SW and Reverse
North and Coal Hb.


Dem Delegate Count (pledged, non-binding, and super-delegates): Obama, 1,721; Clinton, 1,579 --NYT. Obama 1724; Clinton 1593 --AP. April 29, 2008 (update)

Bush Watch News and Opinion

If you'll click on Bush Watch News and Opinion you'll get informed 24/7. Oh, and our latest Bush Watch op-ed selection may be read below.

warning you about Bush since Feb. 1998, Jerry and Christine

Top World Stories will return, Monday, May 05, 2008:

100+ More Stories

Bush Watch News Special

Nancy Grape: TV Military ‘Analysts’ Are Part of What Ike Warned Against
Eric Margolis: The Neoconning of a Nation
Mark Morford: All the President’s Liars
Josh Silver: TV’s Response to Pentagon Propaganda? Never Happened
The Boston Globe: Propaganda at Home

Bush Watch Op-Eds

Crimes Against Humanity: Israel Is Suppressing a Secret It Must Face, Johann Hari

More Bush Lies: All the President’s Liars, Mark Morford
Mac Attack: Here's The Dirt McCain Will Use Against Obama, Evelyn Pringle
Media Dreams: The Media Distracts Us While The Corporations Fleece Us, Politex; Samples
Dem Disaster: McCain Ignores Economy, Backs Bush War With Lies; Dems Ignore Mac, Rich
Recession or Depression? Bush Attacking Regulation Is Vote For A Depression, Politex, NYT, Krugman
Obama Bombs: Insane McCain will win it all — and handily too, William Smith
Asia Diary: Gross Local Unhapiness, Jerry Barrett
Bush Who? BW Spelled It Out Since '98, mail bag
Asian Diary: Revolt of the Beggars, Jerry Barrett
Another Bush-type Liar: Phony Obama Proving To Be Just Another Politician, Krugman and Brooks
Dictator '08: Isn't It Time Obama and Hill Took Aim at Nation's Problems?, NYT Ed
Asia Diary: Surfing For Buddha, Jerry Barrett
Business: Bush Takes $138 Out Of Your Paycheck Each Month to Pay For His Iraq War, Stiglitz
Mail Bag: What's Wrong With Obama?, various
First Ladyitis: Gee, Thanks, Mrs. Obama, William Smith, etc.
Asia Diary: Curled Up At Mahabodhi, Jerry Barrett
Obamanation? Can Status Quo Obama Change To Match His Rhetoric? (excerpts), Dave Lindorff
Diet Coke vs. Diet Pepsi: Obama and Hillary: Do-Nothing Insiders Far From Progressive, Joel S. Hirschhorn

Special Topics At Bush Watch: Bush Threat... Crisis Economy... Bush Budget... Oil Wars [updated]... Bush Dictatorship... 20 Dem Tasks... Path to 9/11... Israel and the U.S.... Framing Fascism... Bush's Economic Dictatorship [excellent overview]... The Big Picture: A New Paradigm ... 2004 Election Stolen? ... Updated News Archives ...

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Thursday, May 1

Crimes Against Humanity: Israel Is Suppressing a Secret It Must Face, Johann Hari

...Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison....In order to punish the population of Gaza for voting “the wrong way”, the Israeli army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working. The result? Vast stagnant pools of waste are being held within fragile dykes across the strip, and rotting. Last March, one of them burst, drowning a nine-month-old baby and his elderly grandmother in a tsunami of human waste. The Centre on Housing Rights warns that one heavy rainfall could send 1.5m cubic metres of faeces flowing all over Gaza, causing “a humanitarian and environmental disaster of epic proportions”.

So how did it come to this? How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago with a promise to be “a light unto the nations” end up flinging its filth at a cowering Palestinian population?

The beginnings of an answer lie in the secret Israel has known, and suppressed, all these years. Even now, can we describe what happened 60 years ago honestly and unhysterically? The Jews who arrived in Palestine throughout the twentieth century did not come because they were cruel people who wanted to snuffle out Arabs to persecute. No: they came because they were running for their lives from a genocidal European anti-Semitism that was soon to slaughter six million of their sisters and their sons.

They convinced themselves that Palestine was “a land without people for a people without land”. I desperately wish this dream had been true. You can see traces of what might have been in Tel Aviv, a city that really was built on empty sand dunes. But most of Palestine was not empty. It was already inhabited by people who loved the land, and saw it as theirs. They were completely innocent of the long, hellish crimes against the Jews.

When it became clear these Palestinians would not welcome becoming a minority in somebody else’s country, darker plans were drawn up. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in 1937: “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.”

So, for when the moment arrived, he helped draw up Plan Dalit. It was — as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe puts it — “a detailed description of the methods to be used to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; and laying siege to and bombarding population centres”. In 1948, before the Arab armies invaded, this began to be implemented: some 800,000 people were ethnically cleansed, and Israel was built on the ruins. The people who ask angrily why the Palestinians keep longing for their old land should imagine an English version of this story. How would we react if the 30m stateless, persecuted Kurds in the world sent armies and settlers into this country to seize everything in England below Leeds, and swiftly established a free Kurdistan from which we were expelled? Wouldn’t we long forever for our children to return to Cornwall and Devon and London? Would it take us only 40 years to compromise and offer to settle for just 22 per cent of what we had?

If we are not going to be endlessly banging our heads against history, the Middle East needs to excavate 1948, and seek a solution. Any peace deal — even one where Israel dismantled the wall and agreed to return to the 1967 borders — tends to crumple on this issue. The Israelis say: if we let all three million come back, we will be outnumbered by Palestinians even within the 1967 borders, so Israel would be voted out of existence. But the Palestinians reply: if we don’t have an acknowledgement of the Naqba (catastrophe), and our right under international law to the land our grandfathers fled, how can we move on?

It seemed like an intractable problem — until, two years ago, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted the first study of the Palestinian Diaspora’s desires. They found that only 10 per cent — around 300,000 people — want to return to Israel proper. Israel can accept that many (and compensate the rest) without even enduring much pain. But there has always been a strain of Israeli society that preferred violently setting its own borders, on its own terms, to talk and compromise. This weekend, the elected Hamas government offered a six-month truce that could have led to talks. The Israeli government responded within hours by blowing up a senior Hamas leader and killing a 14-year-old girl.

Tuesday, April 29

More Bush Lies: All the President’s Liars, Mark Morford

Did it work? Were you duped?

Were you calmly and methodically and rather nefariously led to believe that maybe, just maybe, the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the rest, right along with tales of soldier suicides and torture and staggering civilian body counts and the utterly disastrous Bush military policy weren’t really all that bad after all?

Did you watch any CNN or Fox News or MSNBC, lo, these past five or six years, listen to the pundits and ponder the wise, informed comments of all the military experts the networks brought on to discuss Iraq policy, then conclude that maybe this war, this appalling invasion might actually be positive, that maybe the surge is working and torture ain’t all that bad and the democracy is taking root and America is proud and perky and victorious once again?

Did you believe any of it? Because oh my God, they sure as hell worked us over like a rabid dog works a hunk of gristle.

Who are “they,” exactly? Why, they’re the newly discovered and rather unexpected fraternity of expert BS artists, a highly specialized group known to gullible Americans as stoic, stern-faced retired generals, colonels, majors, military advisers, former Pentagon officials, the ones you’ve heard and seen on TV news for years, but who are known to the Bush administration as a delightfully dishonest gaggle of preferred liars, lackeys, shills, puppets and mouthpieces for Dick Cheney and Donny Rumsfeld and Dubya himself.

The truth is as sad as it is revolting: You have been lied to, again and again, perhaps even more than you imagined, in a rather unexpected way, perhaps like no other time in American history, in a more carefully orchestrated and widespread effort than any presidential administration has managed to attempt in the past.

Here is the New York Times, still managing to do what it does best despite the era of dying newspapers and disrespected journalism, running a simply astonishing piece on all the dishonest “military consultants” who’ve appeared for the past half decade on every major network — and yes, Fox adores these liars best of all — to discuss Iraq, surges, U.S. military strategy, the works.

