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Ten major news stories the media is ignoring

from MarketWatch (via truthout):

By Thomas Kostigen

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- The San Francisco Bay Guardian newspaper has printed a list of stories we in the media seem to have largely ignored over the past year. The story is gleaned from an annual list developed by Project Censored, a media research group out of Sonoma State University that tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters.

It's a provocative and eye-opening list that warrants attention, especially from the media. And each year it usually gets it, as Salon comments, out of "guilt."

In a great example of how certain stories play out, San Francisco Bay Guardian reporter Sarah Phelan opens her article by citing the play two news items recently received on the same day they broke: In Detroit, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the Bush administration's warrantless National Security Agency surveillance program was unconstitutional and must end. Meanwhile, somewhere in Thailand, a weirdo named John Mark Karr claimed he was with six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey when she died in 1996.

We all know which story received the most attention.

Here are the Top 10 most ignored stories. I've had to condense them for space considerations, but their headlines should tell enough of a story:

1. The Feds and the media muddy the debate over Internet freedom

The Supreme Court ruled that giant cable companies aren't required to share their wires with other Internet service providers. The issue was misleadingly framed as an argument over regulation, when it's really a case of the Federal Communications Commission and Congress talking about giving cable and telephone companies the freedom to control supply and content -- a decision that could have them playing favorites and forcing consumers to pay to get information and services that currently are free.

Source: "Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why Corporate News Censored the Story," Elliot D. Cohen, BuzzFlash.com, July 18, 2005.

2. Halliburton charged with selling nuclear technology to Iran

Halliburton, the notorious U.S. energy company, sold key nuclear-reactor components to a private Iranian oil company called Oriental Oil Kish as recently as 2005, using offshore subsidiaries to circumvent U.S. sanctions. The story is particularly juicy because Vice President Dick Cheney, who now claims to want to stop Iran from getting nukes, was president of Halliburton in the mid-1990s, at which time he may have advocated business dealings with Iran, in violation of U.S. law.

Source: "Halliburton Secretly Doing Business with Key Member of Iran's Nuclear Team," Jason Leopold, GlobalResearch.ca, Aug. 5, 2005.

3. World oceans in extreme danger

Governments deny global warming is happening as they rush to map the ocean floor in the hopes of claiming rights to oil, gas, gold, diamonds, copper, zinc and the planet's last pristine fishing grounds. Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2005 found "the first clear evidence that the world ocean is growing warmer," including the discovery "that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past 40 years as the result of human-induced greenhouse gases."

Source: "The Fate of the Ocean," Julia Whitty, Mother Jones, March-April 2006.

4. Hunger and homelessness increasing in the United States

As hunger and homelessness rise in the United States, the Bush administration plans to get rid of a data source that supports this embarrassing reality, a survey that's been used to improve state and federal programs for retired and low-income Americans.

In 2003, the Bush Administration tried to whack the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on mass layoffs and in 2004 and 2005 attempted to drop the bureau's questions on the hiring and firing of women from its employment data.

Sources: "New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness," Brendan Coyne, New Standard, December 2005; "U.S. Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire," Abid Aslam, OneWorld.net, March 2006.

5. High-tech genocide in Congo

If you believe the corporate media, then the ongoing genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is all just a case of ugly tribal warfare. But that is a superficial, simplistic explanation that fails to connect this terrible suffering with the immense fortunes that stand to be made from manufacturing cell phones, laptop computers and other high-tech equipment.

What's really at stake in this bloodbath is control of natural resources such as diamonds, tin, and copper, as well as cobalt -- which is essential for the nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries -- and coltan and niobium, which is most important for the high-tech industries.

Sources: "The World's Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow," The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005; "High-Tech Genocide," Sprocket, Earth First! Journal, August 2005; "Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo," Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski, Z Magazine, March 1, 2006.

6. Federal whistleblower protection in jeopardy

Though record numbers of federal workers have been sounding the alarm on waste, fraud, and other financial abuse since George W. Bush became president, the agency charged with defending government whistleblowers has reportedly been throwing out hundreds of cases -- and advancing almost none. Statistics released at the end of 2005 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility led to claims that special counsel Scott Bloch, who was appointed by Bush in 2004, is overseeing the systematic elimination of whistleblower rights.

