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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Wednesday, May 3, 2006


Fake Reforms
The More Things Change, the More Things Stay the Same


"Hi folks. I know this is a hit and run diary ... but this is too important for all of you not to know. I am making my way down to the House Floor right now. We are going to debate the sham Republican lobbying reform bill, which the Washington Post today called "diluted snake oil."
"This bill is not just bad, but fundamentally dishonest. As a party, we must put up a united front in the face of Republican deception and corruption.
"We know that this bill is nothing but a joke, intended to trick the voting public into thinking the Republicans are serious about reform. I have urged all my Democratic colleagues to vote against this bill."
-Louise Slaughter (D-NY) on the
ReThuglican's phony lobby reform bill, forwarded by Robert Scardapane



Meet the New Afghanistan, Same as the Old Afghanistan

"The Taliban and Al Qaeda are everywhere. It is all right in the city, but if you go outside the city, they are everywhere, and the people have to support them. They have no choice."
-Haji Saifullah, a shopkeeper, to
Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan

Who says you can't go home again? Mission one was to remove the Taliban from from Afghanistan. Mission two was to rid the world of Osama bin-Laden.

Tell us about "Mission Accomplished" again, President Bush.

As we knew all along, Hamid Karzai, the fur-coated, fur-hatted President of Afghanistan is really only the Mayor of Kabul. Sure Afghanistan is safe, as long as you have armed American troops on either side of you.

"I think the leaders, the Afghan government and the international community recognize this. There is reform coming and this year you will see it."
-General Eikenberry

Just as a reminder, we did defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan already, but in our rush to war with Iraq, the Bush administration either lost the will to, or had no reason to finish the job there. That job included getting rid of terrorists and getting revenge for the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Mullah Mohammed Omar, the blind cleric leader of the Taliban government of Afghanistan, escaped and no one knows where he is (or at least we don't). Osama bin-Laden, who stands at six foot four inches or so, and who is burdened by failing kidneys, escaped his Tora Bora mountain hide-away to mock the US at every turn.

Just how hard is it to find these two guys anyway? Just look for the blind guy with an entourage and a seeing eye dog (Mullah) and the gigantic Saudi schlepping the kidney machine behind him.

"The security situation is not good,"
-Governor Maulavi Abdul Hakim Munib of Uruzgan, an area of small towns and villages that the Taliban are slowly calling home again

I have a question: What happens when we leave Afghanistan in the hands of NATO forces who say they won't fight an "insurgency"? What happens when the Taliban fighters start what the Bushites like to call a "full-scale Civil War"? What happens when NATO retreats? Are we going back in to move them out again? Or will we just claim "Mission Accomplished" and invade the next member of Bush's "Axis of Evil"?

In places like Kandahar, militants (insurgents; Taliban soldiers; terrorists... take your pick of names) have been taking control by the use of intimidation and bombing and all of the other stuff that our CIA taught them during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Another reminder: When we first invaded Afghanistan right after 9/11 we had surrounded the mountainous area of Tora Bora. The thought process around those who were actually there was that President Bush actually let Osama bin-Laden go. In fact, one officer who saw what some people called "The last plane out" actually said "There he goes," referring to the probability that bin-Laden, who was surrounded, was on that plane. They were ordered not to shoot.

The Bush administration was "shocked" to hear about the situation in Afghanistan today. I think they were more shocked that the American public found out about it. Certainly, if you were to ask the Average American what the situation in Afghanistan was, they would say that it's okay and that we have control. Is it and do we? It appears that we don't.

"For the first time the Afghan government has sent 500 men of the newly trained Afghan National Army to the neglected province. The official police force of Uruzgan is 347 strong, with 45 men deployed in each of the five districts, but far fewer actually turn up for work. American officials estimated armed Taliban in the province numbered from 300 to 1,000 men. The governor estimated there were 300 armed insurgents in each district."
-From The New York Times, May 3. 2006

"During the day the people, the police, and the army are with the government, but during the night, the people, the police, and the army are all with the Taliban and Al Qaeda,"
-Shopkeeper Saifullah

It reminds me of Viet Nam where everybody was cheering Americans, until the Americans weren't around.

Remember that the most important export for many in Afghanistan is the seed of the poppy plant, from which we get heroine. And the poppy crop is as strong, or stronger than it was even before 9/11. The United States is the biggest importer of just about everything and illegal drugs, like heroine, are no exception.