Here is the Times revealing, after two years of battling the Defense Department to release the 8,000 pages of incriminating documents by way of instigating lawsuits and leveraging the Freedom of Information Act — and barely even then — that this entire dour fraternity of deceitful military cretins has been in service of BushCo since Sept. 11 — and still is, to this very day.

To clarify: Whenever you’ve seen one of those dour-faced retired generals discussing details of U.S. war strategy on MSNBC, chances are staggeringly good he was/is in the pocket of Rummy or Cheney. Whenever a wise old colonel has appeared on Fox or CNN or CBS News to say the surge is working or troop morale is strong or that all those suicide bombings aren’t really so bad, chances are overwhelmingly good that he is lying outright and you’re hearing exactly what Donald Rumsfeld wanted him to say. Isn’t that refreshing?

The Times story is simply astounding. Up and down the line, from major to general to colonel to every sort of expert they have, it’s the same story. Over and over again, presented “tens of thousands of times” and totaling countless hundreds of TV and radio hours, it’s been a near constant stream of calculated deception and misrepresentation and bogus pro-Iraq spin. Neutrality? Fair analysis of the war? Criticism of Bush? Not a chance.

You may ask: Why would they do such a thing? What’s in it for the generals and the colonels to lie outright to the American populace and the embarrassingly blind news networks, to whore their credentials and trash their distinguished reputations in favor of defending a lost war and useless president?

That’s easy: Access. Access to the White House, to the corridors of power and influence; access to the perks and the pals and snifters of brandy, the backroom handshakes, the business deals, the hugely lucrative military contracts, the sweet, sweet piles of cash and privilege and power awaiting them if they just toe the line and keep their real opinions to themselves. Also worth mentioning: Many are military men down to the bone. Failed war and inept commander in chief or no, they will defend any U.S. military operation, simply because it’s a U.S. military operation. It’s just automatic.

Reminds me, in a depressing sort of way, of that gaggle of Big Tobacco CEOs who banded together not long ago in a hilarious attempt to convince the nation — and the courts — that cigarettes aren’t all that bad and there’s little evidence smoking causes cancer or impotence or death, and in fact small children really love secondhand smoke and so do puppies and flowers and Jesus, and if you want to have fun sometime, walk into a hospital nursery and fire up a fresh Marlboro and blow that yummy smoke straight into the faces of the newborns. Watch them squirm with delight!

Except wait, no, it’s not like that at all. One major difference: Big Tobacco execs are professional liars, de facto and a priori and understood. It’s what they do. Not even the most ardent smoking advocate would trust one those jackals as far as he could throw him into a vat of chemotherapy drugs.

Different, at least in theory, with these high-grade military men. They have a potent aura of trustworthiness, fairness, decency. They are f-ing generals, for chrissakes, and hence we like to think of them as straight-talking, no-BS working men whose word is solid and whose authority unquestionable and therefore no wimp-assed monkey-faced president or scabrous Defense secretary could make them say something they didn’t actually believe.

Wrong. Oh, how horribly wrong.

So I ask again, did it work? Was America duped? Well, yes and no. There’s little doubt that this insidious, sustained PR attack — and make no mistake, it was/is an attack on the American people; such calculated “psychological operations” aimed at U.S. citizens are actually very illegal, though it’s enormously difficult to prove so in court — swayed millions of Americans, gave fuel to the preemptive attack argument, inflamed (and still inflames) the warmongering right, scammed the media, fanned the pro-war fires for years before the public recoil finally kicked in.

But oh, kick in it did. This is the fascinating thing. Even all those high-ranking military experts lying like well-decorated dogs in one of the most impressive, appalling PR campaigns in American history could not keep Bush from collapsing, could not prevent Americans from learning the real facts of the failed war and toxic presidency — eventually.

And maybe this is a good thing. Because now, given the scope of the Bush administration’s lies — the true scale of which we may never fully know — the recoil is even more forceful than it ever might’ve been, the anti-neocon, anti-Bush revolt is potent and heartening and enormously helpful to the Democratic cause, perhaps far more than if Bush and his cronies had told the truth in the first place.

Then again, if they had been the slightest bit honest, if Bush had even a hint of integrity, we’d never have launched this staggeringly botched, futile war in the first place, and maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now, with the American experiment under Bush far less of an experiment and far more of a cyanide tablet.

Thoughts for the author? E-mail him. Mark Morford’s Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SFGate and in the Datebook section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

© The San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, March 29

Mac Attack: Here's The Dirt McCain Will Use Against Obama, Evelyn Pringle

"The most trusted leaders of the Democratic party, such as John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, ought to be ashamed of themselves for supporting Barack Obama. With use of the internet, a fifth grader could connect the dots to show a picture of a guy who was picked up in college and carried up the political latter by a corrupt gang of influence peddlers.

John McCain is just drooling waiting for Obama to become the nominee so that he can come out with the trail of dirt that the Democratic party is too afraid to reveal this late in the game. If nominated, Obama will not survive a month when faced with the Republican attack machine.

If he becomes the nominee, the web of corruption leading to Obama's rise to power that this investigative journalist was able to untangle in less than three weeks, will be front page news right up until election day, handing the Republicans their only chance in hell of winning the White House.

Instead of the leaders of the Democratic party doing their homework, a small group of investigative reporters in Chicago will be credited with exposing the corrupt backbone of Obama's political career and the mainstream media need only follow their lead if the Democrats hold him out to be a viable candidate. (more)

Thursday, March 27

Media Dreams: The Media Distracts Us While The Corporations Fleece Us, Politex; Samples

Bush Watch on Tibet: Boycotting the Olympic Games will not change China's present political actions agains Tibetans. That's not the point. We need to boycott the Olympic Games to retain our self-respect in the face of Chinese repression. As for the fate of the Olympic Games, don't make me laugh. The Olympic Games has become just one more stop on the megabucks corporate business tour. I love sports, but face it, media sports has become the opiate of the people, the mental pacifier politicians use as they go about their endlessly corrupt dirty business of running things and making a buck. ...Jerry Politex


Mad As Hell... My friend Bernie says he can't believe the American people haven't figured out what it's all about. "The whole damn political scene is nothing but a corporate media freak show," he said. "There's no breathing room between elections -- no time nor interest in investigating, or even addressing, issues that are critical to our survival as a nation. The minute every last dollar is sucked out of the competition, the candidate who bought the most attack ads -- the most face time -- wins, and the election is over. Then," Bernie said with disgust, "it's time to start raising money for the next election, because the media is already out there campaigning. The mainstream media, both print and electronic, are as important as the American people allow them to be. And we've allowed them total control over our thoughts, our beliefs. They're freaks -- actors whose role is to divert national attention, manipulate public opinion, and keep the public in a state of suspended paralysis. They're bullhorns for corporate Boss Hogs and administration creeps who are determined to seize power and keep the military industrial complex rolling in dough.", Shelia Samples

Tuesday, March 25

Dem Self-Destruction: McCain Ignores Economy, Backs Bush War With Lies, Distortions; Dems Ignore McCain, Frank Rich

For Republicans, the prospect of marathon Democratic trench warfare is an Easter miracle. Saddled with the legacy of both Iraq and a cratering economy, the G.O.P. can only rejoice at its opponents’ talent for self-destruction. The Republicans can also count on the help of a political press that, whatever its supposed tilt toward Mr. Obama, remains most benevolent toward John McCain.

This was strikingly apparent last week, when Mr. McCain’s calamitous behavior was relegated to sideshow status by many, if not most, news media. At a time of serious peril for America, the G.O.P.’s presumptive presidential nominee revealed himself to be alarmingly out of touch on both of the most pressing issues roiling the country.

Never mind that Bear Stearns was disposed of in a fire sale, the dollar was collapsing, job losses hit a five-year low, and the price of oil hit an all-time high. Mr. McCain, arriving in Iraq, went AWOL on capitalism’s meltdown, delegating his economic adviser to release an anodyne two-sentence statement of confidence in Ben Bernanke.

