Sunday, December 31, 2006
But have you ever tried to spear a buffalo after a hard night at the old wassail bowl?
-- Gore Vidal, The Smithsonian Institution
There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class,
that's making war, and we're winning. --Warren Buffett
"The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of their tires." - Dorothy Parker
Louis Armstrong can say something with one note, but then there are
others who take an hour to rev up. . . and wind up with a fart in a
bathtub. - Musician John Kenneth Davern, who died recently
The chief product
of an automated society
is a widespread
and deepening sense of boredom.
— Cyril Parkinson
The truth about [America’s] past is not that it is too brief, or too superficial,
but only that we, having turned our faces so resolutely away from it,
have never demanded from it what it has to give.”
– James Baldwin, from Notes of a Native Son
"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid." -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, stays bought - Simon
Cameron, Lincoln's Secretary of War
I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government
had better get out of their way & let them have it - Dwight D.
The real events that influence our lives don't announce themselves with
brass trumpets but come softly, on the feet of doves. - Josephine
A doctor can bury his mistakes. An architect can only advise his clients
to plant vines. -- F. L. Wright
Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom - Soren Kiekegaard
"It is not the hand that signs the law that holds the destiny of America. It is the hand that casts the ballot." - Harry Truman
History is the sum total of the things they're not telling us. - Don
One must have some occupation nowadays. If I hadn't my debts I shouldn't
have anything to think about. - Oscar Wilde
The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of
the smallest censure and insatiable of praise. . . . They unceasingly
harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties they
fall to praising themselves. It would seem as if, doubting their own
merit, they wished to have it constantly exhibited before their eyes. -
Alexis de Tocqueville
Don't worry about avoiding temptation... as you grow older, it will
avoid you - Winston Churchill
1999 : Panama Canal turned over to Panama
On this day in 1999, the United States, in accordance
with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, officially hands
over control of the Panama Canal, putting the
strategic waterway into Panamanian hands for the first
time. Crowds of Panamanians celebrated the transfer of
the 50-mile canal, which links the Atlantic and
Pacific oceans and officially opened when the SS Arcon
sailed through on August 15, 1914. Since then, over
922,000 ships have used the canal.
Interest in finding a shortcut from the Atlantic to
the Pacific originated with explorers in Central America in the early 1500s. In 1523, Holy Roman
Emperor Charles V commissioned a survey of the Isthmus
of Panama and several plans for a canal were produced,
but none ever implemented. U.S. interest in building a
canal was sparked with the expansion of the American
West and the California gold rush in 1848. (Today, a
ship heading from New York to San Francisco can save
about 7,800 miles by taking the Panama Canal rather
than sailing around South America.)
In 1880 a French company run by the builder of the
Suez Canal started digging a canal across the Isthmus
of Panama (then a part of Colombia). More than 22,000
workers died from tropical diseases such as yellow
fever during this early phase of construction and the
company eventually went bankrupt, selling its project
rights to the United States in 1902 for $40 million.
President Theodore Roosevelt championed the canal,
viewing it as important to America's economic and
military interests. In 1903, Panama declared its
independence from Colombia in a U.S.-backed revolution
and the U.S. and Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla
Treaty, in which the U.S. agreed to pay Panama $10
million for a perpetual lease on land for the canal,
plus $250,000 annually in rent.
Over 56,000 people worked on the canal between 1904
and 1913 and over 5,600 lost their lives. When
finished, the canal, which cost the U.S. $375 million
to build, was considered a great engineering marvel
and represented America's emergence as a world power.
In 1977, responding to nearly 20 years of Panamanian
protest, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panama's
General Omar Torrijos signed two new treaties that
replaced the original 1903 agreement and called for a
transfer of canal control in 1999. The treaty,
narrowly ratified by the U.S. Senate, gave America the
ongoing right to defend the canal against any threats
to its neutrality. In October 2006, Panamanian voters
approved a $5.25 billion plan to double the canal's
size by 2015 to better accommodate modern ships.
Ships pay tolls to use the canal, based on each
vessel's size and cargo volume. In May 2006, the
Maersk Dellys paid a record toll of $249,165. The
smallest-ever toll--36 cents--was paid by Richard
Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928.
1922 : USSR established
In post-revolutionary Russia, the Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics (USSR) is established, comprising
a confederation of Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, and
the Transcaucasian Federation (divided in 1936 into
the Georgian, Azerbaijan, and Armenian republics).
Also known as the Soviet Union, the new communist
state was the successor to the Russian Empire and the
first country in the world to be based on Marxist
During the Russian Revolution of 1917 and subsequent
three-year Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik Party
under Vladimir Lenin dominated the soviet forces, a
coalition of workers' and soldiers' committees that
called for the establishment of a socialist state in
the former Russian Empire. In the USSR, all levels of
government were controlled by the Communist Party, and
the party's politburo, with its increasingly powerful
general secretary, effectively ruled the country.
