Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Our Detached Leader

Kathleen Reardon provided an interesting description of Our Leader:

Huffington Post

Kathleen Reardon: The Detached Leader: A Dangerous Oxymoron

Kathleen Reardon Tue Nov 29, 5:35 PM ET

There is no such thing as a detached leader. There are detached followers, going along to get along. The “leader” who doesn’t listen is the leader who doesn’t learn. This is a frightening being convinced of its own flawlessness, intolerant and disdainful of disagreement. People like this are chosen for leadership when we fall for the bravado – the conviction charade – the walk, the talk, the condescension and indifference. Sometimes it’s the dress and demeanor. Other times it’s the connections or family name. Occasionally, they just sneak in before we notice. We see such “leaders” chatting with “the folks” in contrived settings after modern day sophists have arranged what will be said to whom and for how long. Nothing is natural and so nothing is honest. It’s the kind of “leadership” Peter Drucker repeatedly warned against.

No matter how much Republicans blame the “liberals” for making
George Bush look bad, the truth is that he never looked good – not as a leader. We now have in the highest office in the land a man who is a walking antithesis to the demands of the time. He doesn’t communicate. Delegate and disappear is his leadership style. We wait for him to snap out of it, to explain the war or the plan, but he can’t stop sneering, patronizing, demeaning, or taking delight in the mere completion of a speech. He loves the trappings of power, the multiple flags, and the nodding uniformed legions standing expressionless at his back. It’s a stage set for substance -- a moment in time when another type of leader might reach out.

But before we blame all the detachment on George, or mistakenly consider him the cause, we need to see how insidious the spread of this illness in the name of leadership has become in our culture. Nora Ephron writes that Bob Woodward is so above other journalists that his special treatment and exemption from the rules is to be expected. He is not one of us, you see. He has passed over that line where seekers of truth become hoarders of truth. And, of course, we are supposed to accept this as the rightful domain of his ilk -- those who no longer need a political compass. Cunningham, DeLay, Libby and a host of other believers in detachment also thought they owed us nothing. Then there are the media elites so comfortable attacking the “political elites.” They have cute names for the rest of us like “the folks.” We are the great out-there little people whose very lives can be sacrificed with little remorse in the service of their latest misadventure. They twist recommendations from military heroes into calls for surrender to bolster the illusion of their exceptional wisdom. We see this superior attitude at every turn. We live with the effects everyday. Many are obsessed with whether we can say “Merry Christmas,” but don’t mind taking tax cuts that keep others from having one. It’s a vile detachment disorder possessed by disturbed organisms smitten by power, totally out of touch, taking names, making lists, and never taking responsibility.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

She "supports the troops"

But only the non-retired variety:

The Washington Post
Freshman Republican Weathers Backlash
Schmidt Says She Meant No Insult to Murtha

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 23, 2005; Page A03

Rep. Jean Schmidt flung the word "coward" at a decorated war veteran from Pennsylvania last week, but the Ohio Republican's comments landed with a splat in her own Cincinnati district, where some supporters are backing away as she scrambles to explain what she meant.

Judging by her words yesterday -- the first after avoiding the public for three days -- Schmidt doesn't understand what the fuss is about, and sees herself more as victim than villain. "I am amazed at what a national story this has become," she said in a statement. "I have been attacked very personally, continuously since Friday evening."

"There's no way that I remotely tried to impugn his character," Rep. Jean Schmidt said of her remarks on the House floor directed to Rep. John P. Murtha during debate on Iraq war policy.

Many people are unsympathetic. NBC's "Saturday Night Live" lampooned her, the Cincinnati Enquirer's editorial page -- which endorsed her congressional bid -- said she was "way out of line," and the friend she claimed to be quoting on the House floor last week declared yesterday that he had said no such thing.

Schmidt, Congress's newest member, vaulted from obscurity with inflammatory comments during a House debate over whether to promptly withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, as has been proposed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). Murtha is a 31-year House veteran and longtime military hawk who fought in Vietnam and Korea as a Marine.

Schmidt said in her brief speech: "A few minutes ago, I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

The chamber exploded in boos and catcalls from Democrats, and within minutes Schmidt had withdrawn her words and sent a note of apology to Murtha. But waters were still roiling when she went home Saturday to start a two-week congressional recess.

Schmidt stayed largely out of sight until yesterday, when she issued her statement and spoke with reporters. "There's no way that I remotely tried to impugn his character," she said in a telephone interview. She said she was simply trying to register her strong belief that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq until their mission is completed.

Noting that criticism has poured in via phone calls, e-mails and TV reports, she said in her statement: "I am quite willing to suffer those attacks if in the end that policy I so strongly oppose is exposed as unsound. First and foremost, I support the troops. They dodge bullets and bombs while I duck only hateful words."

Bubp, a GOP state legislator and Marine Corps Reserve officer, had campaigned for Schmidt. He put out his own statement yesterday: "The comments and concerns I shared with Congresswoman Schmidt were never meant as a personal reference to Mr. Murtha. . . . We never discussed anyone by name and there was no intent to ever disparage the congressman or his distinguished record of service for our nation." Bubp, through a spokeswoman, declined an interview request.

Schmidt recalls their Friday phone conversation somewhat differently. "I wrote down what he was saying," she said in the interview. "He did ask me to send a message to Congress, and he also said send a message to 'that congressman.' He did not know that congressman's name, but I did. Neither one of us knew he was a Marine."

Schmidt said she had not noticed the numerous references to Murtha's military background in the newspaper, radio and TV accounts of his troop-withdrawal proposal, made Thursday. "They keep us pretty busy," she said.

Paul Hackett, a veteran of the Iraq war who lost the August special election to Schmidt, said her comments on the House floor "were at best irresponsible and at worst grossly unpatriotic." Hackett, who has sharply criticized President Bush's Iraq war policy, is running for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, but some Democrats are trying to talk him into a rematch against Schmidt.

Opponents had dubbed her "Mean Jean" for the sharp tongue she wielded in the August campaign to replace Rob Portman (R), the new U.S. trade representative. Bubp campaigned for her in his Marine dress uniform, rebuking Hackett for criticizing "their commander in chief."

Yesterday, Schmidt said she hoped the hubbub will have faded by the time Congress reconvenes next month. Asked if she would change anything if she could do it over again, she replied: "I wouldn't have used Congressman Murtha's name."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

US: Torture = OK

Funny how you don't see the US criticising China over torture these days. Wonder why?

The Washington Post has revealed evidence of CIA torture centers around the world, including in the former Eastern Bloc. A friend pointed out how the administration's first reaction wasn't "That's not true" but "Who leaked that?"

What a sad place the Bush administration has taken us. "Proud to be an American" is getting to be a tougher song to sing, no?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Religious Right and your health

Dan Savage
Savage Love
November 9th, 2005

STRAIGHT RIGHTS UPDATE: As I mentioned a few months ago, a vaccine for two of the most common strains of HPV, the virus that causes genital warts, is currently moving through the federal approval process. HPV can also cause cervical cancer in women, and the cancers caused by the virus kill 4,000 American women every year. Who could possibly be against the introduction of a vaccine—one that has proven 100 percent effective in clinical tests!—that will save thousands of women's lives every year? Those "culture of life" assfucks, that's who.

"A new vaccine that protects against cervical cancer has set up a clash between health advocates [and] social conservatives who say immunizing teenagers could encourage sexual activity," the Washington Post reported last week. Doctors want teenage girls to receive the vaccine as a matter of routine when they hit puberty, something the religious right opposes. "Because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus, many conservatives oppose making it mandatory, citing fears that it could send a subtle message condoning sexual activity before marriage... 'I've talked to some who have said, "This is going to sabotage our abstinence message,"' said Gene Rudd, associate executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations." (To his credit, Rudd said he would want his daughters vaccinated.)

The right's abstinence message has bigger problems than this vaccine. Studies have shown that young men and women are still having premarital sex—no shit—despite the billions of dollars the Bush administration has poured into abstinence education. A study conducted at Texas A&M University found that kids who've been subjected to abstinence-only sex education, the right's preferred brand, have more sex than kids who aren't subjected to abstinence-only sex education. So what the right is saying is this: We're willing to kill American women in order to avoid "sabotaging" our ineffectual abstinence-only message. Nice.