Sources: "Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration," Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Web site, Dec. 5, 2005; "Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins," PEER Web site, Oct. 18, 2005; "Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections," PEER Web site, Sept. 22, 2005.

7. U.S. operatives torture detainees to death in Afghanistan and Iraq

While reports of torture aren't new, the documents are evidence of using torture as a policy, raising a whole bunch of uncomfortable questions, such as: Who authorized such techniques? And why have the resulting deaths been covered up?

Of the 44 death reports released under ACLU's FOIA request, 21 were homicides and eight appear to have been the result of these abusive torture techniques.

Sources: "U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq," American Civil Liberties Union Web site, Oct. 24, 2005; "Tracing the Trail of Torture: Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantanamo to Iraq," Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch.com, March 5, 2006.

8. Pentagon exempt from Freedom of Information Act

In 2005, the Department of Defense pushed for and was granted exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, a crucial law that allows journalists and watchdogs access to federal documents. The ruling could hamper the efforts of groups like the ACLU, which relied on FOIA to uncover more than 30,000 documents on the US military's torture of detainees in Afghanistan Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, including the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

Sources: "Pentagon Seeks Greater Immunity from Freedom of Information," Michelle Chen, New Standard, May 6, 2005; "FOIA Exemption Granted to Federal Agency," Newspaper Association of America Web site, posted December 2005.

9. World Bank funds Israel-Palestine wall

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall Israel is building deep into Palestinian territory should be torn down. Instead, construction of this cement barrier, which annexes Israeli settlements and breaks the continuity of Palestinian territory, has accelerated. In the interim, the World Bank has come up with a framework for a Middle Eastern Free Trade Area, which would be financed by the World Bank and built on Palestinian land around the wall to encourage export-oriented economic development.

But with Israel ineligible for World Bank loans, the plan seems to translate into Palestinians paying for the modernization of checkpoints around a wall that they've always opposed, a wall that will help lock in and exploit their labor.

Sources: "Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank," Jamal Juma', Left Turn, issue 18; "U.S. Free Trade Agreements Split Arab Opinion," Linda Heard, Aljazeera, March 9, 2005.

10. Expanded air war in Iraq kills more civilians

At the end of 2005, U.S. Central Command Air Force statistics showed an increase in American air missions, a trend that was accompanied by a rise in civilian deaths thanks to increased bombing of Iraqi cities.

Sources: "Up in the Air," Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker, December 2005; "An Increasingly Aerial Occupation," Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch.com, December 2005 SFBG.

Project Censored then compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, underreported or self-censored by the country's major national news media. See www.projectcensored.org.

Posted in · · · · · | · 2006 Sep 15 13:57 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

Of Immoral Acts and Stampeding Congress

from the NYT:

We’ll find out in November how well the White House’s be-very-afraid campaign has been working with voters. We already know how it’s working in Congress. Stampeded by the fear of looking weak on terrorism, lawmakers are rushing to pass a bill demanded by Bush that would have minimal impact on antiterrorist operations but could cause profound damage to justice and the American way.

Yesterday, Bush himself went to Capitol Hill to lobby for his bill, which would give Congressional approval to the same sort of ad hoc military commissions that Bush created on his own authority after 9/11 and that the Supreme Court has already ruled unconstitutional. It would permit the use of coerced evidence, secret hearings and other horrific violations of American justice.

Legal experts within the military have been deeply opposed to Bush’s plan from the beginning, and have formed one of the most influential bulwarks against the administration’s attempt to rewrite the rules to make its recent behavior retroactively legal. This week, the White House sank so low as to strong-arm the chief prosecutors for the four armed services into writing a letter to the House that seemed to endorse Bush’s position on two key issues. Congressional officials say those officers later told lawmakers that they did not want to sign the letter, which contradicts everything the prosecutors, dozens of their colleagues, former top commanders of the military and a series of federal judges have said in public.