This is consistent with Mr. McCain’s laissez-faire approach to economic matters. In January he proposed tasking any problems to “a committee headed by Alan Greenspan, whether he’s alive or dead.” This witty salvo must be very comforting to the large share of Americans — the largest since the Great Depression — who now owe more on their homes than they’re worth. In Iraq, Mr. McCain did not repeat his April 2007 mistake of touring a “safe” market while protected by a small army. (CNN tried to revisit that market last week, but the idea was vetoed as too risky by the network’s security advisers.) Instead he made a bigger mistake. As if to emulate Dick Cheney, who arrived in Baghdad a day behind him, he embraced the vice president’s habit of manufacturing false links in the war on terror: Mr. McCain told reporters that Iran is training Al Qaeda operatives and sending them into Iraq.

His Sancho Panza, Joe Lieberman, whispered in his ear that a correction was in order. But this wasn’t a one-time slip, like Gerald Ford’s debate gaffe about Poland in 1976. Mr. McCain has said this repeatedly. Troubling as it is that he conflates Shiite Iran with Sunni terrorists, it’s even more bizarre that he doesn’t acknowledge the identity of Iran’s actual ally in Iraq — the American-sponsored Shiite government led by Nuri al-Maliki. Only two weeks before the Iraqi prime minister welcomed Mr. McCain to Baghdad, he played host to a bubbly state visit by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Whatever Mrs. Clinton’s or Mr. Obama’s inconsistencies about how to wind down the war, they are both models of coherence next to Mr. McCain. He keeps saying the surge is a “success,” but he can’t explain why that success keeps us trapped in Iraq indefinitely. He never says precisely what constitutes that “victory” he keeps seeing around the corner. His repeated declaration that he will only bring home the troops “with honor” is a Vietnam acid flashback recycled as a non sequitur. Our troops have already piled up more than enough honor in their five years of service under horrific circumstances. Meanwhile, as Al Qaeda proliferates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a survey by Foreign Policy magazine of 3,400 active and retired American officers finds that 88 percent believe that the Iraq war has “stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin.” But as violence flares up again in Iraq and the American economy skids, the issues consuming the Democrats are Mr. Wright and Geraldine Ferraro, race and gender, unsanctioned primaries and unaccountable superdelegates. Unless Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton find a way to come together for the good of their country as well as their party, no speech by either of them may prevent Mr. McCain from making his second unlikely resurrection in a single political year.

Monday, March 24

Recession or Depression? Bush Attacking Regulation Is Vote For A Depression, Politex, NYT, Krugman

Paul Krugman argues, correctly, we think, that after the Great Depression the government put regulatory strictures in place to prevent it ever happening again. Since then, our private economic system has had the government remove as many regulations as possible, with immediate profit as the motive. You can guess how corporations have been able to get government representatives to do so. Thus, with so many regulations gone, we have set ourselves up for another depression.

Bush, of course, being the tool of such corporations, is against regulation, although he has admitted through his cabinet representatives that some cleaning up should be done. Hence, it's not an exaggeration to say that Bush's actions have helped get us where we are today, and his present behavior is a vote to keep us there, even though it could very well lead to a depression. With an MBA from Harvard, he should know better.

What you should know is that while CEOs get fatter, you don't get the benefits of deregulation when economic corporations figure out a new way to make a buck, but your money is used to bail out these corporations when they threaten to pull down our entire economic system as a result of deregulation. --Jerry Politex

The following is from a NYT story posted today, and a recent op-ed piece by Krugman:

Invoking its authority as the nation’s lender of last resort, the Fed offered a $30 billion credit line to JPMorgan Chase to help it take over Bear Stearns, which was about to go bankrupt. Even more significant, the central bank announced that it would lend hundreds of billions of dollars to big investment banks through its “discount window” — an emergency loan program that had been reserved strictly for commercial banks. The Fed’s involvement highlighted what many experts see as the growing disparity in regulation between Wall Street firms and commercial banks. Commercial banks submit to greater regulation, partly in exchange for the privilege of being able to borrow from the Fed’s discount window. But starting last week, Wall Street firms were getting the same protection without subjecting themselves to additional scrutiny. Some administration officials said they had little choice but to regulate Wall Street firms more closely....

Among Democrats and Republicans alike, there is a growing consensus that the existing regulatory structure, involving more than half a dozen federal agencies as well state offices, were not equipped to prevent a host of questionable practices that aggravated the housing and mortgage meltdowns. The practices included abusive loans by independent mortgage brokers; risky and opaque transactions by financial institutions; credit-rating decisions that turned out to be wildly optimistic; and the underwriting of loans by mortgage brokers that were often based on fraudulent or inaccurate information. Just as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks highlighted deep cracks between the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the credit and housing crises are forcing policy makers to scrutinize cracks between oversight agencies that aggressive mortgage brokers and deal makers were able to exploit....

Treasury officials say they are convinced that today’s regulatory system is fragmented and out of date. The Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., has talked about the need to re-examine capital requirements for financial institutions. But both President Bush and Mr. Paulson, a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, remain philosophically opposed to restrictions and requirements that might hamper economic activity. --NYT, 3/22/08

...We’re paying the price for willful amnesia. We chose to forget what happened in the 1930s — and having refused to learn from history, we’re repeating it. Contrary to popular belief, the stock market crash of 1929 wasn’t the defining moment of the Great Depression. What turned an ordinary recession into a civilization-threatening slump was the wave of bank runs that swept across America in 1930 and 1931. This banking crisis of the 1930s showed that unregulated, unsupervised financial markets can all too easily suffer catastrophic failure. As the decades passed, however, that lesson was forgotten — and now we’re relearning it, the hard way....

Bank runs can be contagious. If depositors at one bank lose their money, depositors at other banks are likely to get nervous, too, setting off a chain reaction. And there can be wider economic effects: as the surviving banks try to raise cash by calling in loans, there can be a vicious circle in which bank runs cause a credit crunch, which leads to more business failures, which leads to more financial troubles at banks, and so on. That, in brief, is what happened in 1930-1931, making the Great Depression the disaster it was. So Congress tried to make sure it would never happen again by creating a system of regulations and guarantees that provided a safety net for the financial system. And we all lived happily for a while — but not for ever after. Wall Street chafed at regulations that limited risk, but also limited potential profits. And little by little it wriggled free — partly by persuading politicians to relax the rules, but mainly by creating a “shadow banking system” that relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass regulations designed to ensure that banking was safe....

The financial crisis currently under way is basically an updated version of the wave of bank runs that swept the nation three generations ago. People aren’t pulling cash out of banks to put it in their mattresses — but they’re doing the modern equivalent, pulling their money out of the shadow banking system and putting it into Treasury bills. And the result, now as then, is a vicious circle of financial contraction. Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues at the Fed are doing all they can to end that vicious circle. We can only hope that they succeed. Otherwise, the next few years will be very unpleasant — not another Great Depression, hopefully, but surely the worst slump we’ve seen in decades. Even if Mr. Bernanke pulls it off, however, this is no way to run an economy. It’s time to relearn the lessons of the 1930s, and get the financial system back under control. --Paul Krugman, 03/21/08

Friday, March 21

Obama Bombs: Insane McCain will win it all — and handily too, William Smith

Today, on the fifth anniversary of Operation Stupid, while pumping squirts of that barely affordable distillate from one tank to another (all the while wondering about the sizable charges incurred in that infinitesimal transfer, too) and just wanting it to be enough to at least shut off the reserve light on my gauge for the duration of the short drive home, I figured out the Election results.

Insane McCain will win it all — and handily too.

Because, without a fair, agreed upon division of those Dean-disenfranchised votes, Hillary hasn’t a prayer. The Democratic Party can’t possibly allow that sort of ameliorative proffer. No way. After all, Florida and Michigan have broken their “rules.” They must pay. This from a party, my arcane party, that only needs something like 5,000 votes in a caucus (which probably seemed a really great electoral system for certain Indians tribes—in the year 1650!) to declare a winner from an entire state of millions.