Who ultimately gets to determine the government's position on the HPV vaccine? Thanks to George W. Bush, the Christian fundies do. From the Washington Post: "The jockeying [around the HPV vaccine] reflects the growing influence social conservatives, who had long felt overlooked by Washington, have gained on a broad spectrum of policy issues under the Bush administration. In this case, a former member of the conservative group Focus On The Family serves on the federal panel that is playing a pivotal role in deciding how the vaccine is used." W stands for women—that's what he told us when he ran for president. But, hey, it wasn't a lie. George W. Bush never said anything about standing for live women.

I've said it before, straight folks, and I'll say it again: The right-wingers and the fundies and the sex-phobes don't just have it in for the queers. They're coming for your asses too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Equivocation (ee-kwv-kshn)

Anyone out there hearing similarities between this guy:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan

and this guy?

Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf

Let's try again:

"There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!"


Q Scott, why did the administration feel it was necessary to coach the soldiers that the President talked to this morning in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I don't know what you're suggesting.

Q Well, they discussed the questions ahead of time. They were told exactly what the President would ask, and they were coached, in terms of who would answer what question, and how they would pass the microphone.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, are you suggesting that what our troops were saying was not sincere, or what they said was not their own thoughts?

Q Nothing at all. I'm just asking why it was necessary to coach them.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the event earlier today, the event was set up to highlight an important milestone in Iraq's history, and to give the President an opportunity to, once again, express our appreciation for all that our troops are doing when it comes to defending freedom, and their courage and their sacrifice. And this is a satellite feed, as you are aware, and there are always technological challenges involved when you're talking with troops on a satellite feed like this. And I think that we worked very closely with the Department of Defense to coordinate this event. And I think all they were doing was talking to the troops and letting them know what to expect.

Q But we asked you specifically this morning if there would be any screening of questions or if they were being told in any way what they should say or do, and you indicated no.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's what the question was earlier today. I think the question earlier today was asking if they could ask whatever they want, and I said, of course, the President was — and you saw —

Q And I asked if they were pre-screened.

MR. McCLELLAN: You saw earlier today the President was trying to engage in a back-and-forth with the troops. And I think it was very powerful what Lieutenant Murphy was saying at the end of that conversation, when he was talking about what was going on in January, how the American troops and coalition forces were in the lead when it came to providing security for the upcoming election, an election where more than eight million Iraqis showed up and voted. It was a great success.

And he talked about how this time, when we had the preparations for the upcoming referendum this Saturday, you have Iraqi forces that are in the lead, and the Iraqi forces are the ones that are doing the planning and preparing and taking the lead to provide for their own security as they get ready to cast their ballots again.

Q But I also asked this morning, were they being told by their commanders what to say or what to do, and you indicated, no. Was there any prescreening of —

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any such — any such activities that were being undertaken. We coordinated closely with the Department of Defense. You can ask if there was any additional things that they did. But we work very closely with them to coordinate these events, and the troops can ask the President whatever they want. They've always been welcome to do that.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Bush Telconference with Soldiers Staged

Bush's desperation just keeps getting creepier:


WASHINGTON - It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions
President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in
Iraq and Saturday's vote on a new Iraqi constitution.

"This is an important time," Allison Barber, deputy assistant defense secretary, said, coaching the soldiers before Bush arrived. "The president is looking forward to having just a conversation with you."

Barber said the president was interested in three topics: the overall security situation in Iraq, security preparations for the weekend vote and efforts to train Iraqi troops.

As she spoke in Washington, a live shot of 10 soldiers from the Army's 42nd Infantry Division and one Iraqi soldier was beamed into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building from Tikrit — the birthplace of former Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein.

"I'm going to ask somebody to grab those two water bottles against the wall and move them out of the camera shot for me," Barber said.

A brief rehearsal ensued.

"OK, so let's just walk through this," Barber said. "Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question and you hand the mike to whom?"

"Captain Smith," Kennedy said.

"Captain. Smith? You take the mike and you hand it to whom?" she asked.

"Captain Kennedy," the soldier replied.

And so it went.

"If the question comes up about partnering — how often do we train with the Iraqi military — who does he go to?" Barber asked.

"That's going to go to Captain Pratt," one of the soldiers said.

"And then if we're going to talk a little bit about the folks in Tikrit — the hometown — and how they're handling the political process, who are we going to give that to?" she asked.

Before he took questions, Bush thanked the soldiers for serving and reassured them that the U.S. would not pull out of Iraq until the mission was complete.

"So long as I'm the president, we're never going to back down, we're never going to give in, we'll never accept anything less than total victory," Bush said.

The president told them twice that the American people were behind them.

"You've got tremendous support here at home," Bush said.

Less than 40 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll taken in October said they approved of the way Bush was handling Iraq. Just over half of the public now say the Iraq war was a mistake.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday's event was coordinated with the Defense Department but that the troops were expressing their own thoughts. With satellite feeds, coordination often is needed to overcome technological challenges, such as delays, he said.

"I think all they were doing was talking to the troops and letting them know what to expect," he said, adding that the president wanted to talk with troops on the ground who have firsthand knowledge about the situation.

The soldiers all gave Bush an upbeat view of the situation.

The president also got praise from the Iraqi soldier who was part of the chat.

"Thank you very much for everything," he gushed. "I like you."

On preparations for the vote, 1st Lt. Gregg Murphy of Tennessee said: "Sir, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to make this thing a success. ... Back in January, when we were preparing for that election, we had to lead the way. We set up the coordination, we made the plan. We're really happy to see, during the preparation for this one, sir, they're doing everything."

On the training of Iraqi security forces, Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo from Scotia, N.Y., said to Bush: "I can tell you over the past 10 months, we've seen a tremendous increase in the capabilities and the confidences of our Iraqi security force partners. ... Over the next month, we anticipate seeing at least one-third of those Iraqi forces conducting independent operations."

Lombardo told the president that she was in New York City on Nov. 11, 2001, when Bush attended an event recognizing soldiers for their recovery and rescue efforts at Ground Zero. She said the troops began the fight against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and were proud to continue it in Iraq.

"I thought you looked familiar," Bush said, and then joked: "I probably look familiar to you, too."

Paul Rieckhoff, director of the New York-based Operation Truth, an advocacy group for U.S. veterans of Iraq and
Afghanistan, denounced the event as a "carefully scripted publicity stunt." Five of the 10 U.S. troops involved were officers, he said.

"If he wants the real opinions of the troops, he can't do it in a nationally televised teleconference," Rieckhoff said. "He needs to be talking to the boots on the ground and that's not a bunch of captains."

Abortion as Motivator

Praise the Lord and Pass the Initiatives

LA Times

State Republicans are moving to rally Christian conservatives behind an abortion measure on the November special election ballot in hopes that, once drawn to the polls, they will back the rest of Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's fall agenda.

The party has hired Gary Marx, a top liaison to social conservatives in
President Bush's reelection campaign, to assemble up to 10 organizers to build support among evangelicals and other religious conservatives for Proposition 73. The measure on the Nov. 8 ballot would require parental notification when minors seek abortions.

In mailers sent to Republican voters, the party also has trumpeted Schwarzenegger's endorsement of the abortion proposal. "Arnold says vote yes," one glossy party mailer says about Proposition 73.

To broader audiences, the Republican governor has muted his support for Proposition 73, focusing instead on four other measures he is pushing to change state budget, education and campaign laws. Schwarzenegger's campaign ads do not mention abortion, nor does he bring it up at public events.

Like the multimillion-dollar mailing program, the church project led by Marx reflects the hope of Schwarzenegger's political team that a strong turnout of abortion opponents inspired to vote by Proposition 73 could boost prospects for the governor's entire agenda.

"If we can get Proposition 73 voters into the polls, it will have a benefit for the other propositions as well," said Mike Vallante, chief operating officer of the state Republican Party.

Lew Uhler, a leader of the campaign for Schwarzenegger's measure to curb political spending by labor unions, Proposition 75, agreed that anti-abortion voters would be a key factor in the election.

"We are very fortunate to have that measure at the top of the ticket," he said. "It is the most emotion-packed issue on the ballot, and it appeals to a broad range of people, irrespective of party."

The Republican church program is partly an attempt to replicate the Bush campaign's success in mobilizing swing-state evangelicals behind the president last year through extensive face-to-face conversations with fellow parishioners, neighbors and co-workers.

The state party also is putting another Bush campaign tactic behind Schwarzenegger's ballot measures: the use of vast consumer marketing data to project voters' political leanings.

Republican National Committee has taken data on Californians' magazine subscriptions, book purchases and other personal information and merged it with the state party's list of voters' names, addresses, party affiliations and frequency of casting ballots in elections.

