American Samizdat Guernica
Saturday, January 03, 2004
The Hypocrisy of George Will
I used to like George Will. It was not that I so much agreed with him, but rather that he made me think in a conservative fashion, if only for a while. But something has come over George of late. Well, maybe not "of late", because it's been there for at least a few years.

What has been there for a few years is that George Will has converted from being an advocate for conservatism to being an apologist for it. Actually, he hasn't been apologizing for that old-style conservatism he used to advocate for at all, but rather for the new style of "conservatism" that has replaced it, the style of "conservatism that has more in common with pre-World War II Germany than it has with anything we used to call conservative. And that needs every apology it can get.

So what was it that changed George? He was, after all, being well compensated for defending traditional conservatism. Why would he "defect" from his quite successful career? In a nutshell, he fell victim to greed, a greed that has now been exposed.

George Will has sold out to his greed:

It turns out that George Will was among a number of prominent individuals to receive $25,000 per day of conversation on a board of advisers for Hollinger International, a newspaper firm controlled by magnate Conrad Black. Although Will has often scorned the convenient forgetfulness of others, the Times reported that "Mr. Will could not recall how many meetings he attended." But an aide confirmed the annual $25,000 fee.

Even for a wealthy commentator, that's a hefty paycheck for one day of talk. But it didn't stop Will from lavishing praise on Black in print -- without a word about their financial tie.

But George Will says with hostility, "My business is my business. Got it?" Oh, really, Mr. Will? You do try to pass yourself off as a journalist, do you not? Well then, you are most certainly aware that journalists have a formal code of ethics that demand that they disclosure any and all financial ties whenever they write about someone who is paying them. Or does that just not apply when that someone is Conrad Black? Should we just understand that there are limits above which ethical conduct no longer applies? That you are simply too good to do wrong?

Yes, George Will, and you must especially be too good now that Conrad Black has been fired for his own unethical conduct. You must place distance between yourself and your patron Saint Conrad.

You see, George, you sold yourself out a long time ago. You thought that just because you are a very smart man, no one would notice. But the chickens are now coming home to roost, and you in all of your glory are feigning moral indignation? You feign nothing to me, Mr. Will, because I saw a long time ago that you had sold out. It has just taken me a long time to find out to whom. And it isn't just Conrad Black, is it?

Televangelist Pat Robertson: God told me so.Oh, my God!
Pat Robertson says, "God told me!"

Pat Robertson said Friday that God told him President Bush will be re-elected in a landslide:

I think George Bush is going to win in a walk. I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way.

The Lord has just blessed (Bush). I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, a frequent Robertson critic and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, responded he had a prediction of his own:
I predict that Pat Robertson in 2004 will continue to use his multimillion broadcasting empire to promote George Bush and other Republican candidates,. Maybe Pat got a message from (Bush political adviser) Karl Rove and thought it was from God.
And interesting idea, but my take is that Robertson got the mid-August e-mail from Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell ("I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."), and mistook it for a message from God.

Meanwhile, the Pope has called for a New World Order, and Jesus converted to Islam. I have no idea if these three events are related.

From the "Just what we needed" files:
Hot off the presses and on it's way to your local book store (with the first copy reserved for Dubya, of course) comes a new book by the "Prince of Darkness", Richard Perle. For #1 Axis of Evil Iran, who has been offering some concilliations of late, Perle says dump the mullahs; regime change is the only way. For #2 Axis if Evil North Korea, who similarly has shown a touch of softening, forget it; a full Cuba-style blockade sounds dandy with an attack on their nuclear plants as the ace of trumps. China of course is expected to simply jump on board, perhaps tossing rose petals at our feet for this.

While we're at it, isn't it time to update the Axis of Evil list? I mean, it's hardly a list with only two countries on it. So let's toss in Syria and "Bombs away!" And while we're at it, isn't it time to knock Saudi Arabia down a peg or two? After all, we hardly need them for our military bases any more, and isn't that really our oil anyways?.

But let's not stop there. France has been a bit too uppity lately. Time to start greasing them up for a place on the list. And while doing that, let's force the rest of Europe to declare sides in the Paris-Washington squabble. After all, you're either with us or against us, right? That'll fatten the list up nicely.

So will the President actually read Perle's new manifesto? Well, maybe not (he's not much of a reader, you know), but one thing's for certain: With the Twin Towers of Neoconism (the VP's office and the Pentagon) filtering everything the President reads and hears, you can bet that he won't be reading much else.

And will Perle make much money on book sales? It will hardly matter if these policies are adopted. His residuals from all the defense contracts this will require will make him a billionaire many times over. Welcome to endless war. Or at least endless until we turn into a bankrupt banana republic.

