial.

I am sure the fact that United States supported him in that war and Don Rumsfeld sold him weapons to use in that war was not a factor at all as to why that was not emphasized in his trial ... run by the Iraqis. Remember starting a war of aggression is the highest war crime. And Saddam clearly started one with Iran, let alone Kuwait. But then we're not in a very good position to talk about wars of aggression anymore.

The hotel I'm staying at today only has Fox News Channel (Dick Cheney must stay here when he's in town). So, first I was subjected to the inane chatter of Sean Hannity claiming this might turn things around in Iraq. That our troops were very happy about the execution of Saddam and that it was really going to help their morale. The Vulcan mind meld he did with them must have proved this.

As usual, there were two lackey former colonels on the air to parrot everything Hannity said right back at him, "Yes Sean, our troops our ecstatic that this man will be hung. Yes, things are probably going to get much better now."

Then Greta had one of Saddam's lawyers on, and he clobbered her. She said that Saddam had been convicted of killing the 148 people in Dujail and prosecutors had information about another 5,000 Kurds killed. First, he said some completely unconvincing nonsense about how some of the dead people in Dujail were still alive. But then he made a fair point that Saddam was never convicted of the crimes against the Kurds and that now we would never truly know.

When Greta said those are some tremendous numbers referring again to the two incidents of 148 and 5,000 killed, the lawyer responded that those numbers were not nearly as tremendous as the 750,000 Iraqis killed since the US invasion. Ouch.

It sucks to get outdueled by Saddam's lawyer. But the man has a point. As we all know, and have repeated ad nauseam, Saddam was a really bad guy and a dictator that killed many people. But I don't see where the 300,000 number came from and I'm pissed they never proved it. And that still doesn't match up to how many Iraqis have been killed in just the three and half years of the Iraq War.

We didn't kill all those people and our objective is not to oppress the Iraqi people for our own gain (well, not exactly at least; though their oil is yummy for our cars' tummy). But Saddam was executed for killing a 148 people. And our invasion has cost the lives of at least several hundred thousand people that otherwise would not have died.

I'm not drawing any conclusions and I'm not even making any inferences. I'm just saying it's something to be pondered.

The Young Turks

READ MORE: Iraq, Iran, Sean Hannity, Robert V. Jackson

Friday, December 29, 2006

U.S. manufacturing expected to take hit

Recession fears grow

Peter Morton
National Post

Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON - The key U.S. manufacturing sector is expected to be hit hard next year, heightening fears a recession is now much more likely than many economists had expected.

In its annual forecast, the U.S. National Association of Manufacturers said yesterday it expects factory output to slow to a mere 2.8% increase in 2007, compared with a more-robust 4.5% growth in 2006.

"The economy enters 2007 in a weakened state and a number of shocks could trigger a recession or near-recession economy," said Ethan Harris, U.S. chief economist for Lehman Bros., who pegs the possibility of a recession at 20% or higher.

David Berson, chief economist of U.S. government-backed mortgage-financing firm Fannie Mae, said he is doubtful the U.S. economy will slip into a recession in 2007, "but the risks have risen."

"Some of the Christmas spending wasn't as strong as we'd hope," Mr. Berson said. "I think we have not reached the bottom in housing yet."

David Heuther, the association's chief economist, said he believes manufacturing expansion had likely hit "a cyclical peak in the pace of growth" last year, but that the weaker U.S. dollar was helping boost U.S. exports. That, in turn, could soften the blow.

"After slowing to a 'below-potential pace' in recent quarters, the economy will continue decelerating toward a soft landing in the coming year," Mr. Heuther said, adding he expects the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut its key overnight lending rate by 50 basis points over the next 12 months to 4.75% from 5.25%.

Mr. Heuther's views are similar to those of other economists in the manufacturing sector -- it represents about 20% of total U.S. economic activity -- who feel the slowing housing market and soft automobiles sales will contribute to a sluggish start to the New Year.

Paul Kasriel, chief economist with the Northern Trust in Chicago, said yesterday he sees the chance of a recession as high as 45% unless the U.S. Federal Reserve moves quickly to cut short term interest rates.

"The goods-producing sectors -- manufacturing, construction -- still represent 45% of [gross domestic product]," Mr. Kasriel said.

"These are the part of the economy that move before the economy as a whole goes into recession and right now they're moving south."

One key gauge will come early next week when the U.S. Institute for Supply Management releases its December report on the manufacturing sector. The ISM's manufacturing index for November showed the sector had its first month of contraction since April, 2003.

Most economists expect the impact of slowing housing and energy prices to cut economic growth during the current quarter to 1.9%. But they are also calling for some rebound, with an overall growth rate of 2.3% in 2007. That should pick up to 3% by 2008.

That view is tempered somewhat by the soft retail sales during this key Christmas holiday spending season and the lingering slump in U.S. housing sales.

However, the latest numbers in the housing market show a surprising rebound in new homes sales in November as U.S. homebuilders unloaded stalled inventories.

The 3.4% increase in home sales was nearly double what economists had predicted. Meanwhile, the supply of unsold homes fell to the lowest level since May.

"We might not be at the bottom [of the housing slump], but we're getting very close to it,'' said Jason Schenker, an economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte,N.C.

Financial Post

It's simple apartheid

Just as the US and Europe once opposed apartheid in South Africa, Israel's discrimination against Palestinians must be similarly exposed and dismantled, writes Jamil Dakwar

President Jimmy Carter is drawing criticism because his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, uses the label apartheid to describe Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories. As second-class citizens in their own land, the term "apartheid" often rings truer for Palestinian citizens of Israel than democracy.

Israel's Jewish majority enjoys a thriving democracy. But Israel's non-Jewish citizens -- nearly 20 per cent of the population -- live a different reality. Palestinian citizens of Israel send their children to separate but unequal schools that receive less funding than Jewish schools, they cannot buy land or lease apartments in most Jewish towns, and they must often stand in a separate line at the airport from Jewish people.