The combined data have enabled the state party to refine its selection of which California voters to target with mail, phone calls and home visits — and to calculate which initiatives they might support.

"It allows the campaigns to talk to people not based on their party affiliation but based on what their passions are, what their interests are," Vallante said. "It's truly an amazing thing that these consumer data companies collect."

The moves to align Schwarzenegger with religious conservatives are inherently awkward; he vaulted into the governor's office partly on the strength of his reputation as a social moderate who supports abortion rights.

But the quiet attempts to maximize November's conservative vote are important to the governor because turnout is likely to be low for a special election that has sparked little public interest. Unions and their Democratic allies are mounting similar efforts to prod large numbers of their own core supporters to the polls.

The election results, strategists on both sides say, could hinge on which side is most successful in luring its base voters to cast ballots.

To strategists for organized labor and Democrats, any spike in interest in the election among religious conservatives poses a threat to their campaign against Schwarzenegger's ballot measures.

"It is a powerful force to be reckoned with in California politics — and certainly in Republican California politics," said Steve Smith, a labor strategist who is also managing the campaign against the abortion proposal.

The Marx church project is expected to cost at least $150,000, according to Vallante.

A former executive director of the Virginia Christian Coalition, Marx was a political consultant at Century Strategies, the firm led by Ralph E. Reed Jr., onetime leader of the national Christian Coalition.

Most recently, Marx has been executive director of Judicial Confirmation Network, which has sought to build support for Bush's Supreme Court nominees.

In Bush's reelection campaign headquarters in Virginia last year, Marx was one of the main players in building the president's evangelical base.

Among other things, the campaign gathered a vast collection of church membership directories, then set out to identify those not registered to vote, sign them up and ensure they cast ballots for the president.

But the scope of the California campaign is far narrower, and the organizers have less than four weeks until the election.

The state party, Vallante said, has put Marx and his team in charge of "getting the word out" about Proposition 73 in churches, mainly in California's conservative-leaning inland counties.

In a brief telephone interview Wednesday, Marx said: "When we're able to identify voters that are pro-Proposition 73, we make sure that we tell them how they can get registered to vote" — and make sure they cast ballots.

Peter Henderson, director of public policy at California Family Council, a conservative advocacy group, called the Marx project a welcome addition to conservative turnout efforts.

"Proposition 73 is really the linchpin of conservative involvement in the special election," he said.

Historically, political organizing of Christian conservatives in California has been a challenge.

The state's vast size and its reliance on television to propel campaigns are impediments. As is a dearth of money: The lack of competitive presidential contests in California has led the national Republican Party to spend more heavily in other parts of the country.

Also, many of the state's biggest church congregations, particularly in fast-growing outlying suburban areas, are nondenominational, with no central authority setting a unified statewide political agenda.

A notable exception is the Roman Catholic Church. The state's bishops have endorsed Proposition 73. The California Catholic Conference has put Yes on 73 announcements on its website to print in church bulletins. The conference has also posted suggested homilies for pastors to read at services in the state's 1,100 Catholic churches.

"A choice for life can never be wrong," one homily says. "Proposition 73 is the right thing to do."

Beyond churches, the main vehicle to draw conservative voters to the polls in California is talk radio, including a statewide network of Christian stations with mainly religious programming.

Of all the issues on the ballot, abortion is the one that radio hosts "can talk about for two or three hours on the air," said David Spadey, director of national news and public affairs at conservative radio network Salem Communications Corp. of Camarillo. "That's really the only issue on the ballot that has the social, traditional-values component to it," he said.

On Tuesday, Schwarzenegger promoted his election agenda on nine conservative radio shows.

For the most part, he stuck to promoting Propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77, the main focus of his campaign.

When asked about Proposition 73 by Eric Hogue of Salem's KTKZ in Sacramento, he bluntly expressed support for it.

"I wouldn't want my daughter to be taken away from her school without my permission and sent to a hospital for an abortion," he said. "That's as simple as that."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Capitalism vs Government

Christian Science Monitor

By Dante Chinni Tue Sep 27, 4:00 AM ET

WASHINGTON - It didn't really take that long, not even a month. After careful consideration some of the leading conservative OP-ED minds in the country have pinned down the problems with the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina. The problem was ... the government itself.

The argument goes something like this: The folks in this town - with all their red tape, their bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, their chronic inability to get anything done - simply can't be expected to handle emergency management. It would be better to turn it over to the private sector, or, as The New York Times's John Tierney suggested, to Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart, you see, responded quickly to the disaster on the Gulf Coast. While the government was busy twiddling its thumbs, the nation's largest retailer was sending truckloads of ice and generators and chain saws to the needy in region.

Mr. Tierney, speaking on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show, told the audience, "[Wal-Mart's] got its own emergency operation center where I think six days before the hurricane, as soon as that storm appeared, they started moving generators and supplies and trucks into position and they're ready. I mean this is what they do all the time and they, you know, they're efficient."

Indeed they are. The question is would we now simply say that we don't believe the government can be efficient in times of crisis? It has in the past. And since when is rushing materials to an area that needs it suddenly the province of geniuses - something only those whizzes on Wall Street could have come up with?

Just maybe, the government's real problem in responding to Katrina wasn't the fact that it was swimming in a sea of public sector inefficiency, but the fact that in this particular case these particular agencies were blatantly incompetent. Maybe some people in the
Homeland Security Department and the people running FEMA and, yes, some local officials down in the Gulf made some big mistakes.

The blunders that followed Katrina may be a very nasty indictment of the Bush administration, or of Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco or of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin or all of the above. But if we are going to see those errors as an indictment of government in general, we need to apply the "errors equal failure" standard across the board, to business as well as government.

For instance, should we allow any private companies to supply electric power now that we've witnessed Enron's seedy activities? How can we keep giving contracts to private companies when we find out later they can't account for billions of dollars? And you can pick from a long list of culprits on that one, though Halliburton springs to mind.

None of which is to say the private sector is always bad or inefficient, it's just that the "government is the problem" approach is too simplistic. It assumes that efforts succeed or fail because of motive. That is to say, businesses succeed because money is at stake and government fails because there is no accountability or profit motive.

Beyond the fact that this formulation simply ignores some realities (the US military's ties to the dreaded public sector don't seem to get in the way when it's needed), there are two big problems with this thinking.

First, there are without question many successful and soundly built private enterprises in the United States producing excellent goods and services, but there are also many lousy, inefficient companies that produce garbage. In other words, using airlines as an example, for every "brilliant" Southwest, there's a "suffering" Northwest. The differences between the two isn't the profit motive, it's the minds at the top and the people inside.

Second, and more important, to say there's no accountability in government is simply wrong - and if you watched the way the White House responded to the arrival of hurricane Rita this past weekend you know they understand that.

If you didn't know any better you might have thought
President Bush had appointed himself head of FEMA. Here he was at a FEMA meeting in Washington. There he was in the Rocky Mountains' NorthCom Headquarters monitoring the effort. It may have all been a bit showy, but the message was unmistakable. The president had read his poll numbers and knew he was being held responsible for FEMA's gaffes after Katrina. He was determined to do anything and everything to run a better show this time around.

It wasn't just the presidential photo ops, though. Federal, state, and local officials went out of their way to sound the alarm and to be prepared. Those who didn't have transportation in Galveston were given bus rides. The military was on the ground before the storm hit.

And they did it all without Wal-Mart.

Friday, September 23, 2005

When Outsourcing Works

and when it doesn't.

We asked them to do it. Don't know why the job didn't get done.
Outsourcing: SEP Fields in Action

Busses for New Orleans "Fell through cracks"

Yahoo News

Offer of buses fell between the cracks

By Andrew Martin and Andrew Zajac Washington Bureau Fri Sep 23, 9:40 AM ET

Two days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, as images of devastation along the Gulf Coast and despair in New Orleans flickered across television screens, the head of one of the nation's largest bus associations repeatedly called federal disaster officials to offer help.

Peter Pantuso of the American Bus Association said he spent much of the day on Wednesday, Aug. 31, trying to find someone at the
Federal Emergency Management Agency who could tell him how many buses were needed for an evacuation, where they should be sent and who was overseeing the effort.

"We never talked directly to FEMA or got a call back from them," Pantuso said.

Pantuso, whose members include some of the nation's largest motor coach companies, including Greyhound and Coach USA, eventually learned that the job of extracting tens of thousands of residents from flooded New Orleans wasn't being handled by FEMA at all.

