Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Original Sin

Read Niranjan Ramakrishnan's article on a singular coincidence that took place yesterday:
The Original Sin.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rove's Legacy

Good article by Jacob Weisberg in Slate, drawing parallelst between Bush and Rove at the cusp of the 20th-21st centuries to McKinley and Hanna at the cusp of the 19th-20th.

But the article makes the larger point that Rove is a failure. The permanet Republican majority of which he dreamt has drifted farther than it seemed only a few months ago. By the very nature of his client's ineptitude (as noted in Bush, Baath and Beyond):

Rove is a master strategist, his success all the more creditable given the material he has to work with.
Rove is in a difficult situation. Wrongdoing in high places is at best a temporary expedient.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Mommy, it Speaks!!!!

(Finally!) Senator Harry Reid spoke this on the floor of the Senate yesterday (transcript):
SEN. HARRY REID: America deserves better than this. They also deserve a searching and comprehensive investigation into how the Bush administration brought this country to war. Key questions that need to be answered include:

– How did the Bush administration assemble its case for war against Iraq? We heard what Colonel Wilkerson said.
– Who did the Bush administration officials listen to and who did they ignore?
– How did the senior administration officials manipulate or manufacture intelligence presented to the Congress and the American people?
– What was the role of the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, a group of senior White House officials tasked with marketing the war and taking down its critics? We know what Colonel Wilkerson says.
– How did the administration coordinate its efforts to attack individuals who dared to challenge the administration’s assertions? We know what happened to them — I listed a few.
– Why has this administration failed to provide Congress with the documents that would shed light on their misconduct and the misstatements?

Unfortunately, the Senate committee that should be taking the lead in providing these answers is not. Despite the fact that the chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee publicly committed to examine these questions more than a year and a half ago, he has chosen not to keep that commitment. Despite the fact that he restated the commitment earlier this year on national television, he has still done nothing. …

Mr. President, enough time has gone by. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren’t being conducted, and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that Senate go into closed session.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Mr. President, I second the motion.

PRESIDING OFFICER: The motion has been made to go into closed session, and it has been seconded. The motion having been made and seconded, the Senate will go into closed session. The chair, pursuant to Rule 21, now directs the sergeant at arms to clear all galleries, close all doors of the Senate chamber, and exclude from the chamber and its immediate corridors all employees and officials of this Senate who under the rule are not eligible to attend this closed session and are not sworn to secrecy. The question is nondebatable.
Here's an excerpt from today's editorial in the New York Times, "Remember that Mushroom Cloud?":
Last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee did a good bipartisan job of explaining that the intelligence in general was dubious, old and even faked by foreign sources. The panel said the analysts had suffered from groupthink. At the time, the highest-ranking officials in Washington were demanding evidence against Iraq.

But that left this question: If the intelligence was so bad and so moldy, why was it presented to the world as what Mr. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, famously called "a slam-dunk" case?

Were officials fooled by bad intelligence, or knowingly hyping it? Certainly, the administration erased caveats, dissents and doubts from the intelligence reports before showing them to the public. And there was never credible intelligence about a working relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Under a political deal that Democrats should not have approved, the Intelligence Committee promised to address these questions after the 2004 election.
That's the key. The Democrats agreed to consider this AFTER the elections! How daft do you think they were?

Still, better late than never, and the dissention does spread. Trent Lott has said Karl Rove should resign. This is an excerpt from a Washington Post report:

Not all Republicans were quick to defend Rove. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said of Rove, "If this is going to be ongoing, if he has a problem, I think he's got to step up, and, you know, acknowledge that and deal with it."

Interviewed on Fox News, Lott said Bush should be looking for "new blood, new energy, qualified staff, new people." The senator added, "I'm not talking about wholesale changes, but you've got to reach out and bring in more advice and counsel."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Fitzgerald threw a softball

"Fitzgerald had to indict Libby. Libby's lies were so blatant that Fitzgerald had no choice. But Fitzgerald had a golden opportunity to do enough work to prove the underlying crimes that he was originally investigating."
Read this article on Fitzgerald's indictment. Sheldon Drobny writes that he missed a great opportunity to indict the real crime.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers Withdraws

Harriet Miers has withdrawn her name from consideration for Supreme Court justice. President George W. Bush has 'reluctantly' acceded to her request.

I wondered if they had chosen today to do this so as to take the sting out of an announcement from Patrick Fitzgerald, thereby diluting the news impact. Or maybe it was just happenstance. Whatever the case, Miers never gave the impression of one passionate about the Law. There are many people in various professions, who do a reasonable job, but are not really interested in their job. She certainly wasn't suited for the Court, as far as one could tell from what one learned from the papers.

It is really ridiculous that both Republicans and Democrats seem to see only one issue at stake with the Court nomination - abortion. When the country is being stripped of liberties left and right, is abortion the main issue?

Fitzgerald is chewing his way into the administration's gut, on nibble at a time. Tomorrow it should all be out. An interesting prediction on Fitzgerald came out yesterday, written by Richard Sale, with the terse title, "Aides to be indicted, probe to continue".

Another great article, Look Who's Talking Now by Michael Donnelly, provides a clever set of quotes from various personages in relation to perjury, obstruction of justice, etc.

See also Waiting for Fitzgerald by Niranjan Ramakrishnan, which points out the silliness of looking to a prosecutor to find something that is clear to anyone who has watched the administration for the past five years.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

What's going on in Iraq - Robert Fisk interview

Click here to view Amy Goodman's interview with Robert Fisk, one of the clearest expositions of what is happening in Iraq.

You can skip the initial news section. The interview begins around the 30 minute mark.

Must view stuff!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Plamegate: The Known and the Unknown

I read the New York Times article, I read the other newspapers, and all that's clear is that something is not adding up. What exactly is difficult to say. So I thought I'd tabulate what I understood and what I don't:

Known Facts

January 28 2003
Bush stated in his State of the Union speech that Iraq had been shopping for Uranium in Niger.

July 6, 2003
an op-ed piece by Joseph Wilson, former diplomat to Niger and Charge'd Affairs in Iraq appeared in the New York Times. In it, Wilson revealed that he had been sent (by the CIA) to Niger as early as February 2002 to investigate the Niger connection, which had been aired earlier by Secretary of State Colin Powell. He returned with the conclusion that there was no basis for the Iraq-Niger-Uranium connection.

July 14, 2003
Article by syndicated columnist Robert Novak, "Mission to Niger" mentions Valerie Plame by name, and identifies her as a CIA operative involved in Weapons of Mass Destruction:
"Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. "

September 26, 2003
The Justice Department begins a formal criminal investigation of the leak Sept. 26 following protests from the CIA about such a blatant exposure of one of their clandestine operatives.

Circa October 2, 2003
The New York Times mentions Karl Rove as being involved in the Valerie Plame matter. When asked about this, Scott McClellan, Bush's press secretary, dismissed such speculation and added that anyone involved would be removed from the administration.

December 30, 2003
After some questions of Ashcroft's conflict of interest, because of Rove's connection with him, having been his advisor on three of his campaigns, Ashcroft's Department of Justice appointed Patrick Fitzgerald special prosecutor to investigate the crime of endangering national security.

December 30, 2003 - Now
Following the leaks to various sources, Fitzgerald tracked down several journalists who had received this information, including Tim Russert of NBC, Matt Cooper of Time, Judith Miller of New York Times. The first two cooperated with the investigation, Judith Miller refused on the plea of protecting her source. For this she was sentenced to prison, and spent 85 days there before agreeing to testify before Fitzgerald's grand jury.

  1. A report published recently said that Bush had been furious with Rove (see Bush Whacked Rove on CIA Leak). The report says Bush lost his temper with Rove on the matter 2 years ago! That means, knowing his involvment, he kept Rove around for two years. So what else did Bush know, when did he know it, and what did he do about it?

