Sunday, November 26, 2006

FBI Widens Probe of AIPAC

Barbara Ferguson, Arab News

WASHINGTON, 26 November 2006 — A startling new report claims that the federal investigation into the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization, has been expanded to include suspicion of meddling in affairs of the House Intelligence Committee.

The report follows two new surveys that criticize Israel and the role that the pro-Israel lobby plays in shaping American foreign policy.

A recent poll by Zogby International found Americans almost evenly split on whether the pro-Israel lobby was a key factor in influencing the Bush Administration to invade Iraq and take a tough stand against Iran’s nuclear program. A poll commissioned by the Council for the National Interest and conducted by Zogby International found that 39 percent agreed with the statement that “the work of the Israel lobby on Congress and the Bush Administration has been a key factor for going to war in Iraq and now confronting Iran” — areas in which public support for military action has dropped dramatically. Forty percent disagreed with the statement.

In a separate study exploring the views of faculty members at American universities, a significant percentage of scholars identified United States’ link to Israel as a serious threat to global stability.”

Shortly after the surveys were released, Time magazine posted an article on its website alleging that the FBI is investigating claims of an improper deal between AIPAC and Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

According to the report, the deal alleged that, in the event Democrats took control of Congress, AIPAC would lobby for Harman to become the chair of that committee. In return, she would be expected to press the White House and Justice Department to go easy on Keith Weisman and Steven Rosen, the two former AIPAC executives who are being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly communicating classified information to Israeli diplomats.

Washington insiders are downplaying the likelihood that an investigation regarding Harman and AIPAC would lead to any formal charges of wrongdoing. But the allegations — along with the upcoming trial of Rosen and Weisman, and the recent book deal signed by two of the pro-Israel lobby’s most prominent and vocal critics, scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer — are likely to trigger increased media and public scrutiny of the pro-Israel lobby’s efforts to influence the decision-making process in Washington.

According to Time, AIPAC allegedly agreed to get wealthy donors to lobby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman to the post.

Federal officials told The New York Times that such an investigation had indeed been opened, although they said that the inquiry was “no longer being actively pursued.”

Secret Pentagon Documents Classify Veterans for Peace as a Threat

Secret Pentagon Documents Classify Central Coast Group as a "Threat"
Santa Barbara Chapter of Veterans for Peace
revealed to be a Pentagon surveillance target

By: Matt Cota

Friday, November 24, 2006

New details tonight about a secret Pentagon database used to monitor anti-war protests and activists. Recently-disclosed documents reveal that some of the surveillance targets include an organization with ties to the Central Coast.

Secret Pentagon documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union provide details of how the organization called "Veterans for Peace" was considered a threat.

Every Sunday for the past three years, members of the Santa Barbara Chapter of Veterans for Peace place a cross in the sand near Stearns Wharf for every American soldier killed in Iraq.

First started in Santa Barbara, the "Arlington West" display has been copied by other chapters of Veterans for Peace in communities all across the country. It's intended to honor and acknowledge those who have lost their lives and to reflect upon the costs of war.

The actions of this veterans organization have not gone unnoticed at the Pentagon. A previously secret intelligence report calls the group a "threat to military installations." The report lists the group's upcoming events and warns that while it's a "peaceful organization," "there is potential that future protests could become violent."

"As to attacking any base or anything else, that is ridiculous," says Veterans for Peace group member Ron Dexter. "We support the troops one hundred percent."

Ron Dexter isn't surprised by the revelations that the Department of Homeland Security is checking up on his organization.

"If we aren't investigated by the government, we probably aren't doing our job," says Dexter. "That is pretty radical, but anybody who has been a real threat to what government wants to do, they are going to check on them and try to stop them."

The documents also suggest for the first time that agents of the Department of Homeland Security played a role in monitoring anti-war activities.

The Pentagon admits it made a mistake in collecting information on anti-war protests, but claims the problem has been fixed.

At least one Senate Democrat wants to investigate not just what data was collected by the Pentagon, but why and how it was used.

The Coming Collapse in Housing

Online Trading Academy [ See company's profile at Directory ]

Thu, 23 Nov 2006 15:28:01 GMT
by John Mauldin

What Will Collapse Housing Prices?
The Grand Disconnect
89 Booming Cities
Where's The Unemployment From Housing?
Two Price-Break Triggers
The Fed to the Rescue?
Some Observations on The Big Easy


Jordan King: 3 Mideast Civil Wars Possible in 2007

Abdullah Calls U.S. Diplomat James Baker An 'Honest Broker'

Nov. 26, 2006 — - The week's flare-up of violence in Iraq has been met by a flurry of new diplomacy. Vice President Cheney has just returned from a one-day visit to Saudi Arabia, and President Bush is heading to Amman this week for a summit with the Iraqi prime minister, hosted by King Abdullah of Jordan. ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos spoke with King Abdullah on "This Week."

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Welcome back to "This Week," Your Majesty.

KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN: Thank you very much, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is this Amman summit the last chance to save Iraq?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, we hope that this is an opportunity for both President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki to be able to come together in a common understanding on how to bring the sectarian conflict much lower.

We are very, very concerned for the future of all Iraqis, and we hope that there will be something dramatic.

The challenges, obviously, in front of both of them are immense.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say, "something dramatic." What could that be?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, we have to make sure that all parties in Iraq understand the dangers of the ongoing escalation, and I hope that Prime Minister Maliki will have some ideas to be provided to the president on how he could be inclusive in bringing all the different sects inside of Iraq together.

And they need to do it now, because, obviously, as we're seeing, things are beginning to spiral out of control.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Many here in the United States say that, if Prime Minister Maliki doesn't come forward with that kind of a package, President Bush should issue an ultimatum: It has to happen now or we're going to begin to withdraw our troops from Iraq.

Would that be useful?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, I'm not exactly privy to what the discussion points will be between both sides. But there needs to be some very strong action taken on the ground there today.

Obviously, the indicators are of tremendous concern to all of us, and I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and revisit the problem in early 2007.

There needs to be a strategy. There needs to be a plan that brings all the parties together, and bring them today and not tomorrow.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it a civil war in Iraq right now?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, George, the difficulty that we're tackling with here is, we're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq.

And I hope that my discussions, at least, with the president will be to provide whatever we can do for the Iraqi people. But at the same time, we do want to concentrate ourselves on the core issues, which we believe are the Palestinians and the Palestinian peace process, because that is a must today, as well as the tremendous concern we've had over the past several days, what's happening in Lebanon.

And we could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands. And therefore, it is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear, and I see could possibly happen in 2007.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a frightening prospect, the prospect of three civil wars. All three of those societies -- Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority -- have had elections over the last couple of years. And now we're seeing the prospect of civil war.

Could the United States push too hard, too fast for democracy?

KING ABDULLAH: The issue is not whether you're pushing one agenda or another. The issue is we have not been able to deal with the core problem of the Middle East.

Now, I know people will say that there are several core problems in the Middle East. Obviously, the closest to American minds, because of your commitments of soldiers is Iraq.

But for the majority of us living in this part of the world, it has always been the Israeli-Palestinian, the Israeli-Arab problem.

And I fear that if we do not use the next couple of months to really be able to push the process forward, I don't believe that there will be anything to talk about. In other words, there will not be enough of circumstances to create a two-state solution -- in other words, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and harmony.

If we don't solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, then how can we ever solve the Israeli-Arab problem?

And I don't believe that beyond mid-2007, if we don't get the process going, there will be anything of a Palestine to talk about. And therefore, do we resign this whole region to another decade or two of violence, which none of us can afford.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary of State Baker is considering just that prospect, pushing for a comprehensive peace plan as he looks at solutions for Iraq, as well.

But help me out here. Doesn't the situation in Iraq now have a logic of its own, the Sunnis and the Shiites killing each other in an uncontrolled manner?

What does that have to do with what's going on in Palestine?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, the thing is, as we look at the three potential flash points, before, I believe, the Lebanese war this summer, I would have put Iraq in the number one position. After the Lebanese war, the Palestinian scenario was in the number one position, followed very closely in the past several weeks. I would say that the Lebanese problem and the Palestinian ones are neck-in-neck.

They're all extremely important. Solving all three of them are going to be critical.

But the priority I believe today in the long term is the Israeli-Palestinian one, because it resonates beyond the borders of Iraq, beyond the borders of the Arab and the Muslim world. ...

And you know, you've been with this issue for many years. It is still the emotional core issue for our part of the world.

The problem when we discuss this sometimes with the American public, they say, no, this is just an excuse, because there are other problems in the Middle East.

But the emotional impact that the Israeli-Palestinian problem has on the ground can be translated to the insecurity and the frustrations throughout the Middle East and the Arab world. For me, that is the priority.

When it comes to things exploding out of control, I would put today, as we stand, Palestine and probably a close tie with Lebanon. Iraq, funny enough, although as concerned as I am with Iraq and the major problems that that might bring to us, is in third position. Obviously, this is all relative.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, one of the ideas for dealing with all three of these conflicts is an international conference that would include Jordan, would include Saudi Arabia, would include Egypt and include the United States, but also Syria and Iran.