Instead the agency had farmed the work out to a trucking logistics firm, Landstar Express America, which in turn hired a limousine company, which in turn engaged a travel management company.

Over the next four days, those companies and a collection of Louisiana officials cobbled together a fleet of at least 1,100 buses that belatedly descended on New Orleans to evacuate residents waiting amid the squalor and mayhem of the Superdome and the city's convention center.

The story of the bus evacuation of New Orleans is partly one of heroism by a handful of people who, when called upon, acted quickly and improvised in the face of desperate need.

But the story also underscores a critical failure in the disaster plan: the inability of government to provide even the most rudimentary transportation to take people out of harm's way.

The day before the storm hit Aug. 29, the city of New Orleans had ordered its residents to flee but had not made provisions for upwards of 100,000 residents too old, too poor or otherwise unable or unwilling to leave.

Mayor C. Ray Nagin has acknowledged in television interviews that the city had hundreds of transit and school buses available to at least begin an evacuation ahead of Katrina's arrival but couldn't find enough drivers willing to chance getting caught in the huge storm.

When Katrina's storm surges breached the city's levees, putting much of the city under water, it was up to state officials and FEMA to oversee a gigantic evacuation.

But they, too, were caught unprepared.

Though it was well-known that New Orleans, much of it below sea level, would flood in a major hurricane, Landstar, the Jacksonville company that held a federal contract that at the time was worth up to $100 million annually for disaster transportation, did not ask its subcontractor, Carey Limousine, to order buses until the early hours of Aug. 30, roughly 18 hours after the storm hit, according to Sally Snead, a Carey senior vice president who headed the bus roundup.

Landstar inquired about the availability of buses on Sunday, Aug. 28, and earlier Monday, but placed no orders, Snead said.

She said Landstar turned to her company for buses Sunday after learning from Carey's Internet site that it had a meetings and events division that touted its ability to move large groups of people. "They really found us on the Web site," Snead said.

A Landstar spokeswoman declined comment on how the company responded to the hurricane.

Messages left for a FEMA spokeswoman were not returned.

Snead said she tapped Transportation Management Services of Vienna, Va., which specializes in arranging buses for conventions and other large events, to help fill an initial order for 300 coaches.

"It's like taking your phone book and dividing it in half and saying, `You take half and I'll take half,'" Snead said.

Looking for way to help

Unbeknownst to them, two key players who could reach the owners of an estimated 70 percent of the nation's 35,000 charter and tour buses had contacted FEMA seeking to supply coaches to the evacuation effort.

The day the hurricane made landfall, Victor Parra, president of the United Motorcoach Association, called FEMA's Washington office "to let them know our members could help out."

Parra said FEMA responded the next day, referring him to an agency Web page labeled "Doing Business with FEMA" but containing no information on the hurricane relief effort.

On Wednesday, Aug. 31, Pantuso of the American Bus Association cut short a vacation thinking his members surely would be needed in evacuation efforts.

Unable to contact FEMA directly, Pantuso, through contacts on Capitol Hill, learned of Carey International's role and called Snead.

Pantuso said Snead told him she meant to call earlier but didn't have a phone number.

Finally, sometime after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Pantuso and Parra had enough information to send an SOS to their members to help in the evacuation.

By the weekend, more than 1,000 buses were committed to ferrying stranded New Orleans residents to shelters in Houston and other cities.

Executive linked to lobby

In a regulatory filing last week, Landstar Express said it has received government orders worth at least $125 million for Katrina-related work. It's not known how much of that total pertains to the bus evacuation.

Landstar Express is a subsidiary of Landstar System, a $2 billion company whose board chairman, Jeff Crowe, also was chairman of the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation's premier business lobbies, from June 2003 until May 2004.

Pantuso said changes for the better may be afoot, perhaps even in time to aid the response to Hurricane Rita, now bearing down on Texas' Gulf Coast near the Louisiana border.

"I have been getting a tremendous amount of follow-up from Landstar over the last two days . . . looking for ways to work together in the future," Pantuso said Thursday, adding that he feels "much better about . . . our opportunities to work in a more coordinated fashion."

Whatever happens likely will be good for Landstar's bottom line.

Landstar's regulatory filing also said that because of Hurricane Katrina, the maximum annual value of its government contract for disaster relief services has been increased to $400 million.

Critically Examining ID

"How did life begin?"

"God made us."

"Oh. Ok. Question answered. Thanks!"

Another excellent article examing ID from Live Science

Intelligent Design: 'The Death of Science'
By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 23 September 2005
12:01 am ET

In his highly influential book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," science philosopher Thomas Kuhn presented the idea that science is not a gradual progression toward truth, but a series of insurgencies, with scientific theories constantly usurping one another.

That is sometimes true. And proponents of intelligent design love Kuhn's argument.

They see intelligent design (often called ID) as a revolutionary new science and themselves as revolutionaries. They envision toppling Darwinian evolution – once a revolutionary idea itself – and erecting in its place a theory about life that allows for supernatural explanations, a theory that makes God, or some entity very much like him, not just possible but necessary.

But in order to attract converts and win over critics, a new scientific theory must be enticing. It must offer something that its competitors lack. That something may be simplicity, which was one of the main reasons the Sun-centered model of the solar system was adopted over the Earth-centered one centuries. Or it could be sheer explanatory power, which was what allowed evolution to become a widely accepted theory with no serious detractors among reputable scientists.
Editor's Note

This article is the second in a special LiveScience series about the theory of evolution and a competing idea called intelligent design.

An Ambiguous Assault on Evolution
Posing as science, this Trojan Horse for Creationism has become very popular. But who is being duped? And what does it all mean for morality?

'The Death of Science'
Intelligent design is presented as a legitimate scientific theory and an alternative to Darwinism, but a close look at the arguments shows they don't pass scientific muster. So why are scientists worried?

Antievolution activity is once again on the rise in America. Learn about recent legislation in various states challenging evolution's place in the public school curriculum.

So what does ID offer? What can it explain that evolution can't?

To answer this, it is necessary to examine the two main arguments—irreducible complexity and specified complexity—that ID proponents use to support their claim that a Supreme Being is responsible for many or all aspects of life.

Irreducible complexity

Irreducible complexity asserts that certain biochemical systems in nature contain parts that are too well matched to be products of evolution.

Every part of an irreducibly complex system is necessary: take away even one, and the entire system will no longer work. Because their parts are so intricate and so interdependent, such systems could not possibly have been the result of evolution, ID supporters argue.

Irreducible complexity's main proponent is Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Among the systems that Behe claims are irreducibly complex are the bacterial flagellum, a microscopic whip-like structure that some bacteria use to swim, and the cascade of proteins that make up the human blood-clotting system.

Darwin himself admitted that if an example of irreducible complexity were ever found, his theory of natural selection would crumble.

"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down," Darwin wrote.

Yet no true examples of irreducible complexity have ever been found. The concept is rejected by the majority of the scientific community.

To understand why, it is important to remember that Behe's main argument is that in an irreducibly complex system, every part is vital to the system's overall operation.

A necessary—and often unstated—flipside to this is that if an irreducibly complex system contains within it a smaller set of parts that could be used for some other function, then the system was never really irreducibly complex to begin with.

It's like saying in physics that atoms are the fundamental building blocks of matter only to discover, as physicists have, that atoms are themselves made up of even smaller and more fundamental components.

This flipside makes the concept of irreducible complexity testable, giving it a scientific virtue that other aspects of ID lack.

"The logic of their argument is you have these multipart systems, and that the parts within them are useless on their own," said Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University in Rhode Island. "The instant that I or anybody else finds a subset of parts that has a function, that argument is destroyed."

Yes, Evolution is a Theory. It's Religion and Politics that are the Problems

Human Affection Altered Evolution of Flowers

Study Suggests Human Brains Still Evolving

Moral Debate: Procedure Risks Making Monkeys More Humanlike

Viewed this way, all of the systems that Behe claims to be irreducibly complex really aren't.

A subset of the bacterial flagellum proteins, for example, are used by other bacteria to inject toxins into other cells and several of the proteins in the human blood-clotting system are believed to be modified forms of proteins found in the digestive system.

Evolution takes pieces and parts and re-uses them.

Specified complexity

The second major argument for intelligent design comes from William Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher affiliated with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based Christian think tank that serves as the nerve center for the ID movement.

Dembski argues that nature is rife with examples of non-random patterns of information that he calls "complex specified information," or CSI for short.