The idea that the nation’s chief executive is pressing so hard to undermine basic standards of justice is shocking. And any argument that these extreme methods would be used only against the most dangerous of international terrorists has been destroyed by the handling of hundreds of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, many of whom appear to have been scooped up in Afghanistan years ago with little attempt to verify any connection to terrorism, and now are in danger of lingering behind bars forever without a day in court.

To lend his lobbying an utterly false sense of urgency, Bush announced last week that he had taken 14 dangerous terrorists from the secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons where he had been holding them for years and sent them to Guantánamo to stand trial. But none of the prisoners is going anywhere, and the current high-pressure timetable is related only to the election calendar.

The Geneva Conventions

One section of the administration bill would put American soldiers in grave jeopardy by rewriting the Geneva Conventions, condoning the practice of hiding prisoners in secret cells, and permitting the continued use of interrogation methods that violate the Geneva Conventions at the C.I.A. prisons.

Bush has made it clear that he plans to continue operating the C.I.A. camps. And he wants Congress to collaborate by exempting the United States from a provision in the Geneva Conventions that prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” Bush says this wording is too vague, but that’s a dodge. What he really wants is Congressional authority to go on doing things to prisoners in C.I.A. jails that are clear violations of international rules.

He also wants Congress to rewrite the War Crimes Act, which makes it a crime to violate the Geneva Conventions. The administration’s goal here is to avoid having C.I.A. interrogators, private contractors or the men who gave them their orders called to account for the immoral way the administration has run its terrorist detention centers.

The opposition to these provisions by legal scholars, military lawyers and a host of former top commanders of the armed forces has been overwhelming. In recent days, two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin L. Powell, and John W. Vessey, wrote to Senator John McCain urging him to go on fighting the White House. “The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” General Powell wrote.

More than two dozen former military leaders and top Pentagon officials, from both parties, wrote to Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, expressing “profound concern” about undermining the Geneva Conventions. Their objections involve a simple equation: The Conventions protect captured American soldiers. If America mistreats its prisoners, American soldiers are in danger of the same, or worse.

Defining the Enemy

Senators Warner, McCain and Lindsey Graham have formed a principled spine of resistance against their party’s attempt to steamroller the White House legislation through Congress. But their own bill — the only competing proposal to emerge so far — shares some big problems with Bush’s. One is its scope. Both bills draw the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” so broadly that it could cover almost anyone that a particular administration decides is a threat, remove him from the judicial system and subject him to a military trial.

The law should cover actual terrorists and those who engage in hostilities against American forces outside an army or organized resistance group. But the White House bill also includes anyone who gives “material support” to a terrorist group or anyone affiliated with a terrorist group. Legal experts fear this definition could cover people who, for example, contribute to charities without knowing they support terrorist groups, or that are not identified as terrorist fronts until later. It could be used to arrest a legal resident of the United States and put him before a military commission.

It also could be used to capture foreign citizens in their native countries, or anywhere else, a concern that America’s allies have raised repeatedly. This is not just a theoretical problem. This sort of thing has already happened.

Stripping the Courts of Power

The White House wants to strip the federal courts of any power to review the detentions of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. This provision has no real bearing on the handful of genuine terrorists who were recently shipped there from abroad. Their cases are likely to be brought before military commissions, whose judgments could be appealed to higher courts, including the Supreme Court. But it has a profound impact on the hundreds of others at Guantánamo Bay. Many of them, perhaps the majority, committed minor offenses, if any. The administration has no intention of trying them, and wants to prevent them from appealing for help in court.

This week, nine current and former federal judges, including a former F.B.I. director appointed by Ronald Reagan, begged Congress not to give in to White House pressure on this point. “For 200 years, the federal judiciary has maintained Chief Justice Marshall’s solemn admonition that ours is a government of laws, and not of men,” their letter said. “The proposed legislation imperils this proud history.”

The nation is in this hideous mess because Bush ignored the advice of people like this when he tried to set up prison camps beyond the reach of the law. It’s hard to believe their warnings will be ignored again, but the signs are ominous. Last week, the military’s top lawyers told the House Armed Services Committee that they strongly opposed the rules of evidence and other due-process clauses in the White House’s bill. The committee just went ahead and passed it anyway. Only eight of the 28 Democratic members had the courage to vote “no.”