Soviet industry was owned and managed by the state,
and agricultural land was divided into state-run
In the decades after it was established, the
Russian-dominated Soviet Union grew into one of the
world's most powerful and influential states and
eventually encompassed 15 republics--Russia, Ukraine,
Georgia, Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan,
Tajikistan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. In 1991,
the Soviet Union was dissolved following the collapse
of its communist government.
1890 : U.S. Army massacres Indians at Wounded Knee
On this day in 1890, in the final chapter of America's
long Indian wars, the U.S. Cavalry kills 146 Sioux at
Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
Throughout 1890, the U.S. government worried about the
increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance
spiritual movement, which taught that Indians had been
defeated and confined to reservations because they had
angered the gods by abandoning their traditional
customs. Many Sioux believed that if they practiced
the Ghost Dance and rejected the ways of the white
man, the gods would create the world anew and destroy
all non-believers, including non-Indians. On December
15, 1890, reservation police tried to arrest Sitting
Bull, the famous Sioux chief, who they mistakenly
believed was a Ghost Dancer, and killed him in the
process, increasing the tensions at Pine Ridge.
On December 29, the U.S. Army's 7th cavalry surrounded
a band of Ghost Dancers under the Sioux Chief Big Foot
near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender
their weapons. As that was happening, a fight broke
out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier and a shot
was fired, although it's unclear from which side. A
brutal massacre followed, in which it's estimated
almost 150 Indians were killed (some historians put
this number at twice as high), nearly half of them
women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men.
The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred
to as a battle, but in reality it was a tragic and
avoidable massacre. Surrounded by heavily armed
troops, it's unlikely that Big Foot's band would have
intentionally started a fight. Some historians
speculate that the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were
deliberately taking revenge for the regiment's defeat
at Little Bighorn in 1876. Whatever the motives, the
massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement and was the
last major confrontation in America's deadly war
against the Plains Indians.
Conflict came to Wounded Knee again in February 1973
when it was the site of a 71-day occupation by the
activist group AIM (American Indian Movement) and its
supporters, who were protesting the U.S. government's
mistreatment of Native Americans. During the
standoff, two Indians were killed, one federal marshal
was seriously wounded and numerous people were
1895 : First commercial movie screened
On this day in 1895, the world's first commercial
movie screening takes place at the Grand Cafe in
Paris. The film was made by Louis and Auguste Lumiere,
two French brothers who developed a camera-projector
called the Cinematographe. The Lumiere brothers
unveiled their invention to the public in March 1895
with a brief film showing workers leaving the Lumiere
factory. On December 28, the entrepreneurial siblings
screened a series of short scenes from everyday French
life and charged admission for the first time.
Movie technology has its roots in the early 1830s,
when Joseph Plateau of Belgium and Simon Stampfer of
Austria simultaneously developed a device called the
phenakistoscope, which incorporated a spinning disc
with slots through which a series of drawings could be
viewed, creating the effect of a single moving image.
The phenakistoscope, considered the precursor of
modern motion pictures, was followed by decades of
advances and in 1890, Thomas Edison and his assistant
William Dickson developed the first motion-picture
camera, called the Kinetograph. The next year, 1891,
Edison invented the Kinetoscope, a machine with a
peephole viewer that allowed one person to watch a
strip of film as it moved past a light.
In 1894, Antoine Lumiere, the father of Auguste
(1862-1954) and Louis (1864-1948), saw a demonstration
of Edison's Kinetoscope. The elder Lumiere was
impressed, but reportedly told his sons, who ran a
successful photographic plate factory in Lyon, France,
that they could come up with something better. Louis
Lumiere's Cinematographe, which was patented in 1895,
was a combination movie camera and projector that
could display moving images on a screen for an
audience. The Cinematographe was also smaller, lighter
and used less film than Edison's technology.
The Lumieres opened theaters (known as cinemas) in
1896 to show their work and sent crews of cameramen
around the world to screen films and shoot new
material. In America, the film industry quickly took
off. In 1896, Vitascope Hall, believed to be the first
theater in the U.S. devoted to showing movies, opened
in New Orleans. In 1909, The New York Times published
its first film review (of D.W. Griffith's "Pippa
Passes"), in 1911 the first Hollywood film studio
opened and in 1914, Charlie Chaplin made his
In addition to the Cinematographe, the Lumieres also
developed the first practical color photography
process, the Autochrome plate, which debuted in 1907.
