Friday, August 29, 2008

To Shrink Government So Much We Will Drown It In A Bathtub

Greg Anrig on Grover Norquist's "Leave Us Alone"
Conservative policy ideas have failed again and again. Who will tell the Grover?

A 2005 New Yorker profile aptly described Grover G. Norquist as the conservative coalition’s “ringleader, visionary, and enforcer.” As head of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform since 1985, Norquist relentlessly pushed disparate factions on the right to cooperate in electing Republicans at all levels of government and in killing the careers of politicians who dodged or broke his signature “no-new-taxes” pledge. Because Norquist’s ascent to power coincided with the conservative movement’s domination of American politics, when he speaks, everyone across the ideological spectrum listens.Norquist wrote his new book, Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives, to lay out his roadmap for his “Leave us Alone Coalition to continue its progress toward Jefferson’s vision of the self-reliant, independent American—toward a free society where everyone lives off the earnings of no man but himself.” But with the conservative era apparently on the verge of collapsing in November, Norquist’s book is more illuminating as a resource for understanding why his movement’s resounding political successes ended up producing such catastrophic failures of governance. The belief system built on hostility toward government that motivated Norquist and his followers left the public officials they elected with no effective ways to respond to challenges ranging from Hurricane Katrina to stagnating wages to the downward-spiraling health care system to tainted spinach to global warming and so on. Drowning government in a bathtub, to use Norquist’s characteristically blunt language, left the residents of New Orleans on their own when Katrina drowned their city. A large majority of Americans were appalled at what that looked like. Nowhere in his 333 pages of text does Norquist wrestle with the governing failures that knocked down the popularity ratings of President George W. Bush, whom Norquist enthusiastically supported through thick and thin, to historically low levels. Nor does Norquist offer anything other than the same policy ideas that Bush pursued, foremost among them tax cuts and curtailed regulation. Because Norquist’s mission is singularly focused on weakening government’s domestic capabilities, he doesn’t perceive what non-ideologues recognize as obvious failures to be anything other than distractions to be ignored or excused away. Good government still means virtually no government.Sometimes Norquist’s analysis is downright delusional, as when he applauds Bush’s failed proposal to privatize Social Security. He writes: “Bush turned a losing issue for Republicans—Social Security—into a winner. In 2000 and 2004, roughly 50-55 percent of Americans supported reforming Social Security to create personal savings accounts. This was turnaround from 1986 when the Republicans lost eight Senate seats and their Senate majority after discussing ‘reforming’ Social Security by reducing some benefits.” But after Bush proposed his privatization plan in 2005, and the public learned during the course of the debate how, mathematically, it would weaken their retirement security and greatly add to the national debt, support for the idea plummeted. Most other observers across the spectrum recognized that experience as disastrous for Republicans and one of the big reasons why they were clobbered in the 2006 Congressional elections. Norquist is more insightful as a political strategist than as a policy wonk, but even his framework for thinking about coalition-building in its own right illustrates another root cause of his movement’s inability to govern. He argues: “What matters in politics is the one issue that moves a citizen to vote for or against a candidate. The Leave Us Alone Coalition members…find themselves shoulder to shoulder working together for the same candidates and over time the same party because on the issue that moves each of their individual votes—not necessarily all or even most issues—what they want from the government is to be left alone.” Norquist identifies the subgroups of his coalition as focused above all on one of the following: lower taxes, less regulation of their small businesses, gun ownership, home schooling, or property rights. Others strong candidates for his team include “parents of faith who will fight to control what is taught to their children in their schools,” “the growing investor class,” and police, prison guards, the military and other employees of “properly limited government” who “play a role in protecting the life, liberty, and property of citizens.”Early in this decade, Norquist, his close friend Karl Rove, and their movement succeeded in gaining enough votes from that amalgamation of groups to deliver the presidency, the legislative branch, and the leadership of many state governments to Republicans. But what each of those groups and their members wanted, by Norquist’s own account, was nothing more than for government to stay out of some aspect of their lives. Issues that affect all Americans collectively – problems related to the economy, health care, the environment, energy, etc. -- don’t motivate the supporters of conservative politicians. In and of itself, that would help to explain why Republicans in office haven’t done much more than pay lip service to such matters, even though government in the past has succeeded in making progress in addressing precisely those kinds of collective challenges. Just keep talking about the virtues of home schooling, guns, school prayer, low taxes, and so forth, and the Leave Us Alone Coalition will keep on winning, Norquist believes, no matter how many Americans lose their health insurance.At the state level, Norquist and his activists have energetically campaigned across the country for rigid tax-and-spending limits, called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), like the one that Colorado’s voters approved in a 1992 referendum. Almost entirely because of its TABOR amendment, Colorado was forced to cut billions of dollars that would have financed public services, with the reductions becoming especially severe after the 2001 recession. Colorado – which has the 10th highest median income in the country – saw its national rankings with respect to a wide range of educational and health care measures plummet to the bottom 10 states alongside impoverished Mississippi and Alabama. For example, from 1992 to 2005, the portion of low-income children lacking health insurance doubled in Colorado even as it fell in the nation as a whole – dropping from the top half of the states to dead last. The ratio of teacher salaries to average private sector earnings also plummeted from the middle of the pack to 50th, with teacher shortages so acute that Denver sent letters home with students asking parents to serve as substitutes. In 2004, Colorado’s voters switched both houses of the state General Assembly from a Republican to Democratic majority; in 2005, they voted to suspend TABOR for five years; and the following year they replaced the Republican governor with a Democrat. Undaunted by those results – either the damage to Colorado’s public services or the unfavorable political outcomes – Norquist continues to argue as strenuously as ever that other states should implement TABOR amendments as well.With a similar day of reckoning rapidly approaching in November, Norquist remains emphatic about sticking to precisely the game plan that made him famous and his movement so successful up until now. At a recent discussion of his book, he said that notwithstanding the deep unpopularity of President Bush, “If center-right candidates articulate their positions correctly, they will win 60 percent of the vote just like Reagan did in 1984 and George H.W. Bush plus Perot in 1992.” The Republican presidential nominee John McCain appears to be listening, hewing to much the same domestic tax-cutting, government-slashing agenda that Norquist advocates. But for progressives, the lessons Norquist offers aren’t of the sort that we should try to emulate. Since our whole orientation is to try to make progress in addressing problems confronting society as a whole – to promote the common good -- trying to assemble potential supporters based on which single narrowly defined issue is most important to them undermines how we think about government and each other. Rather, the real value of Norquist’s book is to clarify what we want to defeat: an everyone-for-himself mindset that has caused so much damage to our country. Greg Anrig is vice president of policy at The Century Foundation and the author of The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing.
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This is the Week That Was