Bill Frist, the majority leader, has already introduced the horrible White House bill on the Senate floor. Senators Warner, McCain and Graham have come up with a serious alternative, and they deserve enormous credit for standing up to Bush’s fearmongering — something many Democrats seem too frightened to do. (It was good to see the Senate Armed Services Committee Democrats join them in rejecting Bush’s bill yesterday.)

But their bill still has serious shortcomings, and should not be rushed through Congress in the current atmosphere, which has very little to do with stopping terrorists and everything to do with winning seats in November.

There is no urgency. Bush could have tried the 14 new inmates of Guantánamo Bay at any time if he had just done it legally. It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the White House is really worried about a swift resolution of their cases. Many members of Congress who succumb to the strong-arming will know, in their hearts, that they were doing the wrong thing out of fear for their political futures. Perhaps the voters will not judge them harshly this fall. But history will.

Posted in · · · · · · · | · 2006 Sep 15 13:28 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

Whistleblowers in peril

from Nature:

In another worrying instance of its tendency to quietly arrogate new powers to itself, the Bush administration has reversed two decades of precedent and declared that important whistleblower protections in the Clean Water Act do not apply to federal workers.

This binding change in the interpretation of the law was instigated by a top Department of Justice lawyer a year ago. Steven Bradbury, acting assistant attorney-general in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, gave a straightforward reason for his decision: the Clean Water Act does not list the US government as a ‘person’ in its definition of employers from whom whistleblowers may seek redress in the event of retaliation by their bosses. He concluded that the ancient legal doctrine of sovereign immunity — which says the government must explicitly consent to be sued — makes the federal government immune from the whistleblower provisions in the law.

The water law was written to protect workers in the private and public sectors who report breakdowns in its enforcement, manipulations of science, or clean-up failures. Its whistleblower provisions essentially apply to any action a worker might take in a sincere effort to do a good job — and hence go further than a different, government-wide whistleblower law that is still in place but that protects only the reporting of gross mismanagement or violations of law.

The water law’s provisions have real teeth: whistleblowers who are found to have legitimate complaints are eligible for reinstatement to lost jobs, back pay, and compensatory damages for loss of reputation and emotional distress — damages that in the past have ranged in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Exempting federal employees would expose to retaliation some 170,000 members of the federal workforce in a dozen different agencies, from the Forest Service to the US Geological Survey, who might make efforts in good faith to see that the law is properly enforced. Scientists could feel this particularly strongly, as the problems they encounter — such as the skewing of a methodology or the removal of a conclusion from a report — don’t typically violate a law. This change is bound to suppress their willingness to report such events.

Superficially, the justice department has made a defensible case. But it goes against two decades of precedent during which the Department of Labor adjudicators charged with administering whistleblower law repeatedly rejected arguments for the government’s sovereign immunity under the water law. Legal doctrine holds that, when an agency such as the labour department has a long-standing interpretation of a law, as in this instance, and Congress does nothing to change it, it can be assumed that Congress accepts that interpretation.

But what is particularly disturbing about this change is the way it was brought in under the radar, remaining unpublished for 12 months and unknown to the federal workers potentially affected by it. It only became public last week, when the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released a letter from Bradbury, which it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act after stumbling upon a reference to it in a whistleblower complaint. This is hardly a fitting approach to jurisprudence in a purportedly open and democratic society.

It is common knowledge that the Bush administration has fought against implementing more stringently protective environmental laws, and its enforcement of existing laws has been weak to a fault; according to the justice department’s figures, government requests for criminal prosecutions of environmental lawbreakers fell by half in the five years to 2005. In such an atmosphere, whistleblowers within the government become a key defence against further erosion of environmental standards. Removing their protections seems all but certain to hasten this erosion.

There is a possible remedy, however: Congress should amend the Clean Water Act to define the US government as an employer against whom whistleblower complaints can be brought.

Posted in · · · | · 2006 Sep 14 13:24 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

US nuclear study of Iran is dishonest

from the Sydney Morning Herald:

by Dafna Linzer, in Washington

UNITED NATIONS inspectors investigating Iran’s nuclear program have angrily complained to the Bush Administration and a Republican congressman about a report on Iran’s capabilities, calling parts of the document “outrageous and dishonest”.

