Thursday, May 31, 2007

Immigration and starving the poor: Chomsky

Starving the Poor
By Noam Chomsky
The International News

Wednesday 16 May 2007

The chaos that derives from the so-called international order can be painful if you are on the receiving end of the power that determines that order’s structure. Even tortillas come into play in the ungrand scheme of things. Recently, in many regions of Mexico, tortilla prices jumped by more than 50 per cent.

In January, in Mexico City, tens of thousands of workers and farmers rallied in the Zocalo, the city’s central square, to protest the skyrocketing cost of tortillas.

In response, the government of President Felipe Calderon cut a deal with Mexican producers and retailers to limit the price of tortillas and corn flour, very likely a temporary expedient.

In part the price-hike threat to the food staple for Mexican workers and the poor is what we might call the ethanol effect — a consequence of the US stampede to corn-based ethanol as an energy substitute for oil, whose major wellsprings, of course, are in regions that even more grievously defy international order.

In the United States, too, the ethanol effect has raised food prices over a broad range, including other crops, livestock and poultry.

The connection between instability in the Middle East and the cost of feeding a family in the Americas isn’t direct, of course. But as with all international trade, power tilts the balance. A leading goal of US foreign policy has long been to create a global order in which US corporations have free access to markets, resources and investment opportunities. The objective is commonly called “free trade,” a posture that collapses quickly on examination.

It’s not unlike what Britain, a predecessor in world domination, imagined during the latter part of the 19th century, when it embraced free trade, after 150 years of state intervention and violence had helped the nation achieve far greater industrial power than any rival.

The United States has followed much the same pattern. Generally, great powers are willing to enter into some limited degree of free trade when they’re convinced that the economic interests under their protection are going to do well. That has been, and remains, a primary feature of the international order.

The ethanol boom fits the pattern. As discussed by agricultural economists C Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, “the biofuel industry has long been dominated not by market forces but by politics and the interests of a few large companies,” in large part Archer Daniels Midland, the major ethanol producer. Ethanol production is feasible thanks to substantial state subsidies and very high tariffs to exclude much cheaper and more efficient sugar-based Brazilian ethanol. In March, during President Bush’s trip to Latin America, the one heralded achievement was a deal with Brazil on joint production of ethanol. But Bush, while spouting free-trade rhetoric for others in the conventional manner, emphasized forcefully that the high tariff to protect US producers would remain, of course along with the many forms of government subsidy for the industry.

Despite the huge, taxpayer-supported agricultural subsidies, the prices of corn — and tortillas — have been climbing rapidly. One factor is that industrial users of imported US corn increasingly purchase cheaper Mexican varieties used for tortillas, raising prices.

The 1994 US-sponsored NAFTA agreement may also play a significant role, one that is likely to increase. An unlevel-playing-field impact of NAFTA was to flood Mexico with highly subsidised agribusiness exports, driving Mexican producers off the land.

Mexican economist Carlos Salas reviews data showing that after a steady rise until 1993, agricultural employment began to decline when NAFTA came into force, primarily among corn producers — a direct consequence of NAFTA, he and other economists conclude. One-sixth of the Mexican agricultural work force has been displaced in the NAFTA years, a process that is continuing, depressing wages in other sectors of the economy and impelling emigration to the US.

It is, presumably, more than coincidental that President Clinton militarised the Mexican border, previously quite open, in 1994, along with implementation of NAFTA.

The “free trade” regime drives Mexico from self-sufficiency in food towards dependency on US exports. And as the price of corn goes up in the United States, stimulated by corporate power and state intervention, one can anticipate that the price of staples may continue its sharp rise in Mexico.

Increasingly, bio fuels are likely to “starve the poor” around the world, according to Runge and Senauer, as staples are converted to ethanol production for the privileged — cassava in sub-Saharan Africa, to take one ominous example. Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia, tropical forests are cleared and burned for oil palms destined for bio fuel, and there are threatening environmental effects from input-rich production of corn-based ethanol in the United States as well.

The high price of tortillas and other, crueler vagaries of the international order illustrate the interconnectedness of events, from the Middle East to the Middle West, and the urgency of establishing trade based on true democratic agreements among people, and not interests whose principal hunger is for profit for corporate interests protected and subsidised by the state they largely dominate, whatever the human cost.

Most colassally inept and incompetent administration in U.S. history

As Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson put it, “This is the most colossally inept and incompetent administration in American history.” 
And Wilkerson spent more than three decades in the Army

Iraq Intelligence Horror Stories Shouldn’t Be Old News 
By Jeff Stein, CQ National Security Editor 

Hearing horror stories about the manipulation of Iraq intelligence is like watching “The Exorcist” again and again: Each time you see something new and laugh at the parts that used to make your hair go up straight.

Patrick Lang told a hilarious story the other night, for example, about a job interview he had with Douglas Feith, a key architect of the invasion of Iraq. 

It was at the beginning of the first Bush term. Lang had been in charge of the Middle East, South Asia and terrorism for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1990s. Later he ran the Pentagon’s worldwide spying operations. 

In early 2001, his name was put forward as somebody who would be good at running the Pentagon’s office of special operations and low-intensity warfare, i.e., counterinsurgency. Lang had also been a Green Beret, with three tours in South Vietnam. 

One of the people he had to impress was Feith, the Defense Department’s number three official and a leading player in the clique of neoconservatives who had taken over the government’s national security apparatus. 

Lang went to see him, he recalled during a May 7 panel discussion at the University of the District of Columbia. 

“He was sitting there munching a sandwich while he was talking to me,” Lang recalled, “ which I thought was remarkable in itself, but he also had these briefing papers — they always had briefing papers, you know — about me. 

“He’s looking at this stuff, and he says, ‘I’ve heard of you. I heard of you.’ 

“He says, ‘Is it really true that you really know the Arabs this well, and that you speak Arabic this well? Is that really true? Is that really true?’ 

“And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s really true.’ 

‘That’s too bad,” Feith said. 

The audience howled. 

“That was the end of the interview,” Lang said. “I’m not quite sure what he meant, but you can work it out.” 

Feith, of course, like the administration’s other Israel-connected hawks, didn’t want “Arabists” like Lang muddying the road to Baghdad, from where — according to the Bush administration theory — overthrowing Saddam Hussein would ignite mass demands for Western-style, pro-U.S. democracies across the entire Middle East. 

Lang’s story is merely an illumination of what the Senate Intelligence Committee said in drier language May 25, that the White House was warned before invading Iraq that creating a stable democracy there “would be a long, difficult and probably turbulent process.” 

Suddenly the Cassandras are everywhere. These days you can’t drop a Blackberry between Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle without it being stepped on by a former intelligence official with prepared testimony or a book proposal. 

For those of us who have been around Washington for more than awhile, it’s unprecedented. 

There were defections from the Johnson administration over Vietnam, more with the Nixon administration’s invasion of Cambodia — and of course there were Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, which exposed a historical record of official deceit on Indochina. 

But back then intelligence officials didn’t quit one day and the next day write real-time books exposing the machinations of current, or near-current, defense and intelligence leaders. 

When one did in 1974 — dissident CIA executive Victor Marchetti, who wrote “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence,” an expose of how the agency overthrew governments, etc. (with John Marks, a former State Department intelligence analyst), there was an uproar. 

Today, there are fewer uproars than shrugs, weekend news blips. Even George Tenet’s memoir has already started falling down the rungs of The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. 

One reason might be that readers don’t think he’s telling the truth — and too late, at that. 

But another may be that the public has already concluded that, at least when it comes to the Middle East, the president and his men are — not to put too fine a point on it — dopes. Or worse. 

As Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson, appearing on the same panel with Lang, put it, “This is the most colossally inept and incompetent administration in American history.” 

And Wilkerson spent more than three decades in the Army. Even coming from the right hand man to the Bush administration’s former secretary of State, however, who was at the center of every intelligence controversy related to Iraq, that’s hardly news anymore. 

Still, with the added value of hindsight, their anecdotes still have a fresh punch. 
Here’s Another From Lang 

“I remember talking to [Paul] Wolfowitz, in his office, in the Pentagon, and telling him — this was after the propaganda build up had started, before the war. I said, ‘You know, these guys are not going to welcome you.’ 

“He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘For one thing, these guys detest foreigners, and the few who really like you are the least representative of the various breeds of people there. They’re going to fight you, then, if you occupy the place there’s going to be a massive insurgency.’” 

“He said, ‘No, no, they’ll be glad to see us,’” Lang continued. “This will start the process of revolution around the Middle East that will transform everything.’ 

