Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Five Ways Bush's Era of Repression Has Stolen Your Liberties Since 9/11

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Five Ways Bush's Era of Repression Has Stolen Your Liberties Since 9/11
By Matthew Rothschild, The New Press
Posted on July 24, 2007, Printed on July 24, 2007

The following is an excerpt of Matthew Rothschild's "You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression" (The New Press, 2007).

To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists. ... They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends.
-- former attorney general John Ashcroft

You're either with us or against us. -- George W. Bush

Today's America is a much less free place than the America of 2000. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has, by word and by deed, erected an edifice of repression here in the United States.

We've been living in it ever since. And it's not a comfortable place. The government is monitoring your phone calls and can read your e-mails and open your snail mail.

The government can access records of your large financial transactions, such as buying a house.

Law enforcement officers can bust into your home when you're not there, riffle through your belongings, plant a recording device on your computer, and leave without notifying you for at least thirty days -- and maybe a lot more.

You no longer have the right to protest where the president or vice president can see you, or at major public events when they aren't even present.

Law enforcement officers can now monitor you in public if you are merely exercising your political rights.

They can infiltrate your political organizations.

And they can keep track of you at your place of worship. The government can find out from bookstores and libraries the material you've been reading, and the bookstore owner and the librarian can't talk about it, except to their lawyers, for a whole year -- or more.

The government can hold you in preventive detention for months on end as a "material witness."

If you're not a citizen the government can deport you on a technicality or for mere political association.

If you're not a citizen the government can label you an "enemy combatant" and send you to secret prisons around the world, where you may never see the light of day again -- much less a lawyer or a judge. And even if you are a citizen, the government can label you an enemy combatant and hold you in solitary confinement here in the United States.

Under George W. Bush's interpretation of the president's powers during the so-called war on terror he can do just about whatever he wants. He cites the Authorization for Use of Military Force bill, which Congress passed on September 18, 2001, as the justification for this enormous leeway.

"Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people, but it didn't prescribe the tactics,"Bush said in a speech at Kansas State University on January 23, 2006. Those tactics, he presumes, are totally up to him. Under this rationale Bush could send F-16s to attack a residential area in, say, Indianapolis if he thought Al Qaeda suspects were there.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, check out the February 13, 2006, issue of Newsweek:

A Justice Department official suggested that in certain circumstances, the President might have the power to order the killing of terrorist suspects inside the United States. ... Steven Bradbury, acting head of the department's office of Legal Counsel, went to a closed-door Senate Intelligence committee meeting last week to defend President George W. Bush's surveillance program. During the briefing, said Administration and Capitol Hill officials (who declined to be identified because the session was private), California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Bradbury questions about the ex- tent of Presidential powers to fight Al Qaeda; could Bush, for instance, order the killing of a Qaeda suspect known to be on U.S. soil? Bradbury replied that he believed Bush could indeed do this, at least in certain circumstances.

Yes, the U.S. government has a primary obligation to protect us all from another attack. But there needs to be a legal limit; there needs to be a respect for our Constitution and our liberties. Otherwise, as Senator Russ Feingold pointed out, "this country won't be America."

What the Bush administration did after 9/11 was not to engage in precise police work to find any would-be terrorists in our midst. Instead, it issued edicts and enacted laws that curtailed all of our freedoms. And it cast a gigantic dragnet over Arabs and Muslims in this country, treating many of them with a de facto presumption of guilt. To put those experiences in context we need to examine how the Bush administration constructed the edifice of repression.

It got the job done, in part, by blasting those who dared to dissent. When the president's former press secretary Ari Fleischer told people they should "watch what they say" after comedian Bill Maher on ABC's Politically Incorrect dared to question the label of "cowards" that Bush had slapped on the suicide bombers, it sent a message. As did the canceling of Maher's show. As did Bush's repeated assertion that "you're either with us or against us."

The message was clear: If you dissent you're un-American, you're a traitor.

And that message went down the ranks.

"You can make an easy kind of link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest, "Mike Van Winkle, spokesman for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, told the Oakland Tribune in 2003. "You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act."

Celebrity dissenters, such as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Linda Ronstadt, and the Dixie Chicks, all felt the sting of reprobation. The attacks on them reinforced the idea in the air that if you speak out, you'll pay a price. Gradually, as Bush's popularity has faded, his power to regulate the cultural thermostat has diminished.

But the Bush administration's efforts have gone way beyond chilly climate control. Breathtaking in its audaciousness, the administration has implemented, of ten by fiat, an amazing array of repressive policies that still stand. These policies deprive us of some of our most precious freedoms and threaten the very character of our democratic system. This repression has not been indiscriminate. For the most part white, non-Muslim U.S. citizens have not felt the full brunt of it. But for many Muslim and Arab and South Asian immigrants in America, citizen or not, America became inhospitable overnight. Their quality of life, their sense of security, has never been the same.

1. The Ashcroft raids

Just as the rounding up of ten thousand immigrants and radicals from 1918 to 1921 became known as the Palmer Raids, after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, so too should the roundups after September 11 be called the Ashcroft Raids.

John Ashcroft, who served as attorney general from 2001 to 2005, sent law enforcement officers around the country to seize Muslims and Arabs in the United States and to hold them on whatever conceivable pretext. As David Cole notes in Enemy Aliens, this was a policy of "mass preventive detention." In the first two months after 9/11 the Ashcroft Raids had rounded up more than 1,182 people. (The Justice Department stopped reporting numbers after that.) Some were citizens; the majority were not.

Ashcroft sent law enforcement agents all over the country to nab immigrants on the slightest offenses. As he told the U.S. Conference of Mayors on October 25, 2001, "Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you overstay your visa -- even by one day -- we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, you will be put in jail and kept in custody as long as possible. We will use every available statute. We will seek every prosecutorial advantage."

Some Arabs and Muslims in the United States were apprehended solely on "anonymous tips called in by members of the public suspicious of Arab and Muslim neighbors who kept odd schedules," according to a June 2003 report of the Justice Department's office of the Inspector General titled "A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks." One such detainee worked at a grocery store run by Middle Eastern men that was open twenty-four hours a day, and someone called that in as a threat, the report says. Three other Middle Eastern men were stopped in Manhattan on a traffic violation. In their car were design plans for a public school. Even though "their employers confirmed that the men were working on construction at the school and that it was appropriate for them to have the plans," they were detained.

"The Department was detaining aliens on immigration violations that generally had not been enforced in the past," the report noted. And it was detaining them for long periods of time, without the usual due process.

Before 9/11, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had a practice of charging detainees within forty-eight hours of their arrests. After the attacks, the INS changed that to seventy-two hours and added a huge loophole: "In the event of an emergency or other extraordinary circumstances, the charging decision could be made within an additional reasonable period of time," the inspector general's report said. That period was not specified, so there was no outer limit. More than 100 detainees were not charged within the first 10 days of detention, and five detainees waited "approximately 168 days after their arrest" to be charged. These delays "affected the detainees' ability to obtain effective legal counsel."

The detainees were held without bond. Many were labeled in an "indiscriminate and haphazard manner" by the FBI, making it difficult "to distinguish between aliens who it actually suspected of having a connection to terrorism as opposed to aliens who, while possibly guilty of violating federal immigration law, had no connection to terrorism." Many were held in the most restrictive wings of detention facilities.

And for the first "several days to several weeks" they were held incommunicado, not allowed to make any calls to lawyers or loved ones. On average, the FBI held these detainees for 80 days before clearing them. One was actually held for 244 days: "The untimely clearance process had enormous ramifications for September 11 detainees." One of those ramifications was brutalization.

