Saturday, June 28, 2008

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man



I just read John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which purports to tell the story of his ten years operating as an "EHM" on behalf of the U.S. government. His role was to help sell massive construction and engineering projects to nations holding resources that we were interested in developing.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund would fund the projects, with contracts for engineering and construction going to American companies. The projects were intentionally over-engineered to such an extent that the country would likely default on loans, at which point, in lieu of monetary payment, the U.S. (which controls these banks) would negotiate an exchange of resources, land, access for military installations, etc.

Click on the above photo to link to a 2007 "Democracy Now!" interview with John Perkins.

Curiously, the United States Department of State deemed it necessary to undermine Perkins' character with the following statement on their "Identifying Misinformation" website. The statement is "Rovian" (as in Karl Rove), if amateurish. Recent gestures to cancel some foreign debt, cited below as "policy", came only after years of international outrage over the devastating economic burden from interest on World Bank and IMF loans. Read more
Confessions -- or Fantasies -- of an Economic Hit Man?
Purported links to National Security Agency appear dubious

Washington -- John Perkins’ popular, but misleading, book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is being released in paperback. Perkins claims that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) recruited him to be an “economic hit man,” who deliberately entrapped foreign countries in unmanageable amounts of debt so they would be beholden to the United States. This appears to be a total fabrication. To the contrary, the U.S. government has led a recent initiative to cancel the debt of many heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC).

THE PERKINS ALLEGATIONS

In the book, Perkins says a mysterious woman named Claudine Martin at the Charles T. Main engineering company, where he worked as chief economist, told him he was to become an “economic hit man” and what that entailed:

“First, I was to justify huge international loans that would funnel money back to MAIN and other U.S. companies … through massive engineering and construction projects. Second, I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loans (after they had paid MAIN and the other U.S. contractors, of course) so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favors, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.” (p. 15)

Perkins claims that all this was done at the behest of the NSA, although he offers no evidence that this was the case. Nowhere in his book does he claim that anyone at the NSA gave him any written or verbal directions.

Perkins’ account that he interviewed for a job with the NSA in 1968 seems credible. He says he was trying to avoid being drafted during the war in Vietnam, and that a close friend of his father-in-law worked at the NSA, told him that NSA employees received draft deferments and set up an interview for him. Perkins says he received a job offer from NSA but decided instead to join the Peace Corps, which also made him eligible for a draft deferment, and was more to his liking.

At this point, Perkins’ narrative appears to begin to depart from reality. He claims that the NSA approved of his joining the Peace Corps and had a hand in his being hired at the end of his Peace Corps duty by the Charles T. Main engineering company – all of this supposedly communicated silently, without even a wink or a nod.

Perkins is apparently not aware that the National Security Agency is a cryptological (codemaking and codebreaking) organization, not an economic organization. According to its public Web site, it is restricted by law to two missions:

* Information Assurance: protecting U.S. government communications systems from harm; and

* Foreign Signals Intelligence: collecting communications and signals intelligence on foreign entities.

Neither of these missions involves anything remotely resembling placing economists at private companies in order to increase the debt of foreign countries.

Throughout the book, it is clear that Perkins felt that he was betraying his conscience by working as an economist facilitating large engineering and construction projects in Third World countries. He is much more comfortable working with indigenous peoples, helping to preserve their cultures with small-scale economic projects, as he did in the Peace Corps and as he has done more recently. But there seems to be no reason to believe that the National Security Agency or any other agency of the U.S. government, except the Peace Corps, played a role in his personal drama.

Perkins revealed his fondness for conspiracy theories during a January 10 presentation at a bookstore in Washington. At one point, he claimed, falsely, that the U.S. government had been involved in the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., former Beatle John Lennon, and several unnamed U.S. senators who had died in plane crashes.

In response to a question about the September 11, 2001, attacks, he cautioned that although he did not know much about this subject he thought that if a bank had been robbed, the police would investigate the possibility that it had been an “inside job,” implying that the U.S. government may have been involved in the 9/11 attacks. He also recommended a Web site that puts forward the false claim that no plane hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. (For a discussion of this issue, see “Did a Plane Hit the Pentagon?”)

He said he found it hard to believe that the September 11 attacks had been planned by a man in a cave with a walkie-talkie – a formulation frequently used by those who wish to absolve al-Qaida of responsibility for the attacks. (For discussion, see “Al Qaeda and September 11th.”)

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which Perkins says has been translated into some 20 languages, is popular because it is an exciting, first-person, cloak-and-dagger tale that plays to popular images about alleged U.S. economic exploitation of Third World countries. Perkins raises legitimate questions about the impacts of economic growth and modernization on developing countries and indigenous peoples. But his claim that he was acting as an “economic hit man” at the behest of the NSA appears to be a total fantasy.

U.S. GOVERNMENT FAVORS DEBT RELIEF

Contrary to Perkins’ assertions, U.S. government policy seeks to reduce the debt burden for the most heavily indebted poor countries.

In 2004, President Bush called for a cancellation of official debt for the world’s poorest countries. A year later, at the Gleneagles summit in July 2005, the leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) agreed to pursue actions to write off the official debt of the world’s poorest 18 countries, and to forgive $17 billion of Nigeria’s debt, in the biggest debt cancellation ever. (See G8 Summit 2005, Gleneagles, Scotland.)

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for International Affairs, Timothy Adams, described the program in September 2005:

“Under the plan, 18 HIPC countries will be immediately eligible for … debt forgiveness: Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The remaining HIPCs will also become eligible as they reach their HIPC Completion Point.

“The total amount forgiven for the 18 HIPC completion point countries will be $40 billion in nominal terms …. The full application of the cancellation of existing debt repayments could amount to as much as $60 billion as countries complete the process.”

PERKINS’ OTHER INTERESTS

Perkins has written several other books, which include:

* Psychonavigation: “first hand accounts of how diverse tribal cultures travel beyond time and space by means of visions and dream wanderings;”

* Shapeshifting: “shamanistic techniques for global and personal transformation;” and

* The World Is As You Dream It: “shamanistic techniques from the Amazon and Andes.”

As to whether Perkins was acting at the behest of the U.S. government, the world is not “as he dreams it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

U.S. Mayors Agree to Phase Out Bottled Water



A year ago, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took the bold step of banning the use of bottled water in San Francisco City and County governments. Now it looks like he has been able to influence other mayors to follow his lead. Below is also the American Beverage Association's response to this action. Relying, of course on "sound science", they term the ban "sound-bite environmentalism".

In this post, I present Agence France Presse's coverage of this newsworthy event, followed by reaction from The American Beverage Association, and finally, my letter to The American Beverage Association. Read more
Published on Wednesday, June 25, 2008 by Agence France Presse

The US Conference of Mayors on Monday passed a resolution calling for a phasing out of bottled water by municipalities and promoting the importance of public water supplies.

The vote comes amid increasing environmental concerns about the use of bottled water because of its use of plastic and energy costs to transport drinking supplies.