Do you think it would be useful to include Syria and Iran in that kind of a conference right now? And what kind of leverage does the U.S. have over that?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, look. We always believe that dialogue is a way of reaching out to each other.

As we continue to push each other into corners, then the only alternative is to have more of a violent reaction than common sense leading the way.

I do believe that there are feelers going to different countries to see if we can come together on the issue of Iraq.

But I think, the problem is, is that America needs to look at it in the total picture. It's not just one issue by itself.

I keep saying Palestine is the core. It is linked to the extent of what's going on in Iraq. It is linked to what's going on in Lebanon. It is linked to the issues that we find ourselves with the Syrians.

So, if you want to do comprehensive -- comprehensive means bringing all the parties of the region together.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And does it also mean -- when you talk about a reinvigorated U.S. effort, what are you looking for exactly? What kind of a sign are you expecting from the United States to prove that the Bush administration is serious about seeking this kind of comprehensive effort?

One idea being floated right now is that former Secretary of State Baker be appointed a special envoy by President Bush. Would that be useful?

KING ABDULLAH: Well, from my point of view, I've known Secretary Baker for many years. He was a good friend of his late Majesty King Hussein. He has a tremendous, strong reputation in this part of the world as being an honest broker.

Obviously, that's a decision for the American president and his administration. But he is probably -- Secretary Baker is one of the qualified ... people I've ever come across in being able to deal with Middle East issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: King Abdullah, thank you very much for your time this morning.


Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures

Media Disconnect from America: It’s the Geography, Stupid

By David Sirota

Resting at home in Montana, I’ve been marveling at the slew of stories from Washington pundits demanding Democrats sell out their own voters and the majority of public opinion. Now, with a bit of time off here for Thanksgiving break with my family here in another “red” state, Indiana, I’ve had some time to really ponder the propaganda, and think about an important question:

How is it that there is this fake “center” defined by Washington that is totally and completely different from the actual center of American public opinion? I mean, really: How does that actually happen? What are the mechanics of it?

I thought about this question for a long time. Some of it clearly has to do with the major media conglomerates having a financial/corporate interest in making sure the political debate in this country stays within boundaries that do not challenge the status quo. A media company, for instance, doesn’t want anyone talking about reevaluating telecom deregulation. But financial self-interest cannot be the only reason for the media’s opinion being so disconnected from public opinion - it has to be something more simple. And after surveying the people who are actually making this opinion, it suddenly occurred to me: a lot of it is simple geography.

By any honest definition, America’s political opinion/propaganda machine is comprised primarily of the Washington Post Writers Group, the New York Times columnists, the LA Times columnists, and Creator’s Syndicate. There are certainly others who contribute to opinionmaking. But looking at these institutions is a good way to survey the world that is the Punditocracy, especially because through media consolidation, the Sunday/cable chat shows that nationalize these pundits’ message, and the modern wonders of syndication into local papers, these opinionmakers’ tentacles now reach into almost every community in America.
These companies, because they claim to represent “national” opinion, could choose to present diverse voices. But when you look at this large group of pundits, what do you know, almost every single one of these columnists lives in Washington, D.C. or New York City.

This is no exaggeration, and unlike most of the commentary in the news, it is not a fact-free opinion: it is cold, hard truth. By my informal count, every single Washington Post Writers Group columnist covering domestic politics lives inside the Beltway or in the Big Apple, except for Ellen Goodman who lives in Boston and Ruben Narvarette who lives in San Diego. Similarly, at least six out of the 8 New York Times columnists live in Washington D.C. or New York. LA Times? Same thing. Every single one of their national political columnists except Meghan Daum and Niall Furgeson live in Washington, D.C. Then take a gander at one of the biggest syndicates - Creators. By my count - which is only an eyeball count - roughly half of their entire stable of columnists lives in Washington or New York. In all, I can find almost none of these people who actually lives somewhere other than one of the coasts of the country - real-life proof that the media Establishment really does see the heartland as “flyover country” to be ignored.

Some may claim that of course the opinionmaking machine draws almost all of their writers from just two cities because that’s where all the smart people live, that’s where all the political action is, and at least for the Post and Times, those are the only locales they say they cover.
The first argument about New York and Washington being the center of the universe drowns in its own arrogance. Last I checked, there are 50 state capitols, and countless other major cities where much of the real political decisions that affect ordinary people’s lives are made. The self-described Gang of 500 in Washington and New York can keep telling each other reassuring fairy tales about how they are supremely important and that the world cannot turn without their input. But the Washington cocktail party circuit and Upper West Side’s self-therapy is an embarrassingly transparent justification for laziness, cultural elitism and dearth of geographic diversity.

The second argument about New York and Washington being the place where all the smart people are - yeah, right, there’s no other smart people in America. And yeah, right, we’ve gotten so much smarts out of the traditional Washington-New York conventional wisdom these days. All those smart people pushed the Iraq War and trumpeted trade policies now gutting the American economy. Yeah, America needs more “smart” people like that.

On the final argument about the Post and Times being based in D.C. and New York and thus having an excuse for their geographic uniformity - come on, are you serious? These two papers brag about being “national” papers, have various bureaus all over the country, and syndicate their material to publications throughout America. Put another way, they may be based in those two cities, but they brag to the world about speaking for this country - when clearly their pervasive opinion machine does not.

This doesn’t mean all of these columnists who live in the Washington-New York corridor are bad, dishonest or misguided - not at all. For instance, one of them, Bob Herbert, consistently tries to raise questions about taboo subjects like economic inequality and race in his writing. A few others write valuable stuff as well. But that’s not really the point, because while there are some decent opinion-setting pieces from this group, occasional examples cannot overcome the overwhelming geographic uniformity and what naturally comes with that uniformity: a strong, consistent stream of destructive, unrepresentative biases against the rest of America.
That’s right folks, the stereotype is, by and large, factually true: coastal elites are trying to impose a very narrow world view on the rest of the country - and people sense it because the opinionmaking machine is so uniform, and the media so consolidated, that this very narrow world view is being jammed down our throats everywhere. Hell, I can see it right there in my face when I sit down for a bagel at my local coffee shop in Helena, Montana, and open the local paper’s commentary section, which - like many local papers’ opinion pages these days - is now dominated by “national” pundits. On any given day, I see pieces from George Will trumpeting a New York City billionaire for his Wall Street conservatism. Or, I see right-wing Washington nobody Mona Charen and her latest screed demanding that all Jews adhere to neoconservatism as proof of their religious devotion. At best, if I’m lucky, I get a David Broder piece telling me how anyone who thinks our economic policies should serve middle America is a “protectionist” worthy of being tarred and feathered.

These professional political pontificators have barely ever bothered to even visit the middle of the country. Worse, the very top topics they address are way beyond merely unreflective of opinion in small towns like Helena: they have absolutely nothing to do even with what is important to our community. The people who spew these views are, in short, trying to impose their warped opinions and priorities on the rest of us.

This narrow world view, mind you, spans the partisan divide. Remember, conservative columnists like John Stossel, Bill O’Reilly, Max Boot and George Will are among this group of coastal elites. The world view, in other words, is not really partisan: it is about power. Almost all of these columnists, with a few exceptions, worship power rather than challenge it, and disdain the very concept of change coming from ordinary Americans, who they see as the “great unwashed” (by the way, this explains why these people so often use their platforms to attack the netroots). Almost all of them, with few exceptions, believe America’s great source of wisdom comes from inside the Beltway from what Duncan Black calls The Serious People - no matter how many times the Serious People hurt the country, no matter how far out of touch these Serious People are with what the vast majority of the country wants and voted for. And worst of all, almost all of them, with few exceptions, push a definition of the political “center” that has nothing to do with the actual political “center” in the country.

Think about how unrepresentative this situation really is. There are about 10 million people in Washington and New York City combined. There are roughly 300 million people in the United States. Thus, upwards of 90 percent of the major political opinion in the national media is coming from people that represent a whopping 3 percent of the total population.

Are we actually to believe that it is simply impossible for the major national media to find more opinion from the other 290 million Americans in the rest of the country? Of course not - the geographic divide is not an accident and is not due to a lack of able voices in the heartland. It is motivated by the obvious factors: insiderism, cronyism, a love of conformity and a view of the heartland as an uncivilized place that offends a punditocracy which sees itself as above the so-called “bewildered herd” who are supposedly the rest of us out here in America. It explains not only why there are so few media voices from the rest of America, but all the rest of it. Want to know why it was perfectly acceptable for Washington creatures like James Carville to attack someone like Howard Dean for having the nerve to invest Democratic Party resources in the heartland? Because the DNA of the Washington-New York political elite is coded to applaud disdain for the rest of the country and champion a person like Carville whose current claim to relevance is being friends with fellow Washingtonian Tim Russert rather than a person like Dean whose claim to relevance is having built a massive outside-the-Beltway grassroots constituency.
To understand how this geographic and consequently cultural divide plays out on the key political decisions of the day, consider this excerpt from a piece by Howard Kurtz in 1993 right after NAFTA passed:

“From George Will and Rush Limbaugh on the right to Anthony Lewis and Michael Kinsley on the left, most of the nation’s brand-name commentators led the cheerleading for NAFTA…Meg Greenfield, The Washington Post’s editorial page editor, said her op-ed page reflected the fact that most of her regular columnists supported the agreement. ‘On this rare occasion when columnists of the left, right and middle are all in agreement . . . I don’t believe it is right to create an artificial balance where none exists.’…Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a NAFTA critic, said The Post had published 63 feet worth of pro-NAFTA editorials and columns since January, compared with 11 feet of anti-NAFTA commentary.”