International Atomic Energy Agency officials, who produced evidence to refute the report’s main claims, said in a letter on Wednesday that the report contained “erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements”.

The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Peter Hoekstra, the chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy also was hand-delivered to Gregory Schulte, the US ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.

The agency noted five significant errors in the committee’s report, which claimed Iran’s nuclear capabilities were more advanced than either the agency or US intelligence had shown.

The report said Iran was producing weapons-grade uranium. The IAEA called that “incorrect”, noting that weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of at least 90 per cent; Iran had enriched uranium to 3.5 per cent, and done so under agency monitoring.

The UN letter surfaced as the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he was open to new conditions to resolve Tehran’s standoff with the West over its nuclear program and believed talks could end the dispute.

“I am announcing that we are available, we are ready for new conditions,” Mr Ahmadinejad said yesterday, before leaving for a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Cuba.

A meeting between the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and the Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani, set for yesterday, was postponed.

The IAEA had openly clashed with the Bush Administration on pre-war assessments of alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Relations all but collapsed when the agency revealed that the White House had based some allegations about an Iraqi nuclear program on forged documents.

After no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, the agency came under criticism for taking a cautious approach on Iran, which the White House says is trying to build nuclear weapons in secret. At one point, the Administration orchestrated a failed campaign to remove the agency’s director, Mohamed ElBaradei.

Wednesday’s letter was the first time the IAEA has publicly rebutted US allegations about its Iran investigation.

When the congressional report was released last month, Mr Hoekstra said it was “to help increase the American public’s understanding of Iran as a threat”. The report is still to be voted on and has not been discussed by the full committee.

Several intelligence officers privately said the report included at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate.

“This is like prewar Iraq all over again,” said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherrypicked, and a report that trashes the inspectors.”

The report’s author, Fredrick Fleitz, is a one-time CIA officer who had been a special assistant to John Bolton, the Administration’s former point man on Iran at the State Department. Bolton, now US ambassador to the United Nations, had been highly influential during George Bush’s first term in crafting a policy that rejected talks with Tehran.

Posted in · · · | · 2006 Sep 14 13:01 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

BushCo to Cut EPA Even Further in 2008

from PEER:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing for a new even larger round of budget cuts for the 2008 Fiscal Year, according to an internal memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These new cuts are being readied even as Congress is still reviewing administration proposals to reduce EPA spending by a record $100 million in FY 2007.

The June 8, 2006 memo from the EPA Chief Financial Officer, Lyons Gray, to agency leadership, calls for pinpointing “larger savings” as part of a series of austerities spread over the next 5 years. Slated for presentation to the President’s Office of Management & Budget on September 11, 2006, the agency’s fiscal reduction package includes:

  • Closure of Laboratories. The plan calls for closing 10% of EPA’s network of laboratories and research centers in which much of the agency’s basic and applied science concerning pollution monitoring, toxicological effects and other public health issues is conducted. By 2011, the laboratory network, comprised of approximately 2000 scientists, would shrink by 20%;
  • Staff Buy-Outs. The plan gives EPA regions freer hands to carry out personnel reductions targeted at higher ranking (“GS 12 to GS 15” ) scientists, analysts and managers. These cuts would be in addition to anticipated attrition which should be substantial, with 35% of EPA staff becoming eligible to retire during the next three years; and
  • Reduced State and Tribal Oversight. Additional savings would accrue from reducing the “regulatory burden” on, and reporting requirements for, state and tribal environmental agencies.

The memo calls identified reductions “disinvestments” and concedes that they will undoubtedly have “long-term consequences.” Agency budget cuts now being debated in Congress for the fiscal year that begins this October 1 have raised concerns that EPA is already losing its ability to maintain coherent scientific, regulatory or enforcement programs.

“EPA planning is now driven entirely by external fiscal targets without regard to the effects upon public or environmental health,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Bush administration seeks to ‘disinvest’ in environmental science, pollution control and global sustainability.”

In his memo, Mr. Gray attempts to sugarcoat cuts by describing scaled-back operations as “centers of excellence.”