To qualify as CSI, the information must be both complex and specified. The letter "A," for example, is specific but not complex. A string of random letters such as "slfkjwer," on the other hand, is complex but not necessarily specific. A Shakespearean sonnet, however, is both complex and specific.

An example of CSI from nature is DNA, the molecule found in all cells that contains the genetic instructions for life. DNA is made up of four repeating chemical bases arranged into complimentary pairs. The bases can be thought of as "letters" in a four-letter alphabet and can be strung together to form genes, which can be thought of as the "words" that tell the cell what proteins to make.

The human genome is made up of some 3 billion DNA base pairs and contains about 25,000 genes. DNA is obviously complex. The fact that humans always give birth to humans and not chimpanzees or naked mole rats shows that DNA is also specific.

The fact that CSI exists in nature is evidence for design because intelligence is necessary to produce CSI, Dembski says. This is the part of Dembski's argument that many scientists have trouble with.

The nylon problem

There is a way to settle this, however, because like Behe's irreducible complexity, the concept of specified complexity can also be tested.
Evolving Issue

Top 10 Creation Myths

Useless Limbs (and Other Vestigial Organs)

"If Dembski were right, then a new gene with new information conferring a brand new function on an organism could never come into existence without a designer because a new function requires complex specified information," Miller said.

In 1975, Japanese scientists reported the discovery of bacteria that could break down nylon, the material used to make pantyhose and parachutes. Bacteria are known to ingest all sorts of things, everything from crude oil to sulfur, so the discovery of one that could eat nylon would not have been very remarkable if not for one small detail: nylon is synthetic; it didn't exist anywhere in nature until 1935, when it was invented by an organic chemist at the chemical company Dupont.

The discovery of nylon-eating bacteria poses a problem for ID proponents. Where did the CSI for nylonase—the actual protein that the bacteria use to break down the nylon—come from?

There are three possibilities:

* The nylonase gene was present in the bacterial genome all along.
* The CSI for nylonase was inserted into the bacteria by a Supreme Being.
* The ability to digest nylon arose spontaneously as a result of mutation. Because it allowed the bacteria to take advantage of a new resource, the ability stuck and was eventually passed on to future generations.

Apart from simply being the most reasonable explanation, there are two other reasons that most scientists prefer the last option, which is an example of Darwinian natural selection.

First, hauling around a nylonase gene before the invention of nylon is at best useless to the bacteria; at worst, it could be harmful or lethal. Secondly, the nylonase enzyme is less efficient than the precursor protein it's believed to have developed from. Thus, if nylonase really was designed by a Supreme Being, it wasn't done very intelligently.

‘Death of science'

After examining ID's two main arguments, the answers to the original questions—what does ID offer? And what can ID explain that evolution can't?—is not much and nothing, leading scientists say.

"The most basic problem [with ID] is that it's utterly boring," said William Provine, a science historian at Cornell University in New York. "Everything that's complicated or interesting about biology has a very simple explanation: ID did it."

Evolution was and still is the only scientific theory for life that can explain how we get complexity from simplicity and diversity from uniformity.

ID offers nothing comparable. It begins with complexity—a Supreme Being—and also ends there. The explanations offered by ID are not really explanations at all, scientists say. They're more like last resorts. And, scientists argue, there is a danger in pretending that ID belongs next to evolution in textbooks.

"It doesn't add anything to science to introduce the idea that God did it," Provine told LiveScience. Intelligent design "would become the death of science if it became a part of science."

Watching Your Own Death on TV

In the old days (and probably still now) airlines went through great pains to forbid in-flight movies with any mention of disaster -- especially airplane crashes.

Looks like Jet Blue's in-seat TV kinda poked a hole in that "veil of comfort" when passenger watched their own plane perform an emergency landing.. live on TV.

"Mister, could you please un-recline your seat. You are so far back I cannot even open my tray table, as you can clearly see on the video here on channel 6."


JetBlue Passengers Watched Ordeal on TVs

By TIM MOLLOY, Associated Press Writer Thu Sep 22, 5:10 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - Letting customers watch TV at their seats has been a JetBlue calling card since the airline took flight in 1999.

But the frill made for a bizarre experience as passengers aboard an airliner with a crippled nose wheel watched news reports about their own flight even as they prepared for an emergency landing.

Some of those aboard Flight 292, which landed safely Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport, said later that they appreciated seeing news reports on what was happening. Others were horrified.

"It was absolutely terrifying, actually. Seeing the events broadcast made it completely surreal and detached me from the event," said Zachary Mastoon, a musician heading home on the Burbank-to-New York flight. "It became this television show I was inextricably linked to. It was no longer my situation, it was broadcast for everyone to see. It only exacerbated the situation and my fear."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Visa to Customers: "Don't Worry, We'll Protect You"

Apparently Visa is sueing to avoid having to "worry" their customers about their stolen credit card numbers.

How very considerate.

Visa is concerned that notifying customers would harm their goodwill. Guess keeping the credit numbers from getting stolen in the first place wouldn't have been a better way to protect their customer's goodwill.

Yahoo News

Credit Card Court Battle Tests Laws

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer Thu Sep 22, 4:52 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - Testing the bounds of consumer protection laws, Visa USA Inc. and MasterCard International Inc. are headed for court to determine whether they are obliged to notify 264,000 customers that a computer hacker stole their account information.

The dispute to be argued Friday in San Francisco County Superior Court revolves around a highly publicized security breakdown at CardSystems Solutions Inc., one of the nation's largest payment processors.

Although a ruling in the class-action consumer lawsuit wouldn't have legal standing outside the state, it would increase the pressure on Visa and MasterCard to notify all affected accountholders in this and any future breaches.

That would compound the headaches that the CardSystems imbroglio already has caused.

The breach, initially disclosed by MasterCard three months ago, exposed up to 40 million credit and debit card accounts to potential abuse between August 2004 and May 2005.

It's the largest of more than 70 consumer information security breaches reported in the past seven months, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Although the scope of the CardSystems break-in has been generally outlined, the credit card associations haven't sent warnings to the most vulnerable customers.

San Francisco-based Visa and Purchase, N.Y.-based MasterCard maintain that responsibility should fall to the myriad banks that administer the accounts because neither credit card association has direct relationships with the affected customers.

Both Visa and MasterCard provide processing and marketing services to thousands of banks nationwide. It's a profitable endeavor. MasterCard's parent company earned $213.5 million on revenue of $1.4 billion during the first half of this year, according to documents filed in preparation for an initial public offering of stock. Visa doesn't disclose its profit.

Internal investigations have determined that the still-unknown thief grabbed enough sensitive details from CardSystems to defraud about 264,000 Visa and MasterCard accountholders nationwide, according to evidence gathered in the lawsuit, which was filed by San Rafael, Calif., attorney Ira Rothken.

No home addresses or
Social Security numbers were stolen in the CardSystems breach, minimizing the risk for identity theft. But the hacking obtained customer names, account numbers and security codes that could be used to create bogus credit and debit cards.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Visa and MasterCard to warn each Californian whose information was compromised. The order is being sought under a pioneering state law that requires consumers to be alerted whenever personal information stored on computers is lost, stolen or breached.

Since California imposed the mandate in July 2003, 35 other states have approved or proposed similar laws, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. That means other states could end up addressing similar legal issues raised by this California case.

"We are trying to establish an efficient method that would hold Visa and MasterCard responsible for giving all consumers their due notices, so each customer can decide whether they want to change their card number," Rothken said.

Replacing a credit card costs an issuer about $35.

That would total $9.24 million for 264,000 cards that might have to be replaced if customers learn of the fraud risk, with the cost rising even higher to the industry if it's discovered even more of the 40 million accounts are vulnerable.

Both Visa and MasterCard have blamed CardSystems' lax security for the breach. Infuriated by the breakdown, Visa has since cut its ties with Atlanta-based CardSystems, which says it has tightened controls to comply with industry standards.

In their legal briefs, Visa and MasterCard have argued there's little chance any affected customer will lose a cent because of the association's long-standing policies to reverse all charges for fraudulent transactions. The "zero liability" policy lessens the need to alert individual customers about the fraud risks, said MasterCard spokeswoman Sharon Gamsin.

In a statement, Visa also said it is comfortable with its anti-fraud measures. But both companies worry that the opposite message might be sent if they are ordered to warn individual customers.

"Such an order would harm the banks' goodwill because some customers would certainly be confused by the notice and believe the issuing banks were somehow to blame for the security breach," Visa's attorneys argued in a court brief.

