Thursday, November 29, 2007


10% have 90%: welcome to Central America

It seems to be official: 1 percent of Americans get 21% of the all the income. That was in 2005. They keep getting more and more. The bottom 50% only earned less than 13% of the income. That’s quite a difference. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, folks.

The rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer. It hasn’t been like a vast seizure of wealth, but it’s been incremental. The middle class and the poor are getting boiled alive, much the way frogs can be killed by putting them in a pan of cold water and gradually increasing the heat until they’re dead. Its slow enough that nobody actually rebels at the state of things. Everybody—except someone who’s rich—just whines more. It works out to something like this: 10% of the population owns 90% of the wealth in this banana—er, great republic.

The Wall Street Journal

October 12, 2007

Income-Inequality Gap Widens
Boom in Financial Markets
Parallels Rise in Share
For Wealthiest Americans
October 12, 2007; Page A2

The richest Americans' share of national income has hit a postwar record, surpassing the highs reached in the 1990s bull market, and underlining the divergence of economic fortunes blamed for fueling anxiety among American workers.

The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005, according to new data from the Internal Revenue Service. That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000, at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks.
• Widening Gap: The wealthiest Americans' share of national income has hit a postwar record, surpassing the highs reached in the 1990s bull market, and highlighting the divergence of economic fortunes blamed for fueling anxiety among American workers.
• Behind the Numbers: Scholars attribute rising inequality to several factors, including technological change that favors those with more skills, and globalization and advances in communications that enlarge the rewards available to "superstar" performers whether in business, sports or entertainment.
• Political Fallout: The data pose a potential challenge for President Bush and the Republican presidential field. They have sought to play up the strength of the economy and low unemployment, and the role of Mr. Bush's tax cuts in both. Democrats may use the data to exploit middle-class angst about stagnant wages.
• See related IRS data1.

The bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004 and a bit less than their 13% share in 2000.

The IRS data, based on a large sample of tax returns, are for "adjusted gross income," which is income after some deductions, such as for alimony and contributions to individual retirement accounts. While dated, many scholars prefer it to timelier data from other agencies because it provides details of the very richest -- for example, the top 0.1% and the top 1%, not just the top 10% -- and includes capital gains, an important, though volatile, source of income for the affluent.

The IRS data go back only to 1986, but academic research suggests the rich last had this high a share of total income in the 1920s.

Scholars attribute rising inequality to several factors, including technological change that favors those with more skills, and globalization and advances in communications that enlarge the rewards available to "superstar" performers whether in business, sports or entertainment.

In an interview yesterday with The Wall Street Journal, President Bush said, "First of all, our society has had income inequality for a long time. Secondly, skills gaps yield income gaps. And what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education, starting with young kids. That's why No Child Left Behind is such an important component of making sure that America is competitive in the 21st century." (See article2.)

Jason Furman, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to Democratic politicians, said: "We've had a 30-year trend of increasing inequality. There was an artificial reduction in that trend following the bursting of the stock-market bubble in 2000."

The IRS data don't identify the source of increased income for the affluent, but the boom on Wall Street has likely played a part, just as the last stock boom fueled the late-1990s surge. Until this summer, soaring stock prices and buoyant credit markets had produced spectacular payouts for private-equity and hedge-fund managers, and investment bankers.

One study by University of Chicago academics Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh concludes that in 2004 there were more than twice as many such Wall Street professionals in the top 0.5% of all earners as there are executives from nonfinancial companies.

Mr. Rauh said "it's hard to escape the notion" that the rising share of income going to the very richest is, in part, "a Wall Street, financial industry-based story." The study shows that the highest-earning hedge-fund manager earned double in 2005 what the top earner made in 2003, and top 25 hedge-fund managers earned more in 2004 than the chief executives of all the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, combined. It also shows profits per equity partner at the top 100 law firms doubling between 1994 and 2004, to over $1 million in 2004 dollars.

The data highlight the political challenge facing Mr. Bush and the Republican contenders for president. They have sought to play up the strength of the economy since 2003 and low unemployment, and the role of Mr. Bush's tax cuts in both. But many Americans think the economy is in or near a recession. The IRS data show that the median tax filer's income -- half earn less than the median, half earn more -- fell 2% between 2000 and 2005 when adjusted for inflation, to $30,881. At the same time, the income level for the tax filer just inside the top 1% grew 3%, to $364,657.

Democrats, on the other hand, have sought to exploit angst about stagnant middle-class wages and eroding benefits in showdowns with Mr. Bush over issues such as health insurance and trade.

Write to Greg Ip at greg.ip@wsj.com5
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Chris Hedges: Nailing down the fall of America

I’m ambivalent about Chris Hedges, most of the time. For whatever neurotic reasons, I think he’s kind of a weenie. Yeah, I know: misjudgment is one of my fortes.

This essay does a great job of deconstructing the empire and it’s crumbling facade. One thousand words: I could not do anywhere near as good a job. The problem is, though, that who cares? You know the old joke: “The biggest problem today is apathy...but who cares...”

We’re demoralized. I am and most of the people I meet feel equally powerless and cynical in the face of our government’s stupidity and bullshit. In many countries, governments are afraid of the people—as Jefferson dreamed. In Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, Stalin’s Russia, though, the people were afraid of the government. That’s the way it is here in America, too. The story is that back in the days of Jack Kennedy, nobody wanted to take on J.Edgar Hoover, the nutty head of the FBI, because he had the goods on just about everybody in government. He would have loved the way things are today. That’s why nobody among the Democrats is really willing to stand up to the Bush-Cheney Junta: they’re compromised. It isn’t just the blockheads like Larrry Craig or Trent Lott that have shady connections or smelly histories: the Democrats do, too. Christ, it costs so much to be elected, all of the politicians, especially the highly visible ones, have to go in debt to some sources of bad money.

America in the Time of Empire
By Chris Hedges
Monday 26 November 2007

All great empires and nations decay from within. By the time they hobble off the world stage, overrun by the hordes at the gates or vanishing quietly into the pages of history books, what made them successful and powerful no longer has relevance. This rot takes place over decades, as with the Soviet Union, or, even longer, as with the Roman, Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires. It is often imperceptible.

Dying empires cling until the very end to the outward trappings of power. They mask their weakness behind a costly and technologically advanced military. They pursue increasingly unrealistic imperial ambitions. They stifle dissent with efficient and often ruthless mechanisms of control. They lose the capacity for empathy, which allows them to see themselves through the eyes of others, to create a world of accommodation rather than strife. The creeds and noble ideals of the nation become empty cliches, used to justify acts of greater plunder, corruption and violence. By the end, there is only a raw lust for power and few willing to confront it.

The most damning indicators of national decline are upon us. We have watched an oligarchy rise to take economic and political power. The top 1 percent of the population has amassed more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, creating economic disparities unseen since the Depression. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president, we will see the presidency controlled by two families for the last 24 years.

Massive debt, much of it in the hands of the Chinese, keeps piling up as we fund absurd imperial projects and useless foreign wars. Democratic freedoms are diminished in the name of national security. And the erosion of basic services, from education to health care to public housing, has left tens of millions of citizens in despair. The displacement of genuine debate and civil and political discourse with the noise and glitter of public spectacle and entertainment has left us ignorant of the outside world, and blind to how it perceives us. We are fed trivia and celebrity gossip in place of news.

An increasing number of voices, especially within the military, are speaking to this stark deterioration. They describe a political class that no longer knows how to separate personal gain from the common good, a class driving the nation into the ground.