At the Metropolitan Detention Center in Manhattan "there is evidence supporting the detainees' claims of abuse," the inspector general's report concluded. Detainees said officers "slammed them into walls, dragged them by their arms, stepped on the chain between their ankle cuffs ... and twisted their arms, hands, wrists, and fingers." One detainee said that "an officer bent his finger back until it touched his wrist. Another said that "officers repeatedly twisted his arm, which was in a cast."

The Ashcroft Raids included not only the initial dragnet after September 11 but two other dragnets. One was the Absconder Apprehension Initiative. This program expressly targeted Arabs and Muslims for deportation, even though they made up only a tiny fraction of "the more than 300,000 foreign nationals living here with outstanding deportation orders," Cole writes in Enemy Aliens. The other was the Special Registration program, which ordered immigrant men from predominantly Muslim or Arab countries to report to the immigration service. According to Cole, these three dragnets combined rounded up more than 5,000 people. With nothing to show for it.

"This program has been a colossal failure at finding terrorists," Cole writes, "of the more than 5,000 persons subjected to preventive detention as of May 2003, not one has been charged with any involvement in the crimes of September 11."

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of "male non-citizens from the Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere who are Arab or Muslim or have been perceived by Defendants to be Arab or Muslim, who have been arrested and detained on minor immigration violations" after 9/11. The suit, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, charged that their First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights were violated.

On June 14, 2006, District Judge John Gleeson dismissed the plaintiffs' claims, except those relating to the conditions of their confinement. He ruled that it was OK for the government to hold the detainees essentially on a pretext -- a minor immigration infraction -- when, in fact, they were holding them for other purposes. He said that it was OK for the government to hold detainees for six months -- and sometimes longer -- after a judge has issued a determination to deport. In fact, he said, the government could hold them so long as their release was "reasonably foreseeable" -- an exceptionally elastic term. And he said that it was OK for the government to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and/or national origin by holding Muslim and Arab detainees longer than others. The judge cited a Supreme Court case (Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) that said that the discrimination needs to be "so outrageous"as to overcome the deference owed to the executive branch in immigration matters.

Judge Gleeson said there was nothing outrageous about the alleged discrimination in this case.

As Cole, who worked on the case with the Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out in a Los Angeles Times piece, "In essence, he authorized a repeat of the Japanese internment."

2. Abuse of Material Witness Statute

The Bush administration has used another technique for holding people -- primarily but not exclusively noncitizens -- in preventive detention. And that is by aggressively and speciously applying the 1984 material witness statute. This law allows the government to detain a witness in a criminal case if it's likely that this person would flee before testifying.

As Nat Hentoff wrote in The Progressive, this statute was "largely intended to prevent members of organized crime from fleeing." But the Bush administration used it to detain about four dozen people whom it viewed as suspects but did not have sufficient evidence to charge with any crime or immigration violation. Some were held for more than three months, according to the Justice Department. "Jailing people who are simply under investigation is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime," District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on April 30, 2002, in a case involving Osama Awadallah, a Jordanian student who was here legally but whose phone number was found in one of the 9/11 hijackers' cars. "If the government has probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime, it may arrest that person," Judge Scheindlin said. But misusing the material witness statute poses "the threat of making detention the norm and liberty the exception."

3. Enemy combatants and "extraordinary renditions"

Another mechanism for depriving people -- citizen and noncitizen alike -- of their rights is to label them "enemy combatants."And that's what the Bush administration has been doing. It's held more than six hundred prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as enemy combatants, and it has held others the same way in Iraq and Afghanistan and in secret CIA prisons around the world. Using the ridiculous euphemism of "extraordinary renditions," the United States has seized hundreds of individuals and shipped them off to countries notorious for torture.

In the process the Bush administration has deprived these detainees of their due process rights and denied them protection under the Geneva Conventions. In the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies. That article requires trials by a "regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples." Common Article 3 also prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture," as well as "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." (Similarly, Article 75, Fundamental Guarantees, of the 1977 protocol to the Geneva Conventions states unambiguously: "Persons who are in the power of a Party to the conflict and who do not benefit from more favorable treatment under the Conventions or under this Protocol shall be treated humanely in all circumstances.")

Essentially, the Bush administration claims the authority to seize any individual anywhere in the world, label that person an enemy combatant, and send him off to some prison in this remote corner or that, there to languish forever.

The Bush administration has used the enemy combatant label not only against foreign nationals but against U.S. citizens, too. The administration held both Yasser Hamdi and José Padilla for more than two years, of ten in solitary confinement, in military brigs, and denied them their due process rights. They were held incommunicado and not charged with any crimes.

In one of its sillier arguments the Bush administration even claimed that it was holding Hamdi, who was picked up on a battlefield in Afghanistan, for his own benefit. The president, the government said in its Supreme Court brief, has "the authority to engage in the time-honored and humanitarian practice of detaining enemy combatants captured in connection with the conflict, as opposed to subjecting such combatants to the more harmful consequences of war"(italics in original).

Padilla, however, wasn't captured on the battlefield like Hamdi. He was collared at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. "By imprisoning Padilla without a hearing of any sort and without producing any evidence against him, the executive branch has taken one of the most drastic steps in our nation's history," writes Barbara Olshansky in America's Disappeared.(The italics in that quotation are hers.)

As it has with much of its overreaching, the Bush administration argued in the Hamdi and Padilla cases that the president's commander-in-chief powers in Article II of the Constitution give him the authority to designate citizens as enemy combatants and deprive them of due process. "You have to recognize that in a situation where there is a war, where the government is on a war footing, that you have to trust the executive," argued Paul Clement in Hamdi. Clement was deputy solicitor general at the time, and subsequently became solicitor general. Astonishingly, under questioning from the justices, Clement claimed that the president had this power to declare U.S. citizens enemy combatants even when there is no war. "The president had that authority on September tenth," Clement told the justices.

The Supreme Court disagreed, even about executive powers during wartime. As it said in the Hamdi decision, "A state of war is not a blank check for the President."

And in June 2006, in Rasul v. Bush, a case brought by Guantánamo detainees, the Supreme Court also ordered the government to give those detainees some due process protections. Nevertheless, the administration has dragged its feet.

As for Hamdi, the United States released and deported him in October 2004. As for Padilla, the Supreme Court decided not to rule on his original case, since they said his lawyers filed it in the wrong district. Then, rather than let the Supreme Court rule on his designation as an enemy combatant and risk repudiation, the Bush administration finally charged him with three crimes -- more than three years after detaining him.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in the original Padilla case, let his views be known on the gravity of the matter. "At stake in the case is nothing less than the essence of a free society," he wrote. "Unconstrained Executive detention for the purpose of investigating and preventing subversive activity is the hallmark of the Star Chamber."

4. Watering down the Levi guidelines: A boon for domestic spying

The Church Committee hearings (named after Senator Frank Church of Idaho) in 1974 and 1975 revealed widespread FBI spying on political dissidents. One of the FBI's most notorious counterintelligence programs was called COINTELPRO, which infiltrated and disrupted the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement, among other groups. In response to the revelations President Gerald Ford had his attorney general, Edward Levi, draw up guidelines to limit such activities in the future. The 1976 Levi guidelines prohibited the FBI from investigating the First Amendment activities of individuals and groups that weren't advocating violence. And, mindful of the role of FBI agents provocateurs in the 1960s, the guidelines outlawed the disruption of groups and the discrediting of individuals engaged in lawful First Amendment activities. Domestic spying could occur only when there was "specific and articulable facts" that indicated criminal activity.

