Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The new crusade of the Democratic Globalists

From IRC's RightWeb:

One of the major achievements of the neoconservatives over the past two decades has been to integrate the missionary impulses of liberal internationalism with right-wing interventionism. Not only have the democratic globalists succeeded in setting the ideological foundations of a new U.S. foreign policy but they have also played a central role in directing that policy.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

FP logo

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bankruptcy bill deadline nears

NY Times:

US corporations maintain stranglehold on Iraq

From Alternet:

"Laws governing banking, investment, patents, copyrights, business ownership, taxes, the media and trade have all been changed according to U.S. goals, with little real participation from the Iraqi people. (The Transitional Authority Law can be changed, but only with a two-thirds majority vote in the National Assembly, and with the approval of the prime minister, the president and both vice presidents.) The constitutional drafting committee has, in turn, left all of these laws in place.

A central component of the Bush economic agenda is foreign corporate access to, and privatization of, Iraq's once state-run economy. Thus, an early Bremer order allowed foreign investment in and the privatization of all 192 government-owned industries (excluding oil extraction).

After the election of the transitional government, the Ministry of Industry and Minerals fell right in line, announcing plans to partially privatize most of its 46 state-owned companies and open them to foreign investment as part of a plan to establish a "liberal, free-market economy."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Solomon: War is the issue, NOT that we are "losing" it

It matters why people are critical of the U.S. war effort in Iraq. If the main objections stem from disappointment that American forces are not winning, then the war makers in Washington retain the possibility of creating the illusion that they may yet find ways to make the war right.

Criticism of the war because it isn’t being won leaves the door open for the Bush administration to sell the claim that—with enough resolve and better military tactics—the war can be vindicated. It’s time to close that door.

Oliphant: Troubled economy

From Boston Globe

As the government confirmed once again last week, rising costs have outpaced stagnant wages in ten of the last 12 months. The only positive news was recorded last September and in June. But that was overwhelmed by the trend that has eroded the value of the ordinary paycheck. As almost always happens in such spirals, the problem involves wages and prices. The former are as close to stagnant as it's possible to get; these days, a 2 percent raise is heralded as generous and the employee who gets one is considered lucky.

It's the prices people pay, especially for necessities, that have exploded. For more than a year, the cost of gasoline and heating oil has been soaring. And for five years, the cost of healthcare has been exploding, too, even as the value of what care people can buy has been eroded via sharp increases in deductibles and copayments.

The United States has a gigantic economy, as well as a famously mixed one. For those who simply follow the numbers, it can often seem as if good news about living costs in some sectors (clothing, food, mortgage rates) neatly balances the bad news from energy and healthcare.

Last month, however, the underlying trend of paycheck erosion became harder to ignore when the Labor Department reported that consumer prices shot up by 0.5 percent in July overall, after giving effect to areas of the economy where costs are more nearly under control.

CS Monitor: Why our "booming" economy feels flat to workers

From CS Monitor:

A boom in corporate profits has not yet created a job market that makes workers feel secure, economists say. Hiring hasn't skyrocketed. Worse, wages are stagnant. This paycheck squeeze may prove more worrisome than soaring oil prices and concerns over a housing bubble. Some experts worry that wage stagnation may prove more permanent this time, because of an increasingly global market for labor.


The pace of job growth, for one thing, was almost imperceptible during two years of concern about a "jobless recovery." Now that the economy has some momentum, the financial press is focused on threats to consumer well-being, such as the burden of energy costs and a soaring real estate market.

"Surveys show that even though the economy is growing reasonably strongly, a lot of households don't feel that," says Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.

He points to two key reasons. First, since the last recession ended in November 2001, job growth has been weak until last year, when the Labor Department's employer survey showed a gain of 2.2 million jobs. Second, wage growth has been lackluster, despite strong gains in worker productivity.

Normally, as employees are able to produce more in each hour of work, the result is greater cash flow that can be divvied up between workers and owners or investors. In the long run, rising productivity means rising wages and living standards.

But in the short run, "most of the gains in the economy have gone into profits rather than wages," says Mr. Behravesh.

vanden Heuvel: August Pharma Scandals

From the Nation:

NWA strike

David Sirota...good call.
Our first dance(?) Posted by Picasa
Under the Chuppah Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 19, 2005

Inflation outstripping blue-collar wage gains

From the Economic Policy Institute:

Is Darfur a war for resources?

From Tomdispatch:

"In short, the Islamist regime has manipulated ethnic, racial, and economic tensions, as part of a strategic drive to commandeer the country's oil wealth. The war has claimed about two million lives, mostly in the south -- many by starvation, when government forces prevented humanitarian agencies from gaining access to camps. Another four million Sudanese remain homeless. The regime originally sought to impose shariah, or Islamic, law on the predominantly Christian and animist South. Khartoum dropped this demand, however, under terms of the Comprehensive Peace Treaty signed last January. The South was to be allowed to operate under its own civil law, which included rights for women; and in six years, southerners could choose by plebiscite whether to separate or remain part of a unified Sudan. The all-important oil revenues would be divided between Khartoum and the SPLA-held territory. Under a power-sharing agreement, SPLA commander John Garang would be installed as vice president of Sudan, alongside President Omar al-Bashir."

Newman: US using aid as a weapon in L. America


If economic aid is withdrawn whenever countries refuse to do what the US dictates, it pretty much destroys any good will created by it, since it makes it clear it is just a weapon, not something representing values other countries should be loyal to in a crisis.

Powell expresses remorse about "WMD"

CNN says:

Powell's speech, delivered on February 14, 2003, made the case for the war by presenting U.S. intelligence that purported to prove that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Wilkerson says the information in Powell's presentation initially came from a document he described as "sort of a Chinese menu" that was provided by the White House.

"(Powell) came through the door ... and he had in his hands a sheaf of papers, and he said, 'This is what I've got to present at the United Nations according to the White House, and you need to look at it,'" Wilkerson says in the program. "It was anything but an intelligence document. It was, as some people characterized it later, sort of a Chinese menu from which you could pick and choose."

Who knows how sincere he is, but either way it's the right thing for him to say at this point. Why did he wait so long, though?

Conservative lobbyist influence in states growing

From Sirota.

Kuttner: How to reclaim a middle-class society

An old piece I found from Robert Kuttner.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Gaza withdraw...two perspectives

From and zmag.

WIngnuts go ballistic

Wingnuts come unhinged in Crwaford TX thanks to Cindy Sheehan.

Huffington on Judith Miller and the NYT

From Huffington Post:

“When I was chief of the bureau in Washington,” he told Sidney Blumenthal, “we laid down a rule to the reporters that when they wanted to establish anonymity they had to lay out ground rules that if anything the source said was damaging, false or damaged the credibility of the newspaper we would identify them. If a man damages your credibility, why not lay the blame where it belongs? Whoever was leaking that information to Novak, Cooper or Judy Miller was doing it with malice aforethought, trying to set up a deceptive circumstance. That would invalidate any promise of confidentiality. You wouldn't protect a source for telling lies or using you to mislead your audience. That changes everything. Any reporter that puts themselves or a news organization in that position is making a big mistake.”

Apparently, Sulzberger is furious with Kovach for these remarks.

Of course, Times higher-ups sticking up for Miller is nothing new. According to another knowledgeable source, Judy was always allowed to play by different rules than other reporters: “She was given the license to operate without the normal editorial supervision, first in the Washington bureau and then later when she went to Baghdad”.

This special treatment continued even as her reporting on Iraq and WMD was being discredited. First, her name was never mentioned in the Times’ unprecedented May 2004 mea culpa -- even though 4 of the 6 articles the paper was apologizing for included her byline. Then, those in charge refused to fire her, even after she continued to defend her WMD reporting and her disgraced top source Ahmed Chalabi on TV shows like Hardball long after the paper’s mea culpa.

“I think the United States has underestimated Ahmed Chalabi,” she said to Chris Matthews in December 2004, speaking of the man who had pocketed $340,000 a month from the Pentagon to provide information that turned out to be dead wrong, and who the Bush administration said had passed intelligence to Iran that could ‘get people killed’. This didn’t deter Miller: “I think Ahmed Chalabi, despite everything that was done to him in May, the raid on his house, remains basically pro-democratic, pre-Western, pro-American.”

After one such televised transgression, according to a source within the paper, “Judy was taken off the WMD beat. They were hoping she would quit after that -- but that’s not understanding Judy. She was enraged and threw a fit -- then threw herself into covering the UN Oil for Food story. The problem was, some of the reporters in Paris working on the story wouldn’t share a byline with her.”

After the Jayson Blair scandal, it took a “third floor mutiny” of Times staffers before Sulzberger brought down the axe on Howell Raines. Who will the axe fall on this time?

There are those who believe that ultimately the Times’ support of Judy Miller is predicated on the paper’s need to change the subject and cleanse itself from the stench left by its misleading coverage leading up to the war -- which makes the Jayson Blair scandal, by comparison, seem ludicrously insignificant. And few acts of purification are more effective for a paper than one of its star reporters -- especially the one most responsible for the stench -- going to jail to (in PR theory) protect the First Amendment.

Police Inquiry Into Subway Killing: oops!

LONDON, Aug. 17 - The British press, lawyers and campaigners reacted with outrage on Wednesday after leaked reports from an official investigation contradicted police accounts of the death of a Brazilian man who the police may have thought was a suicide bomber.