"There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of forces in Iraq, recently told the New York Times, adding that civilian officials have been "derelict in their duties" and guilty of a "lust for power."

The American working class, once the most prosperous on Earth, has been politically disempowered, impoverished and abandoned. Manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas. State and federal assistance programs have been slashed. The corporations, those that orchestrated the flight of jobs and the abolishment of workers' rights, control every federal agency in Washington, including the Department of Labor. They have dismantled the regulations that had made the country's managed capitalism a success for ordinary men and women. The Democratic and Republican Parties now take corporate money and do the bidding of corporate interests.

Philadelphia is a textbook example. The city has seen a precipitous decline in manufacturing jobs, jobs that allowed households to live comfortably on one salary. The city had 35 percent of its workforce employed in the manufacturing sector in 1950, perhaps the zenith of the American empire. Thirty years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Today it is 8.8 percent. Commensurate jobs, jobs that offer benefits, health care and most important enough money to provide hope for the future, no longer exist. The former manufacturing centers from Flint, Mich., to Youngstown, Ohio, are open sores, testaments to a growing internal collapse.

The United States has gone from being the world's largest creditor to its largest debtor. As of September 2006, the country was, for the first time in a century, paying out more than it received in investments. Trillions of dollars go into defense while the nation's infrastructure, from levees in New Orleans to highway bridges in Minnesota, collapses. We spend almost as much on military power as the rest of the world combined, while Social Security and Medicare entitlements are jeopardized because of huge deficits. Money is available for war, but not for the simple necessities of daily life.

Nothing makes these diseased priorities more starkly clear than what the White House did last week. On the same day, Tuesday, President Bush vetoed a domestic spending bill for education, job training and health programs, yet signed another bill giving the Pentagon about $471 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. All this in the shadow of a Joint Economic Committee report suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been twice as expensive than previously imagined, almost $1.5 trillion.

The decision to measure the strength of the state in military terms is fatal. It leads to a growing cynicism among a disenchanted citizenry and a Hobbesian ethic of individual gain at the expense of everyone else. Few want to fight and die for a Halliburton or an Exxon. This is why we do not have a draft. It is why taxes have not been raised and we borrow to fund the war. It is why the state has organized, and spends billions to maintain, a mercenary army in Iraq. We leave the fighting and dying mostly to our poor and hired killers. No nationwide sacrifices are required. We will worry about it later.

It all amounts to a tacit complicity on the part of a passive population. This permits the oligarchy to squander capital and lives. It creates a world where we speak exclusively in the language of violence. It has plunged us into an endless cycle of war and conflict that is draining away the vitality, resources and promise of the nation.

It signals the twilight of our empire.


the frustrated photographer raves on....

Well, dammit, I took a bunch of photos on our trip up to Anacortes and now I can't find the bloody USB-miniUSB cable to download them. Rats. I feel like I put it someplace safe. It's very safe: it appears to be unfindable. I have absolutely no idea where it could be. Some places I've checked twice.

There doesn't seem to be any legitimate way to blame somebody else. Believe me, I've run through all possible scenarios that would put the blame elsewhere. My fault. Twenty dollar cable, too, bloody hell.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Back in the saddle again...

One more month and the American holiday/Holyday season will be over. Not a moment too soon, of course.

We were gone for a week. When we came back, on Saturday, the internet connection was down; we didn't get back to cyberlandia until late yesterday. I spent a half-hour with tech support: we somehow got my system back up on-line without knowing quite how we did it. Sometimes it's smart not to ask the wizard too many questions.

Something that came along and was clogged in the pipes was this link:

If you think about it, this link...well, it would be one hell of a christmas card.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Deep down in the ground, fantasy meets reality

Spinning and spinning...

One of the blog/news sites from way out west, here, has a discussion going on about the Mining Act of, I think, 1872. That old law still in effect. It's been a wonderful way for big companies to mine the public lands and not have to pay much of anything for the privlege. A few bribes here and there to make sure the law doesn't get changed too much, but it's meant companies like Anaconda, Peabody, Kennecott, and dozens of others have been able to extract billions and billions of dollars' worth of coal and copper and gold—hell, even gravel!—from land that at least in theory belongs to all of us. And then walk away from the ruins of their pasts.

There is a movement to reform that law—not to prevent egregious abominations like the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, or the ruined rivers flowing from hundreds of abandoned mines and mills, but to at least charge more for the ability to rip off the future.

Mining is as wrapped in fantasy as cattle-ranching and logging. You think of miners and you think of the old guys wandering around with their burros, looking for gold and silver all over the empty western spaces. The reality of mining, though, was the same in the west as in the east: dirty dangerous deadly work in near darkness for low wages. The big old mining towns we remember, Butte, Virginia City, Tombstone, Leadville, Silver City were ugly muddy shanty towns with overfilled cemeteries and many grieving families. It was no more romantic than chopping cotton or digging sewers. But the fantasy lives: just like people still think cowboys are the ultimate American icon, "single-blanket" prospectors still evoke dreams of never-ever land. And still have a tug on American heartstrings... just like the idea of Aunt Jemima....


"Wasted money" designed to be wasted by aministrations friends

Yet another story about wasted funding is in today’s WaPo. “Wasted” isn’t the right word, though. It’s like the stories about overblown contract pay-offs for incompleted work in Iraq, for defense systems that don’t work, for DHS safety inspections that overlook bombs, and a few dozen (or score? Hundred?) other examples of government spending that...well, doesn’t quite shape up.

That “wasted” money actually went exactly where it was supposed to go. Years and years ago, Robert Kennedy was conducting hearings on the food stamp program and the continuing problem of hunger in this country. (Yeah, the problem continues, doesn’t it?) Kennedy said, wtf, the food stamp program isn’t working! The Dept of Agriculture people said, oh, no, it’s working just fine. It wasn’t written to benefit the hungry; it was written to benefit the farmers!

So these kajillions of missing, misplaced, mishandled dollars...well, gee whiz, that money was destined from the beginning to end up in pockets. The administration wanted it to go to cronies, donors, and friendly folks, and they wrote the rules so the money would go to those people. Reconstruction? No, pay-back. Alleviation of suffering? No, pay-back. And so forth.

It’s a crooked system, folks, run by crooked politicians. You know their names.

FEMA Accused Of Wasting More Katrina Funding
$30 Million Misspent Last Year On Trailers in Miss., GAO Says

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007; A18

The Federal Emergency Management Agency wasted about $30 million last year in maintaining trailers for Hurricane Katrina survivors in Mississippi, according to a new government report. In one case cited, FEMA awarded contracts that could have cost as much as $229,000 to support one family in a single trailer -- roughly the price of a five-bedroom home in Jackson, Miss.

By not awarding work to contractors with the lowest bids, FEMA misspent $16 million, said the Government Accountability Office, Congress's audit arm. The agency misspent an additional $15 million on inspections that it could not prove were performed, preventive maintenance for which contractors falsified documents, and emergency repairs on trailers that FEMA did not own, the GAO said.

"Over 2 years have passed since the storms and FEMA is still wasting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars as a result of poor management and ineffective controls," the GAO concluded in a draft report to be released today. The agency said it would refer apparent criminal conduct it discovered to the Justice Department.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Reach out and touch a community...just in case...

The famous La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles seem to have sucked away whatever morality the LA Police Department had.

No, it isn’t easy being a cop in such a huge sprawling discoordinated mess; it’s questionable that it’s easy being a cop anyway, let alone in L.A.... However, Los Angeles has come a long way since Jack Webb and "Dragnet" made the department famous.