Under the Reagan administration and that of Bush Senior, these guidelines were loosened somewhat. Then came Ashcroft. On May 30, 2002, he threw out the need to demonstrate any connection to criminal activity. Ashcroft's guidelines allow the FBI "to engage in searches and monitoring of chat rooms, bulletin boards, and websites without evidence of criminal wrongdoing," notes the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Additionally, agents are permitted to visit public places and events to monitor individuals' activities with no predicate of criminal suspicion. These powers are not limited to terrorism investigations." What's more, Ashcroft's guidelines "allow FBI agents to use private-sector databases prospectively in order to predict terrorist acts. These databases may be used without any evidence of criminal activity or suspicious behavior. The FBI can now go on data mining 'fishing trips.'"

And it's not just the FBI. Since 9/11, agents from the campus police all the way up to the National Guard and the Pentagon have gotten into the domestic snooping game. Much of the gathering of domestic intelligence has been done by joint terrorism task forces that bring together state and local law enforcement with the FBI.

A story that MSNBC broke on December 14, 2005, told how the Pentagon had been busy spying on antiwar groups. The Pentagon's own database lists forty-three events in a six-month period alone, dating from November 11, 2004, to May 7, 2005. Pentagon political spying took place in the following states and the District of Columbia: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin. On January 17, 2007, the ACLU revealed that the Pentagon had monitored at least 186 antimilitary protests.

5. Listening in on lawyer-prisoner conversations

Here's one of the violations of our civil liberties that has received little attention: If you're in federal custody you no longer can assume that you have the right to confidential communications with your lawyer.

On October 31, 2001, Ashcroft issued a regulation that allows the Justice Department at its own discretion and authority to eavesdrop on the lawyer-client conversations of anyone in its custody, so long as the attorney general says there is "reasonable suspicion"that the person in custody may use such conversations "to further or facilitate acts of terrorism." Prior to this, the only way prosecutors could eavesdrop on such communications was to demonstrate "probable cause" before a judge that the prisoner was using his discussions with counsel to further a criminal purpose. Under the Ashcroft regulation probable cause is no longer the standard. And Ashcroft unilaterally discarded the obligation of going to a judge. Now the executive branch itself makes the decision as to whether to listen in or not.

How can you possibly defend yourself and plan your legal strategy with your lawyer if the prosecutors are listening in?

"This regulation is an unprecedented frontal assault on the attorney-client privilege, and on the right to counsel and the right of access to the courts guaranteed by the Constitution," Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 4, 2001.

© 2007 by Matthew Rothschild. This piece is excerpted from You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression (The New Press, July 4, 2007). Published with the permission of The New Press and available at good book stores everywhere.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive and author of "You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression" (The New Press, 2007).
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/57689/
clipped from www.alternet.org

Five Ways Bush's Era of Repression Has Stolen Your Liberties Since 9/11

By Matthew Rothschild, The New Press
You're either with us or against us. -- George W. Bush
Today's America is a much less free place than the America of 2000.
The government can access records of your large financial transactions, such as buying a house.
Law enforcement officers can bust into your home when you're not there, riffle through your belongings, plant a recording device on your computer, and leave without notifying you for at least thirty days -- and maybe a lot more.
You no longer have the right to protest where the president or vice president can see you, or at major public events when they aren't even present.
Law enforcement officers can now monitor you in public if you are merely exercising your political rights.
They can infiltrate your political organizations.
And they can keep track of you at your place of worship.
 blog it

Monday, July 23, 2007

Wait, There Actually Is a Bridge in Brooklyn You Can Sell Me?

Wait, There Actually Is a Bridge in Brooklyn You Can Sell Me?
By Jim Hightower, Hightower Lowdown
Posted on July 23, 2007, Printed on July 23, 2007

Will Rogers sometimes tucked little moral messages into his one-liners. For example: "I'd rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the one who sold it."

The gullibility of anyone who thinks it's possible to buy the Brooklyn Bridge is an old punch line, but today the joke is on us. In these weird times of privatization fever, buying bridges is no longer considered preposterous, and old Will would be appalled by the crass morals of both the sellers and the buyers in these increasingly common transactions.

The Brooklyn span has yet to be sold off, but similar public assets all across the country have been, and many more are up for grabs -- an estimated $100 billion worth of highways, bridges, airports, and other public properties could be transferred into corporate hands in just the next two years. Among those already gone or actively being considered for privatization are Chicago's Skyway commuter route, the city's entire downtown parking system, and Midway Airport; in Indiana, three major throughways (a 157-mile toll road across the state, a new Illiana Expressway, and a section of the I-69 NAFTA highway) and the state lottery; Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway and Dulles Greenway; the 537-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike and Philadelphia International Airport; New York's Tappan Zee Bridge; a vast 4,000-mile network of toll roads across Texas; Colorado's Northwest Parkway; Alabama's Foley Beach Expressway bridge; the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel; and, in New Jersey, the NJ Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, and Atlantic City Expressway.

What's at work here is a convergence of gutless politicians, right-wing ideological fantasizers, conniving investment bankers, and raw corporate greed.What has drawn them together is the incandescent, transformative, blinding, neon-green force that rules American society: money.

A deliberate defunding

Let's start with the lack of money. Since the 1980s, national, state, and local politicos of both parties have abjectly failed to meet their responsibility to maintain our country's essential transportation infrastructure. They've had the political backbone of slugs, unwilling to speak an obvious truth: It takes tax revenues to have a first class public system. But forget first-class -- our roads, bridges, airports, and other systems have been allowed to deteriorate even as traffic has steadily increased, so American transportation isn't even second class. In this same time span, our "leaders" have squandered trillions of dollars from our public treasury on special tax breaks for corporations and the rich, as well as on senseless wars and boondoggles, while letting the basics of government service slide. Now we're at a crisis point. The federal highway system (established by that wild-eyed, tax-and-spend liberal, Dwight Eisenhower, in 1956), is the chief national source of money for building and repairing roads, bridges, and mass transit systems. It is financed by an excise tax that has stood at 18.4 cents on a gallon of gasoline since 1993. Today, that's only about 6% of what it costs for a gallon of regular gasoline -- down from the 10% rate of taxation that Ike and Congress established when the fund was created.

In 2005, when Congress was about to replenish the dwindling trust fund with an increase of 4 cents per gallon, George W killed the hike with a veto threat. As a result, a fund with a $23 billion surplus when Bush came into office will be broke when he leaves, running a deficit of nearly $2 billion in 2009 and $8 billion the next year.

If you're an antigovernment, privatization zealot (like Bush and his top Transportation Department appointees), those are joyous numbers, for they mean that state and local officials are more vulnerable than ever to your pitch that public assets are better placed in corporate hands. For years, such corporate- funded, right-wing think tanks as the Reason Foundation have dreamed of the moment when they could impose their ideology on the public -- and here it is.

"Trust us," they're cooing into the ears of governors, mayors, and other officials who are looking at massive transportation needs, yet are too shackled to money interests even to mouth the words "tax increase." These sirens of corporatization sing softly, "We have the perfect, painless solution. All you have to do is to turn over that toll road (either by sale or long-term lease) to GlobalGigantica, Inc., which will pay a pretty penny for it. You'll get money for your public treasury, you'll lose your migraine headache, the magic of free enterprise will deliver greater efficiency and lower costs, and an adoring public will shower you with rose petals, hosannas, and votes."

Such rosy nonsense is now official U.S. policy. Last year, the Department of Transportation produced a plan known as the National Strategy to Reduce Congestion, which really should be called the Strategy to Induce Corporatization. Under this scheme, DOT officials are actively working as proselytizers of privatization, aggressively pushing states to pass laws that help corporations take over chunks of their public transportation infrastructure. To move this ideological surge along, DOT has drafted sample legislation for states to rubber-stamp, and more than 20 states have passed such laws.