The mayors, meeting in Miami, approved a resolution proposed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom along with 17 other large-city mayors to redirect taxpayer dollars from bottled water to other city services.

“Cities are sending the wrong message about the quality of public water when we spend taxpayer dollars on water in disposable containers from a private corporation,” said Newsom.

“Our public water systems are among the best in the world and demand significant and ongoing investment.”

According to the activist group Think Outside the Bottle, more than 60 mayors in the United States have already canceled bottled water contracts.

“It’s just plain common sense for cities to stop padding the bottled water industry’s bottom line at taxpayer expense,” said Gigi Kellett, national director of the Think Outside the Bottle campaign.

“This resolution will send the strong message that opting for tap over bottled water is what’s best for our environment, our pocketbooks and our long-term, equitable access to our most essential resource.”

The American Beverage Associations called the resolution “tainted with hypocrisies and inaccuracies.”

“While some mayors oppose the use of bottled water by city governments, most mayors across America gladly welcome bottled water when disaster strikes,” the industry group said in a statement.

“Our beverage companies continually come to the aid of communities ravaged by floods, fires, hurricanes, other natural disasters and compromised municipal water systems.”

The group said plastic water bottles “are 100 percent recyclable, making bottled water one of the few fully recyclable consumer goods.”

© 2008 Agence France Presse


And now for the American Beverage Association's response. Clearly, these people haven't traveled much, and seen the impact of plastic bottles on landscapes around this planet.

Release Date: Jun 23, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 23, 2008

Contacts: Kevin Keane
(202) 463-6716
(202) 701-5059


AMERICAN BEVERAGE ASSOCIATION SAYS SMALL GROUP OF MAYORS LEAD U.S. CONFERENCE OF MAYORS TO CHOOSE SOUND-BITE ENVIRONMENTALISM OVER SUBSTANTIVE CONCERNS OF FAMILIES


MIAMI -- The American Beverage Association said a small group of mayors led the U.S. Conference of Mayors to embrace today “sound-bite environmentalism” over sound public policy by passing a resolution discouraging the use of bottled water by city government, rather than address the more pressing economic and pocketbook issues burdening American families.

The USCM rubber-stamped a resolution that narrowly survived its policy-making committee process comprised of a small group of mayors – a committee process that drew strong dissent from mayors who viewed the measure as mere symbolism and out-of-touch with the priorities of American families. The final USCM vote clearly does not reflect a meaningful consensus by America’s mayors.

“It’s disappointing that some mayors find it more important to spend their time attacking a healthy beverage at a time when families are suffering from floods, rising food and fuel costs and threats to their homes and jobs,” said Kevin Keane, a senior vice president of the American Beverage Association. “A few mayors have chosen sound-bite environmentalism over sound public policy in their zeal to appease liberal activist groups that are pedaling misinformation about bottled water.”

The bottled water measure is tainted with hypocrisies and inaccuracies. While some mayors oppose the use of bottled water by city governments, most mayors across America gladly welcome bottled water when disaster strikes. Our beverage companies continually come to the aid of communities ravaged by floods, fires, hurricanes, other natural disasters and compromised municipal water systems. Our companies do so readily and proudly, having donated more than 4 million bottles of water to hurting communities so far this year.

“This resolution is just cynical politics. It’s like being against rope until you need a lifeline,” Keane said. “There’s great irony in the fact that beverage companies are actively helping mayors in flood-ravaged communities in the Midwest recover, while a handful of mayors in Miami are attacking the water products providing those residents with safe drinking water and good health.”

The environmental claims made by a few mayors about bottled water hold no water at all.

Plastic water bottles are 100 percent recyclable, making bottled water one of the few fully recyclable consumer goods. The recycled plastic from these bottles is in high demand to make new plastic bottles, carpeting, winter jackets, clothing and other consumer goods.

The reuse of recycled plastic bottles reduces materials going to landfills and resources needed to make other consumer goods, including reducing our reliance on oil for the manufacture of consumer products. And the plastic bottle keeps water safe as it makes its way to consumers.

“We’re making a positive impact on the environment that goes far beyond politically expedient sound-bites,” Keane said. “There’s no other consumer products industry doing more to reduce its impact on the environment than the beverage industry.”

Passage of the resolution, which was instigated by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and activist groups he is close to, certainly doesn’t reflect the views of most American mayors. The USCM policy-making process essentially allows a resolution to move from approval of a small committee to the acceptance of the full conference as part of a large slate of diverse resolutions.

“We believe that common sense will prevail when mayors return to their communities, as most recognize more pressing challenges are facing their communities than concerns about a healthy water beverage,” Keane said. “And we certainly encourage mayors and their staff to learn the full facts about plastic water bottles and their impact on the environment, as well as how the beverage industry is leading the consumer products industry in reducing its impact on the environment. They’re receiving a great deal of inaccurate and misleading information from liberal activist groups.”

More information on bottled water, its containers and industry’s environmental initiatives can be found at www.ameribev.org.

The American Beverage Association is the trade association representing the broad spectrum of companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages in the United States.


And, finally, my message to Mr. Keane, sent today:
ATTENTION: Mr. Kevin Keane

Dear Mr. Keane

You should be ashamed to publish such a ludicrous piece as your recent press release “AMERICAN BEVERAGE ASSOCIATION SAYS SMALL GROUP OF MAYORS LEAD U.S. CONFERENCE OF MAYORS TO CHOOSE SOUND-BITE ENVIRONMENTALISM OVER SUBSTANTIVE CONCERNS OF FAMILIES”.

To equate the Mayors’ decision to phase out bottled water in city governments, where abundant, clean, low-cost municipal water is available to denying disaster victims potable water in their time of need is childish at best.

To claim that the use of plastic bottles is “helping the environment” is an absurdity. True, a percentage of plastic bottles are recycled – WORLDWIDE, AN INSIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE! Tell me that this is environmentally more benign than not using the bottles in the first place. What “science” do you subscribe to? Clearly, you have not traveled to Third World countries and seen the landscape littered with the containers, or gathered into burning, smoldering heaps along the roadside. I have personally witnessed this in numerous countries. And it’s sickening. (I must admit, that in my trips to Washington, I have seen few plastic bottles littering The Mall.)

The Mayors’ symbolic gesture helps educate citizens and sends a message. The unnecessary and wasteful use of precious resources must be minimized.

This is not to say plastic containers do not have a significant role to play in meeting human needs. As you point out, they are the most efficient vehicle for supplying essential water to many disaster victims.

But to imply that their recyclability makes plastic containers environmentally benign ignores the much larger truth associated with petroleum extraction and refining, transportation impacts or the impact of MOST containers being disposed of in landfills, or upon the landscape. The carbon footprint of a simple plastic beverage container is enormous. And you would condemn those who would suggest we instead just turn on the tap and take advantage of an infrastructure that is already extant? Under what authority do you speak as an “environmentalist”?