But they’ve outdone themselves with this: in order to “reach out” to the Muslim community in L.A., the police want to identify and locate the different enclaves, neighborhoods—you know, so the police can be more sensitive and caring about issues that matter to those communities. Yeah. Uh-huh.

The Huffington Post
Welcome| November 9, 2007
Los Angeles Police Plan to Map Muslims

November 9, 2007 10:54 AM EST | AP

LOS ANGELES — Civil rights advocates criticized plans by the Los Angeles Police Department to map the city's Muslim communities, calling it racial profiling.

The LAPD's counterterrorism bureau plans to identify Muslim enclaves in order to determine which might be likely to become isolated and susceptible to "violent, ideologically based extremism," said Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing on Thursday.

"We want to know where the Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens are so we can reach out to those communities," said Downing, who heads the counterterrorism bureau.

Downing said the plan is still in its early stages, but the LAPD wants to work with a Muslim partner and intends to have the data assembled by the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis.

Downing testified about the plan before a U.S. Senate committee on Oct. 30.

In his testimony, Downing said his bureau wanted to "take a deeper look at the history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socioeconomic status and social interactions" of the city's Muslim communities.

There are an estimated 500,000 Muslims in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.

On Thursday, several Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sent Downing a letter expressing "grave concerns" about the program.

"Singling out individuals for investigation, surveillance, and data-gathering based on their religion constitutes religious profiling that is just as unlawful, ill-advised and deeply offensive as racial profiling," said the letter.

It was signed by representatives of the ACLU of Southern California; Muslim Advocates, a national association of Muslim lawyers; the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The plan "basically turns the LAPD officers into religious political analysts, while their role is to fight crime and enforce the laws," said Hussam Ayloush, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who signed the letter.

However, another group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, is considering working with the LAPD on the project.

"We will work with the LAPD and give them input, while at the same time making sure that people's civil liberties are protected," said Salam al-Marayati, the council's executive director.


U.S. Needs "Tin-Horns Anoymous"

So the deal is this: the government can try someone as an “enemy combatant,” and can not detail exactly what evidence it has. Like “trust us, we’re the government.” This is just absolute bullshit: immoral, unconstitutional, and unreal. It’s like the worst kind of set-up to railroad people, as bad as anything Stalin or Hitler or Pinochet did. That the United States is doing it means morally we’re no better than any tin-horn dictatorship. Which is maybe appropriate, since no matter how one looks at it, George Bush is a tin-horn.
Detainee lawyers see stacked deck; Guantanamo attorneys point to evidence and witnesses that are brought to their attention late -- if at all.

Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2007; A14,1,6567733.story

The rules governing war-crimes trials here require defense lawyers and prosecutors to inform each other of witnesses they will call and evidence they will present at the military commissions.

But the vague guidance on the process known as discovery doesn't impose any obligation to make timely disclosures. Nor does it oblige the government to make its witnesses available to the defense for pretrial interviews.

Unique to the tribunal system that is governed by neither U.S. criminal law nor the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the commissions allow liberal use of classified evidence that a defendant doesn't get to see and protective orders that shield the identity of witnesses, interrogators and informants.

Defense lawyers for the terrorism suspects contend that the deck is stacked against them in preparing their cases. They say the administration officials running the tribunals can hide critical information and helpful testimony from the defense.

The extent to which the government can thwart defense preparation became apparent last week just 36 hours before the Thursday arraignment of Canadian war-crimes suspect Omar Khadr. His Navy lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, learned then that the commissions' hierarchy had known for five years of a U.S. government employee who was an eyewitness to the 2002 firefight in Afghanistan in which Khadr is accused of having thrown the grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic.
The eyewitness' account contradicts the government version of events and could exonerate Khadr of the war crimes with which he is charged: murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, spying and material support for terrorism.

"They weren't going to tell us who he was or how to get in touch with him or where he was," said Kuebler, who has been lobbying the Canadian government to demand repatriation of his client so he can be tried "in a legitimate system."

"This is a process that's not designed to be fair; it's designed to produce convictions," Kuebler added.

Kuebler described as "draconian" the government's use of protective orders -- a move to shield evidence on grounds that its disclosure would reveal intelligence tactics, undermine security or pose a risk to the person providing it.

Affidavits sworn by bounty hunters in Pakistan who turned over more than 200 of Guantanamo's prisoners in exchange for sums upward of $5,000 are among the classified documents that neither defendants nor trial observers are allowed to see.
That withholding of classified information from the defense and the public has resulted in many of the 305 prisoners here remaining in detention for nearly six years without knowing exactly what they are accused of or who made the accusations.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


You are what you eat, continued...

The following is a little piece that came down from Wired, somehow. I’m not sure how it arrived. I’m pretty sure the reportage is factual: I mean this is just stupid and bureaucratic (which I realize is redundant) enough to be real.

God help us all.

When word broke in 2002 that the feds were picking out terror suspects based on what they ordered for dinner, most observers figured it was a glitch during the War on Terror's beta test — a one-time overreach. Turns out the strategy has been employed again.
"The FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists," CQ's Jeff Stein reports.
The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area…
But at least it's refinement to the 2002 version of the technique. Back then, federally-employed data-mining software labeled someone as a potential terrorist "if you were a person who frequently ordered pizza and paid with a credit card."


My country, 'tis of thee, torturing...

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember what are the “freedoms” our enemies are supposed to hate us for. Freedom from torture? No... The right of habeas corpus? Um, no, not that one... The freedom to travel? That one appears to be on the auction block. Freedom of speech? Kinda—at least if you don’t care what kind of labels the government lays on you or how many files they have with your name in them... How about being from a peaceful nation? Forget that!

Biden and Kennedy have introduced legislation to ban “waterboarding,” which is currently the torture-of-choice of the Bush-Cheney Junta. The nominee for Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, said it wasn’t really illegal unless congress passed legislation making it illegal—and, of course, such legislation were signed into law by His Excellency, President Bush. That's not going to happen: let's get real.

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Posted on Thu, Nov. 08, 2007
Two Democrats move to outlaw waterboarding
Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers
last updated: November 07, 2007 07:52:53 PM

WASHINGTON — The practice of waterboarding would be outlawed specifically, along with other extreme interrogation techniques, under legislation pushed by two Democratic senators.

The measures would repudiate the Bush administration’s policy on torture. The CIA reportedly has used waterboarding — or simulated drowning — when questioning terrorism suspects. It’s also used exposure to extreme temperatures and other methods that are expressly forbidden by the Army Field Manual. The proposed bills would require that all U.S. personnel — including the CIA — use only interrogation techniques authorized by the Army manual.

Last month, President Bush’s choice for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, refused to say whether waterboarding was torture and therefore illegal. And an executive order that President Bush released in July on what techniques the CIA could use was silent on whether waterboarding and other extreme measures were among them.

Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have offered separate bills that make the Army manual the standard for all U.S. interrogators. All members of the military by law already must abide by the manual. The proposed law would require civilians to do the same.

However, it’s unlikely that the Senate will debate the matter before the end of the year. The legislative calendar is jammed, sponsors of these measures must round up support and Republicans may be reluctant to tie the CIA’s hands against the Bush administration’s will.

Similar legislation is expected soon in the House of Representatives.

“We need to send a clear message that torture, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees, is unacceptable and is not permitted by U.S. law. Period,” Biden said in a letter to senators.