AL GORE Speaks out at the DNC....Oh, how eight years can change our perspectives!

August is Midsummer, at least in the southern climes of the Florida Keys. The month began on the heels of Hemingway Days, and Mel Fisher Days, and led right into the exhilarating Midsummer's Night Dream Salon Spectacle, held August 12th. Over 400 people joined in the celebration. Truly a Night to remember, as locals and over 60 artists made the night the highlight of the summer thus far. But the real heat of summer was to be found at the Democratic National Convention held in Denver this past week has really been not just a Mile High affair, but a watershed moment of political history. Barack Obama is the nominee, and Joe Biden as his running mate, with over 38 million people watching on the TV networks (and not even counting web or C-Span, which is where I watched it as I wanted to avoid the talking head histrionics). This is 20 million MORE than watched John Kerry accept his nomination in 2004. More than the Oscars, More than the opening ceremony for the Olympics in China. And even (shocking!) more than who watch American Idol! To be expected, much of the stagecraft is from central casting, full of pithy cliches, and fealty to a set of "values" espoused to ensure the party is unified, despite the acrimonious path to the final crown.

But I feverishly watched some of the so-called lesser lights, the minor leaguers, and even the hacks and pols who get their chance at history with a 5 minute speech, the state or local office-holders who are passionate about their concerns, the precinct captains from all over the great 50 states, union stalwarts, teachers, cops, the usual big tent the Democrats revel in, the diverse polyglot that make up the Democratic Party.
For a political junkie like me, who cut his teeth and bled on the alter of the Chicago 1968 convention, each quadrennial convention is a true exercise in bringing to focus the national identity, warts and all. The stagecraft is right from central casting, the usual bromides and blathering unabated - the best was when Barney Smith (a real person, who looked like, well, a Mid-western corn-fed Barney Fife), in his own reduced 5 minutes of fame, asserted the Bush gang had deserted him, for Smith Barney (of Wall Street ignomy).
But I wanted to hear Al Gore speak, the man who of course WAS elected President in 2000, only to have a coup, executed by the handmaidens of the Supreme Court wrest it from him. Here is his speech. Read and you cannot help but feel how history has been robbed, even raped by cycnical, corrupt, and evil people - Bush and his gang of neo-con enablers. The future now is in our hands once again, as an act of true faith, not in the sanctity of a religious church, but of the American experiment in this noble thing we call democracy. Of course, we can also be cynical and say our vote doesn't matter. Or, that Obama isn't enough of this or that, a centrist, even, or just another patsy for the true lords of our culture, whether they be bankers, brokers, or barons of industy. But, Al Gore, who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting at the Sundance Film Festival when he was premiering his award-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, had a lot to say in his extended comments prior to Obama coming onstage to accept the nomination. Here is the transcript: - MS
One of the greatest gifts of our democracy is the opportunity it offers us every four years to change course.
It's not a guarantee – it's only an opportunity.
The question facing us is, simply put, will we seize this opportunity for change?
That's why I came here tonight: to tell you why I feel so strongly that we must seize this opportunity to elect Barack Obama President of the United States.
Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn't really matter who became President.
Our nation was enjoying peace and prosperity. Some assumed we would continue both no matter the outcome. But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn't matter.
Take it from me, if it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq, we would have pursued Bin Laden until we captured him.
We would not be facing a self-inflicted economic crisis, we would be fighting for middle income families.
We would not be showing contempt for the Constitution, we'd be protecting the rights of every American regardless of race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
And we would not be denying the climate crisis, we'd be solving it.
Today, we face essentially the same choice we faced in 2000, though it may be even more obvious now – because John McCain, a man who has earned our respect on many levels, is now openly endorsing the policies of the Bush-Cheney White House and promising to actually continue them, the same policies all over again?
Hey, I believe in recycling, but that's ridiculous.
With John McCain's support, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have led our nation into one calamity after another because of their indifference to fact; their readiness to sacrifice the long-term to the short-term, subordinate the general good to the benefit of the few, and short-circuit the rule of law.
If you like the Bush/Cheney approach, John McCain's your man. If you want change, then vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Barack Obama is telling us exactly what he will do: launch a bold new economic plan to restore America's greatness. Fight for smarter government that trusts the market, but protects us against its excesses. Enact policies that are pro-choice, pro-education, and pro-family. Establish a foreign policy that is smart as well as strong. Provide health care for all and solutions for the climate crisis.
So why is this election so close?
Well, I know something about close elections, so let me offer you my opinion.
I believe this election is close today mainly because the forces of the status quo are desperately afraid of the change Barack Obama represents.
There is no better example than the climate crisis. As I have said for many years throughout this land, we're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the future of human civilization. Every bit of that has to change.
Oil company profits have soared to record levels, gasoline prices have gone through the roof and we are more dependent than ever on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. Many scientists predict that the entire North Polar ice cap may be completely gone during summer months in the first term of the next President. Sea levels are rising, fires are raging, storms are stronger. Military experts warn us our national security is threatened by massive waves of climate refugees destabilizing countries around the world, and scientists tell us the very web of life is endangered by unprecedented extinctions.
We are facing a planetary emergency which, if not solved, would exceed anything we've ever experienced in the history of humankind.
In spite of John McCain's past record of open mindedness on the climate crisis, he has apparently now allowed his party to browbeat him into abandoning his support of mandatory caps on global warming pollution.
And it just so happens that the climate crisis is intertwined with the other two great challenges facing our nation: reviving our economy and strengthening our national security. The solutions to all three require us to end our dependence on carbon-based fuels.