And if the American Beverage Association is truly concerned with the “substantive concerns of families”, how can you, in good conscience, support a bottled water industry that financially rapes the consumer while earning obscene profits from something that should be virtually free?

Shame on you.

Sincerely,

Tim Campion
Santa Rosa, CA

Monday, June 23, 2008

Forget About Freedom and Democracy...

Whenever you hear George W. Bush or anyone else in his Administration speak about "freedom", "democracy" or "terrorism", the red flags should be springing up. It's all code, all a euphemism for expansion of U.S. hegemony and corporate interests. The same kind of exploits we saw at the opening of the 20th century, but on a far grander and more audacious scale. We've endured this latest magic show for nearly eight years, and we should all have it memorized by now.

These people, the true elitists, through their actions, express utter contempt and disregard for humanity and are concerned only with the expansion of their own personal power and wealth. (What a sick joke to label Barack Obama "elitist"; like the rest of us, he is helplessly manipulated by the "true elites".)

This morning, I watched our (latest) Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, warn Iran about its "nuclear aspirations":
"Iran has to—the government has to recognize that the international community takes this issue very seriously and that there will have to be further measures, if they continue to be in defiance of an international community."
Who is this person? A simple search of the internet reveals quite a story. Afghan Sunni Muslim. Staunch neoconservative and militant. Closely associated with Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Ahmed Chalabi, Scooter Libby, Charles Krauthammer. Charter signatory to "The Project for the New American Century". Former UNOCAL adviser for the trans-Afghanistan pipeline. Connections with the Taliban. Signer of a letter to President Clinton calling for the forcible overthrow of Saddam Hussein. And those are just the things listed in the public domain.

This person represents the American people at the U. N.? I would say not.

The following article by Eric Margolis recaps much of what we have all heard. Yet it bears repeating. It is important to see how every new little piece of information that leaks out fits into the puzzle - and for those paying attention, it all fits so neatly. We Americans can be a dull, distracted, complacent people. It takes an occasional 2 x 4 to capture our attention. Our "leaders" rely on that dullness and distraction. They count on our disengagement. For years they have pursued a very personal, and elitist agenda.

While we are distracted by the magic show, their hands slip ever deeper into our pockets.

***

AT LAST, SOME TRUTH ABOUT IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN


by Eric Margolis

PARIS - After a sea of lies and a tsunami of propaganda, the ugly truth behind the Iraq and Afghanistan wars finally emerged into full view this week.

Four major western oil companies, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Total, are about to sign US-brokered no-bid contracts with the US-installed Baghdad regime to begin exploiting Iraq’s oil fields. Saddam Hussein had kicked these firms out three decades ago when he nationalized Iraq’s foreign-owned oil industry for the benefit of Iraq’s national development. The Baghdad regime is turning back the clock. Read more
This agreement comes as talks are continuing between the Washington and its Baghdad client regime over future US basing rights in Iraq. After some face-saving Iraqi objections, it is expected that Baghdad will sign a compact with Washington giving US forces control of Iraq and its air space in a manner very similar to Great Britain’s colonial arrangement with Iraq.

Interestingly, the same oil companies that used to exploit Iraq when it was a British colony are now returning. As former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently admitted, the Iraq war was all about oil. VP Dick Cheney stated in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq was about oil, and for the sake of Israel.

Meanwhile, according to Pakistani and Indian sources, Afghanistan just signed a major deal to launch a long-planned, 1680 km long pipeline project expected to cost $ 8 billion. If completed, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) will export gas and, later, oil from the Caspian Basin to Pakistan’s coast where tankers will transport it to the west.

The Caspian Basin located under the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakkstan, holds an estimated 300 trillion cubic feet of gas and 100-200 billion barrels of oil. Securing the world’s last remaining known energy Eldorado is strategic priority for the western powers. China can only look on with envy.

But there are only two practical ways to get gas and oil out of land-locked Central Asia to the sea: through Iran, or through Afghanistan to Pakistan. For Washington, Iran is tabu. That leaves Pakistan, but to get there, the planned pipeline must cross western Afghanistan, including the cities of Herat and Kandahar.

In 1998, the Afghan anti-Communist movement Taliban and a western oil consortium led by the US firm Unocal signed a major pipeline deal. Unocal lavished money and attention on Taliban, flew a senior delegation to Texas, and also hired an minor Afghan official, one Hamid Karzai.

Enter Osama bin Laden. He advised the unworldly Taliban leaders to reject the US deal and got them to accept a better offer from an Argentine consortium, Bridas. Washington was furious and, according to some accounts, threatened Taliban with war.

In early 2001, six or seven months before 9/11, Washington made the decision to invade Afghanistan, overthrow Taliban, and install a client regime that would build the energy pipelines. But Washington still kept up sending money to Taliban until four months before 9/11 in an effort to keep it `on side’ for possible use in a war or strikes against Iran.

The 9/11 attacks, about which Taliban knew nothing, supplied the pretext to invade Afghanistan. The initial US operation had the legitimate objective of wiping out Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. But after its 300 members fled to Pakistan, the US stayed on, built bases – which just happened to be adjacent to the planned pipeline route – and installed former Unocal `consultant’ Hamid Karzai as leader.

Washington disguised its energy geopolitics by claiming the Afghan occupation was to fight `Islamic terrorism,’ liberate women, build schools, and promote democracy. Ironically, the Soviets made exactly the same claims when they occupied Afghanistan from 1979-1989. The cover story for Iraq was weapons of mass destruction, Saddam’s supposed links to 9/11, and promoting democracy.

Work will begin on the TAPI once Taliban forces are cleared from the pipeline route by US, Canadian and NATO forces. As American analyst Kevin Phillips writes, the US military and its allies have become an `energy protection force.’

From Washington’s viewpoint, the TAPI deal has the added benefit of scuttling another proposed pipeline project that would have delivered Iranian gas and oil to Pakistan and India.

India’s energy needs are expected to triple over the next decade to 8 billion barrels of oil and 80 million cubic meters of gas daily. Delhi, which has its own designs on Afghanistan and has been stirring the pot there, is cock-a-hoop over the new pipeline plan. Russia, by contrast, is grumpy, having hoped to monopolize Central Asian energy exports.