So then, to be “just,” it’s Barack by some goofy sleight-of-hand acclamation at the Convention. Soon after, so much libelous un-sourced innuendo is bruited just as the 527s begin the 24-hour Reverend Wright-Rezko cable bombardments that some of the buildings in Detroit will have to burn. A riot or two breaks out. Flags fly, the Navy Coot stands and says something vaguely Reaganesque and “patriotic,” and jumping Jehoshaphat, he quells the violence (without, of course, adequately crediting all of those discolored “pastors” and oddly dressed pacifists working behind the scenes). Otherwise, Mr. Bush will have to force the issue, as we know he can, with some of the Blackwater brigades that are still working at home for the Carlyle Group and what's left of nearby National Guard troops. Either way, it’s going to work out fine for the Repugnants: McCain is Golden.

Wednesday, March 18

Asia Diary: Gross Local Unhapiness, Jerry Barrett

PART SEVEN: Jan. 7. We walked past the smiling guard at the entrance to the passanger terminal at the Guya, India airport and found ourselves in a three story high white room the size of a basketball stadium. It was pretty much an empty space: cavernous and filled with echoes. An x-ray station to the right to pass our four bags through, eight long rows of bolted-down, uncomfortable steel seats to the side, and in the rear across the wide expanse of empty marble floor, three lecturns with interchangeable airline signs in front of a long conveyor belt for luggage. A wide expanse of glass doors and wondows to the right had signs posted, advertising shops and a restaurant yet to be built. A similar set-up to the left was where passangers went to be searched by security and sent into the large passanger waiting room beyond. While there were four flights on three separate airlines going out this afternoon, only the Air India flight to New Delhi was listed at the moment, and a short line of passangers had formed next to its lecturn.

While our baggage was sent through the x-ray machine, we were directed to perch on the small, steel benches. After going through the machine, one of our bags was selected, opened, and thoroughly searched. We watched this process being followed by those who arrived after us as I groggily waited for our flight to be announced. 20 minutes later, a sign was slipped into the slot in front of one of the lecturns: "Druck Airlines." We walked over and stood in front of the unoccupied lecturn. Fifteen minutes later, Christine walked over to the Air India lecturn and inquired about our missing counter attendant. Ten minutes later a well-dressed English speaking young man appeared. We showed him our confirmed and paid for flight tickets and our passports. He looked at a sheet he unfolded and informed us we could not go because our names were not on the list of 30 or so passengers on the Guya to Bangkok flight.

At that point I looked around the vast floor of the room to find a comfortable place to collapse and give up. Running on the fumes of optimism for the past 24 hours, thinking I finally was able to escape this place and receive the medical help I desperately needed, the realization that I might be doomed to spend another day in Budh Gaya was too much to take. I felt totally drained, physically and emotionally, and despair was settling in to stay. Our circumstance had not changed some fifteen minutes later: since we weren't on the flight list, we could not leave, although the paid for tickets and our documents were in order. With Christine pulling all stops, the young man finally confessed: he was an Air India attendant, not a Druck Airlines attendant. The Druck Airlines attendant was "on his way," and perhaps he would think of something. An hour from the time the Druck Airlines sign was posted, he arrived, looking very official, and simply took out his pen and put us on the flight list.

After what seemed to me to be an eternity in my state, we made our way through security, a very thorough search, given the state of Northern India, with its bands of Maoist insurgents even tougher than those in Nepal. Finally, we found ourselves in the actual waiting room, another vast cavern filled with maybe two hundred people on uncomfortable steel benches, many looking stunned, quite a few appearing tense. I fit right in. We found empty seats in the far corner of the huge, three-storied room, right next to the rest rooms. Pacing the floor, I took the opportunity to phone Bangkok friends about our late evening arrival, speaking with time gaps between the words, an obvious effect of the stroke, if that's what it was: Hi.....this is.....Jerry. I' at....

I made it back to my seat in the corner and, as if in a dream, found the Taiwanese doctor and his translator talking to Chrinstine. He looked me over with gentle concern in his behavior, as though he were observing a delicate egg, and assured me that if I wished I could come to Taiwan and he would continue to treat me. I thanked him for his kindness and assured him I would, if need be.

Since I entered the airport, I seemed to have fallen into a semi-hypnotic state. Both my speech and body movements slowed down perceptibly. I finally realized what it was: the music. For nearly two hours, the same spacey dirge had been playing in the background through the sound system, over and over. It was a short Buddhist song of refuge, sung by a small choir at a snail's pace with lots of echoe. It was the perfect accompaniment to my fragile state in this cavern of echoes. Compared to this funerial dirge, Bryan Eno's MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS was ragtime. Here's what was sung for hours, over and over, from the time we entered the airport to the time we left:

buddham sharanam gacchami
dhamam sharanam gacchami
sangham sharanam gacchami

Nearly another hour went by, and our large Druck Airlines jet with capacity to hold a hundred and fifty people was ready to take on passangers. A bus took our group, 40 or so, across the tarmac to our waiting plane. We entered by a stairway attached to the tail of the plane, and found ourselves in a new, modern, empty plane. We spread out, since there were many more seats than passangers. It was pretty much an empty plane. The quiet, reserved female flight attendants wore native dress, served a wonderful meal, and didn't seem bothered at all as small children ran up and down the long aisles of the aircraft during the nearly 4 hour flight to Bangkok. The super-modern Bangkok airport was its usually efficient self, and we were soon on our way by cab to Bumrungrad hospital's spacious, up-to-date facilities. A quick freeway ride from the airport to Sukhumvit Road, than a few blocks past all manner of stores, restaurants, bars, and high rise modern hotels to Soi Nana (Nana Alley, which is really a very busy street) took us to the heart of the Arab district, where the hospital was located. Since I was an out-patient, Christine was able to get us an excellent, inexpensive suite at Bumrungrad's nearby, upscale guest hotel. I was starting to feel better already, in spite of my continued hesitant thinking, but I needed to learn more about my stroke. (Next: Bangkok's Corridor des Mortes)

Thursday, March 13

Bush Who? BW Spelled It Out Since '98, mail bag

Since 1998 Bush Watch has been writing about what a loser George W. Bush is. Now, NYT readers of Maureen Dowd's "Soft Shoe in Hard Times," which lays it on the line about the horrible Mr. Bush (linked above) have their say. --Jerry Politex


Democracy's greatest flaw: it relies on the collective intelligence and actions of the people. If a large percentage of the population is ignorant, egocentric, ethnocentric, and has a "Santa Claus" view about life, then we all reap the consequences (e.g., the election of a deeply flaw president). --Sven


Anyone who by now has not noticed and accepted the president's incompetence is, well, disturbed. Mr. Bush has presided over an economic disaster: the transformation of a record surplus (thanks, Bill) to a skyrocketing deficit. Americans can do little more than hold on, wait for a "market correction." --DJF


As for Bush's cheerfulness, he has a plan. I don't know what it is, but I'm betting it has something to do with Cheney's "peacemaking' (hah!) trip to the Middle East. Chances are good that he is arranging an 'incident' with Iran, perhaps through Israel, which will give the administration a chance to start yet another war by bombing Iran. Bush probably thinks this will bring Americans to heel once again, the way 911 did, as planned. That's why he got rid of Fallon, who was objecting to an attack on Iran. But it won't work. We are all sick of this man and his cowardly war-mongering, attacking little countries and slaughtering their people. I doubt the American people will stand for any more. --Susan


There is only one plausible explanation for Bush's clown behavior in the face of an economic collapse his adventure in Iraq in combination with tax cuts to the wealthy has caused... The dry drunk we had to put up with for several years is now drinking again. I wish drug and alcohol tests were required of our elected officials. --Greg