The report from the investigation, made public in Britain by ITV News, suggested that Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, the Brazilian, was already being restrained by the police on a subway train in south London on July 22 when he was shot eight times.

The report, from an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, includes accounts by witnesses, interviews with police officers and film from the surveillance system. The findings indicated that contrary to earlier reports by the police, Mr. Menezes seemed to be unaware that he was being followed from his home and into the Stockwell subway station, that he was not wearing a heavy jacket that could have concealed explosives and that he did not run from the police or jump over the subway station's ticket turnstile.
Although Ian Blair, the director of London's police, later apologized for the killing, the leaked reports directly contradict the police's version of events.
According to the report, the security camera images showed Mr. Menezes entering the station at a normal walking pace, collecting a free morning newspaper and slowly descending on the escalator.

"At some point near the bottom he is seen to run across the concourse," the television station quoted the report as saying, "and enter the carriage before sitting in an available seat."

Sarah Clifford, a spokeswoman for the commission, would not confirm on Wednesday whether the accounts of the commission's report were accurate.

The report brought a strongly worded condemnation from Mr. Menezes's family.

Lawyers at the firm Birnberg Peirce & Partners, which is representing the family, said that the report showed that all information allowed into the public domain since the death was false and that they had no confidence in the investigation into the death of Mr. Menezes.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police refused to comment on the report, saying it was police policy not to comment while a death was being investigated by the police complaints commission.

Bloomberg: Lowered standards for job growth

Short editorial from Bloomberg:

During this recovery we have seen increased risk and uncertainty in the fiscal health of the U.S. economy. There has been rising labor force competition overseas, especially from China and India. Employers are more concerned than ever about hiring because of rising costs for health insurance and benefits.

At the same time, these concerns have pushed companies to go to even greater lengths to boost productivity by squeezing more out of investments in computers and other technology made in the last half of the 1990s.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Pension funds as progressive activists

William Greider:

The New Politics of Capital (or, finally some good news!)

The best evidence that the reform-minded pension funds are onto something--maybe something big--is the fierce and nasty counterattack launched by business and financial interests. Last spring, the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Enterprise Institute began a simultaneous barrage of complaints and name-calling accusations (faithfully echoed by the Wall Street Journal and Forbes). State pension officials, they warned, are departing dangerously from their fiduciary duties, putting "social issues" first and becoming pawns of organized labor. AEI's economic-policy director claimed CalPERS (the mammoth California Public Employees' Retirement System) "is abusing the public trust in a manner as serious and grave as any I have seen. They have a pool of money controlled by politicians and they are using that pool to strong-arm changes in targeted companies."

CalPERS is the largest pension fund in the nation, holding $180 billion, and it is indeed trying to "strong-arm" companies--scores of them--into making reforms. Angelides has become a favorite target of the corporate critics--and a visible point man for pension-fund activism--because he sits on the boards of both CalPERS and CalSTRS (California State Teachers Retirement System), the country's second-largest, with holdings of another $125 billion. Angelides has pushed both funds to adopt a whirlwind of reforms--dumping tobacco stocks, blacklisting ten "emerging markets" that ignore international labor standards, redeploying capital to neglected sectors like inner-city redevelopment and innovative environmental technologies, and, above all, peppering scores of corporations, banks, brokerages, financial markets and federal regulators with critiques and demands for change.

Angelides has only one vote among the numerous board members at each pension fund, but he regularly prevails because his partner in reform is organized labor. Sean Harrigan, the regional director of the United Food and Commercial Workers, was, until very recently, the CalPERS board president. Alert elements in labor--unions led principally by the Service Employees (SEIU) and State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)--are closely involved, mobilizing grassroots support and lobbying the policy-makers. Harrigan and Angelides have collected a lot of enemies, one might say, in all the right places. "The old holders of capital--the old status quo--are very nervous about this discussion of capital and the larger context of what's good for the economy," Angelides warns. "They don't want these questions asked. They don't want the old order to be changed. They want to control capital and they want to control it to their benefit, not to the larger economy's."

Bloomberg: Jobless recovery continues

Job Creation Isn't What It Used to Be: Caroline Baum

By Caroline Baum

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) -- During the long 1980s' and 1990s' business expansions, the first Friday of the month was a time for fireworks.

It was not unusual on that day for the Labor Department to report job growth of 300,000 or 400,000. Market reactions were sharp and swift.

Who can forget that bad Good Friday in April 1994, when the initial payroll print for March of 456,000 sent bond prices tumbling in holiday-thinned trading? What about March 8, 1996, when the reported increase of 706,000 in February non-farm payrolls sent bond futures down the three-point daily limit. (After multiple revisions, the increase stands at 435,000.)

In the last nine quarters, the economy has grown at about the same pace as it did in the 1990s, with far less job creation. Employment growth averaged 185,000 a month over the past year and 163,000 over the last two years. The announcement Friday of a larger-than-expected increase of 207,000 non-farm jobs in July was greeted as a blockbuster report. (It was probably the cumulative addition of 42,000 jobs in May and June.)

So what's happened to the U.S. economy to make tepid job growth the norm?

Labor force growth, or the lack of it, says Mike Englund, chief economist at Action Economics LLC, whose database, not memory, provided historical data on the initial employment reports.

Hand in Hand

``Labor force growth is slowing, and you can't have job growth diverging from labor force growth over the long run,'' Englund says.

From 1970 to 2000, annual labor force growth averaged 1.9 percent, driven by the influx of women and baby boomers into the labor force, he says. Payroll growth averaged 2 percent.

After rising for 30 years, female participation rates have leveled off -- ``now they're similar to men's,'' Englund says, just as the baby boomers are preparing to head for the exit.

At the same time, ``increased surveillance after 9/11 may have slowed illegal immigration,'' he says.

In this environment, labor force growth slowed to less than 1 percent last year (2004 versus 2003). Job growth tracked that with its 1.1 percent increase.

``You can't look at the numeric increase; you have to look at the percentage increase,'' Englund says.

The decline in the unemployment rate to 5 percent from a peak of 6.3 percent two years ago is a sign that job growth is outpacing the number of new entrants to the labor force.

Theory #2

Whether the slowdown in trend labor force growth is structural, as Englund thinks, or cyclical, as other economists believe, will only become clear with time.

Another theory for the tepid job growth is tepid capital investment. Companies are investing, but given their strong profits and positive cash flow, they aren't investing at a pace one would expect.

Capital spending ``consistently has undershot that implied by fundamentals, such as corporate cash flow, financing costs, tax incentives and output,'' economists at Citigroup Inc. write in the latest issue of ``Comments on Credit.''

``Internally generated funding continues to point to better capital expenditures,'' says Citigroup economist Steven Wieting. ``There's more potential than actual.''

Fundamentally Underperforming

From this observation, economists have deduced a hypothetical risk aversion on the part of corporations, which is easier to describe than document. Possible reasons include the added cost of compliance associated with the enactment of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance law; over-compensation for the over-investment in technology and telecommunications equipment in the late 1990s and the bust that followed; and the reality of a world where terrorism is an ever-present danger.

The revisions to gross domestic product for 2002-2004, which had the effect of lowering capital spending's share of GDP as well as its contribution to growth, widened the gap between potential and actual investment.

``The trough (in capital spending) was lower and the rebound less robust'' than previously reported, Wieting says.

Investment in equipment and software as a share of GDP bottomed at 7.3 percent in the first quarter of 2003 and inched its way up to 8 percent in the second quarter of 2005, he says. At the peak of the bubble, in the second and third quarters of 2000, the share was 9.4 percent.

Wieting says the reticence to invest is visible in production as well, with profitable industries, such as housing, expanding output more slowly than robust demand would suggest.

Attention, Class

To summarize, then: The labor force isn't growing as fast as it used to, partly for demographic reasons. And businesses aren't investing the way they used to, or in line with what their cash flow would dictate.

Somehow these answers, along with the frequent refrain that all the jobs are going overseas, aren't completely satisfying. While we've moved from the jobless recovery in 2002 to job growth sufficient to lower the unemployment rate now, one doesn't get the sense of a rip-roaring job market.

True, the Federal Reserve's periodic survey of regional economic conditions, know as the Beige Book, alludes to skilled workers being in ``short supply.'' But employers aren't exactly offering signing bonuses and dangling perks -- free cars, for example -- to lure job applicants the way they did in the late 1990s.

I'd be tempted to call the sub-standard job growth a conundrum. As such, it goes a long way toward explaining that other conundrum: Why long-term interest rates have failed to follow the federal funds rate higher.

Both the equilibrium funds rate -- the rate that will keep the economy expanding at its non-inflationary potential -- and the economy's potential growth rate may be lower than policy makers think.

A Wal-Mart op-ed brought to you by...Wal-Mart

From the carpetbagger report:

Neocons use accusations of 'appeasement' to slander peacemakers

From workingforchange:

"Webster's says to appease is "to calm or pacify, esp. by giving what is demanded."

Neocons distort the term to fit their own ideology, insulting anyone attempting to wage peace by implying that only weak cowards listen and negotiate with enemies."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The DNC's "Strategic Class"

From tompaine:

The prominence of party leaders like Biden and Clinton, and of a slew of other potential pro-war candidates who support the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, presents the Democrats with an odd dilemma: At a time when the American people are turning against the Iraq War and favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops, and British and American leaders are publicly discussing a partial pullback, the leading Democratic presidential candidates for '08 are unapologetic war hawks. Nearly 60 percent of Americans now oppose the war, according to recent polling. Sixty-three percent want U.S. troops brought home within the next year. Yet a recent National Journal "insiders poll" found that a similar margin of Democratic members of Congress reject setting any timetable. The possibility that America's military presence in Iraq may be doing more harm than good is considered beyond the pale of "sophisticated" debate.