Michael V. Hayden, the director of the CIA, argued at a Council on Foreign Relations talk in September that the CIA shouldn't be limited to the Army Field Manual’s requirements on interrogation.

“It's clear that what it is we do as an agency is different from what is contained in the Army Field Manual. I don't know of anyone who has looked at the Army Field Manual who could make the claim that what's contained in there exhausts the universe of lawful interrogation techniques consistent with the Geneva Convention,” he said.

U.S. law and international treaties have long banned torture. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 said all U.S. personnel must not treat detainees in cruel, inhuman and degrading ways. But backers of the proposed bills say they’re needed because the Bush administration has interpreted the law in a way that leaves open the possibility that the CIA can use the extreme techniques.

Biden said his bill would end “the administration’s semantic games on what constitutes torture. . . . There is no place for the administration’s bad faith interpretation — of waterboarding and other forms of torture — to gain a toehold.” He also warned that “continuing to equivocate about torture” would weaken the coalitions needed to fight terrorism, fuel terrorist recruitment and place Americans in jeopardy.

Biden’s legislation also would close the “black sites” outside the United States where detainees have been held, grant detainees at Guantanamo the right to challenge their imprisonment in court and require the administration to go to a special court and make the case that any non-American terrorist suspect it wants to send to another country wouldn't be tortured there. Kennedy’s bill is limited to interrogations.

“This involves taking on the administration in a very big way,” said Elisa Massimino, an international rights expert with the advocacy group Human Rights First.

The White House’s July order allowed the CIA to restart its secret detention and interrogation program, which had been put on hold in 2006, Massimino said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the proposed restrictions on CIA interrogations were unnecessary. Graham, a judge advocate general in the Air Force Reserves, said he was briefed on how the CIA interrogates suspected terrorists. “I think the president’s CIA program has found the right balance,” he said “It’s lawful; it’s effective. It’s different from the military’s, but still within bounds.”

Graham said he believed that waterboarding was illegal for any branch of government.

McClatchy Newspapers 2007


GOP: Gross Old Perverts? Yup.

I was reading a column by Dan Savage (The Stranger, the Seattle alternative weekly) about one of the more recent GOP fiascos. Here’s a quote I like:

GOP sex scandals have unnerved and alienated the Republican base and shredded the party's claim to moral superiority. GOP no longer stands for Grand Old Party. It's Gross Old Perverts now.

Amen, Brother Dan.


Dollar and empire falling falling falling...

The question isn’t why is Canadian money worth more than American money, but why in the hell aren’t people out to tar and feather the administration in Washington? The ultimate failure of “free market” theory in the American economy is evident. Christ, even big time fashion models are refusing to be paid in U.S. dollars.

This is another nice present from the Bush-Cheney junta...Well, I guess if nothing else, I should give them credit for accelerating the collapse of the American Empire. It was historically inevitable, though I wish it wasn’t so hard on so many relatively innocent people.

Canadian dollar passes US$1.10 mark in overseas trade Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


red face black face thanks, pale facesd

It’s a great day for the...racists... I think we can say—well, shit, Beth just came through running the vacuum and announced that the box springs are all torn up under the bed...I’m not surprised: we’ve never figured out how to really keep the cats from ripping around down there. She shouldn’t be, either...But it’s something that’s momentarily important, I guess...sort of like whatever I was going to say about the following news story—

Immigration Director Hosts Party With Guest In Blackface
By Paddy , Brave New Films
Posted on November 6, 2007, Printed on November 6, 2007

This post, written by Paddy, originally appeared on Cliff Schecter's Brave New Blog

This woman is just too much.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security will investigate a Halloween costume party hosted by a top immigration official and attended by a man dressed in a striped prison outfit, dreadlocks and darkened skin make-up, a costume some say is offensive, the department's secretary said.

Julie Myers, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and host of the fundraising party, was on a three-judge panel that originally praised the prisoner costume for "originality."

"Some say" is offensive? What the hell is unoffensive about a man in blackface, dreadlocks and a prison uniform?

Any sane manager of anything would know this is unacceptable.... oh, wait- seems this Julie Myers is another of Bush's crony appointments who has NO qualifications for the job, at all.

Concerns over Myers, 36, were acute enough at a Senate hearing last week that lawmakers asked the nominee to detail during her testimony her postings and to account for her management experience. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) went so far as to tell Myers that her résumé indicates she is not qualified for the job.


Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

That is what serves as qualifications in Bush's government.


Sambo in red-face?

Another piece of news about First Americans. A fight has been going on for years back at the University of Illinois over their use of the offensive mascot, Chief Illiniwek (think of Sambo and Aunt Jemima and add feathers—it’s that bad).

The Sad Resurrection of Chief Illiniwek
By Dave Zirin
Created Oct 31 2007 - 8:54am

Last weekend an unfortunate figure returned to the University of Illinois, and it wasn't Jeff George. Chief Illiniwek, the former school mascot, was back to adorn floats and assorted regalia at Homecoming to the cheers of some and the bitter horror of those who thought the feathered one had been retired for good.

You may have thought that the Chief was banned last year after the NCAA called Illiniwek a "hostile or abusive" mascot and prevented the school from hosting postseason games as long as it paraded him about. You may have thought Illinois had joined dozens of other schools from Stanford to St. John's in putting Native American caricatures to bed. You thought wrong.

A victory 20 years in the making was overturned when Illinois chancellor Richard Herman declared that the Homecoming ban violated the U.S. constitution saying, "The University values free speech and free expression and considers Homecoming floats, decorations, costumes and related signage all representations of such personal expression."

Yes, our forefathers fought and died to protect the right to display caricatures of the conquered at public institutions of higher learning. The word Illiniwek means "tribe of superior men." In making the decision to allow Chief Illiniwek to return, Herman acted in a manner of the inferior, following instead of leading.

Those whose heart is with the dancing chief were thrilled, calling Homecoming "a victory parade." The organization Students for Chief Illini issued a statement saying that the original policy was a "slap in the face to people in the community to say you can't support your symbol." In an irony that could only be found in the bizarre lexicon of university political correctness, the group uses the world "symbol" instead of "mascot" because the term "mascot" is offensive to Chief Illiniwek.

Keep in mind, that there never was a Chief Illiniwek. No one with that name ever existed. His costume is not in keeping with anything the Illini tribe ever wore and the dance at halftime was created in 1926 by the Boy Scouts. But by all means support such a noble symbol.

The Chief was certainly celebrated at Homecoming. No counter protestors were reported and thousands of attendees wore Chief regalia. Although no Native American organizations support the Chief, he was celebrated lustily.

The same students and alumni that clamor for the Chief as a symbol of Native American nobility, put far more time and energy into a fictional chief than aiding actual Native Americans. Students of Native American descent are a mere 0.2% of the overall student population, and 0.1% of the faculty. "Honoring" Native Americans is confined to a white guy in buckskin pants and feathers (only whites have portrayed the Chief throughout it's 81-year history).

There was little said about the fact that while Chief Illiniwek never existed, the Illini tribe did. They were torn apart, forcibly removed so schools like Illinois could take root. Chief Ron Froman of the Peoria tribe once said of the Chief, "I don't think it was to honor us, because, hell, they ran our (butts) out of Illinois."

Since there is nothing honorable about resurrecting the Chief, is it then an issue of freedom of speech? In a letter to Chancellor Herman, professor Antonia Darder wrote, "If a float maker wants to use KKK imagery or a noose hanging from a tree on a homecoming float, is this now also acceptable under the auspices of 'free expression?' Or if a float maker wants to use images of people copulating or nude participants on a float, would this also be accepted as the freedom of personal expression? And if not, why not? Certainly if public nudity is considered immoral or at least inappropriate, why not public racism?"