No, Lang told Wolfowitz, “that’s not gonna happen. It’s just an impossibility. They’re not like that. They don’t want to be us.” 

Not everyone agrees with all of Lang’s views about the Arab world, but on this issue he was prescient, of course, as were almost all experts on the region outside of the neocon faithful. 

How come we learned so much of this dispute only after the war? 
Face Time 

Wilkerson provides a damning clue. 

In February 2003, Powell’s top aide relates, he “spent five of the most intimate days of my life, and five nights, without sleeping, as did my team, staring into . . . the face” of George Tenet, Tenet’s deputy John McLaughlin, and other top CIA officials working on Iraq, at the agency’s headquarters at Langley. 

It was the eve of Powell’s now infamous speech at the United Nations detailing Iraq’s alleged biological, chemical and nuclear programs. 

“One of the things Secretary Powell and I told Mr. Tenet and Mr. McLaughlin at the outset of our frenetic five or six days, trying to get ready for the U.N., was ‘multiple sources.’ We will not take anything and put it in this presentation, unless there are multiple, independently corroborated sources for the items we’re putting in the testimony,” Wilkerson said. 

“That was the going-in position.” 

Subsequently, he learned that there was but “a single source for the mobile biological laboratories; that his code name was Curveball; and that there were several very key dissents as to this individual’s testimony, during or before the preparation of the secretary of State.” 

Curveball, an Iraqi refugee, turned out to be a liar. 

“None of that, ladies and gentlemen, none of that was revealed to the secretary of State, or to me, or to any member of my team, by either John McLaughlin or George Tenet,” Wilkerson said. 

Tenet says in his memoir that he never heard of any serious questions about Curveball. 

As readers of this column know , however, Tenet’s chief of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, insists he sent a flurry of warnings about Curveball to Tenet’s deputies. 

Both can’t be right. 

“Either George Tenet is lying through his teeth, or Tyler Drumheller is lying through his teeth,” Wilkerson says, “with regard to one of the most important pillars of Secretary Powell’s presentation at the United Nations: the mobile biological laboratories.” 

We’re waiting now for a third CIA official to come forth with an answer. 

The other “pillar” for the invasion, of course, was Saddam Hussein’s alleged connection to al Qaeda. 

Now everybody knows that, too, was bogus. 

But in Wilkerson’s hands this “old news” seems fresh — like watching Tony Perkins creep up on Janet Leigh in “Psycho” again. 

Wilkerson relates how he and Powell were dubious about the Saddam-al Qaeda link the White House was pushing, and were trimming back that section of Powell’s draft on the eve of the speech. 

“All of a sudden, we were told that a high-level al Qaeda operative . . . had been interrogated and . . . revealed that there was major training going on by . . . Saddam Hussein’s people — of al Qaeda operatives in how to use chemical and biological weapons,” Wilkerson said. 

“This was quite a revelation, and, as you can imagine, changed the secretary’s mind about how much he was going to include about contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq in his presentation.” 

But that, too, it turned out, was phony. 

“One definition of news,” a mentor told me long ago, “is what people have forgotten.” 

If that’s so, then the horror stories of Iraq can be told again and again. 

And here’s one reason why they should be: CIA veterans are leaving in droves. 

The other night I was talking with a recently retired top CIA operations officer, a man who had been a station chief in several foreign capitals. 

“This government — what have they done to themselves?” he vented. 

“They took a fine intelligence service,” he said, “and managed to destroy it in two administrations.” 

I’m probably way out of step, but to me that’s still news.

from Congressional Quarterly

Jeff Stein can be reached at

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cindy Sheehan takes a break.

she says things we should all do more then just think about, remember this next time you vote

From The Nation --

John Nichols

Monday May 28, 2007

The decision of Congressional Democrats to hand George Bush a blank check to maintain a war they were elected to end has frustrated a lot of Americans -- even the until-now indefatigable Cindy Sheehan.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of slain soldier Casey Sheehan whose 2005 decision to camp out in Crawford, Texas, until George Bush heard her complaints about the war made her a hero to activists around the world, is one of them.

Here is what Sheehan, one of the most self-less campaigners this reporter has had the privilege of covering, wrote on her website after another Memorial Day with no end in sight to a war that should never has started:

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."

I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don't find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don't see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person's heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?

I have also reached the conclusion that if I am doing what I am doing because I am an "attention whore" then I really need to be committed. I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. If an individual wants both, then normally he/she is not willing to do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind his/her computer criticizing others. I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey's brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.

I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won't work with that group; he won't attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.

Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people. However, in five, ten, or fifteen years, our troops will come limping home in another abject defeat and ten or twenty years from then, our children's children will be seeing their loved ones die for no reason, because their grandparents also bought into this corrupt system. George Bush will never be impeached because if the Democrats dig too deeply, they may unearth a few skeletons in their own graves and the system will perpetuate itself in perpetuity.

I am going to take whatever I have left and go home. I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost. I will try to maintain and nurture some very positive relationships that I have found in the journey that I was forced into when Casey died and try to repair some of the ones that have fallen apart since I began this single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.

Camp Casey has served its purpose. It's for sale. Anyone want to buy five beautiful acres in Crawford , Texas ? I will consider any reasonable offer. I hear George Bush will be moving out soon, too...which makes the property even more valuable.

This is my resignation letter as the "face" of the American anti-war movement. This is not my "Checkers" moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources.

Good-bye America are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it. I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.

Good-bye America are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it.

It's up to you now.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

LAT Devolves: Labor and Economic Justice Go Uncovered

LAT Devolves: Labor and Economic Justice Go Uncovered

posted by Julia Rosen | 05.29.07
The LA Times is buying out 56 reporters contracts, including that of Nancy Cleeland, the paper's labor writer. She is leaving in "frustration with the paper's coverage of working people and organized labor, and a sad realization that the situation won't change anytime soon." Thankfully, the Huffington Post provided a platform for her to explain her decision and the massive failure of the LA Times to address issues of great concern to regional residents, their target market.

It's awkward to criticize an old friend, which I still consider the Times to be, but I think the question of how mainstream journalists deal with the working class is important and deserves debate. There may be no better setting in which to examine the issue: The Los Angeles region is defined by gaping income disparities and an enormous pool of low-wage immigrant workers, many of whom are pulled north by lousy, unstable jobs. It's also home to one of the most active and creative labor federations in the country. But you wouldn't know any of that from reading a typical issue of the L.A. Times, in print or online. Increasingly anti-union in its editorial policy, and celebrity -- and crime-focused in its news coverage, it ignores the economic discontent that is clearly reflected in ethnic publications such as La Opinion.

The city deserves and needs coverage of these issues, the vibrant LA County Labor Federation, and the impact of public policy on labor. The focus on crime and celebrities marks a shift away from real journalism. They are seeking quick profitability, not a quality product.

The editorial room has taken a hard rightward shift in recent years. This has had a profound impact on the op-ed columns they publish and their ability to retain writers like Cleeland. Too often the editorial page is in direct conflict with the items published in other sections of the newspaper.

Of course, I realize that revenues are plummeting and newsroom staffs are being cut across the country. But even in these tough financial times, it's possible to shift priorities to make Southern California's largest newspaper more relevant to the bulk of people who live here. Here's one idea: Instead of hiring a "celebrity justice reporter," now being sought for the Times website, why not develop a beat on economic justice? It might interest some of the millions of workers who draw hourly wages and are being squeezed by soaring rents, health care costs and debt loads.

In Los Angeles, the underground economy is growing faster than the legitimate one, which means more exploited workers, greater economic polarization, and a diminishing quality of life for everyone who lives here. True, it's harder to capture those kinds of stories than to scan divorce files and lawsuits. But over time, solid reporting on the economic life of Los Angeles could bring distinction and credibility to the Times. It also holds tremendous potential for interacting with readers. And, above all, it's important.

The answer to Cleeland's question is yes: writing on economic justice would be of great interest to tens of thousands of local residents, but they are not the current target demographic for the LAT right now. That is abundantly clear in these moves. The Times is eliminating hard journalism positions and hiring people for "celebrity justice". What a joke. What the heck does that mean anyways? One hopes that the reference to justice merely indicates coverage of legal proceeding rather than any advocacy angle.

There is and there will be a market for the type of journalism that Cleeland knows and loves, but it will not be with the LAT. The paper will sponsor less investigatory journalism of the type that brings Pulitzer Prizes and move towards blog style breaking news and celebrity fluff pieces. All major newspapers are dealing with declining subscription rates and the impact of the Internet. The LAT is taking a decidedly low-brow approach to solving their profitability problems.