Limbaugh calls for deportation of war critics

Pure hilarity:

Howard Dean and the PDA


Dean's promise to change the way the Democrats talk about issues is a sure sign his party will never ever genuinely embrace the issues that matter most to progressives. They'll only talk about the issues differently. The Democrats will never be antiwar. They will never be pro-living wage. They will never be in favor of real universal health care; they'll only pretend they are.

The Success of Sheehan

Interesting essay from Alternet

"In broad terms, the success of the "grieving mom" phrase indicates that Americans are now thinking about the War in Iraq through the frame of the family, rather than thinking about Iraq through the frame of "terrorism" or "ideology."

The implications of this shift from "terrorism" to "family" in the country's thinking about Iraq are profound. Not only does this shift forewarn a political tidal wave soon to break on the President's foreign policy, but also of a much deeper, tectonic shift in the strategy beneath all the recent gains in the Republican party."

The resurgence of movement politics

David Sirota:

"The Democratic Party is caught in a downward spiral and is using its supposed "big tent" as an excuse for its weaknesses. Democratic politicians have always said that "ideological diversity is the Democrats strength," but that refrain is now being shamelessly used as a way to obscure the fact that the Democratic Party is ideologically rudderless. The party often permits and even congratulates those within its ranks who sell out America's middle class, whether it be those who voted for the bankruptcy bill or those who consistently vote for corporate-written trade deals like CAFTA or NAFTA. The party elites--many of whom follow the corporate apologism of business-funded groups within its ranks--still believe they can ascend to power on the public's loyalty to a Democratic Party label, even as that party label is almost completely meaningless to much of the public.

The only solution, then, is for progressives to stop solely focusing on partisan politics, and start focusing on movement politics. On every single issue, we must have a clear position that articulates not just a policy stance, but an overarching progressive ideology. Because without a movement, we have no ability to hold politicians' feet to the fire, no ability to develop credibility with voters and no ability to win elections."

Monday, August 15, 2005

Rich: The War's Over

LIKE the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. "We will stay the course," he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?

A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend's Newsweek poll - a match for the 32 percent that approved L.B.J.'s handling of Vietnam in early March 1968. (The two presidents' overall approval ratings have also converged: 41 percent for Johnson then, 42 percent for Bush now.) On March 31, 1968, as L.B.J.'s ratings plummeted further, he announced he wouldn't seek re-election, commencing our long extrication from that quagmire.

But our current Texas president has even outdone his predecessor; Mr. Bush has lost not only the country but also his army. Neither bonuses nor fudged standards nor the faking of high school diplomas has solved the recruitment shortfall. Now Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that the armed forces are so eager for bodies they will flout "don't ask, don't tell" and hang on to gay soldiers who tell, even if they tell the press.

The president's cable cadre is in disarray as well. At Fox News Bill O'Reilly is trashing Donald Rumsfeld for his incompetence, and Ann Coulter is chiding Mr. O'Reilly for being a defeatist. In an emblematic gesture akin to waving a white flag, Robert Novak walked off a CNN set and possibly out of a job rather than answer questions about his role in smearing the man who helped expose the administration's prewar inflation of Saddam W.M.D.'s. (On this sinking ship, it's hard to know which rat to root for.)

As if the right-wing pundit crackup isn't unsettling enough, Mr. Bush's top war strategists, starting with Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, have of late tried to rebrand the war in Iraq as what the defense secretary calls "a global struggle against violent extremism." A struggle is what you have with your landlord. When the war's über-managers start using euphemisms for a conflict this lethal, it's a clear sign that the battle to keep the Iraq war afloat with the American public is lost.

That battle crashed past the tipping point this month in Ohio. There's historical symmetry in that. It was in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, that Mr. Bush gave the fateful address that sped Congressional ratification of the war just days later. The speech was a miasma of self-delusion, half-truths and hype. The president said that "we know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade," an exaggeration based on evidence that the Senate Intelligence Committee would later find far from conclusive. He said that Saddam "could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year" were he able to secure "an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball." Our own National Intelligence Estimate of Oct. 1 quoted State Department findings that claims of Iraqi pursuit of uranium in Africa were "highly dubious."

It was on these false premises - that Iraq was both a collaborator on 9/11 and about to inflict mushroom clouds on America - that honorable and brave young Americans were sent off to fight. Among them were the 19 marine reservists from a single suburban Cleveland battalion slaughtered in just three days at the start of this month. As they perished, another Ohio marine reservist who had served in Iraq came close to winning a Congressional election in southern Ohio. Paul Hackett, a Democrat who called the president a "chicken hawk," received 48 percent of the vote in exactly the kind of bedrock conservative Ohio district that decided the 2004 election for Mr. Bush.

These are the tea leaves that all Republicans, not just Chuck Hagel, are reading now. Newt Gingrich called the Hackett near-victory "a wake-up call." The resolutely pro-war New York Post editorial page begged Mr. Bush (to no avail) to "show some leadership" by showing up in Ohio to salute the fallen and their families. A Bush loyalist, Senator George Allen of Virginia, instructed the president to meet with Cindy Sheehan, the mother camping out in Crawford, as "a matter of courtesy and decency." Or, to translate his Washingtonese, as a matter of politics. Only someone as adrift from reality as Mr. Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president can't win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogosphere 24/7.

Such political imperatives are rapidly bringing about the war's end. That's inevitable for a war of choice, not necessity, that was conceived in politics from the start. Iraq was a Bush administration idée fixe before there was a 9/11. Within hours of that horrible trauma, according to Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies," Mr. Rumsfeld was proposing Iraq as a battlefield, not because the enemy that attacked America was there, but because it offered "better targets" than the shadowy terrorist redoubts of Afghanistan. It was easier to take out Saddam - and burnish Mr. Bush's credentials as a slam-dunk "war president," suitable for a "Top Gun" victory jig - than to shut down Al Qaeda and smoke out its leader "dead or alive."

But just as politics are a bad motive for choosing a war, so they can be a doomed engine for running a war. In an interview with Tim Russert early last year, Mr. Bush said, "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me, as I look back, was it was a political war," adding that the "essential" lesson he learned from Vietnam was to not have "politicians making military decisions." But by then Mr. Bush had disastrously ignored that very lesson; he had let Mr. Rumsfeld publicly rebuke the Army's chief of staff, Eric Shinseki, after the general dared tell the truth: that several hundred thousand troops would be required to secure Iraq. To this day it's our failure to provide that security that has turned the country into the terrorist haven it hadn't been before 9/11 - "the central front in the war on terror," as Mr. Bush keeps reminding us, as if that might make us forget he's the one who recklessly created it.

The endgame for American involvement in Iraq will be of a piece with the rest of this sorry history. "It makes no sense for the commander in chief to put out a timetable" for withdrawal, Mr. Bush declared on the same day that 14 of those Ohio troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha. But even as he spoke, the war's actual commander, Gen. George Casey, had already publicly set a timetable for "some fairly substantial reductions" to start next spring. Officially this calendar is tied to the next round of Iraqi elections, but it's quite another election this administration has in mind. The priority now is less to save Jessica Lynch (or Iraqi democracy) than to save Rick Santorum and every other endangered Republican facing voters in November 2006.

Nothing that happens on the ground in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America: not a shotgun constitution rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline, not another Iraqi election, not higher terrorist body counts, not another battle for Falluja (where insurgents may again regroup, The Los Angeles Times reported last week). A citizenry that was asked to accept tax cuts, not sacrifice, at the war's inception is hardly in the mood to start sacrificing now. There will be neither the volunteers nor the money required to field the wholesale additional American troops that might bolster the security situation in Iraq.

WHAT lies ahead now in Iraq instead is not victory, which Mr. Bush has never clearly defined anyway, but an exit (or triage) strategy that may echo Johnson's March 1968 plan for retreat from Vietnam: some kind of negotiations (in this case, with Sunni elements of the insurgency), followed by more inflated claims about the readiness of the local troops-in-training, whom we'll then throw to the wolves. Such an outcome may lead to even greater disaster, but this administration long ago squandered the credibility needed to make the difficult case that more human and financial resources might prevent Iraq from continuing its descent into civil war and its devolution into jihad central.

Thus the president's claim on Thursday that "no decision has been made yet" about withdrawing troops from Iraq can be taken exactly as seriously as the vice president's preceding fantasy that the insurgency is in its "last throes." The country has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We're outta there. Now comes the hard task of identifying the leaders who can pick up the pieces of the fiasco that has made us more vulnerable, not less, to the terrorists who struck us four years ago next month.

See also this short Norman Solomon critique of Rich's editorial here:

Bush's war on pot

From Rolling Stone:

More than two decades after it was launched in response to the spread of crack cocaine -- and in the midst of a brand-new wave of methamphetamine use sweeping the country -- the government crackdown has shifted from hard drugs to marijuana. Pot now accounts for nearly half of drug arrests nationwide -- up from barely a quarter of all busts a decade ago. Spurred by a Supreme Court decision in June affirming the right of federal agents to crack down on medical marijuana,

The Drug Enforcement Administration has launched a series of high-profile raids against pot clinics in California, and police in New York, Memphis and Philadelphia have been waging major offensives against pot smokers that are racking up thousands of arrests.