  2. If Bush knew that Rove was involved and did nothing about it (private admonitions aside, how could such a person -- and certainly Rove from today's account conferred with Libby -- so Libby too -- be kept on the staff without the President being a co-conspirator, at least in spirit? After all, no one said Nixon was the one to break open the door at Watergate? Was his silence and complicity in the silence of others not his crime?

  3. Judith Miller went to jail saying she would not reveal her source. Then she came out, saying her source had said OK for her to reveal his name. The ostensible source, 'Scooter' Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, says he had given her authorization to use his name a year back, refuting her claim of wanting to protect her 'source'. Then it was discovered that there were two or three references in her reporter's notebook to Valerie (F)Plame. After all this, she says the name was not from Libby, but from another source, whose name escapes her! So who was she trying to protect during her 85 day ordeal?
  1. Today's Counterpunch has an excellent article by Ray McGovern, former CIA official, on the Niger yellowcake-Valerie Plame - Joe Wilson - Karl Rove - Scooter Libby story. See 16 Fatal Words
  2. This CBS timeline is also helpful.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Iraq Election Article, Judy Miller, New York Times

An Iraqi doctor has written an article in tomorrow's NY Times. Voting 'Yes' to Chaos by HATEM MUKHLIS is a clear picture of why the balkanization of Iraq is the end-result of the wrong-headed constitution they are trying to push.

Yesterday's Times carried a 6000 word report on what had gone so badly at the paper as to be scooped on stories about its own correspondent -- Judith Miller. Miller herself wrote a rather opaque article which appears to make things more rather than less murky. It fell to Randi Rhodes of Air America to state it succinctly: What do you make of this? A reporter goes to jail for 85 days saying she will not reveal her source. Then she comes out with much fanfare, goes to the grand jury, and tells them she doesn't remember who here source was! No other commentator has put it quite so elegantly. Yahoo had a news headline today that several members of the media felt Judy Miller should have been sacked for the humiliation she brought upon the paper. Not only did the paper toe her line, but it backed up its suckering by spending millions of dollars on her defense.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News Service reports that Vice-President Cheney may be the one path of Patrick Fitzgerald's inquiries. [Read article]. And just now, the top headline in the Washington Post is: Cheney's Office Is A Focus in Leak Case.

On Sunday, Condoleezza Rice was on several talk shows. Asked about the Fitzgerald inquiry by Chris Wallace of Fox, she took the usual Bush Administration (we don't talk about matters sub-judice) line. Rice, as revealed in a fine article by Frank Rich, was one of the eight members of a secret group called "White House Iraq Group", created in summer 2002 to 'sell the Iraq War' to the American public. Neither Russert nor Wallace asked about it, though.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

What the Media has Wrought

That should be the real title of Paul Krugman's article, "A Question of Character". He says,

"Read the speeches Howard Dean gave before the Iraq war, and compare them with Colin Powell's pro-war presentation to the U.N. Knowing what we know now, it's clear that one man was judicious and realistic, while the other was spinning crazy conspiracy theories. But somehow their labels got switched in the way they were presented to the public by the news media."

The disservice of the American media to the American people during these crucial years will be a standing black mark on its record.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Training the Iraqi Army

A fine article by Brian Cloughley in Counterpunch Weekend Edition, titled, "Training Soldiers in Iraq". Shows how the lying culture has seeped into the Army top brass, and the despicable performance by Generals Abizaid and Casey last week when the changed their own testimonies ex post-facto to suit the administration.

I am, however, not in favor of the armed forces defying civilian command, so the best thing for Casey and Abizaid would be to resign, if they felt they were being made to tell lies. But, as Cloughley says, whoever resigns on principle?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Blasphemy Laws, Free Speech, Orianna Fallaci

I was reading Irfan Husain's column in Dawn, where this week's article, Things Better Left Unsaid, refers to (and quotes from) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's 1972 interview with Oriana Fallaci, the famous Italian journalist. The article makes the point that good outcomes are often spoilt by politicians saying too much.

The article made me wonder about Oriana Fallaci, and I came across another article about her,
Oriana in Exile, which raises an even more vital issue, the future of free speech in the West. Written by Christopher Orlet, whom I have never read before, and who, on cursory research, appears to be a strong supporter of the Iraq war, and an admirer of Ann Coulter and Christopher Hitchens, the article brings up the seldom mentioned advent of political correctness, both vis-a-vis religion in general and Islam in particular. This can be said to have stared with the Satanic Verses, and given a grotesque shape by 9-11 and 7/7. As Orlet says, blasphemy laws of the medieval times are either back in full strength or close to being back.

Indeed, the only safe ecclesiastical criticism, more especially humor, in Western society any more is aimed at either Christianity or Judaism (in Eastern societies in general, public humor is so fraught with taboos that it is moot to discuss in this context). I was watching an episode of the Simpsons some weeks back. It was full of satirical remarks about Catholicism and Judaism. I wondered whether biting humor about Islam, Sikhism, or Hinduism would be tolerated by societies where these communities were in a majority or were powerful. Fallaci, as the title of Orlet's article indicates, is in exile from Italy for her last book in which she made no secret of her poor view of Islam.

The irony of it all is that to spread free civil society to the Middle East, Europe and America are turning into cloistered images of that same society they set out to change, as observed in Niranjan Ramakrishnan's Who's Transforming Whom? and Little Minds and Large Empires).

Monday, September 19, 2005

North Korea: Breakthrough?

The six-party talks on North Korea have ended in avoiding immediate impasse -- the North Koreans have agreed to do away with their nuclear weapon program, if the US gives aid to them, and also promises not to attack North Korea.

This will be trumpeted, no doubt, as a showpiece of diplomacy by the Bush administration. If you go back and look at the old newspapers, I think you'll find that this is exactly the demand NK has been making all these years, mainly that the US should promise never to attack NK. On top of that, the US has agreed to give NK food and energy aid as well.

It was Talleyrand who said, "The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence". Long ago in grad school, my friend from India had a Thanksgiving card for our department: "Thank goodness Columbus didn't find India. Imagine stuffing an elephant!". Likewise, if this is the price of peace in North Korea, imagine having to feed and heat Iran...

Read North Korea's Gambit: Back to the Future? by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

Saturday, September 17, 2005

John Roberts

Ralph Nader has a good article in Counterpunch. He makes two points. Why is Congress on such a tight schedule when it comes to such important decisions? The senators had to run after three days of John Roberts, and just about a day of other testimony about the nominee. Where is the great rush that they can only give five minutes to the witnesses? Ralph Nader himself was not even invited to testify, though he his submission of written questions was accepted.

Nader makes his second point - why did no Senator ask Roberts vital questions like his opinion on power of corporations Vs individuals, the considerations of city, state and federal governments that corporations may be 'too big to fail'.

Roberts himself was a cold fish. It is a truism that lawyers are passionate, judges dispassionate, but there was no evidence of passion in Roberts even as a lawyer. And since he was careful to note at each turn that just because he had argued one way in a case did not mean he himself felt that way (nor would he say that he didn't), there was nothing to be gained from the exercise. It was, as usual, only a place for senators to grandstand on CSPAN. Another Washington replay of the old Soviet worker's joke, "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us".

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bush speaks from Jackson Square

George W. Bush stood beneath a statue of Andrew Jackson in the French Quarter and gave a speech.

I have never understood why such a huge fuss was made about the 'Bullhorn moment' of September 14, 2001. I had always thought of it as a Bull**** moment, as most other moments of this presidency. But for whatever it was worth, it was at least novel. He tried to repeat it this time, but there was no audience, there was no spontaneity, and the bullhorn, as someone wrote, was buried in the water.

The obvious thing that came out of it was the fact that a few hundred billion dollars would be spent on New Orleans. The deficit would further skyrocket, of course, but the old conservative thought of prevention being better than cure has never been popular with the Bush crowd.