For Cleeland's part, she has found another outlet for her writings.

I couldn't stop seeing them. I remembered the workers who killed chickens, made bagged salads, packed frozen seafood, installed closet organizers, picked through recycled garbage, and manufactured foam cups and containers. They were injured from working too fast, fired for speaking up, powerless, invisible. I saw that their impact on all of us who live in the region is huge.

Now, like hundreds of other mid-career journalists who are walking away from media institutions across the country, I'm looking for other ways to tell the stories I care about. At the same time, the world of online news is maturing, looking for depth and context. I think the timing couldn't be better.

With the Los Angeles Economic Roundtable, a source of economic research for 15 years, I'm exploring the development of a nonprofit online site to chronicle the regional economy from a full range of perspectives. We want to tap into the wealth of economic research being generated by academic institutions, business groups, labor unions and others, as well as the vast experience of ordinary Angelenos. After all, the economy is nothing more than how we live, work and consume, all drawn together.

I look forward to the development of such a website. It will be extraordinarily useful for my writings here at Working Californians. The blogs should be a natural outlet for the work being produced by the Roundtable. Hopefully, Cleeland will continue to write at HuffPo and other blogs. The story needs to be told and I glad the LAT's devolution will not silence her voice, for she speaks for millions without a voice in the public sphere.

The decline of the pro-war party


This time the admission came from a senior military official of Washington's only remaining major ally:

"The evidence does not suggest that the surge is actually working," said Alastair Campbell, the outgoing defense attache at the British Embassy in Baghdad May 20. According to Britain's Sunday Telegraph, Campbell also disclosed that U.S. commanders had decided that the criteria for "success" would be only a reduction in violence to the level prior to last year's bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra. That means 800 dead Iraqis a month - a figure that the Telegraph admits "few would regard as anything remotely approaching peace."

The administration's utter failure in Iraq is the driving force behind Bush's loss of public support and the fracturing of his right-wing coalition. The latest poll (May 24) shows opposition to the Iraq war at an all-time high: 60% say the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq; 76% - including a majority of Republicans - say that the additional U.S. troops sent this year have had no impact or are making things worse. Bush's overall approval level is just 30% compared to 63% disapproval.

Bush won some breathing space when the majority of House and Senate Democrats caved in to "don't-stab-our-troops-in-the-back" demagogy and approved Iraq war funding. But defeat in Iraq and popular disgust with the war are here to stay. Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell predicted a change: "I think the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall." He added the Republican spin that Bush "is going to lead" this policy shift and the White House leaked its standard scam that Bush is "considering major troop reductions next year." But the President will be even weaker in September than he is now.

Indeed, the main trend this last month was one setback after another for the beleaguered White House. Paul Wolfowitz was forced out at the World Bank (because of Iraq and the Neocon agenda, not favoritism toward his female companion). British Prime Minister Tony Blair - "Bush's poodle" - had to step down before he planned. Alberto Gonzales is skewered daily - he's now a symbol of the drive to make the Justice Department a Stop-People-of-Color-From-Voting arm of the Republican Party.

The London Times decided that it would stick a thorn in Bush's eye by choosing one-time leftist turned war hawk Christopher Hitchens to make its point about U.S. politics today:

"The main noise in Washington right now is that of collapsing scenery. The Republican party is in total disarray. They've been dropping their most intelligent people over the side while the presidential candidates are all outbidding each other to be nice about the revolting carcass of (Jerry) Falwell."

Bush and the right are not surrendering any ground without fighting and fear-mongering. But dramatic shifts in the public mood over the last year provide huge openings for the antiwar and other progressive movements to expand our reach, become a force in mainstream debate, and exert independent leverage as the guardians of empire grapple with over-reach and crisis on almost every front.


The crisis in Iraq is already out of Washington's control. Even to maintain a figleaf of progress the administration keeps sending more troops to kill and be killed. According to a Hearst Newspapers analysis May 22, "The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year... The little-noticed second surge... is being executed by sending more combat brigades and extending tours of duty for troops already there... the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 - a record-high number - by the end of the year.

"'It doesn't surprise me that they're not talking about it,' said retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, a former U.S. commander of NATO troops in Bosnia. 'I think they would be very happy not to have any more attention paid to this.'"

But it's too late. Bush can escalate, but he can't hide.


With Iraq a lost cause, a desperate-for-success U.S. administration is unleashing its fury on the long-demonized Palestinians. It is an open secret throughout the Middle East that the latest intra-Palestinian violence in Gaza has the hand of Israel and Washington all over it. Even the Washington Post reported (May 17) that "Israel this week allowed the Palestinian party Fatah to bring into the Gaza Strip as many as 500 fresh troops trained under a U.S.-coordinated program to counter Hamas... The troops' deployment illustrates the increasingly partisan role that Israel and the Bush administration are taking in the volatile Palestinian political situation."

Veteran South African journalist and senior editor Tony Karon cut to the heart of what's happening under the headline "Palestinian Pinochet Makes His Move":

"The Fatah gunmen who are reported to have initiated the breakdown of the Palestinian unity government may profess fealty to President Abbas, but it's not from him that they get their orders. They answer is Mohammed Dahlan, the Gaza warlord who has long been Washington's anointed favorite to play the role of a Palestinian Pinochet. Needless to say, only a U.S. administration as deluded about its ability to reorder Arab political realities in line with its own fantasies - and also, frankly, as utterly contemptuous of Arab life and of Arab democracy - as the current one would imagine that the Palestinians could be starved, battered and manipulated into choosing a Washington-approved political leadership."

Israeli government officials say outright that their own bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza (combined with support for Dahlan) is designed to destroy the Palestinian unity government and any Palestinian faction resistant to Israeli political demands. (Against this backdrop, the June 10 "The World Says No to Israeli Occupation" Mobilization - go to for full information - is more important than ever.)

Palestinian civilians are also the main victims of the current fighting at Palestinian refugee camps in northern Lebanon. The U.S.-supplied Lebanese army is bombarding civilian areas in its fight with the Al-Qaeda-linked militant Sunni group Fatah al-Islam. Thousands of Palestinians have been forced to flee to other camps where they are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Ironically, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh told CNN International, it is U.S. policy that nurtured Fatah al-Islam in the first place:

"The current situation is much like that during the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980s - which gave rise to al Qaeda - with the same people involved in both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the same pattern of the U.S. using jihadists that the Saudis assure us they can control. Since the Israelis lost the war with [the Shia-based] Hezbollah last summer, the fear of Hezbollah in the White House, is acute. As a result... we're in the business of supporting the Sunnis anywhere we can against the Shia... We're in the business of creating... sectarian violence."


Another area where major damage is being done to human lives and human rights is so-called "immigration reform." The Republican-Democrat "compromise" bill announced last week includes a few concessions to the immigrant rights movement but overall is a formula for placing millions in a form of racist indentured servitude. It includes a temporary worker program where the "guest workers'" status is tied to approval by their employers and where these workers to not have any meaningful pathway to permanent legal residence. The League of United Latin American Citizens declares: "If enacted, the temporary worker provision alone would create a new underclass of easily exploited workers who would be forbidden from realizing the American Dream. This bill will dehumanize workers... "

The bill's future is uncertain. Opposition from immigrant communities, labor and the progressive movement is growing as more and more of the bill's specifics are revealed to the public. The bill is also coming under furious attack from the extreme nativist right. This battle is taking place as divisions on the right are increasing, the Bush administration (which supports this legislation) is losing leverage, and progressive activists are feeling new energy and momentum. This means there is a definite chance to defeat this anti-immigrant attack - provided the broad peace and justice movement acts on the principle that "an injury to one is an injury to all."


With the 2008 presidential race already underway, struggles on every front inter-mesh in complicated ways with candidates' calculations and electoral dynamics. On the pivotal issue of Iraq, for instance, the Democratic hopefuls are all scrambling to burnish their antiwar credentials. This is a telling comment on how these ambitious figures read opinion within the Democratic Party's mass constituencies, and it provides both a huge challenge and a huge opportunity to the antiwar movement. So do the unmistakable signs that congressional Republicans are anxiety-ridden that continuing the disaster in Iraq will end their careers in 2008.

The challenge is to create such a powerful wave of popular antiwar sentiment that every candidate for office is forced to bow to it or pay a huge political price. Attempts to turn this relationship on its head - to subordinate the grassroots movement to a candidate's agenda instead of the other way around - will come from foe and "friend" alike. To resist this dynamic - which is buttressed by the very structure of the U.S. electoral system - the antiwar movement needs to aggressively reach into every corner of political and social life and substantially strengthen its independent infrastructure.