By almost any measure, however, the war has been as monumental a failure as the invasion of Iraq. All told, the government sinks an estimated $35 billion a year into the War on Drugs. Yet illegal drugs remain cheap and plentiful, and coca cultivation in the Andes -- where the Bush administration has spent $5.4 billion to eradicate cocaine -- rose twenty-nine percent last year. "Drug prices are at an all-time low, drug purity is at an all-time high, and polls show that drugs are more available than ever," says Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug-reform organization in Washington, D.C. Drug smugglers and South American cocaine growers, he adds, are fast developing new ways to evade U.S. eradication efforts. "All they have to do is double their efforts," he says. "They can adapt more quickly than the government can."

Kissinger: American public to blame for Iraq disaster

Kissinger blames the growing number of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq for the catastrophe there. It's not the Bush administration's lying that bothers him, or the fact that they are now lowering expectations of what they hope to achieve, it's the millions of Americans who dare question the reasons why we are there!

"For me, the tragedy of Vietnam was the divisions that occurred in the United States that made it, in the end, impossible to achieve an outcome that was compatible with the sacrifices that had been made," former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Democrats try to act tough by supporting unpopular Iraq war

Democrats embrace tough military stance
Sharpen message on foreign policy
By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | August 14, 2005

WASHINGTON -- After months of internal debate and closed-door discussions, Democrats have begun to develop a more aggressive foreign policy that focuses heavily on threats they say are being neglected by the Bush administration, while avoiding taking a contentious stance on Iraq.

Even Democrats who have been associated with liberal positions on international affairs are calling for more troops in uniform, proposing that threats of force be used to stop nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea, and pressing for potential military intervention to ease famine and oppression around the world.

Democrats are also calling for better pay and benefits for soldiers and heightened efforts to protect mass transit and other potential terrorist targets.

The emerging message among Democrats reflects a recognition that winning congressional and presidential elections in the post-Sept. 11 era requires candidates to establish a willingness to use America's military might and keep the nation safe, according to party leaders and strategists.

Despite pressure from liberal groups calling for a quick exit from Iraq, several of the party's White House aspirants and congressional leaders are calling for the United States to intensify efforts to bring stability to the nation before troops come home.

Beyond that, they are endorsing a broader vision for how US power should be exerted, one that includes military involvement in humanitarian missions as well as a quick response to imminent security threats.

''Having the strongest military in the world is the first step, but we also have to have a strong commitment to using our military in smart ways that further peace, stability, and security around the world," Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said at the Democratic Leadership Council in Columbus, Ohio, last month.

The approach involves a closer embrace of the armed forces than many Democrats and even Republicans have been comfortable with in recent years. Clinton has called for adding 80,000 troops to the armed services, at a time when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has called for a streamlined force with greater emphasis on technology.

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, hit the presidential proving ground of Iowa early this month to warn that ''people don't think we [Democrats] have the backbone" to deploy the military, and said Democrats must overcome that perception to be successful in future elections.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has laid out a doctrine of rebuilding alliances while making clear that ''force will be used -- without asking anyone's permission -- when circumstances warrant."

Last month, a group of mostly Democratic senators called for boosted funding to secure rail and mass transit systems after the terror attacks in London. Democrats have been at the forefront of recent efforts in Congress to extend health benefits to more National Guard members and to expand veterans' healthcare programs.

The messages have grown out of a series of party caucus meetings among House members and senators, and conferences on national security, as well as research and polling generated by Democratic think tanks.

The Democrats are emphasizing international coalitions, but are making it clear that they will not hesitate to act unilaterally if necessary, said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a centrist Democratic think tank. ''If you're not credible on security, it doesn't matter if you have better ideas on healthcare and education and everything else," Marshall said.

The move toward a greater willingness to use force is striking for a party that has wrestled with deep divisions over the role of the military since the Vietnam War, and not all Democrats have joined the shift. Liberal groups such as are calling for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Howard Dean has mostly remained silent on foreign affairs as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

While Democrats criticize President Bush for mistakes in Iraq, the party is neither calling for a pullout nor pushing for an escalation. That approach allows Democrats to sharply criticize Bush on foreign policy even as they remain divided over how to proceed in Iraq -- an issue that tripped up Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, during the presidential campaign last year.

The top Democrats in the House and Senate issued a report last month that harshly critiqued Bush administration efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The report -- endorsed by the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid -- details Iranian and North Korean steps toward building nuclear weapons, and lagging efforts to secure ''loose nukes" in Russia that could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The report calls for the United States to engage in more direct negotiations with Iran and North Korea, and for the talks to be reinforced with military pressure, including ''the possibility of repeated and unwarned strikes."

''The US is fighting a global war on terrorism, but not a global war on weapons of mass destruction," Pelosi, Democrat of California, said in releasing the report. ''The lack of leadership by the Bush administration in these areas has made the American people less safe than they should be."

Portions of the Democrats' message build on policy positions stated by Kerry in his presidential campaign. Kerry also called for more troops in uniform and did not renounce his decision to vote for the Iraq war even as he criticized Bush for missteps in carrying out the war and in other areas of foreign policy.

But Kerry's inability to articulate a clear message gave Bush an opening to attack the Democrat as weak on national security. Bush famously lampooned Kerry for having said he voted for additional funding for troops before he voted against it, and mocked Kerry for what he said was an internationalist policy where he would only use US force after getting a ''permission slip" from other nations.

Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, noted that Kerry lost 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the nation. Those areas are filled with young suburban families who want a president who will make them feel safe after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

''We didn't lose those 97 counties on cultural issues or on abortion," said Roemer, a member of the 9/11 Commission who ran for party chairman this year on a national-security platform. ''We primarily lost those because we did not have a compelling national-security message."

At the Democratic Leadership Council's convention, Roemer urged Democrats to return to the foreign-policy visions of Democratic presidents Woodrow Wilson, Harry S. Truman, and John F. Kennedy. ''We must be prepared to strategically use our military, as a party, for good, and against other transnational threats in addition to the threat of terrorism," Roemer said. ''Our military must be equipped not only to look at the jihadist threat, and the ongoing threat of terrorism over the next few decades, but it should be equipped to do more than that."

After losing ground in Congress in the first two national elections since Sept. 11, Democrats appear to be waking up to the changed political reality, said William Galston, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and former Democratic presidential campaign adviser. ''All of this is very necessary and very productive," he said. ''It will prepare the ground for the real rebranding of the party that will have to occur. If the party were as divided and -- to be blunt -- as confused on these issues in 2008 as it was in 2004, then the 2008 nominee will have a very difficult time."

Support for Iraq war fading fast

Public's support of war faltering

Polls show that Americans are losing confidence in the President and that they don't see themselves as safer.

By Dick Polman

Inquirer Staff Writer

The fog of war has settled over the home front.

Alarmed by the upsurge in casualties in Iraq - as evidenced by the deaths of seven Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers over the last week - and increasingly convinced that President Bush lacks a clear plan for victory, Americans in numbers unprecedented since the start of the war are losing confidence in the mission.

Bush is losing his domestic battle for hearts and minds; new polls report that, for the first time, a majority of Americans reject his contention that the war over there is making us safer over here. And support for the war has sagged to 44 percent, according to another recent poll.

Indeed, barring imminent progress in Iraq, 2005 might well be remembered as the year when public opinion went south and never came back - a mood shift roughly analogous to 1968, when domestic confidence in the Vietnam War began its irreversible slide.

There have long been gaps between administration pronouncements and battlefield realities. Witness Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's prewar prediction that the fighting "could last six days, six weeks, I doubt six months," or that 92 percent of all U.S. military deaths have occurred since Bush declared on May 1, 2003, that "major combat" was over.

But for a long time, the restive Americans tended to be Democrats who already disliked Bush or who never bought his war pitch in the first place. What's new is that frustrations about the war are being voiced by those who backed it at the outset.

These Americans - as evidenced by dozens of conversations with reporters in 12 cities and towns during the last week - are increasingly alarmed by the facts on the ground and confused about the best course of action in the future. In a sense, they're the "swing voters" on Iraq, the people whose mood shifts are reflected in the latest polls.

Consider Pennsylvanian Eric Zagata. He's from Luzerne, age 24, and he served in Iraq last year, as a member of the 109th Field Artillery's Bravo Battery, until he was injured by shrapnel. He was luckier than the 92 Pennsylvanians slain thus far - in battle deaths, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation, behind California and Texas - but he's a changed man.

"Going into it," he said Tuesday, "I just felt it was my obligation. Now I feel bad. I think we're in such a spot. We can't pull out of there, because if we do, it would just be a waste of all our people's lives and all their people's lives. I think it's a real Catch-22."

His sentiments have shifted after "seeing all these guys getting killed every day for nothing, really. We went over there, and we're fighting this war, and we're still paying $2.40 a gallon for gas. Eighteen hundred people have died, and nothing has been accomplished." (The U.S. military death toll, on Friday, was 1,846.)

Or consider 54-year-old Marcy Price, who was shopping Thursday near Fort Jackson, the Army's largest basic-training center, in South Carolina. She backed the war at the outset because "I thought that it was very worthwhile - that it was something we needed to do in response to 9/11." But "I changed my mind because of the length of the war," and because, as she sees it, the Bush administration has failed to show that Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, was a crucial front in the broader fight against terrorism.