The more insidious thing was the explicit statement that the armed forces would now have a greater role. What this means is not clear, but it sounded ominous to me, more like the statement after a coup in some West African country.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Galloway Vs. Hitchens

The Grapple in the Big Apple
On Sep 14, Baruch College in New York held a debate between George Galloway (author of Mr. Galloway goes to Washington) and Christopher Hitchens (left-wing author who after 9-11 became a huge supporter of Bush, and the Iraq war).

One wishes the Presidential debates would be of this caliber. First, the Brits know how to debate with wit and sardonicism.

Hitchens spoke well, although he tends to swallow his words. Galloway has a clarity of thought and expression which must be the result of years of political streetfighting and parliamentary politics. Both were eloquent. Hitchens stood his ground, though Galloway, I thought, had the better of the exchanges.

For two hours they sparred, and it was a true delight. You can watch it on C-SPAN, which is broadcasting it on the BookTV channel on Sep 17, 9 PM Eastern Time, and also on Sunday (see schedule).

Two good pieces, one about the debate (Oona King, The Guardian) and the other on George Galloway by Greg Palast, both unflattering to Galloway.

* * *
Pat Buchanan's Place
Patrick Buchanan has been writing on New Orleans, but focusing on the cries of racism, ignoring the rest of the story. See Niranjan Ramakrishnan's "Brawl in the Family" in today's Counterpunch.

* * *
Row Vs. Wade
Question: What does Bush think of Roe Vs Wade?
Answer: People should get out of New Orleans any way they can.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tide and Tidings -- King Canute Old and New

The king who silenced his courtiers by ordering the tide to roll back was Canute.

That was then. Well before the 21st century. A millenium ago or more.

Our leader is quite the opposite. According to both Time (Living too much in a Bubble) and the even blunter Newsweek (How Bush Blew It), President Bush is so averse to getting bad news that his courtiers...er...advisers are scared to take anything but happy tidings to him.

Aside from the finger pointing and the cries of "Finger Pointing!", there is the vital issue of what a President is for. The years in Congress or the city attorney's office, the doggedness of the primary or the irritants of governorship, all designed to groom a person to gain an understanding of all strata of society.

But when primaries can be waged by smearing opponents out of contention, and presidencies can be won by friendly having your campaign chariman double as the state's secretary of state, rubbing elbows with the common people becomes unnecessary.
"That," he said, "is what happens when you got rich people who never been nothing but rich people running your country."
* * *
John Roberts spoke without notes and without pause, a pithy and crisp opening statement. Most impressive. That was yesterday. Today he answered questions from senators, a rather predictable affair, save for Specter, who did ask him some tough questions. I think there is a special version of the Fifth Amendment for judges seeking confirmation. Instead of the usual "I respectfully decline to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me...", this one goes, "If I answer, that would reveal my predelictions, so I respectfully decline...". John Roberts showed absolutely no passion. He did not seem moved by anything, did not appear to have anything dear to his heart. This may be a good thing in a judge. He kept on message -- one was not to answer questions, the second was to say that anything he had said or written in the past was on behalf of a case, and should not be construed as his view. At one point it got so exasperating that I was surprised when Diane Feinstein did not lose her cool. He basically repeated to her, in different words, her own question in statement form, making her say, "Basically you are saying this was the decision taken". Yes, ma'am.

In today's NYT, John Tierney, in his tongue in cheek Making Roberts Talk, says Roberts claims to like PG Wodehouse. In that case, he must have modeled himself after the Beach the Butler, or even Jeeves. He simply refused to be drawn.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Four years later: Wherrrrrrrrrrres's Osama?

It is over 1400 days since the twin towers came down, and Bush promised to get Bin Laden, alive or dead.

Well, where is he?

One would have thought such an important quarry would have figured in the newspapers each day. And when we have forgotten him, poor fellow, he feels insulted and himself reminds us of his existence via video and audio releases. Here's an excerpt from an article by Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect, entitled "Day 1,461 And Counting":
Just imagine bin Laden having been at large this long in President Al Gore’s administration. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine, because President Gore, under such circumstances, wouldn’t have lasted this long. You probably didn’t know, until you read this column, the number of days bin Laden has been at large. But I assure you that if Gore had been president, you and every American would have known, because the right would have seen to it that you knew, asking every day, “Where’s Osama?” If Gore hadn’t been impeached, it’s doubtful he’d have survived a re-election campaign, with Americans aghast at how weak and immoral a president had to be to permit those 2,700 deaths to go unavenged this long.
The statement is as much a testament to the Bush administration's chain failure technique -- before it can be held accountable for one failure it fails somewhere else, the very distraction warding off the consequences -- as to the Democrats' total lack of strategy (if nothing else).

As one more anniversary rolls around, Tomasky notes some historical facts:
America vanquished world fascism in less time: We obtained Germany’s surrender in 1,243 days, Japan’s in 1,365. Even the third Punic War, in which Carthage was burned to the ground and emptied of citizens who were taken en masse into Roman slavery, lasted around 1,100 days (and troops needed a little longer to get into position back in 149 B.C.).
Keep this in mind as you watch the news networks shamelessly bring you the self-serving pageantry of presidential ceremony at New York and elsewhere, with bold graphical gymnastics of "9-11: America Remembers" and the like.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina Heads East, Bush Heads West!

From Niranjan Ramakrishnan's article in Counterpunch today, "From New York to New Orleans: Still Clueless in Crawford, Witless in Washington".

Consider this: As the storm approaches, after warnings of levee collapse and what awaited if that happened, Bush waits it out in Crawford (550 miles from New Orleans), clearing brush and God knows what else. Then, on the day it hits, he moves another 1000 miles away from New Orleans, playing golf in Arizona! The next day, when the levees break and the city is below water, he heads further away (San Diego, 1840 miles from New Orleans) to address veterans!

When the going gets tough, the toughs head due W.

Gore's Wonderful Stand-Up Tragedy

Last night, I had the opportunity to watch Al Gore's interactive presentation on Global Warming. I cannot recall when I have ever seen such a masterly presentation: great visuals, accompanied by telling but low-key commentary.

Here are some salient facts:
  1. There is a direct and well-established correlation between CO2 emissions and global temperatures.
  2. Both have shown distinct rises in the past 30 years.
  3. In every part of the world, glaciers are melting (excellent side-by-side photos of the same place some decades ago vs. now demonstrate this)
  4. If the half the Antartica glacier drops into the sea, it will cause a 20 foot rise in sea level.
  5. Hurricanes, forest fires, both have shown a sharp rise in the beginning 1990 (order of magnitude)
  6. Global warming not only causes hurricanes, it also soaks up soil moisture from the interior lands too -- if this continues, much of the continental US, for example, will be turned to desert.
A heart-warming talk on global-warming. The danger is real.
It is the real issue facing the world.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Holy Cow! An Indian Connection?

A news report says the Mad Cow disease could have been caused by human remains in cattle-feed, remains coming from Indian funerals.

New Orleans Blues
President Bush and the administration have no excuse this time. The storm, if anything, spared New Orleans by turning east at the last minute, unlike the direct hit which was talked about for weeks. Despite that, the man spent his time biking, golfing, and collecting funds (for his party). This is right there alongside Nero fiddling. Many people have written about this. One such article is by Van Jones, called, "Bush's Role in the Drowning of New Orleans".

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Gary Hart Speaks Out, Bush's worst Days lie ahead

Gary Hart, former senator and presidential aspirant, and with Warren Rudman one of the two chairs of the security commission whose warnings were ignored by the administration prior to Sep 11, has spoken out about the Democrats (Who will say, 'No More'?). Here are excerpts:

"Like the cat that jumped on a hot stove and thereafter wouldn't jump on any stove, hot or cold, today's Democratic leaders didn't want to make that mistake again. Many supported the Iraq war resolution and -- as the Big Muddy is rising yet again -- now find themselves tongue-tied or trying to trump a war president by calling for deployment of more troops. Thus does good money follow bad and bad politics get even worse."

