Friday, October 28, 2005

Bush White House Gives Conspiracy Theories a Good Name


Years ago, conspiracy theories were usually only embraced by wacky people who were beyond the fringe. But after five years of George W. Bush in the White House, some conspiracies don't seem that wacky after all.

In a way, this reminds me of Conspiracy Theory, a 1997 film in which Mel Gibson portrayed Jerry Fletcher, a paranoid cab driver who is consumed with dark visions of shadowy CIA plots and black helicopters.

Although initially no one takes Fletcher seriously, as the film progresses, we learn that Gibson's character isn't really crazy after all. The wild conspiracies that he's constantly rambling on about turn out to be true.

I think a similar situation exists in the real world today. Even before the 9/11 attacks launched a thousand conspiracy theories, the Bush White House was already operating in the sort of shadowy nether world that's always been a hallmark of this administration. It's the sort of secrecy that's long fueled conspiracy theories.

Until recently, I was never that big a proponent of conspiracy theories. It seemed to me that the simplest explanation was always likely to be the truth and that a mundane explanation was more plausible than a complex conspiracy.

However, with Bush in the White House, I've come to the opposite conclusion over the past few years. These days, the most plausible explanation IS a conspiracy.

Take for example the event that put Bush in the White House in the first place: the highly disputed 2000 election. To this day, there is still a great deal that is unanswered about this election. A lot of people continue to believe that there was a GOP conspiracy to steal the vote. And the 2004 election was even more controversial and shrouded in mystery.

Although the mainstream media never took an in-depth look at the unanswered questions surrounding the 2004 election, a number of notable books have examined it, including Mark Crispin Miller's just-released Fooled Again. The book examines a number of factors in the election that will warm the heart of any conspiracy buff. These include voter disenfranchisement, mysterious computer glitches and exit poll discrepancies.

To me, the scariest part of the 2004 election isn't the possibility that the Bush people stole it. It's the fact that the media refuses to examine this possibility. After all, this indicates a conspiracy on a much more grand scale than simply a corrupt administration trying to steal votes.

Conventional wisdom has long been that conspiracies on a vast scale are generally implausible, simply because they're too complex to successfully pull off. However, in the aftermath of the Judith Miller/New York Times case, it's become clear that no conspiracy involving the media in this country is too far out to be implausible.

At one time, America's once-credible mainstream media itself made the idea of grand conspiracies implausible. But in the past few years, the U.S. media's credibility has crumbled. No serious person these days believes that a conspiracy is unlikely simply because it hasn't been reported by the mainstream U.S. media.

Because it holds few press conferences and operates in shadowy secrecy, the Bush White House has spawned many conspiracy theories in recent years. Given the corrupt nature of this administration, a lot of conspiracy theories are frighteningly plausible. During a previous era in our nation's history, we could have depended on the media to act as a watchdog. But those days are over. Indeed, Big Media's eerie silence itself seems to give credence to even some of the wildest conspiracy theories these days.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bush's Failed Border Policy Screws Taxpayers


By signing the new Homeland Security bill last week, George W. Bush ensures that the United States will keep throwing billions of dollars of taxpayers' money at an illegal immigration problem that's as intractable as that other perennial money pit, the war on drugs.

It won't matter in the long run how much money goes to the border patrol, or to any other "enforcement" campaign. There are two root causes of illegal border-crossing that neither the U.S. nor Mexican power elites are willing to address.

The first cause should be obvious. About half of Mexicans live in hopeless, abject poverty. Robbed and exploited by corrupt officials and a rich ruling class that is almost feudal in arrogance, the Mexican worker has no incentive to stay home, however dearly he or she loves his or her homeland. Desperation has driven millions north to a strange land filled with unsympathetic English-speakers. And unless there is ever real socio-economic reform south of our border, we will see millions more of them.

The second cause is that many thousands of U.S. employers are most happy to hire illegal aliens, especially Mexicans. They work cheap. They don't usually make waves because they don't want to draw attention to themselves. They can't demand paid vacations. And -- here's the real payoff for scofflaw employers -- they aren't necessarily covered by any kind of health insurance or workers comp, nor can they generally demand it.

Unofficially, there's a cozy arrangement between the rich and powerful of both countries.

In Mexico, there's a distant memory of what can happen when millions of angry peasants unite. Ninety years ago, the country was in the middle of a bloody 10-year revolution. I suspect that at some point it occurred to Mexico's elite that every time a poor worker heads north, that means one less potential troublemaker. It's a way to get rid of their surplus of low-wage laborers and subsistence farmers.