Or consider Willie Kaisner, 52, who owns a heating and air-conditioning company in Phoenixville: "I didn't think it would go on this long... . I support it, but the longer we're there, the harder it is to support. The way we went in with all the air strikes, I really thought it would be a bing-banger. But it didn't happen that way."

These sentiments are mirrored in the polls. When the war was a year old, two-thirds of Americans were still supporting the decision to wage it. But in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, support has sagged to 44 percent. Meanwhile, 57 percent now say the war has made the United States "less safe from terrorism" - the highest share yet recorded by Gallup, and a view that opposes a core Bush argument for the war. A similar question in a Newsweek poll found even more Americans - 64 percent - do not think the war has made them safer from terrorism.

Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, an expert on war and public opinion at Boston University, said: "At this point, the President has nearly exhausted the extra moral authority that he was granted after 9/11. It's hard for people to accept battlefield deaths when they can't see where a war is going.

"In comparison to World War II, [1,846] deaths is obviously not huge. But in the context of Iraq, with the public having no clear sense of how the mission is going and where it will go - that's why support is systematically eroding. People thought we'd turned a corner when Saddam was captured, and again when the January elections were held. People keep waiting for some psychic satisfaction, the big milestone that will point the way forward," he said.

Many have grown weary of waiting. Debby Boarman, a 58-year-old retiree from Evansville, Ind., voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004, but you'd never know it now. During a visit Wednesday to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, she said: "I don't think he's doing as good a job as he said he was going to do. I don't like the way he is handling [Iraq] - well, he isn't handling [it]... . It's more of a lack thereof."

Bush, of course, can still count on staunch support from millions of Americans - people like Greg Henning, an Ohioan who was visiting ground zero in New York on Tuesday. He said, "If we had done this [war] in the 1990s, I don't think [9/11] would have happened." And he sees the Iraq casualties as an acceptable sacrifice, because "if thousands of soldiers hadn't died [in previous wars], we wouldn't have been here right now," living in freedom.

And notwithstanding the attention on Cindy Sheehan, who is camping out at Bush's ranch to protest her son's death in Iraq, there are many women like Texan Diane Eggers, a 51-year-old Bush voter whose son Kyle was killed in December. She said: "He supported President Bush because he believed in what [Bush] was doing. There's no good part of any war... . You just have to go with it. I could be mad, but it's not going to do any good."

But even some Bush-loving Texans are restless. Donna Arp, of the suburbs of Fort Worth, the 54-year-old president of a real estate investment company, said Wednesday, "I'd like to see a solid exit strategy," because she and her friends can't get a fix on what's happening. As she put it, "We're unsure if we are winning the war, or where we are with it."

The public's growing bewilderment stems in part from the perception that Bush and his war leaders are communicating poorly and often in contradiction. In the latest poll conducted by the bipartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 64 percent said Bush is failing to articulate a "clear plan" for winning the war - the highest negative share since the start of the conflict.

After Vice President Cheney insisted in June that the insurgency was in its "last throes," he was promptly contradicted by Gen. John Abizaid, who told Congress that the insurgency was as strong in June as it was in January, with more foreign fighters pouring in. Then Rumsfeld sought to explain Cheney's remark on Fox News Sunday: "Last throes could be violent last throes, or a placid and calm last throes."

Then, on July 8, Maj. Gen. William Webster, who heads Task Force Baghdad, said his forces had "mostly eliminated" the ability of insurgents to conduct "high-intensity" attacks; two days later, insurgents killed 23 at a Baghdad recruiting center. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Time magazine, in an interview released last Sunday, that the insurgency was "losing steam" in the face of "quiet political progress." Then, on Monday, armed gunmen ousted Baghdad's secular mayor and replaced him with a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite Islamic militia.

The administration's vaunted message discipline has also faltered on the topic of troop withdrawal. On July 27, Gen. George Casey, senior commander of coalition forces, suggested that a "fairly substantial" withdrawal could begin next spring or summer. Rumsfeld made similar noises. Then, on Thursday, Bush dismissed any talk of troop cuts - which might indicate that the insurgency, which is operating with increasingly sophisticated weapons, may not be "losing steam" after all.

David Winston, a Republican strategist with White House ties, says he believes that the war message needs to be conveyed more effectively. He said: "Over the next year, people will ask, 'Are we progressing?' The Iraqi election last January was an important milestone to achieve, to the point where [U.S.] casualties were being tolerated. The White House has to lay out more of these milestones and objectives, to help people judge whether progress is being made - progress that people can believe in."

Lacking this kind of guidance, many Americans are seeing only the bloodshed. Florentine Belgio, who is in her 60s and lives in West Pittston, Pa., has a son serving in Iraq, and her patience is virtually exhausted.

She said the other day: "At the beginning of the war, I felt it was something we just had to do. Now, with all these roadside bombs, it's very, very frightening. This is an enemy you can't see. How can you fight an enemy you don't see? Every day, I come home, and I see something on TV about more soldiers being killed by one of those bombs, and my heart sinks down to my toes."

Others believe the only decent option is to soldier on. Keri-Lynn Kendall, a 47-year-old mother of four in State College, Pa., is disillusioned by the war. Nevertheless, she said Wednesday that "I think we've got to finish what we start and just have hope and faith that what we're doing is right and good, and that eventually, in spite of the sacrifice, that things are going to get better."

Kendall's quintessentially American optimism is reflected in the polls; despite the growing public frustration, hope and faith still reign. The Pew survey reports that 60 percent believe the United States will ultimately establish a stable Iraq regime.

Bush can be expected to tap that optimism, as he continues to plead for patience. And all the while, American soldiers will remain on the firing line - soldiers such as 23-year-old Marine Cpl. Adrian Garza of San Antonio, Texas, who has been spending days near the western town of Hit, hoping to avoid a roadside bomb.

He said Wednesday: "I thought it was going to be bad over here. But it's worse than I thought." It's a remark undoubtedly shared by millions of his fellow Americans on the home front.

Atrios on getting out of Iraq

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Crisis in Southern Africa

Images of skeletal children in Niger, wasted away by malnutrition, have featured prominently in the media over recent weeks. Amidst efforts to alleviate this suffering, however, there are fears that the crisis in Niger may undermine donor willingness to tackle problems elsewhere on the continent - notably in Southern Africa.

About 10 million people in the Southern African region will need food aid until the middle of 20

Friday, August 12, 2005

Holes in the Energy Law

Editorial from Boston Globe:
President Bush finally got to sign his $14.5 billion energy bill on Monday, a day when oil prices reached historic new highs of $64 a barrel. Unfortunately, the price spike only brings into focus how little the Bush prescription will actually do to liberate America from its dependence on foreign oil.
There is plenty not to like in the new law: the tax breaks for an oil industry already awash in profits; the lavish protections for the coal and nuclear industries; the marked lack of fuel efficiency requirements for cars or mandated reductions in oil imports. Even the supposed ''green" parts of the bill don't inspire much enthusiasm.

Incentives to develop alternate energy sources are either too small or too short-lived to make much difference. Tax credits for the purchase of fuel-efficient appliances and energy-efficient new homes expire after two years, while the subsidies for oil and gas exploration go on for five or 10 years. A maximum $500 tax credit is available for a home weatherproofing and heating system replacement that might cost $15,000.

The tax breaks to encourage Americans to buy hybrid cars start to phase out after a manufacturer has sold 60,000 vehicles. Toyota alone sold 140,000 hybrid cars this year; at that rate the tax credit cap would be reached sometime in April 2006. That might encourage a quick surge of buyers at the start of the year, but it won't do much to influence the long-term production plans of car manufacturers to develop a more fuel-efficient fleet.

Despite the assurances of free-marketers, it will take more than just high prices at the pump to change consumer and corporate behavior. Nationally, gas prices have been pushed to $2.29 a gallon on average, but gasoline is still a bargain. And since most people already own their cars or homes, it can take years for ''price signals" to have an effect.

A 50 cent-a-gallon price increase, even for a relatively inefficient vehicle (one getting only 15 miles per gallon, using about 1,000 gallons a year) will cost the driver $500 extra. That sounds like a lot, but compared with the $50,000 spent on a gas-guzzling Hummer or the $500,000 on the house in Sprawlville necessitating 100-mile commutes, gasoline prices need to go a lot higher still to change consumer behavior.

What could really work? Enforceable fuel standards for cars and trucks; higher national building codes for energy efficiency; a tax on carbon emissions to fund research into promising technologies; requirements that utilities maintain a certain percentage of renewable fuels in their portfolios; and a moon-mission national focus on achieving energy independence that informs policy decisions for years to come. That's exactly what's missing from Bush's new law. And yesterday, the price of crude hit $66 a barrel.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Police agree on "shoot to kill" policy for suspected suicide bombers

The Post said the guidelines recommend that if an officer needs to use lethal force to stop someone who fits a certain behavioural profile, the officer should "aim for the head" to kill the person instantly and prevent the setting off of a bomb.

The association's behavioural profile says a suicide bombing suspect might exhibit "multiple anomalies," including wearing a heavy coat or jacket in warm weather or carrying a briefcase, duffel bag or backpack with protrusions or visible wires, the newspaper said.

The profile also said suspects may display such characteristics as nervousness, an unwillingness to make eye contact, excessive sweating, or mumbling prayers or "pacing back and forth in front of a venue," the newspaper said.

