Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Economic Apartheid In America

November 30, 2005
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Top executives now make more in a day than the average worker makes in a year.

You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or democracy. But you cannot have both.
-- Louis Brandeis

How wealthy the wealthy are does matter. If we allow great wealth to accumulate in the pockets of a few, then great wealth can set our political agenda and shape our political culture -- and the agenda and the culture that emerge will not welcome efforts to make American work for all Americans.
-- Sam Pizzigati

Plutocracy: 1. The rule or power of wealth or the wealthy; 2. A government or state in which the wealthy class rules. 3. A class for group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth.
-- Webster's Unabridged Dictionary

Of the world's 100 largest economies, 47 are nations, and 53 are corporations. Seventy-five percent of major corporations hire a consultant to stop employees from forming a union.

The alarming development and aggressiveness of great capitalists and corporations, unless checked, will inevitably lead to the pauperization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses. It is imperative, if we desire to enjoy the full blessings of life, that a check be placed upon unjust accumulations and the power for evil of aggravated wealth.
-- Constitution of the Knights of Labor, 1869.

The Washington monument is 555 feet tall. Say it signifies the 2003 average compensation for CEOs in the Fortune 500. The average worker salary would be only 16 inches tall, representing a ratio of 419 to one. In 1965, the worker's monument was 13 feet six inches tall, representing a ratio of 41 to 1.

Inherited economic power is as inconsistent with the ideals of this generation as inherited political power was inconsistent with the ideals of the generation which established our government.
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Born on home plate -- Forty-two percent of those listed inherited sufficient wealth to rank among the Forbes 400.


J. Paul Getty Jr. inherited the oil fortune from his father.

David Rockefeller Sr. ($2.5 billion) is the grandson of the Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller.

S.I. and Donald Newhouse ($7 billion each) inherited the nation's largest private newspaper chain, plus Conde Nast publications, from their father in 1979.

Samuel Curtis Johnson ($1.5 billion) is the great grandson of the flooring salesman who founded the floor wax giant S.C. Johnson and Sons.

The United Nations Development Program reported in 1999 that the world's 225 richest people now have a combined wealth of $1 trillion. That's equal to the combined annual income of the world's 2.5 billion poorest people. The richest 10 percent of the world's population receives 49.6 percent of the total world income. The bottom 60 percent receives 13.9 percent of the world's income. The wealth of the world's three most well-to-do individuals now exceeds the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. Half of the world's population of six billion live on less than $2 a day, while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 a day.

These are some of things you learn from a new book, just out, titled Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality & Insecurity by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel with United for a Fair Economy (The New Press, 2005). The book is filled with photos, and charts, and graphs -- that make it a great home schooling tool, for young and old alike.

It puts things in perspective. It keeps you on your toes. Read it.

Then listen to a little Bill O'Reilly.

Then read it some more. Contrast is good.

Stretch limousines are longer, yet more people are homeless.

Thirty zip codes in America have become fabulously wealthy. Meanwhile, whole urban and rural communities are languishing in unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, growing insecurity and fear.

It makes the perfect gift for the holidays. And you probably won't find it at Wal-Mart. Or Costco, for that matter.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, . Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dispatch From Post-Constitutional America


PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE REVIEW - Some of the more unusual complaints against TSA security screeners at Pittsburgh International Airport in the past two years:

- October 2004: "On a flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago today, my checked-in bag was searched and a flask of liquor was confiscated. I went to your Web site and alcohol is not listed as a prohibited item. That cost me $35.00. Why was it taken from me?"

- September 2005: "I have an urgent issue that is of little value to anyone else but my son. His baby blanket ... is missing. I know this is a very low priority item in terms of expense. To my son it is the most valuable item in his life. He was looking for it tonight and had a very hard time going to sleep."

- May 2005: "I have taken many airplane flights with my sewing machine. ... There are sewing and quilting conferences all over the world. When I went to take my last flight departing Pittsburgh, I was ... suddenly surrounded by several TSA police poised with their hands ready to take out their guns. ... They said my machine was part of a bomb and I was going to put the bomb all together, once on the plane. I offered to demonstrate the machine, show them a dress I was making, etc. They stillsaid that terrorists go to great lengths to get a bomb onto a plane." (The "sensitive, computerized machine" was confiscated, and not returned to the traveler.)

- December 2004: "On a recent visit to Pittsburgh, one of your agents deliberately held my wife and I longer for inspection, fully knowing that we would miss our flight. We were pulled off the line for a second inspection, probably because we were speaking in French."

- At least one passenger who traveled through Pittsburgh . . . had to remove her piercings in a restroom after airport security told her she couldn't get on a plane with her hardware intact.