As economist Jeff Faux notes in his book The Global Class War, the punditocracy’s blackout came at the very time polls showed the public had serious reservations about NAFTA. Yet people like Greenfield justified the blackout by claiming she would have had “to create an artificial balance where none existed.” She was probably right, at least when it came to the columnists she dealt with because the class of professional political pontificators comes primarily from elite Washington, the place where lobbyist-written trade pacts are seen as just swell, no matter how many jobs they kill, how much they hurt wages or destroy pension/health care benefits. As columnist Mark Shields admitted to Kurtz at the time: “One reason for the press unanimity is that there are no $35-a-week Tijuana bureau chiefs” to steal their jobs. Most pundits, he said, “are more worried about whether they’re going to the Vineyard next year.”
That same thing can be said today. Want to know why the media portrays national opinion as opposed to putting serious labor, wage and human rights provisions into trade deals at the same time the public supports these provisions? Because that media portrayal is coming from New York and Washington. As fair trade leader Senator-elect Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said, “Reporters and editors in Washington have always hated my position on trade [but] out here, they don’t feel that way.” That’s the divide - the New York-Washington elite vs. “out here.”
It’s the same on the other issues. Want to know why the political opinionmaking industry almost uniformly opposes a national, universal health care system at the same time polls have long shown the public would support such a concept? Want to know why the professional pontificators almost uniformly attack as crazy those who raise questions about inequality and overconcentration of corporate power? In Mark Shields’ words, it has something to do with the fact that most political opinionmakers personally “are more worried about whether they’re going to the Vineyard next year.” They all talk to each other, they are all friends with the same politicians, they all go to the same parties, they all vacation at the same elite locales, they all look down on those not part of their clique - and above all else, they all feel threatened by anyone who challenges their arrogance and their power-worshipping orthodoxies, because such fact-based challenges humiliate them.

So the next time you, one of the other 97 percent of the non-Washington/New York population read something outrageous from a national columnist or see some pundit arrogantly bloviating on television in a way that would get them a knuckle sandwich in your local bar, ask yourself: Are you really surprised? Is it any wonder that the Establishment’s definition of the “center” is so totally and completely divorced from America’s? Is it really a shock that when one of these columnists wrote that “voters shouldn’t be allowed to define the choices in American politics” none of his fellow opinionmakers said anything, and in fact, many probably agreed? Are you really stunned that one of these columnists recently wrote with a straight face that the recent election means Democrats must shed all of their ties to pro-choice voters, unions and minorities?
And perhaps most important of all, ask yourself: are the majority of Americans really wrong when they say the media does not actually represent this country’s mainstream and, in fact, has, through its leading opinion voices, shown a severe disdain for the very “national” perspective it purports to represent?

COMMENTS: Go to Sirota's Working Assets site to comment on this entry

posted 11/26/2006 by David Sirota @ 2:23 am Permalink

California Legislature Votes to Kill the Health Insurance Industry....

Opinion by Consumer Advocate Tim Bolen

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

There is a war on in the United States over health care. On one side is the "status quo" represented by the medical monopoly, the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance carriers, and an entrenched bureauracracy wholly beholden to, and run by, the people they are supposed to regulate.

The US system, according to the World Health Organization, is rated 72nd in quality, but number one in cost, worldwide. The "Death by Medicine" study shows that the system itself is the number one killer of Americans. The number two and three killers of Americans are heart disease and cancer, diseases which those of us outside of the "status quo" know are curable, and preventable - but those cures and preventive treatments are being suppressed by agents of the "status quo."

On the other side is a beleaguered America simply trying to find ways to survive.

(1) The medical monopoly is so evil, in itself, that medicine is no longer an honorable profession. For it isn't about helping people - it's about gouging money out of an unsuspecting public. For instance: there are five million legitimate health professionals working in the United States, three million of which are licensed by individual States, and two million of which are unlicensed. But only seven hundred thousand (14%) of those can bill health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare for their services.

Why is that? Because the American Medical Association (AMA) has a contract with the US Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) to write billing codes (about 6,500 CPT Codes) for ALL health professionals - but will not invent codes for anyone but those seven hundred thousand medical doctors (the number one killer of Americans). This, of course, means that all four million three hundred thousand other health professionals in the US, in order to get paid, must bill THROUGH an MD using "their" codes - so that the MD gets a cut of the money (and increases the costs). There are only two exceptions - out of the approximately 6,500 CPT Codes available, there are four codes for Chiropractors to use, and one for Acupuncturists.

(2) The pharmaceutical industry is so corrupt few Americans believe anything they say - despite their massive television advertising campaigns. Since the drug industry got permission from the US FDA in 1998 to advertise directly to the consumer the only change we've seen is a 500% increase in the price of prescriptions. The money seems to go for television news hour advertising.

(3) The US health insurance industry is rotten to the core. The biggest group of individual bankruptcies in the US are those that had health insurance for an illness and found out, the hard way, how the health insurance system actually works.

For instance: If you have an 80-20 policy, supposedly where the insurance company pays 80% and you pay 20%, and you end up in the hospital, generating a bill for $100,000, you are, very suddenly, handed a bill (to be paid immediately) for $20,000. Do you think the insurance company is going to pay $80,000? No, they are not, for the have a "deal" with the medical monopoly, and they generally pay, by my calculations, only about twenty two cents on the dollar - so their part of the hospital bill is going to be 22% of $80,000 or $17,600. Hardly 80%. YOU will write bigger checks than the insurance company will...

Only God can help you if you have a 50-50 insurance plan.

Worse yet, is that the average cost to a US employer for this health insurance is $14,7000 per year, and employers in the US with over two hundred full-time employees are REQUIRED to provide coverage. Out of that $14,700 premium, by my calculations, only about 9% goes to pay health claims. The rest is divided up long before - 40% commission to the health insurance broker that sold the policy to the company, 35% goes to overhead (insurance companies own marble buildings), 10% goes to the stockholders as a dividend, and 6% goes to miscellaneous, including the costs of lobbying Congress. That leaves only 9% to pay claims.

And if that isn't enough - several sleazy health insurance companies are filing "fraud" charges against health professionals with licensing boards simply because they don't want to pay claims - and several of those boards are actually prosecuting doctors over those billing disputes.

(4) The bureauracracy that regulates health care in the US is shameful. There is no arguing for the system. It has turned against America, and is operating not to regulate the industry, but to protect it from competition and change. Period. There is nothing more to be said. Facts are facts. Change is necessary.

Things are being done to fix these problems...

I don't need to go into detail here about how each of these problems, described above, is being attacked. Read my other newsletters, and you'll get the idea. Today I'm going to tell you about how just one of those issues is being addressed in, and by, the State of California. The health insurance issue.

Why is it important to study what California is doing? Because California is the fifth largest stand-alone economy on Planet Earth. It is a vibrant State, with vibrant people. What happens here migrates to other States quickly.

Sit down before you read this next section. You're going to be shocked...

The California Legislature, both the Senate and the House, have passed Senate Bill 840, which in effect, will make it illegal to sell health insurance within the State of California. The bill is heading for the Governor's desk.

I have, below, copied a section from a website for a group called "Health Care For All," where you can go to get even more information about SB840. The section is self-explanatory.

A bill creating universal healthcare through a publicly financed administration in California, authored by Senator Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, was introduced to the Senate in February, 2005. A copy of the bill is now available from the legislature. Download bill here. For ease of use, get our Table of Contents for the bill.

Available for download is a comprehensive Fact Sheet from Senator Kuehl's office. We offer a 10-page Word document about the Features of SB 840. Also available is a shorter summary, SB 840 Summary. See also a Fact Sheet in Spanish.Principal workers on this bill are consultant Judy Spelman and Senate staff member Sara Rogers.

You can download a list of the co-authors for SB 840.

See a list of endorsing organizations that support SB 840. See a recent statement by the League of Women Voters- California showing their position on this bill.

The bill incorporates the following features:

Security - Everyone is covered. No one will ever lose coverage for any reason.

Choice - Everyone can choose their doctors and other providers. Under this single payer plan, health care delivery is in the private sector.

Comprehensive Benefits - Everyone has full benefits that include prescription drug coverage and mental health care.

High Quality - Doctors and patients, not administrators, make medical decisions. Hospitals can afford safe staffing levels for registered nurses. Primary and preventive care are priorities.

Efficient Administration - Huge savings result from removing insurance companies from health care. Provider and patient paper work is slashed.

Fair Cost sharing - Employers and employees pay a modest health care premium, which is less than most pay now.

Fair Reimbursement - Providers receive fair and full compensation for their services.

Cost Controls - Health care inflation is controlled by efficient administration, global health care budgets, bulk purchases of drugs and durable medical equipment, coordination of capital expenditures, and linkage to growth of the State Gross Domestic Product.