This is an outrage. On Wednesday night on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News analyst Liz Trotta said, "Well, how many people do you think -- who look at, know it's affiliated with the World Socialist Movement..." This is an outright lie. It is the kind of crap that typifies the editorial policies of FOX.

We have successfully boycotted before. We knocked Mike Savage off of TV and and pulled a half dozen sponsors from "Oxycontin Rush". It is time to do it again, but this time with a larger target.

Write to FOX to express your outrage. Tell them that you are only watching them to identify and boycott every sponsor they have. Maybe we can't shut them down, but we can hurt Rupert Murdoch in the only place he cares about.

One of the entries in MoveOn's "Bush in 30 seconds" contest. You'll need QuickTime to view it. If you don't have it, just do a Google on "QuickTime" and the auto-install is the first link.

Do whatever you have to to watch this. It is absolutely drop dead good.

From Wired News: "Bush-Bashing Ads Move Online".

Friday, January 02, 2004
"Of Rights and Responsibility", the latest in a series of progressive essays, has just been published at ddjangoWIrE. A PDF version is available on the blog's sidebar.

Be at peace.
A decent profile of Dennis Kucinich in this morning's NYT.
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Come on! Would I lie about something like this?Chris Floyd:
OK, we admit it: we were wrong. The big news that shook the world last week has finally convinced your humble correspondent to wolf down a huge plate of crow tartare and confess the error of his ways. Like the worst kind of partisan hack, the Eye completely swallowed the liberal media line on this all-important issue, and our blind zealotry led us to launch a series of savage -- but unjustified -- attacks on American leaders trying their best to defend the country against a remorseless, treacherous enemy who hates everything the nation stands for: its laws, its liberties, its most noble traditions.

Thanks to the revelations that emerged after the historic capture of Saddam Hussein, we now have the clearest picture yet of the brazen perfidy and moral depravity of the unelected tyrant directly responsible for the deaths of an untold number of innocent Iraqis and hundreds of American soldiers. Much of this sordid history has long been known -- although tragically ignored or excused by the tyrant's apologists -- but its true extent has now been laid bare so starkly that no rational person could deny it.

"So what's the difference?"
Warning!    May cause temporary bouts of hysteria!
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
In a report released Tuesday by the Corporate Crime Reporter, editor Russell Mokhiber recommended that the "death penalty" should be applied to corporations convicted of defrauding the federal government. "The federal government has the authority to prohibit corporations convicted of serious crimes from doing business with the federal government," said Mokhiber, referring to the False Claims Act, also known as the "whistleblower" act. Under this act, citizens are entitled to sue corporations on behalf of the U.S. government, receiving as much as 30% of any settlement. Per Mokhiber's report:

"This debarment or exclusion authority is considered the equivalent of the death penalty, because for major health care corporations and defense corporations which rely on federal contracts, denying them federal contracts would effectively put them out of business.

"The federal government rarely exercises this authority – although it should more often to deter an ongoing pattern of criminal fraud."

HCA leads the way

The report [PDF download, 295 KB] also ranks the top 100 False Claims Act settlements by amount of the settlement. Leading the list is a $731 million settlement in December 2000 with the Tennessee-based health care giant HCA, which also occupies the number two slot with a $631 million settlement in June 2003. HCA's largest private shareholder is company director Thomas F. Frist, Jr., often named to the annual Forbes 400 Richest Americans list, whose 5,532,259 shares (1.17% ownership valued at approximately $204 million (8-Aug-03)) dwarf the combined 553,903 shares held by the company's top three officers. (Frist was formerly the Chairman, but stepped down in January, 2002.) If the name Frist sounds familiar, it should. Frist is the brother of U.S. Senate majority leader and Tennessee Republican Senator Dr. Bill Frist. Bill Frist's most recent "signature" piece of legislation is of course the pork-laden Medicare prescription drug benefit, from which HCA stands to profit handsomely. Frist has received $990 thousand in campaign contributions from the healthcare industry, including direct contributions from HCA of $24,800, over $9 thousand dollars more than HCA gave to any other candidate. Frist also has a $20 million fortune, most of it in HCA stock.

Whither Dick Cheney?

Among HCA's institutional shareholders is The Vanguard Group, Inc. (9,624,528 shares, 2.03% ownership valued at approximately $355 million). Vanguard also manages the mutual funds Vanguard Specialized-Health Care Fund (6,967,620 shares, 1.47% ownership valued at approximately $246 million (31-Jul-03)) and Vanguard 500 Index Fund (4,284,666 shares, 0.9% ownership valued at approximately $178 million (31-Dec-02)), and almost certainly has investments in HCA in other Vanguard funds. As it turns out, Vanguard also happens to manage between $16.3 and $80.7 million of Vice President Dick Cheney's personal financial assets (15-May-02, Financial Disclosure Report).