Washington is also throwing public money behind this push. The 2005 highway bill conveniently changed the law so that corporations -- not just governments -- can now raise tax-exempt funds and get special subsidies for privatized projects. As a congressional staffer confided to reporters for Mother Jones magazine, "It's a very, very sweet deal."

The corporate players

Public infrastructure -- long considered the stodgiest of investments -- suddenly has a financial allure surpassing anything since the California Gold Rush, with corporate powers from all over the globe hustling to get pieces of the action. Consider the transactions of June 29, 2006. On this single day:

A consortium of two international corporations -- the Spanish construction giant Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte (Cintra) and the Australian conglomerate Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) -- inked a $3.8-billon deal to run the Indiana Toll Road for the next 75 years.

A partnership between Spain's Cintra and a Texas-based conglomerate, Zachry Construction got state approval on a $1.3-billion deal giving it a 50-year lease to build and operate a 40-mile toll road running south from Austin.

Australian toll-road operator Transurban signed a $611-million deal to gain control of the Pocahontas Parkway in Richmond, Virginia's capital city. Why are corporations laying down such sums to run toll roads? Because these are high-fat sugar bombs with whipped cream dollops and sprinkles on top.

First, the corporate owners get monopolistic control of prime routes of travel. This provides a steady (and steadily increasing) flow of tens of thousands of captive customers every day. The corporations have a guaranteed cash flow that's literally driven to them!

Second -- and this is the biggest factor of all -- private owners get to raise toll rates. Elected officials are wary of hiking tolls because of the political backlash they can suffer, and the better pols actually give a damn about keeping costs affordable for regular people. But corporations are not subject to the electorate and thus have no qualms about stiffing the public (think of Big Oil's price gouging, ever-rising bank and credit-card fees, cereal companies that charge more for less, Enron's manipulation of energy markets, etc.).

When the hucksters tout the advantages of privatization, it's this political immunity that they highlight. Corporations, they exult, are able to amass private investment funds to build or repair roads because they are free to raise tolls. Robert Poole, a privatizing zealot at the Reason Foundation, even tries to turn such monopoly profiteering into a virtue, gushing that corporations "depoliticize the tolling decision." I'll say -- We the People are conveniently removed from any decision-making role!

In 2005, when Cintra-MIG paid $1.8 billion for a 99-year lease to run the Chicago Skyway, the $2 toll to drive the 8-mile road immediately jumped by 25% and is scheduled to be $5 within a decade. That's $10 a day for just one short stretch of your commute. Similarly, last year's Cintra-MIG deal to take over the Indiana Toll Road came with a neat doubling of the tolls, plus allowing the consortium to raise rates every year after 2010 by 2% or the rate of inflation -- whichever is higher.

When corporations and their political enablers first push a privatization scheme on a state or city, they invariably claim that it will be in the public interest because "everyone knows" that corporations are more efficient than government. Ah, yes, we've seen the "efficiencies" of the Halliburtons, the big HMOs, and that ilk.

The reality is that the corporate operator not only has to cover the fixed costs of operating a road system, but it also must satisfy its shareholders with ever-expanding profits, cover the exorbitant pay levels of its top executives, and add in the enormous overhead of its own bureaucracy, including its marble headquarters, advertising budget, lobbyists, and so forth. What's "efficient" about these deals is that corporate operators can freely raise our tolls to cover their inherent inefficiencies.

Third, if a free-wheeling ability to jack up tolls is not enough to fatten the investors' bottom line, corporations receive two other advantages that the privatizers don't like to mention. The new operators receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, and instead of staffing the system with full-time public employees getting decent wages and benefits, these private operators shift to low-wage, parttime workers with no benefits. So taxpayers subsidize the conversion to "free enterprise," and the reward to the community is worse jobs than it had before. What a deal!

Fourth, the profits are astronomical. As a Wisconsin transportation official reminds us, "The private sector's legal responsibility to its shareholders is to make money -- profit is their purpose. [Privatization] is all about money." And lots of it. Business Week magazine notes that Cintra-MIG's investment in the Indiana Toll Road "could break even in year 15 of the 75-year lease, on the way to reaping as much as $21 billion in profits." In sum, the state of Indiana got $3.8 billion in exchange for inflicting much higher tolls on its citizens, thus producing $21 billion in profits that will benefit a handful of foreign investors rather than the Indiana people.

Banks always get theirs

The big investment banks and capital funds have sniffed the fecund possibilities of enormous fees and profits to be had in this game, and they are pushing their way into it with the exuberance of bank robbers tunneling into an unguarded vault. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, the Carlyle Group, and others are not only raking in fees as financial advisors to both the sellers and buyers of these assets, but also piling up cash from wealthy investors to put into infrastructure deals.

Wait. Doesn't the dual role of advisor and investor pose conflicts of interest? Of course! Mother Jones reports that while Goldman Sachs was advising Indiana officials on selling rights to the state's toll road, it didn't mention that it was also putting together a private infrastructure investment fund to get part of the action, meaning Goldman had a financial interest in getting Indiana to sell the roads as cheaply as possible. You see, in deals this big, the first thing that bankers do is to drag ethical considerations into a back room and strangle them.

A Morgan Stanley banker estimates that around the world, some 30 special funds are now amassing a total of $500 billion in capital to buy U.S. public assets. At the same time, bankers are roaming from statehouse to statehouse to persuade officials to sell. Mark Florian, a Goldman Sachs executive who has become Wall Street's happy huckster of privatization deals, says he has personally visited top officials in more than 35 states to "help spur the market."

Laissez-faire ideologues are not bothered either by conflicts of interest or by any concerns about the public interest. They view our roads, airports, and such strictly as commodities that should be put on the market for the enrichment of wealthy investors. As Florian puts it, "There's a lot of value trapped in these assets."

A raw deal

For those of us without the wealth to profit from privatization, this is a mighty rocky road to travel. Instead of providing universal public service, our prime transportation routes will be priced at what the market will bear. Working stiffs, small businesses (from truckers to maid services), and others -- the majority -- will be economically burdened or forced onto clogged side roads.

We'll also be giving up any semblance of democratic control, ceding decision making over fundamentally public matters to selfinterested private executives cloistered inside board rooms. With long-term leases, decisions about major repairs or expansion 10, 20, or 30 years from now will rest not on public need, but on what will make the most profit for the shareholders. The corporation can refuse to add lanes, can raise tolls to do so, or can even sell its lease to another party that might choose to cover its cost of purchase by lowering the quality of service.

What we're losing here is the whole idea of public purpose. This is our commonly shared infrastructure we're talking about, and it's more valuable than money. For example, privatizers estimate that the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge is worth $3.4 billion to investors. But that's its price -- not its value. That bridge embodies community identity, history, aesthetics, unity, service, and purpose.

These are the people's assets -- belonging not just to all of us here today, but to those who went before and to all those yet to come. Politicians need to know that these are not "theirs" to sell, that no one can "own" our public assets as their private property. By politicians, I mean Democrats as well as Bushites. It's Democrats who're running the fire sales in Chicago, it was a Democrat -- Rep. Chaka Fattah -- who ran for mayor of Philadelphia on a plan to privatize the city's airport (he lost), and it's Democratic Governor Jon Corzine (a former CEO of Goldman Sachs) who has pushed the sale of New Jersey's major highways.

