Merry Christmas! from The Progressive Populist
(Happy Holidays! to Fox News)
Iraqi Christians in Peril this Christmas
Juan Cole writes:
Because of the poor security, Iraqi Christians had to celebrate midnight mass at sundown instead. Many Christians have fled Iraq for Syria and elsewhere, while others are afraid to go to the churches, which have been targeted in the past by bombers. (Ironically, the secular Arab nationalist regimes like the Syrian Ba'ath have typically been favorable to local Christians, since they downplay religious identity.)
The year 2005 has not been kind to Iraqi Christians , who number around 700,000. Like all Iraqis, they face problems of insecurity, violence, and kidnapping. But they are sometimes unfairly targeted as pro-Western. About 80 percent of Iraqis are Uniate Catholics or Chaldeans, who acknowledge the Pope but have their own liturgy. Pope John Paul II, it should be remembered, opposed the Iraq War. The other 20 percent are Assyrians, rooted in a historical legacy of the Nestorian, Aramaic-using church of the Near East, though most of these have moved away from classical Nestorian theology (which emphasized the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth and refused to recognize the Mother Mary as the "mother of God.") These are old, local churches.
The political events of 2005 often harmed the interests of the Chaldean and Assyrian Christians. The ballot boxes they should have received in their region of Ninevah in the north for the Jan. 30 elections often never arrived. They also alleged that they were slighted unfairly in the recent Dec. 15 polls. At some 3 percent of the population, they would ideally have 8 or so seats in the parliament, but do not.
The constitution forged in summer of 2005 and approved in a referendum on Oct. 15 makes Islam the religion of state in Iraq and says that the civil parliament may pass no legislation that contravenes Islamic law. Chaldeans and Assyrians vehemently protested these provisions, to no avail. They were especially concerned that the constitution likely makes it illegal for Muslims to convert to Christianity, and therefore puts Christians in legal peril if they are responsible for such conversions. It may also be that some Christian sentiments about Islam will be regarded as blasphemous, as has happened in nearby Pakistan.
Iraq's Christians have also often been disadvantaged by the movement of Kurds into northern Iraq and Kurdish hopes of annexing much of Kirkuk and Ninevah to Kurdistan. There is often tension between Iraqi Christians and the Kurds because of these territorial issues.
The Chaldeans are deeply worried about their future . They are concerned with the likely impact on their community of emigration (because of the bad security) and of the rise in Iraq of political Islam. They are also profoundly fearful and resentful of evangelical Protestant targeting of their members for conversion. (In modern Middle Eastern history, Presbyterians and Baptists have on a number of occasions launched a big push to convert Muslims, which invariably failed miserably, after which the missionaries turned their attention to local Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and other Middle Eastern Christians).
It seems clear that the new order that Bush has brought to Iraq holds substantial perils for the indigenous Iraqi Christian community.
See a Reuters report.
Who said this:
"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead."
a) Adolph Hitler
b) Josef Stalin
c) Mao Tse Tung
d) Sen. John Cornyn
Answer: That's right, (D). The holder of Sam Houston's old seat in the Senate takes the lead in the contest for "Most Cynical Quote of 2005." At least he has managed to condense his thoughts into sound bites since April 4, when he said that "raw political or ideological decisions" by judges cause "great distress" in many people and wondered aloud if this "distress" was the cause of the violence.
"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence."
To nominate a cynical or craven quote by a public figure for year-end honors, please email your nominee to email@example.com by Dec. 31.
Top 12 myths about Bush regime's spying scandal (and other Media Matters honors)
Media Matters presents the top 12 myths and falsehoods promoted by the media on President Bush's spying scandal stemming from the recent revelation in the New York Times that he authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on domestic communications without the required approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.
Media Matters also presents the highlights (or lowlights) of 1,531 instances of conservative misinformation it has documented and corrected during 2005.
Chris Matthews: Media Matters' 'Misinformer of the Year.
Most outrageous statements of the year.