Cheney further has a more direct investment (between $500 thousand and $1 million) in HCA via American Express' AXP New Dimensions Fund (8,500,000 shares of HCA, 1.79% ownership valued at approximately $351 million (28-Feb-03)), and has modest investments in seven other American Express funds. He also has modest investments in J.P. Morgan, who ranks in as HCA's third largest shareholder (24,937,532 shares, 5.26% ownership valued at approximately $919 million (30-Sep-03)).

HCA is hardly alone

Of course, HCA is hardly the only healthcare provider to appear on the Corporate Crime Reporter's top 100 list. Indeed healthcare providers occupy the top twelve positions on the list and a full 56 of the judgements appearing on the list are against healthcare providers. Other healthcare providers appearing twice on the top 100 list were Bayer ($271.2 million) and Tenet Healthcare ($72 million).

Defense contractors were also prominent on the top 100 list, occupying 23 spots there. Defense contractors appearing twice on the top 100 list were Northrop Grumman ($191.2 million), Boeing ($129 million), and Teledyne ($112.5 million). Energy giant Shell Oil has the distinction of being the only company appearing on the top 100 list three times ($215 million).

About the top 100 list

The Corporate Crime Reporter top 100 list was compiled from all settlements made since the False Claims Act was last amended in 1986. At that time, the act was amended to reinstate the whistleblower provision and to add provisions for treble damages and protection of the whistleblowers. Since that time, recoveries under the act have skyrocketed, with the government recovering over $12 billion. The top 100 list alone provided a total of $8.2 billion – more than 65 percent – of those recoveries, and in each case in the top 100, the whistleblower(s) received or will receive in excess of $1 million. In the lesser of the two HCA settlements alone, the whistleblower's share of the recovery was over $151 million.

Perhaps even more important to note however is that all recoveries under the False Claims Act were citizen-initiated. None of these cases of fraud were uncovered by government auditors. False Claims Act recoveries thus reflect only a portion of financial fraud recoveries by our government, and certainly, many cases of fraud go undetected entirely. And there is no reason to expect that similar fraud does not take place against group and private health insurance providers.

Think defense is expensive?

The False Claims Act was amended in 1986 in response to public furor over excessive billings by defense contractors ($700 toilet seats, anyone?). Clearly, defense contractor fraud is still a major problem. It has of late however been dwarfed by healthcare fraud.

We have well in excess of 40 million citizens in our country currently without medical coverage, and this number is growing. For those with employer-provided coverage, that coverage is steadily shrinking even as co-pays and employee contributions are rising. For those privately insured, annual premium increases of over 40% are being reported.

The movement for a single-payer healthcare system for our country that covers every citizen is once again gaining steam, being buoyed for these obvious reasons. Detractors of course say that we cannot afford it, ignoring the evidence that we are already paying for it, but simply not getting it. One of many ways to pay for a single-payer system is obvious via this Corporate Crime Reporter publication. Cutting back on health provider fraud will provide literally billions of dollars a year towards this goal. But how can a single-payer system help to do this? Two ways, in fact.

First, a great expense for any medical office or hospital lies in the billing process. There are literally thousands of medical insurance providers, each with their own unique requirements for processing medical claims. All of these offices and hospitals are required to develop a billing staff with expertise in handling all of this. The medical profession itself has been complaining about this for over two decades because developing this expertise costs them money. A single-payer system almost entirely eliminates the need for and the money required to develop this level of expertise. And money removed from this billing process is money that can go into the actual delivery of healthcare.

The second way is actually twofold. First, government auditors will benefit from this single method of paying claims by being better able to better hone their skills at detecting fraud. Second, all basic medical payments will be brought under this single-payer system and this single audit function. Fraudulent billing wherever it occurs will be audited centrally and with a consistency that we simply cannot have under our current system.

Will this alone pay for a single-payer system that covers all of our citizens? It will be a big step, but most likely not. But this is only one of many ways that a single-payer system can wring tens billions of dollars annually out of our current system without at all affecting the healthcare already being provided to those currently covered. Single-payer is simply an idea whose time has arrived.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Despite the RIAA's claims that their increasingly aggressive actions are in the name of protecting artist's rights and income, this iTunes spoof website offers an in-depth and accurate explanation of why this is absolute BS. Lots of other interesting related info is also on the site. A must for RIAA watchers, I give it 10 out of 10.