Instead of letting lobbyists and polluters control our destiny, we need to invest in American innovation. Almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison said, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
We already have everything we need to use the sun, the wind, geothermal power, conservation and efficiency to solve the climate crisis – everything, that is, except a president who inspires us to believe, "Yes we can."
So how did this no-brainer become a brain-twister?
Because the carbon fuels industry – big oil and coal – have a 50-year lease on the Republican Party and they are drilling it for everything it's worth. And this same industry has spent a half a billion dollars this year alone trying to convince the public they are actually solving the problem when they are in fact making it worse every single day.
This administration and the special interests who control it lock, stock, and barrel after barrel, have performed this same sleight-of-hand on issue after issue. Some of the best marketers have the worst products; and this is certainly true of today's Republican party.
The party itself has on its rolls men and women of great quality. But the last eight years demonstrate that the special interests who have come to control the Republican Party are so powerful that serving them and serving the national well-being are now irreconcilable choices.
So what can we do about it?
We can carry Barack Obama's message of hope and change to every family in America. And pledge that we will be there for Barack Obama – not only in the heat of this election, but in the aftermath as we put his agenda to work for our country.
We can tell Republicans and Independents, as well as Democrats, why our nation needs a change from the approach of Bush, Cheney and McCain.
After they wrecked our economy, it is time for a change.
After they abandoned the search for the terrorists who attacked us and redeployed the troops to invade a nation that did not attack us, it's time for a change.
After they abandoned the American principle first laid down by General George Washington when he prohibited the torture of captives because it would bring, in his words, "shame, disgrace and ruin" to our nation, it's time for a change.
When as many as three Supreme Court justices could be appointed in the first term of the next president, and John McCain promises to appoint more Scalias and Thomases and end a woman's right to choose, it's time for a change.
Many people have been waiting for some sign that our country is ready for such change. How will we know when it's beginning to take hold? I think we might recognize it as a sign of such change if we saw millions of young people getting involved for the first time in the political process.
This election is actually not close at all among younger voters – you are responding in unprecedented numbers to Barack Obama's message of change and hope. You recognize that he represents a clean break from the politics of partisanship and bitter division. You understand that the politics of the past are exhausted and you're tired of appeals based on fear. You know that America is capable of better than what you have seen in recent years. You are hungry for a new politics based on bipartisan respect for the ageless principles embodied in the United States Constitution.
There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon awakening to the challenge of a present danger, shaking off complacency to rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of embracing change.
A century and a half ago, when America faced our greatest trial, the end of one era gave way to the birth of another. The candidate who emerged victorious in that election is now regarded by most historians as our greatest president.
Before he entered the White House, Abraham Lincoln's experience in elective office consisted of eight years in his state legislature in Springfield, Illinois and one term in Congress – during which he showed the courage and wisdom to oppose the invasion of another country that was popular when it started but later condemned by history.
The experience Lincoln's supporters valued most in that race was his powerful ability to inspire hope in the future at a time of impasse. He was known chiefly as a clear thinker and a great orator with a passion for justice and a determination to heal the deep divisions of our land. He insisted on reaching past partisan and regional divides to exalt our common humanity.
In 2008, once again, we find ourselves at the end of an era with a mandate from history to launch another new beginning. And once again, we have a candidate whose experience perfectly matches an extraordinary moment of transition.
Barack Obama had the experience and wisdom to oppose a popular war based on faulty premises. His leadership experience has given him a unique capacity to inspire hope in the promise of the American dream of a boundless future.
His experience has also given him genuine respect for different views and humility in the face of complex realities that cannot be squeezed into the narrow compartments of ideology. His experience has taught him something that career politicians often overlook: that inconvenient truths must be acknowledged if we are to have wise governance.
The extraordinary strength of his personal character – and that of his wonderful wife, Michelle – are grounded in the strengths of the American community. His vision and his voice represent the best of America. His life experience embodies the essence of our motto -- e pluribus unum -- out of many, one.
That is the linking identity at the other end of all the hyphens that pervade our modern political culture. It is that common American identity – which Barack Obama exemplifies, heart and soul -- that enables us as Americans to speak with moral authority to all of the peoples of the world to inspire hope that we as human beings can transcend our limitations to redeem the promise of human freedom.
Late this evening, our convention will end with a benediction. As we bow in reverence, remember the words of the old proverb: "when you pray, move your feet."
Then let us leave here tonight and take the message of hope from Denver to every corner of our land and do everything we can to serve our nation, our world -- and most importantly, our children and their future -- by electing Barack Obama President of the United States.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Candidate We Still Don't Know

Frank Rich, The New York Times

As I went on vacation at the end of July, Barack Obama was leading John McCain by three to four percentage points in national polls. When I returned last week he still was. But lo and behold, a whole new plot twist had rolled off the bloviation assembly line in those intervening two weeks: Obama had lost the election! (John McCain during a commercial break at the forum on faith. (Photo: David McNew / Getty Images)

The poor guy should be winning in a landslide against the despised party of Bush-Cheney, and he's not. He should be passing the 50 percent mark in polls, and he's not. He's been done in by that ad with Britney and Paris and by a new international crisis that allows McCain to again flex his Manchurian Candidate military cred. Let the neocons identify a new battleground for igniting World War III, whether Baghdad or Tehran or Moscow, and McCain gets with the program as if Angela Lansbury has just dealt him the Queen of Hearts.