Hart continues:

"History will deal with George W. Bush and the neoconservatives who misled a mighty nation into a flawed war...But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while all this goes on?

To stay silent during such a crisis, and particularly to harbor the thought that the administration's misfortune is the Democrats' fortune, is cowardly. In 2008 I want a leader who is willing now to say: "I made a mistake, and for my mistake I am going to Iraq and accompanying the next planeload of flag-draped coffins back to Dover Air Force Base. And I am going to ask forgiveness for my mistake from every parent who will talk to me."

The real defeatists today are not those protesting the war. The real defeatists are those in power and their silent supporters in the opposition party who are reduced to repeating "Stay the course" even when the course, whatever it now is, is light years away from the one originally undertaken."

None of the Democrats in the Senate or House will come anywhere close to this. The most disappointing is Howard Dean, who is actually suggesting increasing troop strength!

Also in the Washington Post, an article by Colbert I. King, saying, "Bush's worst days are ahead". King says there are two tracks in progress -- while Bush goes around the country trumpeting the call to arms, Washington's officialdom is quietly resigning itself to a different reality, that Iraq will remain a violent, theocratic, spoils system after the Americans leave. One of the officials is quoted as saying (rough paraphrase), "We will not say a day longer than necessary. But necessary for us or for the Iraqis?"

From King's article:

"Consider the Iraq now unfolding on the ground.

What's the value of Americans giving their lives so that cleric-dominated Shiites and northern Kurds can get their hands on political power and oil revenue?

Why are American women and men sacrificing lives and limbs in a country where women may have to settle for less?

Stay the course. What course? So religious-based militia can divvy up the northern and southern portions of the country? So Islam can be enshrined as a principal source of new Iraqi legislation?

Are any of those things worth dying for? Do any of those likely outcomes represent an American victory? They certainly aren't why Bush said we went over there.

Okay, the Bush folks also promised us weapons of mass destruction, and greetings with rice and rose water, and Iraqi oil money to pay for reconstruction, and a model new democracy in the Middle East, none of which has happened.

But this is different.

President Bush is out selling a vision of victory in Iraq while U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad are resigned to settling for less. George Bush can't make good on his original promise, and they know it. They also know that more Americans are going to die in Iraq for what may end up as a theocracy-tinged spoils system.

When those carrying the burden of this war realize what they have sacrificed and died for, the worst days of George W. Bush will have just begun."

Monday, August 22, 2005

If 4 times is too much, what is 400 times? Mangal Pandey

Disparity and Democracy
Chinese scholars have warned that the rising income disparities in their country will undermine social stability by 2010.
From a news report:

Annual urban incomes that are due to surpass 10,000 yuan ($1,200) on average are growing twice as fast as those in the countryside, the China Daily said, citing a report commissioned by the Labor and Social Services Ministry.

Rural incomes linger at around 3,000 yuan ($370) per year.

"We are going to hit the red light scenario after 2010 if there are no effective solutions in the next few years," it said. The team uses blue, green, yellow and red light indicators to track income disparity trends, with red being most serious.
Just by way of comparison, the salary gap between an average American worker and his CEO is around 400 or thereabouts (turns out I was being conservative -- it was actually 500+ even in 2001, and has likely increased since then, see article by Neil Pearce). No wonder the war is fought and billions are spent in Iraq, while America parties on (see Bob Herbert's article in the New York Times, Blood runs Red, not Blue, or Niranjan Ramakrishnan's in Counterpunch (Shaming the Shameless).

John Kerry - Serial Blunderer
John Kerry has sent around an email asking the President to answer some questions, in his address to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) at Salt Lake City, UT. Kerry has a bunch of questions for Bush (copied verbatim from Kerry's message):
  • When will the President get it right in Iraq?
  • When will he deliver to the nation and those sacrificing so much in Iraq a concrete plan for peace and victory?
  • Why, at this late date, is the Pentagon still struggling to get the right supplies and body armor to America's troops?
  • When will the President support a military large enough to face the challenges of today's world?
  • And when will the President stop short-changing America's veterans? When will he stop closing hospitals, cutting benefits, and making veterans wait weeks for a doctor's appointment?
Talk about limp... Nowhere in Kerry's message is Cindy Sheehan or the protest in Crawford mentioned. Get it right in Iraq? Give us a break. To think this was the alternative to Bush so many of us worked for! Makes you want to crawl under a doormat and disappear.

FSTV and Democracy Now!
I recently discovered Free Speech Television, a channel that features, among other things, an excellent 1 hour news broadcast called Democracy Now! While the Big 3 and the little 3 (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) talk about Eric Rudolph, BTK and Aruba, Democracy Now! gives hard news with good quality presentation and graphics too. I know it is on Dish Network, and I believe it is also available on Cable and Direct TV. You can go directly to their website at http://www.democracynow.org. They have streaming video where the show is also available. No commercials, and solid news.

The Rising -- The Ballad of Mangal Pandey
I paid little attention to the new movie starring Aamir Khan, featuring the first rebel of the First Indian War of Independence of 1857 (also known as the Sepoy Mutiny). But an article by Rajiv Rawat (The Rising of the Rising) brings out a contextual view of the movie, which, he claims, uses the metaphor of 1857 British imperialism in India to hold up 2003 American Imperialism in Iraq to scrutiny. Whether by design, or by ignorance (the latter is more likely) the American media have almost wholly ignored what Rawat claims is a technically flawless film.

Friday, August 19, 2005

If Bush's OK, why not Modi?

Arundhati Roy, in an interview, asks a salient question: If George W. Bush, mass murderer and war criminal, is acceptable enough to Manmohan Singh to pose with on the White House balcony, why should he criticize Narendra Modi? Read this wide ranging interview with S. Anand.

Another fine article, this one called, "There is such a thing as Too Late", by Ray McGovern, on the matter of speaking out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Satyagrahi is Born -- Shaming the Shameless

When history is written, I think Cindy Sheehan's act will be viewed as being in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha or Rosa Parks' defiance. See article by Niranjan Ramakrishnan with the above title.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cindy, Don and George

In this one article is captured the entire megatragedy of Bush, Cheney, the Democrats, Iraq, the deficit, and the deepening morass. Like a survey article in a professional publication, this is a complete yet concise rendition of where we are and the lies that brought us here. A few samples:
Bush on arriving for a meeting with families of the bereaved, including Cindy Sheehan and her husband on June 17, 2004: "So, who are we honoring here?"
Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post reported last week that "a US general said ... the violence would likely escalate as the deadline approached for drafting a constitution for Iraq". For two years now, this has been a dime-a-dozen prediction from American officials trying to cover their future butts. For the phrase "drafting a constitution" in that general's quote, you need only substitute "after the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons" (July 2003), "for handing over sovereignty" (June 2004), "for voting for a new Iraqi government" (January 2005) - or, looking ahead, "for voting on the constitution" (October, 2005) and, yet again, "for voting for a new Iraqi government" (December 2005), just as you will be able to substitute as yet unknown similar "milestones" that won't turn out to be milestones as long as our president insists that we must "stay the course" in Iraq, as he did only recently as his Crawford vacation began.
Or this:
Iraq - you can't leave home without it - has, of course, been at the heart of everything Bushworld hasn't been able to shake off, at least since May 2, 2003. On that day (when, ominously enough, seven American soldiers were wounded by a grenade attack in Fallujah), our president co-piloted a jet onto the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier halted off the San Diego coast (lest it dock and he only be able to walk on board). All togged out in a military uniform, he declared "major combat operations" at an end, while standing under a White House-produced banner reading "mission accomplished".
Read the entire article by Tom Engelhardt for yourself on Tomdispatch.com or at Asia Times.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Cost of War -- An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan

A beautiful letter from Ralph Nader to Cindy Sheehan: May you succeed where others have failed.