This abandonment of the public trust and the common good is a leadership issue of Rooseveltian proportions, yet no one running for president has made a peep about it. If they did, they'd tap into a rich reserve of public resentment against the rip-off deals, the profiteering, and the very principle of selling what is ours. Where are the Rooseveltian Democrats who'll stand up to the profiteers and rally the people to reclaim and reinvest in our public infrastructure? We can't wait on the pols to come to us. Check our Do Something box in this issue ... and go to them.
clipped from www.alternet.org

Wait, There Actually Is a Bridge in Brooklyn You Can Sell Me?

By Jim Hightower, Hightower Lowdown
Posted on July 23, 2007, Printed on July 23, 2007

Will Rogers sometimes tucked little moral messages into his one-liners. For example: "I'd rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the one who sold it."

The gullibility of anyone who thinks it's possible to buy the Brooklyn Bridge is an old punch line, but today the joke is on us.

What's at work here is a convergence of gutless politicians, right-wing ideological fantasizers, conniving investment bankers, and raw corporate greed.
Public infrastructure -- long considered the stodgiest of investments -- suddenly has a financial allure surpassing anything since the California Gold Rush, with corporate powers from all over the globe hustling to get pieces of the action.
What's "efficient" about these deals is that corporate operators can freely raise our tolls to cover their inherent inefficiencies.
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Sunday, July 22, 2007

I Did Have Sexual Relations With That Woman

Oh !! The hypocrisy of it all !
Here's the entire post of Frank Rich's column. Note that everyone of his reference's to hypocritical people, places, and things is linked so you can check it out for yourself. This is not just about some stupid sex scandal. It's about how the Bush administration has chosen unrealistic ideology over realistic human conditions. It's about how the rediculous religious right in this country has been in the driver seat of our governments policy toward a failed war on sex. It has hurt more than helped. It has failed because it is short-sighted and stupid! All the crap we've been hearing from the pious politicians is just that.....crap! Or to put it another way, it is "Cocka-de-toro"..... maybe even "Miranda-de-toro", or since my English is much better than my Spanish, you might want to call it "Shit from the bull".... or to put it another way...... "Bullshit!"
Below is the full post.
The New York Times
July 22, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
I Did Have Sexual Relations With That Woman

IT’S not just the resurgence of Al Qaeda that is taking us back full circle to the fateful first summer of the Bush presidency. It’s the hot sweat emanating from Washington. Once again the capital is titillated by a scandal featuring a member of Congress, a woman who is not his wife and a rumor of crime. Gary Condit, the former Democratic congressman from California, has passed the torch of below-the-Beltway sleaziness to David Vitter, an incumbent (as of Friday) Republican senator from Louisiana.

Mr. Vitter briefly faced the press to explain his “very serious sin,” accompanied by a wife who might double for the former Mrs. Jim McGreevey. He had no choice once snoops hired by the avenging pornographer Larry Flynt unearthed his number in the voluminous phone records of the so-called D.C. Madam, now the subject of a still-young criminal investigation. Newspapers back home also linked the senator to a defunct New Orleans brothel, a charge Mr. Vitter denies. That brothel’s former madam, while insisting he had been a client, was one of his few defenders last week. “Just because people visit a whorehouse doesn’t make them a bad person,” she helpfully told the Baton Rouge paper, The Advocate.

Mr. Vitter is not known for being so forgiving a soul when it comes to others’ transgressions. Even more than Mr. Condit, who once co-sponsored a bill calling for the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, Mr. Vitter is a holier-than-thou family-values panderer. He recruited his preteen children for speaking roles in his campaign ads and, terrorism notwithstanding, declared that there is no “more important” issue facing America than altering the Constitution to defend marriage.

But hypocrisy is a hardy bipartisan perennial on Capitol Hill, and hardly news. This scandal may leave a more enduring imprint. It comes with a momentous pedigree. Mr. Vitter first went to Washington as a young congressman in 1999, to replace Robert Livingston, the Republican leader who had been anointed to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House. Mr. Livingston’s seat had abruptly become vacant after none other than Mr. Flynt outed him for committing adultery. Since we now know that Mr. Gingrich was also practicing infidelity back then — while leading the Clinton impeachment crusade, no less — the Vitter scandal can be seen as the culmination of an inexorable sea change in his party.

And it is President Bush who will be left holding the bag in history. As the new National Intelligence Estimate confirms the failure of the war against Al Qaeda and each day of quagmire signals the failure of the war in Iraq, so the case of the fallen senator from the Big Easy can stand as an epitaph for a third lost war in our 43rd president’s legacy: the war against sex.

During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush and his running mate made a point of promising to “set an example for our children” and to “uphold the honor and the dignity of the office.” They didn’t just mean that there would be no more extramarital sex in the White House. As a matter of public policy, abstinence was in; abortion rights, family planning and homosexuality were out. Mr. Bush’s Federal Communications Commission stood ready to punish the networks for four-letter words and wardrobe malfunctions. The surgeon general was forbidden to mention condoms or the morning-after pill.

To say that this ambitious program has fared no better than the creation of an Iraqi unity government is an understatement. The sole lasting benchmark to be met in the Bush White House’s antisex agenda was the elevation of anti-Roe judges to the federal bench. Otherwise, Sodom and Gomorrah are thrashing the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition day and night.

The one federal official caught on the D.C. Madam’s phone logs ahead of Mr. Vitter, Randall Tobias, was a Bush State Department official whose tasks had included enforcing a prostitution ban on countries receiving AIDS aid. Last month Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network succeeded in getting a federal court to throw out the F.C.C.’s “indecency” fines. Polls show unchanging majority support for abortion rights and growing support for legal recognition of same-sex unions exemplified by Mary Cheney’s.

Most amazing is the cultural makeover of Mr. Bush’s own party. The G.O.P. that began the century in the thrall of Rick Santorum, Bill Frist and George Allen has become the brand of Mark Foley and Mr. Vitter. Not a single Republican heavyweight showed up at Jerry Falwell’s funeral. Younger evangelical Christians, who may care more about protecting the environment than policing gay people, are up for political grabs.

Nowhere is this cultural revolution more visible — or more fun to watch — than in the G.O.P. campaign for the White House. Forty years late, the party establishment is finally having its own middle-aged version of the summer of love, and it’s a trip. The co-chairman of John McCain’s campaign in Florida has been charged with trying to solicit gay sex from a plainclothes police officer. Over at YouTube, viewers are flocking to a popular new mock-music video in which “Obama Girl” taunts her rival: “Giuliani Girl, you stop your fussin’/ At least Obama didn’t marry his cousin.”

As Margery Eagan, a columnist at The Boston Herald, has observed, even the front-runners’ wives are getting into the act, trying to one-up one another with displays of what she described as their “ample and aging” cleavage. The décolletage primary was kicked off early this year by the irrepressible Judith Giuliani, who posed for Harper’s Bazaar giving her husband a passionate kiss. “I’ve always liked strong, macho men,” she said. This was before we learned she had married two such men, not one, before catching the eye of America’s Mayor at Club Macanudo, an Upper East Side cigar bar, while he was still married to someone else.

Whatever the ultimate fate of Rudy Giuliani’s campaign, it is the straw that stirs the bubbling brew that is the post-Bush Republican Party. The idea that a thrice-married, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights candidate is holding on as front-runner is understandably driving the G.O.P.’s increasingly marginalized cultural warriors insane. Not without reason do they fear that he is in the vanguard of a new Republican age of Addams-family values and moral relativism. Once a truculent law-and-order absolutist, Mr. Giuliani has even shrugged off the cocaine charges leveled against his departed South Carolina campaign chairman, the state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, as a “highly personal” matter.