This is the climate in which Herman resurrects the Chief. The latest in this marathon battle of memory, history, and the role of sports in this process comes two weeks after the death of Native American activist and longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, Vernon Bellecourt.

Bellecourt spent years as a thorn in the side of organizations like the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, demanding that they change their mascots. He once said, "Our detractors always say, 'We are honoring you.' It's not an honor. In whose honor, we have to ask. Beginning with the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, about 16 million of us were wiped out, including whole villages in Washington."

To other teams with Indian nicknames and to their fans, he said, "No more chicken feathers ... No more paint on faces. The chop stops here."

Maybe the University of Illinois should step up and honor Bellecourt by putting Chief Illiniwek to rest -- for good.

Source URL:



Activist and actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman is sick. So, pray for him, light sage, candles, whatever you choice is.

Brothers and sisters,

Floyd still is not out of the woods. We have lots of people at his bedside holding vigil. But he is still really in a bad way.


Please do not try and call Floyd or Rosie. Floyds Phone is full of messages and we are not going to empty them right now. You can e-mail me and let me know that you are praying for him. I will make a record of the people who send me e-mails and tell him.

Right now we are told that he can hear us when we talk to him. But for the most part he is unconcious. We are up there singing to him and trying to get through to him. Keith Secola came fly in yesterday. He went in right away and sang to Floyd. Floyd seemed to respond to that.

Please send your prayers and your energy to help Floyd.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


Huh? You mean I can't go without permission in advance?

What does this mean?

I believe it means that the government is no longer there for our benefit. The government is there because it controls everyone, one way or another. You want to travel overseas? OK, be a good little boy or girl or else you can't go...

That's what totalitarianism means.

Daily Kos
The Nightmare of DHS´s *Secure Flight*
by Blue Patriot Woman
Mon Sep 17, 2007 at 10:34:23 AM PDT

Buried in the September 5 issue of the Federal Register, was a notice that this Thursday, September 20, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) will hold public hearings on their ¨Secure Flight Plan.¨

Come with me into a nightmare world where American citizens will have to obtain permission from the government before they can travel by air in the U.S.

* Blue Patriot Woman's diary :: ::

Your government (meaning the Department of Homeland Security) is up to no good.

Beginning in February 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will implement their ¨Advance Passenger Information System (APIS),¨ the gist of which is that you will need permission from the United States Government to travel on any air or sea vessel that goes to, from or through the U.S. The travel companies will not be able to issue a boarding pass until you are cleared by DHS. This applies to ALL passengers, US citizens and visitors alike. And how do you get said permission to travel? That´s for your government to know and you to never find out.

Now TSA proposes to do for domestic travel what APIS will do for international routes. That´s what I said: the new TSA rule would require that you obtain PERMISSION to travel within the U.S.

Here is the summary of their proposed rules, which seem so reasonable, couched as they are in the blandness of governmenteez [emphasis added].

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assume from aircraft operators the function of conducting pre-flight comparisons of airline passenger information to Federal Government watch lists for international and domestic flights.


This rule proposes to allow TSA to ... receive passenger and certain non-traveler information, conduct watch list matching ... and transmit boarding pass printing instructions back to aircraft operators.


TSA would do so in a consistent and accurate manner while minimizing false matches and protecting privacy information.

Right. And I have a bridge in Brooklyn...

We propose that, when the Secure Flight rule becomes final, aircraft operators would submit passenger information to DHS through a single DHS portal for both the Secure Flight and APIS programs. This would [result] in one DHS system responsible for watch list matching for all aviation passengers.

Don´t you feel great knowing that your government will use economies of scale to protect you?

Edward Hasbrough states that these rules are more insidious than merely complying to demands for ¨Your papers please.¨ He states,

The proposal ... require[s] that travellers display their government-issued credentials not to government agents but to airline personnel (staff or contractors), whenever the DHS orders the airline to demand them. But since the orders to demand ID of [certain passengers] will be given to the airline in secret, ... travellers will have no way to verify whether ... demands for ID are actually based on government orders.

Think about that: you will not be allowed to verify if the person demanding your papers is actually authorized to do so. In addition, the airlines or their contractors (or sub or even sub sub contractors) have the right, under the proposed rules, to do anything they like with your personal information including:

keep copies of your passport ... as long as they like, use it, publish it, broadcast it, sell it, rent it, or pass it on to whomever they please.... [T]hey would have no obligation to get your permission for any of this.

Aside from the privacy issue, this is the DHS. Their past performance is an indication of future returns and we can look forward to true travel nightmares beginning February 19, 2008. Just think about the mess that occurred when CBP demanded that travelers to Canada and Mexico have a passport. Multiply that by orders of magnitude to imagine what travelers will be facing.
The Identity Project at Papers Please is working to prevent your government from robbing you of your right to privacy in your movements.
© Kos Media, LLC


Thanksgiving—for the winners...

Thanks, Andre, for this reminder of how history is written by the victors and isn’t necessarily closely involved with truth.

Date: Sun, 4 Nov 2007 03:02:09 +0000
Subject: How It Got Started (holidaze)

How it all got started.

The year was 1637. 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe,
gathered for their "Annual Green Corn Dance" in the area that is now
known as Groton, Conn.

While they were gathered in this place of meeting, they were surrounded
and attacked by mercenaries of the English and Dutch. The Indians were
ordered from the building and as they came forth, they were shot down.
The rest were burned alive in the building.

The next day, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: "A
day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men,
women and children. For the next 100 years, every "Thanksgiving Day"
ordained by a Governor or President was to honor that victory, thanking
God that the "battle" had been won.

Source: Documents of Holland, 13 Volume Colonial Documentary History,
letters and reports form colonial officials to their superiors and the
King in England and the private papers of Sir William Johnson, British
Indian agent for the New York colony for 30 years.

Researched by William B. Newell (Penobscot Tribe) Former Chairman of the
University of Connecticut Anthropology Department.

A lecture presented at the Smithsonian in 1993, called "The First
Thanksgiving: Myths and Legends" by Dr. James Loewen of the University
of Vermont. (Another opinion regarding Thanksgiving traditions and
myths, thoughtfully provided by the renowned Jeremy Bangs, can be found
at Here are some of the nuggets from
the 1993 Smithsonian lecture:

Myth: The 1620 Plymouth Pilgrim's Thanksgiving was the first in America

Fact: In 1620, the Indians had been in North America for some 40,000
years, no doubt celebrating harvest before 1620.

Fact: There were Europeans in North America well before 1526 - there was
an established Spanish settlement in SC in 1526, which included African
slaves. The Spanish left, and the Africans remained. So the longest
continuous settlement in North America after the Indians is the African

The Spanish had lasting settlements in FL by 1565, and in NM by 1598.
The English were in Jamestown VA in 1607, and Dutch were settled in
Albany NY in 1614. So the 1620 "Pilgrims" (who called themselves
"Separatists" - the name "Pilgrim" was tacked on by historians) were
hardly the hosts of the "First Thanksgiving".

