Thursday, April 17, 2003

NOVAK NAILS THE NEOCONS -- I know right-wing columnist Robert Novak is upset about having his "Prince of Darkness" moniker taken from him by uber-hawk Richard Perle, but that doesn't mean he's mistaken about the neocon agenda of imperialism in the Middle East:

Coinciding with the Bush administration's tough talk about Syria, a senior Israeli official Monday exposed a smoking gun. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Tel Aviv newspaper Maariv: ''We have a long list of issues we are thinking of demanding of the Syrians, and it would be best done through the Americans.''

Mofaz's Hebrew-language interview was not widely distributed in Washington, but a few members of Congress who learned of it were stunned by its audacity. With Prime Minister Ariel Sharon long having urged changing Iraq's regime by force of U.S. arms, his government now hopes to ride the emerging American imperium to regional reconstruction along Israeli lines.

That is the goal of prominent Pentagon civilian officials who see virtual identity between U.S. and Israeli interests. Sharon's hopes for his agenda are buoyed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's emergence. Vindicated by the spectacular success of American arms, Rumsfeld is the strongman of the Bush Cabinet who is directing the postwar transformation of the Middle East.
MAKING MORE ENEMIES -- The Bush regime has proven uniquely successful at making enemies in virtually every corner of the planet, but you'd think the one country where this would not be the case is Iraq. Alas, you would be wrong.

"We will kill them all one day, Rumsfeld and every one of them," she said, referring to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "Look at what they have done to my library."

Like many residents of Baghdad, Ms. Khedairy has now spun any number of conspiracy theories about the intentions of the Americans. She is convinced, for instance, that the bombing of her house, the ransacking of her cultural center and the looting of the national museum are evidence of an American plan to deface Iraq's culture and carry its treasures out of the country. This, from a graduate of London University, a professor who taught the literature of Britain and France.

Such theories are rampant even among the city's educated elite. Today, for instance, the chief doctor at one of the Baghdad's larger hospitals spoke about the presumed designs of the Americans on the Iraqi nation.

"Tell me," said the doctor, who asked that he not be identified, "Why do the American troops allow the looting? These people are cowards, the looters. All the soldiers have to do is fire one shot, and the looters will go away. They are cowards. And the Americans do not do this. Why?"
TIM ROBBINS IS SMARTER THAN I THOUGHT -- "A sadistic creep who writes -- or, rather, scratches -- his column with his fingernails in dirt."

-- Actor Tim Robbins apparently describing Washington Post gossip columnist Lloyd Grove during his speech Tuesday at the National Press Club.
THEIR DEATH TOLL -- Not clear on how many Iraqis died in the war? So is everyone else.
NO CHEMICALS YET -- The number of sites in southern Iraq where Saddam Hussein's regime might have kept caches of chemical weapons is "drying up" and nothing has been found, according to one U.S. official involved in the search. The area around Baghdad and northern Iraq will now become the main focus of the search for banned weaponry.
ESTRANGED WIFE TO WRITE TELL-ALL BOOK ON BUSHES -- The estranged wife of Neil Bush, younger brother of George W Bush, is planning to write a tell-all book about the Bush family, according to The Observer.

Mrs. Bush insists she has a good story to tell. She had a seat at the kitchen table as the family twice reached the pinnacle of American politics and power. She married Neil Bush in 1980, the year Mr. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, was elected Vice President. During her 23-year marriage, the elder Mr. Bush and his eldest son, George W. Bush, were both elected President, while another member of the family, Jeb, was elected governor of Florida.

In her book, Ms. Bush wants to detail her disillusionment with the family. According to her associates, she has grown despondent about her treatment at the hands of the Bushes. She said family members have turned their backs on her ever since last year, when she learned that her husband wanted to end their marriage after carrying on an extramarital affair with one of Barbara Bush’s former assistants. ...

Given the fact that the marriage had fallen apart and that her husband had been unfaithful, Ms. Bush had hoped that Barbara and the elder George Bush would lean on Neil to give her a fair settlement. She expected that the Bush clan, with its public emphasis on family values, would surely rally around her after what she saw as two decades of faithful service to the family. According to Ms. Bush’s associates, she pleaded her case with Barbara Bush in several phone calls, asking the family matriarch for help in patching up the marriage and, subsequently, for help in winning a better settlement. But Barbara Bush politely but firmly rejected her pleas, the associates say.

My guess is the Bush family will quickly arrange a fair chunk of dough to hush this woman up. Failing that, she could always "commit suicide."

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

SAILING BACK TO THE HAPPY COUNTRY -- The Aussies will begin bringing their troops from Iraq back hom, beginning in May. Good decision. Wish our guys were doing the same.
THE RUINED JEWEL OF AFRICA -- The Australian Financial Review has an intelligent article on the the ruination of Zimbabwe and how it happened.