The religious right’s own favorite sons, Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, are no more likely to get the nomination than Ron Paul or, for that matter, RuPaul. The party’s faith-based oligarchs are getting frantic. Disregarding a warning from James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who said in March that he didn’t consider Fred Thompson a Christian, they desperately started fixating on the former Tennessee senator as their savior. When it was reported this month that Mr. Thompson had worked as a lobbyist for an abortion rights organization in the 1990s, they credulously bought his denials and his spokesman’s reassurance that “there’s no documents to prove it, no billing records.” Last week The New York Times found the billing records.

No one is stepping more boldly into this values vacuum than Mitt Romney. In contrast to Mr. Giuliani, the former Massachusetts governor has not only disowned his past as a social liberal but is also running as a paragon of moral rectitude. He is even embracing one of the more costly failed Bush sex initiatives, abstinence education, just as states are abandoning it for being ineffective. He never stops reminding voters that he is the only top-tier candidate still married to his first wife.

In a Web video strikingly reminiscent of the Vitter campaign ads, the entire multigenerational Romney brood gathers round to enact their wholesome Christmas festivities. Last week Mr. Romney unveiled a new commercial decrying American culture as “a cesspool of violence, and sex, and drugs, and indolence, and perversions.” Unlike Mr. Giuliani, you see, he gets along with his children, and unlike Mr. Thompson, he has never been in bed with the perverted Hollywood responsible for the likes of “Law & Order.”

There are those who argue Mr. Romney’s campaign is doomed because he is a Mormon, a religion some voters regard almost as suspiciously as Scientology, but two other problems may prove more threatening to his candidacy. The first is that in American public life piety always goeth before a fall. There had better not be any skeletons in his closet. Already Senator Brownback has accused Mr. Romney of pushing hard-core pornography because of his close association with (and large campaign contributions from) the Marriott family, whose hotel chain has prospered mightily from its X-rated video menu.

The other problem is more profound: Mr. Romney is swimming against a swift tide of history in both culture and politics. Just as the neocons had their moment in power in the Bush era and squandered it in Iraq, so the values crowd was handed its moment of ascendancy and imploded in debacles ranging from Terri Schiavo to Ted Haggard to David Vitter. By this point it’s safe to say that even some Republican primary voters are sick enough of their party’s preacher politicians that they’d consider hitting a cigar bar or two with Judith Giuliani.
clipped from select.nytimes.com

I Did Have Sexual Relations With That Woman
Published: July 22, 2007
“Just because people visit a whorehouse doesn’t make them a bad person,” she helpfully told the Baton Rouge paper, The Advocate.
Mr. Vitter is not known for being so forgiving a soul when it comes to others’ transgressions. Even more than Mr. Condit, who once co-sponsored a bill calling for the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, Mr. Vitter is a holier-than-thou family-values panderer. He recruited his preteen children for speaking roles in his campaign ads and, terrorism notwithstanding, declared that there is no “more important” issue facing America than altering the Constitution to defend marriage.
the case of the fallen senator from the Big Easy can stand as an epitaph for a third lost war in our 43rd president’s legacy: the war against sex.
it’s safe to say that even some Republican primary voters are sick enough of their party’s preacher politicians
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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Neocons on a Cruise


Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening

By Johann Hari, Independent UK
Posted on July 17, 2007, Printed on July 18, 2007

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she says. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."

I am getting used to these moments - when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into… what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."

I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino - and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been "an amazing success". Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, "If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them." And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review - the bible of American conservatism - organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. Mostly, I just tried to blend in - and find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

From sweet to suicide bomber

I arrive at the dockside in San Diego on Saturday afternoon and stare up at the Oosterdam, our home for the next seven days. Filipino boat hands are loading trunks into the hull and wealthy white folk are gliding onto its polished boards with pale sun parasols dangling off their arms.

The Reviewers have been told to gather for a cocktail reception on the Lido, near the very top of the ship. I arrive to find a tableau from Gone With the Wind, washed in a thousand shades of grey. Southern belles - aged and pinched - are flirting with old conservative warriors. The etiquette here is different from anything I have ever seen. It takes me 15 minutes to realise what is wrong with this scene. There are no big hugs, no warm kisses. This is a place of starchy handshakes. Men approach each other with stiffened spines, puffed-out chests and crunching handshakes. Women are greeted with a single kiss on the cheek. Anything more would be French.

I adjust and stiffly greet the first man I see. He is a judge, with the craggy self-important charm that slowly consumes any judge. He is from Canada, he declares (a little more apologetically), and is the founding president of "Canadians Against Suicide Bombing". Would there be many members of "Canadians for Suicide Bombing?" I ask. Dismayed, he suggests that yes, there would.

A bell rings somewhere, and we are all beckoned to dinner. We have been assigned random seats, which will change each night. We will, the publicity pack promises, each dine with at least one National Review speaker during our trip.

To my left, I find a middle-aged Floridian with a neat beard. To my right are two elderly New Yorkers who look and sound like late-era Dorothy Parkers, minus the alcohol poisoning. They live on Park Avenue, they explain in precise Northern tones. "You must live near the UN building," the Floridian says to one of the New York ladies after the entree is served. Yes, she responds, shaking her head wearily. "They should suicide-bomb that place," he says. They all chuckle gently. How did that happen? How do you go from sweet to suicide-bomb in six seconds?

The conversation ebbs back to friendly chit-chat. So, you're a European, one of the Park Avenue ladies says, before offering witty commentaries on the cities she's visited. Her companion adds, "I went to Paris, and it was so lovely." Her face darkens: "But then you think - it's surrounded by Muslims." The first lady nods: "They're out there, and they're coming." Emboldened, the bearded Floridian wags a finger and says, "Down the line, we're not going to bail out the French again." He mimes picking up a phone and shouts into it, "I can't hear you, Jacques! What's that? The Muslims are doing what to you? I can't hear you!"

Now that this barrier has been broken - everyone agrees the Muslims are devouring the French, and everyone agrees it's funny - the usual suspects are quickly rounded up. Jimmy Carter is "almost a traitor". John McCain is "crazy" because of "all that torture". One of the Park Avenue ladies declares that she gets on her knees every day to " thank God for Fox News". As the wine reaches the Floridian, he announces, "This cruise is the best money I ever spent."

They rush through the Rush-list of liberals who hate America, who want her to fail, and I ask them - why are liberals like this? What's their motivation? They stutter to a halt and there is a long, puzzled silence. " It's a good question," one of them, Martha, says finally. I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation. "There have always been intellectuals who want to tell people how to live," Martha adds, to an almost visible sense of relief. That's it - the intellectuals! They are not like us. Dave changes the subject, to wash away this moment of cognitive dissonance. "The liberals don't believe in the constitution. They don't believe in what the founders wanted - a strong executive," he announces, to nods. A Filipino waiter offers him a top-up of his wine, and he mock-whispers to me, "They all look the same! Can you tell them apart?" I stare out to sea. How long would it take me to drown?

"We're doing an excellent job killing them."

The Vista Lounge is a Vegas-style showroom, with glistening gold edges and the desperate optimism of an ageing Cha-Cha girl. Today, the scenery has been cleared away - "I always sit at the front in these shows to see if the girls are really pretty and on this ship they are ug-lee," I hear a Reviewer mutter - and our performers are the assorted purveyors of conservative show tunes, from Podhoretz to Steyn. The first of the trip's seminars is a discussion intended to exhume the conservative corpse and discover its cause of death on the black, black night of 7 November, 2006, when the treacherous Democrats took control of the US Congress.