While it is in the West Bank and Gaza that the apartheid analogy holds best, in many ways Palestinian citizens of Israel live under an apartheid-like legal regime. More than 20 Israeli laws explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews, including the law of return that grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world upon request, inviting them to settle on land that is not theirs, while denying that same right to Palestinians. Israeli housing and land policies are racially driven. Hundreds of thousands of acres of privately owned land have been expropriated from Palestinians for the establishment of Jewish settlements.

The nationality and entry into Israel law prevents Palestinians from the occupied territories who are married to Palestinian citizens of Israel from gaining residency or citizenship status. The law forces thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel to either leave Israel or live apart from their families.

Israel's recently appointed deputy prime minister and minister for strategic threats, Avigdor Lieberman, considers Palestinian citizens of Israel to be a "demographic threat". Over the years, he has advocated ridding Israel of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants to maintain a Jewish majority. His appointment did not elicit the same outrage as the 1999 victory of Jorg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria. Back then, Israel re-called its ambassador, Europe threatened Austria with economic sanctions and the US threatened to react swiftly to any expression of racism or anti-Semitism.

In the West Bank, though Palestinians have lived under Israeli rule for 40 years, they have no voice in Israeli politics and very limited recourse to Israel's legal system. Hundreds of checkpoints impede movement, disrupting, or blocking access to schools, jobs and medical care. As under South Africa's "pass system", Palestinians often require permission to travel from one village to the next inside the West Bank. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said during a visit to Palestine that the situation was "much like what happened to us black people in South Africa." At the same time, Israel has constructed a vast road system for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers living illegally in the West Bank. This network of settlements and segregated roads bisects the West Bank, furthering the Palestinians' isolation and loss of land and property.

Israel's separation wall/barrier inside the West Bank confiscates Palestinian land and separates Palestinian communities. Dwarfing the Berlin Wall, it serves not solely security, but reaches deep into the West Bank to encompass major illegal Jewish settlements. Palestinians in the West Bank are increasingly penned into ghettoes that resemble the Bantustans of apartheid South Africa.

Meanwhile, Israel "withdrew" from Gaza more than a year ago, but it continues to control Gaza's borders, airspace and coastline and continues military strikes and operations inside Gaza at will. Determining everything that gets in or out, it has turned Gaza into the world's largest open-air prison.

Though it took decades, the world (with the exception of Israel) united against the South African apartheid regime and demanded equal rights for all of that country's citizens. This same standard should be applied to Israel immediately. The discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and the oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories, as well as disinherited Palestinian refugees, demands a comprehensive solution based on international law and equal rights regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

The United States and the EU have a pivotal role to play. The US State Department and the EU have repeatedly documented Israel's discriminatory practices. Yet while the Bush administration and the EU demanded that Palestinians under occupation develop democratic systems, no pressure has been applied to Israel to reform its exclusivist democracy for Jews to include all citizens of Israel, including 20 per cent of its citizens who are Palestinians. It is time the US and the EU hold Israel to account by making its massive economic and military aid contingent upon Israel abandoning its discriminatory policies. Americans and Europeans shunned apartheid once. It is time to do it again.

* The writer is a formerly senior lawyer with Adalah, the legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Al-Ahram Weekly Online

Our Next Big Mess

Dec 29, 2006

By Ted Rall

NEW YORK--Chances are that you heard more about Rosie O'Donnell's flame war with Donald Trump than the passing of Sapamurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov. As seems to occur with increasing frequency, America's media ignored the most important story of the year.

A handful of news outlets that bothered to cover the 66-year-old dictator's death wallowed in the humor inherent in the extravagant personality cult he built up after Turkmenistan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Cannier obituary writers noted that the Central Asian nation "contains many of the world's largest natural gas fields, and provides gas to Russian and European countries." (Actually, the largest. Period.) But they missed the main point of the story, one with dramatic short-term consequences for Central Asia and breathtaking dangers to the United States during the first half of the new century.

The Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and--until now--Turkmenistan are all being ruled by the same former Communist Party bosses who ran them in Soviet times. Niyazov's death marks the beginning of the end for the post-Soviet authoritarian order and the beginning of a period of increasing instability, as foreign powers attempt to monopolize access to oil and natural gas resources and pipeline routes. Kazakhstan alone may possess more untapped oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined, and the politics and economies of the Central Asian republics are closely intertwined. What is at stake is nothing less than the security and control of the world economy.

Unless you were one of the five million desperately poor Turkmen forced to watch while your desert nation's gas wealth was systemically looted and squandered on such vanity projects as the gilt statue of Turkmenbashi that dominates the skyline of Ashkhabat and turns to face the sun (local wags say the sun turns to face it), it was easy to laugh at the ubiquitous trappings of unhinged egotism. Turkmenbashi's moon-eyed mug glared from banners hung from the façade of every government ministry and school, appeared on every denomination of currency, even on his own brands of vodka and cologne. Everything was named after him: the country's second-largest city, its airports, a large meteorite, the month of January. His not-so-little green book of aphorisms ("Time is a mace. Hit or be hit!"), the Rukhnama, became required reading for schoolchildren and motorists who sought to renew their driver's licenses.

Saddam Hussein's reputation for self-indulgence had nothing on Turkmenbashi. Niyazov's megalomania ranged from the grandiose--at the time of his death he had just completed the world's largest mosque (featuring quotes from the Rukhnama, naturally) and had ordered the construction of a man-made lake in the middle of the Karakum desert--to obsessive micromanagement. Each Turkmen student's college application was personally considered by the great man.

Even his commonsense dictates came with a bizarre twist. During the 1990s Turkmenbashi ordered that natural gas, as a national patrimony, be supplied to Turkmen homes for free. Since most people were too poor to afford matches, however, it became common practice to leave their stoves on 24-7. Where foreigners saw hilarity, Turkmen seethed with resentment; Ashkhabati motorists saved their household garbage so they could chuck it on the lawn of one of Niyazov's pink pleasure palaces.

A power struggle is underway. Within hours of Turkmenbashi's fatal heart attack his Constitutionally-mandated successor, Majlis (lower house of parliament) chairman Ovezgeldy Atayev found himself behind bars, arrested for an unspecified "criminal investigation." An obscure deputy prime minister and former dentist, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, declared himself acting president and has arranged to have the Constitution retrofitted to validate his rule.