LIZ STANTON, ALTERNET - The Bush tax cuts did not produce new jobs. In 2003, the President's Council on Economic Advisers promised 5.5 million new jobs by 2004, but only 2.6 million jobs were actually created. The jobs created failed to even match the 4.1 million new jobs expected in a normally functioning economy, let alone one supposedly supercharged by tax cuts. Yet that hasn't stopped conservative forecasters from chanting the "tax cuts create jobs" mantra in 2005.

The quality of jobs, measured by income, health insurance and retirement benefits, has also declined appreciably since the 2001 tax cuts. Between 2000 and 2004, inflation-adjusted family income declined, and the number of U.S. workers covered by employer-provided retirement benefits and health insurance contracted.

African-American and Latino families have seen their economic security deteriorate even faster than white families. Despite the president's statement that tax cuts would create jobs for all who want them, the racial economic divide has widened. African-American unemployment remains about twice as high as that of white workers. And the earnings gap between white workers and workers of color has grown even steeper since the 2001 tax cuts.

One of many reasons that tax cuts are a shaky formula for increasing jobs is that tax cuts mean less government revenue and therefore fewer public-sector jobs. Some tax revenues are spent hiring government workers -- direct job creation -- as well as purchasing goods and services from private businesses -- indirect job creation. Tax cuts may eventually stimulate investment that may generate some new jobs, but less government revenue will eliminate jobs at the same time, offsetting any positive job growth.

[Liz Stanton is the Research Director for United for a Fair Economy]

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Video of Random Shootings in Iraq

From Crooks and Liars

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.



Levity Break...of sorts

Just a coupla funnies to brighten your day. Poke 'em if ya wanna read 'em.

Hugo Chavez - Corporate Capitalism's Worst Nightmare

From Monthly Review

Speaking in New York to the United Nations in September Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez delivered a fiery speech sharply critical of U.S. imperialism and what he called a “frightening neoliberal globalization.” Chávez denounced the blatant manipulation of the United Nations to support U.S. geopolitical ambitions and military aggression. He condemned the U.S. government for allowing Christian evangelist Pat Robertson and others to call openly for his assassination in violation of international law.

But Chávez did not stop there. Although largely ignored by the U.S. media, he used the occasion to celebrate some of the extraordinary accomplishments of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution during the seven years since his first election as president in 1998. In a country that has been sharply divided between rich and poor and where the vast majority of the population has been impoverished, 17 million Venezuelans, almost 70 percent of the total population of 25 million, now have access for the first time to free health care, and in a few years this will be extended to all Venezuelans. More than a million tons of subsidized food is being channeled to 12 million people (almost half the population) through cooperatives, special food programs, and government distribution centers. One million people receive this food allotment without cost. Unemployment has dropped 9 points through the creation of 700,000 new jobs. Within a year and a half 1.4 million Venezuelans have learned to read and write, making the country illiteracy free. Three million people previously excluded by poverty from the education system are now enrolled in school. These gains in poverty reduction, health, and education are concrete indications of what can be achieved if human needs are put first and if the economic surplus is directed to promoting the interests of the poor rather than the rich. All of this, however, is only the beginning of the revolutionary process. As Chávez has said, “You can’t solve the problem of poverty without giving power to the poor.”

For those wishing more information on Chávez and the Venezuelan Revolution, an important new work is Hugo Chávez interviewed by Marta Harnecker, Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution (Monthly Review Press). A portion of this book appeared in the September issue of MR.

Friday, November 25, 2005


CORY DOCTOROW, BOING BOING - The law that allows copyright holders to take infringing materials off the Internet presents an attractive nuisance, inviting widespread abuse by those who want to censor political speech or shut down their competitors. In 1996, the World Intellectual Property Organization got suckered into making the "WIPO Copyright Treaty," which was the basis for the US's Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Europe's EUCD.

The laws under this treaty let people who claim that their copyrights have been infringed upon have the offending material quickly removed from the Internet, without forcing them to show any evidence that infringement has occurred. This is how the Church of Scientology and others censor their critics -- just trump up a bogus copyright claim and knock the site offline.

The Chilling Effects Project tracks these abuses, and now Jennifer Urban and Laura Quilter have published a roundup of the conclusions to be drawn from the project's hundreds of collected notices.

Just as you'd expect: when you take away legal oversight of a process for suppressing speech, it is widely and ferociously abused.

Nice one, WIPO. Nice one, US Congress. Nice one, EU. You've managed to convert the Internet from a venue for unfettered free speech into a lawless zone where anyone who can write a takedown notice can make speech disappear.

Thirty percent of notices demanded takedown for claims that presented an obvious question for a court (a clear fair use argument, complaints about uncopyrightable material, and the like). . .

One out of 11 included significant statutory flaws that render the notice unusable (for example, failing to adequately identify infringing material).