1932 : Radio City Music Hall opens
At the height of the Great Depression, thousands turn
out for the opening of Radio City Music Hall, a
magnificent Art Deco theater in New York City. Radio
City Music Hall was designed as a palace for the
people, a place of beauty where ordinary people could
see high-quality entertainment. Since its 1932
opening, more than 300 million people have gone to
Radio City to enjoy movies, stage shows, concerts, and
Radio City Music Hall was the brainchild of the
billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who decided to
make the theater the cornerstone of the Rockefeller
Complex he was building in a formerly derelict
neighborhood in midtown Manhattan. The theater was
built in partnership with the Radio Corporation of
America (RCA) and designed by Donald Deskey. The
result was an Art Deco masterpiece of elegance and
grace constructed out of a diverse variety of
materials, including aluminum, gold foil, marble,
permatex, glass, and cork. Geometric ornamentation is
found throughout the theater, as is Deskey's central
theme of the "Progress of Man." The famous Great
Stage, measuring 60 feet wide and 100 feet long,
resembles a setting sun. Its sophisticated system of
hydraulic-powered elevators allowed spectacular
effects in staging, and many of its original
mechanisms are still in use today.
In its first four decades, Radio City Music Hall
alternated as a first-run movie theater and a site for
gala stage shows. More than 700 films have premiered
at Radio City Music Hall since 1933. In the late
1970s, the theater changed its format and began
staging concerts by popular music artists. The Radio
City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, which debuted
in 1933, draws more than a million people annually.
The show features the high-kicking Rockettes, a
precision dance troupe that has been a staple at Radio
City since the 1930s.
In 1999, the Hall underwent a seven-month, $70 million
restoration. Today, Radio City Music Hall remains the
largest indoor theater in the world.
t r u t h o u t | Columnist
Thursday 28 December 2006
The calendar pages of our collective history are dotted with a gloomy constellation of days marked in blood, in woe, and in regret. The assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy; that last, hurried helicopter flight from that last rooftop on that last day of our time in Vietnam; the day four lifeless little bodies were pulled from the rubble of a bombed church in Birmingham; the December morning when Pearl Harbor was transformed into a graveyard etched in infamy, the September morning when we all watched those proud Towers in Manhattan crumble and fall - these moments, and the others of like kind too vast in number to name, defined us and transformed us even as they left their scars.
Sometimes, when such a grim milestone passes, we can say to ourselves, yes, it was this terrible day that revealed and released the strength, courage and perseverance which came, in time, to define that moment. We can, with deserved pride, glory in the memory of our passage through those crucibles, confident in the hard-won knowledge that we all have the capacity to overcome any trial, and that surpassing good can be forged in the fires of sorrow and pain.
Too often, however, we come to remember a day of darkness as bereft, with empty hands and hollowed hearts, deprived of the chance or ability to do more than bow our heads and wish it could have been, somehow, different. It requires a long passage of time, in most instances, to allow the cold realities of such days to sink in, and to absorb the brutal totality of consequences we have been burdened to endure in the aftermath. Some moments linger, haunting us, seemingly beyond redemption or solace.
Worst of all, such days breed more days to match or surpass them. The wretched offspring of one malignant moment are birthed into our future, where they wait like deep chasms in a darkened road. Like Booth's bullet, they cut a swath through time itself, and no matter our efforts or exertions, we never seem quite able to reach a place where we are free from their damned and damnable power to do us harm.
On the twentieth day of this coming new year, we will mark the sixth anniversary of the moment George W. Bush stood before Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, raised his right hand into a bitter wind, and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
This, in the fullness of time, may well stand as such a day. Everything we have endured these last six years - the death, the horror, the fear, the anger - was born that afternoon in Washington, DC. We have already suffered myriad consequences because of it - the shame of Abu Ghraib; the lingering fear of blue skies and airplanes; the ebb tide of freedom as rights become privileges too easily withheld, the bottomless sorrow stitched into nearly three thousand folded American flags while taps played to the wind - and it is a bleak certainty that further suffering born on that day lies in wait.
Consider some other anniversaries we will mark in this new year.
February 5th will be the fourth anniversary of Colin Powell's presentation before the United Nations, in which he stated without equivocation that Saddam Hussein possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that could easily be delivered to terrorists for use against us. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, and all the bloody calamities to follow, became an inevitability on this day. It was not so much the presentation itself that sealed the deal - much of which was and remains laughably transparent - but Powell himself. Wreathed in the fawning adulation of the media establishment, the myth of his rectitude carried the day, thus damning untold thousands to death, suffering, and pain.
March 19th will likewise be the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, of "Shock and Awe," and of the moment a match was put to the fuse. Beyond the blood already spilled because of this day - blood like an ocean - is the carnage yet to come. Before much of this new year is gone, the only people still talking about "winning" in Iraq will be that small cadre of wretches who created this anniversary in the first place, whose monochromatic ideologies exploded an inescapable quagmire that will be generational in its impact upon us all.
May 1st will be the fourth anniversary of the day President Bush stood before an assembled gathering of servicemen and women on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to gleefully declare, under a bright banner reading "Mission Accomplished," that victory in Iraq had been achieved. Little needs to be said here, because the obvious grossness of some moments requires no further elaboration, except this: Of the nearly three thousand soldiers killed in Iraq, and the nearly 47,000 soldiers wounded in Iraq, only the barest fraction fell before the first of May 2003. All the rest have come in the long days, weeks, months, and years since that bright banner was unfurled.