A number of important gatherings and initiatives are already in motion toward those ends, from next month's U.S. Social Forum and United for Peace and Justice National Assembly to the Iraq Summer effort initiated by Americans Against Escalation and the proposals being discussed in ever-wider circles for an Iraq Moratorium beginning in September and a "No War/No Warming" mobilization in October. A great deal rests on the capacity of some or all of these efforts to gain large-scale traction and make a dent among the millions of people whose thinking and actions will determine the next phase of U.S. politics.

War Times/Tiempo de Guerras is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Third World Organizing. Donations to War Times are tax-deductible; you can donate on-line at or send a check to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, c/o P.O. Box 99096, Emeryville, CA 94662.

The bloody war continues

Can You Believe This War Is Still Going On?

By Jim Hightower,

Hightower Lowdown

* 3,300 American troops and hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis are dead.

* Rumsfeld said the Iraq attack would cost $50 billion.
The tab so far exceeds $500 billion.

* Almost two million Iraqis have fled the country and
only 30% of kids can go to school.

On Easter Morning, George W. made another of his
periodic shows of Standing With The Troops. He attended
church services in the chapel at Fort Hood in Kileen,
Texas, after which he offered to the assembled media
this pious little announcement: "I had a chance to
reflect on the great sacrifice that our military and
their families are making. I prayed for their safety. I
prayed for their strength and comfort. And I pray for

He prayed for our troops' safety? How clueless is he?
George, you have the troops stuck in another country's
vicious civil war. They're under attack from every
direction by every faction, every hour of every day,
hit by car bombs, roadside bombs, chlorine bombs, IEDs,
suicide bombs, rocket fire, mortar rounds, snipers, and
assassins. There is no safety in Iraq.

He prayed for peace? George, YOU made this war. Don't
put it on God! The ONLY reason that America is in Iraq
is because you, "Buckshot" Cheney, Rummy, and the rest
rode us into an invasion and occupation on a pack of

God didn't do this, YOU did. Praying won't get it done.
God helps those who help themselves. You have peace in
your own hands.

Yet the war goes on

Only three days after George the Pious told us about
his prayers for safety, strength, comfort, and peace,
his Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, announced that all
active-duty soldiers already in Iraq or going there
will have their tours of duty extended from 12 months
to 15. "Our forces are stretched," Gates admitted, but
he said that this added burden is "necessary" in order
to carry out Bush's latest war strategy, his "surge"
scheme. The extension order affects 100,000 soldiers.
Plus their families. Bear in mind that many of these
families have already gone through two or three tours
in Iraq.

Back at Fort Hood, where Bush prayed, families were
angry. "A year is so long apart you hardly know your
husband," said Nichol Spencer. "Now they're making it

Theresa White said, "To a civilian, three months is 12
weeks. To an army wife, three months is the straw that
broke the camel's back."

Of course, that's three more months in hell that Bush
is committing these people to endure (this from a guy
who could not even complete an Easy Street tour of duty
stateside in the "champagne unit" of the Air National
Guard during the Vietnam War). To add insult to injury,
after saying that he had prayed for the "comfort" of
these soldiers and their families, Bush didn't even
have the courtesy to inform them in advance that the
extension was coming. "It was disrespectful," said
Mindy Shanahan, also from Fort Hood. Her husband is in
Iraq and will now be stuck there an extra three months,
assuming he survives. "We should have had at least 48
hours notice, instead of having to see this on CNN,"
she said.

Prolonging the time soldiers must spend in Iraq hides
one of the military's other little problems: Very few
Americans want to join Bush's war. Not even those young
Republicans who say they so enthusiastically support
the war are willing to bet their lives on it. So, in a
country of 300 million citizens, recruiters are
straining to meet a quota of roughly 80,000 new
soldiers a year, much less find more troops to cycle
into Bush's surge. The military has already raised the
maximum enlistment age from 35 to 42, which means that
if you and your wife had kids when you were 20 and
you're now 40, the whole family could go to war.
Wow--the Brady Bunch does Iraq!

Despite doubling the number of felons permitted to
enlist and lowering the minimum standards so more
high-school dropouts and people with low
mental-aptitude scores can be taken, the Pentagon still
is not getting enough volunteers. Even recent West
Point graduates, the Army's elite, are saying "no
thanks" to Iraq, choosing to leave active-duty service
at the highest rate in more than three decades.

Yet, the war goes on

Bush's war, now in its fifth year, has already lasted
longer than World War II. On Easter Sunday, as George
was saying his prayers, the number of American military
deaths in Iraq was approaching 3,300. And now, with his
surge, the rate of U.S. deaths is on the rise. All this
killing has prompted more eloquence from the
commander-in-chief: "Make no mistake about it. I
understand how tough it is. I talk to families who

Then there are some 24,000 soldiers who haven't died
but instead have come home maimed and traumatized,
including more than 1,300 who've lost arms and/or legs,
and more than 4,600 who've suffered severe head or
brain injuries. Many of them have been sent to the
"comfort" of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, just a
short hop from Bush's hangout at the White House. There
they have been greeted with horrific conditions and
cold indifference.

When news of this scandal broke, Bush feigned surprise
and expressed obligatory outrage. But, wait, George --
you're the president, you're in charge of this
disgrace! It's your Pentagon budget (now above
half-a-trillion dollars a year) that has been lavishing
money on favored contractors while quietly snipping
away at funding for Walter Reed. A review panel
concluded last month that your Pentagon was aware of
this neglect, yet it still cut funds even as the
hospital was being inundated with thousands of severely
maimed soldiers returning from Iraq. The panel said the
hospital is now beyond repair.

It's not just Walter Reed, either. The nationwide VA
system is overwhelmed with patients and experiencing
crucial shortages in staff and facilities. As of
January, there was a backlog of 600,000 vets awaiting
care--nearly a third of whom have been waiting six
months or longer. All this on your watch, George--while
you've been demanding that war critics "support our
troops." Meanwhile, your current budget proposal
reduces funding for veterans' care in 2009 and
2010--just when the military expects that the influx of
wounded will peak.

Yet, the war goes on

Asked in January 2003 what the price tag was for the
Bushites' upcoming Iraq attack and occupation, Donny
Rumsfeld said that the budget office forecast "a number
that's something under $50 billion."

Not quite right. Iraq is now costing us $6 billion a
month (the surge will be extra), and total direct costs
through this year will top $500 billion. Included in
that is $12 billion that was airlifted in 2003 to the
interim Iraqi government in shrinkwrapped stacks of
$100 bills (the load weighed 363 tons) and promptly
disappeared. Poof...gone!

Add in such indirect costs as veterans' long-term
health care and replacement of the military hardware
consumed by the war, and the tab runs to $1.2 trillion
or more. David Leonhardt, a New York Times economic
analyst, has itemized some other things we could've
bought with that sum instead of the mess in Iraq. His
list includes:

* TEN YEARS of universal health care, covering every
American who is now without it. * DOUBLING the cancer
research budget. * GLOBAL IMMUNIZATION of the world's
children against measles, whooping cough, tetanus, TB,
polio, and diptheria. * UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL for every
3- and 4-year-old child in America. * RECONSTRUCTION of
New Orleans. * IMPLEMENTATION of all of the 9/11
Commission's recommendations.

Yet, the war goes on

Being positive is one thing, but George W has gone from
positive to delusional. Last year, in a rhetorical
reach to claim that things were looking up in Iraq, he
offered this: "I think--tide turning. See, as I
remember--I was raised in the desert, but tides kind
of--it's easy to see the tide turn."

He might ask the Iraqi people about tide-turning
progress in his war. Outside of Baghdad's
four-square-mile fortress known as the Green Zone,
where the U.S. brass and Iraqi political elite reside,
life is miserable. Violence erupts constantly and
unpredictably, fear is everyone's companion, jobs are
scarce, going anywhere is dangerous, basic services are
practically nonexistent, and distrust, frustration, and
anger rule.

An official UN count puts last year's death toll of
innocent Iraqi civilians at 34,452--three times higher
than the U.S. had admitted. Another 36,685 were
wounded. One analysis puts the civilian death toll much
higher--a total of 655,000 since the invasion.