I think in many ways George W. Bush sees himself as having succeeding in accomplishing much of what he set out to do - dismantle as much of the Federal Government as he possibly could - which he did by appointing some of the most incompetent persons possible into each and every agency - from the Dept. of Justice to the EPA to the wasteland that is the Homeland Defense to FEMA and of course ruined the National Guard of every state with the debacle that is Iraq as he has forced them to squander both lives and and equipment through endless tours in Iraq. He also mistakenly believes that he's proved he's more macho than daddy cause he went to war with Saddam - come on George W. its not like you went mano a mano with Saddam - you as usual let others do your fighting for ya! For the issues that people attack him on he is positive that his legacy will be secured be it 100 years from now or when Redemption finally does arrive as he remains securely delusional in his extreme Calvinist ideology that God meant for him to rule and God will save him - for he's one of the "have" and that too is God's plan for George W. Bush. Well, either that or maybe they upped his meds! --Katy


It's genetic. During the first Bush recession, his dad zipped around Kennebunkport in a cigarette boat telling us there was no recession. After Katrina, his mom said New Orleans' displaced poor were happier and more comfortable sleeping on cots in the Astrodome than living in their own homes. He can deny evolution all he wants. The Bushes are proof positive that dominant characteristics, in their case lunacy and self absorbtion, will always prevail. --L. Bachmann


I don't understand why we continue to be bemused at this sad-sack president. He so clearly is a very, very, very stupid human. It's not his wealth, arrogance, bad companions which make him unable to change in the smallest way. It is the cotton candy between his ears. It's almost a waste of words to write seriously about him. He may be in a good mood these days because his single-digit IQ may have registered that it's almost over. --Lisa Coleman


Bush is either as he seems, without a clue, or this all fits his "left behind" ideology of causing the "rapture." If rove had not successfully helped snooker enough Americans into supporting republicons in congress we could have impeached this criminal long ago. Instead republicons refused to even take a casual look at his malfeasance, and now the slim majority of Democrats is hamstrung by obstructionist tactics and a WH that has no regard for any law, including the constitution. --Brandon


G W's 'leadership' is almost irrelevant now. We're already in deep trouble, thanks to his shenanigans. he can't do anything to help us at this point. He's led our boat into the middle of the river, and he's paddling back to shore, leaving us out among the cold swift current while the boat is sinking; he's shouting "courage" while we're searching for our life jackets. Thanks, GW. --as


Hey, retirement from that nasty job waits in the wings. Even running the country badly for almost eight years would wear out an entire confederacy of dunces. Come to think of it, it may have. ...our leader of what used to be called the free world doesn't hesitate to promise us a rose garden down the road, engineered ~ no doubt ~ by the same coterie that has brought us this far in the new century. --gatekeeper2

Thursday, March 13

Asian Diary: Revolt of the Beggars, Jerry Barrett

PART SIX: JAN. 6 and 7. Prior to the festival of lights at Mahabodhi, during the waning light of late afternoon, the tsog feast had been offered. Many Tibetan Buddhist religious events end with a tsog feast, where everyone is given a little plastic bag which eventually is filled with small boxes of juice, candy, oranges, apples, cookies, crackers, cheese puffs, and other snack food. When we arrived on the grounds earlier, a large space on level two had been taken up with high mounds of boxes, truckloads of packaged food and drink of the type found in convenience stores throughout the globe. By the time of our festival of lights crowd experience, all of the food and drink had been distributed. Since this was the last day of the celebration, the normally aggressive beggars became even more aggressive. As we walked down the walled path to the rear entrance, a woman holding her child as though it were a rag doll refused to leave us alone, leaning against Christine and holding onto her arm, rapidly speaking in her dialect in a high-pitched voice. Not taking "no" for an answer, it took a nearby guard to remove her grasp and allow us to go on our way.

While we sometimes give alms to the infirm and the elderly, our experience is that Bodh Gaya tourists, religious and otherwise, were generally reluctant to give beggars anything, knowing about the various scams and having seen trusting tourists provide alms, only to attract crowds of beggars pushing and shoving around the giver and following her down the street, berating her for not giving them alms, also. We had tested this generalization, that some may find cynical, by giving a bright, 12 year old local boy who spoke good English enough money to buy a dictionary, which he said he would place in the library at his school. (In Nepal such school kids simply ask for your pen.) We said we'd go with him to see him give his school the book, and we bought the book for him at a nearby store of his choice. Then he and his student friends took us away from the main street, deeper down rutted roads, until we just gave up, fearing the worst. The next day when we saw them again and refused to give the boy more money, he told us that he sold the dictionary back to the bookstore, since he knew he couldn't count on us for more money, and it was our fault that his school library didn't have a dictionary.

As we walked through the archway to the Mahabodhi grounds on the way back to our hotel after our festival of lights crowd experience, a growing group of beggars began to gather around us, eyeing Christine's plastic tsog bag. We struggled through the crowd over to a nearby rickshaw and, as the beggars began to push and shove to get closer, blocking our exit, Christine threw the bag over her head as far as she could. The crowd fell over each other chasing the bag, and we went on our way. Later that evening, a mild-mannered woman described her similar experience. She said she was alone and the beggars were closing in on her, tearing small holes in her plastic bag and trying to pull things out. Mild mannered, she apologetically told us she swung the bag around her like a weapon in order to give herself some space. A man passing by jumped in and, together, they were able to fend off the mob. The woman threw the bag in the air as far away as she could, and the beggars, men, women, and children, trampled over each other in pursuit. Of course, children begging on the streets is not just a Bodh Gaya problem. An official sign at the Kathmandu airport suggests that begging children not be given anything.

By 9 am the next day we had checked out of the hotel and were on our way in a taxi to the airport, about 10K out of town between Bodh Gaya and Gaya, with our Druk airline tickets and passports in hand. (Druk Airlines, owned by the government of Bhutan, provides the only way to get into the country by air, and offers flights from many major cities in Asia. One has to be specially trained to fly into mountainous Bhutan, due to dangerous flying conditions and the desire to prevent unregulated tourism. Situated between India and China, the approach to Paro, the only viable commercial passenger airport in this country of 700,000, forces today's commercial jets to fly sidewise between the towering cliffs of a mountain pass. Wikipedia tells us that "Due to its largely unspoilt natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has aptly been referred to as the The Last Shangri-la. While the Bhutanese are free to travel abroad, Bhutan is seen to be inaccessible to many foreigners....However it is the high tourist tariff [one must hire a full-time government guide] and requirement to go on packaged tours that makes Bhutan an exclusive tourist destination."

Relative to its neighbors, Bhutan has a high standard of living, primarily because unlike Nepal, which the Bhutanese don't care to emulate, economically or culturally, the government has created hydroelectric power and sells it to India. The King of this small, self-isolated, Buddhist country, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, wants to use his growing economy to uphold traditional cultural and spiritual values, calling the result "Gross National Happiness," which he considers more important than GNP. A 2005 survey reported that only 3% of Bhutanese reported being unhappy, while the number was 13% in the U.S. "The Happy Planet Index estimates that the average level of life satisfaction in Bhutan is within the top 10% of nations worldwide.")

We shortly arrived at the large, recently-built Gaya airport, a three-story, white stucco affair, sitting in the middle of vast, flat farmlands, with landing strips that go on forever: a snap for Druk Airline pilots. The large parking lot was fairly empty, suggesting that its primary purpose was to service Bodh Gaya tourists, not locals. The airport had an underused feel to it, with little activity on the roadways and entrances. Four commercial passenger jet flights were scheduled to leave during the next few hours, so we anticipated flight crowds would eventually form. We anticipated being in one such group. (Next: Gross Local Unhappiness.)

Monday, March 10

Another Bush Liar: Phony Obama Proving To Be Just Another Politician, Krugman and Brooks

public optimism about Iraq is rising: 53 percent of the public believes that the United States will definitely or probably succeed in achieving its goals. So anger about the war isn’t likely to be decisive in the election. The state of the economy, on the other hand, could well give Democrats a huge advantage — especially, to be blunt about it, with white working-class voters who supported President Bush in 2004....