"You have the jewel of Africa in your hands," said President Samora Machel of Mozambique and President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania to Robert Mugabe, at the moment of independence, in 1980. "Now look after it." Twenty-three years later, the "jewel" is ruined, dishonoured, disgraced.

Southern Rhodesia had fine and functioning railways, good roads; its towns were policed and clean.

It could grow anything, tropical fruit like pineapples, mangoes, bananas, plantains, pawpaws, passionfruit, temperate fruits like apples, peaches, plums. The staple food, maize, grew like a weed and fed surrounding countries as well. Peanuts, sunflowers, cotton, the millets and small grains that used to be staple foods before maize, flourished. Minerals: gold, chromium, asbestos, platinum and rich coalfields. The dammed Zambezi River created the Kariba Lake, which fed electricity north and south. A paradise, and not only for the whites. The blacks did well, too, at least physically. Not politically: it was a police state and a harsh one. When the blacks rebelled and won their war in 1979 they looked forward to a plenty and competence that existed nowhere else in Africa, not even in South Africa, which was bedevilled by its many mutually hostile tribes and its vast shantytowns. But paradise has to have a superstructure, an infrastructure, and by now it is going, going - almost gone.

One man is associated with the calamity, Robert Mugabe.
THE ECONOMY, THE ECONOMY -- George W Bush is riding high in the polls right now, though not nearly as high as his father briefly did after victory in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The economy, however, remains in the doldrums and Democrats are sharpening their knives, the better to carve up Mr Bush on this issue.

Unemployment is at 5.8 percent, up from a post-World War II low of 3.9 percent in October 2000. More than a fifth of the unemployed have been looking for work for six months or more. The long-term budget surplus has evaporated, and Washington's return to deficit spending threatens to hike inflation, interest rates, and mortgage rates. But what most worries conservative Moore is the stock market. The major stock indexes show a combined drop of more than 30 percent in the last two years, and ''no president has ever been reelected when the stock market was down by more than 30 percent on his watch,'' said Stephen Moore, president of the right wing Club for Growth.

Democratic consultant Peter Fenn is more blunt: ''Once you get into a debate on the economy, I think this guy folds like a house of cards.''
PUT UP YER DUKES, SYRIA! -- Slate has a good article on the hollowness of the Syrian military. These guys don't have much more going on than the Iraqis. For the giddy neocons in the White House and the Pentagon, this must appear to be a very tempting target indeed.
AWFUL CABLE NETWORK BECOMES AWFUL MEN'S CABLE NETWORK -- The National Network (TNN) is changing its name to Spike as part of a campaign to position itself as cable TV's first explicitly "for men" network. Let's see, they already offer those mediocre "Star Trek: The Next Generation" repeats, idiotic fake wrestling for idiots, and loads of the dopey Ahmad Rashad showing half-naked rednecks getting arrested on "Real TV". Essentially, the name will be changing. Other than that...

By the way, writing as a man, I don't think I need to be associated with this dreck. I can be as lighthearted as the next guy, but I do try not to be lightheaded.
CLUSTER BOMBS LEAVE DEADLY LEGACY -- Because of the U.S. use of “cluster bombs,” the war will almost certainly continue to claim victims after the fighting stops, as unsuspecting civilians stumble across the live explosives scattered throughout the country. ...

“The Pentagon is crowing about the Air Force sparing civilians by using only precision weapons in Baghdad,” says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “But that’s a meaningless achievement if the Army then comes along and indiscriminately batters civilian neighborhoods with cluster munitions.”
THE LATEST FROM STEVE BELL

BUSH'S IRAQI BOY IS A CROOK -- The Bush regime's handpicked successor to Saddam Hussein is a man named Ahmed Chalabi. Maybe you knew that already. What you wouldn't know from reading mainstream U.S. newspapers is that Mr Chalabi has not set foot in Iraq since 1958 (when he was 13 years old) and has a history of financial misdeeds that led to a 1992 fraud conviction in Jordan. A Jordanian report accused Mr. Chalabi of direct responsibility for "fictitious deposits and entries to make the income … appear larger; losses on shares and investments; and bad debts" to Jordanian companies he also owned.

Fortunately, Joe Conason of the New York Observer and Salon is not your typical mainstream reporter. Read the story and learn what our government is trying to do in Iraq.
SYRIA TO PROPOSE WMD BAN -- Syria has responded to U.S. allegations it has chemical weapons by proposing a U.N. resolution to ban chemical, biological and nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East.

Syrian foreign ministry officials say Damascus has the backing of the 22-nation Arab group at the United Nations and plans to introduce the resolution in the Security Council as early as Wednesday. Syria currently holds one of the rotating seats on the council.