Some 2 million Iraqis (16% of the population) have fled
the country, including 40% of professionals (one third
of doctors fled, 2,000 have been murdered). Three
thousand people a day are fleeing--so many that Saudi
Arabia (Bush's superrich ally in his war) is building a
560-mile fence to keep them out. By the way, the U.S.
allowed only 202 Iraqi refugees into our country last

Another 1.6 million Iraqis are displaced within their
country, forced from their homes by various factions in
the civil/religious war. Many of these are children.
Only 30% of Iraqi children attended school last year
(pre-war, nearly 100% percent were in school). Children
routinely witness violence and killings that are often
gruesome, including seeing family and friend die. A
recent study of 2,500 grade school children in Baghdad
found that 70% showed symptoms of trauma.

While Bush brags that his war has liberated women, in
reality there has been an explosion of violence against
them, including widespread abductions, public beatings,
rapes, "honor killings," torture, beheadings, and
public hangings. The president of the Iraqi National
Council of Women goes nowhere without a bodyguard. "I
started with 6," she said, "then I increased to 12, and
then to 20, and then to 30." One of the women in Iraq's
parliament said bluntly, "This is the worst time ever
in Iraqi women's lives."

Yet, the war goes on

Lest we forget in the foggy mist of Bush's rationales
for his war (WMDs! al Qaeda connections! Democracy for
the people!), Iraq sits atop the world's second-largest
oil reserve. The proven reserves are 112 billion
barrels, with a probable pool in excess of 400 billion
barrels. At current prices, that's about $25 trillion
worth of crude.

When certain outrageous commentators (like me)
suggested at the start of the war's build-up that an
oil grab could be involved, Rumsfeld barked to the
media, "It has nothing to do with oil, literally
nothing to do with oil." Could that have been another
Bushite lie?

Yes. Big Oil has long wanted to get its hands on Iraq's
vast reserves. In a 1998 speech, Chevron's CEO said,
"I'd love Chevron to have access." Big Oil's wish is
Bush's command, and as early as December 2002, just
before the invasion, the state department's
oil-and-energy working group was saying that Iraq
"should be opened to international oil companies as
quickly as possible after the war."

In 2004 Bush & Company drafted a secret legislative
proposal to deliver this national treasure to the oil
giants. This February, the proposal was introduced to
the Iraqi parliament, and now the Bushites, oil
lobbyists, and a handful of Iraqi pols are urgently
trying to pass it.

This law would transform Iraq's oil reserves from a
nationally owned resource to a privatization model,
opening two thirds of the known oil fields (and all
fields discovered in the future) to control by Big Oil.
Instead of having Iraq's parliament make the major
decisions over oil, an unelected authority called the
Federal Oil and Gas Council would take charge. And
guess who would have seats on the council? The major
oil corporations!

This autocratic group would then decide who gets the
contracts to extract the nation's oil. That means Big
Oil would be approving its own bids! Also, the
corporations would not have to hire Iraqis, reinvest
profits in Iraq, or share new technologies. Foreign
interests would even be allowed to divvy up the
territory now, hold their pieces of the action until
after the current civil war settles down, and then move
in to grab profits.

Yet, the war goes on

If you think that maybe our selfannointed "war
president" is in over his head, ponder this bit of
strategic insight from George: "No question that the
enemy has tried to spread sectarian violence. They use
violence as a tool to do that."

Uh, yeah...and it seems to be working. Bush's surge
strategy is intended to concentrate our forces in
Baghdad to rid the capital of violence. But since the
surge began, residents have not noticed any lull in the
carnage, instead experiencing a record number of car
bombings. On April 12, the Green Zone itself got a
wake-up call when a suicide bomber detonated himself in
the parliament's cafeteria, killing three lawmakers and
five others.

Meanwhile, knowing that the U.S. surge was coming and
would last for only a few months, the deadly Shiite
militias based in Baghdad have simply stood down to
wait out Bush. With U.S. and Iraqi forces surging in
Baghdad, the bloodshed has spread to the countryside.
In late March, for example, two massive truck bombs
ripped through the town market in Tal Afar, killing 48.
In response, Shiite militia went on a revenge spree
against Sunni residents, killing some 60 of them.

Then there's the Kurdish zone in the north, which had
been rather calm...until now. The Iraqi constitution
cobbled together by the Bushites a couple of years ago
contains a provision requiring a referendum on the
future of the region's capital city, Kirkuk. Now,
because two sides want to control this wealthy city, a
new front has opened in the Iraq war.

On one side are the Kurds, who have set up their own
essentially autonomous government in the north and have
well-armed, battleseasoned militias ready to fight for
the land they claim as their own. Opposing them are the
Arabs, who were moved into the Kurdish zone by Saddam
Hussein years ago but now consider it to be theirs.
They are also heavily armed and--follow the bouncing
ball here--they are backed by the government of
neighboring Turkey, which is fighting a Kurdish
independence movement inside its own borders.

Literally underlying this explosive ethnic imbroglio is
one of the world's largest oil reserves, which means
Big Oil also has a keen interest in "winning"--whatever
that involves. To add to the nasty potential, Iran
cares very much about this fight and has deployed
security forces to the border it shares with the
Kurdish zone.

The government in Baghdad, under enormous pressure (aka
blackmail) from Kurdish legislators, has just decided
to back the Kurds' claim--and the Arab side in Kirkuk
is already setting off bombs in Kurdish neighborhoods.

Yet, the war goes on

In a tragi-comic bit of presidential posturing, Bush
assembled a dozen or so veterans, soldiers, and family
members in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White
House for a media show on March 23. With these human
"stage props" lined up behind him, George lashed out at
congressional Democrats for passing a bill requiring
withdrawal from Iraq next year. Without even a smile of
irony, Bush called the Democrats' effort "an act of
political theater."

Well, this particular withdrawal bill won't get the job
done, but it's a reflection of the broad public demand
to stop this horrible folly. Roughly two thirds of
Americans want out of Iraq by next year, and 54%
support a cutoff of funds for Bush's surge. Even the
troops in Iraq want a withdrawal, for only 35% of those
polled by Military Timeslast December said that they
approve of George W's handling of the war.

Still, some progressives despair. They say that last
year's elections were a clear mandate for withdrawal,
but the Democrats have been weak and the killing
continues, so what's the use? That's right on the
facts, but totally wrong on the attitude. We made great
strides last year, and we've changed the national
debate on the war. Yes, Bush and Cheney are boneheads,
and the Democratic leadership has Jello in its spine,
but what did you expect? Popular movements have always
had to muster the tenacity to overcome
disappointments-- and ours is no different. Come
on--we've got 'em on the run! Far from being down, take
energy from the gains we've made--and keep pushing on.
No one is going to stop the war but us.

From "The Hightower Lowdown," edited by Jim Hightower
and Phillip Frazer, May 2007. Jim Hightower is a
national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and
author of "Thieves In High Places: They've Stolen Our
Country And It's Time to Take It Back."
(c) 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Democrats and Republicans give Bush the money for war

Published on Friday, May 25, 2007 by The Progressive
Feingold, Kucinich Denounce the Democratic Cave
by Matthew Rothschild

And so the Democrats caved, pathetically, to Bush and to Bush’s war.

“It tells American workers that the only way they will get an increase in wages is to continue to support funding the war which is taking the lives of their sons and daughters,” Kucinich said.

No amount of extenuation can minimize the fact that the Democrats, who were brought to power in Congress to end the war, have just signed on to another $120 billion for that war.

There is not even a timetable for withdrawal, just 18 benchmarks that the President himself can waive.

What an abdication!

What a capitulation!

Even as U.S. soldiers are increasingly bogged down in Baghdad, even as the death toll of our troops zoomed past the 3,400 mark, the Democratic compromisers in Congress could not find enough spinal fluid to stand tall against Bush and the inevitable you-don’t-support-the-troops ads that they fear so much.

Well, they’re going to have to summon the courage to withstand those ads at some point, or they’ll end up voting for an additional hundred billion dollars down the road.

With this vote, they’ll be consigning hundreds of additional soldiers to their deaths.

Largely to blame for this is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who mindlessly trumpeted the bill as some sort of an accomplishment.

“For heaven’s sake, look where we’ve come,” he said. “It’s a lot more than the President ever expected he’d have to agree to.”

Is it really?

Bush essentially got everything he wanted. No timetable. No mandatory benchmarks. And all the money he needs to keep waging the war.

Also to blame is Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who is an old Clinton triangulator. “I view this as the beginning of the end of the President’s policy,” he somehow managed to mutter.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed no leadership on this issue. She even helped broker a deal that she herself can’t abide. “I’m not likely to vote for something that doesn’t have a timetable,” she said. So why did she go along?

At least two Democratic members of Congress distinguished themselves in their opposition to this primitive cave.

Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said: “I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history. There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action.”

And Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio exposed the hideousness of one of the strategies of the Democratic leadership: to salt the bill with an increase in the minimum wage.

“It tells American workers that the only way they will get an increase in wages is to continue to support funding the war which is taking the lives of their sons and daughters,” Kucinich said. “First, blood for oil. Now, a minimum wage for maximum blood. Aren’t the American people giving enough blood for this war without having to give more to have a wage increase?”

Not a penny more should be spent on this war, except to get our troops out of there.

That’s what the American people want.

And it is the height of cowardice and negligence for the Democrats to give Bush what he wants, instead.

Update: Barbara Lee Condemns Iraq Bill

On the House floor on May 24, Representative Barbara Lee issued the following statement:

“Mr. Speaker, in 2003 Congress approved a $78 billion dollar supplemental. In 2004 it was $87 billion. In 2005 it was $82 billion. In 2006 it was $72 billion. And now the administration wants almost $100 billion more?

“As of today, 3,429 of our brave troops and countless Iraqis have died in this occupation. The President has dug us into a deep hole in Iraq and it boggles my mind that Congress wants to give him another blank check to buy more shovels.

“This occupation and civil war cannot be won militarily. Mr. Speaker, how many will have to die before this House stops writing blank checks?

“Mr. Speaker, the American people are looking to Congress to end this failed policy and bring our troops home.

“Two months ago, we took the Lee Amendment to the Rules Committee, which would have fully funded the safe and timely withdrawal of U.S forces from Iraq. That is what we should be voting to do today, not to give the President another blank check. I urge my colleagues to vote against this bill.”

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

© 2007 The Progressive

Edwards Statement on Congressional Passage of the Iraq War Funding Bill (5/24/07)

John Edwards released the following statement today following Congress' passage of an Iraq war funding bill:

"Washington failed America today when Congress surrendered to the president's demand for another blank check that prolongs the war in Iraq. It is time for this war to end.
"Congress should immediately use its funding power to cap troop levels in Iraq at 100,000, stop the ongoing surge, and force an immediate drawdown of 40-50,000 troops, followed by a complete withdrawal in about a year.

"The American people's call for a new course in Iraq was not answered today, but Congress still has the power to end this war. Our security and democracy alike demand it."


Monday, May 21, 2007

Prison budget or education budget?

Prisons' budget to trump colleges'
No other big state spends as much to incarcerate compared with higher education funding

James Sterngold, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, May 21, 2007

As the costs for fixing the state's troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone -- for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.

Based on current spending trends, California's prison budget will overtake spending on the state's universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.

But California has all but guaranteed that prisons will eat up an increasingly large share of taxpayer money because of chronic failures in a system that the state is now planning to expand.

Under a new state law, California will spend $7.4 billion to build 40,000 new prison beds, and that is over and above the current annual operating budget of more than $10 billion. Interest payments alone on the billions of dollars of bonds that will be sold to finance the new construction will amount to $330 million a year by 2011 -- all money that will not be available for higher education or other state priorities.

"California is just off the charts compared with other states in corrections spending," said Michael Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, a leading research organization. "Budgets are a zero-sum game, essentially. The money for corrections comes from other places. The shame of it is that California could have improved crime rates and a better funded higher education system if they ran things better."

In fact, even some supporters of the recent prison reform legislation, AB900, say they harbor deep doubts about the corrections department's ability to improve things, no matter how much is spent. But they say there is no choice, and that the result is that Californians are going to have to accept throwing billions of dollars more at the problem, while trusting a corrections department that has a history of failure.

"I'm not defending the damn department," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, the chairman of a state Assembly committee overseeing the state's prison construction efforts. "The department is a shambles. They couldn't build their way out of a paper bag. Everyone has a reason to be skeptical. Everyone is holding their breath, hoping that this time they're successful."

Asked if the prison spending accurately reflected the state's values and priorities, several politicians insisted it did not, and some suggested it was something of an embarrassment for a state that in other areas, such as environmental programs, likes to think of itself as a pioneer in smart policymaking.

"I'll tell you what, it's clearly not a statement of our priorities," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles. "Our policies are hurting the economy of California. This is a disservice to our economy."

Núñez blamed the prison spending on a get-tough-on-crime mentality among politicians that equates more prison spending with safer streets, when that is hardly the case.

"A budget is a statement of priorities," said Bill Shiebler, president of the University of California Student Association, which has been fighting sharp increases in state university tuition fees for several years. "I do think our state's got its priorities wrong. The governor is burdening people who work the hardest with what are tax increases. It seems they're more interested in locking people up than giving people an opportunity in life."

Michael Genest, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's finance director, said that he, too, was uncomfortable with the state committing such a large sum to prisons, but that mismanagement and failed rehabilitation programs in the past made it unavoidable.

"I don't think it's a good thing," said Genest. "It's unfortunate."

He said that one of the key drivers was the fact that the state pays the guards and other prison employees far more than any other state, a policy choice the state had made in past years. In addition, he said, the porous border allowed too many lawbreakers from Mexico to enter the state, where they eventually ended up in prison.

But Genest defended the increases in spending as needed to institute better rehabilitation programs, which would eventually save money, although he said it was uncertain when or if they would show results.

"It's not going to happen overnight, and no one can say how much it's going to save," said Genest. "But it should eventually save money."

According to the May revisions of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget, the state will spend $10 billion on prisons in fiscal 2007-08, a 9 percent increase from last year.

Higher education spending will come to $12 billion, a nearly 6 percent increase. Moving forward, the legislative analyst says, spending on higher education probably will grow around 5 percent a year, while prisons spending will grow by at least 9 percent annually.

Steve Boilard, a legislative analyst, said that actual spending on the state university systems is already at about parity with prisons spending. The budgets, he said, for the University of California, the California State University and the community colleges come to $10.5 billion in fiscal 2007-2008. The rest of the higher education budget includes financial aid for student and other noninstructional programs.

Following the historic growth rates, in fiscal 2012-2013, prisons spending will come to about $15.4 billion a year while overall higher education spending will come to $15.3 billion.

Some politicians are calling the new construction spending and new rehabilitation programs an investment that eventually will pay off in the form of reduced recidivism. California has among the highest recidivism rates in the country, with 70 percent of released inmates ending up back in prison within three years. But even advocates of reform say that payoff will be long in coming.

"We all have a wish that prison spending would take a smaller percentage of our budget," said Spitzer. "However, that's a decade away, in my opinion. For another decade we're going to need large infusions of money to deal with this and our off-the-chart recidivism rates."

California is alone among big states in spending so much on prisons. Texas, for instance, will spend $4.5 billion on higher education in 2007 and $2 billion on prisons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida will spend $3.9 billion on its universities and $2.1 billion on prisons, while New York has budgeted $3.5 billion on its universities and $2.2 billion on prisons.

According to the conference of legislatures, seven small states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware, spend nearly as much on prisons as higher education, but most states budget two or even three times as much for universities.

The new reform program, AB900, includes about 40,000 new prison beds, about 8,000 of those for medical and mental health care. Currently, there are about 173,000 inmates in the state prisons, which is about double the design capacity. The legislative analyst projects that the population will grow by another 17,000 over the next five years.

Jacobson of the Vera Institute said one of the greatest problems in California is not just that it spends so much on prisons but that it gets such poor results. New York state, for instance, is enjoying both a declining inmate population and declining crime rates.

"When you think about some of the alternatives for spending that kind of money, there are much better things you can do for public safety that would be a lot more effective," he said.

E-mail James Sterngold at

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

The times they are a changing

Gonzales next?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wolfowitz Resigns: some integrity restored

May 18, 2007
Wolfowitz Resigns From World Bank

WASHINGTON, May 17 — Paul D. Wolfowitz, ending a furor over favoritism that blew up into a global fight over American leadership, announced his resignation as president of the World Bank Thursday evening after the bank’s board accepted his claim that his mistakes at the bank were made in good faith.

The decision came four days after a special investigative committee of the bank concluded that he had violated his contract by breaking ethical and governing rules in arranging the generous pay and promotion package for Shaha Ali Riza, his companion, in 2005.

The resignation, effective June 30, brought a dramatic conclusion to two days of negotiations between Mr. Wolfowitz and the bank board after weeks of turmoil.

“He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that,” said the board’s directors in a statement issued Thursday night. “We also accept that others involved acted ethically and in good faith.”