NY Transit Strike Postscript: Appreciation of Public Employees
Jordan Barab writes:
Well, the NY transit strike seems to be over. I'm not sure of the outcome yet, but I'm left with a rather sour taste in my mouth about a few things.
David Sirota had the exact same feelings about many people's "support" for the NYC transit strikers that I did: they fully support labor unions and workers in principle, but get pretty damn pissed off at all the messiness and inconvenience that it causes when people are forced to take some action to preserve their wages, benefits and working conditions. And then there's the silent (or not so silent) resentment that public employees often have better pay and benefits that many private sector employees who are "better educated." ... (See the rest.)
Sirota puts it in the perspective of the 'free market':
Let's put it all in basic supply and demand economics -- because that's what it really is. When a commodity is at a premium or "essential" to the market, the market pays a premium for it. That's what we always hear venerated from almost every pundit and mainstream media operation in America -- call it free market fundamentalism. It's why oil companies make record profits when oil supplies dwindle, or Apple can charge more for Ipods when there is huge demand for them. When that happens, everyone says hey, that's just the "invisible hand" of the market. That's good old American capitalism at work!
But when that "invisible hand" suddenly starts working for workers, well, that's portrayed as treasonous.
New Yorkers are very suddenly realizing they really do value transit workers, and that their "demand" for the commodity in question - that is, transit workers' labor -- is very high. The problem is, many -- including New York's billionaire mayor and bought-off governor -- want to not have to pay a fair price for the commodity in demand. And they don't want the sellers of the supply (ie. the workers) to even be able to use their economic tools to get the higher price they deserve. Worst of all, they want to use strikebreaking laws to rig the system, so that the "essential" commodity they want -- the transit workers labor -- can be gotten at an artifically deflated price. Put another way, they want to be beggars AND choosers at the same time. ...
We conclude: The transit strike created a mess in New York and if I were living there or visiting I might have allowed a grumble to pass my lips upon occasion. But sometimes a strike is the only tool a worker has left, and that seemed to be the case in this negotiation. When the state takes away the workers' leverage, as it does when it prohibits public employees from striking, it interferes with the sacred 'free market'. Republicans like Mike Bloomberg and George Pataki should be ashamed of behaving like communist tyrants.
UPDATE--STUDENT RECANTS 'RED BOOK' VISIT: The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for The Little Red Book by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story, the Standard Times of New Bedford reported Dec. 24.
In a Dec. 21 followup, the Standard Times had reported that the Department of Homeland Security cast doubt on the claims. Kirk Whitworth, a DHS spokesman in Washington, D.C., said "the scenario sounds unlikely because investigations are based on violation of law, not on the books an individual might check out from the library."
Whitworth also pointed out that while the original story stated the student was visited by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the DHS does not actually have its own agents. Under the umbrella of the DHS are Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Inspector General, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Coast Guard, among others.
Whitworth could not comment on the record whether the agency monitors inter-library loans, or whether there is a watch list of books that the agency maintains.
An FBI spokeswoman was similarly skeptical.
"I have never heard that we would go after someone because of a book," said Gail Marcinkiewicz, who works in the FBI's Boston office. "That event in itself is not a criminal activity. I can't imagine how we would follow up something like that. Everyone is protected under the First Amendment, which would include what you would read."
However, Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan specializing in the Mideast, wrote Dec. 19 that he has personal knowledge of federal agents visiting intellectuals over books. "I know an Arab-American professor who was doing development work in the Middle East who shipped back some Arabic books, some of them on water and sewage systems. These were intercepted at customs and he received a visit from two agents who questioned him about the books. They were, of course, innocuous, and he had been working on a US [government] contract!"
Spy agency mined 'vast data trove' in US
The New York Times reports that the National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the US as part of the unaccountable eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity.
The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.
As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the NSA has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.
In other words, they've been sifting through everybody's phone calls and emails, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Just the facts, please
Russ Baker writes:
The talk is already about high crimes, about impeachment. It is about a strong constitution versus a strong president, safety versus civil liberties. But the important thing here is not to get caught up in tantalizing blue-sky scenarios before we address some key issues that we need to understand if we are ever to get our democracy back on track.