December 17th will be the second anniversary of Bush's public confirmation that he had indeed authorized the National Security Agency to tap the telephones of countless American citizens - said taps having been undertaken without warrants. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, a law requiring these warrants to protect citizens against undue governmental intrusion, was discarded out of hand through these actions. Despite the fact that almost no requests for FISA warrants have ever been denied, and that the parameters for obtaining these warrants are so broad that they can be obtained even after the surveillance is underway, Bush and his people deemed the FISA requirements too restrictive. On this anniversary, we mark the moment when a president placed himself above the law by fiat and suffered no consequences - the moment when each and every one of us stepped deeper into the doomed, imprisoned shadow of Winston Smith.
These are but a small sampling of the moments, days, decisions, and consequences unleashed on January 20, 2001. Freighted with deadly potential, each of these was born that day, and each has itself become a singularity, a creator of mayhem and strife in its own right. As that first moment poisoned the potential of so many tomorrows, so now do these. The bomb that kills a child in Baghdad creates the father whose revenge will be gained by another's senseless death. The official lie that goes unchallenged clears a path for the deadlier lies to follow. A deliberate chip in the walls defending our rights is the perfect spot to lay in the pry bar, until the chip becomes a hole through which tyranny may pass with stunning ease.
Thus, the anniversaries of woe are compounded; consequences spawned by consequences, and a future once defined by hope is transformed into a territory of dread.
Yet, in spite of all the horrors arrayed before us, even as our uncertain future whispers its omens of grief from an unfathomable darkness, there is a simple and unassailable truth standing sentinel against despair. We are that truth - all of us, every one. We are a defiant counterweight that can tip the scales of history. The wellspring of limitless possibility and potential that is humanity's astonishing birthright bestows upon each of us the means to be the alchemists of our own fate.
You are the bulwark, as this new year approaches: a defining line between the possible and the inevitable. The terrible moments of our past reach out to define our future, to create new anniversaries of mourning from the old. Only your will can keep this beast at bay. If you choose to, if you summon the courage and strength and perseverance that have served us well so many times before, the momentum of that cold January day and all the days that followed will be checked.
You are stronger than history, if you choose to be so. The future is yours to create, if you choose to do so. The moments to come are yours. Let nothing and no one steal them from you. Guard them with your life, because that is exactly what they are.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.
wasn't here." - at the President's Economic Forum in Waco, Texas, Aug.
"We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a
nation that suffers from incredible disease." - Gothenburg, Sweden, June
"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a
literacy test.'' - Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001
"I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's
moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are
probably read the news themselves." - Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2003
"I'm the commander - see, I don't need to explain - I do not need to
explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being
president." - quoted in Bob Woodward's Bush at War
"I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters
and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport." - Washington,
D.C., Oct. 3, 2001
"Do you have blacks, too?" - to Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso,
Washington, D.C., Nov. 8, 2001
"This foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating." - as quoted by the
New York Daily News, April 23, 2002
"It is white." - after being asked by a child in Britain what the White
House was like, July 19, 2001
"I couldn't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy
of Hanukkah." - at a White House menorah lighting ceremony, Washington,
D.C., Dec. 10, 2001
"I'm the master of low expectations." - aboard Air Force One, June 4,
"People say, how can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight
evil? You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in's
house and say I love you." -Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2002
"I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I
could plan for it…I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the
midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come
up with answer, but it hadn't yet. . . - President George W. Bush,
after being asked to name the biggest mistake he had made, Washington,
D.C., April 3, 2004
- "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that
economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - radio
address, Feb. 24, 2001
- "I try to go for longer runs, but it's tough around here at the White
House on the outdoor track. It's sad that I can't run longer. It's one
of the saddest things about the presidency." -interview with "Runners
World," Aug. 2002
- "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." -
to a group of Amish he met with privately, July 9, 2004
-. "There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably
in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me
- you can't get fooled again." - Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
-. "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs
aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."
- Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004
- "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never
stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and
neither do we." -ashington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004
FIFTY BEST QUOTES
~Compiled by Daniel Kurtzman
has snapped free from Canada's Arctic, leaving a trail of icy boulders
floating in its wake. The mass of ice broke clear from the coast of
Ellesmere Island, about 800 kilometres south of the North Pole. Warwick
Vincent of Laval University, who studies Arctic conditions, travelled to
the newly formed ice island and couldn't believe what he saw. "It was
extraordinary," Vincent said Thursday, adding that in 10 years of
working in the region he has never seen such a dramatic loss of sea ice.
"This is a piece of Canadian geography that no longer exists.". . .