The companies' fraud-fighting assurances don't soothe Eric Parke, a Marin County resident representing consumer interests in the suit. In a sworn declaration, Parke said he has been fretting about his potential fraud exposure since news of the CardSystems theft broke.

"I do not think it's fair for ... me to have to look through cryptic credit card statements with (an) eye toward forensically determining if fraud was committed ... when Visa and MasterCard can just tell me if my data was compromised," said Parke, who has seven MasterCard and Visa accounts.

Uh oh, I'm starting to agree with Ralph Nader

The Nation

How to Curb Corporate Power

Ralph Nader Thu Sep 22, 2:31 PM ET

The Nation -- Scarcely a week goes by without another surge in the ongoing corporate crime wave--a large drug company misleads doctors about heart attack risks in order to sell more pills, an insurance company manipulates its earnings by billions through complicated offshore reinsurance dealings, major banks are under investigation for illegally charging minority borrowers higher loan rates or helping a dictator stash his ill-gotten gains.

These particular stories, unlike many other business crimes and frauds, made the news and sometimes even drew Congressional hearings. But Congress has produced no corrective legislation since the narrow-gauged Sarbanes-Oxley law of 2002, inspired by the Enron scandal. Rather, the major accomplishments of the legislative season so far have been laws from the wish list of the behemoth corporations, who annually shell out tens of millions of dollars for lobbying--a bankruptcy "reform" bill for a credit card industry that reported $30 billion in profits last year, a class-action-lawsuit "reform" bill for the insurance companies and the Chamber of Commerce (now the biggest lobbyist in Washington) and an "energy" bill with generous taxpayer subsidies for oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil, which in 2004 already reported the world's biggest-ever annual profit for a single company: $25.3 billion.

What can be done? Lots. Those looking for ideas would do well to pick up The People's Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy, a new book sponsored by Citizen Works, which I founded, whose authors, Lee Drutman and Charlie Cray, propose that we frame a vigorous movement around a number of immediate and long-term shifts of power away from giant corporations to strengthen a citizen-sovereign democracy.

But nothing begins to happen unless the few progressives in Congress get over their resistance to introducing corporate reform legislation, while pressing for a national and Congressional debate on this all-important subject. Back in the 1960s a few archconservative corporatists would put bills into the hopper that would cause raucous laughter among the dominant liberals. No one is laughing anymore; the corporations' wish list is now Congress's to-do list.

The lesson is that even bills that do not make it to a public hearing can still form a nucleus of ideas for educating and organizing the assertive citizenry around the country. Such bills commit their sponsoring legislators to speak for and defend the reallocation of power from the corporate state to patients, laborers, consumers, communities and voters. Such bills form the start of an offense against the corporate supremacists and their allies in the House and Senate. I've made these arguments for years with Congressional progressives, providing fully drafted legislation requiring no, or little, allocation from public budgets because it shifts power and facilitates civic organization. Yet none of the fifty-five members of the Progressive Caucus to date would introduce even one of these empowerment bills, though they had little disagreement with them on the merits. Consigned to playing defense (and not too robustly at that) for two decades, discouraged, deflated progressives have become accustomed to defensive thinking, which, of course, corrosively feeds on itself.

It would not be difficult to get the ball rolling with the following modest legislative proposals. Given media attention, such prudent positions might even attract some unlikely Republican co-sponsors, along with liberal Democratic supporters.

1. Crack Down on Corporate Crime. Most of the leading federal agencies responsible for pursuing corporate criminals--including the Justice Department, the
Internal Revenue Service and even the
Securities and Exchange Commission--remain woefully understaffed, underfunded and undermotivated. The Justice Department should be directed to create a permanent, well-funded corporate crime division with specialized technical personnel (including accountants, engineers and lab technicians) and the additional resources necessary not only to handle major ongoing fraud, corruption and safety violations (the
FBI reports it is investigating at least eighteen cases of corporate fraud in-volving at least $1 billion each) but also to develop the kind of tools prosecutors can use to crack down on corporate crime.

An annual corporate crime report similar to the one the FBI produces on street crime would help law-enforcement officials identify emerging patterns and direct resources more effectively. If we are truly serious about cracking down on the ongoing epidemic of corporate crime, at a minimum the government must collect and disseminate comprehensive information about the nature and extent of the damage.

Another ongoing question is how to effectively penalize corporate lawbreakers. Creative sanctions like equity fines, probationary treatment, behavioral sanctions, dechartering and other structural reforms that address the incentives behind a criminogenic corporate culture are routinely ignored in favor of denials of culpability garnished by slap-on-the-wrist fines. All too often these fines are passed on to consumers and taxpayers. Federal acquisition regulations should be tightened so those lawbreaking corporations do not receive any fraction of the $265 billion worth of government contracts given out each year. Aggressively applied, the debarment sanction can offer a good carrot-and-stick approach to companies that not only break the law but also restructure their operations in order to claim nominal residence in Bermuda and other tax havens.

2. Rein in the Imperial CEOs.
Warren Buffett once suggested that willingness to curb excessive CEO pay is "the acid test of corporate reform." Yet the ratio of average large company CEO pay (now $11.8 million) to average worker pay ($27,460) spiked from 301 to 1 in 2003 to 431 to 1 in 2004. While Wal-Mart paid CEO Lee Scott 871 times what it paid the average "associate," the ratio between executive and worker pay in Europe hovers closer to 25 to 1. In 1982 the ratio at US corporations was about 42 to 1; by 2000 it had spiraled to about 525 to 1.

Not only does executive greed spawn corruption and down-the-line resentment; it also creates significant conflicts of interest, such as providing an incentive for CEOs to offload debt and inflate profits so their stock options are more enriching.

Unfortunately, shareholders' increasing attempts to rein in outrageous CEO pay packages by reforming the board nomination process and creating tighter links between pay and performance have been met with fierce resistance by dominant company executives, the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. It's time for the SEC to give corporate shareholders--the true owners of the corporations--the right to curb out-of-control executive pay packages, which often expand while the companies' earnings and performance decline. Representative Martin Sabo in July introduced the Income Equity Act, which would eliminate tax deductions for executive compensation exceeding twenty-five times that of the company's lowest-paid full-time employee.

3. Shore Up the Civil Justice System. One of the lost lessons of Enron and other corporate crime cases is how Washington's deregulation created an incentive for the market system's professional "gatekeepers"--the accountants, bankers and lawyers--to avoid their responsibilities and, in some cases, even aid and abet the fraud. Shortly after Enron's collapse Columbia law professor John Coffee advised a Senate committee that so-called securities reform laws like the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) of 1995, which made it harder for shareholder victims of corporate financial fraud to sue, along with related laws and court decisions, were probably the single greatest structural and psychological cause of the company's downfall. The reason is that these laws weakened the potential deterrent of civil lawsuits, emboldening the executives, accountants and lawyers behind Enron and other scandals to cook the books.

This experience with the PSLRA should be a sobering harbinger of what will likely result from the current bipartisan tort "reform" binge. Although the twisted positions advanced by proponents of tort "reform" have been handily rebutted by Public Citizen ( and the Center for Justice and Democracy (, which have produced mountains of facts and brought forth the victims of bad physician or hospital practices to speak for the freedom to hold their harm-doers accountable, the civic and political organization is not there yet.

4. Regulate in the Public Interest. The ferocious corporate assault over the past twenty-five years on regulations that worked has cost lives, health and trillions of dollars. Most of the companies involved in recent giant accounting scams fall within the industrial sectors that were radically deregulated just years before--energy, banking, brokerage and telecommunications. In these industries, deregulation, or taking the government cop off the corporate beat, created a kind of gold-rush mentality. This put pressure on companies to cook up new deals and phony accounting to lure investors. Bills to re-regulate with more resources for corporate law enforcement and to revive the proposed small consumer advocacy agency, which almost passed in the 1970s, were blocked by lobbies.

5. Trust-Busting in the New Century: Start With the Media. It's time to think seriously about a new antitrust policy that recognizes new ways of domestic and international collusion, price-fixing and product fixing. When transnational power rests with a handful of large corporations, democracy necessarily suffers. As Louis Brandeis once famously put it, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

The key to corporate reform is a vibrant press. When the media fail to provide coverage of civic engagement, change is difficult. Because today's media are essentially dominated by six multinational conglomerates, much of the news looks and sounds the same, regardless of what channel we may be watching or what newspaper we may be reading, and regardless of our own political views. One way to insure the broader spectrum of opinion necessary for a vibrant democracy is to enact competition rules--limits on cross-media ownership, especially in localities, and on vertical integration, for example--that essentially mandate diversity by prohibiting media conglomerates and restoring the fairness doctrine on the public's airwaves. Remember the remarkable collaboration in 2003 of left and right (e.g., Common Cause and the NRA) against the FCC's media concentration rules.