The Bush administration blew away opposition to the invasion of Iraq in part because it was able to keep shifting the debate from one big idea to another -- without having to provide the credible facts that would prove that anything it said was actually true.
So let's talk about facts. And keep the discussion on them.
-What exactly was the problem with the prior set-up whereby the administration had to clear domestic eavesdropping cases with a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court within 72 hours of launching said surveillance? In other words, the government can eavesdrop first and get a warrant retroactively . Under what conditions was that not sufficient to guard our national security? ... (See the rest.)
What this affair is really about is the government's fear of sharing basic facts about how it operates -- and how it spends billions of tax dollars each year ostensibly to protect us. The boilerplate claims that the mere revelation of general policies and broad outlines of intelligence management will aid the enemy are patently ridiculous. With the Soviet bloc gone, there is no commensurate establishment on the other side that is plotting out sophisticated moves based on knowing the total size of the US intelligence budget, or on understanding information-sharing between agencies. I've yet to see evidence or even good argument that Osama bin Laden has this capability -- or even any interest in it. He's got other things to do.
Our government needs to start sharing a whole lot more facts with us. After all -- and this is worth reminding ourselves -- it is our country. And the government works for us.
Bush Iraq plan: 'Cut-and-walk'
Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld today announced a modest reduction of US troops in Iraq following successes in blocking insurgents from crossing the Syrian border as well as expanding Iraq's nascent security forces.
Donald Kaul calls Bush's new plan for "Victory in Iraq" the "Cut-and-Walk Plan." He noted, "It’s a lot like Cut-and-Run, but slower."
Why do terrorists hate elections?
Josh Marshall relays a good point made by one of his readers:
When was the last time there was a major terror alert? They were something like a regular occurence for the eighteen months or so before the 2004 election. And through 2004 the administration pushed the line that al Qaida was aiming to disrupt the elections themselves. But as near I can tell there hasn't been a single one since election day.
Through 2004, of course, critics of the administration routinely questioned whether the frequency and timing of the various terror alerts were not all or in part for political effect.
How do we explain what appears to be a night and day difference between the year prior to November 2004 and the year since in terms of terror alerts and scares?
We note that Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a terror alert right before the New York City mayoral election. Interesting coincidence.
Diebold's crackup gets DC notice
Hotline, a widely-read Capitol briefing service, notices recent problems with the notorious electronic voting machine maker.
Within the past few weeks:
1. The election supervisor for the county encompassing Tallahassee, FL saw voting results hacked before his eyes. He decertified Diebold. Jeb Bush noticed and wants a full review of Florida's voting machines.
2. Diebold chief Wally O'Dell -- he of "deliver the election" to Bush fame -- resigns.
3. CA refuses to certify Deibold yet, reversing a reversal.
4. St. Louis Co., MO decertifies Diebold machines.
5. North Carolina is apparently about to do the same.
Note to reporters seeking to catch up on this story, see the October press release on a Government Accountability Office report that found security and reliability flaws in the electronic voting process; also Bev Harris' Blackboxvoting.org; as well as BlackBoxVoting.com, apparently a rival of Bev Harris but with good information and links; VerifiedVoting.org, founded by David Dill, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford University; the e-vote archive at Wired.com, which has stayed on top of the story.
Bush sought, was denied domestic war powers
The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration requested, and Congress rejected, war-making authority "in the United States" in negotiations over the joint resolution passed days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD).
Daschle challenged a central legal argument offered by the White House in defense of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of US citizens, that the authority to disregard other statutes, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, is implicit in the resolution.
The Justice Department acknowledged Thursday, in a letter to Congress, that the president's October 2001 eavesdropping order did not comply with "the 'procedures' of" the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978. FISA established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, "except as authorized by statute."
See also Daschle's op-ed.