Energy is more important than blood in our modern world. The US is a great power with massive energy needs. Domination of oil is a pillar of America’s world power. Afghanistan and Iraq are all about control of oil.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

George W.'s "To Do" List



Only 212 days to go. He's going to be a busy boy!
  • Bomb Iran (need to get moving on this one)
  • Anything left to bomb in North Korea?
  • Secure 58 permanent military bases in Iraq (getting close!)
  • Iraq resource "sharing" agreements for ExxonMobil, BP, Shell
  • Drill ANWR - Crush those enviro-bastards! (Chuckchi Sea leases complete)
  • Check on threats to humans from excessive Polar Bear populations
  • Sell oil leases along CA and FL coasts (damn Democrats. And what's up with Arnold?)
  • EPA/NASA/NOAA - need that "Hidden Benefits of CO2 Emissions" report ASAP!
  • Assure protection of Afghanistan's opium crops (in progress)
  • Establish independent state for OBL/Al Qaeda on Afghan-Pakistani frontier (give them Kashmir?)
  • Arrange for the further misplacement of nuclear warheads (John could use the security card)
  • Transfer Federal Prisons and border security to Blackwater (check with WH counsel on talking points)
  • Work the Chavez-Iran terror link in Venezuela
  • Work the Correa-FARQ terror link in Ecuador
  • Work the Morales-Communist angle in Bolivia
  • Bob - isn't there something we can do about the Castros?
  • Work the AFRICOM defending our interests in Africa angle
  • Relocate Palestinians (Sudan? Zimbabwe?)
  • Send more hardware to Colombia to protect the coca crop (in progress)
  • Get with John on the number of nukular plants needed - Arctic may be good location
  • Have Dick polish up the "clean coal" initiative - Wyoming and West Virginia need guarantees
  • Any more Rocky Mountain or Red Rock Country oil leases left to hand out?
  • "Disappear" remaining Guantanamo detainees to black sites
  • Draft Presidential Pardons for all likely targets
  • Karl - campaign manager for Jenna? (depending on Rapture)
  • Make sure my 100,000-acre Paraguay property is move-in ready
  • Nestle - how much for exclusive access to Guarani Aquifer?
  • Lula - how's golf in the Amazon?
  • Sell puny Crawford ranch (but don't tell Cindy Sheehan - ha, ha, ha)
  • Rapture party supplies
  • Party guest list
  • Reserve Air Force 1 and 2 (check with JC on dates)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Snapple "Real Fact" #154



"Americans spend more than $630 million a year on golf balls."

If we simply followed the example of our esteemed President George W. Bush, and give up our golf habit, imagine the positive impact on the planet! Habitats preserved, water conserved; fewer fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in the water supply; precious metals and composites used for more useful purposes; fewer vehicles, mowers and plastics buried in the ground; less sweat shop golf attire, fewer flights to exotic locales injecting CO2 into the upper atmosphere, reduced petroleum demand, reduced mining impacts, more efficient urban and suburban land use, greater public access to coastlines and other scenic areas. Imagine a world without golf. If George can, anyone can!

I know. I'm a heretic. Especially after Tiger Woods's incredible performance at the U.S. Open. But hey! Maybe we can all just sit back and watch Tiger on our plasma TVs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Robert Mondavi Passes



On May 16th, a month shy of his 95th birthday, the legendary wine industry icon Robert Mondavi passed away. As many have commented, this marks the end of an era. Mondavi was instrumental in re-introducing California wines to the world stage. (They had been internationally well-regarded prior to Prohibition.) This man LIVED wine. I never met a more passionate proponent of wine as "part of a gracious way of living."

In 1966, after departing his family's Charles Krug Winery, he founded the Robert Mondavi Winery. I first became aware of Mondavi wines in the mid-70s; these were some of the first wines I ever appreciated. (The first was Charles Krug Chenin Blanc!) Within a few years, I was a steady customer (his wines still affordable on my pauper's budget.) My wedding dinner in 1981 featured an all Mondavi line-up: 1973 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 1976 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1978 Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling.

In the mid-80s, while living in Southern California, I called the winery to ask if Mr. Mondavi recalled a winemaker who had been a consultant for him in the 70s. An assistant said she would inquire.

Soon after, I was awakened by the phone early one morning. "Mr. Mondavi would like to speak with you." I was groggy and dumbfounded, but managed to recall the "burning questions", which he happily answered. I was amazed that someone who was so busy would take the time to personally answer a casual inquiry.

In 1986, I learned Tom Conry, Mondavi's purchasing manager, was retiring. I applied for the position, one of 125 candidates, and was interviewed by the winery's human resources director, who had traveled to Southern California to meet candidates. I didn't get the job.

It took another ten years to finally land a position at Mondavi, and a few more to become the Purchasing Manager. By then, Mondavi was one of the World's largest wineries and the wine industry landscape transformed. Since 1993, Mondavi had been publicly owned, and Wall Street was exerting an ever stronger influence over decision-making.

Mr. Mondavi's generosity and lavish celebrations and parties met with disapproval from outsiders who failed to appreciate the culture of the industry and the loyalty the Mondavi name elicited. Eventually, the Mondavi family was pressured to step down and the "merger and acquisition mechanics" moved in to position the corporation, in part or in whole, for sale. When drinks behemoth Constellation Brands took an interest in 2004, the Mondavi Family had little option but to accept the offer on the table. With the sale, I moved on down the road, literally.

Beyond all the drama I experienced during the final nine years of the Robert Mondavi Corporation, was an underlying appreciation of the experience. I still look back in wonder at how approachable Mr. Mondavi was. You could be a tasting room visitor who bumps into him as he hurried off to an appointment, but he would still engage you and talk about the wines you had just sampled. Each person was important.

And in a world where corporate secrecy is seen as a key to a competitive edge, Mondavi was remarkably open and altruistic when it came to sharing information with the industry at large. Until the Wall Street focus on "earnings per share" undermined funding, research and education was a Robert Mondavi Winery hallmark.

I was honored to know the legend.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Al Gore Endorses Barack Obama



When John McCain speaks of change, I sense that he doesn't really understand the concept. It somehow eludes him. In Obama's campaign, there is a genuine ground swell, and Al Gore knows this. I hope that in an Obama presidency Gore will find an audience for his many creative ideas for healing this planet.

"This Land is Their Land"

by Barbara Ehrenreich

June 11, 2008

This article appeared in the June 30, 2008 edition of The Nation.

This essay is adapted from Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book, This Land Is Their Land: Notes from a Divided Nation (Metropolitan).

I took a little vacation recently--nine hours in Sun Valley, Idaho, before an evening speaking engagement. The sky was deep blue, the air crystalline, the hills green and not yet on fire. Strolling out of the Sun Valley Lodge, I found a tiny tourist village, complete with Swiss-style bakery, multistar restaurant and "opera house." What luck--the boutiques were displaying outdoor racks of summer clothing on sale! Nature and commerce were conspiring to make this the perfect micro-vacation.

But as I approached the stores things started to get a little sinister--maybe I had wandered into a movie set or Paris Hilton's closet?--because even at a 60 percent discount, I couldn't find a sleeveless cotton shirt for less than $100. These items shouldn't have been outdoors; they should have been in locked glass cases.

Then I remembered the general rule, which has been in effect since sometime in the 1990s: if a place is truly beautiful, you can't afford to be there. All right, I'm sure there are still exceptions--a few scenic spots not yet eaten up by mansions. But they're going fast. Read more
About ten years ago, for example, a friend and I rented a snug, inexpensive one-bedroom house in Driggs, Idaho, just over the Teton Range from wealthy Jackson Hole, Wyoming. At that time, Driggs was where the workers lived, driving over the Teton Pass every day to wait tables and make beds on the stylish side of the mountains. The point is, we low-rent folks got to wake up to the same scenery the rich people enjoyed and hike along the same pine-shadowed trails.