Scientists say it is the largest event of its kind in 30 years and point
their fingers at climate change as a major contributing factor.
GREEN CAR CONGRESS - China's Ministry of Science and Technology and six
other ministries jointly issued a preliminary report on the country's
first national assessment of climate change and its impacts. . .
According to the report, China's average annual temperature will
increase between 1.3° and 2.1° C by 2020. By the middle of the century,
average temperatures will rise by as much as 3.3° C and by 2100 by as
much as 6° C. . .
WALL STREET JOURNAL - Sen. Tim Johnson remained in critical condition as
he turned 60, but a neurosurgeon at George Washington University
Hospital said his "overall general medical condition has improved and he
is gradually being weaned from the sedation." Johnson had surgery Dec.
13 to stop a hemorrhage in his brain. His health has been an issue
because Democrats hold only a slim majority in the new Senate.
BOSTON GLOBE - Tom Andrews, the Maine congressman-turned-anti-war
activist who heads a national coalition that opposed the invasion of
Iraq, says the group plans to step up efforts to get the new Democratic
Congress to bring the troops home. Andrews, the national director of
the Win Without War coalition, said the group plans to lobby members of
Congress, hold special events, organize via the Internet and place
advertisements to help mobilize public opinion.
AP - Authorities are trying to figure out how dozens of pieces of
luggage belonging to international air travelers ended up in a trash bin
behind a Houston pet store. FBI Special Agent Rolando Munoz said 68
pieces of luggage from various international flights were discovered. He
said the luggage was turned over to Continental Airlines to sort out. .
. Sgt. Dana Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Sheriff's Office,
which first responded to the luggage report, said tags on the bags
showed some of the travelers were going to or from London and Dubai. . .
Investigators said some of the luggage had been opened and had valuables
removed, according to KPRC
SAY UNCLE - It's that time of year where The Brady Campaign to Prevent
Gun Ownership issues its grades. . . Since 2001, [right to carry]
states, where more people carry guns in public, consistently average a
"D". Brady continues to be unhappy with the country's direction
regarding gun control: between 2001 and 2005, RTC states increased from
32 to 38 and Brady downgrade the U.S. average from "C-" to a "D+." Their
response is curious, since the national violent crime rate fell 7.0%
during this time frame. Even worse for Brady, violent crime trends are
not spread equally across all states. RTC states (average Brady grade
"D") saw an aggregate 7.8% drop in violent crime, while non-RTC states
(average Brady grade "B") saw a 5.2% decrease.
DOUGLAS FISCHER - A look back across 500 years' worth of wildfire
history shows fire season intensity across Western North America
increases in direct proportion to, of all things, surface temperatures
of the North Atlantic Ocean. Given that the Atlantic warms and cools in
60-year cycles and the ocean is entering its next warm phase,
researchers predict a decades-long increase in widespread fires across
the Western United States in the coming years. And global warming only
will exacerbate that trend, the scientists say.
DEAN BAKER - The Financial Times reports that the value of euro notes in
circulation worldwide now exceeds the value of dollar notes. This should
tell us two things. First, the dollar is not essential to world finance.
People are happy to hold euros and other currencies, no one needs to
hold dollars. Second, the euro passing the dollar is not some sort of
cataclysmic event. As long as people still have faith in the basic
soundness of the dollar, they will be happy to hold it, even if it
slides to number 2 by some measures. Of course, if investors become
convinced that the currency is on a downward path, then it could lead to
a serious run. In short, the world does not need the dollar, but it is
also not anxious to throw it in the toilet, or at least not yet.
BLACK AND WHITE IN FRONTIER MICHIGAN
EDWARDS USING NON-TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO CAMPAIGN
TOP GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS GO AFTER WATCHDOGS
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributor
Friday 29 December 2006
As we close this year on the low of a devastating conflict in Iraq and a president contemplating sending yet more troops to fight and die in an unwinnable war, let us not forget that it was a year of many positive gains for the progressive movement.
Here are just ten:
1. First, of course, is the November elections, when voters gave Republicans an "electoral thumpin'." From California's Jerry McNerney to Ohio's Sherrod Brown to Minnesota's Keith Ellison, Democrats all over the country won elections by slamming Bush's war. The collapse of one-party rule in Washington reflected a spectacular repudiation of George Bush and handed Congress a mandate to get out of Iraq.
2. Latino communities throughout the United States took center stage in the spring of 2006, putting May Day back on the map as a day of grassroots mobilizing. From high-school students to union members to community organizers, the spirit and energy of millions of immigrants demanding to be treated with dignity and respect took the nation by surprise. Immigrants not only carved out new political space, but in the age of e-activism, they breathed new life into the importance of "street heat."
3. After decades of dictating the rules of the global economy, World Trade Organization talks fell flat on their face in 2006. Activists the world over celebrated its collapse after years of work to sink this titanic tool of empire. The work to derail corporate-dominated trade policies is far from over, with bilateral free-trade agreements taking the place of the WTO. But the WTO and its model of globalization have been exposed as a dismal failure, and opposition continues to grow worldwide.