Wal Mart hit with $172M 'lunch tab'
An Oakland, Calif., jury Thursday whacked Wal-Mart Stores Inc. with a $172 million verdict -- including $115 million in punitive damages -- for failing to provide a class of about 200,000 employees with legally-mandated meal breaks.
The verdict is the largest ever in a meal-break class action in California, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs. They sued under a 2001 state law mandating that employees who work at least six hours receive a 30-minute lunch break.
'Rigged' gas markets drive higher prices
David Sirota notes that an Alaska regulator charged that BP PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded oil companies, are conspiring to withhold natural gas from US markets in an effort to drive up prices. The higher gas prices already are being felt in double-digit increases in home heating and electricity costs, with more increases expected in the new year.
Death of a muckraker
Murray Waas offers a tribute to the late Jack Anderson, his former boss, a "muckraking outsider [who] never gave a damn about entree."
What's wrong with the economy?
Does it seem to you that the economy isn't doing nearly as well for you as the Bush administration is claiming? Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel and Policy Director Ross Eisenbrey provide the talking points.
I spy a Democrat
Why are Democrats suspicious of Republican use of warrantless surveillance of US citizens under the excuse of terror prevention? Lara Alexandrovna notes that the first publicized misuse of Homeland Security surveillance was in 2003, when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay tried to use the federal agency to track down Democratic legislators who had fled Texas to break a quorum and stop DeLay's congressional gerrymandering scheme.
If this is any indication on how team Bush/Cheney may be using the [National Security Agency], namely, to spy for political reasons, and if they are milking the tragedy of 9/11 in order to justify these dirty, rotten, illegal tricks, then we are clearly in the last throes of a democracy. ... (See the rest.)
Time for a real 9/11 probe
Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News writes that in October 2004 the Daily News reported that two men who'd worked in the rubble of the World Trade Center claimed they'd helped find three of the four "black boxes" from the jetliners -- even though the FBI and the independent 9/11 Commission insisted they'd never been recovered.
That story was pretty much forgotten until this week, when another Philadelphia-based investigative reporter, Dave Lindorff, reported that an official with the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed to Lindorff that the FBI had indeed recovered the flight recorders from the World Trade Center site:
"Off the record, we had the boxes," the source says. "You'd have to get the official word from the FBI as to where they are, but we worked on them here."
Bunch noted that he thinks 'most 9/11 "conspiracy" chatter about no planes or mysterious "pods," is ridiculous bunk.'
But we can also assure you of this: You won't see any followups on Lindorff's work in the mainstream media. They're too scared -- scared that by even questioning one small aspect of the official story of 9/11, they're be forever tarred as "conspiracy nuts" and forever ruined. This even after the official story of the invasion of Iraq and so much else coming out of Washington these last five years have crumbled like a Sara Lee coffee cake.
But there is a land somewhere in between Mt. Official Version and the Valley of the Tin-Foil Hat Wearers -- call it the River of Unanswered Questions. That's where we reside. We don't pretend to know everything that happened on 9/11, such as why Flight 93 went down or what happened to all eight black boxes. And you shouldn't pretend to know, either. ... (See the rest.)
Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Ted
Ted Stevens, after the Senate stripped ANWR drilling rights out of the defense appropriations bill:
But last night, when the Senate voted to strike the drilling provision, Stevens did not take it well. "This has been the saddest day of my life," he said. "It's a day I don't want to remember. I say goodbye to the Senate tonight. Thank you very much."
Our Senate producer stayed here until the wee hours last night to try to find out if Senator Stevens was saying he was going to resign. Ken asked are you coming back? Stevens said, quote, 'I don't know'."
Stevens previously threatened to quit if the Senate didn't pass his highway pork barrel bill.
Angry at Transit Strikers? How About Outrage at Pols and Goldman Sachs?
David Sirota has a question for every New Yorker trying to blame transit workers in the Big Apple for striking -- are you angry at Goldman Sachs? Because here's the thing - if you are angry at the workers, then you believe the city simply can't afford to meet the workers modest demands, which we learned from the New York Times was all of $20 million -- a pittance. And if you believe the city and state are in such financial dire straits it can't afford $20 million,
then how do you feel about the city and state last month giving away almost $2 billion to one of the wealthiest, profitable investment banks on the planet, Goldman Sachs? ... See the rest.