The Post said the police chiefs' guidelines say an officer does not have to wait until a suspected bomber makes a move in order to use deadly force, but just needs to have a "reasonable basis" to believe that the suspect can detonate a bomb.

"The police standard operating procedure of addressing a suspect and telling them to drop their weapon and put their hands up or freeze is not going to work with a suicide bomber," Bruce Hoffman, a terrorist expert at the Rand Corp., told the Post. "You're signing your own death warrant if you do that."

Pentagon announces 9/11 country music concert

Pentagon announces September 11 concert
August 10, 2005 - 1:36PM

The Pentagon would hold a massive march and country music concert to mark the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an announcement tucked into an Iraq war briefing today.

"This year the Department of Defence will initiate an America Supports Your Freedom Walk," Rumsfeld said, adding that the march would remind people of "the sacrifices of this generation and of each previous generation".

The march will start at the Pentagon, where nearly 200 people died on September 11, 2001, and end at the National Mall with a show by country star Clint Black.

Word of the event startled some observers.

"I've never heard of such a thing," said John Pike, who has been a defence analyst in Washington for 25 years and runs

The news also reignited debate and anger over linking September 11 with the war in Iraq.

"That piece of it is disturbing since we all know now there was no connection," said Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq veteran who heads Operation Truth, an anti-administration military booster.

Rieckhoff suggested the event was an ill-conceived publicity stunt.

"I think it's clear that their public opinion polls are in the toilet," he said.

Rumsfeld's march had some relatives of September 11 victims fuming.

"How about telling Mr Rumsfeld to leave the memories of September 11 victims to the families?" said Monica Gabrielle, who lost her husband in the attacks.

Administration supporters insisted Rumsfeld was right to link Iraq and September 11, and hold the rally.

"We are at war," said Representative Pete King, (Republican, New York).

"It's essential that we support our troops."

He also said attacking Iraq was necessary after September 11.

"You do not defeat al-Qaeda until you stabilise the Middle East, and that's not possible as long as Saddam Hussein is in power."

New energy law limits public's say in decisions

A day after President Bush signed into law the sweeping Energy Policy Act, environmental and citizen activist organizations continued their angry denouncements of the bill they say is a multibillion-dollar giveaway to wealthy energy companies undeserving of taxpayer subsidies.
But those who want to speak out against the new law may be in for a shock: Its provisions include new limits on public participation in energy-related decisions, alterations of clean water law and pre-emption of states' rights when it comes to building electricity transmission lines and liquefied natural gas port facilities.
In short, the activists say, oil, coal and nuclear interests win while American consumers and the environment pay the price.
A statement endorsed by the Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Audubon Society, the National Environmental Trust, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society and U.S. Public Interest Research Group declared the bill "a miserable failure" that doesn't meet America's 21st century needs.
Even Bush acknowledged that the bill, touted as a way to American energy independence, would not give consumers any relief at the gas pumps even as the bill allows some of the biggest oil companies huge subsidies during a time they are reporting record profits.
The bill includes $14.5 billion in incentives, but the true cost is more than $20 billion because the law includes a tax credit for nuclear power that is worth $6 billion, said Anna Aurilio, Washington, D.C.-based legislative director for U.S. PIRG.
Tax breaks for renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean vehicles totaled $5.3 billion. But the $3.2 billion for renewable energy, an extension of an existing production tax credit mostly geared toward wind energy, now includes subsidies for geothermal, biomass, hydropower and development of coal on Indian tribal lands.
"Obviously coal is not renewable in any sense and hydropower can have [environmental] problems," Aurilio said. And with just 26 percent of the subsidies going toward nontraditional energy, renewables are at a disadvantage, she said.
The bill gives nuclear power $7.3 billion in tax breaks, including a 20-year extension of limits to the nuclear industry's liability in case of an accident.
That's an unacceptable handout for a mature industry, said Salt Lake City activist Jason Groenewold, director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah.
"By promoting a resurgence of nuclear power, we only ensure that more dangerous waste will be produced with no place to go except for the politically marginalized places like Utah and Nevada," he said.
The bill alters the National Environmental Policy Act to allow the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to take shortcuts when granting permits for oil and gas drilling and essentially cuts the public out of the process, said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
"The BLM is already handing over public lands faster than the industry can drill," he said. "This
legislation is more about increasing oil company profits than creating energy."
Late last month Exxon Mobil announced a 32 percent second-quarter boost in profits. Royal Dutch Shell's profits were up 34 percent, British Petroleum's 29 percent and ConocoPhillips, 51 percent.
The bill's subsidies include $6 billion to convert coal to electricity and provides federal loan guarantees to build at least 16 new coal-fired power plants.
Tim Wagner, who directs the Smart Energy Campaign for the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club, said with coal-fired plants contributing to global warming, those provisions "show where big money can dictate against the interests of the rest of the global population.
"They do not need loan guarantees to build new coal-fired power plants," Wagner said. "The hypocrisy of this industry is just so incredible. They have fought for less regulation yet they want taxpayers' money to build these expensive plants. That's just immoral."
The bill also repeals the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, a New Deal reform aimed at protecting consumers from market manipulation, fraud and abuse in the electricity sector.
"Repealing it will now leave electricity customers vulnerable to some of the shenanigans we saw with Enron in California, and it will allow foreign companies to own utilities," said U.S. PIRG's Aurilio.
Ken Hurwitz, former executive director of the Maryland Public Service Commission and an energy expert for Haynes and Boone, LLP, one of the largest corporate law firms in the country, said PUHCA, as the law was known, was a major impediment to investment.
Its repeal will spawn a tidal wave of new gas and electric utility acquisitions and mergers, such as Warren Buffett's proposed acquisition of Utah Power's parent company PacifiCorp, Duke Energy's proposed merger with Cinergy and American Electric Power's acquisition of Central and Southwest - "a good thing," Hurwitz said during a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
Hurwitz also extolled the bill's provisions that enable the federal government to trump states, local governments and communities that have objected to electric transmission lines and liquefied natural gas terminals, which coastal cities have resisted due to safety concerns.
"The policy perception is we need more natural gas supplies coming into the country," he said.
Groene said he hoped that the bill, as bad as it is, is a pendulum that has swung as far out of bounds as possible. As people become more informed, they might be willing to fight it. "Citizen involvement is what brings the pendulum back," he said, "which is a little bit difficult since this legislation limits their ability to be involved."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Real Estate Begins to Cool

Debunking the Drug War

NY Times:
America has a serious drug problem, but it's not the "meth epidemic" getting so much publicity. It's the problem identified by William Bennett, the former national drug czar and gambler.

"Using drugs," he wrote, "is wrong not simply because drugs create medical problems; it is wrong because drugs destroy one's moral sense. People addicted to drugs neglect their duties."

This problem afflicts a small minority of the people who have tried methamphetamines, but most of the law-enforcement officials and politicians who lead the war against drugs. They're so consumed with drugs that they've lost sight of their duties.

Like addicts desperate for a high, they've declared meth the new crack, which was once called the new heroin (that title now belongs to OxyContin). With the help of the press, they're once again frightening the public with tales of a drug so seductive it instantly turns masses of upstanding citizens into addicts who ruin their health, their lives and their families.

Amphetamines can certainly do harm and are a fad in some places. But there's little evidence of a new national epidemic from patterns of drug arrests or drug use. The percentage of high school seniors using amphetamines has remained fairly constant in the past decade, and actually declined slightly the past two years.

Nor is meth diabolically addictive. If an addict is someone who has used a drug in the previous month (a commonly used, if overly broad, definition), then only 5 percent of Americans who have sampled meth would be called addicts, according to the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

That figure is slightly higher than the addiction rate for people who have sampled heroin (3 percent), but it's lower than for crack (8 percent), painkillers (10 percent), marijuana (15 percent) or cigarettes (37 percent). Among people who have sampled alcohol, 60 percent had a drink the previous month, and 27 percent went on a binge (defined as five drinks on one occasion) during the month.

Drug warriors point to the dangers of home-cooked meth labs, which start fires and create toxic waste. But those labs and the burn victims are a result of the drug war itself.

Amphetamine pills were easily available, sold over the counter until the 1950's, then routinely prescribed by doctors to patients who wanted to lose weight or stay awake. It was only after the authorities cracked down in the 1970's that many people turned to home labs, criminal gangs and more dangerous ways of ingesting the drug.

It's the same pattern observed during Prohibition, when illicit stills would blow up, and there was a rise in deaths from alcohol poisoning. Far from instilling virtue in Americans, Prohibition caused them to switch from beer and wine to hard liquor. Overall consumption of alcohol might even have increased.

Today we tolerate alcohol, even though it causes far more harm than illegal drugs, because we realize a ban would be futile, create more problems than it cured and deprive too many people of something they value.

Amphetamines have benefits, too, which is why Air Force pilots are given them. "Most people took amphetamines responsibly when they were freely available," said Jacob Sullum, the author of "Saying Yes," a book debunking drug scares. "Like most drugs, their benefits outweigh the costs for most people. I'd rather be driving next to a truck driver on speed than a truck driver who's falling sleep."

Shutting down every meth lab in America wouldn't eliminate meth because most of it is imported, but the police and prosecutors have escalated their efforts anyway and inflicted more collateral damage.

In Georgia they're prosecuting dozens of Indian convenience-store clerks and managers for selling cold medicine and other legal products. As Kate Zernike reported in The Times, some of them spoke little English and seemed to have no idea the medicine was being used to make meth.