One thing to recall is that Syrian possession of chemical weapons--which is a fact--is not illegal because Syria is not a signatory to the convention banning chemical weapons. Israel is also not a signatory to that convention. About 95% of all the chemical weapons in the world are located in two countries--Russia and the United States.
EU SUMMIT ERUPTS IN VIOLENCE -- The European Union summit in Athens, Greece has been marred by violent demonstrations, as anti-Iraq War protestors clashed with police.

The war has divided the continent like no other issue in recent decades and has highlighted what the United States has called a divergence between "old" and "new" Europe -- in other words, those opposed to the war and others, mostly ex-communist countries, that backed the U.S. campaign.
THREE MORE DEAD IN MOSUL -- A shooting in the northern city of Mosul left three people dead and at least 11 wounded Wednesday, a day after at least seven Iraqis were killed by U.S. troops trying to stop an angry crowd from scaling a wall and storming a government complex.

Several of those wounded in Wednesday's incident accused American troops of firing at them from rooftops, but a Marine sergeant near the scene denied that and said Americans on a rooftop had returned gunfire from another roof. The Marine would identify himself only as Sgt. Chet.

Few details of the incident were available, but it appeared to have taken place at an open market about 300 to 400 yards from the governor-general's office.

Mohammed Rabih Sheet, an administrator at Jumhuriya Hospital, in Mosul said three people had been killed and 11 were wounded, including two children.

Six of the wounded who spoke to a reporter said Americans had shot them.

Amal Mahmoud, a 40-year-old taxi driver, said he had witnessed the Americans shooting at people. Five men were hit and taken to a hospital, he said.

"There were people inside the central bank, which is next door to the governor's office," he said. "They had been looting money for several days. Police were standing outside the bank and fired shots in the air to disperse the looters. The Americans started firing at the people in front of the governor's office," he said, rather than at the looters.

Reports of Tuesday's shooting quoted witnesses as saying American forces shot and killed as many as 10 people and wounded scores when a crowd became unruly during a speech by the city's new governor-general outside his office.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, U.S. Central Command spokesman, said that Tuesday's shooting was under investigation but that U.S. forces opened fire after they were shot by an angry crowd trying to scale the wall of the government complex.

He said he believed seven Iraqis were killed and others were wounded.
TERROR ALERT LOWERED TO YELLOW -- Don't you feel safer now?
THE WORLD PRESS ON U.S. v. SYRIA -- Now that the US is nearly through with 'regime change' in Iraq, Syria could be the next on queue for gunboat diplomacy," says Kenya's Standard .

Indonesia's Koran Tempo is convinced that Washington is not making idle threats against Syria and is intending to launch a military attack. "Washington will isolate Syria, strangle it with embargoes and force it to disarm," it writes. "When it is powerless, the United States can 'liberate' the Syrian people by dropping bomb after bomb on Damascus.

"Prepare for a sequel to US-style slaughter."

Germany's Die Welt is not so sure: "Political Washington is threatening but the military is silent. That shows that there are no operational plans in progress."

Another German paper, Die Tageszeitung , thinks US domestic politics will determine whether or not the US attacks Syria. "If Bush's re-election in 18 months should be endangered by the poor economic situation, his advisers could consider a new confrontation useful to get the voters back behind the commander-in-chief in the White House," it says.
KERRY, EDWARDS LEAD THE $ PACK -- Of all the Democratic presidential primary contestants, Sen. John Kerry, [D-Mass] has the most money in the bank by far , $8.1 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.

His closest competitor is Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., with $5.74 million. Edwards, a trial lawyer himself, raised 55 percent of his money from lawyers. He also did far better than any of the candidates in the South, which provided him with almost half of his total. ...

In terms of net money raised during the past three months, excluding transfers and earlier fund raising, Edwards led the field with $7.4 million to Kerry's $7 million.
MISERABLE SCUM TERRORIST CAPTURED -- Abu Abbas, the Palestinian mastermind of the Achille Lauro boatjacking in 1985 has been captured by U.S. Special Forces in Baghdad.

This is good news. Mr Abbas has not exactly been a busy li'l terrorist of late, but he is the subcreature responsible for pushing the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer off the deck of the Achille Lauro and into the Mediterranean for the crime of being an American Jew. Even by the dark standards of international terrorism, this stands out as one of the most cowardly and despicable murders in memory.

Under the protection of Saddam Hussein's government, Abu Abbas, whose real name is Muhammad Abbas, had been living unhindered in Baghdad since leaving his home in the Gaza Strip, and his group had an office in the Iraqi capital. But he had been in hiding since the Iraqi government collapsed.

Hmmm. The guy was living in Baghdad, knew the U.S. government wanted him, knew the U.S. had about 275,000 troops waiting to invade Iraq, and he didn't get the hell out of Dodge before now? Apparently, the passage of time has not done much to sharpen Mr Abbas' wits.
NEW BLOGS TO THE ROLL -- Well, the title pretty much says it all: I've added two new blogs to the blogroll found below and at right. They are Silver Rights and Mac-a-ro-nies and they're good. Check 'em out.
BUSH WILL ACCEPT A SMALLER TAX CUT -- Aw, how generous of him.