There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realise exactly what it is. All the tropes that conservatives usually deny in public - that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich - are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" the writer Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

The panel nods, but it doesn't want to stray from Iraq. Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's one-time nominee to the Supreme Court, mumbles from beneath low-hanging jowls: "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them."

Then, with a judder, the panel runs momentarily aground. Rich Lowry, the preppy, handsome 38-year-old editor of National Review, says, "The American public isn't concluding we're losing in Iraq for any irrational reason. They're looking at the cold, hard facts." The Vista Lounge is, as one, perplexed. Lowry continues, "I wish it was true that, because we're a superpower, we can't lose. But it's not."

No one argues with him. They just look away, in the same manner that people avoid glancing at a crazy person yelling at a bus stop. Then they return to hyperbole and accusations of treachery against people like their editor. The ageing historian Bernard Lewis - who was deputed to stiffen Dick Cheney's spine in the run-up to the war - declares, "The election in the US is being seen by [the bin Ladenists] as a victory on a par with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should be prepared for whatever comes next." This is why the guests paid up to $6,000. This is what they came for. They give him a wheezing, stooping ovation and break for coffee.

A fracture-line in the lumbering certainty of American conservatism is opening right before my eyes. Following the break, Norman Podhoretz and William Buckley - two of the grand old men of the Grand Old Party - begin to feud. Podhoretz will not stop speaking - "I have lots of ex-friends on the left; it looks like I'm going to have some ex-friends on the right, too," he rants -and Buckley says to the chair, " Just take the mike, there's no other way." He says it with a smile, but with heavy eyes.

Podhoretz and Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at wholly different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who travelled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling grey ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims: "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria … This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and " thank God" for that.

Buckley is an urbane old reactionary, drunk on doubts. He founded the National Review in 1955 - when conservatism was viewed in polite society as a mental affliction - and he has always been sceptical of appeals to " the people," preferring the eternal top-down certainties of Catholicism. He united with Podhoretz in mutual hatred of Godless Communism, but, slouching into his eighties, he possesses a world view that is ill-suited for the fight to bring democracy to the Muslim world. He was a ghostly presence on the cruise at first, appearing only briefly to shake a few hands. But now he has emerged, and he is fighting.

"Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War I, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this " rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning." The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward". His wife nods and says, " Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

I decide to track down Buckley and Podhoretz separately and ask them for interviews. Buckley is sitting forlornly in his cabin, scribbling in a notebook. In 2005, at an event celebrating National Review's 50th birthday, President Bush described today's American conservatives as "Bill's children". I ask him if he feels like a parent whose kids grew up to be serial killers. He smiles slightly, and his blue eyes appear to twinkle. Then he sighs, "The answer is no. Because what animated the conservative core for 40 years was the Soviet menace, plus the rise of dogmatic socialism. That's pretty well gone."

This does not feel like an optimistic defence of his brood, but it's a theme he returns to repeatedly: the great battles of his life are already won. Still, he ruminates over what his old friend Ronald Reagan would have made of Iraq. "I think the prudent Reagan would have figured here, and the prudent Reagan would have shunned a commitment of the kind that we are now engaged in… I think he would have attempted to find some sort of assurance that any exposure by the United States would be exposure to a challenge the dimensions of which we could predict." Lest liberals be too eager to adopt the Gipper as one of their own, Buckley agrees approvingly that Reagan's approach would have been to "find a local strongman" to rule Iraq.

A few floors away, Podhoretz tells me he is losing his voice, "which will make some people very happy". Then he croaks out the standard-issue Wolfowitz line about how, after September 11, the United States had to introduce democracy to the Middle East in order to change the political culture that produced the mass murderers. For somebody who declares democracy to be his goal, he is remarkably blasé about the fact that 80 per cent of Iraqis want US troops to leave their country, according to the latest polls. "I don't much care," he says, batting the question away. He goes on to insist that "nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo" and that Bush is "a hero". He is, like most people on this cruise, certain the administration will attack Iran.

Podhoretz excitedly talks himself into a beautiful web of words, vindicating his every position. He fumes at Buckley, George Will and the other apostate conservatives who refuse to see sense. He announces victory. And for a moment, here in the Mexican breeze, it is as though a thousand miles away Baghdad is not bleeding. He starts hacking and coughing painfully. I offer to go to the ship infirmary and get him some throat sweets, and - locked in eternal fighter-mode - he looks thrown, as though this is an especially cunning punch. Is this random act of kindness designed to imbalance him? " I'm fine," he says, glancing contemptuously at the Bill Buckley book I am carrying. "I'll keep on shouting through the soreness."

The Ghosts of Conservatism Past

The ghosts of Conservatism past are wandering this ship. From the pool, I see John O'Sullivan, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. And one morning on the deck I discover Kenneth Starr, looking like he has stepped out of a long-forgotten 1990s news bulletin waving Monica's stained blue dress. His face is round and unlined, like an immense, contented baby. As I stare at him, all my repressed bewilderment rises, and I ask - Mr Starr, do you feel ashamed that, as Osama bin Laden plotted to murder American citizens, you brought the American government to a stand-still over a few consensual blow jobs? Do you ever lie awake at night wondering if a few more memos on national security would have reached the President's desk if he wasn't spending half his time dealing with your sexual McCarthyism?

He smiles through his teeth and - in his soft somnambulant voice - says in perfect legalese, "I am entirely at rest with the process. The House of Representatives worked its will, the Senate worked its will, the Chief Justice of the United States presided. The constitutional process worked admirably."

It's an oddly meek defence, and the more I challenge him, the more legalistic he becomes. Every answer is a variant on "it's not my fault" . First, he says Clinton should have settled early on in Jones vs Clinton. Then he blames Jimmy Carter. "This critique really should be addressed to the now-departed, moribund independent counsel provisions. The Ethics and Government [provisions] ushered in during President Carter's administration has an extraordinarily low threshold for launching a special prosecutor…"

Enough - I see another, more intriguing ghost. Ward Connerly is the only black person in the National Review posse, a 67-year-old Louisiana-born businessman, best known for leading conservative campaigns against affirmative action for black people. Earlier, I heard him saying the Republican Party has been "too preoccupied with… not ticking off the blacks", and a cooing white couple wandered away smiling, "If he can say it, we can say it." What must it be like to be a black man shilling for a magazine that declared at the height of the civil rights movement that black people "tend to revert to savagery", and should be given the vote only "when they stop eating each other"?

I drag him into the bar, where he declines alcohol. He tells me plainly about his childhood - his mother died when he was four, and he was raised by his grandparents - but he never really becomes animated until I ask him if it is true he once said, "If the KKK supports equal rights, then God bless them." He leans forward, his palms open. There are, he says, " those who condemn the Klan based on their past without seeing the human side of it, because they don't want to be in the wrong, politically correct camp, you know… Members of the Ku Klux Klan are human beings, American citizens - they go to a place to eat, nobody asks them 'Are you a Klansmember?', before we serve you here. They go to buy groceries, nobody asks, 'Are you a Klansmember?' They go to vote for Governor, nobody asks 'Do you know that that person is a Klansmember?' Only in the context of race do they ask that. And I'm supposed to instantly say, 'Oh my God, they are Klansmen? Geez, I don't want their support.'"

This empathy for Klansmen first bubbled into the public domain this year when Connerly was leading an anti-affirmative action campaign in Michigan. The KKK came out in support of him - and he didn't decline it. I ask if he really thinks it is possible the KKK made this move because they have become converted to the cause of racial equality. "I think that the reasoning that a Klan member goes through is - blacks are getting benefits that I'm not getting. It's reverse discrimination. To me it's all discrimination. But the Klansmen is going through the reasoning that this is benefiting blacks, they are getting things that I don't get… A white man doesn't have a chance in this country."