I had heard about this website before, called The Cost of War. Tells you precisely how much the war is costing, and relates it to hard facts -- e.g., how many teachers you could have hired -- in your own town -- for the corresponding proportion amount of money.

Friday, July 29, 2005

CAFTA Passes - How the West Was Lost

Wrote Paul Craig Roberts in Counterpunch (July 27 2005):
"...the US, formerly a superpower until afflicted with "new economy" syndrome, has lost so much manufacturing capability that it can scarcely produce one submarine every two years and one aircraft carrier every five years. US manufacturing capability is so reduced and shrinking so fast that the president of the American Shipbuilding Association recently said that in the next several years "more and more manufacturing of ship components and systems will migrate to China."
And so it was imperative that Congress pass CAFTA! See article "How the West Was Lost" by Niranjan Ramakrishnan:
"Watch carefully", said the old Russian nobleman in Dr. Zhivago. "You are seeing the last half of the last cigar in Moscow!" With the CAFTA Senate vote today, I felt I was witnessing one of the last nails being hammered into the casket of twentieth century USA.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A new view of freedom from oil-dependence

Caught this on Free Speech TV (Channel 9415 on Dish Network). An optimistic view of the future -- a speech by Amory Lovins called "Winning the Oil Endgame". Read the entire speech. The key is a huge investment in energy research, as the speaker says. Some excerpts:

"First, I’d like to convey a rather terse and unusual message that over the next few decades this country can get completely off oil. Not just imported, but domestic also, if we wish, and can revitalize both its industrial, and its rural economy in a way that is profitable..."

"To do this will require about 180 billion dollars of investment. Half to retool the car, truck and plane industries, and half to build a modern bio-fuels industry. That will earn handsome returns and is financeable in the private capital market, but for the reasons I’ve just mentioned, it is well worth accelerating in a way that enhances customer choice and manages risk."

Well, that should be enought to whet your appetite. Read the speech, and also download the entire book on the subject (URL available in the full speech).

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

How they get away with it

To those of us wondering how Bush is able to get away with so much damage, here's a bundle of insight. An article by Scott McConnell in the American Conservative.

Also see article by Niranjan Ramakrishnan, "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" on Bush's Iraq speech of June 28.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Price of Progress

An American 'sadhu' has written about his Indian expriences. He is now 'promoting' his book in the USA. He says the old days are going away in India, TV has replaced sadhus as a way of keeping and making traditions. An interesting read.

Read the full story.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Of Lal's Conversion to Iqbal on the Road to Karachi

Advani resigned yestereday from his post of president of the BJP. He said he did not repent anything he said or did in Pakistan. It was a bold stand, and I hope he will stick to it. He has invited a debate over his remarks on Jinnah. Such a debate is crying out to be held. Advani has stirred up exactly the questions that both countries need to ask and answer so they can move on.

Read Unpardonable Acts of Statesmanship by Niranjan Ramakrishnan in today's Counterpunch.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Anarchy in Afghanistan; Ignorance in America

...And other stories

First some brilliant writing by Brian Cloughley -- Read the full article -- a must read.

"Frist is an ignorant, mischievous, parochial dimwit. He has tried to create a picture of normality where none exists. Just as Barno (no longer in Afghanistan, praise be) lives in a world of self-delusion and interferes in matters he knows nothing about, so does Frist MD demonstrate invincible denseness. The problem for civilized America -- the non-Bush US -- is that Frist, Barno and countless others are regarded as important people by many foreigners and when they make silly statements it is not always understood that they are simpletons. They haven't got the wit to be cunningly deceitful: they are merely boneheads. But that doesn't matter, because they are faithfully spreading the word about Bush progress and freedom. That process relies on open mouths and closed brains." Read the full article

Women driving Saudis Crazy
Another interesting article about Saudi Arabia. The Saudi legislator who has introduced a bill to permit women to drive has been receiving threats. Some 500 women who decided to take the wheel in 1990 were arrested and dismissed from their jobs. Read more.

Shades of Nasbandi during the Emergency
The US has been laying out large bounties for suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban. Enterprising Afghans are collecting by handing over innocent foreigners! Bush should rejoice that the spirit of enterprise is not dead. Paul Craig Roberts, ex Wall Street Journal editor and ex-Reagan Administration, writes. Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Disassembling the Truth - Bush Explaining English

Who says all the software jobs have fled? The disassembly field is full of opportunity.

Listening to excerpts of Bush's news conference today, I couldn't believe it when I heard him say 'disassemble' when he meant, 'dissemble'. What's more, he went on to explain what the word meant. Wondering if I had heard right, I looked up the transcript. Here's the relevant part (ignore for the moment his treatment of the gravity of Amnesty's accusation):

QUESTION: Mr. President, recently Amnesty International said you have established, quote, a new gulag of prisons around the world beyond the reach of the law and decency. I'd like your reaction to that, and also your assessment of how it came to this -- that that is a view not just held by extremists and anti-Americans, but by groups that have allied themselves with the United States government in the past, and what the strategic impact is that in many places in the world the United States these days under your leadership is no longer seen as the good guy.

BUSH: I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation.

The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way.

It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of, you know, the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees.

It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of and the allegations by people that were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained in some instances to disassemble, that means not tell the truth.

Not for the first time, I wonder if the W stands for Wodehouse (see Bertie Wooster in Miami). As explanations go, this is right up there with: "My wife", said Lord Emsworth, "Was alive at the time", making it clear that there was no question of a voice from the tomb.

Let us 'differ' to Bush on the matter!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The New Manifesto of Karl Marx - A brilliant snapshot of current society by David Brooks

Published: May 29, 2005

I was in the library reading room when suddenly a strange specter of a man appeared above me. He was a ragged fellow with a bushy beard, dressed in the clothes of another century. He clutched news clippings on class in America, and atop the pile was a manifesto in his own hand. He was gone in an instant, but Karl's manifesto on modern America remained. This is what it said:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletariat, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stand in opposition to each other and carry on a constant fight. In the information age, in which knowledge is power and money, the class struggle is fought between the educated elite and the undereducated masses.

The information age elite exercises artful dominion of the means of production, the education system. The median family income of a Harvard student is $150,000. According to the Educational Testing Service, only 3 percent of freshmen at the top 146 colleges come from the poorest quarter of the population. The educated class ostentatiously offers financial aid to poor students who attend these colleges and then rigs the admission criteria to ensure that only a small, co-optable portion of them can get in.

The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy - seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades - and then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance of its class.

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little meritocrats. Members of the educated elites are more and more likely to marry each other, which the experts call assortative mating, but which is really a ceaseless effort to refortify class solidarity and magnify social isolation. Children are turned into workaholic knowledge workers - trained, tutored, tested and prepped to strengthen class dominance.

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of the professional class, where they are given the social and other skills to extend class hegemony.

The information society is the only society in which false consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the views of the left.

Periodically members of this oppressor class hold mock elections. The Yale-educated scion of the Bush family may face the Yale-educated scion of the Winthrop family. They divide into Republicans and Democrats and argue over everything except the source of their power: the intellectual stratification of society achieved through the means of education.

More than the Roman emperors, more than the industrial robber barons, the malefactors of the educated class seek not only to dominate the working class, but to decimate it. For 30 years they have presided over failing schools without fundamentally transforming them. They have imposed a public morality that affords maximum sexual opportunity for themselves and guarantees maximum domestic chaos for those lower down.

In 1960 there were not big structural differences between rich and poor families. In 1960, three-quarters of poor families were headed by married couples. Now only a third are. While the rates of single parenting have barely changed for the educated elite, family structures have disintegrated for the oppressed masses.

Poor children are less likely to live with both biological parents, hence, less likely to graduate from high school, get a job and be in a position to challenge the hegemony of the privileged class. Family inequality produces income inequality from generation to generation.

Undereducated workers of the world, unite! Let the ruling educated class tremble! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!