In the carefully negotiated statement, the bank board praised Mr. Wolfowitz for his two years of service, particularly for his work in arranging debt relief and pressing for more assistance to poor countries, especially in Africa. They also cited Mr. Wolfowitz’s work in combating corruption, his signature issue.

Mr. Wolfowitz said he was grateful for the directors’ decision and, referring to the bank’s mission of helping the world’s poor, added: “Now it is necessary to find a way to move forward. To do that I have concluded that it is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership.”

Mr. Wolfowitz’s negotiated departure averted what threatened to become a bitter rupture between the United States and its economic partners at an institution established after World War II. The World Bank channels $22 billion in loans and grants a year to poor countries.

But he left behind a place that must heal its divisions and overhaul a flawed, cumbersome structure that had allowed the controversy over Mr. Wolfowitz to spread out of control.

People close to the negotiations said that Mr. Wolfowitz had agreed not to make major personnel or policy decisions between now and June 30. Some bank officials said he might go on an administrative leave and cede day-to-day functions to an acting leader, but that might not be decided until Friday.

President Bush earlier in the day praised Mr. Wolfowitz at a news conference but signaled that the end was near by saying he regretted “that it’s come to this.” A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said, “We would have preferred that he stay at the bank, but the president reluctantly accepts his decision.”

More important for the bank’s future, Mr. Fratto said, President Bush will soon announce a candidate to succeed Mr. Wolfowitz, quashing speculation that the United States would end the custom, in effect since the 1940s, of the American president picking the bank president.

Many European officials previously indicated that they would go along with the United States’ picking a successor if Mr. Wolfowitz would resign voluntarily, as he now has.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said Thursday that he would “consult my colleagues around the world” before recommending a choice to Mr. Bush, in what seemed to be an effort to assure allies that the United States would not repeat what happened in 2005 when Mr. Bush surprised them by selecting Mr. Wolfowitz, then a deputy secretary of defense and an architect of the Iraq war.

Leaders of Germany and France objected but decided not to make a fight over the choice and risk reopening wounds from their opposition to the war two years earlier. Some also argued that Mr. Wolfowitz, as a conservative seeking to write a new chapter in a career that had been focused on national security, might bring new support to aiding the world’s poor.

Soon after Mr. Wolfowitz took office, however, he engaged in fights in various quarters at the bank over issues including his campaign against corruption, in which he suspended aid to several countries without consulting board members, and his reliance on a small group of aides.

Mr. Wolfowitz’s resignation, while ending the turmoil that erupted in early April over the disclosure of his role in arranging Ms. Riza’s pay and promotion package, will not by itself repair the divisions at the bank over his leadership, bank officials said Thursday evening.

By all accounts, the terms of Mr. Wolfowitz’s exoneration left a bitter taste with most of the 24 board members, who represent major donor countries, as well as clusters of smaller donor and recipient countries. Most had wanted to adopt the findings of the special board committee that determined he had acted unethically on the matter of Ms. Riza.

But the closest the board came to criticizing Mr. Wolfowitz was saying in that “a number of mistakes were made by a number of individuals in handling the matter under consideration and that the bank’s systems did not prove robust to the strain under which they were placed.”

Also angered was the bank’s staff association, which had called for Mr. Wolfowitz’s resignation in early April. The bank’s internal blogs were filled with denunciations of the action on Thursday evening.

Late in the evening, the association issued a statement saying, “Welcome though it is, the president’s resignation is not acceptable under the present arrangement,” and that it “completely undermines the principles of good governance and the principles that the staff fight to uphold.”

The association represents most of the 7,000 full-time employees at the bank in Washington. Their unhappiness could be a crucial factor in the bank board’s ability to heal the wounds left by the fight over Mr. Wolfowitz. It appeared likely that after Mr. Wolfowitz’s departure there would be a departure of several top aides, including Robin Cleveland, who officials said was involved in the negotiations over the statements accompanying his departure.

During the day, as word spread throughout the institution that Mr. Wolfowitz was close to a deal, some officials said that one of the obstacles was his compensation package. But there was no information Thursday night on whether he would receive any sort of severance package or pension, or be reimbursed for legal fees from his long battle.

Mr. Wolfowitz’s pay package was $302,470 in salary as of 2004 — the bank pays any of the taxes on that sum — and $141,290 in expenses. His contract calls for him to be paid a year’s salary if he is terminated, but it was unclear whether his resignation would be considered a termination as defined by the contract.

Mr. Wolfowitz’s fight for vindication was led by his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, and negotiated at the bank by the British director, Thomas Scholar, a close associate of Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the Exchequer who is to become prime minister this summer.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Wolforwitz - gone.
Rumesfeld - gone
Negroponte -

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Breton of the Sac Bee reports graffiti

From the Sunday Bee:
Marcos Bretón: Conflict puts Sac State in a sorry state

By Marcos Bretón - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, May 13, 2007

The walls of a men's room are never good reading, especially when the message is:

"Never hire a beaner to do a white man's job."

Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez was the target of this vulgarity, which was discovered in late April scrawled near a Sequoia Hall toilet, and came to light last week in the campus newspaper.

Penned with black markers, the sentiment exemplifies the dark side of a caustic climate afflicting Sacramento's public university.

How caustic? When a call for comment went out to the chancellor of the California State University system last week, Charles Reed called back in minutes.

"That is totally uncalled for on a university campus," he said.

No one is saying there's a link between the racist graffiti smeared in anonymity in a Sac State bathroom and the professors on campus at odds with Gonzalez. Those Gonzalez opponents -- 77 percent of the faculty members who participated in a referendum -- went very public on April 27 with a vote of "no confidence."

"It was not about Alexander Gonzalez the man," Juanita Barrena, a professor of biological sciences and campus fixture since 1975, said of the vote.

"It's about what's happening inside the university."

Put more bluntly, it's about power.
Note: Breton claims he is not linking the graffiti to the conflict with Gonzalez; but of course that is exactly what he did.
He printed graffitti as is it was news.
What a strange choice.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Democrats sell out labor on trade deal?

things look bad.
This press release just came out from the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), one of the leading fair traders in Congress and the author of the book “The Myths of Free Trade”:
“Yesterday’s announcement by Chairman Rangel, Chairman Levin, Chairman Baucus and Ambassador Schwab is the result of millions of voters speaking out in November against a fundamentally-flawed trade policy. It is the result of the largest ever bipartisan coalition formed against the NAFTA-model trade pact. It is the result of tireless efforts by fair trade advocates in the U.S. and across the globe fighting every day for a new direction in trade. The proposed changes recognize the inherent flaws in the current approach to trade and signal some willingness to address long- held concerns over labor and environmental standards. However, I have significant concerns about the enforceability of the changes. Given the administration’s failure to act against on known violations in Jordan and China, among other nations, those concerns are well founded. Time will tell whether yesterday is the beginning of efforts toward a better trade model or just a brief tactical retreat on the part of the administration. I look forward to reviewing the changes in these agreements in their entirety, and working with my colleagues on a trade policy that is acceptable to the millions of voters who sent us to Congress.”
Still no word on the full details of the trade deal.

For more see
I don't know about you, but I did not help elect Democrats to advance Bush policies on trade.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

State Teachers on NCLB

State teachers oppose the 2014 deadline of No Child act

Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2007
As Congress prepares to renew the controversial No Child Left Behind Education Act, California teachers announced Wednesday their intention to try and gut its core: the requirement that every student score at grade level by 2014.

The federal law's emphasis on testing -- often to the exclusion of the arts, science and social studies -- has taken the joy out of learning and teaching, said teachers at half a dozen news conferences across the state. They were sponsored by the California Teachers Association.

"We'd like for all students to score at grade level -- period -- without that definite time," said Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco. "It's education, not a car race."

Union leaders from around the Bay Area gathered at Sanchez Elementary in San Francisco with a newcomer to the anti-testing wars: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

"If No Child Left Behind were enacted when I was a student, I would not be here. I would have failed miserably," the mayor said, adding that he had severe dyslexia as a child and had trouble passing tests. "I do feel personal about it."

Teachers from Daly City, Oakland, San Jose, Richmond, Fremont, Pittsburg and Sonoma also endorsed changes to the law, and said they will lobby Congress to cut loose billions of dollars in additional school funding.

The teachers want schools to be judged by criteria other than tests alone, such as graduation rates and attendance. And they want schools that improve to be seen as successful under the law; currently, even an improving school can be deemed a failure if it doesn't improve fast enough.

Enacted in 2002, the bipartisan No Child Left Behind is the latest incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Five years ago, the law established the first proficiency requirements for all public schools and districts -- and progressively more severe consequences on those that fail to satisfy them if they also receive federal Title I money for low-income students. In California, most schools and districts receive Title I money.