4. Bush opened 2006 with a State of the Union Address bemoaning our "addiction to oil"; 86 prominent evangelicals called global warming a moral issue; Al Gore educated millions with his film, "An Inconvenient Truth"; and Time magazine declared that earth is at a tipping point with melting ice, drought, wind, disease, and fires raging out of control. Historians may one day look back on 2006 as the "tipping-point" year when human societies - including the United States as the major superpower and the major polluter - woke up to the precarious state of our world and decided it was time to find solutions.
5. As a clear indicator of the shift from debating global warming to doing something about it, this year, California passed the nation's toughest legislation to curb greenhouse gases. The groundbreaking bill would require the state to cut back its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020: a reduction of approximately 25 percent. A smart politico, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, saw the green writing on the wall and joined the state's Democrats in setting a new environmental standard for the rest of the nation to follow.
6. In a year when Enron executives were found guilty of cooking the books, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for proving that poor people can be more reliable money managers than rich ones. Yunus's "microcredit movement" started out giving small loans to poor Bangladeshis, mostly women, and mushroomed into a worldwide movement that has extended small loans to millions of the world's poor. By awarding Yunus the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee not only recognized the credit-worthiness of the poor, but acknowledged that poverty is a threat to peace. As Yunus said in his acceptance speech, "I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy [for combating terrorism] than spending it on guns."
7. While the fighting between Israel and Lebanon left more than 1,000 dead, mostly Lebanese, a cease-fire was achieved after only 34 days. When the violence threatened to spiral out of control, the United Nations, the Arab League, and individual governments stepped forward to insist on negotiations, to hammer out a cease-fire agreement and to provide international peacekeeping forces to serve as monitors. What could have been a prolonged conflict with devastating consequences for the entire region was halted. The lessons that SHOULD have been learned when the powerful Israeli military was unable to "win" the conflict through force are that military aggression will not solve the deep-seated problems in the region, and that negotiations and peace processes can work.
8. Speaking of dialogue, Jimmy Carter, with his new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," took on the greatest taboo in US politics: the gross violation of Palestinian rights and the unqualified US government support for the Israeli government. Likening Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories to the racist white rule in South Africa, Carter has raised a firestorm of controversy. But finally, FINALLY, someone with the credentials of a statesman, a peacemaker and a friend of Israel is crying out against Israel's hellish treatment of Palestinians. The public is embracing his views: his book quickly became a best seller, and he has been greeted by enthusiastic crowds at appearances around the country. Hopefully, our elected officials will start listening as well.
9. In 2006, we managed to stop the next war from starting! With the US bogged down in Iraq and the public sick of war, it has been impossible for the Bush administration to launch an attack against another country, such as Iran or North Korea. The army doesn't have enough recruits to fight a new war, and politicians know it would be political suicide to reinstate the draft. Two major warmongers - Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton - were forced out of power. And with Bush obligated to appoint a new ambassador to the United Nations, perhaps diplomacy will come back into fashion.
10. Across Latin America, elections have continued to bring a wave of progressive leadership to power. With the victories of Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa, Nicaragua and Ecuador join Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and Brazil as governments committed to improving the lives of the majority. As a sign of the radical changes in the region, Bolivia's Evo Morales marked May 1 by nationalizing the country's oil and gas resources. "After today," he declared, "the hydrocarbons will belong to all Bolivians. Never again will they be in the hands of transnational corporations. Today the country - la patria - stands up."
So here's a toast to nations standing up to greedy transnationals; to people standing up to leaders who abuse their power, to humanity standing up to save the planet we inhabit - and to bringing our troops home in 2007!
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange.
The Associated Press
Wednesday 27 December 2006
Laurie David, who produced Al Gore's documentary about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," says saving the planet isn't about everyone doing everything.
"It's about everyone doing something," said David, who is also the author of "Stop Global Warming: The Solution is You" and founder of the StopGlobalWarming.org Web site. "The impact of small actions by millions of people will be huge."
Some scientists and climate models are predicting that unchecked human-caused global warming over the next century is expected to raise sea levels and cause extremes in temperatures.
"The public is finally starting to get that if you drive a car, or do many other things, you're a carbon emitter - and you're contributing to the problem," David said. "The upside is that there's something that we can all do about it."
David helps get her point across by talking about the way everyday household products harm the environment. "When I talk about toilet paper and paper towels, which are made of virgin wood, people gasp," David said. "I tell them, when a 100-year-old tree is cut down ... so that we can have disposable paper products, is this acceptable? Should we still be using virgin trees for this?"
The green solution: "If every American household changed just one roll of paper made with virgin wood to one recyclable post-consumer roll, half a million trees would still be standing."