"Many Western analysts," reported The New York Times, "said the country was unlikely to change and that authoritarian rule would continue under any of Mr. Niyazov's successors." But Turkmen exiles who lead opposition parties are itching to fill the vacuum, if not of power, of charisma, left by Niyazov's demise. Leaders of the nation's five biggest tribes are jockeying for advantage. And five million Turkmen who can't afford matches want a piece of the action--and want to get even with the government thugs who shut down the country's hospitals and medical clinics.

Everyone is betting that Turkmenbashi's foreign policy of "positive neutrality" won't last long. Russia has already indicated its intent to reassert itself in Turkmenistan. Here's where we come in: no American president, Democrat or Republican, will allow Russia to gain control over the world's largest energy reserves without a fight. Moreover, neither Russia nor the U.S. will watch idly as Central Asia implodes and takes the world economy along for the ride. U.S. troops, currently based in Uzbekistan, could be sent in to restore order and keep the Russians out.

Signaling renewed high-level interest in Turkmenistan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov both attended Turkmenbashi's funeral on Christmas Eve.

Uzbekistan's universally reviled despot Islam Karimov, who got away with the 2005 massacre of at least 700 civilians at Andijon because of his country's energy reserves, will almost certainly be an early casualty of civil strife in Central Asia. A witch's brew of Stalin-era ethnic gerrymandering and brutal suppression of a nascent Islamist insurgency, mixed with the collapse of Karimov's Uzbek police state, could easily take Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan--poor countries barely recovering from civil conflict and dependant on the urban-based Uzbek economy--with them. Even Kazakhstan, the most stable of a fragile lot, is susceptible to an uprising; few Kazakhs have shared in the nation's oil boom.

Whether or not Turkmenbashi's death directly affects its neighbors, it's a reminder that Central Asia's autocrats aren't getting younger. Laugh about the Leader of All Turkmen's excesses now. The storm is coming.

(Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.)

The Disrespect for Truth has Brought a New Dark Age

December 29, 2006

By Paul Craig Roberts

In her historical mystery, The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey (a pen name of Elizabeth MacKintosh), has Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant, while confined to his hospital bed, solve the 15th century murder of the two York princes in the Tower of London. The princes were murdered by Henry VII, and the crime was blamed on Richard III in order to justify the upstart Tudor’s violent seizure of the English throne.

Tey makes the point that if a 20th century mystery writer can detect the truth about a 15th century murder, historians have no excuse to persist in writing in school textbooks that Richard murdered his nephews. British historians remained loyal to the Tudor propaganda long after the Tudors were no longer around to be feared or served.

At the beginning of the scientific era, men had the hope that the ability to discover truth would free mankind from superstition, dogma, and the service of power. The belief in truth was powerful. Truth would deliver justice and bring an end to status-based privileges and the falsehoods propagated by privilege. The faith in truth was short-lived. Today propaganda is everywhere in the ascendency.

In the panoply of left-wing propaganda about Pinochet, it is nowhere mentioned that Allende was appointed president of Chile by the Chilean congress, which three years later called on Chile’s military to oust Allende for his totalitarian ways. Instead, Allende is portrayed as a "popularly elected president who was overthrown by a tyrant."

Every week another apologist for President Bush compares "Bush’s fight for Iraqi freedom" to Abraham Lincoln’s "fight to free the slaves." The American civil war was not fought to "free the slaves," as Thomas DiLorenzo and other scholars have thoroughly documented, any more than the purpose of Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq was to "bring freedom to Iraqis." The freedom excuse was invented after it became impossible to maintain the fictions about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s connections to Osama bin Laden. Bush has yet to tell the real reason he invaded Iraq.

In the US today, demonization and propaganda substitute for facts and analysis. Professors and journalists are quick to lend their names and voices to the untruths that rule our lives. Just as Hitler’s foreign policy was based in propaganda, so is Bush’s and Blair’s.

The success of propaganda enhances government’s illusion that it has a monopoly on truth. It is the monopoly on truth that gives the Bush regime the right to define the "Iran problem," the "Syria problem," the "Lebanon problem," and the "Korea problem" and to apply coercion in place of understanding and negotiation.

Secure in its possession of truth, the Bush administration refuses to talk to the enemies it has manufactured. It will only fight them.

When scholars, such as John Walt and Stephen Mearsheimer, or President Jimmy Carter, who has tried harder than anyone else to achieve Arab-Israeli peace, point out that Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians is a cause of Middle East turmoil, they are immediately denounced as anti-Semites. Columnists and academics who know nothing about the Middle East or its troubles nevertheless know what they are supposed to say whenever anyone mentions Israel in any critical context. And they have no compunction about saying it, the truth be damned.

Without commitment to truth, science, justice, and debate falter and disappear.

The belief in truth is fading from our society. It is unclear that scientists themselves any longer believe in truth or the ability to discover it.

The discovery of truth is no longer the purpose of our criminal justice system. Once prosecutors believed that it was better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent person to be wrongfully convicted. Today prosecutors believe in high conviction rates to justify their budgets and re-election.

In the past police solved crimes. Today they round up suspects and pressure them.

There was no debate in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and none today in the US. Many Americans, who imagine themselves to be conservatives even though they have never read, nor could they identify, a conservative writer, equate truth-telling with hatred of America. They are of Bush’s mindset: "you are with us or against us." Bush supporters respond to factual articles about Iraq and the rending of the US Constitution by suggesting that as the writer hates America so much, he should move to Cuba or China.

In America today each faction’s "truths" are defined by the faction’s dogma or ideology. Each faction bans factual analysis that it doesn’t want to hear. This is as true within the universities as it is at political rallies. The old liberal notion that "we shall follow the truth wherever it may lead" has long departed from America. Think tanks reflect the views of the donors. Studies are no longer independent of their financing. In America, truth has become partisan.