The Indians there did not roam and wander and live in tepees. The New
England tribes were settled farmers, with fields of crops. The foods
they brought to the "First Thanksgiving" had been staples of their
farming for years - and they taught the colonists how to plant and use

Myth: Mysterious Error in American History Books

Fact: Little or nothing appears in school texts about a monumental event
that happened in New England from 1616-1619 when a "plague" (probably
carried by European visitors) killed 90% of the Indian population. When
the Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620/21, then, the Indians were
decimated and could offer no resistance. It took 50 years for their
numbers to regenerate - and King Philip's War of 1676 was the first
massive resistance - but by then the English were well established and

I bet if we asked 100 otherwise educated people what the biggest crisis
was in the New England native community in the years immediately
preceding the arrival of the English Plymouth colony - I wonder how many
would know it was this terrible disease.

The speaker asked the audience to go home and check their kids' American
history textbooks and see if it was featured.

Samuel Eliot Morison's "Builders of the Bay Colony" (1930) describes it
briefly - and the Pilgrim's less-than-"friendly" attitude towards it
(p.13), citing contemporary writings: "It was fortunate for the Pilgrims
that a pestilence among the Indians of Massachusetts Bay - a special
dispensation of Providence in the opinion of Captain John Smith and
Thomas Morton - had decimated the tribes along our coast 1617-18....The
few Indians who had any spirit left had it knocked out of them by Miles
Standish and his army of eight. This advantage became all the more
palpable when in 1622 an uprising of the Indians in Virginia set that
colony back a decade...."

Our "myth" of the "friendship" between Indians and Plymouth colonists
may have been overdone in our schoolbooks .....

Myth: The word "Thanksgiving" didn't apply to harvest feasts

Fact: There were autumnal "harvest" festivals and feasts in Europe for
centuries, and since the first settled European colony was in Virginia
in 1607 - not Massachusetts in 1620/1 - we can expect that the Jamestown
Colony might have well celebrated their survival with such a group
feast. Stephen Hopkins, of the Plymouth Colony, had been in Virginia
years earlier.

One of the Plymouth colonists described such a meal in New England in a
contemporary "advertisement" .... Edward Winslow. Quoting from Eugene
Aubrey Stratton's "Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691" .
Ancestry Pub. Co. (Salt Lake City:1986), pp. 24-25.

"Our harvest being gotten in, our Governour sent foure men on fowling,
that so we might after a more speciall manner rejoyce together, after we
had gathered the fruit of our labours; they foure in one day killed as
much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a
weeke, at which time among other Recreations, we exercised our Armes,
many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest
King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three days we entertained
and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought
to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine,
and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at
this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from
want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie..."

Stratton points out that Winslow wrote this to be sent to England to
attract new settlers, and that he no doubt greatly overstated the
settlers being "farre from want" - as they all suffered greatly from
hunger for many years in the new colony.

Besides deer and game birds, they might well have eaten the new food
introduced to them by the Indians - corn, plus peas and barley. In 1621,
Winslow reported "we set... some twentie acres of Indian Corn and sowed
some six Acres of Barly and Pease." The main beverages were water and
beer. In a letter of 1623 describing another celebration for a wedding,
records mentioned eating "the best grapes .. divers sorts of plums and
nuts..." And they had fish and lobster - Winslow also wrote: "God fedd
them out of the sea for the most parte."

So the foods we often use today - turkey, peas, corn, fruits and nuts -
would have been available to the Pilgrims. No word about cranberries
although the major source of them today is still Plymouth County!

The word "Thanksgiving" was not applied to any feasts like this. A 1636
law recorded in Plymouth County Records mentioned "..solemn days of
humiliation by fastings, etc., and also for thanksgiving as occasion
shall be offered." Stratton presents that a "thanksgiving" was a
religious end to a fasting period, and refers to another book, W.D.D.
Love's "Fast and Thanksgiving Days In New England" (1896) for other

As previously noted, the above discussion of the myths of
Thanksgiving come from a fascinating lecture presented at the
Smithsonian in 1993, called "The First Thanksgiving: Myths and Legends"
by Dr. James Loewen of the University of Vermont. An alternating opinion
regarding Thanksgiving traditions and myths associated with them,
provided by the renowned Jeremy Bangs, can be found at


Another American Ally behaves...well, badly

I really love the way America supports democratic regimes around the world. We hold other countries to the same standards we uphold here at home. And that's the problem...

Activists detained in Pakistan emergency

Opposition Leaders, Activists Arrested in Pakistan After Musharraf Imposes Emergency Rule

AP News
Nov 04, 2007 09:25 EST

Police wielding assault rifles rounded up opposition leaders and rights activists Sunday after Pakistan's military ruler suspended the constitution, ousted the top justice and deployed troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup but had promised to hand over his army fatigues and become a civilian president this year, declared a state of emergency Saturday night, dashing hopes of a smooth transition to democracy for the nuclear-armed nation.

"Gen. Musharraf's second coup," read the headline in the Dawn daily. "It is martial law," said the Daily Times.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the extraordinary measures would remain in place "as long as it is necessary." He also said parliamentary elections could be postponed up to a year, but no such decision had been made.

Aziz also said that up to 500 opposition activists had been arrested in the last 24 hours.

Among those detained were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former chief of the main intelligence agency and a staunch critic of Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terror.

Some 200 armed police stormed the rights commission office in Lahore on Sunday and arrested about 50 activists, said Mehbood Ahmed Khan, a legal officer for the body.

Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum denied claims by Bhutto and others that Musharraf had imposed martial law — direct rule by the army — under the guise of a state of emergency. He noted the prime minister was still in place and that parliament would complete its term, ending Nov. 15.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Health Care? Sorry, Rudy, your prostate and your head are up your ass

Rowdy Rudy G., of course, tells us how much better American health care is compared to England’s “socialized medicine.” Bill Maher made the comment that Rudy pulled the statistics out of his ass. It’s too bad that the Republicans consider the man, so far, as a viable candidate for president. I suppose, compared to Dubya, he is—but by the current president, an armadillo would be a viable candidate. Even a dead armadillo. In the middle of the road.

America’s health care, like our standard of living, has eroded in the last twenty or thirty years. It’s all well and good that our tories jump up and down waving flags and crosses and guns and proclaim jihad against non-believers and those who question our greatness. But not when they have to lie to do it. Just as Bush lied and people died, the health care boosters are lying while people are dying.

US healthcare comes up short in survey of 7 nations
Thu Nov 1, 2007 12:00am EDT
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Americans spend double what people in other industrialized countries do on health care, but have more trouble seeing doctors, are the victims of more errors and go without treatment more often, according to a report released on Thursday.

Patients in the Netherlands struggle the most with paperwork, while British and Canadian citizens wait the longest for elective surgery, the Commonwealth Fund reports in the journal Health Affairs.

The report, published on the Internet at, provides an annual comparison from the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports research on health systems.

This year it may be especially important as the 2008 U.S. elections are featuring health care reform as one of the most important issues, fund president Karen Davis said.

"The survey shows that in the U.S., we pay the price for having a fragmented health care system," Davis told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Harris Interactive researchers surveyed 12,000 adults in the United States, Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Of these, only the United States lacks a universal health care system.

The report said Americans spent $6,697 per capita on healthcare in 2005, or 16 percent of gross domestic product. All the other countries spent less than half of that -- $3,128 in Australia or 9.5 percent of GDP, $3,326 in Canada or 9.8 percent of GDP, down to a low of $2,343 in New Zealand or 9 percent of GDP.

Davis said the Netherlands is included for the first time and is interesting because of its mix of mandated employer-sponsored, private and public insurance.


The report found that the United States stands out because of its expense and people's dissatisfaction.

"The thing that struck me in this survey is the trouble that Americans have in getting to see their own doctors," Davis said. Americans and Canadians often go to emergency departments for what should be routine care, the survey found.