But the money was already starting to pour into Driggs--Paul Allen of Microsoft, August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch, Harrison Ford--transforming family potato farms into vast dynastic estates. I haven't been back, but I understand Driggs has become another unaffordable Jackson Hole. Where the wait staff and bed-makers live today I do not know.

I witnessed this kind of deterioration up close in Key West, Florida, where I first went in 1986, attracted not only by the turquoise waters and frangipani-scented nights but by the fluid, egalitarian social scene. At a typical party you might find literary stars like Alison Lurie, Annie Dillard and Robert Stone, along with commercial fishermen, waitresses and men who risked their lives diving for treasure (once a major blue-collar occupation). Then, at some point in the '90s, the rich started pouring in. You'd see them on the small planes coming down from Miami--taut-skinned, linen-clad and impatient. They drove house prices into the seven-figure range. They encouraged restaurants to charge upward of $30 for an entree. They tore down working-class tiki bars to make room for their waterfront "condotels."

Of all the crimes of the rich, the aesthetic deprivation of the rest of us may seem to be the merest misdemeanor. Many of them owe their wealth to the usual tricks: squeezing their employees, overcharging their customers and polluting any land they're not going to need for their third or fourth homes. Once they've made (or inherited) their fortunes, the rich can bid up the price of goods that ordinary people also need--housing, for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaires' horse farms displace rural Americans into trailer homes. Similarly, the rich can easily fork over annual tuitions of $50,000 and up, which has helped make college education a privilege of the upper classes.

There are other ways, too, that the rich are robbing the rest of us of beauty and pleasure. As the bleachers in stadiums and arenas are cleared to make way for skybox "suites" costing more than $100,000 for a season, going out to a ballgame has become prohibitively expensive for the average family. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, superrich collectors have driven up the price of artworks, leading museums to charge ever rising prices for admission.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the Pew Research Center finds happiness to be unequally distributed, with 50 percent of people earning more than $150,000 a year describing themselves as "very happy," compared with only 23 percent of those earning less than $20,000. When nations are compared, inequality itself seems to reduce well-being, with some of the most equal nations--Iceland and Norway--ranking highest, according to the UN's Human Development Index. We are used to thinking that poverty is a "social problem" and wealth is only something to celebrate, but extreme wealth is also a social problem, and the superrich have become a burden on everyone else.

If Edward O. Wilson is right about "biophilia"--an innate human need to interact with nature--there may even be serious mental health consequences to letting the rich hog all the good scenery. I know that if I don't get to see vast expanses of water, 360-degree horizons and mountains piercing the sky for at least a week or two of the year, chronic, cumulative claustrophobia sets in. According to evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff, the need for scenery is hard-wired into us. "People like to be on a hill, where they can see a landscape. And they like somewhere to go where they can not be seen themselves," she told Harvard Magazine last year. "That's a place desirable to a predator who wants to avoid becoming prey." We also like to be able to see water (for drinking), low-canopy trees (for shade) and animals (whose presence signals that a place is habitable).

Ultimately, the plutocratic takeover of rural America has a downside for the wealthy too. The more expensive a resort town gets, the farther its workers have to commute to keep it functioning. And if your heart doesn't bleed for the dishwasher or landscaper who commutes two to four hours a day, at least shed a tear for the wealthy vacationer who gets stuck in the ensuing traffic. It's bumper to bumper westbound out of Telluride, Colorado, every day at 5, or eastbound on Route 1 out of Key West, for the Lexuses as well as the beat-up old pickup trucks.

Or a place may simply run out of workers. Monroe County, which includes Key West, has seen more than 2,000 workers leave since the 2000 Census, a loss the Los Angeles Times calls "a body blow to the service-oriented economy of a county with only 75,000 residents and 2.25 million overnight visitors a year." Among those driven out by rents of more than $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment are many of Key West's wait staff, hotel housekeepers, gardeners, plumbers and handymen. No matter how much money you have, everything takes longer--from getting a toilet fixed to getting a fish sandwich at Pepe's.

Then there's the elusive element of charm, which quickly drains away in a uniform population of multimillionaires. The Hamptons had their fishermen. Key West still advertises its "characters"--sun-bleached, weather-beaten misfits who drifted down for the weather or to escape some difficult situation on the mainland. But the fishermen are long gone from the Hamptons and disappearing from Cape Cod. As for Key West's characters--with the traditional little conch houses once favored by shrimpers flipped into million-dollar second homes, these human sources of local color have to be prepared to sleep with the scorpions under the highway overpass.

In Telluride even a local developer is complaining about the lack of affordable housing. "To have a real town," he told the Financial Times, "Telluride needs some locals hanging out"--in old-fashioned diners, for example, where you don't have to speak Italian to order a cup of coffee.

When I was a child, I sang "America the Beautiful" and meant it. I was born in the Rocky Mountains and raised, at various times, on the coasts. The Big Sky, the rolling surf, the jagged, snowcapped mountains--all this seemed to be my birthright. But now I flinch when I hear Woody Guthrie's line "This land was made for you and me." Somehow, I don't think it was meant to be sung by a chorus of hedge-fund operators.
(I have seen this trend everywhere I have traveled, not only in the United States.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

There You Go Again With That "Succeeding" Stuff



(Part 2 of this commentary.)

I suspect John McCain would be hard-pressed to find many Iraqis who agree with his assessment. Five years after "liberation" and "mission accomplished", overall conditions in Iraq are still far worse than anything seen during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

(I know, Olbermann is full of bombast, but he often reveals the obvious which, it seems, must be pounded into the brains of most of us Americans before we let out an enlightened "duh!")

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kucinich Introduces Articles of Impeachment

Yesterday, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) called for the impeachment of George W. Bush. He introduced the following 35 articles of impeachment. Read more
Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio
In the United States House of Representatives
Monday, June 9th, 2008
A Resolution

INDEX
Article I

Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq.

Article II

Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression.

Article III

Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War.

Article IV

Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States.

Article V

Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression.

Article VI

Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114.

Article VII

Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.

Article VIII

Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter.

Article IX

Failing to Provide Troops With Body Armor and Vehicle Armor

Article X

Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes

Article XI

Establishment of Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Iraq

Article XII

Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation's Natural Resources

Article XIII

Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries

Article XIV

Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency

Article XV

Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq

Article XVI

Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors

Article XVII

Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives

Article XVIII

Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy

Article XIX

Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to "Black Sites" Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture

Article XX

Imprisoning Children

Article XXI

Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government

Article XXII

Creating Secret Laws

Article XXIII

Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act

Article XXIV

Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment

Article XXV

Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens

Article XXVI

Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements


Article XXVII

Failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas and Instructing Former Employees Not to Comply

Article XXVIII

Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice

Article XXIX

Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Article XXX

Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare

Article XXXI

Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency

Article XXXII

Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change

Article XXXIII

Repeatedly Ignored and Failed to Respond to High Level Intelligence Warnings of Planned Terrorist Attacks in the US, Prior to 911.