I don't agree with everything in Karl's manifesto, because I don't believe in incessant class struggle, but you have to admit, he makes some good points.

E-mail: dabrooks@nytimes.com

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Win or Loss?

So the filibuster showdown was averted at the last minute! Much joy in Washington, with pictures of Frist and Reid looking all set to do the minuet. So all's well? So one would think from hearing the Democrats. MoveOn sent around a message of congratulations to everyone who had contacted their senators in Washington urging a no on the 'nuclear' option. The memo from MoveOn pointed out that James Dobson had cried that the Republicans had caved in the face of a united Democratic front.

This victory is all very well, but it kinda reminds me of strikes I used to see when I was in India. The union would call a strike. After a couple of days of demonstrations and picketing, the management would dismiss the workers. Then the entire focus of the demands would shift to 'reinstall the workers', with the original purpose of the strike lost. After all the sturm-und-drang, what has been obtained? The status quo, nothing more.

The Republicans have promised to set aside the nuclear option, while the Democrats have conceded all a the things on which the entire filibuster effort was based. The "Agreement", as it is reverently referred to in the newspapers, agrees to provide 'up or down' votes to, among others, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, the most egregious of Bush's choices. I watched Barbara Boxer lay out the case against the latter in great detail, explaining why the filibuster was needed.

So the Republicans have won. They have advanced their nominees, while Frist summarized his smug threat, that the nuclear option would be revived upon 'bad faith and bad behavior'. To be defined at will, no doubt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Galloway knocks senators off pedestal

George Galloway, English MP and vociferous opponent of the Iraq war, appeared before the Senate Homeland Security panel this week. Speaking extempore (as it appeared from the video), he blasted the panel's chairman, the slimy Norm Coleman who, it might be remembered, was Clinton's Minnesota campaign chairman before defecting to become the Republican opponent who won after Paul Wellstone's accidental death before the 2002 elections.

One wishes American politicians would speak plainly, as Galloway did. After his plain speaking, to which clearly there was no answer from Coleman, Sen. Carl Levin stood with Coleman to condemn Galloway.

Anyway, here's a full transcript.

You can also watch Galloway's appearance on video.

See the Guardian's report here.

Read the Scottsman's piece on the same topic.


Monday, May 16, 2005

The Mess in Iraq - No reprieve in the short run

Andrew Cockburn, the reporter for the English newspaper, the Independent, has written this lucid account of the problems in Iraq. It is a sober yet chilling rendition of how much has gone wrong, and how deep is the quagmire the US is in. Read it fully here.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Real ID Act of 2005 - Big Brother grows Bigger

The Real ID Act of 2005 passed the House by a whopping 261-161 margin. Though seemingly innocuous, seeking to verify immigration status before issuing drivers licences has been the main feature highlighted in newspaper accounts, this article will tell you that there are far bigger issues involved. Embedded within the bill is a provision to include RFID, which means not only are you required to carry proof of legal status with you at all times, your coordinates can also be tracked.

The senate is going to consider it, given that it has been bundled with a budget bill (though there is a move to exclude immigration issues from the budget bill). If you want to voice your opposition to it, you can go to www.eff.org and sign a petition.

The issue is making ripples as far across the globe as the 51st state, which is what brought it to my attention.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

How Coca Cola quit Plachimada

From Counterpunch, April 16-17, 2005

Message in a Bottle
How Coca Cola Gave Back To Plachimada


Plachimada, Kerala.

Whizzing along the road in the little Tata Indica, driven prestissimo by Sudhi, we crossed the state line from Tamil Nadu into Kerala, branched off the main road and ended up in the settlement of Plachimada, mostly inhabited by extremely poor people. There on one side of the street was the Coca-Cola plant, among the largest in Asia, and on the other a shack filled with locals eager to impart the news that they were now, as of April 2, in Day 1076 of their struggle against the plant.

Coca-Cola came to India in 1993, looking for water and markets in a country where one third of all villages are without anything approaching adequate water and shortages are growing every day. Indeed India is facing a gigantic water crisis, even as Coca Cola and other companies haul free water to the cities from the countryside and water parks and golf courses metastasize around cities like Mumbai.

The bloom was on neoliberalism back then when Coca-Cola came in, with central and state authorities falling over themselves to lease, sell or simply hand over India's national assets in the name of economic "reform". They still are, but the popular mood has changed.

The apex posterboy of neo-liberalism, Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh, feted by Bill Clinton, John Wolfenson and Bill Gates and such nabobs of nonsense as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, was tossed out in elections a year ago. Naidu's fans in the west and indeed in India's elites, were thunderstruck. The reason was simple. Below the top tier, hundreds of millions of Indians went to the polls last year to register a furious No. There are hundreds of parables to explain this. Here's one, courtesy of Coca-Cola.

Across India's give-away decade Coca-Cola took over some 22 Indian bottling companies, capturing their marketing and distribution systems and easily beating back various legal assaults for predatory practices to eliminate competition. Senior civil servants and politicians, some of them pocketing covert subventions, made tremulous speeches about the New India. Meanwhile out in the real world of the Indian countryside, Coca-Cola's bottling plants were getting less enthusiastic reviews.

Coca-Cola had sound reasons in zoning in on Plachimada. A rain-shadow region in the heart of Kerala's water belt, it has large underground water deposits. The site Coca-Cola picked was set between two large reservoirs and ten meters south of an irrigation canal. The ground water reserves had apparently showed up on satellite surveys done by the company's prospectors. The Coke site is surrounded by colonies where several hundred poor people live in crowded conditions, with an average holding of four-tenths of an acre. Virtually the sole source of employment is wage labor, usually for no more than 100 to 120 days in the year.

Ushered in by Kerala's present "reform"-minded government, the plant duly got a license from the local council, known as the Perumatty Grama panchayat. Under India's constitution the panchayats have total discretion in such matters. Coca-Cola bought a property of some 40 acres held by a couple of large landowners, built a plant, sank six bore wells, and commenced operations.

Within six months the villagers saw the level of their water drop sharply, even run dry. The water they did draw was awful. It gave some people diarrhea and bouts of dizziness. To wash in it was to get skin rashes,a burning feel on the skin. It left their hair greasy and sticky. The women found that rice and dal did not get cooked but became hard. A thousand families have been directly affected, and well water affected up to a three or four kilometers from the plant.

The locals, mostly indigenous adivasis and dalits had never had much, after allocation of a bit of land from the true, earth-shaking reforms of Kerala's Communist government, democratically elected in 1956. And they had had plenty of good water. On April 22, 2002 the locals commenced peaceful agitation and shut the plant down. Responding to popular pressure, the panchayat rescinded its license to Coca-Cola on August 7,2003. Four days later the local Medical Officer ruled that water in wells near the plant was unfit for human use, a judgement reached by various testing labs months earlier.

All of this was amiably conveyed to us in brisk and vivid detail by the villagers. Then Mylamma, an impressively eloquent woman, led us down a path to one of the local village wells nearby. It was a soundly built square well, some 10 feet from side to side. About five feet from the top we could see the old water line, but no water. Peering twenty feet further down in the semi-darkness we could see a stagnant glint.

Today, in a region known as the rice bowl of Kerala, women in Plachimada have to walk a 4-kilometer round trip to get drinkable water, toting the big vessels on hip or their head. Even better-off folk face ruin. One man said he'd been farming eight acres of rice paddy, hiring 20 workers, but now, with no water for the paddy, he survives on the charity of his son-in-law.

The old village wells had formerly gone down to 150 to 200 feet. The company's bore wells go down to 750 to 1000 feet. As the water table dropped, all manner of toxic matter began to rise too, leaching up to higher levels as the soil dried out.

The whole process would play well on The Simpsons. It has a ghastly comicality to it. When the plant was running at full tilt 85 truck loads rolled out of the plant gates, each load consisting of 550 to 600 cases, 24 bottles to the case, all containing Plachimada's prime asset, water, now enhanced in cash value by Cola's infusions of its syrups.