President Bush signaled to small-business leaders yesterday that he will accept as much as a 25 percent reduction in his tax cut proposal, but congressional leaders in both parties said that even that figure looks unattainable.

Not generous enough, apparently.

Asked about Bush's strength as a wartime leader, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) said, "Political popularity can only carry a bad idea so far."

Ouch.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

THIS IS PRETTY CLEVER -- Read carefully.
SO MUCH FOR ALL THAT HUMAN RIGHTS BLATHER -- Despite all the talk about bringing freedom to the Middle East, the Bush regime has refused to condemn China for its abysmal human rights record. This is the first time since the June 1989 massacre in Tianenmen Square that the U.S.government has not formally protested the dismal catalogue of human rights abuses in the People's Republic of China.
UNREST AGAINST U.S. BUILDS IN IRAQ -- The Bush regime keeps repeating that it plans to return rule of Iraq to Iraqis "as quickly as possible." That might not be quick enough for the Iraqis, though.

"Why should an American general come here? Iraqis should govern themselves."

On the streets of Baghdad, many Iraqis agree with him. "Why should the Americans rule us?" asked one man, a teacher.

"They say they came here to liberate us. We have paid a heavy price for the removal of Saddam Hussein, so the Americans should go now."

The growing anti-American sentiment is a result not only of the military campaign and the casualties that it caused, there is also acute resentment that the Americans have allowed a situation to develop in which there is looting and continued insecurity in the Iraqi capital.
FITZGERALD WILL NOT RUN AGAIN -- Citing a lack of a 'fire in the belly,' Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill) has announced he will not run for re-election in 2004. Considering the way Illinois has been going recently, this is good news for the Democrats. Although Mr Fitzgerald was considered a vulnerable incumbent, an open race will be even easier for the Democrats, with the increasingly liberal bent of the state's population.

Even with his conservative background, Fitzgerald's tenure in the Senate represented an independent political ideology. Though he sided with Republican conservatives on opposition to abortion and other social issues, Fitzgerald also supported tighter restrictions on guns and had a strong environmental record. Despite intense pressure from the Bush administration, he recently voted against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
POWELL: NO PLANS TO ATTACK SYRIA, IRAN -- Secretary of State Colin Powell just told a Foreign Press Center audience in Washington, D.C. that the Bush regime has no plans to attack Syria or Iran. That's probably what he thought about Iraq a year ago this time.
ANTI-WAR COUNTRIES WANT A SHARE OF THE SPOILS -- Fighting is still raging in the north of Iraq, but Germany, France, and Russia are already scrambling to wet their beaks in a lake of Iraqi oil.

Even before the fighting stopped, the three European powers were moving to build bridges to the United States and ensure their companies a share in rebuilding the real bridges in Iraq -- along with roads, runways, oilfields and schools.

France says it wants to be pragmatic, Germany says it's an honest broker because it has no economic interests in Iraq, and Russia says it will consider Washington's call to forgive some $8 billion in Soviet era debt.

All three have sounded conciliatory in the past week, while saying they want to see the United Nations play the lead role in post-war reconstruction -- tactics widely seen as an effort to avoid being locked out of business deals by the United States.

Their fears are understandable, especially after the House of Representatives passed a measure last week to bar French, Russia and German companies from winning business in Iraq after the war they resisted. The measure did not become law.

Tempting though it may be for some, cutting these (and other ) countries out of post-Saddam Iraq will only ensure continued hostility to the American expedition in that country and make it more difficult to get support for the sort of things the Bush regime does want out of the international community. In addition, any attempt to fix the game in Iraq will enrage Iraqis who care about their national dignity and sovereignty--meaning anyone who does not regularly have dinner with Richard Perle. Contracts in Iraq should be determined by an independent Iraqi government, not by vengeful ideologues (meaning Paul Wolfowitz) or greedy corporate made men (meaning Dick Cheney).
QUEBEC GOES LIBERAL -- Jean Charest of the Liberal Party became only the second Liberal premier of Quebec since 1970 by decisively defeating the pro-separatist Parti Quebecois in provincial elections yesterday. The Liberals enter the new provincial parliament with 76 seats to only 45 for the PQ.

Outgoing premier Bernard Landry was gracious in defeat and described the Liberal win as "an impressive victory." However, he promised a vigorous opposition that would hold the Liberals accountable and continue to pursue its dream of sovereignty.
SYRIA WILL HAVE TO WAIT -- According to a report in The Guardian, the administration is not interested in going to war with Syria before the 2004 elections. In addition, the State Department and military officials are also opposed to war with Syria due to the massive task of nation-building that now confronts the U.S. in Iraq.

In addition, the Pentagon's charge that Iraq transferred its chemical and biological weapons to Syria for safekeeping before the war has been treated with similar scepticism by British officials and by some US administration officials.