According to exit polls, Mr. Obama narrowly edged out Mrs. Clinton among Ohio voters who consider Iraq the most important issue — but these voters cast only 19 percent of the ballots in the Democratic primary. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton led by 12 points among the much larger group of voters citing the economy as the most important issue — and by 16 points among those who cited health care. Mrs. Clinton’s winning margin was twice as large among those who were worried about their own financial situation as among those who weren’t.

Why has Mr. Obama stumbled when it comes to economic issues? Well, on health care — which is closely tied to overall concerns about financial security — there is a clear, substantive difference between the candidates, with the Clinton plan being significantly stronger. More broadly, I suspect that the Obama mystique — his carefully created image as a transformational, even transcendent figure — has created a backlash among those unconvinced that he’s interested in the nuts-and-bolts work of fixing things. Ohio voters were more likely to say that Mr. Obama inspires them — but more likely to say that Mrs. Clinton has a clear plan for the country’s problems.

And Mr. Obama’s attempt to win over workers by portraying himself as a fierce critic of Nafta looked, and was, deeply insincere — an appearance particularly costly for a candidate who tries to seem above politics as usual. --Paul Krugman


Barack Obama had a theory. It was that the voters are tired of the partisan paralysis of the past 20 years. The theory was that if Obama could inspire a grass-roots movement with a new kind of leadership, he could ride it to the White House and end gridlock in Washington. Obama has built his entire campaign on this theory....This message has made him the front-runner. It has brought millions of new voters into politics. It has given him grounds to fend off attacks. In debate after debate, he has accused Hillary Clinton and others of practicing the old kind of politics....

There are a few ways to interpret the losses in Texas and Ohio. One is demographic. He didn’t carry the groups he often has trouble with — white women, Latinos, the less educated. The other is tactical. Clinton attacked him, and the attacks worked. The consultants, needless to say, gravitate toward the tactical interpretation. And once again the cry has gone up for Obama to get tough. This advice gets wrapped in metaphors. Obama has to start “throwing punches” or “taking the gloves off.” Beneath the euphemisms, what the advice really means is that Obama has to start accusing Clinton of things.

This time, Obama, whose competitive juices are flowing, has apparently accepted the advice. The Obama campaign is now making a big issue of Hillary Clinton’s tax returns and dropping hints about donations to President Clinton’s library and her secret White House papers. It’s willing to launch an ethics assault. “If Senator Clinton wants to take the debate to various places, we’ll join that debate,” the Obama strategist David Axelrod told reporters the other day. These attacks are supposed to show that Obama can’t be pushed around. But, of course, what it really suggests is that Obama’s big theory is bankrupt. You can’t really win with the new style of politics. Sooner or later, you have to play by the conventional rules....

As the trench warfare stretches on through the spring, the excitement of Obama-mania will seem like a distant, childish mirage. People will wonder if Obama ever believed any of that stuff himself. And even if he goes on to win the nomination, he won’t represent anything new. He’ll just be a one-term senator running for president. In short, a candidate should never betray the core theory of his campaign, or head down a road that leads to that betrayal. Barack Obama doesn’t have an impressive record of experience or a unique policy profile. New politics is all he’s got. He loses that, and he loses everything. Every day that he looks conventional is a bad day for him. Besides, the real softness of the campaign is not that Obama is a wimp. It’s that he has never explained how this new politics would actually produce bread-and-butter benefits to people in places like Youngstown and Altoona. If he can’t explain that, he’s going to lose at some point anyway. --David Brooks

Wednesday, March 05

Dictator '08: Isn't It Time Obama and Hill Took Aim at Nation's Problems?, NYT Ed

After eight damaging and divisive years there is certainly a lot that needs to be debated starting with President Bush's disastrous war, his tax cuts for the rich, regulatory incompetence and neglect, and unrelenting assaults on civil rights, civil liberties and the balance of powers in government. In other words, something quite different than the schoolyard shoving contest we've witnessed over the last few weeks between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and their increasingly out-of-control "surrogates"....

The quality of this contest has not reflected the candidates' formidable skills and intellect. Instead of a serious debate about trade, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have engaged in a depressing fit of pandering to voters in economically troubled Ohio. They tripped over each other rushing to attack the 14-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, rather than offering voters honest answers about what government can and should do to help them adapt to globalization's challenges....

Even if their differences on Iraq are negligible, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton should still debate the issue, explaining how they plan to bring American troops home and contain the chaos. Iraq has receded for now, but it will be an important issue this fall in the competition against Mr. McCain, who offers not the slightest change from President Bush's tragically failed policies.

Instead of talking seriously about reforming health care, each side has run attack ads distorting the other's proposals. There has been some discussion about taxes, the home-mortgage crisis and the slowing economy — but mostly when the candidates are asked about these issues during debates.

Talk on the stump seems stuck where it has been for months. Mrs. Clinton's distinctly more negative campaign has left her open to bad memories of her husband's administration. Mr. Obama's notions of transformational change are as airy and unformed as they were when he first began using them on the stump in 2007....

We'd like to hear fewer character attacks and a lot more discussion of the nation's many problems after nearly eight years of failed Republican rule. That is the Democrats' comparative advantage, they should start to use it now.

Monday, March 03

Asia Diary: Surfing For Buddha, Jerry Barrett

PART FIVE: Jan 4-7. It was essential that I leave Bodh Gaya as soon as possible and receive medical attention for what had been diagnosed by a Taiwanese doctor as a mild stroke. The Pharping, Nepal group had decided to take a midnight train out of Bodh Gaya in two days, arriving at Varanasi, India, at dawn, driving two more hours to a nearby airport, and taking an Air India flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Christine and I decided that I should forego another grueling journey like the one that brought us to this inhospitable place, and go to Bumrungrad International in Bangkok, instead. In the heart of Bangkok, Bumrungrad is a large, modern, well-organized hospital with the facilities needed to treat my condition: I was sleepless, with little affect, cold and thirsty, and thinking and speaking haltingly. If the diagnosis of the Taiwanese doctor was correct, my condition could very well deteriorate. In that case, permanent brain damage was not out of the question.

How to get to Bangkok? Although the nearby town of Gaya had a modern airport with runways large enough to handle commercial jets such as 747's, we were told that booking a flight was not immediately possible, since the internet was down and had been for days, and that was the way airline bookings were made by airlines such as Air India and Thai International, who had offices at a nearby hotel. When we told our hotel manager of our situation, he said he had a friend at Druk Airlines, a small airline run by the government of Bhutan, and would contact him and see what he could do. Later that evening he told us that his friend could get us on a flight to Bangkok in two days, on the afternoon of the 7th, the day after the Choeje Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche anniversary celebration was scheduled to end. We gave the manager the money needed for two one-way tickets to Bangkok, and, sure enough, we had our actual tickets in hand the next day. Things seemed to be turning around for us, and we decided to attend the afternoon/evening session of the last day of the Buddhist celebration at the Mahabodhi monument.

The Mahabodhi monument and grounds would be a city block if it were in a city. Instead, rickshaws, tuck-tucks, sedans, suv's, and buses travel up the main street of the town, passing hotels, restaurants, shops, and all manner of humanity, disgorging passengers a half a block from the large archway to Mahabodhi. Near the archway, one encounters the usual assortment of carts, street sellers, and beggars one finds at Buddhist tourist attractions. Go through the archway and the press of humanity thickens into a cacophony of larger shops devoted to religious trinkets, books, travel deals, food, and con men and beggars hounding you every step of the way. Turn a corner, walk down a long courtyard, take off your shoes, and you're finally standing at the front of the entrance to the four story, strangely Mayan-looking monument tower that serves as a reminder of the Buddha's meditative awakening under the bodhi tree. The bodhi tree, or a hundred year old cutting from it, is behind the monument, which is easiest reached by turning right before going under the archway and walking down a long, walled path to large gates taking you onto the Mahabodhi grounds from the rear.