I am an Orange County California Conservative Republican. SB840 is sponsored by Liberal Democrats and I wholly support it. Absolutely. It can't happen soon enough. I applaud the bill's sponsor, Senator Sheila Kuehl and her staff for their efforts.

Stay tuned...

Tim Bolen - Consumer Advocate

US dollar 'will keep falling'

Heather Stewart
Sunday November 26, 2006
The Observer

The US dollar has reached a 'tipping point' as foreign exchange markets wake up to the threat that the Federal Reserve will have to slash interest rates in the new year to stave off recession, analysts say. After a sharp sell-off on Friday took the greenback to 18-month lows against the euro, and pushed the pound to $1.93, economists warned that there was worse to come for the US currency.

'We are just at the start of what we think will be a downtrend for the dollar - a tipping-point has probably been reached,' said Tim Fox, currency strategist at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, who expects sterling to hit $2 within the next three months.

The euro has been the main beneficiary. The European Central Bank is expected to continue raising interest rates into next year amid strong growth in the eurozone economies, while the Fed has left rates unchanged at 5.25 per cent since June.

'Steadily, the US dollar will decline through 2007, but probably at a faster pace in the second half of the year, as people realise the Fed is going to have to cut rates,' said Paul Mackel, currency strategist at HSBC.

Senators on Capitol Hill would like to see China allow its currency, the renminbi, to appreciate further against the dollar, making Chinese imports more expensive; but the chances are low.,,1956925,00.html

Word on the street ... they’re listening

The Sunday Times November 26, 2006

POLICE and councils are considering monitoring conversations in the street using high-powered microphones attached to CCTV cameras, write Steven Swinford and Nicola Smith.

The microphones can detect conversations 100 yards away and record aggressive exchanges before they become violent.

The devices are used at 300 sites in Holland and police, councils and transport officials in London have shown an interest in installing them before the 2012 Olympics.

The interest in the equipment comes amid growing concern that Britain is becoming a “surveillance society”. It was recently highlighted that there are more than 4.2m CCTV cameras, with the average person being filmed more than 300 times a day. The addition of microphones would take surveillance into uncharted territory.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has warned that a full public debate over the microphones’ impact on privacy will be needed before they can be introduced.

The equipment can pick up aggressive tones on the basis of 12 factors, including decibel level, pitch and the speed at which words are spoken. Background noise is filtered out, enabling the camera to focus on specific conversations in public places.

If the aggressive behaviour continues, police can intervene before an incident escalates. Privacy laws in Holland limit the recording of sound to short bursts. Derek van der Vorst, director of Sound Intelligence, the company that created the technology, said: “It is technically capable of being live 24 hours a day and recording 24 hours a day. It really depends on the privacy laws in a particular country.”

Last month Martin Nanninga of VCS Observation, the Dutch company marketing the technology, gave a presentation to officials from Transport for London, the Metropolitan police and the City of London police about the CCTV system. Nanninga is to return next year for further discussions.

“There was a lot of interest in our system, especially with security concerns about the Olympic Games in 2012. We told them about both our intelligent control room and the aggression detection system,” Nanninga said.

In Holland more than 300 of the cameras have been fitted in Groningen, Utrecht and Rotterdam. Locations include city centres, benefit offices, jails, and even T-Mobile shops. The sensitivity of the microphones is adjusted to suit the situation.

Police and local council officials are still assessing their impact on crime, although in an initial six-week trial in Groningen last year the cameras raised 70 genuine alarms, resulting in four arrests.

Harry Hoetjer, head of surveillance at Groningen police headquarters, recalled an incident where the camera had homed in on a gang of four men who were about to attack a passer-by. “We would not normally have detected it as there was no camera directly viewing it,” he said.

Last Friday a Sunday Times reporter visited the office of Sound Intelligence in Groningen to test the system. The reporter stood in the control centre with a view of an empty room on one of a bank of monitors. Van der Vorst entered the room, out of sight of the camera, and began making aggressive noises.

The camera swivelled to film him and an alarm went off in the control room, designed to alert police to a possible incident. “The cameras work on the principle that in an aggressive situation the pitch goes up and the words are spoken faster,” said van der Vorst. “The voice is not the normal flat tone, but vibrates. It is these subtle changes that our audio cameras can pick up on.”

Public prosecution services can use them in court as evidence. The Dutch privacy board has already given its approval to the system.

According to a spokesman for Richard Thomas, Britain’s information commissioner, sound recorded by the cameras would be treated under British law in the same way as CCTV footage. Under the commissioner’s code of practice, audio can be recorded for the detection, prevention of crime and apprehension and prosecution of offenders. It cannot be used for recording private conversations.

Graeme Gerrard, chairman of the chief police officers’ video and CCTV working group, said: “In the UK this is a new step. Clearly there is somebody or something monitoring people speaking in the street, and before we were to engage in that technology there would be a number of legal obstacles.

“We would need to have a debate as to whether or not this is something the public think would be a reasonable use of the technology. The other issue is around the capacity of the police service to deal with this.”

Congratulations to Iraq on a victorious month

November 25, 2006

I am congratulating all the Iraqis who celebrated the death sentence passed down to Saddam Hussein.

I am congratulating all the Iraqis who cheered when the US troops rolled into Baghdad.

I am congratulating all the Iraqis who live snug and secure in the Green Zone.

I am congratulating all the Iraqis who came back to rebuild the country, to set up contracts and deals with foreign businesses.

Congratulations on your victory. Congratulations on your freedom.

You have not yet tasted anything.

The violence you see, the death you see, the carnage you see, is but one fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what is to come.

Celebrate you victorious Iraqis. You have still learned nothing.


Inadvertent Wisdom from George H.W. Bush

Saturday, Nov. 25, 2006

As his father indirectly acknowledged, the President is about to be deluged by advice on Iraq. But the best counsel shouldn't be how to "win" but how to withdraw creatively


In Abu Dhabi last week, President George H.W. Bush was asked what advice he was giving his son about Iraq. Bush the Elder declined to answer at first. He said that if he shared his view of Iraq with the audience and "it happened to deviate one iota, one little inch, from what the President's doing ... it would be terrible." But he kept on talking: "It'd bring great anxiety not only to him but to his supporters." And talking: "In the early 1960s, Jim Baker and I were the men's doubles champions in tennis in the city of Houston," he said of the former Secretary of State, now co-chairing a panel that is supposed to make recommendations about what to do in Iraq. And then the former President talked some more: "If I were to suggest what they ought to do, it just would not be constructive and certainly would not be helpful to the President. It would cause grief to him."

How sad to watch a man who was such a subtle and sophisticated foreign policy President dance around—and inadvertently acknowledge—the phenomenal disaster created by his son. But the old man has a point: Junior is about to be deluged with advice about Iraq, and most of it will be worthless. There will be calls for regional diplomatic conferences and partition plans and new Iraqi power-sharing deals, plans to increase and plans to diminish the level of U.S. troops or to deploy them differently. Expert advocates will brilliantly argue all these possibilities, but each will have a fatal flaw: the expectation of a rational, cooperative reaction from the Iraqis. That is no longer possible. Iraq no longer exists as a coherent governmental entity. It is being atomized, according to cia Director Michael Hayden, into "smaller and smaller groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces of territory."

Hayden's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago was largely overlooked, but it is stunning. He called the level of violence in Iraq "satanic." He said that as the violence increases, "the center disappears, and normal people acting not irrationally end up acting like extremists." In other words, if you're a resident of Baghdad, the most rational response is to seek protection from one of the militias—al-Qaeda if you're Sunni, the Mahdi Army if you're Shi'ite—or to get out of town. "It's impossible to get your teeth fixed in Baghdad," a U.S. intelligence official told me recently. "All the dentists have left the country."

And so we have reached the point where there is only one meaningful decision left for George W. Bush in Iraq: what to do with our troops there. The President will be tempted to follow the advice coming from the uniformed military rather than from a civilian group like the Baker commission. That's partly because he so foolishly ignored the military's views during the Rumsfeld era but also because the military is likely to share Bush's hope that Iraq is still salvageable. I spoke with several senior officials involved in or familiar with the Pentagon's Iraq review process last week, and they were unanimous in suggesting the need for more troops, at least in the short term, in order to secure Baghdad. They also suggested more and better U.S. advisory teams working with Iraqi military units. "And then we need to be patient," a senior military intelligence official told me. "It could be years before we see any real progress."

Of course, uniformed military leaders have been suggesting more troops were needed ever since the war began. But they've been saying it privately—in an abdication of military responsibility—for fear that they would suffer the same fate as that of General Eric Shinseki, who told a congressional committee that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed in Iraq and was, in effect, fired by Rumsfeld. "We had a responsibility to speak up," said a general who served in Iraq. "You can say what you will about Paul Wolfowitz, but when he was DepSec, he was always on the phone with those of us who were downrange, asking how things were going and what we needed. But [while they were serving], even some of the generals who later turned on Rumsfeld would give the answer they thought they were supposed to give him: Everything's fine, sir!"