The prosecutors seem afflicted by the confused moral thinking that Mr. Bennett blames on narcotics. "Drugs," he wrote, "undermine the necessary virtues of a free society - autonomy, self-reliance and individual responsibility."

If you value individual responsibility, why send a hard-working clerk to jail for not divining that someone else might manufacture a drug? And why spend three decades repeating the errors of Prohibition for a drug that was never as dangerous as alcohol in the first place?

Terror as an Anti-Union Strategy: The Violent Suppression of Labor Rights in Colombia

From Multinational Monitor:

"The introduction of new anti-terrorism laws has made it easier to criminalize trade union activity. The ENS highlights the government’s growing tendency to use these laws to limit and stigmatize trade union protest. During the Uribe administration, an increasing number of union leaders have been arrested on charges of “terrorism” and “rebellion.” Last year, two high-profile senior union leaders from the oil and agricultural unions accused of “rebellion” were arrested during industrial action."

Tsunami Aftermath: Reconstruction or Economic Opportunism?

From Foreign Policy in Focus:

"Beyond the issue of aid delivery, there is concern over the role of international financial institutions in tsunami reconstruction efforts. The IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank were already troubling Indonesian and Sri Lankan civil society groups before the tsunami. In both countries, there is widespread opposition to the economic policies of these institutions due to their flawed and unsustainable polices, such as weaker labor market protections and privatization of necessary government services. Farmers’ organizations, women’s groups, fisherfolk, and trade unionists also oppose the undemocratic means by which those policies have attempted to be carried out by their governments under pressure from international institutions.

It’s unclear what useful role the IMF in particular can play in this situation. Its economic policy prescriptions are especially ill-suited for emergencies given that their overarching economic advice is always one of limited government spending and low inflation through high interest rates. This is evidenced by a recent IMF staff report: “[IMF] Staff has advised the authorities to be mindful of the limits to implementation capacity and potential inflationary pressures as reconstruction efforts proceed.” In other words, in the midst of this immense tragedy the IMF is warning against higher levels of government spending because this may lead to increased inflation in the future.

The combination of misguided policy and undemocratic implementation explain why civil society coalitions have long opposed IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank policy in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. These policies have encouraged cuts in government spending on health care, education, and food and farm subsidies, privatization of essential services including water, and reduction of government revenue from tariffs. In Indonesia, the civil society alliance, the Anti-Debt Coalition, has been campaigning to compel their government to not continue with IMF programs."

Monday, August 08, 2005

War Plans Drafted To Counter Terror Attacks in U.S.

War Plans Drafted To Counter Terror Attacks in U.S.
Domestic Effort Is Big Shift for Military
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 8, 2005; A01

COLORADO SPRINGS -- The U.S. military has devised its first-ever war plans for guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning 15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around the country, according to officers who drafted the plans.

The classified plans, developed here at Northern Command headquarters, outline a variety of possible roles for quick-reaction forces estimated at as many as 3,000 ground troops per attack, a number that could easily grow depending on the extent of the damage and the abilities of civilian response teams.

The possible scenarios range from "low end," relatively modest crowd-control missions to "high-end," full-scale disaster management after catastrophic attacks such as the release of a deadly biological agent or the explosion of a radiological device, several officers said.

Some of the worst-case scenarios involve three attacks at the same time, in keeping with a Pentagon directive earlier this year ordering Northcom, as the command is called, to plan for multiple simultaneous attacks.

The war plans represent a historic shift for the Pentagon, which has been reluctant to become involved in domestic operations and is legally constrained from engaging in law enforcement. Indeed, defense officials continue to stress that they intend for the troops to play largely a supporting role in homeland emergencies, bolstering police, firefighters and other civilian response groups.

But the new plans provide for what several senior officers acknowledged is the likelihood that the military will have to take charge in some situations, especially when dealing with mass-casualty attacks that could quickly overwhelm civilian resources.

"In my estimation, [in the event of] a biological, a chemical or nuclear attack in any of the 50 states, the Department of Defense is best positioned -- of the various eight federal agencies that would be involved -- to take the lead," said Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the head of Northcom, which coordinates military involvement in homeland security operations.

The plans present the Pentagon with a clearer idea of the kinds and numbers of troops and the training that may be required to build a more credible homeland defense force. They come at a time when senior Pentagon officials are engaged in an internal, year-long review of force levels and weapons systems, attempting to balance the heightened requirements of homeland defense against the heavy demands of overseas deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Keating expressed confidence that existing military assets are sufficient to meet homeland security needs. Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, Northcom's chief operations officer, agreed, but he added that "stress points" in some military capabilities probably would result if troops were called on to deal with multiple homeland attacks.

Debate and Analysis
Several people on the staff here and at the Pentagon said in interviews that the debate and analysis within the U.S. government regarding the extent of the homeland threat and the resources necessary to guard against it remain far from resolved.

The command's plans consist of two main documents. One, designated CONPLAN 2002 and consisting of more than 1,000 pages, is said to be a sort of umbrella document that draws together previously issued orders for homeland missions and covers air, sea and land operations. It addresses not only post-attack responses but also prevention and deterrence actions aimed at intercepting threats before they reach the United States.

The other, identified as CONPLAN 0500, deals specifically with managing the consequences of attacks represented by the 15 scenarios.

CONPLAN 2002 has passed a review by the Pentagon's Joint Staff and is due to go soon to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and top aides for further study and approval, the officers said. CONPLAN 0500 is still undergoing final drafting here. (CONPLAN stands for "concept plan" and tends to be an abbreviated version of an OPLAN, or "operations plan," which specifies forces and timelines for movement into a combat zone.)

The plans, like much else about Northcom, mark a new venture by a U.S. military establishment still trying to find its comfort level with the idea of a greater homeland defense role after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Military officers and civilian Pentagon policymakers say they recognize, on one hand, that the armed forces have much to offer not only in numbers of troops but also in experience managing crises and responding to emergencies. On the other hand, they worry that too much involvement in homeland missions would diminish the military's ability to deal with threats abroad.

The Pentagon's new homeland defense strategy, issued in June, emphasized in boldface type that "domestic security is primarily a civilian law enforcement function." Still, it noted the possibility that ground troops might be sent into action on U.S. soil to counter security threats and deal with major emergencies.

"For the Pentagon to acknowledge that it would have to respond to catastrophic attack and needs a plan was a big step," said James Carafano, who follows homeland security issues for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

William M. Arkin, a defense specialist who has reported on Northcom's war planning, said the evolution of the Pentagon's thinking reflects the recognition of an obvious gap in civilian resources.

Since Northcom's inception in October 2002, its headquarters staff has grown to about 640 members, making it larger than the Southern Command, which oversees operations in Latin America, but smaller than the regional commands for Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. A brief tour late last month of Northcom's operations center at Peterson Air Force Base found officers monitoring not only aircraft and ship traffic around the United States but also the Discovery space shuttle mission, the National Scout Jamboree in Virginia, several border surveillance operations and a few forest firefighting efforts.

'Dual-Use' Approach
Pentagon authorities have rejected the idea of creating large standing units dedicated to homeland missions. Instead, they favor a "dual-use" approach, drawing on a common pool of troops trained both for homeland and overseas assignments.

Particular reliance is being placed on the National Guard, which is expanding a network of 22-member civil support teams to all states and forming about a dozen 120-member regional response units. Congress last year also gave the Guard expanded authority under Title 32 of the U.S. Code to perform such homeland missions as securing power plants and other critical facilities.

But the Northcom commander can quickly call on active-duty forces as well. On top of previous powers to send fighter jets into the air, Keating earlier this year gained the authority to dispatch Navy and Coast Guard ships to deal with suspected threats off U.S. coasts. He also has immediate access to four active-duty Army battalions based around the country, officers here said.

Nonetheless, when it comes to ground forces possibly taking a lead role in homeland operations, senior Northcom officers remain reluctant to discuss specifics. Keating said such situations, if they arise, probably would be temporary, with lead responsibility passing back to civilian authorities.

Military exercises code-named Vital Archer, which involve troops in lead roles, are shrouded in secrecy. By contrast, other homeland exercises featuring troops in supporting roles are widely publicized.

Legal Questions
Civil liberties groups have warned that the military's expanded involvement in homeland defense could bump up against the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which restricts the use of troops in domestic law enforcement. But Pentagon authorities have told Congress they see no need to change the law.

According to military lawyers here, the dispatch of ground troops would most likely be justified on the basis of the president's authority under Article 2 of the Constitution to serve as commander in chief and protect the nation. The Posse Comitatus Act exempts actions authorized by the Constitution.

"That would be the place we would start from" in making the legal case, said Col. John Gereski, a senior Northcom lawyer.

But Gereski also said he knew of no court test of this legal argument, and Keating left the door open to seeking an amendment of the Posse Comitatus Act.

One potentially tricky area, the admiral said, involves National Guard officers who are put in command of task forces that include active-duty as well as Guard units -- an approach first used last year at the Group of Eight summit in Georgia. Guard troops, acting under state control, are exempt from Posse Comitatus prohibitions.

"It could be a challenge for the commander who's a Guardsman, if we end up in a fairly complex, dynamic scenario," Keating said. He cited a potential situation in which Guard units might begin rounding up people while regular forces could not.