Obama has also been defeated by racism (again). He can't connect and 'close the deal' with ordinary Americans too doltish to comprehend a multicultural biography that includes what Cokie Roberts of ABC News has damned as the 'foreign, exotic place' of Hawaii. As The Economist sums up the received wisdom, 'lunch-pail Ohio Democrats' find Obama's ideas of change 'airy-fairy' and are all asking, 'Who on earth is this guy?'
It seems almost churlish to look at some actual facts. No presidential candidate was breaking the 50 percent mark in mid-August polls in 2004 or 2000. Obama's average lead of three to four points is marginally larger than both John Kerry's and Al Gore's leads then (each was winning by one point in Gallup surveys). Obama is also ahead of Ronald Reagan in mid-August 1980 (40 percent to Jimmy Carter's 46). At, which aggregates polls and gauges the electoral count, Obama as of Friday stood at 284 electoral votes, McCain at 169. That means McCain could win all 85 electoral votes in current toss-up states and still lose the election.
Yet surely, we keep hearing, Obama should be running away with the thing. Even Michael Dukakis was beating the first George Bush by 17 percentage points in the summer of 1988. Of course, were Obama ahead by 17 points today, the same prognosticators now fussing over his narrow lead would be predicting that the arrogant and presumptuous Obama was destined to squander that landslide on vacation and tank just like his hapless predecessor.
The truth is we have no idea what will happen in November. But for the sake of argument, let's posit that one thread of the Obama-is-doomed scenario is right: His lead should be huge in a year when the G.O.P. is in such disrepute that at least eight of the party's own senatorial incumbents are skipping their own convention, the fail-safe way to avoid being caught near the Larry Craig Memorial Men's Room at the Twin Cities airport.
So why isn't Obama romping? The obvious answer - and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it - is that the public doesn't know who on earth John McCain is. The most revealing poll this month by far is the Pew Research Center survey finding that 48 percent of Americans feel they're 'hearing too much' about Obama. Pew found that only 26 percent feel that way about McCain, and that nearly 4 in 10 Americans feel they hear too little about him. It's past time for that pressing educational need to be met.
What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image. As this fairy tale has it, the hero who survived the Hanoi Hilton has stood up as rebelliously in Washington as he did to his Vietnamese captors. He strenuously opposed the execution of the Iraq war; he slammed the president's response to Katrina; he fought the 'agents of intolerance' of the religious right; he crusaded against the G.O.P. House leader Tom DeLay, the criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their coterie of influence-peddlers.
With the exception of McCain's imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.
McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn't start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after 'Mission Accomplished.' By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn't get to New Orleans for another six months and didn't sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.
McCain long ago embraced the right's agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.)

On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCain's own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.
Though the McCain campaign announced a new no-lobbyists policy three months after The Washington Post's February report that lobbyists were 'essentially running' the whole operation, the fact remains that McCain's top officials and fund-raisers have past financial ties to nearly every domestic and foreign flashpoint, from Fannie Mae to Blackwater to Ahmad Chalabi to the government of Georgia. No sooner does McCain flip-flop on oil drilling than a bevy of Hess Oil family members and executives, not to mention a lowly Hess office manager and his wife, each give a maximum $28,500 to the Republican Party.
While reporters at The Post and The New York Times have been vetting McCain, many others give him a free pass. Their default cliché is to present him as the Old Faithful everyone already knows. They routinely salute his 'independence,' his 'maverick image' and his 'renegade reputation' - as the hackneyed script was reiterated by Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column last week. At Talking Points Memo, the essential blog vigilantly pursuing the McCain revelations often ignored elsewhere, Josh Marshall accurately observes that the Republican candidate is 'graded on a curve.'
Most Americans still don't know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail 'McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries' names wrong, forgets things he's said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused.' Most Americans still don't know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the press's previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.
To appreciate the discrepancy in what we know about McCain and Obama, merely look at the coverage of the potential first ladies. We have heard too much indeed about Michelle Obama's Princeton thesis, her pay raises at the University of Chicago hospital, her statement about being 'proud' of her country and the false rumor of a video of her ranting about 'whitey.' But we still haven't been inside Cindy McCain's tax returns, all her multiple homes or private plane. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that Hensley & Company, the enormous beer distributorship she controls, 'lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety,' in opposition to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The McCain campaign told The Times that Mrs. McCain's future role in her beer empire won't be revealed before the election.
Some of those who know McCain best - Republicans - are tougher on him than the press is. Rita Hauser, who was a Bush financial chairwoman in New York in 2000 and served on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the administration's first term, joined other players in the G.O.P. establishment in forming Republicans for Obama last week. Why? The leadership qualities she admires in Obama - temperament, sustained judgment, the ability to play well with others - are missing in McCain. 'He doesn't listen carefully to people and make reasoned judgments,' Hauser told me. 'If John says ‘I'm going with so and so,' you can't count on that the next morning,' she complained, adding, 'That's not the man we want for president.'
McCain has even prompted alarms from the right's own favorite hit man du jour: Jerome Corsi, who Swift-boated John Kerry as co-author of 'Unfit to Command' in 2004 and who is trying to do the same to Obama in his newly minted best seller, 'The Obama Nation.'
Corsi's writings have been repeatedly promoted by Sean Hannity on Fox News; Corsi's publisher, Mary Matalin, has praised her author's 'scholarship.' If Republican warriors like Hannity and Matalin think so highly of Corsi's research into Obama, then perhaps we should take seriously Corsi's scholarship about McCain. In recent articles at, Corsi has claimed (among other charges) that the McCain campaign received 'strong' financial support from a 'group tied to Al Qaeda' and that 'McCain's personal fortune traces back to organized crime in Arizona.'
As everyone says, polls are meaningless in the summers of election years. Especially this year, when there's one candidate whose real story has yet to be fully told.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Has America become Fascist?