In addition, we found some interesting patterns that do not by themselves indicate concern, but which are of concern when combined with the fact that one third of the notices depended on questionable claims:

- Over half - 57% - of notices sent to Google to demand removal of links in the index were sent by businesses targeting apparent competitors;

- Over a third - 37% - of the notices sent to Google targeted sites apparently outside the United States

WIPO is now considering an even more sweeping version of the treaty that gave us this regime: the new proposals floating around on ISP liability could force ISPs to not only delete material, but to shut off the Internet access of those who are baselessly accused of infringement.


SCOOP NEW ZEALAND - A world first is happening in the heart of Auckland city, as multinational giant Starbucks faces a workers strike. At 2 pm the Starbucks on the corner of K' Road and Mercury lane will experience industrial ructions. The legal wild-cat strike is a public awareness raising event and the first action in the Unite workers union Super Size My Pay campaign.. . . The community-wide campaign is being launched around the fast-food industry to win a contract based on these demands as a first step to winning them for all low-paid New Zealanders. . . Internationally Starbucks has low union representation, with only 300 union members out of 80,000 workers globally. One third of these union members are in New Zealand.

"Starbucks workers start on $10 an hour, only fifty cents above the minimum wage ($9.50 is the minimum wage in New Zealand? American workers would be delighted - until they tried to rent an apartment by themselves, of course --Pete). Workers hours are not guaranteed and can, and have been, cut from 40 to 20 hours. In Australia, Starbucks workers earn almost $5 more per hour than their New Zealand workmates. We are only asking for $2 more per hour," he concluded.


PHYSICIANS FOR A NATIONAL HEALTH PROGRAM - Billing and insurance paperwork consumes at least one-fifth of California's privately-insured health spending (currently estimated $26 billion), according to a new study published n Health Affairs. If the state adopted a universal single-payer insurance system, the state would save from $18 to $21 billion per year by eliminating this paperwork, the author estimates. Projected nationally, these figures indicate that approximately $230 billion of health spending was devoted to insurance administration in 2005, with estimated savings of between $161 billion and $184 billion from reduced billing, marketing and other insurance paperwork tasks. The study provides strong validation of a controversial New England Journal of Medicine study by Harvard researchers Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler. That 2003 study found that health care bureaucracy accounted for 31 percent of U.S. health spending - about $400 billion - vs. 16.7 percent in Canada. The Harvard group's figures included several categories of administrative overhead costs that were not assessed in the California study, e.g. administrative spending by nursing homes, private employers and home health agencies, as well as health industry profits. The Harvard researchers estimated that national health insurance could streamline the health payment system, saving $286 billion in 2003, $6940 for each uninsured American.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Exclusive: Classified Pentagon Document Described White Phosphorus As ‘Chemical Weapon’

To downplay the political impact of revelations that U.S. forces used deadly white phosphorus rounds against Iraqi insurgents in Falluja last year, Pentagon officials have insisted that phosphorus munitions are legal since they aren’t technically “chemical weapons.”

The media have helped them. For instance, the New York Times ran a piece today on the phosphorus controversy. On at least three occasions, the Times emphasizes that the phosphorus rounds are “incendiary muntions” that have been “incorrectly called chemical weapons.”

But the distinction is a minor one, and arguably political in nature. A formerly classified 1995 Pentagon intelligence document titled “Possible Use of Phosphorous Chemical” describes the use of white phosphorus by Saddam Hussein on Kurdish fighters:



In other words, the Pentagon does refer to white phosphorus rounds as chemical weapons — at least if they’re used by our enemies.

The real point here goes beyond the Pentagon’s legalistic parsings. The use of white phosphorus against enemy fighters is a “terribly ill-conceived method,” demonstrating an Army interested “only in the immediate tactical gain and its felicitous shake and bake fun.” And the dishonest efforts by Bush administration officials to deny and downplay that use only further undermines U.S. credibility abroad.

To paraphrase President Bush, this isn’t a question about what is legal, it’s about what is right.


STEPHANIE MCCRUMMEN, WASHINGTON POST - In the two years since they moved into their voluminous 8,000-square-footer on the edge of Virginia's suburbs, the Bennett family has not once used their formal dining room, where the table is eternally set for eight with crystal, an empty tea set and two unlighted candles. Not even guests use the palmy, bamboo morning room beyond it; and the museum-like space Bonnie Bennett calls the Oriental Room -- all black lacquer and inlaid pearl, fur, satin and swirling mahogany -- is also gloriously superfluous. "It's kind of stupid, because we never sit in here," said Bennett, 32, who bought the largest house she could for the investment. But she carried around a crumpled photo of the furniture for eight years, and now that she has space for it, she admires it as others might a work of art. "It's just me ," she said. . .