"I don't believe there is any real concern there," said an intelligence source in Washington.

Let's hope all this is true. If there is no Syrian war before 2004, a jobless 'recovery' should allow a sane Democrat (such as Senator John Kerry) to win the Novemeber 2004 elections and bring about a substantially different foreign policy for the United States.
U.S. TO WITHDRAW FROM SAUDI BASES -- In the first bit of common sense I've seen the Bush regime display, admin officials are hinting the U.S. will withdraw from its military bases in Saudi Arabia. The move may help ease tensions against the United States in the region, as well has aiding its ally, the theocratic dictators who run Saudi Arabia.

"Given their relationship with us, it would seem to make sense for the United States to withdraw its forces," said Patrick Garrett, an analyst with Globalsecurity.org, an online military research organization. "The Saudis are obviously not pleased about the U.S. presence."

Gregory Gause, director of the Middle East Studies program at the University of Vermont, said Saudi leaders were "forced to make a stark choice" between yielding to rising anti-American sentiments or complying with the U.S. request to provide a base for air operations.

Unfortunately, the United States will probably compensate for the loss of the Saudi bases by using more bases in Iraq, a move that will almost certainly inflame the local population and simply transfer much support for Al Qaeda from Saudi Arabia to Iraq.
IT'S STILL THE ECONOMY, STUPID -- While the war in Iraq has been won, the peace in Iraq will be much more difficult. However, Mr Bush is already turning his attention back to the economy. (Bad news for the economy, I suppose.) Despite the public's high praise for Mr Bush's foreign policy, his presidency, like his father's, will depend on the state of the economy in late 2004.

The problem for the White House is that the US economy is still having trouble dragging itself out of recession. The world's largest economy went into recession in 2001, but recovery since last year has been sluggish, as the job market has shown in the starkest terms.

The job market has shown even more weakness now than in the aftermath of the 1990-1991 recession - dubbed the "jobless recovery". Since the beginning of 2002, redundancies have risen, whereas in the 14 months following the recession of the early 1990s, the US economy created 211,000 jobs.

The labour statistics for March and February were particularly grim as the US economy shed 465,000 jobs, with the unemployment rate stuck at 5.8%. Under the Bush administration, the economy is not growing fast enough to absorb people coming into the labour market.

...

Just as the first rule for doctors is "do no harm", so the same goes for economic policy-makers. But Mr Bush has violated that rule with his planned tax cut of $726bn (£461bn) although that has been trimmed by the Senate. Pumping up demand in times of slow growth is a classic Keynesian remedy.

But the Bush tax cuts benefit mainly the rich, who probably already spend as much as they like already. Meanwhile the tax cuts will increase already huge budget deficits, which is why economists would have preferred a short-term stimulus plan to one that implies vast amounts of red ink for years to come. The tax plan is the worst of both worlds for Mr Bush - not much stimulus, yet bigger deficits.
BILL O'REILLY IS STILL AN IDIOT -- Serving as emcee at a gathering of right-wing do-gooders last night, FOX TV's #1 blow-dried blowhard Bill O'Reilly uttered a racist remark that I'm sure was terribly funny to the sort of people who find his show entertaining and informative.

Members of the "Best Men," as the sixth-to-eighth-grade boys in the program are called, were delayed getting onstage to perform a lip-synced rendition of the Four Tops standard "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." O'Reilly ad-libbed: "Does anyone know where the Best Men are? I hope they're not in the parking lot stealing our hubcaps."

No doubt Mr O'Reilly's boss, FOX News President/Race-baiter Roger Ailes, will be outraged.

Monday, April 14, 2003

I WAS RIGHT ABOUT THIS GUY -- I've never been a fan of Jamie Oliver--The Naked Chef. But what sort of guy names his kid Daisy Boo?
REAGAN ON BUSH -- Ronald Reagan Jr is the son of President Ronald Reagan, but he isn't president of the George W. Bush fan club. During the 2000 GOP convention he referred to Mr Bush as an obnoxious drunk. In this Salon interview, Jr let's Mr Bush have it with both barrels, especially over the issue of stem cell research.

Reagan says his family feels particularly alienated from the Republican Party over its opposition to embryonic stem cell research, which could have significant benefit for Alzheimer patients like his father. "Now ignorance is one thing, ignorance can be cured. But many of the Republican leaders opposing this research know better, people like [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist, who's a doctor, for God's sake. People like him are blocking it to pander to the 20 percent of their base who are mouth-breathers. And that's unconscionable -- there are lives at stake here. Stem cell research can revolutionize medicine, more than anything since antibiotics."
WHO ARE YOU SEARCHING FOR? -- Lycos has compiled a list of the 50 Democrats who have received the most web searches over the past three weeks. The winner: My boy, John Kerry! Here's the top nine:

1) Sen. John Kerry
2) Gov. Howard Dean
3) Sen. John Edwards
4) Rep. Dennis Kucinich
5) Gen. Wesley Clark
6) Sen. Joe Lieberman
7) Rev. Al Sharpton
8) Sen. Bob Graham
9) Rep. Dick Gephardt
MOB MURDERS MEXICAN 'WITCH' -- In the unlikely event you were worried that the human race has advanced too far--relax.
UNBELIEVABLE CRUELTY TO ANIMALS -- I'm something of a fanatic about the welfare of canines, but I've never considered myself an animal rights activist--merely someone who considers the issue worthy of discussion. Savage bastards like these guys seem determined to turn regular folk such as myself into members of the Animal Liberation Front.