Here, for scofflaw employers, every undocumented worker is a living subsidy. He or she is corporate welfare with arms and legs. If the worker is unfortunate enough to get hurt or sick, that generally means a trip to the nearest charity hospital -- courtesy, for the most part, of U.S. citizen taxpayers. You, Mr. and Ms. U.S. taxpayer, are paying for all these trips to the ER.

Low wages, no health care costs, obedient and quiet workers, no possibility of unionization, undercutting the wages of American workers both union and "non" -- Dude! Business has never been better!

And if the immigrants don't like the deal, maybe they can go back to their side of the border and work at a maquiladora, where pay and safety standards are even worse.

What is even more enraging about this is that, instead of Mexico becoming more like America, America is slowly becoming more like Mexico. Wal-Mart, for example, has a business plan that gets 'em coming and going.

First, they hire desperate workers at wages so low, they often qualify for food stamps. This is a public subsidy that we, the taxpayers, are paying indirectly to the company. Then, because their payroll is low, they sell cheap, undercutting competitors dumb enough to pay better wages. They don't offer some of their workers health insurance, so the public charity hospital gets even more business. And since their "associates" are so poor, where do they shop? (Duh!)

Wal-Mart, the corporation, is like a big, private-sector Mexico. It has adopted poverty as its corporate culture. No wonder their international division, Wal-Mart de Mexico, is doing a booming business.

True, we've got a long way to go to get in a hole as deep as Mexico's. But believe this: Our corporate rulers, with the Bush administration's help, are steadily digging. It means richer rich people, while the ranks of the poor grow. "Tinkle-down" economics is the all-too-familiar formula. And as long as you're among those doing the "tinkling," hey, it works.

Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers are screwed yet again, with our government hurling money quite futilely at the immigration problem. It's like heroin or cocaine -- but in this case, it is greedy, venal employers who are hooked. They are addicted to cheap, docile labor -- and you, Mr. and Ms. "Murkan" Taxpayer, are subsidizing their habit. The "enforcement" is just a ludicrous show.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Miller Case Shows That Media, Not Bush, Is America's Biggest Problem


Over the years, there has been a long list of Republicans that Democrats love to hate: Richard Nixon. Newt Gingrich. Bill O'Reilly. Kenneth Starr. Tom DeLay. Rush Limbaugh. Ad nauseam.

But of all the GOP figures in the history of the Republic, I'd say that none inspires more intense loathing than George W. Bush.

I have to admit, I myself am a fully-paid-up, card-carrying member of the Bush-hater's club. I despise Bush with every fiber of my being. I have a difficult time watching his smirking face on TV, without feeling a powerful need to smash the screen.

But on the other hand, I sometimes wonder if we progressives are directing our rage and anger to the right target.

Sure, Bush is evil. He has the blood of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children on his hands, all for a war that was based on lies. He is a puppet in the most corrupt administration in the history of America. He shamelessly wraps himself in the American flag and the Bible. He is a coward, who refused to serve his country in Vietnam. He always had everything handed to him on a silver platter by his rich, powerful family and yet never tires of advocating "rugged individualism" and "self reliance" for everyone else. Etc. Etc.

But shouldn't it be the U.S. mainstream media that our anger is directed toward?

After all, you really can't blame Bush for being Bush. I mean, lying, cheating, stealing and corruption is what this man is all about. What else do you expect from a Bush? Blaming Bush for the way he acts is like blaming a tiger for eating a small child that wandered into its zoo cage.

On the other hand, we should be blaming the media for a multitude of sins. The media in this country is supposed to have a watchdog role. It's supposed to keep an eye on our leaders and hold them accountable for their actions. Above all, the media is supposed to tell America the truth (even if the truth hurts).

At one time in our nation's history, our media did all of the above. The Fourth Estate was an institution that we could all be proud of. It was widely emulated and admired around the world. It was a mover and shaker in American affairs and it worked hard to draw attention to America's problems.

But today, the media itself is clearly the problem. I'd venture to say that the mainstream media is America's biggest problem today---and it poses the biggest obstacle to this nation returning to a democracy that represents the people.

The Judith Miller case sums up much of what is wrong with the media today. When Bush was peddling his case for war, many of us at the time figured it was based on pack of lies.

What did the media do in the build-up to the Iraq war? Did it investigate Bush's case for war? Did it bring a healthy skepticism to this story?