In a way, the green frontiers of suburbia are imprinted with visions of perpetual self-improvement in the form of ever-expanding houses that seem at times dreamed into existence, as builders have honed their ability to anticipate people's desires. And so when Alyson Skinner wanted a bigger house on 10 acres in western Prince William County, there it was. . .

"We have a media room in the basement, a pool table and a moon bounce, so I don't have to take the kids out and fight traffic," said Skinner, 32, a former art director who lives there with her husband; their two children; and, at times, family and friends who come on weekends. "We enjoy it more when the kids come here and play. Specifically, I'm weird, but I'm supersensitive to the kids getting snatched. Like at Chuck E. Cheese, I have to constantly watch them.". . .

"Next, I want a huge laundry, a mudroom, an activity room with linoleum floors so if the kids spill the paint, it won't matter," she said. She wants a pool house with a bathroom, and another garage for the mower, the Barbie Jeep and the giant Slip 'n Slide. "Me and my friends joke about this, but I think Pottery Barn is responsible," Skinner said. "You get the catalogue showing playrooms, then there's a craft room, and you're like, 'Yeah, I need a craft room.'

Article here...

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Champ Meets the Chump


[posted online at The Nation on November 18, 2005]

The presidency of George W. Bush is collapsing under the weight of its own incompetence. The polls speak for themselves--only 35 percent of us approve of his job performance. Fifty-six percent--including one in four Republicans--say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, and more than half believe Bush intentionally misled the country to bring the United States into war. The response from the White House has been grimly predictable: Admit no mistakes and spin, slash or burn your critics. On Monday Bush seethed, "Only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world--and that person was Saddam Hussein." (Funny, I didn't know we were being "led" by Saddam Hussein.) Bush went on to accuse opponents of rewriting the past. But this Administration, which has redefined the word "Orwellian" for a new generation, respects history about as much as it respects the Geneva Conventions. In fact, they seem to relish assaulting and rewriting history for sheer sport.

This was seen quite clearly on November 9, when Bush hung a medal around the slack, immobile neck of former heavyweight boxing champion--and the most famous war resister in US history--Muhammad Ali. Ali was one of a bevy of recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony. Bush, while Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld chuckled behind him, said, "Only a few athletes are ever known as the greatest in their sport, or in their time. But when you say, 'The Greatest of All Time' is in the room, everyone knows who you mean. It's quite a claim to make, but as Muhammad Ali once said, 'It's not bragging if you can back it up.' And this man backed it up.... The real mystery, I guess, is how he stayed so pretty. [Laughter.] It probably had to do with his beautiful soul. He was a fierce fighter and he's a man of peace."

As I watched a video of the ceremony posted on the White House website, it was heartbreaking to see Bush, a chicken-hearted man of empire, bathe himself in Ali's glow and rhapsodize about "peace." To see the once-indomitable Ali, besieged by Parkinsons and dementia, eyes filmed over, hands shaking, led around by a self-described "war President" felt horrifying.

About the only thing Bush and Ali have in common is that they both moved mountains to stay out of Vietnam. The difference, of course, was while Ali sacrificed his title and risked years in federal prison, Bush joined the country club otherwise known as the Texas National Guard, showing up for duty every time he had a dentist appointment. But the Champ still had one last rope-a-dope up his sleeve. As a playful Bush moved in front of Ali, he apparently thought it would be cute to put up his fists in a boxing stance. Ali leaned back and made a circular motion around his temple, as if the President must be crazy to want to tangle with him even now.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Venezuela to Sell Cheap Oil to U.S. Poor

The Associated Press
Friday, November 18, 2005; 7:57 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela will soon begin selling heating oil at discount prices to poor communities in Boston and New York, following up on a promise by President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's state oil company announced.

Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company that runs roughly 16,000 gas stations in the United States, will offer fuel at discounted rates in Boston as early as next week, according to a statement posted Friday on the company's Web site.

In Boston, up to 1.2 million gallons of discounted heating oil will be offered, for a total savings of $10 million, the statement said. Heating oil will be sold later in the Bronx, a New York City borough.

The statement said the distribution of the discounted heating oil will be organized with the help of local nonprofit organizations.

Chavez often blames the plight of the poor on unbridled capitalism and strongly criticizes the Bush administration for failing to reduce poverty in the United States.

Although tensions between the United States and Venezuela have increased since Chavez was elected in 1998, the oil-rich South American country remains a major supplier of fuel to the United States.

Chavez offered cheap heating oil for poor U.S. communities in August following a meeting in Caracas with the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Venezuela, which has the largest oil and natural gas reserves outside the Middle East, is the world's fifth most important oil exporter and a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bodies Still Being Found In New Orleans

On October 3, official body recovery efforts in New Orleans were called off, even though over 100 homes in the Ninth Ward remained unsearched.

The search resumed amid public outcry. But it appears that residents are still returning to find the bodies of their loved ones.