"The unemployment rate is very high and the people of Uruzgan are very poor,"
-Mullah Hamdullah, the elected head of the provincial council


The people of Afghanistan aren't only short of jobs, however, they are short of a lot of things. And, as we have seen in places like Palestine (against the Israelis) and Iraq (against our American children dressed up and dying as Bush soldiers), people will do anything to feed their families. They will steal at the risk of losing a hand. They will lie at the risk of losing a tongue. And they will pick up a handheld missile launcher with Russian writing on it to blow up a US Army helicopter.

This is what we bred in Iraq and it is what we are breeding in Afghanistan. It could be reversible, but not when men who can't admit error are involved.

-Noah Greenberg



"The Most Painful Thing in My Life"

"I loved Enron very much. I think we built a great company. I think the most painful thing in my life was watching Enron finally have to go into bankruptcy."
-Ken "Kenny-Boy" Lay

The above quote is how "Kenny-Boy" chose to characterize his testimony in the Enron Trial. I guess love" really does mean never having to say "I'm sorry".

PROSECUTOR JOHN HUESTON: Sir, you have a long list of people to blame for Enron's collapse, sir, and it gets longer and longer as you testify, and your list of people to blame and events to blame did not include yourself, did it, sir?
"KENNY-BOY": I did everything I could humanly do during this time. Did I make mistakes? I'm sure I did, Mr. Hueston. I had to make real-time decisions based on the information I had at the time."

Admitting mistakes, at least, puts "Kenny-Boy" Lay one step ahead of his buddy George W. "Georgie-Boy" Bush, or as Lay used to call him, "Junior". However, making, admitting and exacerbating those same mistakes; then ignoring them while they got worse; then using those mistakes as a spring-board to ripping off the people of the United States, and, more precisely, the West Coast; then making sure that "You got yours" by selling stock while forcing everyone else to keep theirs (this applies to Jeffrey Skilling as well) are another thing... a Criminal Thing.

Both Skilling and Lay are accused of selling stocks while enforcing rules and advising other shareholders, many of the current and retired Enron employees, to keep their stock. In Lay's case, he actually purchased $13 million worth of the stock while selling off much of his current shares in $4 million chunks back to the company. This scheme was especially devious: As Lay borrowed the money in $4 million chunks, he paid the loans back with his own stock. These transactions FROM Mr. Lay didn't have to be immediately reported while Lay told the other investors of his commitment to the soon-to-be bankrupt company.


Just to see how the other half lives, jurors were given a "peek" into Lay's lifestyle. Here is how he "suffered" by his own "mistakes":
-A Home in Aspen, CO
-A vacation home on the French Riviera
-$20,000 worth of "Do-Dads" from Spain
-A $200,000 boat charter for his wife's birthday


I cannot turn my lifestyle off "like a spigot."
-Lay, in response to
Prosecutor Heuston suggested that maybe he could have cut back on his lavish lifestyle

"We could have reduced some living costs, but as I said earlier, we had realized the American dream. We were living a very expensive lifestyle."
-Lay

I bet you that many of those who were swindled by the practices and "advice" of Enron, Lay and Skilling had their own American Dreams shattered. I bet that the choice for many of the retirees who were counting on their old bosses being honorable men who would look out for their interests were living good, maybe even elaborate lifestyles of their own. Why did they have to adjust while Lay didn't? The argument is made and done: The only way that Lay could keep up his own "lavish lifestyle" was to make sure others had to lose theirs. The contempt these men must have had for the employees and investors of Enron is astonishing. The total apathy they displayed to American consumers who counted on them is astounding, as well. In some of the tapes played (regarding the power outages in California), there was actually glee in the voices of the Enron executives as they spoke of stealing money from little old ladies on the US West Coast. These guys shouldn't go to jail, they should be shot!

"I believe then... I believe now... that I fully complied with the law,"
-Lay

After all, there are no guilty men in prisons.

-Noah Greenberg



Bush's March To War With Iran

If you haven't noticed, the drum beat for a war with Iran is loud and clear. We being fed the same sort of lies as with Iraq. Let's look at the facts:
1) Iran has the right under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to build nuclear power plants.
2) Iran has the right under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to enrich uranium to the level needed in a power plant.
3) There is no evidence that Iran has enriched uranium to weapon grade level.