Also trundling through the gates came 36 lorries a day, each with six 50-gallon drums of sludge from the plant's filtering and bottle cleaning processes, said sludge resembling buff-colored puke in its visual aspect, a white-to-yellow granular sauce blended with a darker garnish of blended fabric, insulating material and other fibrous matter, plus a sulphuric acid smell very unpleasing to the nostrils.

Coca Cola was "giving back" to Plachimada, the give-back taking the form of the toxic sludge, along with profuse daily donations of foul wastewater.

The company told the locals the sludge was good for the land and dumped loads of it in the surrounding fields and on the banks of the irrigation canal, heralding it as free fertilizer. Aside from stinking so badly it made old folk and children sick, people coming in contact with it got rashes and kindred infections and the crops which it was supposed to nourish died.

Lab analysis by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board has shown dangerous levels of cadmium in the sludge. Another report done at Exeter University in England at the request of the BBC Radio 4 (whose reporter John Waite visited Plachimada and broadcast his report in July of 2003) found in water in a well near the plant not only impermissible amounts of cadmium but lead at levels that "could have devastating consequences", particularly for pregnant women. The Exeter lab also found the sludge useless as fertiliser, a finding which did not faze Coca-Cola's Indian vice-president Sunil Gupta who swore the sludge was "absolutely safe" and "good for crops".

Plachimada is in a district, the Perumatti
Panchayat, ruled by the Janata Dal (Secular). M.P. Veerendrakumar is the President of the Kerala state unit of this party and represents the constituency of Kozhikode in the Indian Parliament. Veerendrakumar is also chairman and managing director of Mathrubhumi, a newspaper which sells over a million copies a day in Malayalam, Kerala's language.

Veerendrakumar, a forceful man in his late sixties and a former federal minister, tells me that for the past two years Mathrubhumi has refused to run any ads for Coca-Cola and the company's other brand names drinks such as Mirinda, 7 Up, Sprite, Fanta, Kinley Soda, Thums Up. Veerendrakumar's group includes in its ban ads for Pepsi, which he says has a plant ten kilometers from Plachimada that has produced the same problems. He says his company's net loss of advertising revenue amounts thus far to some 30 million rupees, more than $700,000, a very hefty sum in Kerala, though far, far less ­ as he told India's parliament in Delhi, than what farmers around Plachimada have collectively lost through crop failure consequent on the loss of water.

"The cruel fact", Veerendrakumar told the Indian parliament as he handed over a well-documented report on the toxic outputs of the plant, "is that water from our underground sources is pumped out free and sold to our people to make millions every day, at the same time destroying our environment and damaging the health of our people. For us rivers, dams and water sources are the property of the nation and her people."

The locals won't let the plant reopen, to the fury of Kerala's present pro-Coke government, which has tried, unconstitutionally, to overrule the local council (it told the panchayat it could only spend $5 a day in public money on its case) and hopes the courts will do the right thing and grease Coca-Cola's wheels. Kerala's High Court did just that last week, and the panchayat, helped by private donations, is now taking its cased to India's Supreme Court. K. Krishnan, President of the Perumatti Panchayat, where the Coca-Cola plant is situated, has withstood all blandishments, which is more than can be said about many other individuals.

Drive along almost any road in Kerala and you'll see cocoanut palms. What Keralites term as tender cocoanut water really is good for you. Ask any local rat. A trio of biochemists at the University of Kerala recently put rats on it and their levels of cholesterol and triglycerides sank significantly, with anti-oxidant enzymes putting up a fine show. For the rats dosed on Coca-Cola the tests readings weren't pretty, starting with "short, swollen, ulcerated and broken villi in the intestine and severe nuclear damage".

"What is the use of the Coca-Cola Company," cried Phulwanti Mhase of Kudus village, in Maharashtra state, where women wash clothes in dirty puddles after Hindustan Coca-Cola built a plant there. "These are outsiders. They take our water, filter it and then resell it to us at a price."

Phulwanti is cited (in a very useful pamphlet put out by the All India Democratic Women's Association) as issuing this brisk précis of Marx's Capital from the vantage point of her teashop from which can be descried the outlines of the plant, which churns out sodas including a mineral water called Kinley. Phulwanti has one bottle of Kinley in her store for people passing through, remarking, "I get angry. This is our water and they sell it to us for 12 rupees, which is what a tribal woman would make for eight hours' work."

Taking a leaf out of the self-realization catechism, Coca-Cola flaunts its slogan in Hindi, "Jo chahe ho jahe", meaning "Whatever you want, happens" , translated by the local women as "Jo Coke chahe ho jahe", "Whatever Coke wants, happens."

But not in Plachimada.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Why Democrats Fail

An excellent analysis by Bill Bradley (D-NJ), former Senator in the New York Times, Mar 30, 2005.

A Party Inverted
By BILL BRADLEY Published: March 30, 2005

FIVE months after the presidential election Democrats are still pointing fingers at one another and trying to figure out why Republicans won. Was the problem the party's position on social issues or taxes or defense or what? Were there tactical errors made in the conduct of the campaign? Were the right advisers heard? Was the candidate flawed?

Before deciding what Democrats should do now, it's important to see what Republicans have done right over many years. When the Goldwater Republicans lost in 1964, they didn't try to become Democrats. They tried to figure out how to make their own ideas more appealing to the voters. As part of this effort, they turned to Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and soon to become a member of the United States Supreme Court. In 1971 he wrote a landmark memo for the United States Chamber of Commerce in which he advocated a sweeping, coordinated and long-term effort to spread conservative ideas on college campuses, in academic journals and in the news media.

To further the party's ideological and political goals, Republicans in the 1970's and 1980's built a comprehensive structure based on Powell's blueprint. Visualize that structure as a pyramid.
You've probably heard some of this before, but let me run through it again. Big individual donors and large foundations - the Scaife family and Olin foundations, for instance - form the base of the pyramid. They finance conservative research centers like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, entities that make up the second level of the pyramid.

The ideas these organizations develop are then pushed up to the third level of the pyramid - the political level. There, strategists like Karl Rove or Ralph Reed or Ken Mehlman take these new ideas and, through polling, focus groups and careful attention to Democratic attacks, convert them into language that will appeal to the broadest electorate. That language is sometimes in the form of an assault on Democrats and at other times in the form of advocacy for a new policy position. The development process can take years. And then there's the fourth level of the pyramid: the partisan news media. Conservative commentators and networks spread these finely honed ideas.

At the very top of the pyramid you'll find the president. Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine.

It is not quite the "right wing conspiracy" that Hillary Clinton described, but it is an impressive organization built consciously, carefully and single-mindedly. The Ann Coulters and Grover Norquists don't want to be candidates for anything or cabinet officers for anyone. They know their roles and execute them because they're paid well and believe, I think, in what they're saying. True, there's lots of money involved, but the money makes a difference because it goes toward reinforcing a structure that is already stable.

To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate.

Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on. Unlike Republicans, they don't simply have to assemble a campaign apparatus - they have to formulate ideas and a vision, too. Many Democratic fundraisers join a campaign only after assessing how well it has done in assembling its pyramid of political, media and idea people.

There is no clearly identifiable funding base for Democratic policy organizations, and in the frantic campaign rush there is no time for patient, long-term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas. Campaigns don't start thinking about a Democratic brand until halfway through the election year, by which time winning the daily news cycle takes precedence over building a consistent message. The closest that Democrats get to a brand is a catchy slogan.

Democrats choose this approach, I believe, because we are still hypnotized by Jack Kennedy, and the promise of a charismatic leader who can change America by the strength and style of his personality. The trouble is that every four years the party splits and rallies around several different individuals at once. Opponents in the primaries then exaggerate their differences and leave the public confused about what Democrats believe.