Body collection was subcontracted out to Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management, a private firm with close ties to the Bush family.

Ah, private sector efficiency--cutting costs by skipping black people's houses.

[Scoutprime, Pam's House Blend]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Mr. Vonnegut is 83 today!

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we
pretend to be.
--Mother Night (1961)

Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder why, why, why?

Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand
--Cat's Cradle (1963)

High school is closer to the core of the American experience than
anything else I can think of. --Introduction to Our Time Is Now: Notes From the High School Underground (1970)

You know - we've had to imagine the war here, and we have imagined that it was being fought by aging men like ourselves. We had forgotten that wars were fought by babies. When I saw those freshly shaved faces, it was a shock. "My God, my God -" I said to myself, "it's the Children's Crusade."
--Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

[When] I was a student at the University of Chicago, I had a conversation with my thesis advisor about the arts in general. At that time, I had no idea that I personally would go into any sort of art.

He said, "You know what artists are?"

I didn't.

"Artists," he said, "are people who say, "I can't fix my country or my state or my city, or even my marriage. But by golly, I can make this square of canvas, or this eight-and-a-half-by-eleven piece of paper, or this lump of clay, or these twelve bars of music, exactly what they ought to be!'"

--Timequake (1997)

Artists use frauds to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on.
Actually, practically nothing is going on.
--"When I Was Twenty-One" in Wampeters, Foma and Granfaloons (1974)

1. Find a subject you care about. 2. Do not ramble, though. 3. Keep it simple. 4. Have the guts to cut. 5. Sound like yourself. 6. Say what you mean to say. 7. Pity the readers.
--quoted in Science Fictionisms (1995) compiled by William Rotsler

We are human only to the extent that our ideas remain humane.
--Breakfast of Champions (1973)

And so on.
--Breakfast of Champions (1973)

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
--"Cold Turkey"

So it goes.
--Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

[Collated by Unfutz]
Unfutz Here...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel

AME INFO - It was an incredible revelation last week that the second largest oil field in the world is exhausted and past its peak output. Yet that is what the Kuwait Oil Company revealed about its Burgan field. The peak output of the Burgan oil field will now be around 1.7 million barrels per day, and not the two million barrels per day forecast for the rest of the field's 30 to 40 years of life, Chairman Farouk Al Zanki told Bloomberg.

He said that engineers had tried to maintain 1.9 million barrels per day but that 1.7 million is the optimum rate. Kuwait will now spend some $3 million a year for the next year to boost output and exports from other fields.

However, it is surely a landmark moment when the world's second largest oil field begins to run dry. For Burgan has been pumping oil for almost 60 years and accounts for more than half of Kuwait's proven oil reserves. This is also not what forecasters are currently assuming.

Forecasts wrong Last week the International Energy Agency's report said output from the Greater Burgan area will be 1.64 million barrels a day in 2020 and 1.53 million barrels per day in 2030. Is this now a realistic scenario?

The news about the Burgan oil field also lends credence to the controversial opinions of investment banker and geologist Matthew Simmons. His book 'Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy' claims that the aging Saudi oil filed also face serious production falls.

The implications for the global economy are indeed serious. If the world oil supply begins to run dry then the upward pressure on oil prices will be inexorable.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


JORDANA TIMERMAN, NATION - At the culminating event of the march against Bush, Chavez called the stadium in which over 25,000 demonstrators had gathered the "gravesite of the FTAA.". . . Chavez's speech reflected the diplomatic problems encountered in the writing of the Summit of the Americas final text. Venezuela refused to agree to a note, inserted by US representatives, mentioning "the 96 million people who live in extreme poverty," in Latin America and the Caribbean unless there was also mention of the "37 million poor" living in the United States.

ALBA, according to Chavez "must be built from the bottom...It will not be built up from the elites, but from below, from our roots." He listed examples of ALBA in action, citing the sale of Venezuelan petroleum to fourteen Caribbean countries at a 40 percent discount and with an interest rate of one percent over twenty-five years, with the ability to pay off the debt with goods and services instead of cash.

"It was a turning point in Latin American history," claims Marcelo Langieri, academic secretary of the Sociology faculty at the University of Buenos Aires. Langieri, who was one of 160 cultural and political leaders invited to travel the 400 kilometers from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata on a train dubbed the ALBA Express, emphasized what he considers a paradigm shift in the dialogue. "Not only was the FTAA questioned, but also the neoconservative economic model and capitalism," and by somebody in a position of power such as Chavez's.

From The Nation


All politics is a reaction to felt needs. You need to get people to feel the need. Our job is to make sure the right felt need is taken into consideration.
-- John Kerry


AL JAZEERA - "As people of faith, we raise our voice in protest against the tragedy of the unjust war in Iraq," said a statement issued last week by the United Methodist Church Board of Church and Society--the social action committee of the church that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney belong to, The Nation reported.