Now, finally, the uniformed brass seem poised to speak more candidly. But that doesn't make a military solution to this disaster any more plausible. "You know, we're trained to complete the mission," a senior military officer told me. "And that's our reflex reaction, to come up with a can-do plan—'Here's how you fix it, sir!' But we may lack perspective now. The situation may be reaching the point of no return." Indeed, the best advice for the military to give the President at this point may not be how to "win" in Iraq—but how to withdraw creatively, how to limit Iran's influence in the Shi'ite regions of the south, how to keep special-operations and quick-strike units based in the region, poised to attack al-Qaeda operations on a regular basis. The United States has lost the war in Iraq, but the "long war" against Islamist extremism will surely continue. The most pressing issue now is how not to lose the battles to come.,9565,1562913,00.html

Israeli settlers, or squatters?

The revelation that much of the West Bank land for settlements is owned by Palestinians damages Israel's self-image as a country of laws.
By Gershom Gorenberg

GERSHOM GORENBERG is the author of "The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977."

November 26, 2006

At the West Bank settlement of Ofrah, as seen from the ground, two-story suburban houses stand along quiet streets. Near the community's entry gate are a few prefab concrete structures — remains of the abandoned Jordanian army base where the first settlers lived in the mid-1970s, until they built their comfortable homes.

Here's another picture of Ofrah, with color-coded data on land ownership superimposed on an aerial photo: Near the entrance are small brown splotches of state-owned land, the original Jordanian base. Almost all the rest of Ofrah's area is marked in red, indicating that it is private Palestinian property. The data on which the map is based, apparently updated in 2004, comes from the Israeli government's civil administration in the West Bank. Leaked to researchers from the Peace Now movement, the information forms the basis for their stark report, published Tuesday, on exploitation of private Palestinian land for Israeli settlement.

The report is both deeply disturbing and curiously unsurprising. The public, in Israel and outside it, did not know previously that 38.8% of all settlement land is privately owned by Palestinians. Nor did we know that the proportion is actually slightly higher than this in the "settlement blocs" that the current Israeli government hopes to keep permanently as part of Israel. Settlements, the Israeli public presumed, stood on land owned by the state or by Jews.

Yet, the newly revealed figures fit into a known context: Israel rules the West Bank, but what happens there does not follow Israel's own rules. Since Israel's conquest of the territory in 1967, settlement has been a tool in the battle for permanent political control, and both officials and activists have been complicit in putting the cause above the law.

The result is injustice to the Palestinian residents and an undermining of Israel's legal institutions.

In the eyes of Israel's legal system, the West Bank — except for annexed East Jerusalem — is under military occupation. Israel's courts have avoided ruling on the broad issue of whether all settlement in occupied territory is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. But they have acknowledged that the international laws of war codified in the 1907 Hague Convention apply. That includes Article 46, which forbids confiscating private property for use by the occupying power.

So how did settlements, built with government support and often at government initiative, end up on private Palestinian land?

In the first years of the occupation, Israel regularly "requisitioned" land, ostensibly to meet provisional military needs. Palestinian residents retained ownership, but not control, of their real estate. On some of that land, the government established settlements.

Facing court challenges in the 1970s, the state argued that the new communities served Israel's security and were not permanent. The officials who planned the settlements may have believed that they had military value. But they did not regard them as temporary. The settlements' underlying purpose, as shown by an extensive paper trail in Israeli archives, was to anchor a political claim to territory before any negotiations began.

In a landmark 1979 ruling, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the requisition of land for one settlement, Elon Moreh, when the state abjectly failed to show military need. Elon Moreh was moved, and the government stopped requisitioning land. But it did not return property it had seized elsewhere to its owners, or take down other settlements built on requisitioned land.

Officially, the policy since 1979 has been only to use state-owned real estate or land bought privately by Jews for new settlements. Last year, though, a government-commissioned report on small settlement "outposts" set up in the last decade showed that many stood on Palestinian property. That report apparently relied on the same data used by Peace Now.

The Peace Now research suggests that the practice of simply building Israeli homes on the land of others with no legal basis is much more widespread. The vast majority of settlements have been built since 1979. Because the government has so far refused to reveal what land is covered by old requisition orders, it is impossible to know how much land has simply been overrun. At the new Elon Moreh, for instance, 65% of the land is Palestinian-owned, according to the Peace Now report. Was any of that land formally requisitioned before 1979?

Actually, though, the distinction is not as significant as it seems. The requisitions before 1979 deliberately bent the law of occupation. In the case of private land overrun since then, the law has simply been broken. The government has not only shirked its responsibility as an occupying power to enforce the law, it has also planned and subsidized the settlement effort.

So the irony is this: The bulldozers used to build settlements have extended Israel's de facto control of territory. Yet, at the same time, they have weakened Israel as a state built on the rule of law — the kind of state that its truest patriots have sought to create.

The Peace Now report is certain to sharpen, not end, the arguments about who owns which specific pieces of real estate. But the overall lesson of history remains clear: Difficult as dismantling the settlement enterprise will be, it is essential not only for a diplomatic solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is needed to restore Israel to itself.,1,1452539.story?coll=la-news-comment

Many have cautioned against evils of empire

A good reading list for Iraq Study Group
- Martin F. Nolan

Sunday, November 26, 2006

They are awash in words, flooded with advice and sweating to meet a deadline. The 10 members of the Iraq Study Group are the hope of many for a solution to the war in Iraq. They may not need a reading list, but they can find relevant wisdom in the writings of Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and even a recent volume by one of their own members, James Addison Baker III.

But first, they might consult "A Dictionary of Cliches" by Eric Partridge on two of their targets, slogans posing as policy alternatives. "To cut and run" sounds like a cowboy movie sneer, but the phrase is not from Hopalong Cassidy but Horatio Hornblower: "To decamp, or depart, hurriedly: colloquial. Nautical: from cutting the cable and running before the wind."

American naval heroes like John Paul Jones and Stephen Decatur did not consider this tactic cowardly. Seeing the sails of a larger enemy force, a prudent captain cut his anchor, ran, regrouped with his fleet over the horizon and lived to fight another day.

Today it would be called "redeployment," a phrase used in 2005 by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., when he shed his hawkish feathers and redirected the national debate on Iraq. The subsequent political uproar obscured Murtha's detailed strategy "to create a quick-reaction force in the region" and "to create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines."

By definition, cliches are phrases that have lost much of their meaning. "To stay the course" Partridge defines as "To endure; to pursue a task, a course of conduct, to the appointed end: colloquial: from horse racing." Propagandists have excised the crucial second half of that phrase: to the appointed end.

Thus, definitions of success appear and disappear and predictions of victory crash and burn. The Bush administration's talk of "war" and "wartime" has become a cliche in itself. Americans no longer believe in a war without mobilization, a military draft, higher taxes or even rationing gasoline.

The Iraq Study Group's report, due next month, will likely make more news in its emphasis on diplomacy rather than military strategy. One of its sponsors is the U.S. Institute for Peace. An emphasis on statecraft will be newsworthy precisely because diplomacy is so novel a notion in the Bush era.

The commissioners share bipartisanship, patriotic instincts and "former" in front of their titles. They will appreciate the candor of their co-Chairman Baker, who calls his memoirs "Work Hard, Study ... And Keep Out of Politics!" based on advice from his grandfather he heeded only partially.

Hooked on politics and public service, Baker confesses that "as my public prominence diminished, I also discovered that I could stand on busy street corners and walk through airports without being recognized. This was liberating in a way, but also -- truth be told -- disquieting."

Cynical gossips presume Baker is an emissary from the president's father to save Junior's bacon. To Beltway Freudians, let the co-chairman speak for himself: "Early in his first administration, President George W. Bush asked me to let him know each time I came to Washington, and I do. When it's convenient for him (and it usually is), he asks that I drop by for a private visit at the White House. I usually stay about 30 to 45 minutes. We discuss whatever is on his mind -- sometimes foreign or economic policy, sometimes politics, sometimes personnel. He wants me to be candid and frank, and I am. This idea that he is overly sensitive to critical comment is not accurate, as far as I'm concerned. And despite what a lot of pundits may imagine, I always speak for myself, not as a conduit from the president's father or anyone else."

Diplomacy requires a sense of self-awareness, a candid appraisal of the U.S. position in the world.

A new biography by historian Robert L. Beisner, "Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War," reveals why Harry Truman's secretary of state has become a topic of favored reading among diplomats. The late 1940s accelerated the decline of empire and the rise of new nations, many with artificial borders like Iraq's. Since 1945, the membership of the United Nations has almost quadrupled, from 51 to 192. What Acheson told West Point cadets on Dec. 5, 1962, now applies to America: "Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role."

Neocons now seldom talk of a "unipolar world" and barely whisper their once-favorite adjective of world ambition, "hegemonic." Because the end of empire is so important, the study group members should read Joseph Conrad, whose first language was Polish and whose subject matter was colonial adventure.

In "Heart of Darkness," Conrad relived his days as a seaman piloting a steamboat up the Congo River. His forecast of colonialism's eventual fate is bleakly accurate: "I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly."

Conrad's contemporary, Kipling, was 31 when the British Empire paused for a monthlong celebration of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. "At the back of my head there was an uneasiness ... and a certain optimism that scared me," the world's best-known writer recalled.