"As in previous surveys, U.S. adults were most likely to have gone without care because of cost and to have high out-of-pocket costs," the report reads.

"In the U.S., nearly two of five (37 percent) of all adults and 42 percent of those with chronic conditions had skipped medications, not seen a doctor when sick, or foregone recommended care in the past year because of costs -- rates well above all other countries," it adds.

"In contrast to the U.S., patients in Canada, the Netherlands, and the U.K. rarely report having to forgo needed medical care because of costs."

Patients in New Zealand and Britain had the least confidence of getting top-notch care.

German and U.S. adults had the quickest access to elective surgery. "In most countries, waits of a year or more were rare; in Canada and the United Kingdom, though, 8 percent reported waiting that long, and 15 percent reported waiting six months or more for elective surgery," the report reads.

Having a "medical home" -- such as an easily reached primary care doctor who coordinates other care -- seemed to provide the most satisfaction, said Commonwealth vice president Cathy Schoen, who led the study.

© Reuters 2006.


The wealthy have their own firefighters, even...

Naomi Klein, again. Looking at the new and (un)improved private fire fighting technology.

The fires in Southern California, as predictable as a TV news anchor’s make-up, have again decimated thousands of acres and thousands of lives. The lucky ones have insurance and extra protection; the unlucky ones are poor—and that says it all.

Rapture Rescue 911: Disaster Response for the Chosen
By Naomi Klein
The Nation
19 November 2007 Issue

I used to worry that the United States was in the grip of extremists who sincerely believed that the Apocalypse was coming and that they and their friends would be airlifted to heavenly safety. I have since reconsidered. The country is indeed in the grip of extremists who are determined to act out the biblical climax-the saving of the chosen and the burning of the masses - but without any divine intervention. Heaven can wait. Thanks to the booming business of privatized disaster services, we're getting the Rapture right here on earth.

Just look at what is happening in Southern California. Even as wildfires devoured whole swaths of the region, some homes in the heart of the inferno were left intact, as if saved by a higher power. But it wasn't the hand of God; in several cases it was the handiwork of Firebreak Spray Systems. Firebreak is a special service offered to customers of insurance giant American International Group (AIG) - but only if they happen to live in the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. Members of the company's Private Client Group pay an average of $19,000 to have their homes sprayed with fire retardant. During the wildfires, the "mobile units" - racing around in red firetrucks - even extinguished fires for their clients.

One customer described a scene of modern-day Revelation. "Just picture it. Here you are in that raging wildfire. Smoke everywhere. Flames everywhere. Plumes of smoke coming up over the hills," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Here's a couple guys showing up in what looks like a firetruck who are experts trained in fighting wildfire and they're there specifically to protect your home."

And your home alone. "There were a few instances," one of the private firefighters told Bloomberg News, "where we were spraying and the neighbor's house went up like a candle." With public fire departments cut to the bone, gone are the days of Rapid Response, when everyone was entitled to equal protection. Now, increasingly intense natural disasters will be met with the new model: Rapture Response.

During last year's hurricane season, Florida homeowners were offered similarly high-priced salvation by HelpJet, a travel agency launched with promises to turn "a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation." For an annual fee, a company concierge takes care of everything: transport to the air terminal, luxurious travel, bookings at five-star resorts. Most of all, HelpJet is an escape hatch from the kind of government failure on display during Katrina. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience."

HelpJet is about to get some serious competition from some much larger players. In northern Michigan, during the same week that the California fires raged, the rural community of Pellston was in the grip of an intense public debate. The village is about to become the headquarters for the first fully privatized national disaster response center. The plan is the brainchild of Sovereign Deed, a little-known start-up with links to the mercenary firm Triple Canopy. Like HelpJet, Sovereign Deed works on a "country-club type membership fee," according to the company's vice president, retired Brig. Gen. Richard Mills. In exchange for a one-time fee of $50,000 followed by annual dues of $15,000, members receive "comprehensive catastrophe response services" should their city be hit by a manmade disaster that can "cause severe threats to public health and/or well-being" (read: a terrorist attack), a disease outbreak or a natural disaster. Basic membership includes access to medicine, water and food, while those who pay for "premium tiered services" will be eligible for VIP rescue missions.

Like so many private disaster companies, Sovereign Deed is selling escape from climate change and the failed state - by touting the security clearance and connections its executives amassed while working for that same state. So Mills, speaking recently in Pellston, explained, "The reality of FEMA is that it has no infrastructure, and a lot of our National Guard is elsewhere." Sovereign Deed, on the other hand, claims to have "direct access and special arrangements with several national and international information centers. These proprietary arrangements allow our Emergency Operations Center to...give our Members that critical head start in times of crisis." In this secular version of the Rapture, God's hand is unnecessary. Not when you have retired ex-CIA agents and ex-Special Forces lifting the chosen to safety - no need to pray, just pay. And who needs a celestial New Jerusalem when you can have Pellston, with its flexible local politicians and its surprisingly modern regional airport?

Sovereign Deed could soon find itself competing with Blackwater USA, whose CEO, Erik Prince, wrote recently of his plans to offer "full spectrum" services, including humanitarian aid in disasters. When fires broke out in San Diego County, near the proposed site of the controversial Blackwater West base, the company immediately seized the opportunity to make its case. Blackwater could have been the "tactical operation center for East County fires," said company vice president Brian Bonfiglio. "Can you imagine how much of a benefit it would be if we were operational now?" To show off its capacity, Blackwater has been distributing badly needed food and blankets to people of Potrero, California. "This is something we've always done," Bonfiglio said. "This is what we do." Actually, what Blackwater does, as Iraqis have painfully learned, is not protect entire communities or countries but "protect the principal" - the principal being whoever has paid Blackwater for its guns and gear.

The same pay-to-be-saved logic governs this entire new sector of country club disaster management. There is, of course, another principle that could guide our collective responses in a disaster-prone world: the simple conviction that every life is of equal value.

For anyone out there who still believes in that wild idea, the time has urgently arrived to protect the principle.


PR is (almost) everything

The synopsis of this Barbara Ehrenreich rap would be something like “As long as it’s trendy, we don’t care where it comes from.”

That’s the way it is, these days.

Gap Kids: New Frontiers in Child Abuse
By Barbara Ehrenreich,
Posted on November 2, 2007, Printed on November 2, 2007

It was enough to make you vomit all over your new denim jacket. The Gap has been caught using child labor in an Indian sweatshop, and not just child labor -- child slaves. As extensively reported on the news, the children, some as young as ten, were worked 16 hour days, fed bowls of mosquito-covered rice, and forced to sleep on a roof and use over-flowing latrines. Those who slowed down were beaten with rubber pipes and the ones who cried had oily cloths stuffed in their mouths.

But let's try to look at this dispassionately -- not as a human rights issue but as a PR disaster, ranking right up there with the 1982 discovery of cyanide in Tylenol capsules. Think of this as a case study in a corporate Crisis Communication course: How is The Gap handling the problem, and could it do better?

This is not the first time The Gap has been caught using child labor, but CEO Martha Hansen went on the air to state that the situation was "completely unacceptable" and that the company would "act swiftly." Two problems here: One, she failed to detail the actions. It would have been nice, for example, if she had announced that some of the top-producing child slaves would be reassigned to manage Gap outlets in American malls, and that the under-performers would be adopted by Angelina Jolie.