All societies have elements of myth, untruths that nevertheless serve to unite a people. But many myths serve as camouflage for evil. One of the greatest myths is that "GIs have died for our freedom." GIs have died for American empire, for the American elite’s commitment to England, and for the military-industrial complex’s profits. Some may have died in Korea for the freedom of South Koreans, and some may have died trying to save South Vietnamese from the North Vietnamese communists. But it is hogwash that GIs died for our freedom.

There was no prospect of North Korea attacking America in the 1950s or Vietnam attacking America in the 1960s and none today. The Nazis were defeated by Russia before US troops landed in Europe. The US never faced any threat of invasion from Germany, Italy, or Japan.

America’s wars have created hysteria that endanger our freedom. Abraham Lincoln shut down the freedom of the press and arrested editors and state legislators. Woodrow Wilson arrested war critics. Franklin Roosevelt interred American citizens of Japanese descent. George W. Bush has destroyed most of the Bill of Rights. In 2006 Congress appropriated funds for building concentration camps in the US.

Recently, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, said that freedom of speech is inconsistent with "the war on terror." If it takes a police state to fight terror, the country is lost even if Muslim terrorists are defeated. Americans have far more to fear from a homeland police state than from terrorists.

The vast majority of the world’s terrorists are the recent creations of Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and brutality toward the Palestinians. Bush is simultaneously creating terrorists and a police state. It serves no one but the police to make their power unaccountable.

On December 26 Jeff Cohen explained on Truthout how war propaganda took over TV news and demonized everyone who spoke the truth about Iraq, while pushing war fever to a frenzy. Fox "News" was the worst with its ranks of generals and colonels who sold their integrity for dollars and TV exposure. One of Fox’s loudest voices for war was a retired general who sat on the board of a military contractor.

When the Clinton administration allowed the media concentration in the 1990s, the independence of the American media was destroyed. Today there are a few large conglomerates whose values depend on broadcast licenses from the government. The conglomerates are run by corporate executives who are not journalists and whose eyes are on advertising revenues. They publish and broadcast what is safe. These conglomerates will take no risks in behalf of free speech or truth.

The challenges that America faces are not terrorism and oil supply. The challenges that we face are the police state that Bush has created and the disrespect for truth that is endemic in government, the universities, and the media. The US has entered a dark age of dogmas and unaccountable power.

Dershowitz vs. Carter: Peace Movement Is AWOL, Again

December 26, 2006

Peace Movement is AWOL, Again

Dershowitz vs. Carter in Beantown


"Jimmy Carter is to be congratulated for not having demeaned himself by debating Alan Dershowitz."

William M. Bulger, former president of the Mass. State Senate and University of Mass. (Full text of Bulger's one-sentence Letter to the_Boston Globe,12/18/06.)

At long last the Boston Globe published an op-ed by former President Jimmy Carter, defending his book "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid," from the predictable, scurrilous attacks (e.g.,"lie" and "blood libel") by Alan Dershowitz, Abe Foxman and David Horowitz. Quite wisely, Carter used most of his space to reiterate the main contentions of his book, making his op-ed (1) must reading for those who cannot get to the book. In perhaps the most interesting paragraph, Carter links his book to war on Iraq, thus:
"As recommended by the Hamilton-Baker report, renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are a prime factor in promoting peace in the region. Although my book concentrates on the Palestinian territories, I noted that the report also recommended peace talks with Syria concerning the Golan Heights. Both recommendations have been rejected by Israel's prime minister."

It is not hard to conclude from this that American blood is being spilled in Iraq, in part because of Israeli rejectionism. No wonder the neocons are so disturbed by Carter's book. It is also remarkable, but not surprising, that Carter has had so few champions of his important book on the "Left."

The precipitating event in the Beantown brouhaha was a speaking invitation to Carter by a professor at Brandeis University, a "traditionally Jewish college." The invitation was issued way back in the middle of November when Carter's book was publishe. Upon learning that there was opposition on the campus to the invitation, Carter consulted an old adviser Stuart Eizenstadt, now on the Brandeis board of trustees, and good old Stu offered to be an intermediary. But Stu betrayed Carter. (Shades of Menachim Begin.) Eizenstadt contacted Brandeis president, Jehuda Reinharz, and suggested that Carter only be allowed to appear if he debated Alan Dershowitz. A debate "would make this a real academic exercise," Eizenstat enthused to the Globe, adding, "The president of the university is not in the business of inviting someone, even a former president, for a book tour." (Excellent put-down, Stu.) Carter was "stunned by the proposal," according to The Globe, saying: "I don't want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz. There is no need to for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine." Now let's see. Dershowitz is best know for his high-priced defense of Claus von Bulow and O.J. Simpson, and Carter for making peace between Egypt and Israel, a peace agreed to by the Israeli government and defended by such principled defenders of Palestinian rights as the late Edward Said. (That last endorsement may go some way in explaining the neocons' enduring hatred of Carter.)

The Globe did not cover the controversy in its news section until the debate topic was broached (December 15), ensuring that the content of the book receded far into the background. (Excellent job of distraction, Boston Globe.) The very next day after the news coverage the Globe ran an editorial, charging that Carter, unlike the neocons' much beloved war criminal, Harry Truman, "can't take the heat." Another put down by the Globe. And the day after Carter's op-ed finally appeared on December 20, the Globe ran an op-ed by Dershowitz, again sliming Carter and ensuring that Dershowitz had the last word. In fact the Globe, like the New York Times and other major papers, has not given "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid," a best-selling book by a former president and Nobel Prize winner, a legitimate review. If that is not testimony to the power of the Israeli Lobby, I do not know what is.

The only opening in this anti-Carter phalanx came from the readers of the Globe themselves in the letters to the editor, which appear to run strongly in Carter's favor, if one discards the obvious plants. Here are some excerpts from letters of December 18 and 23. They should give some holiday joy to those who have recently felt despondent about the prospects for peace.