Article XXXIV

Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001

Article XXXV

Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders


The details of each of these articles may be found at Democrats.com.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Supercapitalism: the Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life

In his excellent book, Robert Reich traces the evolution of the American economy from "democratic capitalism" of the post WWII era to the "supercapitalism" of today. The following appear among his concluding thoughts (p. 213-215).

"...beware of any politician or advocate who blames corporations and corporate executives for the negative consequences of supercapitalism, whether it be low or declining wages and benefits, job losses, widening inequality, loss of community, global warming, indecent products, or any other of the community voiced complaints. Corporate executives are responsible for obeying the laws, and should be held accountable for any illegality. But they cannot and should not be expected to do anything more. Their job is to satisfy their customers and thereby make money for their investors. If they fail to do this as well if not better than their rivals they will be penalized by consumers and investors who take their money elsewhere.

"Corporate executives are not engaged in a diabolical plot. The negative social consequences are the logical consequence of intensifying competition to give consumers and investors better and better deals. Those deals may require moving jobs abroad where they can be done at lower wages, substituting computers and software for people, or resisting unions. Or the deals may come at the expense of small retailers on Main Street who can't sell items at prices nearly as low, or at the expense of entire communities that lose a major employer who has to outsource abroad to remain competitive. The deals may may require the talents of celebrity CEOs who are paid like baseball stars. Or they may be at the expense of the earth's atmosphere. Good deals may depend on filling the air with gunk, filling the airwaves with sex and violence, or filling our stomachs with junk food. The deals may involve trampling human rights abroad or putting young children to work in Southeast Asia. As long as the deals are legal, and as long as they satisfy consumers and investors, corporations and their executives will pursue them.

"This doesn't make it right, but the only way to make it wrong - the only way to stop companies from giving consumers and investors good deals that depend on such moves - is to make them illegal. It is illogical to criticize companies for playing by the current rules of the game; if we want them to play differently, we have to change the rules.

"Companies are not interested in the public good. It is not their responsibility to be good. They may do good things to improve their brand image, so as to increase sales and profits. They will do profitable things that may happen to have socially beneficial side effects. But they will not do good things because they are considered to be good.

"Likewise, when corporate executives or their lobbyists and lawyers fight for certain political or judicial outcomes, do not believe a word they, their spokesmen, or their "experts" say about why the outcome they seek is in the public interest. Their only legitimate motive, again, is to satisfy consumers in order to make profits that will satisfy investors. The only reason they have for advocating a particular political or judicial outcome is to advance or protect their competitive position. The sole reason they have for claiming an outcome is in the public's interest is to gain public support for it as a means of increasing their political leverage to achieve it.

"I hope I've made it clear that you should also be skeptical of any politician who claims the public can rely on "voluntary" cooperation of the private sector to achieve some public purpose or goal. Corporations and their executives have no license to use shareholder money to accomplish public purposes. (Emphasis added.) They may "voluntarily" agree to donate money to a worthy cause, or to forbear from polluting the atmosphere, or to bring more jobs to a particular area - but only if the action is profitable, or if in so doing they burnish their public image and thus improve their bottom lines, or to forestall some new law or regulation that might impose a greater burden. But in the latter instances, such "voluntary" good deeds are likely to be limited and temporary, extending only insofar as the conditions that made such "voluntary" action pay off continue. In all such circumstances, you should ask why, if the public goal is so worthy, the politician is not seeking a law requiring the private sector to achieve it.

"In general, corporate responsibilities to the public are better addressed in the democratic process than inside corporate boardrooms. Reformers should focus on laws or regulations they seek to change, and mobilize the public around changing them."

Friday, June 06, 2008

A Whole School of Trout in the Milk: What We Already Know About Iraq From the People Who Launched the War

(In the final analysis, this article's summary of the road to war in Iraq may come closer to what the history books will eventually state than the "official narrative" constructed by the Administration over the past seven and a half years.)

Published on Friday, June 6, 2008 by CommonDreams.org.
by David Michael Green
Now that Scott McClellan — a member of the Bush inner circle dating back to Texas days — has come out of the closet, it becomes increasingly unimaginable how any of the true-believers can continue to truly believe. But they do.

One wonders what it would take to dissuade these folks from their faith-based politics and the belief that the war in Iraq was justified. Will they need Laura Bush to actually turn on her husband? What if George’s pastor came out and divulged that the president had broken down and confessed all, begging the lord’s forgiveness?

It’s unlikely even those would be sufficient. And anyhow, the White House would go into its standard defensive posture that it employs whenever this happens, describing the truth-teller as “sad,” lamenting his obvious psychological pathology without of course coming out and saying quite that, wondering aloud why he’s never spoken out before. Indeed, it’s a wonder that McClellan wasn’t better prepared for this completely scripted response to his revelations, especially as he had used it himself against Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. Read more
Anyhow, all the true believers watching Fox will continue to truly believe. As the mayhem of the Bush years dwindles into numbed, robotic destruction and the tragedy of once noble national aspirations not only ruined but now also forgotten, it becomes ever more painfully obvious why these folks cannot let go, no matter how compelling nor how broad the growing mountain of evidence.

They are simply frightened to death. Frightened of bad people, frightened of brown people, frightened of terrorist threats blown ridiculously out of proportion, frightened of existential meaningless, frightened of cosmic insignificance. And now, to that weighty pile, must be added this: They are so frightened of their own complicity in bringing death, disaster, destruction and ungodly sorrow to Iraq that they can now only resort to astonishing levels of self-delusion to maintain their sanity. At this point, I almost don’t blame them anymore. They were so lazy, so stupid, so callow, so mean-spirited, so prejudiced that they bought into a crime of epic (and epochal) proportions and can no longer imaginably bear taking responsibility for the damage they’ve produced. And yet, people continue to suffer and die. Every day spent still supporting the war out of fear or laziness or stupidity or any of the rest is another day’s additional responsibility, another oil tanker of blood poured on hands long ago soaked to the bone.

And that responsibility is grave indeed. We don’t know (because the White House doesn’t want us to know) how many Iraqis have perished for Mr. Bush’s Folly, but the best estimates are over one million. We know that almost five million have been turned into refugees. Combined, that is over one-fifth of this country’s population. We know that over 4,000 Americans have been sacrificed, with tens of thousands gravely wounded and uncounted more tens of thousands psychologically traumatized. We know that our country’s reputation has been shattered, and that we’ve spent our children’s future livelihoods to pay for it by borrowing from them, without even asking for the money. That is a very large load to bear, so now people are compounding their original sin with additional ones, because they are so frightened of what they’ve caused that they’d rather continue causing more of the same than confront their responsibility, even when a Scott McClellan comes along and sticks it in their face.