The command's sensitivity to legal issues, Gereski said, is reflected in the unusually large number of lawyers on staff here -- 14 compared with 10 or fewer at other commands. One lawyer serves full time at the command's Combined Intelligence and Fusion Center, which joins military analysts with law enforcement and counterintelligence specialists from such civilian agencies as the FBI, the CIA and the Secret Service.

A senior supervisor at the facility said the staff there does no intelligence collection, only analysis.

He also said the military operates under long-standing rules intended to protect civilian liberties. The rules, for instance, block military access to intelligence information on political dissent or purely criminal activity.

Even so, the center's lawyer is called on periodically to rule on the appropriateness of some kinds of information-sharing. Asked how frequently such cases arise, the supervisor recalled two in the previous 10 days, but he declined to provide specifics.

And a good analysis here:

New GOP Money Laundering Scheme


Before Congress left Washington for the summer, Republicans quietly inserted a provision into the Transportation Appropriations bill that would repeal the cap on the amount of money a "Leadership PAC" can donate to a political party. The bill is set to come up for a vote in the fall and could be a political disaster for Democrats.

By repealing the caps, Senators and Representatives will be able to raise substantial sums of money for their leadership PACs from the same donors who have already maxed out to their campaign committees. As a result, they will be able to launder these contributions backs to their campaigns through the RNC, NRSC or NRCC.

Myths of Hiroshima

The Bombs of August
by Howard Zinn
The Progressive magazine, August 2000

Near the end of the novel The English Patient there is a passage in which Kip, the Sikh defuser of mines, begins to speak bitterly to the burned, near-death patient about British and American imperialism: "You and then the Americans converted us.... You had wars like cricket. How did you fool us into this? Here, listen to what you people have done." He puts earphones on the blackened head. The radio is telling about the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Kip goes on: "All those speeches of civilization from kings and queens and presidents . . . such voices of abstract order . . . American, French, I don't care. When you start bombing the brown races of the world, you're an Englishman. You had King Leopold of Belgium, and now you have fucking Harry Truman of the USA."
You probably don't remember those lines in the movie made from The English Patient. That's because they were not there.
Hardly a surprise. The bombing of Hiroshima remains sacred to the American Establishment and to a very large part of the population in this country. I learned that when, in 1995, I was invited to speak at the Chautauqua Institute in New York state. I chose Hiroshima as my subject, it being the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of the bomb. There were 2,000 people in that huge amphitheater and as I explained why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unforgivable atrocities, perpetrated on a Japan ready to surrender, the audience was silent. Well, not quite. A number of people shouted angrily at me from their seats.
Understandable. To question Hiroshima is to explode a precious myth which we all grow up with in this country-that America is different from the other imperial powers of the world, that other nations may commit unspeakable acts, but not ours.
Further, to see it as a wanton act of gargantuan cruelty rather than as an unavoidable necessity ("to end the war, to save lives") would be to raise disturbing questions about the essential goodness of the "good war."
I recall that in junior high school, a teacher asked our class: "What is the difference between a totalitarian state and a democratic state?" The correct answer: "A totalitarian state, unlike ours, believes in using any means to achieve its end."
That was at the start of World War II, when the Fascist states were bombing civilian populations in Ethiopia, in Spain, in Coventry, and in Rotterdam. President Roosevelt called that "inhuman barbarism." That was before the United States and England began to bomb civilian populations in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dresden, and then in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.
Any means to an end-the totalitarian philosophy. And one shared by all nations that make war.
What means could be more horrible than the burning, mutilation, blinding, irradiation of hundreds of thousands of Japanese men, women, children? And yet it is absolutely essential for our political leaders to defend the bombing because if Americans can be induced to accept that, then they can accept any war, any means, so long as the war-makers can supply a reason. And there are always plausible reasons delivered from on high as from Moses on the Mount.
Thus, the three million dead in Korea can be justified by North Korean aggression, the millions dead in Southeast Asia by the threat of Communism, the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 to protect American citizens, the support of death squad governments in Central America to stop Communism, the invasion of Grenada to save American medical students, the invasion of Panama to stop the drug trade, the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, the Yugoslav bombing to stop ethnic cleansing.
There is endless room for more wars, with endless supplies of reasons. ,,
That is why the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is important, because if citizens can question that, if they can declare nuclear weapons an unacceptable means, even if it ends a war a month or two earlier, they may be led to a larger question-the means (involving forty million dead) used to defeat Fascism.
And if they begin to question the moral purity of "the good war," indeed, the very best of wars, then they may get into a questioning mood that will not stop until war itself is unacceptable, whatever reasons are advanced.
So we must now, fifty-five years later, with those bombings still so sacred that a mildly critical Smithsonian exhibit could not be tolerated, insist on questioning those deadly missions of the sixth and ninth of August, 1945.
The principal justification for obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it "saved lives" because otherwise a planned U.S. invasion of Japan would have been necessary, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. Truman at one point used the figure "a half million lives," and Churchill "a million lives," but these were figures pulled out of the air to calm troubled consciences; even official projections for the number of casualties in an invasion did not go beyond 46,000.
In fact, the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not forestall an invasion of Japan because no invasion was necessary. The Japanese were on the verge of surrender, and American military leaders knew that. General Eisenhower, briefed by Secretary of War Henry Stimson on the imminent use of the bomb, told him that "Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary."
After the bombing, Admiral William D. Leary, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the atomic bomb "a barbarous weapon," also noting that: "The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender."
The Japanese had begun to move to end the war after the U.S. victory on Okinawa, in May of 1945, in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. After the middle of June, six members of the Japanese Supreme War Council authorized Foreign Minister Togo to approach the Soviet Union, which was not at war with Japan, to mediate an end to the war "if possible by September."
Togo sent Ambassador Sato to Moscow to feel out the possibility of a negotiated surrender. On July 13, four days before Truman, Churchill, and Stalin met in Potsdam to prepare for the end of the war (Germany had surrendered two months earlier), Togo sent a telegram to Sato: "Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. It is his Majesty's heart's desire to see the swift termination of the war."
The United States knew about that telegram because it had broken the Japanese code early in the war. American officials knew also that the Japanese resistance to unconditional surrender was because they had one condition enormously important to them: the retention of the Emperor as symbolic leader. Former Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew and others who knew something about Japanese society had suggested that allowing Japan to keep its Emperor would save countless lives by bringing an early end to the war.
Yet Truman would not relent, and the Potsdam conference agreed to insist on "unconditional surrender." This ensured that the bombs would fall on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It seems that the United States government was determined to drop those bombs.
But why? Gar Alperovitz, whose research on that question is unmatched (The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Knopf, 1995), concluded, based on the papers of Truman, his chief adviser James Byrnes, and others, that the bomb was seen as a diplomatic weapon against the Soviet Union. Byrnes advised Truman that the bomb "could let us dictate the terms of ending the war." The British scientist P.M.S. Blackett, one of Churchill's advisers, wrote after the war that dropping the atomic bomb was "the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia."
There is also evidence that domestic politics played an important role in the decision. In his recent book, Freedom From Fear: The United States, 1929-1945 (Oxford, 1999), David Kennedy quotes Secretary of State Cordell Hull advising Byrnes, before the Potsdam conference, that "terrible political repercussions would follow in the U.S." if the unconditional surrender principle would be abandoned. The President would be "crucified" if he did that, Byrnes said. Kennedy reports that "Byrnes accordingly repudiated the suggestions of Leahy, McCloy, Grew, and Stimson," all of whom were willing to relax the "unconditional surrender" demand just enough to permit the Japanese their face-saving requirement for ending the war.
Can we believe that our political leaders would consign hundreds of thousands of people to death or lifelong suffering because of "political repercussions" at home?
The idea is horrifying, yet we can see in history a pattern of Presidential behavior that placed personal ambition high above human life. The tapes of John F. Kennedy reveal him weighing withdrawal from Vietnam against the upcoming election. Transcripts of Lyndon Johnson's White House conversations show him agonizing over Vietnam ("I don't think it's worth fighting for....") but deciding that he could not withdraw because: "They'd impeach a President-wouldn't they?"
Did millions die in Southeast Asia because American Presidents wanted to stay in office?
Just before the Gulf War, President Bush's aide John Sununu was reported "telling people that a short successful war would be pure political gold for the President and would guarantee his reelection." And is not the Clinton-Gore support for the "Star Wars" anti-missile program (against all scientific evidence or common sense) prompted by their desire to be seen by the voters as tough guys?
Of course, political ambition was not the only reason for Hiroshima, Vietnam, and the other horrors of our time. There was tin, rubber, oil, corporate profit, imperial arrogance.
There was a cluster of factors, none of them, despite the claims of our leaders, having to do with human rights, human life.
The wars go on, even when they are over. Every day, British and U.S. warplanes bomb Iraq, and children die. Every day, children die in Iraq because of the U.S.-sponsored embargo. Every day, boys and girls in Afghanistan step on land mines and are killed or mutilated. The Russia of "the free market" brutalizes Chechnya, as the Russia of "socialism" sent an army into Afghanistan. In Africa, more wars.
The mine defuser in The English Patient was properly bitter about Western imperialism. But the problem is larger than even that 500-year assault on colored peoples of the world. It is a problem of the corruption of human intelligence, enabling our leaders to create plausible reasons for monstrous acts, and to exhort citizens to accept those reasons, and \ train soldiers to follow orders. So,) long as that continues, we will need to refute those reasons, resist those exhortations.

Also, the "Myths of Hiroshima" from the LA Times.