On July 17, 1897, the Times printed his "Recessional," a caution against imperial excess:

God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle-line,

Beneath whose awful hand we hold Dominion over palm and pine --

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget -- lest we forget! ...

Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire.

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

In 1892, Kipling wrote:

And the end of the fight is a

tombstone white with the name of

the late deceased, And the epitaph

drear: "A Fool lies here who tried

to hustle the East."

Kipling knew empire in all its glory and grimness. He also knew that the noblest intentions can be poisoned by hubris.

The task force
The Iraq Study Group, created by Congress, is a bipartisan task force charged with bringing "fresh eyes" to the conflict that began in 2003:

Co-Chair James A. Baker III, former secretary of state;

Co-Chair Lee Hamilton, former Democratic representative from Indiana;

Lawrence Eagleburger, former secretary of state;

Vernon Jordan Jr., senior managing director, Lazard, Freres & Co.;

Edwin Meese III, former attorney general;

Sandra Day O'Connor, former Supreme Court associate justice;

Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff;

William Perry, former secretary of defense;

Charles Robb, former U.S. senator;

Alan Simpson, former U.S. senator.

Martin F. Nolan, who lives in San Francisco, read many commission reports when he was Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe. Contact us at

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Hezbollah versus the CIA’s Cedar Revolution

Saturday November 25th 2006, 7:36 pm

As the engineered sectarian melt-down in Lebanon crawls forward, it is interesting to read the neocon columnists as they bewail the erosion of the “Cedar Revolution,” that is to say the neocon-neolib subversion of Lebanese politics.

“In this sense, the Gemayal assassination is one of the opening shots in Hezbollah’s showdown with supporters of the Cedar Revolution,” writes Mario Loyola for the National Review Online.
But what of this so-called Cedar Revolution? Is it purely a Lebanese political phenomenon, having risen out of the anger and opposition to the presence of Syria in the country?

“Standing behind Lebanon’s current effort to build democracy are U.S. and other international aid groups. Many had spent the past years building the foundations for democratic change. Now they can help ensure the success of what is known as the Cedar Revolution—named after the national tree depicted on the Lebanese flag,” explains USAID, a documented CIA asset, now more precisely an asset for the Pentagon and the State Department, as noted by Bill Berkowitz earlier this year.

“The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) functions as an instrument of CIA penetration into civil society, by enabling the ‘legitimate’ funding of millions of dollars to promote U.S. foreign policy abroad and influence internal politics of foreign nations while avoiding Congressional scrutiny,” writes Eva Golinger. According to Ralph McGehee, a former CIA agent, and other former CIA operatives, the agency manipulated the trade union movement in the Philippines through USAID front organizations.

“In a recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, American sociologist James Petras describes how progressive non-government organizations can be neutralized, if not coopted, thru US government, big business-backed funding agencies or CIA fronts and conduits masquerading as foundations,” writes Roland G. Simbulan for the Manila Studies Program at the University of the Philippines.

The purpose, according to Petras, is “to mystify and deflect discontent away from direct attacks on the corporate/banking power structure and profits toward local micro-projects …that avoids class analysis of imperialism and capitalist exploitation.” Neo-liberalism today, according to Petras, encourages NGOs to “emphasize projects, not movements; they ‘mobilize’ people to produce at the margins, not to struggle to control the means of production and wealth; they focus on the technical financial aspects of projects not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people.” While using the language of the Left such as “people empowerment,” “gender equality,” “sustainable development” etc., these NGOs funded by USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Asia Foundation, etc. have become linked to a framework of collaboration with donors and even with government agencies with whom they have partnerships that subordinate activity to nonconfrontational politics, rather than militant mass mobilization.

But it is not simply Asia where USAID works its “democratic” magic, more accurately described as cultural and economic voodoo. The CIA (and Pentagon) connected so-called NGO has turned up in Iraq, Haiti, the Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

It is especially interesting to read the account of USAID interference in Lebanon, as recounted by the Lebanese socialist Bassem Chit. “Lebanon’s ‘cedar revolution’ is being touted as the shining example of regime change on the cheap. Since the mass protest drove out the Syrians last year, Lebanon has seen an ascending flow of US interference. It varies from direct political manipulation and media campaigns to discreet funding of civil movements through ‘NGOs,” Chit wrote in May of this year.

It is worth quoting Chit at length:

A few months after the protests I received a call from a friend telling me that a US NGO called Freedom House wanted to meet “Lebanese activists”. Being a well known activist on the left and one of the organizers of the anti-war movement, I was intrigued by the purpose of the meeting. A few of us were invited to an expensive British restaurant in one of Beirut’s trendy neighborhoods.

An American-Lebanese woman representing Freedom House was accompanied by a “retired revolutionary” from Ukraine. The guy was eager to get us on board, and boasted of the joys of being “US-funded” — he added that after Ukraine’s Orange Revolution he even had the opportunity to “meet George Bush.” He obviously thought that was enough to close the deal.
After some questioning about the intentions of Freedom House it became clear they wanted to “fund youth movements to help the process of democratization”. At that point we told them that if they really wanted democracy to thrive in Lebanon they should leave the country immediately. Undeterred, they returned a few months later wanting to fund “transparency workshops and projects”. Again we refused.

That the US is wanting to finance Lebanese leftists might seem odd, but it is part of a pattern of political interference that emerged since the invasion of Iraq. During the “cedar revolution” US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman invited many of the leaders of the anti-Syrian movement to dinner parties. The US embassy also had a direct hand in fomenting the anti-Syrian protests.
The New York Post reported how, at the height of last year’s protests, “the CIA and European intelligence services were quietly giving money and logistical support to organizers of the anti-Syrian protests to ramp up pressure on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad… The secret program is similar to previous support of pro-democracy movements in Georgia and Ukraine, which also led to peaceful demonstrations.”


Now the country is awash with dubious NGOs. Among them is the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon, headed by Ziad Abdel Nour. The son of wealthy right wing Lebanese MP, Nour let the cat out of the bag when he declared, “We have absolutely no problem with heavy US involvement in Lebanon. On an economic level, military level, political level, security level… whatever it is. Israel is the 51st state of the United States. Let Lebanon be the 52nd state. And if the Arabs don’t like it, tough luck.”
As well as trying to tempt the left into its orbit and bankroll the many genuine civil movements, there is a whiff of arrogance about the US in Lebanon. Embassy staff and their hangers-on regularly colonize the cafes and restaurants in downtown Beirut. It seems no expense will be spared to wine and dine their way to regime change.

Yet the US has a problem. The sparkle has gone out of the “cedar revolution” and, far from delivering stability and prosperity, the country is sinking into economic malaise. The slogan that marked the revolution, “We have had enough of your lies, now leave”, is still being chanted, but now its is not aimed at the Syrians but at the US-backed politicians that run the country. You can’t buy that.

It is interesting Chit mentions the Freedom House. This so-called NGO is stacked with neocons and neolib one-worlders, including James “World War Four” Woolsey, a former director of the CIA and VP for Booz Allen Hamilton, and the Rockefeller protégé Zbigniew Brzezinski, the engineer behind the Afghan Mujahideen, eventually to conveniently morph into al-Qaeda. Others include the Trilateralist Samuel P. Huntington, architect of the “clash of civilizations” currently underway, and Clinton national security adviser Anthony Lake, former Kissinger lackey and Clinton’s pointman on the bombing of Yugoslavia.

It now appears all the hard work of the neocons and the USAID, NED, and other reactionary NGOs—work designed to subvert indigenous political activity frowned upon by the one-world types and their neocon kissing cousins—is for naught. “Hezbollah may be about to win power in Lebanon,” laments Mario Loyola. “But in the political dialogue of Lebanon—and the Arab world—Hezbollah has already won the argument. The murderous law of Hezbollah’s many grievances is now the real constitution of that country. That is the meaning of the martyrdom of Pierre Gemayal, and it is a tragedy for all of us.”

Of course, Mr. Loyola is speaking the language of his masters—the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, yet another neocon “think tank” aligned with the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the above mentioned Freedom House.

Predictably, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies includes on its roster the usual suspects, including the Ritchie Rich Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Newt Gingrich, Joseph Lieberman, James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Richard Perle.

Obviously, with friends like these, Lebanon needs no enemies.

Democrats Blame Iraqis for U.S. Induced Misery

Saturday November 25th 2006, 12:08 pm

Steny Hoyer, nicknamed “boy wonder,” is speaking tough to the besieged Iraqis.
Hoyer, as incoming House Majority Leader, wants the Iraqis to understand they only have themselves to blame for all the murder and misery in their country. “In the days ahead, the Iraqis must make the tough decisions and accept responsibility for their future,” said Hoyer during the weekly Democratic radio address. “And the Iraqis must know: Our commitment, while great, is not unending.”

“Once in power, Hoyer said, the Democrats hope to work with Republicans and the Bush administration to change direction in Iraq war plans,” reports ABC News.
Please note: Hoyer didn’t say the Democrats will end the “war” in Iraq. He said they will work with the Bush administration, that is to say the perfidious neocons.
All of this should be nothing new. Democrats have repeatedly expressed their approval of decimating Iraq and reducing it to a depleted uranium wasteland where, one day, the living will envy the dead. Last November, for instance, the Democrats voted their approval, by a 37 to 6 margin, for a Republican amendment in support of the neocon policy on the Iraq war. Not surprisingly, they also voted to support the illegal torture and internment of dirt farmers and hapless Muslims at Guantánamo.