No. It simply parroted the Bush White House's lies, thus actually giving them a veneer of credibility. Later, the media also stood on the sidelines and acted as a cheerleader as our armed forces rolled into Iraq.

The U.S. mainstream media has probably reached its lowest point ever, for truthfulness and credibility. The same media that gave the Monica Lewinsky case 18 months of around-the-clock saturation coverage, has become nothing less than the mouthpiece of the Bush White House.

The same media that did hard-hitting, exhaustive investigative coverage of overblown "scandals" like Whitewater has snoozed through one Bush White House outrage after another, from Jeff Gannon, to the Downing Street Memo.

The fact, is the U.S. media has been handling Bush with kid-gloves since Day One. I have yet to see Bush get a hard-ball question in a U.S. press conference. Bush can lie through his teeth all day and never face a challenge from the press.
Remember when Bush was interviewed by the Irish journalist Carol Coleman last year? Bush seemed to be taken aback by her hard-hitting questions. Bush was actually offended that Coleman wasn't lobbing the usual softball fluff questions that he'd gotten used to from the U.S. press corps.

Bush has always gotten an easy ride from the U.S. media. Remember, this is a man who to this day has never been called to task by the mainstream media for the lies he told way back in the 2000 election campaign.

"By far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to those at the bottom end of the spectrum," Bush said at the time. I'm still waiting for the media to challenge that 5-year-old whopper.

So the next time you simmer with anger over Bush's latest outrage, be sure to remember the U.S. mainstream media's role in allowing the horrors of the past few years to happen. The fact is, if Bush was really held accountable for his crimes by the media, there would have been a popular outcry for his impeachment a long time ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Will Saddam Trial Reveal Deep, Dark Secrets About U.S.?


For the Bush White House, the trial of Saddam Hussein can't start soon enough. The Bush team is eager to steer the focus of the world's media away from the ongoing disaster of the Iraq war to the crimes of Saddam.

Given that the Iraq war has been an unmitigated catastrophe, the Saddam trial is the final fig leaf the Bush White House can use to try to justify the whole god-awful mess. And what better way to expose to the world the crimes of Saddam than a high-profile trial that'll be broadcast around the world?

The Bush White House is eager for the world to know all the details of Saddam's crimes over the years. But the Bush people ought to be careful what they wish for.

For a start, if Saddam receives anything remotely resembling a fair trial, then the world will not only learn about the dictator's crimes, it'll also learn the deep, dark secrets about America's relationship with Saddam over the years.

It's clear that Saddam was an evil dictator. However, I've long believed that the U.S. really doesn't have a moral leg to stand on when it criticizes Saddam's crimes. After all, two decades ago, when Saddam was at the zenith of his power and was committing his worst atrocities, the U.S. was funding and supporting him.

The U.S., in fact, had a cozy relationship with Saddam that lasted for decades. How many Americans are aware that, in 1959, the CIA hired the then-22-year-old Saddam to carry out a plot to assassinate the Iraqi prime minister, General Abd al-Karim Qasim? (Saddam's assassination attempt failed when he fired too soon and he only wound up killing Qasim's driver).

Bush has long condemned Saddam for crimes such as gassing the Kurds in the town of Halabjah in 1988. But how many Americans know that the U.S. in fact sold materials to Saddam for creating biological and chemical weapons in the 1980s?

As Craig Unger reported in his 2004 book, House of Bush, House of Saud,:

"Beginning in 1984, the Centers for Disease Control began providing Saddam's Iraq with biological materials--including viruses, retroviruses, bacteria, fungi, and even tissue that was infected with bubonic plague."

Unger notes that the latter exchange may have been initiated in the spirit of an "innocent" transfer of scientific information. But as he points out: "It is not difficult to argue against giving bubonic-plague-infected tissues to Saddam Hussein."

Unger quotes former Senate investigator James Tuite: "We were freely exchanging pathogenic materials with a country that we knew had an active biological warfare program."

The fact is that Saddam was a monster---but he was a Frankenstein of America's own making. I'd suspect that if Saddam's trial truly delves into the truth of Saddam's crimes, there will be quite a few nasty, embarrassing episodes involving the U.S. that will come to light.

In short, before the U.S. gets on its high horse in condemning Saddam for crimes like torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, we need to remember that we tortured people there, too. The problem is the U.S. spends too much time pointing the finger at the crimes of other nations and not enough time reflecting on our own crimes.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Does Anyone Seriously Believe Constitutional Referendum Will End Iraq's Nightmare?