“The Bush administration is trying to spin this lobotomy as a diet plan for a trimmer, shapelier EPA,” Ruch added. “In fact, it is a plan to cut and run from historic standards of environmental protection under the guise of deficit management.”

Posted in · · | · 2006 Sep 14 12:46 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

Interior Official Assails Agency for Ethics Slide

from the NYT:


The Interior Department’s chief official responsible for investigating abuses and overseeing operations accused the top officials at the agency on Wednesday of tolerating widespread ethical failures, from cronyism to cover-ups of incompetence.

“Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior,” charged Earl E. Devaney, the Interior Department’s inspector general, at a hearing of the House Government Reform subcommittee on energy.

“I have observed one instance after another when the good work of my office has been disregarded by the department,” he continued. “Ethics failures on the part of senior department officials — taking the form of appearances of impropriety, favoritism and bias — have been routinely dismissed with a promise ‘not to do it again.’ ”

The blistering attack was part of Mr. Devaney’s report on what he called the Interior Department’s “bureaucratic bungling” of oil and gas leases signed in the late 1990’s, mistakes that are now expected to cost the government billions of dollars but were covered up for six years.

While these leases were the specific focus of the hearing, Mr. Devaney directed most of his criticism at what he called a broader organizational culture at the Interior Department of denial and “defending the indefensible.”

He expressed particular fury at the willingness to dismiss two dozen potential ethical lapses by J. Steven Griles, a former industry lobbyist who served as deputy secretary of the interior during Bush’s first term.

Posted in · · · | · 2006 Sep 14 10:18 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

Legal Dictatorships

"Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted in · · · | · 2006 Sep 13 20:51 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

This hole in the ground

Keith Olbermann does it again:

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space.  And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and—as I discovered from those “missing posters” seared still into my soul—two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are “soft,"or have “forgotten” the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast—of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds—none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.

Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country’s wound is still open.

Five years later this country’s mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial—barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field—Mr. Lincoln said, “we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. “We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.” So we won’t.

Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they’re doing instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres.  The terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation.  There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party—tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election—ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications—forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation’s wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President—and those around him—did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, “bi-partisanship” meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President’s words yesterday, “validate the strategy of the terrorists.”

They promised protection, and then showed that to them “protection” meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had ‘something to do’ with 9/11 is “lying by implication.”

The impolite phrase is “impeachable offense.”

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced—possibly financed by—the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections?  How dare you—or those around you—ever “spin” 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded—are still succeeding—as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney’s continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called “The Twilight Zone” broadcast a riveting episode entitled “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.”

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car—and only his car—starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man’s lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced.  An “alien” is shot—but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help.  The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there’s no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, “they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it’s themselves.”

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

“For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own—for the children, and the children yet unborn.”

When those who dissent are told time and time again—as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus—that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have “forgotten the lessons of 9/11"… look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.

Posted in · · · · | · 2006 Sep 12 01:31 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

BushCo’s View of Inflation

Posted in · · · | · 2006 Sep 11 18:00 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

The Best War Ever

Posted in · · · · | · 2006 Sep 11 12:15 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

Bush Says EPA Immune From Whistle Blowers

Diane E. Dees writes at MoJo:

Citing an unpublished opinion from the Attorney General’s Office of Legal Counsel, the Bush administration has declared that federal employees may no longer pursue whistleblower claims and protections under the Clean Water Act. As of now, EPA employees will have almost no protection from retaliation if they come forward with information about water pollution enforcement breakdowns, cleanup failures, or the deceptive presentation of scientific findings. Approximately 170,000 employees are affected by this ruling.

The EPA is no help at all. The agency is taking the position that its employees have no protections of any kind regarding any environmental statute.

This turnabout occurred because an EPA employee reported problems with contracts for toxic cleanups. She was rewarded $225,000 in punitive damages after she filed a retaliation suit, but the Department of Labor overturned the court’s decision.

The White House is claiming sovereign immunity for the EPA.