Which side are you on?
Scott Shields at MyDD.com notes an underreported fact: at least two polls show that New Yorkers support the striking transit workers.
Jordan Barab notes the underreported hardships of transit workers.
James A. Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute presents the case for the TWU, in the New York Daily News.
See MaxSpeak for more links and comments.
Tom DeLay then and now
Sirota notes what a difference a decade makes in Tom DeLay's attitudes toward the corrupting influence of lobbyists.
Ohio Lege passes 'Show Your Papers' Act
An "Ohio Patriot Act", which has made it to Gov. Bob Taft's desk, would let police arrest people in public places who will not give their names, address and birth dates, even if they are not doing anything wrong. WEWS-TV reported the bill also would pave the way for everyone entering critical transportation sites such as train stations, airports and bus stations to show ID.
"It brings us frighteningly close to a show me your papers society," said Carrie Davis of the ACLU, which opposes the Ohio Patriot Act.
The ACLU noted that the bill threatens homeland security money for communities that enact resolutions to respect the US Bill of rights.
See also the ACLU of Ohio's talking points on the bill and the ACLU press release, which includes contact information for the governor's office.
All the King's Horses**t ...
Please excuse the profanity, but George W. Bush's justification of illegal surveillance of American citizens goes beyond the pale and finds the terms of polite discouse wanting. As Sen. Russell Feingold says, the president thinks he is a king, and his attorney general is willing to argue the case for American monarchy.
When the news finally broke, after the New York Times sat on it for a year, Bush's response was, essentially, trust me. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argued that the authority is implicit in presidential powers and cited last year's Supreme Court decision in Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld, which found that the force resolution effectively authorized Bush to detain US citizens indefinitely as enemy combatants. But, the Washington Post noted, the same ruling held that detainees are entitled to challenge their imprisonment in court.
The Post reported that the 2001 use-of-force authorization didn't say anything about electronic surveillance or FISA or spying on Americans without getting warrants. That legislation authorized Bush to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
The Washington Post reported that US District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program.
Defensetech, which reports on military, law enforcement and national security affairs, notes that "a few current and former signals intelligence guys have been checking in since this NSA domestic spying story broke. Their reactions range between midly creeped out and completely pissed off" at the Bush administration abandoning the traditional hands-off approach to Americans.
Salon.com notes that, despite Bush administration assurances that all of the monitoring involved calls and e-mails in which one of the parties was outside the United States, the New York Times reports that the warrantless spying program Bush approved -- and repeatedly reapproved -- sometimes captured communications that were entirely domestic.
ThinkProgress "fact checks" and knocks down claims by the Drudge Report, echoed by other Republican operatives, that Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter authorized similar surveillance without court order. It turns out, both Clinton's and Carter's executive orders excluded surveillance of US citizens.
Think Progress also catches the April 2004 video of Bush saying "any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."
Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly examines how presidents have increased authority during wartime, both in theory and in practice, but concludes sensiblym "that authority doesn't extend to deliberately violating acts of Congress. The president is required to obey the law during both war and peace."
Also, FactCheck.org compares Bush's repeated claims that “we do not torture” with the known record, including Amnesty International's declaration that the US detention center in Cuba is "a gulag," and news reports that it holds scores of suspects in secret CIA prisons overseas.
The New York Times also reports that the FBI has been spying on Catholic social justice activists, vegans, Greenpace and PETA members as possible terrorists. "It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U.
"You look at these documents," Ms. Beeson said, "and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."
Also, Capitol Hill Blue claims from sources in the White House that Bush called the Constitution "just a goddamned piece of paper!" when GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the PATRIOT Act could alienate conservatives.