The other, more serious, problem is that she got defensive about child labor. This is the mistake Kathie Lee Gifford made in 1996. When accused of using child labor in Honduras to manufacture her Kathie Lee line of clothing, Gifford broke into tears on TV. Maybe Hansen meant to cover herself by saying that The Gap would not "ever, ever condone any child laborer making our garments" rather than saying the company does not condone child labor itself. We already knew, from the rubber pipes and oily cloths, that The Gap does not condone much from its child laborers.

Hansen underestimated the potential support for a full-throated defense of child labor. More and more American children are tried and punished as adults today. And the ubiquitous conservative pundit William Kristol will surely be enthusiastic, considering his recent -- though possibly facetious -- statement that "whenever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it's a good idea."

The core of the argument, though, is that anyone who opposes child labor has not witnessed its opposite, which is child unemployment and idleness.

Hansen claims to be a mother herself, but I wonder how often she has returned home from a hard day in the C-suites to find her unemployed offspring Magic Marker-ing the walls and crushing the Froot Loops into the carpet. This is what jobless children do: They rub Crazy Glue into their siblings' hair; they spill apple juice onto your keyboard. Believe me, I see this kind of wantonly destructive behavior every day. Vandalism is a way of life for unemployed children, and they do not know the meaning of remorse.

In fact, corporate America should go further and make a strong statement against the sickening culture of dependency that has grown up around childhood. Why are jobless children so criminally inclined? Because they know that whatever damage they inflict, the Froot Loops will just keep coming. The Gap should portray its child-staffed factories as part of a far-seeing welfare-to-work program, which will eventually be extended to American children as well.

To appeal to American parents, our own child factories should be run more like Montessori schools, where the children are already encouraged to regard every one of their demented activities as "work." If they're going to pile up blocks and knock them down all day, then why not sew on buttons and bring home a little cash? But even American families will have to brace themselves for the inevitable cost cutting measures. First the cookies and milk may have to go, then, as in India, the toilets and beds. Wal-Mart has already pioneered the price-cutting defense of human rights abuses, and The Gap should follow suit.

The company can of course expect some lingering opposition. Just as there are vegetarians and pacifists, there will always be some men, for example, who would rather wear skirts than blue jeans impregnated with the excrement and tears of ten-year-olds. Well, let them shop at American Apparel or some other "sweat-free" vendor, and if they can't find anything there, let them wear dhotis. In a nation that cannot bring itself to extend child health insurance (SCHIP) to all children in need, child-made clothes make a fine fashion statement. And why not accessorize your denim jacket with a scarf derived from one of those oily cloths stuffed in weeping workers' mouths?

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Nickel and Dimed. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Harpers, and the Progressive, she is a contributing writer to Time magazine. She lives in Florida.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Thursday, November 01, 2007



While we're sitting in line waiting to gas up, here's a piece on American Indians.

Kaiser Health Disparities Report: A Weekly Look At Race, Ethnicity And

Health in the Community | American Indians Work To Address Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome, Effects on Children
[Oct 24, 2007]
Minnesota Public Radio on Monday as part of a six-part series on
fetal alcohol syndrome examined how the condition affects American
Indians in the state. According to CDC studies, the fetal alcohol rate
among American Indians is 30 times higher than the rate among whites.
The syndrome affects 40,000 infants in the U.S. each year, MPR reports.

Sandra Parsons, director of Family and Children's Services for the Red
Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, said, "I would say it's very
definitely a problem, almost pervasive. I haven't found anybody yet who
disputes that. I think people would be literally amazed at how prevalent
it might be." She added, "It's kind of one of those 'don't talk about
it, don't exist' pieces. But if we are damaging our kids in those kind
of numbers, somebody needs to talk about it. Somebody needs to be
looking at what is the reality."

Some Minnesota tribal officials say fetal alcohol syndrome is linked to
a high number of children with learning disabilities and higher drop out
and prison rates on Indian reservations. Parsons said while she also
believes there is a connection between fetal alcohol damage and social
and behavioral problems among American Indian children, there is little
scientific evidence to support such claims. Her group worked with more
than 900 children last year, and many of them had behavior problems that
Parsons thinks might be related to fetal alcohol syndrome.

Complete @:



More on Naomi Klein's book

Hmm. Looks like the same ol' world outside the window. I know, I know: it's a brand new day!© Today is the first day of the rest of your life!™

However, "Same shit, different day" is more appropriate.

The sky is blue; the deciduous trees are naked; and it could be a lot worse.

Still working my way, digesting my way, through Naomi Klein's new book. She's done an excellent job so far. She starts with a history of ECT—shock treatments. The original idea was to destroy the personality so a new improved one could be implanted. the originator thought that only through that method could an unhappy, psychotic, crazy person be brought to "sanity." The strength and numbers of shock treatments given to patients, though, make you wonder about the sanity of the person giving them. The experts believed they knew what made a happy functional person. Uh-huh. The entire psychiatric profession should go sit in penance for decades over that gig.

From the mental tortures inflicted via shock, Klein details the origins and philosophy of the "Chicago School" of economics. The Chicago School, Milton Friedman's baby, believe in the free market. The free market means no government interference in commerce whatsoever—and almost no government at all. The idea is that the free market will fix everything if it is just let alone. Wages will set their own level. Profits will soar. The workers will be happy. Everything will work just fine, if only...the government gets out of the way. Before it gets out of the way, however, it has to remove any and all hinderances to the operation of the free market—wage supports, taxes, regulations, unions, social services, and anything else that requires excess taxes. Excess taxes are those used to pay for things like highways, health care, schools, noxious inspectors, laws that impinge on the absolute freedom of the market to determine everything—because everything can be done by private individuals and businesses operating for profits.

Wow. Talk about idealism! Friendman's theories are as ungrounded as Marxist economics, as bouyant as nitrous oxide, and as realistic as Disneyland.

The reference to Marism: just like Communism requires government action, so does the theory of the free market. Both systems, of course, promise to evaporate the state, eventually. But in the meantime, well, the government has to use coercion to bring about Utopia.

Klein moves on to the example of the southern cone of South America: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, as places where the ideas of the free market were first applied, with U.S. help. The application of Friedman's theories required "shock treatments" to the countries, which were seen as left-wing and potentially dangerous to American and trans-national businesses. Just as the original ECT was seen as a way to blast away the old, "unhealthy" personalities, shock was seen as necessary to destroy all vestiges of the existing societies and economies. Those economies were not pure capitalist. Capitalism, though, was seen as God's gift to the world. Since it was God's gift, any means of bringing it about was OK.

Enter Pinochet, the Argentinian Generals, and assorted other torture-loving regimes, lovingly supported by the U.S.A., the C.I.A., the School of the Americas, mega corporations, and such. Price regulations were removed, wage supports dropped, dissidents killed, and the free market ran amok. What's fucking awful about this is that the U.S. supported and often helped run these terrible vicious governments. Remember how hard it was to get the U.S. to boycott South Africa or Pinochet's Chile? That was because we liked—we loved—those governments. We helped torture, we helped bomb, we helped murder and starve those people who got in the way of the free market.

The people who arranged and helped these authoritarian governments are war criminals. They should be sent to tribunals and made to answer for their heartless crimes. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld included.

The truth is, America is living on the blood of other nations. Every sweat shop, every broken strike, every Thai sex shop—America is supporting that. We're Americans, and we're living off that human misery. Mostly, like Ward Churchill and others have said, Americans are good germans. We don't see anything, we don't smell anything, we don't see any mass graves—leave us alone so we can drive our SUVs and buy our trendy clothes!

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