"The discussion around Jimmy Carter's new book needs to move to the central issues. Carter's detractors and the media have discussed the book's provocative title but little of its substance. Carter's book clearly lays out the current conditions in which Israel is constructing a 40-foot wall entirely inside the occupied territories and around settlements that have been constructed in defiance of international law. Americans need to decide whether our policies (or the lack thereof) are in our best interests or Israel's. Now that Carter has provoked us, let the real conversation begin." D. Weden

"Instead of correcting what he calls Carter's 'factual errors,' Dershowitz attacks the former president, saying that the man who brokered the most significant peace agreement in Middle Eastern history lacks objectivity, is guilty of a conflict of interest and is a bully. Really? The mood in America is changing quickly. American blood is being spilled in the Middle East with no end in sight, and the days when Dershowitz could get away with this type of nonsense are over." J. O'Rourke.

"I'm sure that Brandeis is just trying to be fair by allowing Carter to speak only if he debates Dershowitz. No doubt, also in the interest of fairness, the next time a blatantly pro-Israel book is published, Brandeis will only allow the author to speak if he agrees to debate Noam Chomsky. And if the author refuses, the Globe of course will run a lead editorial accusing him of not being able to 'take the heat'." A. Martin

"Thank you for printing Jimmy Carter's op-ed. He is one of only a very few Christian leaders willing to speak the truth about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. I have copied his op-ed and am inserting it into my Christmas cards to a hundred of my closest friends and family" J.P. Leary

Perhaps the best letter of all came from Norman Finkelstein who was the very first to defend Carter's book on the day it was published (2) right here in CounterPunch, which is one of the few publications to carry a full-throated defense of Carter. I include Finkelstein's letter in toto below (3). (In the exchange of letters and during this entire controversy, the peace and justice establishment in Beantown was largely silent, perhaps another indication of the reach of the Lobby.) As we go to press one hundred determined and principled Brandeis professors and students have signed a petition demanding that Carter be invited after all, and president Reinharz seems ready to relent. We at CounterPunch will keep you informed.

John V. Walsh can be reached at He has the burden of sharing his home town of Cambridge with Alan Dershowitz. He hopes that CP readers will buy multiple copies of Carter's book. It makes a great Hanukah or Christmas gift.

The LA Times also gave Carter some space, the only other major paper to do so. Interestingly when I tried to search for this piece through the LA Times search engine, it did not appear despite a valiant effort on this searcher's part! But it did come up on Google. See:

(2)Norman Finkelstein. Peace Not Apartheid; Jimmy Carter's Roadmap.

(3) Norman Finkelstein's letter (12/18/06) in response to the Globe's editorial put-down of Carter:

"You write that former president Jimmy Carter's use of the word 'apartheid' in the title of his new book is 'irresponsibly provocative' ('Jimmy Carter vs. Jimmy Carter,' editorial, Dec. 16). This would make for a rather puzzling list of 'irresponsibly provocative' commentators on the Israel-Palestine conflict. For example, a study by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem concluded: 'Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime . . . is reminiscent of . . . the apartheid regime in South Africa.' The roster of irresponsible provocateurs would also include the editorial board of Israel's leading newspaper Haaretz, which observed in September that 'the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation.' Indeed, the list apparently includes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Pointing to his 'fixation with Bantustans,' Israeli researcher Gershom Gorenberg concluded in 2003 that it is 'no accident' that Sharon's plan for the West Bank 'bears a striking resemblance to the 'grand apartheid' promoted by the old South African regime.' Sharon reportedly stated around that time that 'the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict."

NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN, Chicago. The writer is a political science professor at DePaul University.

Iraq officials say U.S. behind Sadr aide killing

28 Dec 2006 13:09:51 GMT

By Khaled Farhan

NAJAF, Iraq, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Iraqi officials in the city of Najaf said on Thursday that a raid which killed a top aide of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was a violation of the deal that transferred U.S. control of Najaf to the Iraqi army.

Less than 10 days after the U.S. military handed control of Najaf to Iraqi forces, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters that a U.S. soldier killed Saheb al-Amiri in a raid planned and carried out by Iraqi forces.

But officials in Najaf said neither the provincial governor nor security forces in the city were warned about the raid and disputed that the Iraqis had planned the operation.

The raid led to angry protests by thousands of Sadr supporters against U.S. forces during Amiri's funeral.

Sadr controls the Mehdi Army, which U.S. forces blame for widespread sectarian killings and unrest in parts of southern and central Iraq, including a district of Baghdad which bears his family name.

Caldwell said the raid was carried out by 35 soldiers from the 8th Iraqi Army Division with the assistance of eight U.S. military advisers.

A spokesman for Najaf's governor called Amiri's killing an "assassination" and said the raid violated the handover's security agreement. Sadr aides said Amiri was head of a charity for the poor and had no links to militias.

"The governor of Najaf considers it a violation of the security treaty since the security file was officially handed over to Iraqis," Najaf governor spokesman Ahmed Diabil said.

Iraqi army and police spokesman in Najaf, Colonel Ali Numas Ijrau, also disputed the account given by Caldwell.

"We didn't have any information about an operation targeting the house of Saheb al-Amiri. It is American intelligence who collected the information and who raided the house," he said.


Iraq's Defence Ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his ministers were in a cabinet meeting all morning. The killing could have dire repercussions for Maliki's fractious Shi'ite-led coalition.

Sadr, nominally an ally of Maliki but whose supporters in parliament and in the cabinet have staged a boycott to protest Maliki's meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush last month, has led two uprisings against U.S. forces in the past.

U.S. commanders have put pressure on Maliki to crack down on the Mehdi Army, but Maliki is said to be reluctant to further alienate the young cleric amid efforts to lure Sadr supporters back to the cabinet. A Pentagon report this month said Mehdi Army militias were the biggest threat to Iraq's security.

On Wednesday Sadr urged calm, but said: "We know that Bush, God's enemy, cries for the deaths of his soldiers in Iraq. We ask God to prolong his crying and suffering."

Caldwell said Amiri resisted arrest, fled to the rooftop and was shot dead by a U.S. soldier who saw him pointing an assault rifle at Iraqi soldiers. But a son of Amiri, aged about 13, said his father was unarmed when he was killed.

"My dad went to the roof and tried to escape over the wall to the neighbours. He didn't have time to take his gun out and he ran upstairs unarmed. They came in and ran upstairs after him and we heard four shots," Ahmed Amiri told Reuters.