“I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”
“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”
“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”
We conclude: The Bush administration has lied to us about its counter-terrorism efforts before 9/11, its response to 9/11, the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the reasons for the invasion of Iraq, the costs of occupying Iraq and the relationship of al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. That's in addition to lies about programs such as Social Security and the Medicare drug plan. What in his record would lead a reasonable person to trust George W. Bush or his associates with our civil liberties?
Tie-Breaking Cheney to Students, Seniors, Middle Class: Go F*** Yourself!
Marty Kaplan wrote at Huffington post.com:
Let's call them "the Cheney cuts."
Today, when the Senate split 50-50 on a budget stealing money from people just scraping by and transferring it to the wealthiest Americans, it took Dick Cheney, recalled from Afghanistan, to cast the tie-breaking vote. In order to pretend to be cutting the deficit, the Republicans partially compensated for their tax cuts for millionaires by cutting Medicaid, Medicare, Student Loans, Food Stamps... you know, all that Katrina-type welfare that makes people so dependent on government handouts.
It's an unexpected holiday gift that the Vice President has given us: he's put a human face on "compassionate conservatism." That crooked mouth, that Ebenezer snarl, that hearty Halliburton shake of jowl: he could hardly suppress his satisfaction at tipping the balance. ...
See the rest.
Bushist Police State and Interlibrary Loans
Juan Cole writes:
I hate al-Qaeda. Its "values" are the diametric opposite of virtually everything I stand for. I would like to see al-Qaeda and all the little al-Qaeda wannabes planning out the killing of innocent civilians broken up, their members arrested and put away for a very long time. I consider our FBI and CIA officials and case officers working on this problem to be great heroes in a noble struggle and I only hope my own work on understanding religious extremism is of any use to them in it.
But you can't get at al-Qaeda by having an auto-da-fe for the US Constitution, and even if you could, it would be a hollow victory, because it is the values of the Bill of Rights that al-Qaeda would like to see subverted.
Cole also notes a report in the Standard Times (New Bedford, Mass.) that a senior at UMass Dartmouth was questioned by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book" through the UMass library. The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for a course on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form to request the book through a interlibrary loan, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.
[UPDATE 12/24/05: The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for The Little Red Book by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story, the Standard Times reported.]
Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan specializing in the Mideast, added that he has personal knowledge of DHS folks visiting intellectuals over books. "I know an Arab-American professor who was doing development work in the Middle East who shipped back some Arabic books, some of them on water and sewage systems. These were intercepted at customs and he received a visit from two agents who questioned him about the books. They were, of course, innocuous, and he had been working on a US [government] contract!"
See the whole thing .
Atheists make Fallwell's Christmas wish come true
Jeff Nall writes for Humanist Network News:
On Dec. 5, Beyond Belief Media (BBM), the group responsible for the less than impressive film The God Who Wasn‘t There, made Jerry Falwell’s dreams come true. Under the control of president Brian Flemming, BBM officially declared 'war on Christmas.' In a press release Flemming stated that: "Christian conservatives complain nonstop about the 'War on Christmas,' but there really isn’t any such war."
Most recently Bill O’Reilly, Falwell and other religious fanatics have complained about retailers and other agencies opting to use the slogan "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" during the 2005 holidays. Such pundits found Boston's decision to name its annual Christmas tree a "holiday tree," particularly distressing.
While most sensible people have treated such half-witted rhetoric accordingly, Flemming's decision to make the "War on Christmas" a reality does nothing but lend support to our enemies. It also undermines those like Joe Conn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who has publicly stated: "There is no war on Christmas...This is in large part a publicity stunt and a fundraising maneuver by Jerry Falwell." Not to mention Rev. Barry Lynn, who properly observed that "Jerry Falwell has found that this war on Christmas is a very good, healthy, fundraising mechanism.”
Bush fundraisers reap spoils of victory
America's business leaders supplied more than $75 million to return Mr. Bush to the White House last year -- and he has paid dividends, the Toledo Blade reported. Bush administration policies, grand and obscure, have financially benefited companies or lobbying clients tied to at least 200 of the president's largest campaign fund-raisers, a Toledo Blade investigation has found. Dozens more stand to gain from Bush-backed initiatives that recently passed or await congressional approval.