Posted in · · | · 2006 Sep 11 10:22 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

Activism Is in the Eye of the Ideologist

from the NYT:

Conservatives like to divide judges into liberal “activists” and conservative nonactivists who interpret the law rather than making it. Anyone who follows the courts knows that conservative judges are as activist as liberal judges —just for different causes. A new study of Supreme Court voting patterns confirms this and suggests that the conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are actually more activist than their liberal colleagues.

Lori Ringhand, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, examined the voting records of the Supreme Court justices from 1994 to 2005. Because judicial activism is a vague concept, she applied a reasonable, objective standard. In the study, which is forthcoming in Constitutional Commentary, justices were considered to have voted in an activist way when they voted to overturn a federal or state law, or one of the court’s own precedents.

The conservative justices were far more willing than the liberals to strike down federal laws — clearly an activist stance, since they were substituting their own judgment for that of the people’s elected representatives in Congress. Justice Thomas voted to overturn federal laws in 34 cases and Justice Scalia in 31, compared with just 15 for Justice Stephen Breyer. When state laws were at issue, the liberals were more activist. Add up the two categories, and the conservatives and liberals turned out to be roughly equal. But Justices Thomas and Scalia, who are often held out as models of nonactivism, voted to strike down laws in more of these cases than Justice Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s two Clinton appointees.

By the third measure, overturning the court’s own precedents (for which data were available only up to 2000), the conservatives were far more activist. Justice Thomas voted to overturn precedent 23 times and Justice Scalia 19 times, while the court’s four liberals did so in 10 cases or fewer.

Activism is not necessarily a bad thing. The Supreme Court is supposed to strike down laws that are unconstitutional or otherwise flawed. Clearly, all nine justices, from across the political spectrum, believe this, since they all regularly vote to strike down laws. What is wrong is for one side to pretend its judges are not activist, and turn judicial activism into a partisan talking point, when the numbers show a very different story.

Posted in · · | · 2006 Sep 11 10:13 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

TSA Fuckwits

Posted in · · | · 2006 Sep 10 22:25 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

What we lost

Joan Walsh writes at Salon:

Five years later, I remember odd fragments from Sept. 11, 2001. The kindness in the voice of the co-worker who called to tell me about it; the care and concern I saw everywhere that day, in fact. At my daughter’s school-bus stop in the near-dark that morning (yes, many of us sent our kids to school in California, only to have them sent home), not all of the parents knew about the tragedy yet, but I’ll never forget the sadness and compassion in the eyes of those who did—for ourselves, for our children, and also for the people in our group who hadn’t seen the television yet. We already knew: Nothing would ever be the same.

We had no idea. As awful as our losses were that day, five years later they’re almost incalculable. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said something that moved me at the time—that the losses were likely to be “more than we can bear.” In fact, he was right, even though the death toll was ultimately lower than first expected. The losses from 9/11 may still ultimately be more than we can bear.

The number of Americans who died that day at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa.—2,873—has been surpassed by the number of American soldiers who’ve died in the so-called global war on terror, the vast majority—almost 2,700—killed on the utterly unrelated battleground in Iraq. Add in almost 30,000 U.S. military casualties and a reported 46,307 dead Iraqi civilians, according to Iraq Body Count, and the tragedy is staggering—more than we, or the Iraqi people, should have had to bear. The quick victory in the Afghan war against the Taliban, which had broad national and global support, now seems on the verge of being reversed; every week brings more killing, more repression. This week alone the New York Times reported that the Afghan city known as Little America is now the capital of Taliban resurgence and opium production. Global sympathy in the wake of the attack has turned to global distrust and disdain.

Maybe the loss I regret most was the shimmer of national and international unity we enjoyed after the attack—the warmth I felt from friends and acquaintances and even strangers those first raw days, a seriousness and purpose I felt more broadly in the following weeks. Like most Americans, I didn’t vote for this president. To me, Dec. 12, 2000, the day the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount that Al Gore would have won, is another day of infamy in U.S. history. But I was willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in the weeks after 9/11, let him build on the global support we’d won and do something thoughtful and effective about al-Qaida. His response in those early weeks seemed uncharacteristically measured; he warned against targeting Muslims, he took almost a month before striking Afghanistan.