"Thousands of lives have been lost and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted in a war the United States initiated and should never have fought. We grieve for all those whose lives have been lost or destroyed in this needless and avoidable tragedy. Military families have suffered undue hardship from prolonged troop rotations in Iraq and loss of loved ones. It is time to bring them home."

The board passed a resolution calling for withdrawal with only two 'no' votes and one abstention.

It also issued a statement denouncing the use of torture to break the detainees. It called on Congress to set an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate torture and abuse allegations at the U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"It is my hope and prayer that our statement against the war in Iraq will be heard loud and clear by our fellow United Methodists, President Bush and Vice President Cheney," said Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the UMC's Board of Church and Society. "Conservative and liberal board members worked together to craft a strong statement calling for the troops to come home and for those responsible for leading us into this disastrous war to be held accountable."


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

So You're STILL Being Tortured To Death In An American Military Prison!

From Fafblog

Q. Help! I'm still being tortured to death in an American military prison! What should I do?
A. Sigh. We've been through this before. You can't be getting tortured to death because we do not torture.
Q. Whew, that's a relief! For a second there I thought I was being forced underwater until near the point of death.
A. Ha ha, that's not torture! That's what we call a "freedom dip."
Q. Can I be released from this American military prison?
A. No, because we can neither confirm nor deny that this military prison even exists. For all we know, you might not even be here!
Q. Wow, that'd be great! Any idea where I might be?
A. Not a clue! It's a mystery.
Q. Gee, I hope I'm home with my family drinking a nice big mug of cocoa.
A. You keep that up.

Q. Is this non-torture legal?
A. Absolutely. We will beat you, bash your limbs to pulp, and leave you to die of exposure, but we will do so under the law.
Q. Congress is trying to ban the cruel, degrading, and humiliating treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. Will this non-torture be illegal then?
A. Of course not, because this non-torture is neither cruel, degrading, nor humiliating. Although we will veto any such legislation if passed by Congress. While we do not torture, we reserve the right to hypothetically torture.
Q. Is the CIA agent breaking my legs being cruel, humiliating or degrading?
A. The CIA agent breaking your legs is doing so in the most dignified and humane way possible.
Q. What about the army officer raping me with a chemical light?
A. The army officer raping you with a chemical light will later serve you a delicious meal of orange chicken and rice pilaf.
Q. Ooh! And for dessert?
A. Death by asphyxiation and a magnificent crème brulée!

Q. Why am I being not-tortured in this non-prison?
A. Because you're a dangerous terrorist and an enemy of the United States.
Q. Ah! How'd you find that out?
A. You told us, right after we started torturing you.
Q. You also got me to say I was a duck.
A. Ducks are dangerous terrorists and enemies of the United States.
Q. And to think I never knew! Who told you that?
A. Some duck we tortured.
Q. At some point between going to war and beating me to death while I'm chained to the floor in my own feces, do you think you went too far?
A. No, because this is a different kind of war.
Q. Different because the threat is more dangerous, or different because it's more complex?
A. Different because it gives us an excuse to torture people to death in American military prisons.
Q. Well, I certainly don't want to stand in the way of defending America. *RRRGGGKK* Or I wouldn't, if I still had the ability to stand.
A. It's the least any of us can ask of someone else when they're being tortured to death in an American military prison!

Fallujah Documentary from Italian TV

The documentary exposes the US military's use of white phosphorus, a highly flammable substance which can't easily be extinguished. It will melt flesh to the bone, then burn the bone.

Watch an episode of Democracy Now discussing the documentary and its allegations with US military brass as well as with a foot soldier who was at Fallujah during the massacre.

128k Stream

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kitchen-labor Union Launching Wal-Mart Workers Association

by Brendan Coyne

Nov 7 - Keeping the heat on the world's largest retailer, the United Food and Commercial Workers on Friday unveiled a new organizing tool: the Wal-Mart Workers of America (WWOA). The UFCW said the effort is designed to "help empower Wal-Mart workers to join together in order to improve their working conditions, their lives and change Wal-Mart into a more responsible and moral corporation."

Though the union contends that the association is not a labor organization, in the UFCW statement campaign director Paul Blank outlined charges against the company and goals for WWOA that track closely to union aims and contentions. is an earlier UFCW initiative.

"Everyday 1.3 million workers help make Wal-Mart one of America's most profitable companies, and yet, everyday it seems Wal-Mart finds new ways to exploit these hard-working Americans," Blank said. Wal-Mart Workers of America will be a powerful tool to help Wal-Mart's workers join together to improve their lives and make Wal-Mart change for the better."

As part of their effort to sign 100,000 members, the association opened a website over the weekend where Wal-Mart workers can register. As of yet, other portions of the site are inaccessible and the UFCW has not made it clear what content will be made available to the general public.