In such a system tactics trump strategy. Candidates don't risk talking about big ideas because the ideas have never been sufficiently tested. Instead they usually wind up arguing about minor issues and express few deep convictions. In the worst case, they embrace "Republican lite" platforms - never realizing that in doing so they're allowing the Republicans to define the terms of the debate.

A party based on charisma has no long-term impact. Think of our last charismatic leader, Bill Clinton. He was president for eight years. He was the first Democrat to be re-elected since Franklin Roosevelt. He was smart, skilled and possessed great energy. But what happened? At the end of his tenure in the most powerful office in the world, there were fewer Democratic governors, fewer Democratic senators, members of Congress and state legislators and a national party that was deep in debt. The president did well. The party did not. Charisma didn't translate into structure.

If Democrats are serious about preparing for the next election or the next election after that, some influential Democrats will have to resist entrusting their dreams to individual candidates and instead make a commitment to build a stable pyramid from the base up. It will take at least a decade's commitment, and it won't come cheap. But there really is no other choice.

Bill Bradley, a former Democratic senator from New Jersey, is a managing director of Allen & Company.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Religious Hucksterism in our time

A superb article by Frank Rich of the New York Times.

The God Racket, From DeMille to DeLay
Published: March 27, 2005
Frank Rich

AS Congress and the president scurried to play God in the lives of Terri Schiavo and her family last weekend, ABC kicked off Holy Week with its perennial ritual: a rebroadcast of the 1956 Hollywood blockbuster, "The Ten Commandments."

Cecil B. DeMille's epic is known for the parting of its Technicolor Red Sea, for the religiosity of its dialogue (Anne Baxter's Nefretiri to Charlton Heston's Moses: "You can worship any God you like as long as I can worship you.") and for a Golden Calf scene that DeMille himself described as "an orgy Sunday-school children can watch." But this year the lovable old war horse has a relevance that transcends camp. At a time when government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma, the half-forgotten show business history of "The Ten Commandments" provides a telling back story.

As DeMille readied his costly Paramount production for release a half-century ago, he seized on an ingenious publicity scheme. In partnership with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a nationwide association of civic-minded clubs founded by theater owners, he sponsored the construction of several thousand Ten Commandments monuments throughout the country to hype his product. The Pharaoh himself - that would be Yul Brynner - participated in the gala unveiling of the Milwaukee slab. Heston did the same in North Dakota. Bizarrely enough, all these years later, it is another of these DeMille-inspired granite monuments, on the grounds of the Texas Capitol in Austin, that is a focus of the Ten Commandments case that the United States Supreme Court heard this month.

We must wait for the court's ruling on whether the relics of a Hollywood relic breach the separation of church and state. Either way, it's clear that one principle, so firmly upheld by DeMille, has remained inviolate no matter what the courts have to say: American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends. While sometimes God racketeers are guilty of the relatively minor sin of bad taste - witness the crucifixion-nail jewelry licensed by Mel Gibson - sometimes we get the demagoguery of Father Coughlin or the big-time cons of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

The religio-hucksterism surrounding the Schiavo case makes DeMille's Hollywood crusades look like amateur night. This circus is the latest and most egregious in a series of cultural shocks that have followed Election Day 2004, when a fateful exit poll question on "moral values" ignited a take-no-prisoners political grab by moral zealots. During the commercial interruptions on "The Ten Commandments" last weekend, viewers could surf over to the cable news networks and find a Bible-thumping show as only Washington could conceive it. Congress was floating such scenarios as staging a meeting in Ms. Schiavo's hospital room or, alternatively, subpoenaing her, her husband and her doctors to a hearing in Washington. All in the name of faith.

Like many Americans, I suspect, I tried to picture how I would have reacted if a bunch of smarmy, camera-seeking politicians came anywhere near a hospital room where my own relative was hooked up to life support. I imagined summoning the Clint Eastwood of "Dirty Harry," not "Million Dollar Baby." But before my fantasy could get very far, star politicians with the most to gain from playing the God card started hatching stunts whose extravagant shamelessness could upstage any humble reverie of my own.

Senator Bill Frist, the Harvard-educated heart surgeon with presidential aspirations, announced that watching videos of Ms. Schiavo had persuaded him that her doctors in Florida were mistaken about her vegetative state - a remarkable diagnosis given that he had not only failed to examine the patient ostensibly under his care but has no expertise in the medical specialty, neurology, relevant to her case. No less audacious was Tom DeLay, last seen on "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago deflecting Lesley Stahl's questions about his proximity to allegedly criminal fund-raising by saying he would talk only about children stranded by the tsunami. Those kids were quickly forgotten as he hitched his own political rehabilitation to a brain-damaged patient's feeding tube. Adopting a prayerful tone, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex., took it upon himself to instruct "millions of people praying around the world this Palm Sunday weekend" to "not be afraid."

The president was not about to be outpreached by these saps. The same Mr. Bush who couldn't be bothered to interrupt his vacation during the darkening summer of 2001, not even when he received a briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington to sign Congress's Schiavo bill into law. The bill could have been flown to him in Texas, but his ceremonial arrival and departure by helicopter on the White House lawn allowed him to showboat as if he had just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Within hours he turned Ms. Schiavo into a slick applause line at a Social Security rally. "It is wise to always err on the side of life," he said, wisdom that apparently had not occurred to him in 1999, when he mocked the failed pleas for clemency of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again Texas death-row inmate, in a magazine interview with Tucker Carlson.

The president was not about to be outpreached by these saps. The same Mr. Bush who couldn't be bothered to interrupt his vacation during the darkening summer of 2001, not even when he received a briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington to sign Congress's Schiavo bill into law. The bill could have been flown to him in Texas, but his ceremonial arrival and departure by helicopter on the White House lawn allowed him to showboat as if he had just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Within hours he turned Ms. Schiavo into a slick applause line at a Social Security rally. "It is wise to always err on the side of life," he said, wisdom that apparently had not occurred to him in 1999, when he mocked the failed pleas for clemency of Karla Faye Tucker, the born-again Texas death-row inmate, in a magazine interview with Tucker Carlson.

These theatrics were foretold. Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo's) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the "Left Behind" books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, "Revelations," being sold with the slogan "The End is Near."

All this is happening while polls consistently show that at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)

That bullying, stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning "the E word," evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it's no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old "religious rights" unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as "the central, unifying principle of biology." Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like "Galápagos" or "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don't give equal time to creationism.

James Cameron, producer of "Volcanoes" (and, more famously, the director of "Titanic"), called this development "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science." Faith-based science has in turn begat faith-based medicine that impedes stem-cell research, not to mention faith-based abstinence-only health policy that impedes the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and diseases like AIDS.

Faith-based news is not far behind. Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, has been canonized by virtually every American news organization as God's messenger because she inspired Mr. Nichols to surrender by talking about her faith and reading him a chapter from Rick Warren's best seller, "The Purpose-Driven Life." But if she's speaking for God, what does that make Dennis Rader, the church council president arrested in Wichita's B.T.K. serial killer case? Was God instructing Terry Ratzmann, the devoted member of the Living Church of God who this month murdered his pastor, an elderly man, two teenagers and two others before killing himself at a weekly church service in Wisconsin? The religious elements of these stories, including the role played by the end-of-times fatalism of Mr. Ratzmann's church, are left largely unexamined by the same news outlets that serve up Ashley Smith's tale as an inspirational parable for profit.

Next to what's happening now, official displays of DeMille's old Ten Commandments monuments seem an innocuous encroachment of religion into public life. It is a full-scale jihad that our government signed onto last weekend, and what's most scary about it is how little was heard from the political opposition. The Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe pointed out this week that even Joe McCarthy did not go so far as this Congress and president did in conspiring to "try to undo the processes of a state court." But faced with McCarthyism in God's name, most Democratic leaders went into hiding and stayed silent. Prayers are no more likely to revive their spines than poor Terri Schiavo's brain.