“The passage of this measure was portrayed by Democrats and sections of the media as a rebuff to the Bush administration’s conduct of the war,” Patrick Martin wrote at the time. “It actually represents the watering-down of an already weak amendment offered by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan containing the same language about a ’successful completion’ of the US ‘mission’ in Iraq,” in other words, some things never change, and you can’t tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans, even if you turn them upside down.

No difference in the lot. Take as an example Tom Lantos, pegged to take over the House International Relations Committee. “A Holocaust survivor and strong supporter of Israel, Lantos is a hardliner on the Middle East—he has supported going to war in Iraq, sealing Syria’s borders with Lebanon, and getting tough on Iran,” writes James Ridgeway for Mother Jones. It should be remembered, as well, that Lantos held the forum responsible for launching the propaganda blitz in preparation for the first Gulf War. Lantos “held a hearing that starred a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl known only as Nayirah, who tearfully testified about the brutality of the Iraqi soldiers who pillaged her country,” but after the war had commenced, it turned out this girl “was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. and had been recruited by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton to sell an Iraq intervention to the American public.”
Some things never change.

Turn Lantos upside down, he is a flaming neocon. “Paul George, the director of the California-based Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, an anti-war organization whose membership is drawn largely from Lantos’ district, believes that as chairman, Lantos could spell trouble for the Democrats plans to change course in Iraq. ‘I think he’s going to be a real problem for the Democrats if they are sincere about reversing Iraq policy as it now exists,’ he said. ‘As chair of the committee responsible for Iraq, I think he will be in a position and be willing to block any changes that are needed,’” Ridgeway concludes.
Poor pathetic Dennis Kucinich thinks he can cut funding and put an end to the Iraq occupation. “The Democrats made their choice, and we’re united behind Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and our entire leadership team, and we’re going to do everything we can to fulfill the hopes of the American people for a new direction in Iraq, and I am going to do my part to keep the debate going,” Kucinich told Joshua Scheer earlier this month.

How dismal. Kucinich backs Pelosi, who has said “Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party,” in other words, more of the same. “Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she said,” according to the Washington Post.

In short, the Democrats support a Tower of Babel approach to Iraq.

It is said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Israeli citizen Rahm Emanuel, who also acts as a representative from Illinois and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, are leading the charge to get the United States out of Iraq.
And I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell.

As an example of how Democrats can be flipped, consider the fact Pelosi, described as one of the most “liberal” Democrats in Congress, opposed the invasion and, as the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee before the invasion, argued that Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the United States. As Democratic whip, she managed to scrape together 26 Democratic votes against Bush’s unconstitutional “authorization” to invade Iraq, but she was ultimately taken down by the Democrat leader Richard A. Gephardt, yet another warmonger who, if we did not live in Bushzarro world, would be in the docket, dressed in orange, awaiting prosecution for war crimes.

Now, with the victory of the Democrats, we have a new Nancy Pelosi.

It’s not so much that Democrats are “lily-livered vacillators on Iraq,” as Robert Dreyfuss would have it, but rather most of them support the occupation. Most of them, as Dreyfuss correctly notes, “voted for the war (and for the Patriot Act), and their ranks are shot though with pro-war right-wingers, not to mention the revived neocon Joe Lieberman…. The Democrats must thunder from the pulpit, threatening to rain down hellfire, hail and brimstone on Republicans who want to stay the course—while scrutinizing every Pentagon budget request and holding investigative hearings into war crimes, abuses, cost overruns and mismanagement.”
Sorry, Bob. But it ain’t likely to happen.

More likely, the U.S. military will meander toward an embassy rooftop sort of withdrawal, à la Saigon. But not before it sows more chaos, murder, and heart ache in Iraq and, as the neocons plan, in Iran, Syria, and the rest of the neighborhood.

Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, General Westmoreland, the criminals behind “Operation Menu” (the illegal invasion of Cambodia, resulting in the ascendancy of Pol Pot and the murder of 1.2 million Cambodians), Operation Linebacker II (also known as the “Christmas bombings,” the indiscriminate bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong), and hundreds of others, no shortage of them Democrats (in fact, it can be claimed Vietnam was indeed a Democrat war), should have faced a tribunal for war crimes.

Instead, most of them were allowed to write their memoirs.

It will likely be the same with the current crop of war criminals and appeasers.
Steny Hoyer talks tough with the Iraqi government, installed by the neocons, and the Democrats, under the guidance of Nancy Pelosi, are allowed to do their thing and not reach a consensus on withdrawing from Iraq.

In the months ahead, the Pentagon will “Go Big,” with a nod and wink from Democrats, who will declare they are still working on a withdrawal plan, honest, and John McCain’s plan to send more troops, most recently spelled out an op-ed piece published in the Manchester Union Leader, will be adopted “to protect Americans from the threat posed by violent Islamic extremists,” even those created by the CIA.

Finally, as McCain admits, the “voters might not always agree with us, but when they see us act on principle, see us tackle the hardest problems and risk our personal ambitions, they will draw the right conclusion: that we are acting on their behalf, not just our own,” never mind at the end of this road is not only a rendezvous with madness, but bullet-stopper conscription, as a continuation of the “war” in Iraq will embolden the neocons to carry out their plan to shock and awe Iran, a demented plan likely to result in a wider conflagration, flaming oil tankers, oil prices at $200 or more per barrel, a precipitated fall of the dollar against other currencies, a crushing and unsustainable deficit, and a hollowing depression, naturally blamed on them damn Arabs, the root of all evil in the world.

Elliott Abrams: The Last Neocon Standing

With the neocons in disarray, Elliott Abrams may be their best hope for keeping President Bush onboard.
By Michael Hirsh and Dan Ephron


Dec. 4, 2006 issue - It's been a rough season for neoconservatives, the group that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the attacks of September 11. They've been largely run out of the Bush administration, beset by infighting, and mocked by a foreign-policy establishment that hailed their power just a few years ago. Last month was particularly brutal. They looked on helplessly as Democrats took both houses of Congress. They had to grit their teeth when President Bush met with Washington dealmakers James Baker and Lee Hamilton, whose bipartisan group is charged with extricating America from the mess the neocon-influenced policy created in Iraq. Then, insult to injury: they watched their cold-war nemesis in Central America circa 1986, Daniel Ortega, rise again to be president of Nicaragua.

The neocons are reeling, but they're not dead yet. A few stalwarts are digging in their wing-tips. And there's already a small backlash against the backlash. At the State Department, supposedly the bastion of realism, some officials are sounding defiant. "There are a lot of people throughout the ranks who believe in the democracy agenda," says one senior official who would only discuss policy issues anonymously. "If the result of the Baker report is that we have to make any deal necessary ... to get out of Iraq, I don't think that's going to fly." Their hopes, and the hopes of neocons everywhere, may rest on the shoulders of Elliott Abrams, the number-two official at the National Security Council—who remains in charge of promoting democracy in the Middle East, a linchpin of the neocon agenda.

Abrams, who declined an interview request from NEWSWEEK, has his work cut out for him. A Harvard-trained lawyer, Abrams handles the Middle East, though not Iraq. Earlier this year, Abrams pushed for an $85 million expansion of TV and radio programming beamed into Iran to gently promote regime change. Now, toppling the mullahs might be off the table. The same goes for the policy of pushing reforms on Arab allies like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who has kept a key opposition figure in jail for more than 11 months and scaled back rights. Michael Gerson, who served until recently as Bush's speechwriter (and who is now a NEWSWEEK contributor), says Abrams must be troubled by the swing. "People who support the democracy agenda are deeply concerned that Mubarak is significantly backtracking," Gerson says. And Abrams has to cope with the fallout of his push for Palestinian elections—the rise of Hamas, and the breakdown of the peace process. But Abrams has one powerful advantage. "Bush has enormous regard for him," says a senior administration official who would not speak about their relationship on the record. "One, because he knows Elliott is keeper of the flame. And also, he's the only one who doesn't draw any attention to himself." (Abrams has been somewhat press-shy ever since he admitted to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-contra affair two decades ago; he was later pardoned.)

The biggest dogfight is still ahead: whether to cut a deal with regimes like Iran, North Korea and Syria. Bush's approach has been to counter threats from oppressive regimes by trying to change them. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the punditocracy's best-known neocon, says it's hard to imagine the president turning his back on all that. "I think Bush is the last neocon in power," he says. "The truth is, it was always Bush."

Kristol acknowledges the neoconservatives are turn-ing on each other. Francis Fukuyama, the "End of History" sage, has broken with the neocons publicly and believes that they are discredited. Richard Perle, the former Pentagon adviser, now says he probably wouldn't have invaded Iraq at all (Perle refused to talk to NEWSWEEK). Kristol dismisses what he calls the "confessional mode" of his old friend Perle. But Kristol also believes the infighting is natural. "Every intellectual group, every political group, goes through a period of mini crackup and reassembles in slightly different ways," he told NEWSWEEK. "For a group that's discredited, an awful lot of people are spending an awful lot of time discrediting us." Kristol's allies are looking to Abrams to pick up the pieces.