In addition to advancing the nonprofit, noncommercial media outlets, including low-power radio, today's media activists are battling the corporate takeover of new media technologies like community wireless networks, key community assets that deserve to be protected from predatory corporations. Democratic leadership has not thrown its support behind Representative Maurice Hinchley's Media Ownership Reform Act, which would reduce media concentration and restore more fairness to broadcasting.

6. Get Corporations Out of Our Elections. The cost of running for a seat in the House of Representatives is more than $1 million. The cost of winning a seat in the Senate is well over $5 million--running nearly as high as $40 million in the largest states. The Bush/Cheney 2004 re-election campaign spent $367 million. As a result, those who run for office package their candidacies in a manner attractive to those with money. Roughly 75 percent of the money raised in campaigns comes from business or business-related interests. Corporations are legal entities, not human beings; as such they should be prohibited from contributing to campaigns, sponsoring PACs or lobbying.

7. Reclaim the Constitution. The court-made doctrine of "corporate personhood," created by pro-corporate judicial activists in the late nineteenth century, continues to expand as the result of a well-orchestrated "business civil liberties" movement led by dozens of corporate-front legal groups and right-wing think tanks. The consequences are far-reaching and often insidious. Corporations' growing use of referendums to advance their economic interests and the intrusion of commercial advertising into the public sphere are often legitimized by questionable claims to First Amendment speech rights. Corporations also increasingly use constitutional challenges to undermine local decision-making authority and federal regulations and to impede the right of association by workers, consumers and small investors.

The relentless colonization of the Constitution by corporations and their proxies has overwhelmed citizens' ability to express their collective interest and exercise their sovereign authority over big business. Comprehensive corporate reform should be a central concern of progressive legislators. But they must drop the bills in the hopper to get the discussion under way. Avoidance of corporate power issues reaches deeply into both parties. This was reflected in the non-questioning of former corporate attorney John Roberts during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Conclusion: Subordinating Corporations to People. Ultimately, the most effective way to control corporations is to restore citizen democracy and find effective ways to reclaim the once widely accepted principle that corporations are but creatures of the state, chartered by the state under the premise that they will serve the public good, and entitled only to those revocable rights and privileges granted by citizen governments. That is, corporations are our servants, not our masters. By doing so we will be able to create a more just and sustainable economy, an economy driven by the values of humanity and community and democracy instead of the current globally omnicidal economy driven by the relentless pursuit of short-range financial profit at any cost--market and military--to innocent peoples of the world.

Fighting Religious Extremists at Home


Intelligent Design: An Ambiguous Assault on Evolution
By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 22 September 2005
12:42 am ET

Editor's Note: This article is the first in a special LiveScience series about the theory of evolution and a competing idea called intelligent design.

TODAY: An overview of the increasingly heated exchange between scientists and the proponents of intelligent design.

COMING FRIDAY : Proponents argue that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory, but a close look at their arguments shows that it doesn't pass scientific muster.

Science can sometimes be a devil's bargain: a discovery is made, some new aspect of nature is revealed, but the knowledge gained can cause mental anguish if it contradicts a deeply cherished belief or value.

Copernicus' declaration in 1543 that the Sun and the heavens were not, in fact, revolving around the Earth and its human inhabitants was one such painful enlightenment. The publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin's book, "The Origin of Species," set the stage for another.

Evolving Issue

Top 10 Creation Myths

Useless Limbs (and Other Vestigial Organs)

Darwin's truth can be a hard one to accept. His theory of evolution tells us that humans evolved from non-human life as the result of a natural process, one that was both gradual, happening over billions of years, and random. It tells us that new life forms arise from the splitting of a single species into two or more species, and that all life on Earth can trace its origins back to a single common ancestor.

Perhaps most troubling of all, Darwin's theory of evolution tells us that life existed for billions of years before us, that humans are not the products of special creation and that life has no inherent meaning or purpose.

For Americans who view evolution as inconsistent with their intuitions or beliefs about life and how it began, Creationism has always been a seductive alternative.

Creationism's latest embodiment is intelligent design (ID), a conjecture that certain features of the natural world are so intricate and so perfectly tuned for life that they could only have been designed by a Supreme Being.

Real or apparent design?

"The question that we're facing in biology is that when we look at nature, we see design," said Scott Minnich, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho and an ID proponent. "But is it real design or apparent design? There are two answers to the question and both are profound in terms of their metaphysical implications."

In an August interview with National Public Radio, Republican Senator and ID supporter Rick Santorum stated exactly what he believed those implications were for evolution. Asked why he, a politician, felt compelled to weigh in on what was essentially a scientific debate, Santorum replied:

"It has huge consequences for society. It's where we come from. Does man have a purpose? Is there a purpose for our lives? Or are we just simply the result of chance? If we are the result of chance, if we're simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us. In fact, it doesn't put a moral demand on us."
The Players

Some of the key players in the science of evolution and the increasingly popular notion of intelligent design, and things they've said.

Charles Darwin

"It is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

The British naturalist who started it all. Darwin's theory of evolution forever changed how humans viewed themselves and their relationships to all other life on Earth.

Scott Minnich

"You're just asking, can unintelligent undirected, unpurposed laws of chemistry and physics, chance and time produce things that are more sophisticated than the combined intellectual capacity of our engineering community at present. I think that's a valid question."

Minnich is an Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Idaho and believes that certain structures in nature are so complex that they could only have been designed by a Supreme Being.

Lawrence Krauss

"These people aren't scientists, they're public relations people, and [ID] is a media campaign designed to convince the public that evolution is wrong."

Krauss is a physicist at Case Western Reserve University. Along with two other scientists, Krauss sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in July asking for a clarification of the church's position on evolution after a Catholic Cardinal wrote an op-ed piece stating that Catholicism and evolution were incompatible.

Phillip Johnson

"This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy."

A retired UC Berkeley law professor, Johnson is considered by many to be the father of the Intelligent Design movement. Johnson is the author of "Darwin on Trial," in which he argues that modern science should allow for supernatural explanations.

Barbara Forrest

"Johnson presents this issue as though teaching evolution is tantamount to teaching atheism, and he's doing that because he wants to scare people to death."

An Associate Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, Forrest has drawn the ire of ID proponents for her pointed criticisms of ID.

Kenneth Miller

"We live at a time when this country's scientific preeminence is being challenged all over the world. The last thing that we want to contemplate is anything that would further drive our young people away from science."

Miller is a biologist at Brown University in Rhode Island and also a devout Roman Catholic. He is the author of Finding Darwin's God and believes that evolution and a strong belief in God are not mutually exclusive.

Image Credits: University of Idaho (Minnich); Case Western Reserve University (Krauss); InterVarsity Press (Johnson); Southeastern Louisiana University (Forrest); Brown University (Miller)

By adding morality to the equation, Santorum is giving the scientific theory of evolution a religious message, one that does not come on its own, said Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Like Santorum, Miller is a devout Roman Catholic, but he believes evolution can only explain how life arose and how it diversified. Why there is life at all is another question entirely, one that Miller believes is outside the realm of science.

Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, expressed a similar sentiment. "The questions of purpose are not part of science," Krauss said. "How you interpret the results of science is up to you, and it's based on your theological and philosophical inclinations."

The ID nerve center

The ID movement is orchestrated by the Center for Science and Culture (CSC), a subdivision of the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank based in Seattle.

The CSC strategy for countering evolution is twofold: challenge its soundness as a scientific theory, then replace it with ID.

The CSC is using a campaign called "Teach the Controversy" to carry out the first part of the strategy. The campaign is aimed at public schools and teachers are urged to expose students to the "scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory." It exploits disagreements among biologists, pointing out gaps in their understanding of evolution in order to portray evolution as a "theory in crisis."

Selling ID as a viable alternative to evolution, however, is proving more difficult. In modern science, a theory must first undergo the gauntlet of peer-review in a reputable scientific journal before it is widely accepted.

Measured by this standard, ID fails miserably. According to the National Center for Science Education, only one ID article by Stephen Meyers (Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 2004) has passed this test and even then, the journal that published the article promptly retracted it. The journal also put out a statement that said "there is no credible scientific evidence supporting ID as a testable hypothesis to explain the origin of organic diversity."