Through the gates, you find yourself on the top level of the four-level grounds, the upper two levels serving as wide walkways that go completely around the entire huge space. The lowest level also surrounds the monument and is populated with religious dignitaries and monks of higher rank and their followers. They sit under the large, spreading bodhi tree and chant prayers over the sound system. Arrangements of colorful artificial flowers, cryptic, three-dimensional ritual objects, called "torma," and flashing neon images of stars, circles, etc. in wooden boxes surround the monument, itself. The second level from the bottom is taken up with the rest of the monks, which numbered over a thousand, a special section for the laity, including a group termed "foreigners," and a special, colorful group that could be called "religious surfers." Gatherings of 25 or so have taken up spaces around the grounds, sandwiched between the third-level walkway and the second-level practitioners. Side-by-side, bodies spread out on their waxed "Buddha boards," pads on hands and knees, they spend hour after hour, scissoring their bodies back and forth from a prone position on their shiny, wooden boards to compressed, kneeling balls of flesh and bone.

As afternoon turned to the dusk of evening, then darkness, the colorful christmas lights strung in vertical rows throughout the grounds were turned on and everyone was given a lit candle or butter lamp to join in the final ceremony of the festival, a feast of lights. At this point we had been at the front of the Mahabodhi monument, so we walked around the grounds on the top level in order to observe the procession of the dignitaries and monks of rank out of the grounds, through the gates, and up the walled path to the outside street. Half of humanity seemed to have had that idea at roughly the same time, and what began as a normal crowd of celebrants holding lit candles became a mass of bodies as more and more people with not much sense of personal space pressed into the crowd from the rear, only to be pressed further by the newcomers behind them. Claustrophobic, I tend to avoid crowds, and finding myself squashed in the center of hundreds with nowhere to go put me on the verge of panic. Not being able to go forward or back, Christine and I were lucky to squeeze sideways to the wall and we slowly inched back, eventually to an open space, as even more worshipers with lit candles were pressing into the back of the growing crowd. Retreating, we made our way around to the front of Mahabodhi and took that alternate route to the street. (Next: The revolt of the beggars and Gross National Happiness.)

Friday, February 29

Business: Bush Takes $138 Out Of Your Paycheck Each Month to Pay For His Iraq War, Stiglitz

$16bn The amount the US spends on the monthly running costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - on top of regular defence spending

$138 The amount paid by every US household every month towards the current operating costs of the war

$19.3bn The amount Halliburton has received in single-source contracts for work in Iraq

$25bn The annual cost to the US of the rising price of oil, itself a consequence of the war

$3 trillion A conservative estimate of the true cost - to America alone - of Bush's Iraq adventure. The rest of the world, including Britain, will shoulder about the same amount again

$5bn Cost of 10 days' fighting in Iraq

$1 trillion The interest America will have paid by 2017 on the money borrowed to finance the war

3% The average drop in income of 13 African countries - a direct result of the rise in oil prices. This drop has more than offset the recent increase in foreign aid to Africa

·The Three Trillion Dollar War, by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, is published by Allen Lane, price £20.

Wednesday, February 27

Mail Bag: What's Wrong With Obama?, various

Note: Last week we ran a piece from COMMON DREAMS written by David Lindorff (see below). Here are selected resonses by that website's readers of that article. --Politex

Response: [Obama] puts forward an attractive face that speaks attractive words with a familiar rythym similiar to MLK Jr. But he does nothing at all to shatter any illusions his supporters might have that they believe that Obama believes in exactly what they believe in. That’s what I see from the Obama supporters on the net. They say all these wonderful things that they believe that Obama believes in. Of course they do. The problem is that there’s little to no evidence that Obama actually believes any of these or will actually do anything to put these beliefs into action.

When I look a little deeper, I see an Obama that’s getting campaign money from the usual suspects that fund a pro-war, pro-corporate Democratic Party. And I see the usual sorts of advisors that surround a pro-war, pro-corporate Dem party candidate.

On top of that I get a few little hints from things Obama occaisionally lets slip out. Like his rather routine attacks on those who tried to stand up to oppose corporate rule in the sixties, and who tried to fight against war and racism and sexism, etc. He seems to constantly cite the sixties as a time of divisiveness that’s the root of today’s problems. I see it as the last time the people of this country actually mounted an effective opposition and had some success. --CCMarc

Response: The worst thing a leader can do is raise expectations, and they don’t happen. You create a whole new generation of cynics. And that’s what he’s doing. And he’s used the line [inaudible] reason out what he’s saying. You know, the statement I like that I’ve heard from young people: there’s no ‘there’ there. And listen to the words. Make a speech and use the word change ten times—what specifically are you going to change? You’re going to change the health care system? Not really. You’re going to change the military-industrial complex? Not really. He wants another hundred thousand more troops. Are you going to change anything about your relationship with Iran? Not really. Nukes are on the table. Are you going to change anything with respect to Israel? Not really. He’s supported by AIPAC. Are you going to change anything for education? He’s on the education committee. He’s supported by the NEA. Where’s change? I don’t see any change. But he doesn’t say any of those things. He lets you figure out what the change is. So it’s like an actor. What does an actor do? He gives you a scene, and you read into it what the scene means to you. And that’s what he’s doing. It’s terrible, because what you read into it isn’t what’s going to happen. --Mike Gravel

Response: As everyone knows, the system needs change. Do you honestly think Obama is going to take on corporations and the military-industrial-media-complex? Sure, Obama is invigorating many people in this country, which in itself is good, but it will again, come up short because people need to take on the system, and they will not do it. People are too comfortable watching “American Idol” rather than giving serious thought and intellectual inquiry to politics, especially understanding how corporations control the political system and figuring out a way how to change that. I do not mean to be a pessimist, but I see little or no change in the system. Sure there will be new window dressing, but no change in substance. The second Obama takes on the corporations or military-industrial-complex, he will fold like a cheap suit. --Claudius

Response: Whether Obama is going to “cash in” on a November win and abandon his base, or not, remains to be seen. But given the number of missing votes in ‘07, lack of a real hard-hitting plan for single-payer, his support of nuclear, courting of AIPAC/Liebermann, and a few other indicators — I’d say that Obama has been groomed not by the Wellstonian ethic of ethical fortitude and dignity, but as a transition promise-maker for the X/Y Gen. The old lies that worked wonders with the Boomers don’t resonate as well with the X/Y Gen. Turning people against their own class interests needs to be re-packaged. --Paul Bramscher

Response: Lindorf makes a very peculiar case for Obama: "Barack Obama, whatever his own political beliefs (and we don’t really know much about the man)..."
"Sen. Obama may well be part of the party Establishment- with a record as a safe backer of the status quo."
"...whatever his personal politics, his candidacy is genuinely igniting a wave of passionate support."
So… Let’s take a shot in the dark with Barack Obama, and maybe everything will be just wonderful! --Jacob Freeze

Response: Barack Obama-agent of hope and change? No, more like the agent of the status quo, designed to carry out the wishes of the military-industrial complex and the corporate interests. Apparently, ctrenta neglected to mention that Obama is in the pocket of the vested interests, as he is second only to Hillary Clinton in accepting money from big corporations and Wall Street. One would be remiss to not mention that this alleged anti-war candidate has never once refused to cut off funding for the occupation of Iraq, thus making him just as culpable as any pro-war candidate or politician in Washington in having this occupation continue, despite Obama’s claims to the contrary. --Erroll

Response: Oh dear! Dave tells us that “His candidacy is genuinely igniting a wave of passionate support” that is somehow meaningfully progressive despite the fact that nobody knows “his personal politics.” My, what a wonderful world, Jimmy Stewart. What could be more American than a political movement that has no political philosophy or ideology or even a single meaningful core belief. Smoke and mirrors doesn’t do justice to this wonderful phenomenon. Sadly, we have no politics left (or right); the plutocracy is enthroned and we are left to passionately support someone with the political insight and courage of Piglet. Siiiigh!

Response: Sorry, I’m not buying it. The role of the Democratic Party leadership is to insure that any popular movement for real change will be safely run into the ditch. We now have the choice of two party hacks. But don’t worry, Charlie Brown, THIS time I promise not to pull the ball away. --polam

Monday, February 25

First Ladyitis: Gee, Thanks, Mrs. Obama, William Smith, etc.