There's no doubt that if Iraqis approve Saturday's constitutional referendum, this will be hailed by the U.S. mainstream media as a victory for the Bush White House's Iraq policy. No doubt, the Fox News Channel's talking heads will assure us that Iraq is now finally well on its way to freedom, peace and democracy.

Americans have always been suckers for stories where good triumphs over evil and everyone lives happily ever after. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen in Iraq, no matter what the result is during Saturday's election.

No matter how many "feel good" speeches Bush gives, this is one story that's not going to have a happy ending. The ongoing disintegration of the Iraqi state is too far along for the process to be halted by anything the U.S. does at this point.

One would have to be pretty naive to suspect that Saturday's vote will really change anything in the long term. The fact is, ordinary Iraqis are simply preoccupied with surviving another day on the street to give much thought to lofty ideas about "democracy" these days.

Speaking of democracy, I find it ironic that if the Iraqi constitution passes, it'll actually be a setback for people's rights in Iraq, in many ways. Note that the proposed constitution will make Islam the primary source of legislation.

As The Wall Street Journal noted Thursday:

"(The charter) would overturn a tradition of secular family laws that gave women nearly equal rights. Hewing to Sharia, or Islamic law, it would leave women far fewer civil rights if they divorce, get into child-custody disputes or seek an inheritance."

In embracing Bush's simplistic, black-and-white view of the Middle East, many Americans are ignorant of the fact that, in many ways, Saddam's Iraq was actually in the forefront of women's rights among Arab nations. Women were allowed to get a college degree, drive a car and wear Western-style clothes.

By contrast, Bush's good friends and allies, the Saudis, permit no such rights for women, who're regarded as little more than property. Women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive, much less get a college degree, and in public they must keep themselves covered from head to toe at all times, lest they risk a beating from the state's religious police.

The Bush White House has long been looking desperately for any news from Iraq that it can seize on to hype as "the turning point" in that nation's tumbling fortunes. Every event, from the capture of Saddam to Iraq's first vote, has been hailed as a milestone that means that, at long last, the nation is on its way to peace and democracy.

Of course, the reality has been quite different. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the nation has descended into an incredibly bloody anarchy that has steadily gotten worse and worse, with no sign of a letup. While U.S. pundits ponder whether a civil war is in the offing, numerous observers who are actually on the ground in Iraq report that the nation is already in a state of civil war.

The fact is, the insurgency is growing, and it has only been nurtured by the occupying U.S. forces. With their short MTV-attention spans, many Americans have already forgotten about the horrors dished out by the U.S. occupying forces over the past two years, from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses to the bloody assault on Fallujah. And memories of these events will continue to feed the insurgency, as well as its base of support, no matter what happens during Saturday's vote.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Why Are GOP Wingnuts Surprised? The Miers Nomination Is Just One More Example Of Bush Cronyism, Stupid!


I recall, over five years ago, when three co-workers asked for my honest assessment of then-Gov. George W. Bush. "I think he's an empty suit," I said.

In mob slang, an empty suit is defined as someone with nothing to offer who tries to hang around with mobsters. In politics, this would translate into someone with nothing to offer who either seeks or holds public office. And Bush, with his nomination of unqualified crony Harriet Miers for Supreme Court justice, has provided yet another example of a vapid politician with nothing to offer. Bush has no substance. He's always relied on cronies to furnish it -- such as they could.

Much to the country's lasting misfortune, Bush has been marketable. Surrounded by Machiavellian thugs like Karl Rove, he has somehow stammered and swaggered his way into two terms in the Oval Office.

But having the talents needed to be president of the frat house (backslapping joviality, cutsie-pootsie nicknames, smarmy "charm", and a sort of everyman appeal to the herd) doesn't prepare a person to be president in the White House.

So why are the right-wingers so appalled by the Miers nomination? News flash, righty kooks -- Bush has operated in this contemptibly shallow fashion his entire life.

The disaster in New Orleans showed what can happen when a weak, poorly prepared chief executive surrounds himself with "yes" men and women, and appoints inexperienced sycophants to key posts, as though he were putting buds in charge of the panty raid. To mention only the most prominent of many examples, FEMA's former "director," Michael Brown, was a Bush political hack with as much background in emergency management as Bush has experience in self-reliance.

One would think that perhaps Bush could have learned from so many disasters. He's created his share, and worsened others. (That, of course, would be assuming that he's in something close to a normal learning curve.)