Since that time, though, we’ve seen hubris beyond imagination. We’ve watched an unbridled executive-branch power grab, warrantless wiretaps, the curtailing of privacy rights; a pervasive smog of secrecy descended to obscure our government. Outrage about torture, rendition and secret prisons here and abroad is dismissed with a flippant “We don’t torture” from the president. And all of it has been shellacked with an ugly culture of bullying in which dissent equals treason, shamelessly, five years after the attack. Last week it was Donald Rumsfeld comparing war critics to people who appeased Hitler; this week we had Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying they’re the sort who would have ended the Civil War early and let the South keep its slaves. Their intimidation is meant to say that the very freedoms worth fighting for—the right to dissent, the right to question our government—might have to be abridged while we fight. Politically, that truly is more than we can bear.

Still, we’ve seen nothing so brazen as the president’s “war on terror” victory lap this 9/11 anniversary week, three speeches to tell us he’s made us safer though there’s still more to be done, and pay no attention to the carnage in Iraq. Bush’s 2006 anniversary shtick is an eerie inversion of his first anniversary shtick in 2002, another election year, when he used the sad occasion as a platform to sell the Iraq war. Back then, you’ll recall, he’d changed the subject from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein at least partly because we’d blown our chance to capture the al-Qaida leader at the end of 2001. So he went months without mentioning the man he’d once vowed to capture “dead or alive.” The normally quiescent White House press corps was moved to ask him about it at a March 2002 briefing, and here’s how Bush replied:

“Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not; we haven’t heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is—really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person ... So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him ... to be honest with you. I’m more worried about making sure that our soldiers are well-supplied; that the strategy is clear; that the coalition is strong.”

“I just don’t spend that much time on him.” Fast-forward four years, and suddenly he’s spending time on him again—Bush mentioned bin Laden 17 times in a 44-minute speech Tuesday—and the reason is obvious: In both Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers aren’t well supplied, our strategy isn’t clear, the coalition isn’t strong. And so this week: Osama is back! And he’s as bad as Stalin or Lenin! But we’re winning the war on terror anyway! And those secret prisons we wouldn’t admit existed? They’re out there, all right, but now we’re moving the guys we had stashed there to Guantánamo, at least the ones we’ll tell you about. (They probably won’t talk anymore anyway.) Now we’re readying the military tribunals, where you can’t see the evidence against them, or how we obtained it. But rest assured, we’ve gotten a ton of intel out of them that’s kept you safe. But we don’t torture!

I thought I lost my capacity to be shocked at this administration a long time ago, but Bush’s decision to declassify information about our “war on terror” “successes” just in time for the midterm elections is craven and deeply offensive, even for an administration that’s made an art form of craven and offensive political cheap shots.

Four years after the first 9/11 anniversary, I have an eerie sense of déjà vu. Back in 2002, some liberals already had anniversary fatigue, since it was clear the administration was going to use the tragedy to gin up support for the Iraq war and demagogue Democrats who opposed it (and even some who supported it). I argued at the time that ignoring the anniversary, being callous about the losses we suffered that day, was wrong. This year I feel even more strongly that it’s important to take stock, because of all we lost that day, but more important, all we’ve lost since.

Despite my disturbing déjà vu, there’s reason to believe 2006 will turn out differently from 2002. This time around the midterm elections are looking grim for the GOP, thanks to the war in Iraq, high gas prices and overall gloom about the country’s direction. A CBS News/New York Times poll reported Thursday that when asked if the government had done “all it could reasonably be expected to do” to prevent another terror attack, nearly two-thirds of Democrats and Independents said no. Even among Republicans, only 56 percent said yes. Bush’s campaign to convince us we’re wrong is just beginning, and maybe it will work as it did in 2002 and 2004, but it won’t be easy. The great thing about freedom and democracy is we have multiple chances to get things right. Given the erosion of our liberties in the last four years, though, it doesn’t seem too much to suggest that getting it wrong again could threaten that very freedom and democracy.

Posted in · · · · · | · 2006 Sep 09 15:35 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit

A Huge, Scary Threat!

Posted in · · | · 2006 Sep 08 17:04 | (0) comments | permalink | email | edit
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