She's made the switch to post-consumer paper - products made of paper previously used by consumers, then recycled - in her own home despite initial complaints about the toilet tissue's not-so-squeezable texture from her husband, Larry David, creator of "Seinfeld," and his own HBO comedy series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
"My family is adapting," said David, noting that her kids recycle and take shorter showers. "Besides, they are making softer toilet paper now so I think we're O.K."
Here are 10 things you can do in the new year to do your part for the environment, including some "go green" tips from David's Web site, http://www.StopGlobalWarming.org.
* Use compact fluorescent bulbs. Replace three frequently used light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide and about $60 a year. The Council on the Environment and Jewish Life is organizing a campaign called "How Many Jews Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?" to encourage synagogues and other Jewish groups to replace conventional bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, which last four times longer but use 25 percent of the energy.
* Save the water bottle. Sick of watching your recycle bin fill up with water bottles? Time to buy a reusable water bottle. REI, the outdoor equipment store, carries a 16-ounce Nalgene bottle, $7.95, in five colors, made from polycarbonate plastic; it has a wide mouth and is easily washed. Eastern Mountain Sports carries SIGG bottles from Switzerland, including an 0.6-liter lightweight stainless steel model that is a replica of a 1941 Swiss Army bottle, $20, in blue or red.
* Pull the plug on electronics and chargers. Mobile phones, BlackBerry devices, iPods, digital cameras and other electronics use energy, even if they are turned off, if the charger is still going.
* Take shorter showers. Water for bathing accounts for two-thirds of all water-heating costs.
* Buy a hybrid car. Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz have glamorized them; David even convinced her husband's HBO comedy series to have his character drive one on the show.
* Create idle-free zones. Schools, churches, synagogues, libraries, shopping malls and anywhere that accommodates a large number of vehicles are prime spots for signs requiring vehicle engines to be turned off to help cut fuel emissions and improve air quality. David helped institute a no-idle rule in the parking lot of her children's school in Southern California to cut down on the "carbon dioxide haze" created by parents' idling vehicles. "You can do the same at your school, temple or church," David said. "Ask that a sign be posted outside that says, 'Turn off your vehicle.'"
* Buy local food products. You may pay a bit more in the grocery store, but buying locally grown products helps the earth because less fuel is required to transport your products to market. Additionally, buying goods that require less packaging may help reduce your garbage.
* Bring cloth bags to the market. Tote your own cloth bags to the store instead of plastic and paper bags, reducing waste and requiring no additional energy. David also suggests carrying your own garment bag to the drycleaners to avoid bringing home plastic bags and wire hangers.
* Put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat in your home.
* Use recycled paper. Switch your home and business paper products to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, saving countless trees and five pounds of carbon dioxide per ream of paper.
Go to Original
Group's Rejection of Consumerism Is Catching On
By Carolyn Jones
The San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday 27 December 2006
3,000 people attempt to get by without buying new things.
For Shawn Rosenmoss, the deal-breaker was a drill bit.
John Perry's worst temptation was a plumber's snake for his clogged drain.
Sarah Pelmas and Matt Eddy succumbed to the siren song of new white paint.
But aside from the occasional hardware crises, the Compact - an ever-growing group who have vowed not to buy anything new except food, medicine and underwear - is going strong on its first anniversary.
The Compact originated in December 2005 at a San Francisco dinner party, where guests decided to take recycling one step further and go for a year without new purchases. Consumerism, they said, is destroying the world and most of us already own far more than we need.
They called themselves the Compact as a semi-joking reference to the solemn commitment of the Mayflower pilgrims, but the concept is being taken quite seriously and has quickly spread.
They've been featured in newspapers across the United States and Europe and on the "Today" show, "Good Morning America," "CBS Evening News," TV news in China and Poland, and countless shock-jock radio programs. They were offered book contracts and at least two TV reality shows, all of which they turned down because it seemed contrary to the Compact principles.
Almost 3,000 people from six continents have joined the Compact group on Yahoo, and chapters have sprung up around the globe from Alabama to New Zealand.
"It's been staggering," said Compact co-founder John Perry, who works in communications at a Silicon Valley technology company. "We never set out to start a movement or be holier-than-thou models of righteous behavior, but it's been very gratifying to see the impact."
There's also been a mild backlash. One Seattle radio host did a show called "The Compact: Bad for America," and others have logged on to the Compact blog and Yahoo group to accuse them of hypocrisy because they drive cars, fly in planes and otherwise consume nonrenewable resources.
"I was really shocked at some of the venom," Rosenmoss said. "I still don't quite understand it. Why would anyone else care what we do? We're not out to convert anyone."
But for most, participants say the Compact has been a rewarding experience. Compacters are allowed to buy secondhand items and are encouraged to borrow and reuse whatever possible.