But now he's ready to appoint to the nation's highest court a lawyer who has never been a judge, with no experience in constitutional law, and who happens to be a longtime associate and a Bush family friend. It appears that in most ways, he hasn't learned a thing; and it's fairly obvious that he never will.

The one big thing Bush learned, and very early, was how to schmooze, party, socialize in the most frivolous ways -- in other words, how to collect cronies. And, of course, spend Daddy's money.

Now he's doing his best to put his buds in charge of the store, no matter how much looting and damage ensues. And the money he's spending now isn't Daddy's, but ours.

It may be recalled that President Kennedy installed his brother as attorney general, to head a Cabinet post for a few years. OK -- conservatives don't have a monopoly on political patronage or cronyism. But this nomination has vastly greater importance. As a justice who would perhaps be the swing vote on a court that has already been appallingly politicized, Miers would probably sit on the court for decades and wield enough power to change the course of U.S. jurisprudence. Something tells me that this wouldn't be for the better. This is a person who has publicly called George W. Bush "the most brilliant man I ever met."

That ludicrous statement alone should disqualify her.

But one must understand that in the Bush playbook, Miers has the top qualification -- being a Bush family toady. The nomination is the payback for taking out the garbage so many times. and for propping up a suit with no substance inside.

But, we've seen this sullying of our republic before; and no doubt, we'll see it again -- at least until, perhaps, a House panel approves the overdue articles of impeachment for both Bush and Cheney.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Bush's "Foiled Terror Plots" Claim Makes No Sense


If you stop and think about it, Bush's claim that the U.S. and its allies foiled 10 plots by Al-Qaeda in the past four years, doesn't make sense.

First of all, there's the question of why the American people are only now hearing about all this. The timing is suspicious, to say the least. The fact is, the embattled Bush White House is at its lowest ebb ever. Bush's approval ratings are in the toilet. And most Americans now say the disastrous Iraq war wasn't worth it.

Details about the alleged terror plots have been pretty skimpy, to say the least. But the White House has referred to a murky series of alleged attacks that were set to occur from 2002 to 2004.

Here's what doesn't make any sense to me. If the U.S. did indeed foil terror plots during that time frame, don't you think we might have heard about it during the bitterly-fought, take-no-prisoners 2004 election campaign?

After all, Bush was desperately trying to convince the American people that his war on terror was a big success and that he could protect America better than John Kerry could. It seems to me that the Bush team would have been shouting from the highest rooftops that the U.S. had already foiled numerous Al-Qaeda attacks.

I've heard Republicans argue that Bush was unable to mention the foiled attacks previously, out of concerns for national security.

Of course, this makes no sense either.

I could see the need to maintain secrecy before a terror attack is foiled. But there is no reason to keep news of a foiled attack secret AFTER the fact.

And bear in mind, that although the Bush team has mentioned the foiled attacks now, the White House hasn't exactly offered many details about the alleged plots. Indeed, details about the "foiled plots" are extremely vague.

However, from what few details are known about the "foiled plots," it seem that Bush is once again misleading the nation. In only two of the cases are any details known---and the evidence in both cases is mighty thin:

In first case, involving Jose Padilla, it's important to note that Padilla has not yet even been charged with a crime.

As Britain's The Telegraph newspaper pointed out, Paul Wolfowitz "stressed that 'there was not an actual plan' to set off a radioactive device in America and Padilla had not begun trying to acquire materials. Intelligence officials said his research had not gone beyond surfing the internet."

The second case, involving Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris, is unlikely to be dramatized in a Tom Clancy-style thriller appearing at your local cinema any time soon. As Think Progress pointed out:

"(Iyman Faris) ... pleaded guilty in June 2003 to two felony charges of supporting a foreign terrorist organization. He was charged with plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, but U.S. officials admitted that Faris had abandoned the plot because he deemed it unlikely to succeed. "After scouting the bridge and deciding its security and structure meant the plot was unlikely to succeed, he passed along a message to al Qaeda in early 2003 that said ‘the weather is too hot.’" [CNN, 6/19/03]"

Of course, outside of the meager details known about the aforementioned two cases, next to nothing is known about the other eight alleged foiled terror plots.

It's commendable that Bush avoided any mention of these "foiled plots" during the 2004 election campaign. Otherwise, he might have been accused of politicizing the "war on terror" to his own benefit. Yeah, right.

In any case, for Bush to trot out this tale of foiled plots now, when his political fortunes are at their lowest ebb, is only the latest contemptible attempt by the White House to shamelessly use 9/11 to bolster its political fortunes.