"When they left we went upstairs and saw he had three bullet wounds in the chest and one in the head."

Households: Worst Financial Shape Since WWII: Bonddad

It’s been awhile since I have written about the issue of consumer debt. Please don’t take this as a sign that consumer debt in the US is not an issue anymore. Far from it – the consumer debt issue is still alive and well. In fact, it’s reaching historic levels – as in levels not seen since WWII levels. Paul Kasriel of Northern Trust has done some digging into the most recent Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds report and found some pretty scary developments. The report is available in PDF format here, under the title Festivus Flow-of-Funds Stocking Stuffers. I would encourage everyone to download this report. The excerpts below reference some of the charts in the report.

Also – a big thanks to the Big Picture economic blog for highlighting this report.

Despite the fact that household mortgage borrowing has slowed in recent quarters, the leverage in owner-occupied real estate reached a record high 46.4% in the third quarter of 2006, as shown in chart 8. If mortgage borrowing slowed, why the increase in leverage? Because, as shown in chart 9, there has been a sharp slowdown in the growth of the total market value of residential read estate. With a still sizeable excess inventory of homes for sale, continued weak growth, perhaps even a contraction, in the market value of residential real estate could reasonably be expected in 2007.

While all of this may sound a bit complicated, it’s really simple when you rephrase the eco-geek language with everyday English. All Mr. Kasriel is doing is to compare the total outstanding household mortgage debt with total household real estate holdings. This is the leverage ratio, and economists or financial people use this ratio to determine if a household has enough assets to cover all its liabilities. For comparison purposes, let’s use the first three quarters of 2005 from the Fed’s Flow of Funds report. Total household residential real estate holdings increased from $17.6 trillion in the first quarter of 2005 to $18.9 trillion in the third quarter of 2005 – or an increase of 7.38%. For the same quarters in 2006, residential real estate increased from 19.9 trillion to 20.5 trillion or an increase of 3%. In other words, residential real estates’ upward appreciation for the first three quarters of 2006 was half the rate as the first three quarters of 2005. Because real estate is slowing in appreciation, the incredibly high amount of outstanding mortgage debt at the national level – 9.5 trillion in the third quarter of 2006 – takes a larger percentage of the value of real estate. Just as importantly, residential real estate now comprises the largest percentage of household assets since 1955.

Conversely, homeowner’s equity – which represents the amount a person actually owns in real estate –- is at a post WWII record low.

Household liquidity fell to a post-WWII low in the third quarter of 2006. I am using as a measure of liquidity household deposits and money market mutual funds as a percent of total household liabilities. Some might respond that with all the different sources of credit available to households today, they do not need to hold as large a ratio of liquid assets as in the past. To this I would respond with three counter-arguments. Firstly, households already have borrowed so much that their level is at a post-WWII high (see chart 13). Secondly, households have already borrowed so much that their debt service burden is at a 25-year high (see chart 14). And thirdly, residential real estate which accounts for 30.5% of the total market value of households assets (see chart 15), is the single largest asset in households portfolios compared with deposits, credit market instruments, corporate equities and other tangible assets. Of these other asset categories,, residential real estate probably is the least liquid. In sum, household have never been as highly leveraged as they are now or as illiquid as they are now, and their single largest asset is in danger of actually falling in value.

What we are looking at above is how much cash on hand do households have to pay off their debts. And the answer is – a record low amount. As Kasriel points out, alternative means of financing -- home equity loans for example -- would require additional debt which is already at historically high levels. This is where the US savings situation – which is essentially a savings crisis – really comes into play. Just for the sake of argument, suppose a homeowner has an adjustable rate mortgage (not they anyone would ever consider that option). Now suppose the payments on that ARM increase at a high rate. Does the homeowner have the necessary savings to make the payment? The answer is maybe not. And that’s a huge problem. It implies that if there is a sudden shock to the US economy that causes a drastic slowdown (like a lot of central banks dumping dollars because of a record trade deficit), homeowners will be scrambling to make their payments.

Just as important note the absolute household debt level and debt payment levels are now at record highs -- as in highs not seen for 25 or more years.

Remember these graphs, because you've seen them before and you'll see them again:

Total household debt outstanding:

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Household's debt service ratio as a percentage of disposable income:

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An excerpt from the above paragraph sums up the problem:

In sum, households have never been as highly levered as they are now or as illiquid as they are now, and their single largest asset is in danger of actually falling in value.

For Market and Economic Commentary, go to the Bonddad Blog

Bonddad December 28, 2006 - 8:00am

I Witness the Israel Lobby in Action

the new york observer

A few weeks back at Columbia, I watched with amazement as the former Israeli soldier Yehuda Shaul, who started the group Breaking the Silence, gave his presentation on the horrors of the occupation to about 75 students in a darkened hall. My amazement had to do with the fact that Shaul's visit was sponsored by a largely-Jewish group at Columbia—Pro-Israel Progressives—and was attended by members of the Hillel chapter at the school. Kudos to them.

After Shaul's speech, representing "my comrades and not just myself," he was bombarded by hostile questions from Israel supporters in the audience. Shaul handled them with strength and ease. (Q. "Do you know of a counterpart organization where Palestinians question their moral decisions?" A. "I really don't care—I am an Israeli who has to raise his children in Israel...")

Just as gripping to me was the discussion that took place after the event between Rachel Glaser, the campus coordinator of the rightwing Zionist Organization of America, and the students who had organized the event.

"What did this accomplish? What did it accomplish?" Glaser barked at the organizers.

"It achieved something important," one of the Jewish students said. "People perceive pro-Israel groups as monolithic. They think that we are not able to take responsibility for the bad things that happen."

Fine, Glaser said, but the students should have organized "a panel," in which Shaul was just one voice. "Have someone else," she said. (Just as the New York Theatre Workshop wanted to "contextualize" the Rachel Corrie play with pro-Israel voices.)

It was one thing to have Yehuda Shaul give a talk inside Israel, Glaser said. "Outside of Israel, you're playing with fire."