Straddling the fence

The ID movement's greatest strength lies in its ambiguity. It makes no claims about who the designer is or the steps taken to create life. ID does not say whether the designer intervened in the history of life only once or multiple times or even whether the designer is still actively guiding the destiny of life on Earth.

The ambiguity is intentional and part of what Phillip Johnson, a retired law professor from the University of California, Berkeley and one of the ID movement's lead strategists, calls his "big tent" strategy.

By paring the origins debate down to its most essential questionÑ"Do you need a Creator to do the creating, or can nature do it on its own?"ÑJohnson has managed to create a tenuous alliance between various groups of skeptics and conservative Christians, including Young Earth CreationistsÑthose who believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years oldÑand Old Earth Creationists.

In front of mainstream audiences, ID proponents refuse to speculate about the precise nature of the designer. Regarding this crucial point, ID proponents are agnostic. It could be God, they say, but it could also be a superior alien race.

Even if an ID version of science were to prevail, the designer's true identity may still never be revealed, Minnich said.

"I think it's outside of the realm of science," Minnich said in a telephone interview. "You can infer design but the science isn't going to tell you who the designer is. It has theistic implications, and then its up to the individual to pursue that out of interest if they want."

When speaking or writing for Christian audiences, however, ID proponents are more candid. Some have openly speculated about who they think the wizard behind the curtain really is.

"The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the nonexistence of God," Johnson wrote in a 1999 article for Church and State magazine. "From there, people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.'"

The 'Wedge'

Also in 1999, a fund raising document used by the Discovery Institute to promote the CSC was leaked to the public. Informally known as the "Wedge Document," it stated that the center's long-term goals were nothing less than the "overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies," and the replacement of "materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

The means for achieving these goals was explained using a simple metaphor: "If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a 'wedge' that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points."

In a 1999 interview with Insight Magazine, Johnson explained why he singled out evolution when his real target was all of modern science: "Evolution is a creation story and as a creation story, it's the main prop of the materialist explanation for our existence."

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Moral Debate: Procedure Risks Making Monkeys More Humanlike

After watching and analyzing the CSC's strategy for years, Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University, was reminded of another metaphor, one she used for the title of her book, "Creationism's Trojan Horse."

Like the hollow wooden horse the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy, ID is being used as a vehicle to sneak Creationism into public schools.

"They know that if you can get [ID] into a school, you're going to have some teacher who's going to present it as religious creationism," Forrest told LiveScience. "They know that, but they can't admit that until they get their foot in the door of the classroom."

The writers of the Wedge Document laid out a comprehensive roadmap for the CSC that included 5- and 20-year goals and strategies to achieve them. To date, nearly all of those goalsÑincluding the publication of books, engaging evolutionary scientists in public debates and getting media coverageÑhave been achieved. All except for one.

"It was supposed to be their first goal and the foundation of the whole strategy and that's doing science," Forrest said. "They haven't done any because you can't do science in such a way as to test for the supernatural."

Although their arguments have been flatly rejected by the majority of mainstream scientists, ID proponents have managed to successfully pitch their idea to the public.

"They're really exploiting their own audience," Forrest said. "They're taking advantage of the fact that Americans like to be fair, but its really grossly unfair. They haven't done any science, and you don't have the right to argue that anything you've done should find its way into a classroom unless you've done the hard work that other scientists are required to do."

The Darwinist religion

While denying that ID is religiously motivated, ID proponents often portray evolution as its own kind of religion, one that is atheistic and materialistic, whose converts no longer cast their eyes towards heaven but who rather seek to build heaven here on Earth using their scientific knowledge.

The implication is that by destroying the idea that Man is the paragon of God's creation, evolution robs life of meaning and worth. And by limiting God's role in creation, evolution opens up the terrifying possibility for some that there is no God and no universal moral standard that humans must follow.

Forrest thinks this is just silly. "Where did immorality come from before Darwin figured out natural selection?" she asked.

Far from robbing life of meaning, Forrest believes that it is because of evolution that we are capable of living meaningful lives.

"It's evolution that gives us the advanced nervous system we have so that we can interact with our environments at a highly conscious level," Forrest said.

Miller thinks such claims are also self-fulfilling. "You have essentially told people that if that Darwin guy is right, there is no God, there is no morality, there is no law you are obliged to obey," Miller told LiveScience. "I don't know of any evolutionary biologists who would say that, but I do hear a lot of people on the other side saying it."

What's at stake

On its website, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) stated that allowing ID into public schools will "undermine scientific credibility and the ability of young people to distinguish science from non-science."

Miller thinks the stakes are much higher than that.

In addition to sowing confusion about what constitutes proper science, ID has the potential to drive people away from science. If classrooms are allowed to become theological battlegrounds, then schoolchildren will basically be told that science is hostile to new ideas and that scientists believe in a ludicrous theory that negates the very existence of God.

"Evolution is not opposed to religion unless people make it so," Miller said. "The message of evolution is that we are just as Genesis told us, we are made out of the dust of the Earth and that we are united in this web of life with every other living creature on the planet, and I think that's a fairly grand notion."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Outsourcing Airline Mechanics

USA Today

Airline safety mustn't fall casualty to outsourcing

By Jim Hall Mon Sep 19, 8:06 AM ET

The six recent civil airline crashes around the world demonstrate that while preventing terrorist threats to air safety must remain a top priority, we cannot afford to neglect routine matters of maintenance, equipment and training that impact the safety of world travelers.

In reading about some of the accidents around the world, we might find some comfort in the fact that these kinds of things just don't happen here in the USA:

• 121 people drifted to their deaths in Greece when the plane lost cabin pressure.

• Planes crashed in Sicily and Venezuela, and questions were raised about the purity of the planes' fuel.

• An Air France Airbus skidded off the runway in Toronto and a Boeing 737 crashed in Peru, with a lack of wind-shear warning equipment raised as a possible contributing factor in both cases.

• In Indonesia, another Boeing 737 crashed into a crowded neighborhood, killing passengers and people on the ground.

After all, it has been nearly four years since the last large-scale crash in the USA - the November 2001 crash of an American Airlines flight in Queens, N.Y.

Beware of complacency

But allowing such comfort to turn into complacency is a recipe for disaster. We would do well to look at the six international accidents the past two months not as isolated incidents, but as the chance for Americans to turn a more critical eye toward our own safety procedures. We must make safety a priority by properly funding our oversight and putting real teeth into standards of accountability, or a system that has provided years of safe flying will be eroded.

In fact, this is an especially important time to examine the commitment to safety by the airline industry, by Congress and by the
Federal Aviation Administration. Before filing for bankruptcy protection last week, Northwest Airlines was embroiled in a mechanics strike in which the practice of outsourcing maintenance work was coming under intense public scrutiny for the first time. Northwest's mechanics opposed the company's plans to trim its payroll by outsourcing maintenance to third-party companies here and abroad.

Before the Northwest strike, how many Americans knew that most of our airlines are outsourcing maintenance to low-cost, third-party private contractors in the USA or to cheaper labor in other countries, including
El Salvador, Singapore and Hong Kong? Ten years ago, only about a third of maintenance work for U.S. airliners was performed by outside contractors - today that number has grown to just over 50% and is expected to rise to 60% by 2008.

Reason for concern

Americans have the right to ask questions about how this fundamental shift could affect safety. When decisions on maintenance and safety are being made with cost cutting in mind, how could we not be concerned? Don't get me wrong - outsourced labor does not automatically translate into shoddy work. Even so, there are reasons to be skeptical:

• The US Airways Express crash in Charlotte in 2003 was blamed in part on poor mechanical work performed by an undertrained employee of a private contractor.

• Maintenance workers in other countries aren't subject to mandatory drug and alcohol testing or background screening, as are mechanics in the USA.

• Increasingly, third-party and even in-house maintenance departments are operating under minimal FAA supervision. Budget cuts have dramatically decreased the number of FAA inspectors, in turn limiting the number of inspections. More than 300 field inspectors are expected to be trimmed from a staff of approximately 3,400 this year and next.

As airlines look for any available means to cut costs, outsourcing is likely here to stay. In this environment, Congress and the American people must demand that we maintain our investment in safety and enforce regulations across the board and around the world.

As the events surrounding the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina remind us, our safety structures in this country are very fragile. We have had a safe civil aviation system here because we've invested in it. We must not forget that.