"People are paying for songs on the iTunes Music Store because they think it's a good way to support musicians. But by giving musicians just a few cents from each sale, iTunes destroys a huge opportunity. Instead of creating a system that gets virtually all of fans' money directly to artists-- finally possible with the internet-- iTunes takes a big step backwards. Apple calls iTunes "revolutionary" but really they're just letting record companies force the same exploitive and unfair business model onto a new medium..."
Been noticing lately that the occasional whispering about the potential for martial law has increased in volume and frequency? Me, too. So today I looked around and found some interesting stuff and posted it on ddjangoWIrE. There's also this post from Monday.

Be at peace.
Overview of the latest independent research into the deaths of Wellstone, Carnahan and JFK Jr.
The official unemployment rate in the United States sits at 5.9%. But as this article from the LA Times notes, the true rate is around 9.7% if you factor in the underemployed and those that have stopped searching for work.

This more comprehensive calculation is sometimes referred to as the U7 rate.
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber's Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here? is now available as a free download [PDF file].

This 1997 book examined how practices within the meat industry created the British Mad Cow epidemic and warned that the disease would soon make its way to American shores. Quite prescient, eh?
Monday, December 29, 2003
"To be born in misery and deprivation is not one’s fault;
to create and foster it is insidious."

Person of the YearThink they are waiting until after the election to revive the draft? Sorry, but it is already here. They just don't call it that yet. In a wonderful yet troubling tribute, writer Manuel Valenzuela of Axis of Logic agrees with Time magazine in their selection of the American Soldier as "Person of the Year":
The ultimate sacrifice is being paid for reasons that few comprehend, in circumstances that yearn to be understood and for a reality that is hard to believe and accept. The excuses have been many, and many have been impeachable lies and shams. Freedom and democracy are but the latest, found at the bottom of the barrel by Bush, in a last act of desperation, being the hardest to implement, therefore the hardest to prove wrong and question. Now our soldiers are made to believe these audacious deceits, when in fact they die and suffer for much more sinister motives.

For these reasons, like Time, I agree that our heroic men and women, in overcoming so much with so little and in spite of everything the elite few have done to endanger their lives and futures, should be named 2003’s Person of the Year. The reasons, however, are altogether different. Like so many, I am for our soldiers, against the war, and this article is dedicated to all those who through no fault of their own find themselves caught inside the most frightful nightmare they will ever be forced to endure.

An important reading.

Perhaps as good a sign of this as any is the now frequent issuance to our troops of "stop-loss" orders, orders preventing them from separating from the military on their agreed-upon date. The Washington Post takes a look at this in "Army Stops Many Soldiers From Quitting":
According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But Fontaine and Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 -- the payroll computer's way of saying, "Who knows?"

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's "stop-loss" orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

So much for the "all volunteer" military.
Scott Ritter, who led the UNSCOM Iraq weapons inspections team from 1996 to 1998, and David Kelly, Ritter's subordinate at that time and the current U.S. leader of the hunt for Iraqi WMDs, were both solicted by MI6 (Britain's CIA equivalent) in that group's effort to exagerate the Iraqi WMD threat, Ritter himself has revealed. Ritter, a stanch opponent of the current Iraq War, said that there was evidence that MI6 continued to use similar propaganda tactics up to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year. “Stories ran in the media about secret underground facilities in Iraq and ongoing programmes (to produce weapons of mass destruction),” said Ritter. “They were sourced to western intelligence and all of them were garbage.”
Religions usually espouse peace and goodwill, so why have they sparked so many conflicts? Karen Armstrong, author of the remarkable "A History of God", offers her thoughts in today's Guardian on how Western monotheism has always fell victim to the more violent aspects of human nature. Now with Bill Moyers also offers a transcript of an interview with her. Both are fairly brief an worthwhile reading. That said, if you are at all interested in the development and traditions of Western monotheism, by all means, read her breakthrough "A History of God". A most scholarly work, it was the book that caused this Atheist to believe once again that religion at its very best is a quite beautiful thing.

No, I didn't convert back. I simply found a new and great respect for what is there.