The truth is, though, we never needed McClellan’s revelations to begin with. Just a bit of simple logic, combined with even a small, half-filled pail of basic factual information would have rendered the war rationale absurd from the beginning, well before an invasion morphed into an occupation, which morphed then into a debacle. Saddam’s Iraq was no threat to anybody in 2003. I mean, how threatening can a guy be who has already lost control of two-thirds of his own airspace, while his citizens are dying of malnutrition by the hundreds of thousands from internationally-imposed sanctions? How scary can a country be, when it has neither attacked yours, nor threatened to? Whatever happened to the logic of deterrence, a mechanism that prevented an infinitely more powerful Soviet Union from attacking the US through forty years of cold war? Why was Saddam bad when he attacked his neighbors in Kuwait, but not when he did the same thing to Iran, with American support and encouragement? Why was he considered evil for using chemical weapons when we wanted to go to war against him, but not when he actually was doing it, during which time the very same people in the US government protected him from international rebuke? If we knew where the WMD were, why didn’t we just tell the inspectors where to look? Why was Iraq such a threat that the inspectors couldn’t be allowed to finish their work, which would have required only a month or two more time? If Saddam was already so threatening, wouldn’t invading his country be just the thing to trigger an attack by him, using his WMD? Weren’t we supposed to be fighting the people who did 9/11, not a country that had nothing whatever to do with that? Why was Iraq all of a sudden such an immediate and urgent threat in March of 2003, when it hadn’t been less than a year earlier? Why did nearly the whole rest of the world condemn this war of choice?

We could go on and on from there. But there isn’t really much point. Anyone who wanted to think through the implications of the Bush administration’s line on Iraq could have instantly realized that it was a load of crap, even before the subsequent revelations. Now, of course, we know even more about what happened, making the war an even more sadly ridiculous proposition. There are many examples of these post-hoc logical absurdities to add to the pre-war ones just described, but my favorite is the juxtaposition of the incredible urgency to attack Iraq (and Iran) over WMD development, while the administration continues to yawn over North Korea, the one country on their own embarrassingly juvenile “Axis of Evil” list (hey, which super-hero cartoon series did they pull that nonsense out of?) that actually did go nuclear on their watch.

To the logic and the facts, however, we also now have a large raft of testimony. Laura Bush may not yet have weighed in, though in many ways we’ve got even better than that. We have the voices of the architects themselves. We actually have Bush and Cheney and their PNAC cronies previewing the war and giving its real rationale. We have Wolfowitz and Card and Zelikow and Rove explaining the lies. We have Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neill witnessing them. We have Rumsfeld incriminating himself. We have the Downing Street Memos memorializing the process of deceit. And now we have McClellan confirming all of the above from within the inner circle.

I’m reminded, looking at the totality of this information, of Thoreau’s line about evidence. Remarking on the difficulty of definitively proving an allegation in many cases, he nevertheless noted that it can sometimes be done, notwithstanding even the fervent denials of the culprits. Suspecting his milkman of watering down the delivered product, Thoreau said, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”

When it comes to Iraq, there is a whole school of trout in the milk. And, yet, we’re not talking about circumstantial evidence here. We’re talking about confessions and direct witnessings of the crime. A forthright examination of this litany of evidence gives lie to the war from well before the invasion began, and does so merely by using the words of those who were there.

We can begin with the Project for a New American Century, which is such a who’s who of Bush administration officials that it became pretty much a euphemism for the administration itself, and its policies. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Bolton, Armitage, Abrams, Perle, Khalilzad, Zoellick — all of these and lots more were either members of PNAC or signatories to its most important documents.

The organization had agitated since its founding in 1998 for an invasion of Iraq, sending an open letter to Bill Clinton demanding just that in the name of American security, and calling for — as its name makes clear — a world dominated by American military power. Their real agenda is revealed in their own words: “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq [the no-fly zones following the Gulf War] provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” There’s a word for all that. It’s called empire. When they didn’t get their war in 1998, PNAC issued a report in 2000 under the guise of Rebuilding America’s Defenses, which sounded the same tune, calling again for the ouster of Saddam, and noting ominously that the “process of transformation” they were calling for in arming the country and making its foreign policy more belligerent, “is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor”.

When they got their new Pearl Harbor on September 11, 2001, they jumped immediately into action. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered his staff that very afternoon to get the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only OBL [Osama bin Laden]. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” At Camp David a few days later, Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke would find himself astonished to hear Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz arguing to attack Iraq — even though it had had nothing to do with 9/11 — because there were good bombing targets there, but few in Afghanistan. Clarke — a Republican who voted for Bush in 2000, and worked for the three previous presidents as well — also reported that during that same weekend, Bush pulled him aside and jabbed his chest, ordering him to find a link between 9/11 and Saddam. When he checked for a second time and could not produce one, Condoleeza Rice tossed his report back to him unread, telling him he wasn’t understanding what the boss wanted.

Outside the administration (but not really, since these were all essentially the same people), PNAC was arguing this same preposterous linkage: “Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.”

Meanwhile, Bush and Cheney themselves had long already been thinking about the benefits of a nice war in Iraq. Russ Baker reported what Bush had told his would-be autobiography ghostwriter (until they removed him from the job for being too forthright, showing up early one morning and demanding all the tapes and files from candid interviews done with Bush in 1999), family friend Mickey Herskowitz: “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade. if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”

Herskowitz also relates how the people around Bush viewed the lessons of contemporary history, including Reagan’s Grenada adventure, Thatcher’s Falklands War, and Carter’s mistake in not having one: “They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches.” Indeed, Herskowitz quotes Cheney as offering this formula for a successful presidency: “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.” Leaving aside the minor operational technicality that he forgot about actually winning the war, I cannot think of a single more cynically debased statement or concept I’ve encountered in my entire life. There are now over a million people dead because of the Iraq invasion. How does someone like Dick Cheney sleep at night knowing he has caused so much grief to so many innocent people? Are there really batteries strong enough to power the pacemaker needed to keep a heart like that beating? Or did he have a secret transplant at some point, and the surgeon’s assistant unknowingly grabbed the jar with the criminal sociopath’s heart in it for the operation?

We have further confirmation of the administration’s intentions from Paul O’Neill, another witness to history, who served as Bush’s first Treasury Secretary. O’Neill reports that “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go”, and that this was true from the very first day, well before 9/11. “From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill was surprised that no one in the administration ever questioned ‘why?’ or ‘why now?’ when considering this policy. “It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this’.” Ron Suskind, the author to whom O’Neill revealed all this, also obtained a Pentagon document from March 5, 2001, titled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts” (including a map of potential areas for exploration), which he said “talks about contractors around the world from, you know, 30 - 40 countries. And which ones have what intentions on oil in Iraq.”