by Sherwood Ross
Global Research, August 1, 2008
If it hasn’t gone the way of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, it sure is teetering on the brink. America is a nation in deepening crisis, a nation whose leaders repeatedly plunge their citizens into, and make them pay for, serial wars abroad, while stealing their liberties at home. USA has become a country that trashes its citizens (New Orleans), tortures its enemies (Abu Ghraib), threatens other nations with nuclear fire (Iran), flouts international treaties (UN Charter re Iraq), and spies on (FISA), and intimidates, its critics (No Fly). Americans that can clearly see the totalitarian machinations of Vladimir Putin in Russia and Hu Jintao in China are blind to the fascism threatening to envelop them as well.
Webster’s defines fascism as “a totalitarian governmental system led by a dictator and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism, militarism, and often racism.” A comparison of 20th century fascist and communist regimes with President Bush’s USA indicates the machinery for a full-blown totalitarian takeover is now in place, even if no coup has occurred. As Naomi Wolf writes in The End of America” (Chelsea Green) the 2007 Defense Authorization Bill’s Section 333 allows the president “to declare martial law and take charge of the National Guard troops without the permission of a governor when ‘public order’ has been lost…” and to “send the guard into our streets during a public health emergency, terrorist attack or ‘other condition.’”
The enabling crowbar was the Military Commissions Act of 2006. It gives the president authority to set up his own system for bringing alien combatants to trial while denying them protection of the Geneva Conventions. “The president and his lawyers now claim the authority to designate any American citizen he chooses as being an ‘enemy combatant,’” Wolf writes of power usurpation that characterized the post-World War One epoch in Europe and Asia.
Thus, Congress has empowered Bush just as Germany’s Reichstag empowered Hitler, Wolf writes, recalling Hitler’s boast, “Democracy will be overthrown with the tools of democracy.” Hitler’s Interior Minister issued Clause 2 that gave police the power to hold people in custody indefinitely and without a court order, powers the U.S. Congress today has conferred upon “The Decider” in the White House. Mussolini’s used the less grandiose “Il Duce” or “The Leader.”
According to Michael Ratner, director of the Center For Constitutional Rights, New York, “the president can…designate people enemy combatants and detain them for whatever reason he wants…there are no charges and prisoners have no lawyers, no family visits, no court reviews, no rights to anything, and no right to release until the mythical end to the ‘war on terror.’”
Wolf writes that dictators justify their usurpation of domestic liberties by raising the alarm of “terrorist” threats. Stalin, for example, used this very term in 1934 when he warned his public of a world-wide conspiracy by capitalists to overthrow the Soviet state. If there have been no mass arrests of native-born Americans it is only because the president has not chosen to exercise this authority. If you think it can’t happen to you, recall that in September of 2003 the Army arrested 36-year-old American-born Muslim chaplain James Yee, a West Point graduate, allegedly for “espionage and possibly treason”---but more likely for calling for better conditions for Gitmo inmates. Wolf wrote:
“He was blindfolded; his ears were blocked; he was manacled and then put into solitary confinement for 76 days; forbidden mail, television, or anything to read except the Koran. His family was not allowed to visit him. …His lawyers were told he would face execution. (But)Within six months, the U.S. government had dropped all criminal charges against Yee.” Yes, just as it has dropped charges against hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners earlier, men labeled by former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as “the worst of the worst” but against the overwhelming majority of whom the Bush regime apparently had no case whatever!
The treatment Yee got is typical of those who run afoul of the Bush regime: torture first, trial after…if there is a trial. And since his release, Yee has been denied his free speech right to discuss his ordeal---gagged by the Pentagon. Perhaps most incredible, even if a Guantanamo prisoner should be found innocent, the Pentagon says he might not be released anyway. This echoes Stalin’s practice of re-arresting Gulag prisoners after they had done their time. At one point, Stalin had eight million souls behind bars, even exceeding President Bush, currently the world’s Incarcerator-In-Chief.
Author Wolf says another danger flag is the creation of paramilitary groups, “aggressive men who have no clear, accountable relationship to the government or the party seeking power…” Mussolini had the blackshirts; Hitler the brownshirts; but whatever their dress, they were thugs. Wolf says that Moycock, N.C.-based Blackwater Worldwide stands ready “to deploy its unaccountable private army (35,000 men) in the U.S.---in the aftermath of natural disasters, and also in cases of ‘national emergency.’” With at least a half billion dollars in government contracts, “Blackwater is the world’s largest private security force, works closely with Halliburton, and is available for action outside the scrutiny of Congress,” Wolf writes. The outfit raked in $73 million for patrolling the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And Blackwater subcontractor Red Tactica, recruits former Chilean commandos,” men described by one Chilean sociologist that are “valued for their expertise in kidnapping, torturing and killing defenseless civilians,” Wolf wrote.
Besides creating such “security” forces, dictators create secret prisons, as Bush has done, ranging from prison ships in the Indian Ocean to dungeons in Poland, where they can hide them from Red Cross scrutiny, as the CIA has done. “We should worry about the men held at Guantanamo because history shows that stripping prisoners of their rights is intoxicating not only to leaders but to functionaries at every level of society,” Wolf writes. “Gitmo” is also an interrogation camp, an operation “that is completely and flatly illegal” and outlawed by the Geneva Conventions in 1949, she points out. Stalin also employed torture and in 1937 actually legalized its use in Soviet prisons. When he received his infamous “albums” with the names of those to be executed and imprisoned, next to some names he often wrote: “Beat! Beat! Beat!” And only months after taking power, Hitler “established a network of illegitimate prisons where torture took place” and where guards could murder inmates with “no chance of being punished,” Wolf said. And like Stalin, The Decider has signaled his henchmen beatings are now the American Way.
Dictators hold power by instilling fear in their citizens. Since 2000, Wolf writes there has been “a sharp increase in U.S. citizen groups that are being harassed and infiltrated by police and federal agents, often in illegal ways.” She pointed to a 2006 ACLU report that California police had infiltrated antiwar protests, political rallies, and other constitutionally protected gatherings and were secretly investigating them, even though the California state constitution forbids this. And prior to the 2004 Republican convention in New York, police department detectives infiltrated groups planning peaceful demonstrations. At the Federal level, Bush’s apparatchiks are compiling dossiers on law-abiding citizens. The Defense Department’s Talon program has created a database about peaceful antiwar and other groups and activists. As Jen Nessel of the Center for Constitutional Rights says, “We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model---you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we’re going to hold you.”
Bush regime actions’ today recall how the Gestapo, NKVD, Stasi (East German secret police) and Red China’s Politburo “all requisitioned private data such as medical, banking, and library records,” Wolf writes, because access to such private data “breaks down citizens’ sense of being able to act freely against those in power.” And although the Department of Homeland Security’s TIPS scheme to get letter carriers and meter readers, etc., to report suspicious activities was met with derision and never funded, the ACLU noted it was merely absorbed in the Pentagon’s “black budget.”