Two California poultry farmers who fed some 30,000 live chickens into wood chippers will not face criminal charges because they had permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, prosecutors said on Friday.
BIG BATTLES OVER IN IRAQ -- Saddam Hussein loyalists have not mounted a serious defense against U.S. forces and the major battles of the Iraq War are over, concludes an American general.

"I think we will move into a phase where it is smaller, but sharp fights," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters during a Defense Department briefing.

Now, merely the political and ethnic battles await us. Superior technology will avail us little in those engagements, I suspect.
RELIGIOUS TENSIONS THREATEN FUTURE OF IRAQ -- Last week I blogged about the murder of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a pro-U.S. Iraqi Shiite leader. I wrote that it would complicate U.S. efforts to cultivate support among the 50-60% of Iraqis who are Shiites, many of whom look to Iran for spiritual guidance.

Analysts say the assassination last week of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who was ferried into the southern Iraqi city by U.S. special forces, and threats against Iraq's most venerable Shi'ite cleric by armed gangs, have dealt a serious blow to U.S. efforts to soothe post-war Iraq.

What's more, they say, the specter of U.S. soldiers entering the holy sites of Najaf or nearby Kerbala, or killing believers at the sacred shrines in an effort to assert control, could outrage Shi'ites everywhere and risk intervention by America's long-time nemesis, officially Shi'ite Iran.

"The situation in Najaf and Kerbala is very dire, and the Americans may have to step in and restore order. That's going to be a flash point with the entire Shi'ite world," said Juan Cole, a Middle East expert at the University of Michigan.
U.S. THREATENS SANCTIONS AGAINST SYRIA -- U.S. officials stopped short of threatening to extend the Iraq war to Syria. But Secretary of State Colin Powell said there was a "new environment" in the region and the United States will examine "diplomatic and economic" measures against Syria.
CHAOS IN BAGHDAD CONTINUES -- The Bush regime assures us that everything is going as planned, but most of the country remains lawless and concerns about what the U.S. intends for Iraq are rampant.

[S]ome Iraqis see Washington as intent on setting up the former exiles in power, a fear fueled by the attention given to Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, now head of the Free Iraqi Forces.

Ali Karim al-Kaabi, who said he was a former squadron leader in the Iraqi air force, said he was not interested in seeing the exiled opposition return to assume power.

"They enjoyed themselves in London while we ate garbage here," he hissed. "We are the ones who suffered."

Several expressed support for a multi-factional government representing Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and Kurds. Few among the crowd wanted to see any long-term American presence.

"We want them to finish their job as soon as possible and leave," Kaabi said.
ISRAEL JOINS IN ANTI-SYRIA CHORUS -- Israel is warning Syria not to play with fire and applauded the Bush regime's campaign of pressure on Syria.
OLD EUROPE CHIDES BUSH ON SYRIA -- The foreign policy supremo of the European Union, Javier Solana has told the U.S. to cool its bellicose anti-Syrian rhetoric.

Asked about the tough U.S. rhetoric on Syria, Solana replied "The region is going through a very difficult process and I think it would be better to make constructive statements to see if we can cool down the situation..."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters in Luxembourg that "We should concentrate on winning the peace and not to get into a new confrontation."

Left unsaid is the understanding that Bush admin policy in the Middle East relies upon maintaining a constant state of tension, first with Iraq and now with Syria. Following Syria, should the Bush admin be able to implement its invasion and occupation plans with that country, will come Iran. It won't end until the Bush regime is replaced here at home, by a sane and Democratic administration.
NEOCON ROUNDUP -- As Mr Bush continues to issue not-so-veiled threats at Syria, the France, Germany, and Russia have forged a common bloc to oppose the neocon Middle East policy. The "Old Europe" coalition wants the U.N. to run Iraq and says any debts incurred to those countries by the Saddam Hussein regime will be settled through negotiation with a legitimate Iraqi government, not by the United States.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz says France must pay some sort of cost for its opposition to war with Iraq. Just imagine o'l chickenhawk Willie riding through the Arc d'Triomph in an M-1 tank. I suspect that's what he's imagining these days.
BUSH DESPERATE TO SAVE TAX CUT FROM DEFEAT -- Supporters of President Bush's tax cut plan that would give massive tax breaks to millionaires were forced to take extraordinary measures in the Senate today to stave off total defeat. To secure passage of the budget resolution, the Senate leadership had to bring in Vice President Cheney to break a 50-50 tie vote, and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa had to pledge on the Senate floor that the reconciliation conference report would not contain a tax cut greater than $350 billion. In a completely unprecedented move, the budget resolution has two different tax cut figures, with the House voting on a tax cut of $550 billion, down from $726 billion, while the Senate effectively established a tax cut cap of $350 billion.