November 25, 2006

Israel is hiding behind a mask. A mask that hides its true face to the world; the face of a psychotic murderer. In some areas it would be referred to as a serial killer.. one that systimatically murders one particular type... in this case innocent children.

This particular incident occurred just two days before 22 people were murdered in Beit Hanoun... you would think that this beast would 'lie low' for a period of time.... not so in this case... they just put on their mask and continued their killing spree hoping no one would find out...

Well.... their cover has been blown! Once again they have been exposed as the murderer they are.... They have again been unmasked exposing the face of the real monster they are.
Below is an excerp from an article in HaAretz... the rest can be seen HERE.

The kindergarten teacher is lying on a stretcher, covered with blood. The minibus is parked alongside. From somewhere to the left, the army cannon is firing shells. The children are lying on the ground next to one another. That is how one of the children described the morning when they were driving to their kindergarten in Beit Lahia and an Israel Defense Forces shell or missile - the army spokesman refuses to say - exploded several meters away and mortally wounded the teacher before their eyes.

Two high school-students on their way to school, Ramzi al-Sharafi, 15 and Mohammad Ashour, 16, were killed in the bombing. And this week the children of the Indira Gandhi kindergarten buried their teacher, Najwa - which means "prayer" in Arabic - the mother of two toddlers, who lay in a coma for about two weeks in Gaza's Shifa Hospital.

Almost nothing was written in Israel about the shelling of the minibus carrying 20 youngsters. It happened two days before the shelling that killed 22 residents of neighboring Beit Hanun, at the height of Operation Autumn Clouds. By a miracle the missile/shell did not hit the minibus directly, but landed at a distance of 15 meters from it.


In a nation that preaches the virtues of democracy, the United States government has consistently eroded the media's ability to report and, by extension, undermines the ideals it professes to uphold

- William Bennett Turner

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Vladimir Posner, the former Soviet journalist, used to claim the press was freer in the Soviet Union than it was in the United States. This was during Glasnost, as the Soviet empire was disintegrating. Posner explained that the government was dysfunctional, so journalists did not have to worry about the official censors, and the media had not been privatized, so journalists were not accountable to commercial sponsors and advertisers. The result was a kind of anarchic freedom. The press was free, but only for a brief window in time.

The window in America once was open wide and, I thought, permanently so. I used to tell my students on the first day of class that we had the freest speech and press in the world. I can't do that anymore.

In recent years American press freedom has eroded. Many other countries are now ranked freer than the United States -- all of the Scandinavian countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and many others. In the most recent survey by Freedom House, an independent American-based organization that assesses liberties around the world, the United States tied for 17th place, with the Bahamas, Estonia, Germany and others.

The international free-press advocates Reporters Without Borders ranked us 53rd, tied with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. These rankings may not be scientifically valid, for a lot of subjective judgment is involved. But it is sobering to see the consensus that the United States is no longer anywhere near the top.

By virtue of Supreme Court decisions, the U.S. press remains freer than the press elsewhere in a few respects.

First, our law provides significantly greater protection for the press against libel suits, especially by government officials. In many countries, libel is a bullying tool for officials and the powerful to silence dissent. Under the 1964 decision in New York Times vs. Sullivan, insults, parodies and vicious criticism of officials are protected by the First Amendment.

Second, our law protects the press against almost any attempt by government to impose a "prior restraint" on what can be published. That is, the government is not allowed to censor, in advance, information the press may wish to publish. The famous "Pentagon Papers" case in 1971 allowed the New York Times and the Washington Post to publish information about a classified Defense Department study on American involvement in Vietnam, despite the government's contention that publication would impair national security.

Third, perhaps unique in the world, our law protects the advocacy of dangerous, potentially divisive ideas. One can preach overthrow of the government -- domestic "regime change" -- religious hatred, racial discrimination and even criminal activity. Under the Supreme Court's 1969 decision in Brandenburg vs. Ohio, government may not suppress ideas, however repugnant to most, unless their expression amounts to incitement to imminent unlawful acts.

It also is true that American journalists have not been physically attacked based on what they report, at least at home (although overseas, some have been, and one was beheaded). In some other countries, journalists risk harassment or worse for reporting that offends government officials or powerful figures. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 47 journalists were murdered last year.

But U.S. press freedom has been slipping away since Sept. 11, 2001. Now that we are in a seemingly permanent "war" on terrorism, the government claims wartime powers that result in restricting press freedom.

The Bush administration has multiplied exponentially the number of documents it classifies as secret, shielding them from public view. It has classified literally millions of documents "top secret," according to reports filed with the National Archives; and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney claims to be exempt from reporting even the numbers of records it brands with the "classified" stamp. (The administration has also tried to retrieve antique classified documents from columnist Jack Anderson's estate, contending that only the government may possess such documents, however old.) Within weeks after 9/11, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233, allowing him to veto public release not only of his own presidential papers but those of former President Ronald Reagan, Bush's father and former President Bill Clinton.

The administration also is aggressively pursuing leaks, not with a Nixonian Plumbers unit but by threatening criminal prosecution. Some Republicans in Congress have called for Espionage Act prosecution of the New York Times for publishing revelations about the National Security Agency's monitoring of communications by U.S. citizens and tracking international financial transactions. Bush himself said it was "disgraceful" for the Times to reveal these government activities and publishing the security agency's leak was "helping the enemy."

Pursuing leaks inevitably means pursuing the reporters who received and published the leaks, forcing them to give up confidential sources or telephone records or go to jail. Whatever Judith Miller's motivation and however questionable her arrangement with "Scooter" Libby, she went to jail solely because she refused to reveal communications with her source to the federal grand jury.

Although all states (except Wyoming) legally recognize some sort of privilege for reporters to protect the confidentiality of sources, there is no federal shield law, and the Supreme Court held in 1972 that the First Amendment does not itself serve as one, at least where the information is sought by a federal grand jury investigating a crime.

So reporters who dare to report leaked information that may be classified, or information about testimony before a grand jury -- as Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada did in the BALCO proceeding about steroids in sports -- face subpoenas requiring them to reveal their confidential sources to grand juries or go to jail. And now, Williams and Fainaru-Wada have been ordered to serve as much as 18 months in federal prison, a ruling they have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

So far, the courts have refused to protect subpoenaed reporters no matter how important the information they unearthed or how insignificant the alleged crime. It is true that reporters have never had strong protection against federal subpoenas, but they have hardly ever needed it. Until now.

One of former Attorney General John Ashcroft's first post-Sept. 11 acts was to issue a directive to federal agencies restricting access to government records under the Freedom of Information Act. Ashcroft's directive effectively reversed the presumption of openness and told agencies not to allow inspection of records if there was any arguable basis for withholding the records, assuring officials that Justice Department lawyers would defend them if sued.

Ashcroft's Justice Department also proceeded to round up mostly Muslim immigrants and conduct deportation hearings in secret, not allowing the press or public even to know that any hearing took place, which caused one federal judge to remark that "democracy dies behind closed doors." Ashcroft's moves toward greater secrecy were of a piece with Cheney's refusal when sued under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose even the identity of the corporate executives he met with to determine the administration's energy policy.

Unlike in Sweden, where the right of access to government documents is enshrined in the Constitution, our 1966 information act is solely a legislative creation. Unlike in South Korea, where the Supreme Court decided in 1989 that the right of access to government documents was an integral part of the constitutional freedom of the press, the U.S. Supreme Court held (in a case I lost, Houchins vs. KQED) that there is no such thing as a First Amendment right of access to government information or facilities. Consequently, Americans' right to know what their government is up to is not as well recognized as it is in some other countries.

Nor is government propaganda healthy for a free press or the citizenry. The Bush administration did not advance press freedom by producing and canning favorable "news" stories with fake reporters and peddling them to television stations, or by clandestinely paying friendly columnists for publishing opinions supporting administration policies.

Other recent U.S. government actions also cut into press freedom. The Federal Communications Commission's campaign to stamp out "indecency" and "profanity" in the broadcast media, with congressionally increased fines of $325,000 per violation for allowing a breast to be glimpsed or a dirty word uttered, has intimidated broadcasters.

The campaign may initially have been aimed at Howard Stern, but it puts at risk serious programming like a CBS documentary on 9/11 in which strong language escapes from the lips of firefighters and others in the inferno, "Saving Private Ryan" and even Masterpiece Theater's "Prime Suspect." Other countries like Sweden are bemused by American prissiness about sex and impose no comparable restrictions on their broadcasters.

The press is free in countries that trust the people to make wise decisions when they're fully informed, countries that remain willing to take the risks of dissent, rude discourse, instability and some insecurity, that tolerate eccentricity and unorthodox ideas. The erosion of press freedom in the United States, relative to other nations around the world, is disheartening. We have always had high expectations of freedom, which we now don't live up to.

It is hard to stomach the hypocrisy of claiming to spread democracy abroad while restricting at home the very freedoms that make democracy possible.

William Bennett Turner is a San Francisco lawyer who teaches a course on the First Amendment and the press at UC Berkeley. Contact us at

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