Privacy in America today as guaranteed by the Constitution is fast becoming a memory. The New York Times reported the government in 2005 was monitoring your e-mail and telephone talk without legal warrants and the following year the newspaper disclosed U.S. treasury officials, with CIA help, “were reviewing millions of private bank transactions without individual court-ordered warrants or subpoenas,” Wolf pointed out.
One method of intimidation is to limit a citizen’s right to travel freely. The Bush regime has created “watch”(75,000 names) and “no fly”(45,000 names) lists that restrict individuals’ air travel--and those searched and/or stopped from flying can complain all they like because it won’t do them any good. Robert Johnson, an American citizen, Wolf reports, described the humiliation factor of being strip searched when he attempted to board an airplane: “I had to take off my pants. I had to take off my sneakers, then I had to take off my socks. I was treated like a criminal.” This has now become a commonplace ordeal for thousands of Americans. Even at the height of World War Two, such invasions of personal rights would have been unthinkable.
Going back to Webster’s definition of fascism, USA today is the world’s runaway leader in “militarism.” Forty-three percent of all U.S. tax dollars in 2007 went to feed the war machine, as the Pentagon believes security depends on operating more than 700 military bases in 130 countries overseas in addition to 1,000 at home. Bush has escalated its budget so that USA now spends nearly as much on arms as all the rest of the world combined. Uncle Sam is also the No. 1 private arms peddler to the world. By contrast, Iran, portrayed by the White House as a menace to the Middle East, has an annual military budget that is 1/100th of the Pentagon’s outlay.
Perhaps it would be a good exercise for Americans to read how Hitler emphasized nationalism and militarism. As he wrote in “Mein Kampf”: “Instead of everlasting struggle the world preaches cowardly pacifism, and everlasting peace…There is only one right in this world and this right is one’s own strength.” As for “reconciliation, understanding, world peace, the League of Nations, and international solidarity---we destroy these ideas.” Hitler called for delivering Germans “from the hopeless confusion of international convictions” and educating them “consciously and systematically to fanatical nationalism.” Armed with such views the fascist state thinks nothing of starting an aggressive war based on lies. In 1939, Hitler claimed he was attacked by Poland, igniting World War Two. Bush claimed that Iraq had nuclear and biological weapons to destroy America when, in fact, it was the United States that possessed those very weapons and it was Iraq that had none.
Bush nonetheless started a seemingly endless war that has by some estimates to date killed more than 1 million Iraqis, wounded perhaps 2 million more, forced a like number from their homes, ravished their country and its economy, touched off a civil war, forced 1 million Iraqis into foreign exile, and killed and wounded 35,000 American troops. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the Iraq war “illegal” but Bush, like Hitler, cares nothing for international treaties, even if those the U.S. has signed under our Constitution are the supreme law of the land. He has made a mockery to the anti-nuclear treaty, causing former President Carter to charge his own country has become the leader in nuclear proliferation. What’s more, Bush has spent about $50 billion on germ warfare “defense” with no known significant foreign threat to USA.
Americans may think that Webster’s view that fascism is often accompanied by racism doesn’t fit them. Indeed, USA’s strides to eliminate racism based on color in the last century are a societal marvel. But racism against African Americans has largely been replaced with the foolhardy notion that Americans are better than everybody else in the world and have the authority to set right any ruler they believe is in error. This view of their own superiority echoes Hitler’s “master race” view of the German people or the Tokyo militarists’ view in 1940 that a superior Japan was destined to rule “the eight corners of the world.” In this sense, America is very “racist” indeed and the “aggressive nationalism” highlighted by Webster’s is apparent in the rhetoric of its public officials and the conduct of its foreign affairs.
Yet another characteristic of the fascist state is its leader’s use of arbitrary power. Note how Bush evades the will of Congress by tacking on “signing statements” to laws he doesn’t like, thus refusing to enforce them, putting himself above the will of Congress and the American people. Note how his aides refuse to respond to Congressional subpoenas to testify. Yet another example is how the Justice Department’s own internal investigators found Bush’s appointees filled nonpolitical posts with party hacks and then lied about what they had done. “Civil Service Laws Were Breached in Filling Nonpolitical Jobs” said a New York Times reported July 29th. It should be remembered Hitler followed a like policy when he purged Jews from their government posts. When tyrants rule, merit is ever subservient to loyalty.
Of course, Bush has not flung thousands of Americans into prison to torture and murder them as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin did, but he has the power to do so, making the latter half of 2008 a time of danger for Americans. Wolf writes, “At a point in both Mussolini’s and Hitler’s takeovers, citizens witnessed a stunning series of quickly escalating pronunciamentos or faits accomplis. After each leader made his bids for power beyond what the Italian parliament and the German Reichstag allowed him, each abruptly started to claim all kinds of new rights that were extra-parliamentary; the right unilaterally to go to war, to annex territory, to veto existing laws, or to overrule the judiciary,” etc.
To repeat the question, “Is America fascist?” the answer is that the machinery is in place for a totalitarian takeover at the direction of a tyrant. While it is true that the U.S. is not a one-party state (some will dispute this owing to the many similarities of the two major parties) like fascist Italy and Germany, and it does have free elections, for the first time in its history in 2000 and 2004 an ominous cloud of doubt has hung over the authenticity of the popular vote and a vast segment of the voting public today does not trust the election machinery to record their vote as they intend. There are no mass arrests and executions in the thousands and millions that typified the regimes of Hitler and Stalin (Stalin had 681,000 people executed in 1937-8 “Great Terror” alone); free speech still exists (under Stalin, a person could be imprisoned for making a Stalin joke); and the government has not put its leaden hand on business as Putin has done although crony capitalism in the selection of defense contractors is rampant. These vital distinctions set America apart from the totalitarian society. Yet, with each passing day in its “War on Terror” the Bush regime tightens its hold on the machinery to establish totalitarian rule here.
Americans need to keep in mind that worse than anything President Bush has inflicted upon its own citizenry is what its wars of aggression have inflicted on innocent humanity abroad. A million dead Iraqis can’t give a damn by what terminology you describe the United States. If the American people allow their government to make criminal wars to deprive innocent foreigners of their lives and liberties they do not deserve to enjoy either at home.
Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based writer who has worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, a columnist for wire services, a news director for a large civil rights organization, and as a publicist for colleges, labor unions and entrepreneurial start-ups. Reach him at Phone: 305-205-8281. The writer is indebted to Naomi Wolf for her book, “The End of America.” Ms. Wolf is cofounder of The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, New York, an organization that teaches young women how to assume leadership roles.)
Sherwood Ross is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The TRUE State of the US Economy shows 13.7% Unemployment