This chilling statement was a candid expression of the goals of the Israel lobby. A member of a Jewish organization was saying that it's OK to have a wide-open discussion of these issues in Israel, but it's dangerous to have such a discussion here. Why? Because America is the mainstay of support allowing Israel to continue its policies in the Occupied Territories. The Israel lobby fears that Americans, if left to their own devices, will abandon Israel, out of indifference, or antisemitism. So Americans must be influenced—in this case by having the information they get about Israel/Palestine vetted, and by pressuring Jews on campus to toe the party line.

I bring this up because Glaser's group, the Zionist Organization of America, is now trying to have the Jewish group that sponsored Shaul's tour, the Union of Progressive Zionists, kicked out of a consortium of campus groups that promote Israel's image on campuses. Why? Because (per the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) "Jewish money should not be spent on programming that provides fodder for Israel's most virulent critics."

This is shameful news. Jews are better than this, America is better than this...

FILE UNDER: U.S. Policy in the Mideast

Posted by Phil Weiss on December 26, 2006 12:46 PM |

Why Is HUD Bulldozing Public Housing Apts in New Orleans When It's Cheaper to Fix Them?


New Orleans officers charged with murder
Dec 28, 2006

Tale of Two Sisters: Why Is HUD Using Tens of Millions of Katrina Money to Bulldoze 4534 Public Housing Apartments in New Orleans When It Costs Less to Repair and Open Them Up?

By Bill Quigley

Gloria Williams and her twin sister Bobbie Jennings are 60 years old. They are two of the over 4000 families who lived in public housing in New Orleans before Katrina struck who are still locked out of their apartments since Katrina. Their apartments are two of 4534 apartments that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced plans to demolish. Demolition is planned even though it will cost more to demolish and rebuild many fewer units than it does to fix them up and open them. Ms. Williams and Ms. Jennings, and thousands of families like them, are fighting HUD, they want to return.

Gloria and Bobbie started working early. As children they picked cotton, strawberries, snap beans and pecans before and after grade school every day in rural Louisiana. "We were raised up to work," they said.

They moved to New Orleans after their father drowned. Their home was marked by regular domestic violence. A few years later, their mother was murdered by a boyfriend.

As teens they moved in with an abusive relative. They ran away, came back, and stayed with other relatives. They can even remember nights when they slept under their aunt's bed in a hospital while waiting for her to recuperate.

As young women they continued working. They worked in restaurants before starting careers as Certified Nursing Assistants. Then they worked for years in nursing homes and in private homes caring for the elderly and disabled. They fed people, cleaned people, bathed people, cared for people. Each married and raised children and grandchildren. Like 25% of the households in New Orleans, neither owned a car.

Both sisters are now 60. In the past few years, their years of physical work took its toil and they could not longer work. Ms. Jennings had back surgery and suffers with high blood pressure. Ms. Williams has heart and lung problems, high blood pressure, and clots in her legs that prevent her from standing or walking for long periods. Each lives solely on about $600 a month from disability. No pensions.

When Katrina hit, they had been living in the C.J. Peete apartments for years. Ms. Bobbie Jennings had been there for 34 years. Her twin sister, Ms. Gloria Williams lived there for over 18 years.

Their combined families, 18 in all, evacuated to Baton Rouge to ride out the storm. When it was clear they would not be going home any time soon, their host family told them it was time to move on. In September 2005, the family of 18 moved into one daughter's damaged home in Slidell, about 30 miles away from New Orleans - all sleeping on the first floor because the roof was still damaged.

One of their sisters, Annie, was in the hospital with cancer when Katrina hit. It took the family weeks before the finally found her in a hospital in Macon, Georgia.

When the city opened, they got rides into town and checked on their apartments. No water had entered their apartments at all. But their doors had been kicked down and all their furnishings were gone. The housing authority told them they could not move back in for a couple more months while their apartments were secured and fixed up. The housing authority started fixing up and painting apartments in her complex, but abruptly stopped after a few weeks.

Slidell was getting tight, so they accepted an offer to relocate to California. After a month, they returned. Being 3000 miles apart from family was too heartbreaking. A four day bus ride brought them back to Slidell in January 2006. After hitching rides into New Orleans, Ms. Williams found a subsidized apartment. The only way the landlord would accept her, though, was if she paid him an extra $400 under the table. Otherwise, he would rent it to someone else who would.

So Ms. Williams paid the extra money and moved in with her grandchildren while she waited for her old apartment to reopen. She used FEMA money to buy new furniture. In late February 2005, Ms. Williams was hospitalized for three weeks for surgeries on her legs.

In June 2005, HUD announced they were not going to let any residents back in her apartment complex and three others (Lafitte, St. Bernard and BW Cooper) because they were going to be demolished. Over one hundred maintenance and security workers for the housing authority were let go. HUD took over the local housing authority years ago and all these decisions are being made in Washington DC.

The demolished buildings would make way for much newer and many fewer apartments which would be built by private developers. The demolition and private development would be financed by federal funds and federal tax breaks designed to help Katrina victims!

Nearly $100 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds were designated for the private developers. Another $34 million in Katrina Go-Zone tax credits were also donated to the developers.

In July 2005, Ms. Williams apartment caught fire and again she lost everything. Her landlord did not want to let her out of her lease. He told her that she and her grandson could still live there, all they had to do was clean the soot off the walls and ceilings.

At this, Ms. Williams broke down and went back into the hospital.

Ms. Jennings got an apartment and allowed her daughter and her grandchildren to live there because they have no place to stay. She also took her in her little sister, Annie, who was dying of cancer. Annie died on August 17, 2005.

Both sisters have severe problems every month making ends meet. Utility bills eat up most of their monthly checks. With no car and their apartments across the river from New Orleans, they cannot get to the doctor.

Christmas was very tough. Ms. Williams said "We didn't have a Christmas. We didn't have food to put on the table." Her grandson went to her sister's house to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Ms. Jennings cried as she said "Behind Katrina and my little sister dying, my life just stopped. This is the second year we didn't have a Christmas. It is so hard to try to start over. I let my daughter and her two grandchildren sleep on the bed. I sleep on a pallet on the floor. Before Katrina I was on blood pressure medicine once a day. Now I take 4 blood pressure pills three times a day. I also take pills for depression, nerves and stress."