Sunday, December 28, 2003
I'll offer a a link to Noam Chomsky's article " Dictators R Us". One need only consider the 2000 presidential election to see proof positive of the contempt the GOP holds for democracy. History shows that the US government has a long history of support for dictators pliant to will of corporate capital. America's "Friendly Dictator" trading cards are a really clear and straightforward resource (circa 1990) reminding us that Saddam Hussein is one of a long line of unsavory murderous dictators that might best be described with a paraphrasing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's comment about Somoza Sr. ( yes, there was a Jr. too) - "Hussein may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

Until reading the Chomsky article I had no idea that Paul Wolfowitz was ambassador to Indonesia during the reign of Suharto, a dictator who's murderousness makes Saddam Hussein look like a rank amateur at political torture and the spilling of blood..
As Mark Zepezauer puts it in The CIA's Greatest Hits: "On a per-capita basis, East Timor is the greatest genocide since the Holocaust. Combined with the 1965 killings and other Indonesian atrocities, it puts Suharto in the first rank of twentieth-century mass murders, right up there with Hitler, Stalin, the Turks who massacred the Armenians in 1915 and the generals who run Guatemala."

A bit on Wolfowitz and Suharto's Indonesia;
Wolfowitz is worse on Indonesia, where he forged close ties with the intelligence and corporate elite. In May 1997, a year before Suharto was driven out of office, Wolfowitz told Congress of "the significant progress" Indonesia has made under the "strong and remarkable leadership of President Suharto". In an interview on PBS in February 2000, Wolfowitz was asked about General Wiranto, who had just been forced to resign after being named by Indonesian authorities as the mastermind of the 1999 military rampage in East Timor. He praised Wiranto as "the general who commanded the army during the first elections in Indonesian history". Wiranto "may have done bad things in East Timor or failed to stop bad things in East Timor, but that's what makes it so tricky," he added.

The case of Wolfowitz illustrates that support for dictators is not a solely a Republican policy; administrations of both Republicans and Democratic presidents have supported the corporate interests of their contributors rather than exporting the American ideal of Democracy.
East Timor, which was invaded and occupied in 1975 by Indonesia with US weapons - a security policy backed and partly shaped by Holbrooke and Wolfowitz. "Paul and I," he said, "have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests."
East Timor is a classic example of the bipartisan nature of US foreign policy during the Cold War - and the secrecy surrounding US military support for authoritarian leaders like president Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from the US-backed coup in 1965 until his downfall in 1998. There is an unbroken link from the Ford-Kissinger years, when the US backed Suharto's invasion of the former Portuguese territory. This continued through the Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton eras, when US policy focused on supporting Suharto's military and burnishing his image to the world.

I'd urge you to read the full links.
The present administration lied to the American people about a need to attack Iraq due to the threat of "weapons of mass destruction" and now is courting public opinion with talk of importing democracy to the middle east, starting with Iraq. Read about what Paul Wolfowitz sees as "Democracy". Things plainly are not looking too good...
Robert Fisk of the UK Independent is doing some of the best first person analysis coming out of Iraq today. In this story, he takes to task a number of different actions taken by coalition forces and how the coalition ended up "reporting" them. His wry conclusion is inescapable:
So let's get this right. Insurgents are civilians. Truck bombs and tanks that crush civilians are traffic accidents. And the "liberated" civilians who live in villages surrounded by razor wire should endure "a heavy dose of fear and violence" to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Somewhere along the way, they will probably be told about democracy as well.

If you want the inside scoop on what's going on with the administration's Neocons, especially now that the Realists are back in the beltway, Jim Lobe is your "go to" man. Of course, the American mainstream press won't touch him (What's new?), but he is widely carried in middle eastern and asian press, often appearing simultaneously in three or four major dailies there.

Forget about Bush's assertion during a nationally broadcast television interview last week that Cheney will be his VP for term two, says Lobe. "Cheney has a large bull's-eye on his back, painted there by Republican 'realists'."

For them, Cheney has become a major liability, not only to Bush's re-election chances, but - as the leader of the administration's imperialist faction with the greatest direct influence on Bush himself - to US economic and strategic interests abroad as well.
Colin Powell of course is the realists' inside man, but more important are those outside realists that seem to be grabbing the reins.
They include top officials of the first Bush administration, including former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who chairs Bush junior's president's foreign intelligence advisory board, and former secretary of state James Baker, who just moved back into the White House as junior's personal envoy charged with persuading Iraq's creditors to forgive tens of billions of dollars of that country's foreign debt.

They also include the former president himself, according to knowledgeable sources who say he has encouraged both Scowcroft and Baker - as well as other prominent foreign-policy Republicans like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel - to try to get Cheney dumped from the ticket next year.

All of these folks have worked with Cheney before when he was Bush 41's Secretary of Defense, and there is no love lost between them and Cheney.

My own call remains the same as it has for the last six months: Cheney's "doctors" will suddenly advise him that a national campaign would be too stressful, and he will bow out for "health reasons". My guess is right after the Dems lock up their candidate, but no later than April.

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