When Henry Paulson agreed to leave his job as chairman of the powerful Wall Street investment bank, Goldman Sachs to go to Washington as Treasury Secretary in 2006 he demanded extraordinary powers as de facto economic czar. He got it. Paulson is also head of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets -- the secretary of the treasury and the chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Working Group is the financial world's equivalent of the Pentagon war room. Paulson, not Fed chairman Bernanke, is the person running the Administration’s crisis management. And his recent actions indicate he has lost control as the snowballing problems from the semi-government mortgage companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to the collapse of the multi-trillion dollar market in Asset Backed Securities (ABS) to the real economy are compounding into the worst crisis since the 1930’s Great Depression.

‘The US banking system is sound.’In an eerie echo of President Herbert Hoover in 1930, during a Presidential campaign against Roosevelt, following the stock market crash and collapse of numerous smaller banks, Paulson recently appeared on national TV to declare "our banking system is a safe and sound one." He added that the list of "troubled" banks "is a very manageable situation." In fact what he did not say was that the US bank deposit insurance fund, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has a list of problem banks that numbers 90. Not included on that list are banks such as Citigroup, until recently the largest bank in the world.
The statement is hardly reassuring. The California savings bank, IndyMac Bank which was declared insolvent a month ago was not on the FDIC list a week before it collapsed. The reality is the crisis created by "securitizing" millions of home mortgages into new financial instruments and selling the packages to pension funds and investors is unfolding like a snowball rolling down the Swiss Alps.
Indication of the lack of control is the statement just weeks ago by Paulson that "financial institutions must be allowed to fail." That was two weeks before Paulson went to Congress to ask for "Congressional authority to buy unlimited stakes in and lend to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." As I noted in my recent piece, Financial Tsunami: The Next Big Wave is Breaking: Fannie Mae Freddie Mac and US Mortgage Debt , those two private companies insured some $6 trillion worth of home mortgages, half the entire US mortgage debt. Paulson defended the request by calling Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae "the only functioning part of the home loan market."
That comes back to the statement about a "sound banking system". Can we have a sound banking system where the only functioning part is literally insolvent—its debts greater than its assets?
It is well known on Wall Street that some of the largest financial institutions have huge undeclared problems with Asset Backed Securities they have valued far above their worth to make their books look better than they are. The names Citigroup, Lehman Bros., Morgan Stanley, even Paulson’s old firm, Goldman Sachs and of course the inventor of sub-prime mortgage securitization, Merrill Lynch, all hold a huge percentage of what are called Level Three assets, these being assets where no one is willing to buy but the bank declares their worth based on "fantasy." In short the value of those core financial institutions of the US financial system is massively overvalued compared with their value were they forced to sell into the open market today. In a sobering aside, readers should not expect any serious economic remedies for the crisis from a President Barack Obama. Obama’s National Campaign Finance Chairman is Chicago real estate billionaire, Penny Pritzker, who is heir to among other things the Hyatt Hotels. It was Pritzker together with Merrill Lynch ten years ago who first developed the model for securitizing "sub-prime" real estate, the trigger for the current Financial Tsunami crisis. (note: She is also, since 2005, the Chair of TransUnion, the credit reporting agency, and was chair until its collapse of the Chicago based Superior Bank. She has also contributed significantly to the campaigns of Bush 43, Lieberman, Guiliani, Bill Bradley, as well as Gore, Kerry, and Hillary Clinton. And John McCain in 2000. What odd bedfellows money makes. - MS)
Already Citigroup has been forced to go to Dubai hat in hand and ask for billions in cash. After it announced it would not need more capital. Now Citigroup just announced plans to sell some $500 billion more assets to raise funds. Is Citigroup really solvent is the question sober investors are asking. Similarly Merrill Lynch raised $6.6 billion from Kuwait Mizuho, stated it was fine and weeks later had to raise still more capital. Morgan Stanley sold a 10% share of the company to China International Corp.