Moderate Senators who voted for the resolution continued to voice their opposition to tax cuts that exceed $350 billion.

Leaders of the Fair Taxes for All Coalition called the gimmick Budget Resolution "absurd," and cited the commitment to bring back a tax cut of no greater than $350 billion as further evidence that the Bush Administration does not have the votes to pass its gigantic tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

"The plan they barely got through the House in the dead of night yesterday only got out of the Senate on life support this afternoon," said Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President of the National Women's Law Center, a Fair Taxes for All Coalition co-chair. "Support for the Administration's tax cut plan continues to erode and the commitment to bring back a tax cut that doesn't exceed $350 billion demonstrates the President's plan to give enormous tax breaks to millionaires is unraveling."

Today's vote in the Senate is another in a growing list of setbacks for the Administration's reckless fiscal policies. Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund delivered a sharp rebuke of Bush's tax plan, calling it "poorly timed and probably unnecessary...while failing to confront the looming costs of Medicare and Social Security." [Wall Street Journal, 04/10/03]

Earlier in the week, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, former Senators Warren Rudman, Sam Nunn, Bob Kerrey, and former Cabinet Secretaries Peter Peterson and Robert Rubin all came out and called the Bush tax cuts "ill-logical" and "not useful for short-term fiscal stimulus...nor would (the tax cuts) spur long-term economic growth." [New York Times, 04/09/03]

The battle now moves on to the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees, where Fair Taxes For All Coalition will fight to reduce the size of the tax cut, ensure that any tax changes are equitable and not skewed to the richest Americans, and that any growth package includes adequate state fiscal relief.

"With our nation at war, our economy lagging, and many states in fiscal crisis, we will fight any effort by Congress or the President to push tax breaks for millionaires that will explode the deficit and offer no stimulus to the economy," said Roger Hickey of Campaign for America's Future.

For more information, please visit the Fair Taxes for All Coalition's website at www.FairTaxesForAll.org.
NO BUNNIES THIS EASTER -- As Easter approaches, many families buy rabbits as pets. The rabbits are cute and furry and children usually love them. For a time, anyway. The Human Society of the United States is urging people not to buy rabbits as pets.

The problem with the contemporary practice of buying rabbits, chicks and ducklings as pets is that many of them end up unwanted and neglected. Some are dumped in the woods with the idea they can "revert to being wild," which they cannot. These domesticated species cannot fend for themselves and will die if released into the wild. Many are given up and often euthanized at animal shelters.

Why do these once-loved animals wind up this way? For starters, these animals need special care, from grooming to diet to housing. They also pose a potential threat: They can carry Salmonella and infect the humans who handle them. Then there's the more intangible issue of personality; when baby animals grow up they're no longer cute to some people.

This Easter, instead of giving a live animal, consider giving a stuffed animal—they're cuddly, cute, and require no care. Children can have short attention spans, and "Easter animals" may live ten years or longer. When children are no longer interested in their new animal "toy," it is the animal who pays the price.
QUEBEC TO THE POLLS -- The Canadian province of Quebec goes to the polls today, with leadership of the provincial government at stake. The incumbent Parti Quebecois (PQ), long favored to win re-election, is threatened by a resurgent Liberal party, led by Jean Charest. The PQ favors increasing autonomy and eventual independence from Canada, while the Liberals are staunch federalists.
GEPHARDT WILL CANCEL BUSH TAX CUTS -- Congressman Gephart, campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president in Iowa, says he will rescind most of Mr Bush's tax cut and spend the money elsewhere. This is a continuation of Congressman Gephardt's schizophrenic campaign policy of enthusiastic support for the Bush administration's neoconservative foreign policy and scathing contempt for its domestic policy. I'd write more about this if I thought Congressman Gephardt mattered.
DEMS BATTLE OVER WHO SHOULD REBUILD IRAQ -- Democratic candidates for president predictably disagree about who should take the lead in rebuilding Iraq, the United States or the United Nations. Congressman Gephardt, Senator Lieberman, and Senator Edwards want the Bush administration to run the show. The rest of the group seem more inclined to let the U.N. take an important role.
ANGER AGAINST U.S. BUILDING IN BAGHDAD -- ``The army of America is like Genghis Khan,'' Fouad Abdullah Ahmed, 49, snapped as U.S. tanks rumbled by without stopping. ``America is not good and Saddam is not good. My people refused Saddam Hussein, and they will refuse the Americans."
CHENEY MAKES $107K FOR ONE BAD VOTE -- The Republican leadership is ramming through a 2004 budget that preserves the President's top priority - $550 billion in irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthy. Today, Vice President Cheney came to the Hill to cast the tie-breaking vote on the President's tax break package.