In addition, WWOA is offering $200 towards health care money for 50 uninsured Wal-Mart workers who enroll in the association, and providing legal and labor-rights consultation and a toll-free hotline to handle workers' questions and concerns. Membership in the organization is free and open to all former and current Wal-Mart employees.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Christi Gallagher downplayed the effort as "nothing new" in an interview with Cybercast News Service. Comparing the association to an internet club, she told CNS, "The unions have been trying to organize our associates through the Internet for several years in a lot of different states and have not had any success."

The campaign comes as the company weathers a storm of bad publicity and activists prepare for a union-sponsored week of anti-Wal-Mart actions.

At the end of October, the inspector general of the Labor Department released a report highly critical of a deal the federal government struck with Wal-Mart over child-labor-law violations. The 90-page-report was especially critical of a Labor Department concession to give the company a fifteen-day notice prior to investigating future complaints.

Days before the inspector general made that report public, Wal-Mart Watch, another union-backed organization, obtained and released an internal Wal-Mart report recommending that employee benefits be lowered and "unhealthy" workers and potential workers be discouraged from working for the company.

Next week, several labor unions and groups critical of Wal-Mart plan to hold demonstrations and panels aimed at informing people about the company's labor policies. The events purposely coincide with the release of an anti-Wal-Mart documentary.

Responding to growing criticism, Wal-Mart hired a politically-connected public relations firm known for strategies that parallel modern day political campaigns, the New York Times reported last week.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Serious Questions for Samuel A. Alito Jr.


[posted online on November 1, 2005]

Will Senate Judiciary Committee members ask Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. bedrock but nervous-making questions about corporate personhood that they did not ask--or were too timid to ask--of Judge John G. Roberts Jr.?

The questions spring from two primary sources:

A dissent by Roberts's immediate predecessor as Chief Justice of the United States, William H. Rehnquist, that's been widely--and conveniently--ignored for a quarter-century, even in the eulogies attending his death. It came in a 1978 Supreme Court case titled First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Justices decided that banks and business corporations--just as flesh and blood like you and me--have a First Amendment right to spend their money to influence elections.

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Before Harriet Miers made way for Alito by withdrawing her nomination, The Nation posted an article in which I urged Committee members to pose questions about corporate personhood to President Bush's initial choice to succeed Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Here are the same questions, somewhat revised, for Bush's new nominee:

1. In his dissent in First National Bank of Boston, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote of corporations: "It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere." Do you believe that corporate money in our elections poses "special dangers in the political sphere"?

2. The late Chief Justice went on to write: "Furthermore, it might be argued that liberties of political expression are not at all necessary to effectuate the purposes for which States permit commercial corporations to exist." Do you believe that "liberties of political expression" are necessary "to effectuate the purposes for which States permit commercial corporations to exist"? Do you believe that money is speech? Or is it property?

3. The Chief Justice also said: "I would think that any particular form of organization upon which the State confers special privileges or immunities different from those of natural persons would be subject to like regulation, whether the organization is a labor union, a partnership, a trade association, or a corporation." In plain words, he was saying that the state, having created the corporation, can regulate the corporation. Do you agree?

4. The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in 1868, soon after the end of the Civil War. Was the "person" whose basic rights the Framers and the people sought to protect the newly freed slave? Was the person a corporation? Are corporations "persons born or naturalized in the United States"?

5. "[W]hen the Fourteenth Amendment was submitted for approval, the people were not told that [they were ratifying] an amendment granting new and revolutionary rights to corporations," Justice Hugo Black wrote in Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. v. Johnson in 1938.

"The history of the Amendment proves that the people were told that its purpose was to protect weak and helpless human beings and were not told that it was intended to remove corporations in any fashion from the control of state governments," Justice Black wrote. "The Fourteenth Amendment followed the freedom of a race from slavery.... Corporations have neither race nor color.")

In proclaiming a paper entity to be a person, was the Court faithful to the intent of the Framers of the Amendment and to the intent of the people who ratified it?

6. In 1886, only eighteen years after the people ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court had before it Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The issue was whether the Amendment's guarantee of equal protection barred California from taxing property owned by a corporation differently from property owned by a human being. Chief Justice Morrison Waite disposed of it with a bolt-from-the-blue pronouncement: "The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a state to deny any person the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does." How would you characterize the Court's refusal to hear argument in a momentous case before deciding it?

Would you describe the Court's decision in Santa Clara County as conservative? As radical?

7. By contrast with the Court that decided Santa Clara County, the Court decided Roe v. Wade, in 1973, only after being fully briefed, hearing oral argument and deliberating at length. Nonetheless, Judge Robert Bork famously denounced the decision as "a wholly unjustified usurpation of state legislative authority."