The real economy is contracting rapidly.
Behind the reassuring statements from Paulson and others that the "worst is over" the reality of the credit collapse since August 2007 is a deepening economic contraction which I have said several times in this space will surpass the Great Depression of the 1929-1938 period. A good friend who is an unemployed homebuilder in a prosperous part of Arizona just sent me the following list of US department retail store closures. It is worth noting that over 70% of the US GDP is consumer spending and that the entire Federal Reserve strategy of Alan Greenspan after the March 2000 collapse of the stock market bubble, was to bring US interest rates to their lowest levels since the 1930’s in order to stimulate consumer spending on credit, i.e. debt, to avoid "recession." Note the scale of the following store closings across America in recent weeks:
Ann Taylor closing 117 stores nationwide.
Eddie Bauer to close more stores after closing 27 stores in the first quarter.
Cache, a women’s retailer is closing 20 to 23 stores this year.
Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Catherines closing 150 stores nationwide
Talbots, J. Jill closing stores. Talbots will close all 78 of its kids and men's stores plus another 22 underperforming stores. The 22 stores will be a mix of Talbots women's and J. Jill.
Gap Inc. closing 85 stores
Foot Locker to close 140 stores
Wickes Furniture is going out of business and closing all of its stores. The 37-year-old retailer that targets middle-income customers, filed for bankruptcy protection last month.
Levitz - the furniture retailer, announced it was going out of business and closing all 76 of its stores in December. The retailer dates back to 1910.
Zales, Piercing Pagoda plans to close 82 stores by July 31 followed by closing another 23 underperforming stores.
Disney Store owner has the right to close 98 stores.
Home Depot store closing 15 of them amid a slumping US economy and housing market. The move will affect 1,300 employees. It is the first time the world's largest home improvement store chain has ever closed a flagship store.
Macy's - 9 stores closed
Movie Gallery – video rental company plans to close 400 of 3,500 Movie Gallery
and Hollywood Video stores in addition to the 520 locations the video rental
chain closed last fall as part of bankruptcy.
Pacific Sunwear - 153 Demo stores closing
Pep Boys - 33 stores of auto parts supplier closing
Sprint Nextel - 125 retail locations to close with 4,000 employees following 5,000 layoffs last year.
J. C. Penney, Lowe's and Office Depot are all scaling back
Ethan Allen Interiors: plans to close 12 of 300 stores to cut costs.
Wilsons the Leather Experts – closing 158 stores
Bombay Company: to close all 384 U.S.-based Bombay Company stores.
KB Toys closing 356 stores around the United States as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.
Dillard's Inc. will close another six stores this year.
For anyone familiar with American shopping malls and retailing, this represents a staggering part of the daily economic life of the nation, from furniture stores to clothing to video rentals to leather. The process has only begun and neither major party Presidential candidate has dared to mention this on the ground economic reality, because they evidently have no solutions to offer that would not jeopardize their campaign finances. Obama is tied to not only Pritzker but also to Omaha billionaire, Warren Buffett and George Soros. McCain depends on the traditional money contributions of the Republican Party which demand permanent tax reform for highest income earners and a pro-bank laissez faire treatment of millions of homeowners facing home foreclosure and asset seizure by banks.
Banks across the country have severely cut back on loans, fearful of bad debts. That has aggravated the consumer collapse documented above. Hundreds of thousands of real estate brokers, small and large bankers, furniture workers and salespeople, and construction workers are unable to find work. Jobs are being cut wholesale and those working are often on reduced hours. Car sales in June plunged by 28% for Ford, 18% for General Motors and even 21% for Toyota which will mean more layoffs in coming weeks. This will be the next wave of unemployment.
The economic reality is not reflected in official US Commerce Department or Labor Department statistics. There the data is constantly being "revised" to hide the grim reality in an election year.
My good friend, economist John Williams of California, has meticulously tracked such "data revisions" for more than 25 years and found the manipulation of reality so alarming that he founded an independent subscriber service titled "Shadow Government Statistics" ( ), where he makes best estimate calculations of the reality not the official mythology.
By Williams’ calculations the US economy first entered recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, at the end of 2006. Ever since, the recession has deepened, dramatically so in the past 12 months. Little known is the fact that the Labor Department also publishes six different unemployment statistics from U1, U2 through to U6 being the most comprehensive. The reported "official unemployment" is the very narrowly defined U3 which stands at 5.5%. However, as Williams notes, U6 is the real measure and that officially shows 9.7% unemployed. His calculations put the figure at 13.7% actually unemployed and seeking work.
A personal account
The unemployed homebuilder from Arizona I mentioned above recently sent me the following personal note on the situation: "Here is how it looks to people like me: Real estate dealings fuelled the economy in most areas of the country for the past decade or more. We’ve been in a market downturn for three years. We have seen the cost of doing business increase for builders, along with a big drop in buyers as everyone tightens their belts, or can’t sell existing homes. Many employers have gone under ending thousands of jobs. If they have a job people are worried about losing it. Driving long distances to work is not possible with gasoline costs double that of 2006. There has been a 40% drop in most peoples’ home equity worth. Many people are "underwater" on their homes, meaning they owe more than the market price is worth today. So many under-employed don’t show up in government unemployed statistics. Self employed like me never get counted."
The Arizona homebuilder continued, "Today nobody is building. Unsold home inventories are triple that of 2003. Banks no longer give easy credit for home buyers. Many realtors I know have gone two years without selling a home. Empty storefronts are becoming common. In many areas unemployment among construction trades people is 50% or more. Tens of thousands of illegal Mexicans who did most of the manual labor have returned to Mexico to find work. What now? Well, I do handyman projects of all sorts, big or small and make about 70-90% of what it takes to survive with a family of a wife and three young children. My savings make up the rest. That can’t go on for too much longer. We went from affluent and comfortable to nervous and broke with diminished opportunities in just three years. We used to be the middle class."

To be continued. F. William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (Pluto Press) and Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation ( He is at work on a new book, from which this has been adapted, Power of Money: The Rise and Decline of the American Century. He may be reached through his website,