Okay, I understand that the Iranian President has made bellicose statements about Israel. . But, an attack on Iran because of such rhetoric would be wrong. The use of nuclear weapons against Iran would be criminal.

It's time to say no to the Bush gang of criminals. Democrats must not sign on to legislation that advocates regime change. That is exactly the sort of trap we got into leading up to the Iraq war. Democrats desire peaceful regime change but we should know by now that the neocons will not hesitate to use war for regime change. If a war with Iran breaks out, conventional or nuclear, expect gas prices to go to 6 dollars per gallon. Are Americans prepared for that price tag?

-Robert Scardapane



Estrella-Lentejuela Estandarte

FACT CHECK: U.S. Government Commissioned Spanish-Language ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ in 1919. Don't tell George. Word is he's still angry about Colbert's eviscerating speech. 5/3

FACT CHECK: U.S. Government Commissioned Spanish-Language ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ in 1919

The right wing is up in arms over a new version of the Star-Spangled Banner written in Spanish. Last week President Bush stated that “the national anthem ought to be sung in English.” Yesterday Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced a resolution requiring the Star-Spangled banner to be sung only in English:

That flag and that song are a part of our history and our national identity. … That’s why in 1931 Congress declared the Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem. That’s why we should always sing it in our common language, English.

In his press release, Alexander said the Star-Spangled Banner has “never before…been rendered in another language.”

But in 1919, the U.S. Bureau of Education commissioned a Spanish-language version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The State Department’s website also features four-separate versions of the anthem in Spanish.

It appears xenophobia isn’t part of the American tradition.


-David W.



Pay Contractors Based on REAL Performance

On Tuesday I had a moment of excitement when I saw the Washington Post article titled, “New Pay Scheme, Tied to Performance, Begins at Defense Department.” I thought, great, they are going to take steps to start making the Defense contractors’ payment based on performance. It was on 4/25/06 that the US Comptroller, David Walker testified to the House Gov’t Reform Subcommittee saying,

-Too many government contracts pay for effort and not performance (a point he made repeatedly). We need to improve our contract arrangements to be clear on what we want them to do because poor contract performance is a major factor not a minor one.
-There has been a tremendous amount of waste and mismanagement with serious systemic problems that neither the executive nor congressional branches have taken action on. Defense dept paid out 91% of incentive and award fees regardless of results (which Mr. Walker found appalling). Neither the executive nor congressional branches have held the Department of Defense accountable for years. (One representative even agreed and criticized the House for avoiding their oversight responsibility.)

For a moment I thought - gee, someone is listening to the subcommittee hearing and taking action with contractor abuse. Alas, I was 100% wrong.

What is really happening is that the defense department is changing their own internal pay scales and moving away from longevity pay and towards performance pay. Sounds good, but sometimes “performance-based pay” at the individual level can be code for age discrimination. It can be easier to justify paying less for someone with less experience/longevity, regardless of performance. We have all heard of the older, more experienced, veteran employee being fired for some supposedly justifiable reason only to hear they are replaced with one or two employees that cost far less.

If this Defense Department really understands the concept of performance pay, let’s hope they can establish some meaningful guidelines to start making “performance” a prerequisite for paying contractors – especially those involved in Iraq and Katrina rebuilding. That would be real performance improvement!


-Casey Sweet



Nader on BIG OIL

"The claim by the oil barons that they're just responding to the marketplace of supply and demand is laughable. A competitive domestic oil industry would not be so able to close down scores of refineries and then turn 'refinery shortages' into higher gas prices at the pump."
-Ralph Nader

This is why the Rethuglican Refinery Bill is a sick joke. There is more than enough refinery capacity what we lack is competition because five companies produce all of the gasoline.


-Robert Scardapane



Quote of the Day
Markets and Democracy


There is something absurd and inherently false about one country trying to impose its system of government or its economic institutions on another.
Such an enterprise amounts to a dictionary definition of imperialism. When what's at issue is "democracy," you have the fallacy of using the end to justify the means (making war on those to be democratized), and in the process the leaders of the missionary country are invariably infected with the sins of hubris, racism, and arrogance.

-from Markets and Democracy By Chalmers Johnson (author of Blowback and Sorrows Of Empire), forwarded by Robert Scardapane
http://tomdispatch.com/index.mhtml?pid=81088


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-Noah Greenberg