The Blade also reported that federal and state authorities are investigating the Bush Pioneers and Rangers, individuals who raised at least $100,000 or $200,000 for President Bush's re-election, for bribery, money laundering, stock manipulation, and extortion.
"The Republican culture of corruption, it knows no bounds. It's a deterioration of values," said Amaya Smith, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
Karl Rove Comes of Age
Karl Rove, the advisor behind George W. Bush's political career and the architect of numerous efforts to reward his political friends and punish political enemies, is currently under investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald who is pursuing the source who illegally revealed the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
With Rove Exposed, Texas journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater have condensed Bush's Brain, originally published in 2003, and updated with events surrounding the 2004 election. An excerpt covers a defining moment in the making of a political opportunist. In it, Rove teams up with Lee Atwater to steal the election for chairman of the College Republican National Committee. When the Washington Post writes about the dirty tricks campaign, the Republican National Committee has to step in and pick a winner.
The man who made that decision was the senior George Bush, then RNC chairman. As Moore and Slater write "He not only awarded the post to trickster Rove, he hired the young strategist as his assistant. It's classic Rove: dirty tricks, press leaks, and a contested election."
Order Rove Exposed here and we get a cut. Or find Bush's Brain here.
Death penalty politics
Will Bunch writes:
Barring a miracle, Stanley "Tookie" Williams will be killed by the state of California about 16 hours from now. In theory, the former leader of L.A.'s notorious Crips could be granted clemency by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In reality, we wouldn't count on it, because California's accidential governor is too weak politically to spend any capital on saving the life of a cold-blooded killer.
The fact that such political calculus plays a role in determining whether a person lives or dies is just one reason why we're so vehemently opposed to the death penalty. Not the only one, nor the biggest one. But the process does make us sick to our stomach.
As strongly as we feel about the death penalty, it's been hard for us to write about Tookie Williams, and here's why. We think the guy is total scum. What else could we think about a man who has been convicting of four cold-blooded killings, in two robberies that netted small amounts of cash? ...
Eugene J. McCarthy, the US senator who stood up for peace in 1968 and who never stopped causing trouble for the powers that be in both major parties, died Saturday at age 89. See Sam Smith's remembrance.
McCarthy also was a founding contributor to The Progressive Populist. From our archives, see McCarthy's remarks on his career in politics on the event of his 80th birthday, as well as his remembrances of the infamous Chicago convention of 1968 as the Democrats returned to the scene of the crime in 1996.
Also see more of our archives by or about Eugene McCarthy.
Corporate crime detailed
Nathan Newman notes that a new report by American Rights at Work details the extent and severity of that corporate crime wave, a crime wave where tens of thousands of workers are victimized each year with stolen jobs and crushed lives.
As this study highlights, a typical union organizing drive starts with a majority of workers signing cards in support of having a union. Yet in the course of the elections, corporations embark on full-scale illegal assault on their workforce:
30% of employers fire pro-union workers.
49% of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union.
51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with selective bribery or favoritism.
The end result is that despite starting almost every union drive with majority support, by the time the corporate wave of crime is over, only 31% of union elections end with a vote in support of the union.
Joe lectures disrespectful Dems
Digby notes that Sen. Joe Lieberman has some stern words for Democrats who insist on criticizing the president.
It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more years. We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril.
But Digby remembers that in September 1998 Lieberman, who was listed as a Democrat, took to the Senate floor to condemn President Bill Clinton's marital infidelity as immoral, disgraceful and damaging to the country.
After much reflection, my feelings of disappointment and anger have not dissipated, except now these feelings have gone beyond my personal dismay to a larger, graver sense of loss for our country, a reckoning of the damage that the president's conduct has done to the proud legacy of his presidency and, ultimately, an accounting of the impact of his actions on our democracy and its moral foundations.