Without regard as to whether Roe v. Wade was rightly or wrongly decided, was Santa Clara County "a wholly unjustified usurpation of state legislative authority"?

8. Again, without regard as to whether Roe v. Wade was rightly or wrongly decided, how does it strike you that the Court has declared a corporation--a paper entity that is neither born nor naturalized--to be a person but has declared a fetus not to be a person?

Corporate money and power have all but overwhelmed America's governance and politics, and it's not just "conservatives" who prefer not to ask questions involving the corporation as a person. "Liberals" are equally skilled at dodging the subject. So are lawmakers, and whether they are Democrats or Republicans matters not. Perhaps most unfortunately, the Senate Judiciary Committee has a long bipartisan tradition of ducking the issue when it considers judicial nominees, not just for the highest court in the land but for the lower courts as well.

This time around, will a Committee member break the mold?

Don't bet on it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Iraqi Constitution Ratified, Burned

Satire from The Onion

BAGHDAD—The people of Iraq celebrated the passage of their new constitution Monday, in a formal ceremony that included a stirring speech by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a series of explosions that left 77 dead, and a traditional dance performed by Iraqi schoolchildren.

After many weeks of squabbling and protracted negotiations between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites, the historic document was declared the law of the land and destroyed late Monday afternoon, in what Talabani characterized as "a vital step toward restoring law and order in this war-torn nation."

A car bomb killing 12 U.S. servicemen and 26 Iraqi civilians briefly interrupted the speech.

"Today in Iraq, the voice of the people was heard loud and clear," Talabani said as U.S. fighter jets launched a retaliatory air strike overhead. "It is moving to see so many Iraqis getting involved in the political process."

While Iraqi officials acknowledge that the path toward unified peace will be a long one, many expressed cautious optimism over Iraq's burgeoning democracy.

Minister of Justice Abd al-Husayn Shandal, whose severed arm remains fixed, pen in hand, to the giant cedar signing table destroyed by a nail bomb, described the constitution as "a powerful symbol of Iraqi peace and freedom."

"The impressive 64 percent voter turnout for the democratic referendum, only marginally surpassed by the turnout for the ensuing riots, was a very positive achievement," Shandal said. "Iraq is well on its way to the peace and tranquility all democracies inherently enjoy."

When the ceremony ended, U.S. military personnel were dispatched to the historic scene, both to rescue stray pieces of the original document and to tend to Iraqi civilians critically injured during the hand-to-hand combat and small-arms fire that took place following the document's ratification.

"We were unable to recover the original document from the debris," U.S. Army Maj. Jason Brock said. "However, charred, tattered remnants indicate that Iraq has established a four-year parliament, which marks its full emergence as a democratic Western ally."

Brock added: "I think there was also something in there about 'tending to the concerns of women's rights,' but I'm not 100 percent sure, because that part was soaked in blood."

Extant pieces of the original document, found under severed limbs and dusty rubble, indicate that the constitution includes inspiring phrases such as "principles of equality," "free from sectarianism, racism, and discrimination," and "looking with confidence to a peaceful future."

Talabani said he was "heartened" by the ratification, adding that, although the physical document was destroyed in the violent events following its signing, the "principles and ideals set forth will persevere."

A large portion of the eloquent preamble, which vowed that the Iraqi people would learn from the mistakes of the past, was discovered seared onto a slab of smoldering flesh atop an ambulance which had been catapulted through the entrance of the convention center by a minibus explosion.

Let The Thinly-Sourced Rumor-Mongering Begin!

November 02, 2005

Would it be irresponsible to link to a Capitol Blue story simply because it bolsters my belief system, even though Capitol Blue has been egregiously wrong in the past?

It would be irresponsible not to:

An uncivil war rages inside the walls of the West Wing of the White House, a bitter, acrimonious war driven by a failed agenda, destroyed credibility, dwindling public support and a President who lapses into Alzheimer-like periods of incoherent babbling...

The war erupted into full-blown shout fests at Camp David this past weekend where decorum broke down in staff meetings and longtime aides threatened to quit unless Rove goes...

White House staff members say the White House is “like a wartime bunker” where shell-shocked aides hide from those who disagree with their actions and office pools speculate on how long certain senior aides will last.

Bush, whose obscenity-laced temper tantrums increase with each new setback and scandal, abruptly ended one Camp David meeting by telling everyone in the room to “go fuck yourselves” before he stalked out of the room.

Senior aides describe Bush as increasingly “edgy” or “nervous” or “unfocused.” They say the President goes from apparent coherent thought one moment to aimless rambles about political enemies and those who are “out to get me.”

“It’s worse than the days when Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s began setting in,” one longtime GOP operative told me privately this week. “You don’t know if he’s going to be coherent from one moment to the next. What scares me is if he lapses into one of those fogs during a public appearance.”