It was well worth the trip.

While over half of all Americans will receive less than $100 from the President's dividend tax break plan, Vice President Cheney will enjoy an additional $107,000 per year from the dividend tax break. [WSJ, 4/10/03, Bloomberg News 1/28/03] The new tax break on dividends gives the Vice President more than double the amount an average American earns from a year's work. And, if the President's other tax break proposals were enacted, Vice President Cheney would receive an additional $220,000 per year in tax breaks. [Bloomberg News 1/28/03]
OMB WATCH ON IDIOTIC TAX CUTS -- Just before 6 PM (Friday), the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Resolution. The vote was 51 to 50, with Vice President Dick Cheney breaking the tie. During the debate, Senate Finance Committee Chair Grassley assured members that he would not sign a conference report with a tax cut under the reconciliation instructions that was higher than $350 billion, even though the language of the reconciliation instructions in the resolution would allow a $550 billion tax cut. Any tax cuts are too many, and in addition to the required $350/$550 billion tax cut, the resolution also allows for additional tax cuts in the amount of $726
billion. Please see a fuller analysis here.

Thank you for all your calls and emails. We'll continue to keep you posted as we move into the May tax reconciliation debate.

Ellen Taylor

Policy Analyst
OMB Watch
OMB WATCH ON DISGRACEFUL BUDGET RESOLUTION -- The Budget Resolution that passed the House (216-211) (last Friday) is, quite possibly, one of the worst examples of the failure of our elected representatives to meet their obligation to determine tax and spending outlines that address the priorities of the American people. The Senate will be voting on the resolution this afternoon – there is talk that the vote could require Vice President Dick Cheney to break the tie. PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATORS, ESPECIALLY SEN. SNOWE (R-ME), SEN. VONOVICH (R-OH), AND
ASK THEM TO VOTE AGAINST THIS RESOLUTION.

Not only will the passage of this budget resolution represent the complete failure of Congress to address the real needs of the country, but it will happen through behind-closed-doors negotiations and technicalities that obscure the process from the American people. Specifically (to the best of our understanding):

While both the House and Senate now have a total reconciliation tax cut figure of $550, there is a special technicality limiting the Senate to $350 billion (unless there are 60 votes to go higher). This has the effect of postponing the actual debate on the nature and amount of the tax cuts until May when the tax-writing committees do their job. In the end, though, the moderates in the Senate – which represent the majority – will not win. That is because once the Senate and House tax bill are conferenced, the Senate will need 60 votes to stop anything above $350 billion. Thus, the Republican controlled conference can result in a tax cut as high as $550 billion, rendering the $350 billion lower figure essentially meaningless.

Altogether, the resolution includes nearly $1.3 trillion in tax cuts (and nearly $1.6 trillion when additional debt interest costs are included) over the next ten years. The expiring “pay-go” rules (requiring offsets to pay for the cost of new tax cuts or spending) were extended for five years, however the tax cuts included in this budget resolution and subsequent resolutions through 2008 are exempt from the “pay-go” requirement. The only way to stop those tax cuts would be to filibuster the bill.

This budget resolution also re-establishes caps for discretionary spending for FY 2003-2005. The caps put limits on spending at unrealistically low levels—representing actual cuts. There is no longer a "firewall" between defense and non-defense discretionary, so increased defense spending will further decimate domestic investment.

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and George Voinovich (R-OH) were holding firm for a maximum tax cut under reconciliation of $350 billion even after intense White House lobbying. While we think there should be no tax cuts in the budget resolution, the resolution now before the Senate includes an altogether irresponsible and unacceptable $1.3 trillion in tax cuts, of which as much as $550 billion can be passed under reconciliation protections that make them nearly impossible to stop.

Rather than a budget, this is fudge-it. It is a sleight of hand by tax cut ideologues in defiance of the majority of the American public, not to mention common sense. Congress should pass a budget resolution, but not this one.

Ellen Taylor
Policy Analyst
OMB Watch

Sunday, April 13, 2003

CLONE THIS -- For some time now the public has regarded human cloning as a scientific inevitability that could only be stopped through aggressive legislation to ban it. And even that probably would not work. Not so fast. Apparently, the science of cloning not as cooperative as originally believed.

According to a report published online today by the journal Science, reproductive cloning in rhesus monkeys is hindered by the absence of key proteins that control cell division and the splitting of chromosomes. The findings indicate that reproductive cloning of primates, including humans, is unachievable using current techniques.