The implications for our country are so serious that I feel a responsibility to my constituents in Connecticut, as well as to my conscience, to voice my concerns forthrightly and publicly. And I can think of no more appropriate place to do that than on this great Senate floor. ...
Lieberman thinks that speeches like that are wrong --- that Democrats should not go before the senate and speak about how the president has failed the nation, been dishonest, misled the people and undermined the nation's moral authority. Unless, of course, there's a blow job involved in which case Lieberman himself would feel compelled to lead the stampede to condemn and chastise him publicly. ...
So it's OK to denounce a Democratic president (while Clinton was out of the country, by the way) for sexual indiscretions but it's out of bounds to criticize a Republican president for lying us into a war that has been botched from the get-go?
Second thoughts on prison frills?
Randy "Duke" Cunningham spoiled my schadenfreude at his downfall with his tearful "mea culpa," but Al Kamen in the Washington Post's "In the Loop" column noted that back in January 1995, days after Republicans reclaimed control of the House after 40 years, Cunningham co-sponsored H.R.663, the "No Frills Prison Act," to prevent luxurious conditions in prisons.
The bill would ensure that federal money would go only to state correctional systems that didn't coddle criminals by giving them "luxurious" digs, or let them work less than 40 hours week.
Also, prisoners would not be allowed "unmonitored phone calls . . . in-cell television viewing, possession of pornographic materials, instruction or training equipment for any martial art or bodybuilding or weightlifting equipment or dress or hygiene other than as is uniform or standard in the prison. . . ."
While the measure applied mostly to state prisons, it also "directs the Attorney General to establish conditions in the Federal prison system that are, as nearly as possible," like those in the state slammers.
Fortunately for Cunningham, who copped a plea Monday to tax evasion and conspiring to pocket $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and other co-conspirators, the bill appears not to have gone anywhere.
Janitors in Houston could be beachhead
Nathan Newman writes that union activists should not play down the biggest organizing win in 25 years in Houston: 5000 Houston janitors have organized a union at the four largest cleaning companies in the city.
Some treat 5000 union janitors as a tiny drop in the bucket, Newman wrote, "but these workers were organized in the South in the private sector, a feat that promises new tactics to support a range of organizing in the region." He continues:
The failure to organize the South is the number one, two and three reason why the labor movement peaked after the end of World War II and has been in slow then faster decline ever since. Without unions in the South, it meant that jobs could be shifted more easily out of pro-union areas even for companies that wanted to be in the United States; just look at the Japanese car plants.
And, as significantly, the lack of unions in the South left unions with no political presence in a giant region of the country, meaning that even moderate Democrats did not politically defend union interests in Congress or in state legislatures enacting "right to work" laws and other anti-union measures.
The success of the janitors union was driven by new tactics to put national pressure on the contracting companies to force them to recognize the local janitors in Houston, a tactic that if it's perfected and replicated could leverage more and more Houston's "every day."
And in the shorter term, just think of the Houston janitors as a beachhead in hostile territory. We can sometime look at the numbers and forget how significant even a small union presence can be in an area with very little organizing at all. Do these numbers-- janitors pay dues of roughly $20 per month, or a bit over $200 per year. Multiply by 5000 and you suddenly have an organization with $1 million per year to promote organizing and political mobilization in the Houston area. ...
Bush lies about Iraqi army progress
ThinkProgress reports that yesterday, President Bush claimed that Iraqi security forces “primarily led” an assault on the city of Tal Afar. Bush highlighted it as an “especially clear” sign of the progress Iraq security forces were making in Iraq.
TIME Magazine reporter Michael Ware, who was embedded with the US troops in Iraq who participated in the Tal Afar battle, appeared on Anderson Cooper yesterday. He said Bush’s description was completely untrue:
I was in that battle from the very beginning to the very end. I was with Iraqi units right there on the front line as they were battling with al Qaeda. They were not leading. They were being led by the US green beret special forces with them.
You would think that with all the controversy over misstatements by Bush, Cheney et al., the president's handlers would vet statements of "facts" in his speeches more carefully if they were at all interested in telling the truth ...
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