Feigning the gross insult of heresy the way most mullahs do when the Prophet is visualized, the affrighted pooh-bahs of our right-wing oligarchy are actually thrilled today. For, with the utterance of one short awkward expression, Michelle Obama has done more than Mike Huckabee or John McCain ever considered possible to mortise the fractious fundaments supporting the illiberal pillars wobbling around the mausoleums of Lincoln and Reagan. With stony, foursquare fervor, beer baroness Cindy McCain was quick to counter Mrs. Obama's injudicious remark ("...for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country."). Meanwhile, "Angry American" country singer Toby “Wishbone” Keith began to ladle steaming bowls of that award-winning USDA beef stew he had whipped up and canned in his prairie chuck-wagon right after the towers fell. And as usual, but different and all day long, the candidate Obama's normally beaming face was occluded by the thrusting shadows of cameras and microphones asking Mr. Obama why his wife hates America. --William Smith, for Bush Watch

Here is Mrs. Obama's entire self-serving statement. --Politex

"What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something — for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I’ve seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it’s made me proud."

Taylor Marsh, a liberal blogger and Clinton supporter, is quite annoyed with Mrs. Obama’s “me-me-me mantra.” --Ariel Alexovich

"The narcissistic, self-centered, arrogant insult delivered by Michelle Obama, representing a man who hopes to talk his way into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is a slap at the American spirit that runs throughout this country, regardless of political party, race, gender, creed, religion, you name it, and the word “change” alone can’t alter the course on which we are disastrously careening without a plan....Michelle Obama will never speak for me. Not until I know the definition of “change” that’s being offered amidst a record that doesn’t come close to measuring up to all the endless talk."

Jim Geraghty, who writes on the conservative National Review’s blog The Campaign that Mrs. Obama’s remark was “strikingly ungracious.” --Ariel Alexovich

"America hasn’t been good to her? What, opportunities to go to Princeton, Harvard Law, working for top-shelf law firms and hospitals, sitting on the board of directors for a major Wal-Mart supplier — that’s not enough?"

Thursday, February 21

Asia Diary: Curled Up At Mahabodhi, Jerry Barrett

Jan 1-Jan 6. I should have known that something was really wrong when I was complaining about the coldness of our Budh Gaya, India hotel room, while Christine was saying it was too hot. I should have known that something was wrong, since I was eating little and drinking bottled water even less. While I attributed my condition to the generally unappitizing tourist food in Budh Gaya, I thought little of the fact that always thirsty, I began carrying bottles of water wherever I went. (I tend to ignore physical synptoms of questionable health and just keep going.) Anyway, there I was in the hotel, New Year's Eve, shivering in my intermittent sleep, when the midnight cannons heralding a new year exploded, and I realized I was exhausted and my physical condition had deteriorated since arriving in this physically and socially uninviting town. That's when Christine said, "Tomorrow, you're seeing the Taiwanese doctor."

The Taiwanese doctor, subsidized by a wealthy friend of Taiwanese Buddhism, was treating all pilgrims free of charge in his second floor rooms at the Taiwan monastery, a half block from the huge Mahabodhi monument and grounds dedicated to the Buddah's spiritual awaking under the bodi tree. It was right behind (I'm not making this up) China's Buddhist temple and monastery. The large and roomy Taiwan monastery was ground zero for the adminstrative activities needed to run the Choeje Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche anniversary celebration, which brought thousands of monks and Buddhist pilgrims from all over Asia and beyond. While the Pharping, Nepal group had its coordinating offices down a first floor corridor, turning out lamenated ID badges and colorful bannars and the like, the lobby was filled with teams of Taiwanese women creating massive groupings of artificial flowers for the Mahabodhi monument and grounds. The monastery was a swirl of activity as pilgrims arrived from Taiwan and elsewhere each day of the celebration to fill its many rooms.

My appointment to see the doctor finally arrived on the evening of the second day of the new Year. The western-clothed doctor, a kindly, middle-aged practicioner of Chinese medicine, spoke no English, but welcomed me, held my hands in his, and looked into my eyes, as his younger associate translated what we said. Both men showed calm and concern, but unbeknownest to me, the associate passed a note to Christine as the doctor looked into my eyes and spoke in Chinese. He reached behind him to a large table and picked up two pint-sized, yellow plastic bottles filled with powder. After tearing off the labels, he handed them to his associate, and I was told to take 2 tablespoons of a mxture of the two bottles with a glass of water four times a day. My regimine began immediately: two tablespoons of a sawdust-like muxture were shoveled into my mouth, and, gagging, I poured water through the medicinal blockage to get it down. We were told to give them a progress report in a few days, and we left.

In the days that followed, my thirst was severe, but I didn't have a fever. My nights continued to be cold and sleepless, and the solace during the days came at the Mahabodhi monument, curled up in a fetal position on a tarp covering the hard clay ground, sorrounded by thousands of monks rhythmically chanting for hours over the the sound of the striking of a hollow wood block amplified over the sound system. My illness continued to take its toll, and I would fall into brief periods of soothing sleep under the sway of the hypnotic sound. The end came on the next to last day of the celebration while walking onto the Bodi grounds. I mentioned to Christine and a Nepoli friend that I couldn't seem to keep a thought in my head. My mind was a jumble of incomplete sentences as it groped for words to describe forgotten ideas. Frightened, Christine told me that the doctor's associate had given her a note suggesting that I had had a mild stroke. I was told that they didn't want to alarm me, and decided that my symptoms should be observed over the next few days. Days later, my symptoms indicated I was in physical danger, and I had to get out of Bodh Guya as quickly as possible and get treatment elsewhere. That turned out to be easier said than done. (to be continued)

Monday, February 18

Obamanation? Can Status Quo Obama Change To Match His Rhetoric? (excerpts), Dave Lindorff

I don't want to overstate the case for Barack Obama, who has been fairly circumspect about his intentions if elected. While saying he is against the Iraq War, he has not acted very forcefully to help bring it to an end. And he certainly has not called for any downsizing of America’s bloated military budget or any end to its imperialist foreign policy--absolutely essential if there is to be any progressive change of consequence in the US....

Indeed, I want to suggest here that Obama may at this point have the proverbial tiger by the tail, in that his clarion calls for “hope” and for “change” may be stirring up hopes and expectations for those very things in a way that will not easily be denied should he succeed. (In this he does resemble Jack Kennedy, whose own politics tended to be conservative and Establishment, but whose rhetoric helped stir a generation to political idealism, and may have contributed to the era of ’60s activism.)

I would also suggest that while Sen. Obama may well be part of the party Establishment- with a record as a safe backer of the status quo- if he succeeds in winning the nomination, and especially if he goes on and wins the White House, it will be because he has aroused a huge pool of voters in this country who had until now been cynically staying away from politics. It will be because he has transcended the racial divide that has stymied real political change for so long. And the forces that are propelling him toward the nomination, and toward the White House, are forces that will not easily be denied if they succeed.

That is to say, a President Barack Obama, whatever his own political beliefs (and we don’t really know much about the man), could well find himself, thanks to the movement that puts him in power, freed from the shackles of the Democratic Leadership Council and the army of advisors of stasis and corporatism that cling to most Democratic political figures like barnacles to a rotting pier. For this to happen, Obama will first have to reach out beyond his current base of support, to rank-and-rile workers‹both unionized and non-union–to Latinos and other minority groups, and to older Americans. He’ll have to reach out, that is, to the groups that have thus far still been backing Hillary Clinton and the party Establishment....

None of this means that a President Obama would be a new Franklin Roosevelt. The pressures on any president to “cool it” and play the game of supporting the big moneyed interests that have been undermining and hollowing out America for decades are enormous. But certainly an alternative reality is also possible....And Obama himself- clearly no visceral radical–will need to be convinced that the path to a second term lies through heeding his populist base, not through reaching accommodation with the sclerotic old

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