He becomes incredibly impassioned imagining how they feel, ventriloquising them with a shaking fist - "The Mexicans are getting these benefits, the coloureds or niggers, whatever they are saying, are getting these benefits, and I as a white man am losing my country."

But when I ask him to empathise with the black victims of Hurricane Katrina, he offers none of this vim. No, all Katrina showed was "the dysfunctionality that is evident in many black neighbourhoods," he says flatly, and that has to be "tackled by black people, not the government. " Ward, do you ever worry you are siding with people who would have denied you a vote - or would hang you by a rope from a tree?

"I don't gather strength from what others think - no at all," he says. "Whether they are in favour or opposed. I can walk down these halls and, say, a hundred people say, 'Oh we just adore you', and I'll be polite and I'll say 'thank you', but it doesn't register or have any effect on me." There is a gaggle of Reviewers waiting to tell him how refreshing it is to "finally" hear a black person "speaking like this". I leave him to their white, white garlands.

"You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why hasn't that happened already?"

The nautical counter-revolution has docked in the perfectly-yellow sands of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, and the Reviewers are clambering overboard into the Latino world they want to wall off behind a thousand-mile fence. They carry notebooks from the scribblings they made during the seminar teaching them "How To Shop in Mexico". Over breakfast, I forgot myself and said I was considering setting out to find a local street kid who would show me round the barrios - the real Mexico. They gaped. "Do you want to die?" one asked.

The Reviewers confine their Mexican jaunt to covered markets and walled-off private fortresses like the private Nikki Beach. Here, as ever, they want Mexico to be a dispenser of cheap consumer goods and lush sands - not a place populated by (uck) Mexicans. Dinesh D'Souza announced as we entered Mexican seas what he calls "D'Souza's law of immigration": " The quality of an immigrant is inversely proportional to the distance travelled to get to the United States."

In other words: Latinos suck.

I return for dinner with my special National Review guest: Kate O'Beirne. She's an impossibly tall blonde with the voice of a 1930s screwball star and the arguments of a 1890s Victorian patriarch. She inveighs against feminism and "women who make the world worse" in quick quips.

As I enter the onboard restaurant she is sitting among adoring Reviewers with her husband Jim, who announces that he is Donald Rumsfeld's personnel director. "People keep asking what I'm doing here, with him being fired and all," he says. "But the cruise has been arranged for a long time."

The familiar routine of the dinners - first the getting-to-know-you chit-chat, then some light conversational fascism - is accelerating. Tonight there is explicit praise for a fascist dictator before the entree has arrived. I drop into the conversation the news that there are moves in Germany to have Donald Rumsfeld extradited to face torture charges.

A red-faced man who looks like an egg with a moustache glued on grumbles, " If the Germans think they can take responsibility for the world, I don't care about German courts. Bomb them." I begin to witter on about the Pinochet precedent, and Kate snaps, "Treating Don Rumsfeld like Pinochet is disgusting." Egg Man pounds his fist on the table: " Treating Pinochet like that is disgusting. Pinochet is a hero. He saved Chile."

"Exactly," adds Jim. "And he privatised social security."

The table nods solemnly and then they march into the conversation - the billion-strong swarm of swarthy Muslims who are poised to take over the world. Jim leans forward and says, "When I see these football supporters from England, I think - these guys aren't going to be told by PC elites to be nice to Muslims. You're going to get fascists rising up, aren't you? Why isn't that happening already?" Before I can answer, he is conquering the Middle East from his table, from behind a crème brûlée.

"The civilised countries should invade all the oil-owning places in the Middle East and run them properly. We won't take the money ourselves, but we'll manage it so the money isn't going to terrorists."

The idea that Europe is being "taken over" by Muslims is the unifying theme of this cruise. Some people go on singles cruises. Some go on ballroom dancing cruises. This is the "The Muslims Are Coming" cruise - drinks included. Because everyone thinks it. Everyone knows it. Everyone dreams it. And the man responsible is sitting only a few tables down: Mark Steyn.

He is wearing sunglasses on top of his head and a bright, bright shirt that fits the image of the disk jockey he once was. Sitting in this sea of grey, it has an odd effect - he looks like a pimp inexplicably hanging out with the apostles of colostomy conservatism.

Steyn's thesis in his new book, America Alone, is simple: The "European races" i.e., white people - "are too self-absorbed to breed," but the Muslims are multiplying quickly. The inevitable result will be " large-scale evacuation operations circa 2015" as Europe is ceded to al Qaeda and "Greater France remorselessly evolve[s] into Greater Bosnia."

He offers a light smearing of dubious demographic figures - he needs to turn 20 million European Muslims into more than 150 million in nine years, which is a lot of humping.

But facts, figures, and doubt are not on the itinerary of this cruise. With one or two exceptions, the passengers discuss "the Muslims" as a homogenous, sharia-seeking block - already with near-total control of Europe. Over the week, I am asked nine times - I counted - when I am fleeing Europe's encroaching Muslim population for the safety of the United States of America.

At one of the seminars, a panelist says anti-Americanism comes from both directions in a grasping pincer movement - "The Muslims condemn us for being decadent; the Europeans condemn us for not being decadent enough." Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz's wife, yells, "The Muslims are right, the Europeans are wrong!" And, instantly, Jay Nordlinger, National Review's managing editor and the panel's chair, says, " I'm afraid a lot of the Europeans are Muslim, Midge."

The audience cheers. Somebody shouts, "You tell 'em, Jay!" He tells 'em. Decter tells 'em. Steyn tells 'em.

On this cruise, everyone tells 'em - and, thanks to my European passport, tells me.

From cruise to cruise missiles?

I am back in the docks of San Diego watching these tireless champions of the overdog filter past and say their starchy, formal goodbyes. As Bernard Lewis disappears onto the horizon, I wonder about the connections between this cruise and the cruise missiles fired half a world away.

I spot the old lady from the sea looking for her suitcase, and stop to tell her I may have found a solution to her political worries about both Muslims and stem-cells.

"Couldn't they just do experiments on Muslim stem-cells?" I ask. " Hey - that's a great idea!" she laughs, and vanishes. Hillary-Ann stops to say she is definitely going on the next National Review cruise, to Alaska. "Perfect!" I yell, finally losing my mind.

"You can drill it as you go!" She puts her arms around me and says very sweetly, "We need you on every cruise."

As I turn my back on the ship for the last time, the Judge I met on my first night places his arm affectionately on my shoulder. "We have written off Britain to the Muslims," he says. "Come to America."

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/57001/
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Neocons on a Cruise: What Conservatives Say When They Think We Aren't Listening

Johann Hari, Independent UK. Posted July 17, 2007.

The Iraq war has been an amazing success, global warming is just a myth and Guantanamo Bay is practically a holiday camp. The annual cruise organized by the 'National Review,' mouthpiece of right-wing America, is a parallel universe populated by straight-talking, gun-toting, God-fearing Republicans.
"Do you have a child back in England?" she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe."
Of course, we need to execute some of these people,"
"Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."
find out what American conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren't listening.

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Native of the Philadelphia "Kensington and Alleganey" northeast area. I spent 4 years in the Air Force (Titan-II missles in Tuscon Arizona). I Am currently retired, and among other adventures I spent 28 years working for AT&T in Telecommunications. I've lived in Florida for 33 years....20 years in Hollywood Fla., and 13 years North Florida. I've been married 42 years, and am a proud father of three adult offspring. All of them contributing to society in a very useful and creative manner.