"We just want to go home," Ms. Williams said. "People knew us in our neighborhood. They never messed with us. I could leave my back door open when I went to the grocery. People don't understand that was our home. We want to go home."

Why would people want to go back into public housing? Aren't the developments dangerous and crime-ridden? Isn't this an opportunity to start over and make something better?

Public housing residents know full well the problems of public housing, but still they want to return.

Why? Start with the fact that New Orleans is in the worst affordable housing crisis since the Civil War. Tens of thousands of houses still remain in ruins after Katrina. Rents for the rest have gone up 70-80 percent since Katrina. Even before Katrina, there was a waiting list of 18,000 families seeking to get into public housing - now it is much, much worse. HUD's demolition plans target 4,534 apartments of public housing in the community. They plan to demolish 1546 apartments in BW Cooper, 723 in C.J. Peete, 1400 in St. Bernard, and 865 in Lafitte.

These are not the dense high-rise towers. Public housing in New Orleans is made up of development clusters of mostly two and three story buildings with six to eight apartments in each. New York Times Architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, criticized plans to demolish these apartments, saying on November 19, 2006: "Modestly scaled, they include some of the best public housing built in the United States....Solidly built, the buildings' detailed brickwork, tile roofs and wrought-iron balustrades represent a level of craft more likely found on an Ivy League campus than in a contemporary public housing complex."

Most of the public housing apartments rented for very modest rents tied to the resident's incomes. Most did not pay separate utility charges. Leases were essentially for life, unless someone in the family was caught breaking the law.

HUD initially said they had to demolish because the buildings were so damaged they were dangerous to the residents.

That was not true.

John Fernandez, an Associate Professor of Architecture at MIT, inspected 140 of these apartments and concluded in papers filed in court that "no structural or nonstructural damage was found that could reasonably warrant any cost-effective building demolition...Therefore, the general conclusions are: demolition of any of the buildings of these four projects is not supported by the evidence of the survey, replacement of these buildings with contemporary construction would yield buildings of lower quality and shorter lifetime duration; the original construction methods and materials of these projects are far superior in their resistance to hurricane conditions than typical new construction and with renovation and regular maintenance, the lifetimes of the buildings in all four projects promise decades of continued service that may be extended indefinitely."

Residents promise to fix up their apartments themselves if given the chance. "I clean for a living," said one young woman resident at a recent public hearing where 100% of the residents opposed demolition. "I clean for a living and I am proud of it. I clean every body else's houses, I will sure clean up my own house - just let me back in to do it!"

After it the public understood that the buildings were not actually in such bad shape, the authorities then said it would cost much more to repair the buildings than to demolish and start over.

That too was not true.

The housing authority's own documents show that Lafitte could be repaired for $20 million, even completely overhauled for $85 million while the estimate for demolition and rebuilding many fewer units will cost over $100 million. St. Bernard could be repaired for $41 million, substantially modernized for $130 million while demolition and rebuilding less units will cost $197 million. BW Cooper could be substantially renovated for $135 million compared to $221 million to demolish and rebuild less units. Their own insurance company reported that it would take less than $5000 each to repair each of the CJ Peete apartments.

HUD suggests that less-dense "mixed income" communities are the way to go.

But residents and the community knows that if HUD has its way, only about 20% of the families who lived in these developments will be allowed to return.

New Orleans has suffered through the experience of HUD's "mixed income" policies before. The St. Thomas housing development, once home to 1510 families, was demolished with promises that people would be returning to a beautiful redeveloped community. Instead, there is now a Wal-Mart on the site and hundreds of cute gingerbread pastel houses. How many of the 1510 families who used to live in St. Thomas have been allowed to move back in? About a hundred. A few of these families have had to force their way in with litigation by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. The demolition of St. Thomas is hailed as a mostly-good outcome by nearby developers and some of the young professionals who moved into the surrounding neighborhood knowing what was coming. What do the 1400+ families who were moved out and not allowed to return think? Don't ask - no one else is.

HUD has the same plans for the neighborhoods where they are trying to demolish housing. According to documents filed with the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency: St. Bernard will go from 1400 apartments to 595 apartments, only 160 of which will be for low-income public housing residents. There will be 160 tax credit mixed income and 145 market rate units; CJ Peete will go from 723 units to 410, 154 will be public housing eligible, 133 mixed income and 123 market rate; BW Cooper will go from 1546 to 410, 154 public housing eligible, 133 tax-credit mixed income, and 123 market; And Lafitte will downsized in the same way.

As a result HUD plans to spend tens of millions of Katrina assistance funds to end up with far fewer affordable apartments.

The new Congress is looking into this. Representatives Barney Frank and Maxine Waters chair the committee and subcommittee with oversight of HUD. There is also a federal class action lawsuit filed by the Advancement Project, Jenner & Block, and local attorneys.

Residents of the St. Bernard housing development and their allies plan are not waiting any more. On Martin Luther King day, January 15, 2007, they are going in with or without permission. "What better way to celebrate Martin Luther King day than to risk going to jail for justice?" says Endesha Jukali, a neighbor who lived and worked in St. Bernard for years.

But the clock is still ticking. HUD, who has not "officially approved" its own announcement, says the demolition needs to get started to take advantage of the Katrina tax credits. Neither the Congress nor the federal courts have yet stepped in to stop the demolitions.

What do the sisters think about this? Ms. Jennings says: "I lived there for 34 years. That is my home. I just cannot afford to live outside the development. I don't know how else to explain it. I have the tears, but I do not have the words." Her twin sister, Ms. Williams cries and says: "That was my home for over 18 years. I never gave them no trouble. My home never flooded. I will clean it myself, just please let me back in. I wish I could make people understand. I just want to go home."

For more information about this matter see or contact the Advancement Project at (202) 728-9557.

Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill is one of the lawyers representing thousands of families who want to return to their apartments in New Orleans.