Then there’s this, from Philip Zelikow, who served on Bush’s transition team, drafted the administration’s in-your-face national security policy built around preemptive war, was called in to shill as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and was sitting on the more-secret-than-top-secret President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board when he made these remarks at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002: “Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 — it’s the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.”

No doubt, Phil. Actually, it has long appeared that Israel was only one of multiple reasons neoconservatives had for invading Iraq. Of course, Alan Greenspan wrote that the war was transparently for oil, but he wasn’t inside the administration, and provided no evidence fo that conclusion. However, the very architect of the war himself, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, explained to Vanity Fair, only two months into the war that, “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason.” Of course that also means that, whatever they actually believed about the quantity of WMD possessed by Iraq, they didn’t really care that much about it. It was simply the agreed-upon mutual talking point for marketing purposes.

And marketing was certainly the game. Sorry, Dick Cheney, that you found the notion that the war was being politicized “reprehensible”. Cheney somehow forgets to mention that the war resolution suddenly became so urgent that it had to be voted on the month before the election of 2002, putting Democrats in an acute bind just one year after 9/11. No wonder they did that. People forget that the Bush administration was already tanking in its eight months in office before that day. And even after. Dick Morris wrote, as the 2002 election approached, “Polls show that only one issue works in Bush’s favor: terrorism.” Of course, we accidentally found out that this had long been part of Karl Rove’s agenda, as he briefed Republicans in Congress on the coming election, back in January 2002: “We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military and thereby protecting America.”

When Chief of Staff Andrew Card was asked why Iraq had all of a sudden become such an urgent issue out of the blue, he famously said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” That horrified a lot of people, and for good reason. But the real truth is far more cynical than the notion that they made strategic decisions about how to market their war. All presidents will do that, and should as well, if they’re selling a genuinely beneficial policy. The far deeper sin here was that this war was (meant to be) genuinely beneficial to Bush’s political career, his fragile ego, to oil companies, Israel, neoconservatives, Halliburton and Blackwater. Thus the whole marketing campaign was not about convincing people of the wisdom of a wise idea, but rather selling them on an abhorrent lie.

Then of course there are the Downing Street Memos and related revelations from the other side of the Pond, which expose emphatically — and have never been repudiated by either government — that the Bush administration had already decided on war by the time of the meetings the memos describe in July 2002, and indeed, had already even begun secret attacks by that moment. This is, of course, well before the Congressional resolution, well before the UN Security Council resolution that failed (despite, the memos reveal, Bush administration use of threats to Council member-states), and well before Bush was telling the American public how much he hoped to avoid war, if only the evil Saddam would just cooperate. The memos also reveal, crucially, that once the war policy was in place, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. Why doctor the facts? Because the architects of the war knew that “the case was thin”. Further, the documents show that Bush was contemplating schemes by which he could create a false pretext for war, since no WMD had been found by the weapons inspectors. These included painting a US surveillance plane in UN colors and hoping it would be attacked, or assassinating Saddam.

So now comes ol’ Scott McClellan, Bush’s former press secretary, telling us that the president employed a “political propaganda campaign” instead of telling the truth, in order to sell his “unnecessary war”, which he describes as a “serious strategic blunder” and a “grave mistake” sold on lies, “manipulating sources of public opinion” and “downplaying the major reason for going to war”.- According to McClellan, “Over that summer of 2002, top Bush aides had outlined a strategy for carefully orchestrating the coming campaign to aggressively sell the war”, “in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option”. He also tells us that Bush admitted to him that he had personally authorized the leak of Valerie Plame’s secret CIA identity, a clear act of treason intended to silence critics of the war.

Further, McClellan explains one of the reasons for the invasion: “The president had promised himself that he would accomplish what his father had failed to do by winning a second term in office. And that meant operating continually in campaign mode: never explaining, never apologizing, never retreating. Unfortunately, that strategy also had less justifiable repercussions: never reflecting, never reconsidering, never compromising. Especially not where Iraq was concerned.”

Never mind that McClellan apparently thinks that “never explaining, never apologizing, never retreating” somehow has a ‘more justifiable’ rationale if you’re a president going to war for the purposes of convincing yourself that you’re better than your father. And never mind that McClellan did so much to help sell this war. And never mind that his explanation for his change of heart rings completely bogus, or that, as press secretary, he savaged people like Richard Clarke who did what he himself did, only four years earlier, using almost exactly the same smear language that the White House and its marionettes trained on him. What ultimately matters is that he finally got it right and told the truth. Sure, many of us have been saying all these things for a long time, while people like Scott McClellan dismissed us as radical, America-hating, French-loving, treasonous underminers of the brave troops in Iraq. What matters now is that Scott McClellan was there, and adds proof positive of what happened.

So, imagine you’re a member of a jury. You can never know for sure about anything — only what the evidence tells you — but you have to make a decision one way or the other. We now have confirming evidence, all saying the same thing, in one form or another, from the president’s own Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Terrorism Czar, Press Secretary, Treasury Secretary, all the PNAC crowd, a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, his chief political strategist, along with documentary evidence from inside the administration. And then, of course, there are the President and the Vice President themselves, speaking candidly about their plans and the reasons for them.

Against that mountain of evidence we have Bush and Cheney, who have everything to lose by admitting these crimes, offering their fervent denials (at least when Mickey Herskowitz is not around) that they did anything untoward in invading Iraq. (Whew. For a minute there it looked like this might have been an overwhelmingly clear case.)

So what else, Dear Juror, could you possibly need to convict? A confession, perhaps? Actually, those were already given to Herskowitz prospectively, but if you need one after the fact, we can thank the Bush administration for teaching us how to obtain those. I would imagine that about a half-hour with those nice folks at Guantánamo would be quite sufficient to produce any statement you require from these chickenhawks.

And what should be the appropriate penalty, upon conviction, for this man who built his political career on the backs of indigent convicts on Texas’ busy death row, as a passionate practitioner of capital punishment?

What does it take, Dear Juror — Dear Ms. Pelosi, Dear Mr. Conyers, Dear Mr. Reid — for you to do what is necessary and what is right, even at this late date?

And, having failed so dramatically in doing your duty, with so much evidence on the table, how do you possibly get to sleep at night?David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

John McCain: A Most Un-Presidential Candidate



McCain sure has chutzpah, to co-opt Obama's tag-line ("Change We Can Believe In"), take to the air waves at the same moment Obama was securing the Democratic nomination, and then deliver such a miserably disingenuous, pandering and out-of-touch speech.

Here he reveals some unnerving disconnections that raise questions about the man's mental faculties. And he would be President?

I can tell you, a McCain victory would make South America look very appealing. (I might have to join my buddy G.W. down their at his Paraguayan sanctuary, where he - and hopefully I - will be immune from prosecution.)

(Temporary) New Wheels



While my bike is in the shop getting a new transmission, I have a chance to ride the BMW F800S, a belt-driven sport bike.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Somewhere in the Vermont Backwoods...



I called brother Jeff on "Skype" to see what he thought of Obama's victory. (This was the pose without the firearms.)