It works like this: Each year, a rising percentage of students at every school has to score at grade level in math and English until 2014, when 100 percent -- hence the name No Child Left Behind -- are at grade level. In California, 24.4 percent of students are supposed to score at grade level in English this year, and 26.5 percent have to do as well in math. Next year, the percentages climb to more than 35 percent.

At schools that fail to reach goals two years in a row, consequences are applied: mandated teacher training and tutoring, and, ultimately, the possibility of closure or takeover by an outside agency.

"Now is the time for us to organize and demand substantial changes to this law," said Melanie Blake, a teacher in Sonoma Valley Unified, whose entire school district headquartered in the town of Sonoma is undergoing consequences.

"No Child Left Behind treats students and teachers like parts of an assembly line," said Marc Sternberger, president of the Pittsburg Education Association.

In Washington, Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, is preparing to introduce a new No Child Left Behind bill after months of hearings.

He is expected to include more funding -- he has blamed the Bush Administration for underfunding the education law by more than $40 billion -- and some changes demanded by the teachers, such as regarding improving schools as successful.

The fate of the 2014 deadline remains unclear.

"He wants to be responsive to teachers' concerns," said Tom Kiley, Miller's spokesman. "But he doesn't want to give up on the core idea that holding schools accountable for academic performance is how you make sure no child is left behind."

E-mail Nanette Asimov at

This article appeared on page B - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The New Anti-Intellectualism in America

Published: March 20, 2007
The New Anti-Intellectualism in America
When Curricular Rigor and ‘Pedagogical Fraud’ Go Hand in Hand
By Nel Noddings
It seems odd to accuse the schools of anti-intellectualism when they are engaged in a relentless drive for higher test scores, and students are required to take more difficult academic courses. Passing rates on some state and local tests show small increases, but there has been little if any improvement on well-established national tests. The small gains we’ve seen may be the result of concentrated instruction on narrowly defined objectives. But we are not promoting intellectual habits of mind. Indeed, we may be reducing intellectual life to mental labor. What are the signs that this is happening?

First, there is a proliferation of fake academic courses. These courses are instigated by the demand that almost all children now take academic courses such as algebra and geometry. The decision for this requirement has not been supported by strong, well-informed debate. Is it true, for example, that all students need more mathematics today than people did in previous generations? If the answer is yes (but there are powerful arguments in favor of a negative reply), then it is reasonable to ask, What sort of mathematics? Must it be traditional algebra and geometry? Why?
Instead of debating these questions, policymakers have mandated—in the name of equality—that all children, regardless of their talents and interests, should have the “opportunity” once reserved for relatively few. Hardworking teachers then must try to get unwilling, unprepared students through material they have no interest in learning. Many youngsters have alternative, genuine talents, but these are disregarded. To give such students a chance to pass the required courses, teachers concentrate on a few discrete skills that can be gained through a steady routine of drill.
Providing a complete structure of what is to be learned and a detailed list of outcomes expected of all students facilitates quick, shallow learning and swift forgetting.

I’ve observed such classes. In some, no word problems or applications are even attempted. In a bow to analytic geometry, the distance formula is memorized, but with no mention of the Pythagorean theorem. In many geometry classes, no proofs at all are done. (Reducing the emphasis on proof is justified, but eliminating it entirely casts doubt on whether the course should be called geometry.) The end result is that many students have “algebra” and “geometry” on their transcripts, but they can’t pass state tests in math, and they need remedial courses in college. They have had pseudo-algebra and pseudo-geometry. This is pedagogical fraud, and such students are doubly cheated. They do poorly in the required courses, and they are deprived of courses in which they might have done well.
I am not arguing that the traditional academic courses are properly “intellectual” and other courses are not. On the contrary, I believe that intellectually exciting topics and challenging problems can and should arise in all well-taught classes—in cooking, chemistry, photography, mechanics, and everything else the schools offer. My objection is to the virtual elimination of intellectual content in many of today’s academic courses.

A second signal is that the overuse of specific learning objectives in all subjects works against the development of intellectual habits of mind. Superficially, it seems fair to tell students exactly what they must learn and be able to do as a result of instruction. This is instructionally sound when we are teaching a narrowly defined skill, but it is a poor way to encourage problem-solving, critical thinking, and the habits of mind that support further, deeper learning. Too often the result of such instruction is students who can add when told to add, or solve quadratic equations when told to “solve the following quadratic equations,” but cannot decide when to use these techniques in solving problems. In the interest of intellectual habits of mind, students must be asked to identify for themselves the important points in every unit of study, construct their own summaries, attempt problems that have no obvious solution, engage in interpretation, and evaluate conflicting explanations and points of view.
Join the related discussion, “Standardized Expectations vs. Creative Thinking.”
Providing a complete structure of what is to be learned and a detailed list of outcomes expected of all students facilitates quick, shallow learning and swift forgetting. The little actually remembered is very like a collection of meaningless bits for Trivial Pursuit. Students come to expect that they should have answers at their fingertips instead of developing an attitude of inquiry—one of willingness to figure things out.

The insistence on precisely stated learning objectives, moreover, also drastically reduces the number of classroom sessions designed to expose students to new, interesting ideas that may or may not result in specific learning. It is right to pay continuous, careful attention to whether students are learning certain specific material. But there should also be sessions devoted to intellectual “inputs”—topics teachers choose to present or offer—leaving open what students might do as a result.
To support intellectual life and the joy of learning, we should expand the possibilities, not narrow them.

Many intellectually exciting and socially significant lessons conducted by creative teachers are designed to induce awareness, not specific learning. It is a shame to sacrifice such sessions in our zeal to achieve a pre-specified learning objective for every lesson, every day. In addition to asking the question, Has Johnny learned X? we should also ask, What has Johnny learned? In a class of 25 students, we might get 25 different answers to this—some disheartening (from which we should learn), and some quite thrilling.
To support intellectual life and the joy of learning, we should expand the possibilities, not narrow them. Part of our job as educators is to offer opportunities, to open the door to a world of intellectual possibilities. Another part is to encourage our students to think and to take responsibility for their own expanded learning. It is important, therefore, to consider intellectual inputs as well as pre-specified student outcomes.
Students do not come to us as standard raw material, and we should not expect to produce standard academic products. Intellectual life is challenging, enormously diverse, and rewarding. It requires initiative and independent thinking, not the tedious following of orders. It should not be reduced to mental drudgery.

Nel Noddings is the Lee L. Jacks professor of education, emerita, at Stanford University. Her latest book is Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
Vol. 26, Issue 28, Pages 29,32

Monday, May 07, 2007

Video: U.S. Army in Iraq

John Bruhns, a former sergeant in the Army, stuck his neck out when he went to Iraq and now he's doing it again, by speaking out against the president.

He's the subject of a new TV ad made by Oliver Stone—the culmination of our VideoVets project.

Right now, the president is trying to bully Congress into submission over the Iraq Accountability Act by slamming them for "not supporting the troops." John's voice—and other Iraq veterans' voices—can counter that. They can tip the debate toward ending the war. Will you chip in $20 to help us get these vets on the air? Please click below to watch the ad and contribute to air it.

John said in an interview on CNN that he hopes Americans will see his ad and realize that "there are veterans that are coming home from this war that are very patriotic, that love America, but just are not going to blindly follow this president and this failed policy continually."1

Readng First data : not impressive

Reading First gains unimpressive
Sent to the Seattle Times, May 7, 2007

The Times (“Spellings’ errors,” May 7) notes that
Congress is carefully examining procedures at the US
Dept of Education relating to possible “mismanagement
and cronyism” related to Reading First. They might
also want to take a closer look at the test scores.

Last month, the department announced a gain of 12%
over two years in the percentage of third grade
children reading at the “proficient” level under
Reading First. I examined this data and found that the
actual gain was only 6%. And I also found that some
states did poorly: Most notably, Pennsylvania’s
children declined nearly 10% between 2004 and 2006.
This is not impressive, especially when we consider
the fact that Reading First provides an extra 100
minutes a week of reading instruction, which could
total an extra semester over a two year period.

Also, the Department of Education insists on the use
of strict scientific methodology when evaluating the
impact of a program, but ignored a fundamental
scientific principle in reported the reading data:
There was no comparison group: Even the 6% increase
could have been due to factors other than the use of
Reading First.

Stephen Krashen

My analysis: (April 24,

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Interesting video on society and change

This is an interesting lesson about how our society is changing.
Teachers: It might interest your students.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.