Kids' birthday parties? That's easy. Rosenmoss lets her daughters, who are not bound by the compact, spend their allowance money on new gifts for friends, or encourages them to make something. Instead of giving a gift, Perry, who has two children, makes a donation in the birthday child's name to a group committed to ending world hunger.
"The parents love it because it's one less hunk of molded plastic in their homes," Perry said. "It also gives them something to talk about with their kids."
Baby gear? Not a problem. Secondhand stores are filled with bottles, sippy cups and pacifiers, all of which can be easily sterilized.
Pelmas, a high school administrator, and Eddy, a high school science teacher, bought a house in 2006 and managed extensive renovations with only one trip to the hardware store. That was when they needed white paint for their ceilings. It's easy to find surplus paint in colors, which they used for the walls, but impossible to find surplus white paint. So they caved in and bought new.
Rosenmoss broke the Compact only twice, when she needed a drill bit and when she needed sleeping bags for her kids.
"I looked for used sleeping bags, but frankly the idea was so gross I just couldn't do it," said Rosenmoss, an engineer for the city of San Francisco. "It was like buying used underwear. So I gave myself a reprieve."
But Perry has not veered once from the Compact rules. His bathroom sink has been plugged for months, and it'll stay that way until he finds a drain snake at Thrift Town.
But overall, the year of anti-consumerism has been unexpectedly rewarding, they said.
"We've enjoyed the camaraderie and competitive spirit with friends," Perry said. "And it's been really good for us to think about what we need, as opposed to what we want."
The social aspect appealed to Rosenmoss as well.
"I've really felt part of a community," she said. "I think a big part of our consumer culture has to do with being independent, not asking people for things. But with the Compact you have to borrow a lot, and you realize it's OK."
Most of the original Compacters planned to renew their vow for 2007, but Pelmas and Eddy said they'd had enough - they're headed to Crate and Barrel on Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, Perry wants to turn the Compact up a notch and eliminate packaging. He and his partner already buy shampoo, laundry detergent, peanut butter, olive oil, pasta, spices and other foods in bulk, and he thinks they can go even further.
"The only problem has been toothpaste," he said. "We haven't found it in bulk yet, but we're trying."
Robert J. Miller
Miller analyzes the Doctrine of Discovery and shows how Thomas Jefferson
and the Lewis & Clark expedition used that international legal doctrine to
create Manifest Destiny – the idea that the United States would sweep
across the North American continent. This book grew out of Miller’s three
year involvement with the Lewis & Clark anniversary as the representative
of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe and an advisor to the National Council of the
Lewis & Clark Bicentennial.
“Everyone who is interested in Indian Law and the West will have to read
Professor Gerald Torres, University of Texas Law School.
“It's one of the most important books to come out of the [Lewis & Clark]
bicentennial observances.” Kira Gale, author, Lewis and Clark Road Trips
Miller proves three new ideas that have not been fully addressed anywhere
1. The American colonies, states, and the federal government adopted the
international law Doctrine of Discovery and applied it to the Indian
Nations from 1620-2006.
2. Thomas Jefferson and Lewis & Clark used the Doctrine of Discovery to
exercise governmental authority in the Louisiana Territory and to claim
the Pacific Northwest for the United States.
3. Manifest Destiny arose from the identical legal elements and policies
as did the Doctrine of Discovery. As a result, the Eurocentric and feudal
principles of Discovery were adopted into the American law and policy of
Professor Carole Goldberg, UCLA Law School - “Miller's book offers
fascinating new insights into Jefferson's Indian policy, the significance
of the Lewis & Clark expedition, and the origins of Manifest Destiny
ideology in 19th-century America. Miller forces readers to confront the
raw assertion of colonial power embodied in the Doctrine of Discovery, and
its consistent deployment by the United States in the guise of law.”
Professor Rennard Strickland, University of Oregon - “[T]his is
revisionist history in the very best sense of that tradition. Miller
reviews historic documents and oft-told stories in a new and original
light. This important study gives Native Americans and their role in
United States history a richer and deeper meaning through Miller's
thoughtful interpretation of the Doctrine of Discovery in the context of
its historical, law-related, political principles.”
Professor Alexander Tallchief Skibine, Utah Law School - “Miller's book
represents the most comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the American
version of the Doctrine of Discovery to date, its role in the voyages of
Lewis & Clark, and its continuing importance in the field of federal
Indian Law today.”
Miller is an Associate Professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland,
Oregon, and Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of the Grand Ronde
Tribe. He is a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
Price: $49.95; ISBN 0-275-99011-7; Pages: 230; Barnesandnoble.com ($39.95
for members); www.greenwood.com/catalog/C9011.aspx - or 1-800-225-5800 or
Professor Miller is available for speaking engagements and book signings
- Rmiller@lclark.edu. Please also contact him for information about
using his book in the classroom.
More information at: http://law.lclark.edu/faculty/rmiller/
The Associated Press
Tuesday 26 December 2006
Newtok, Alaska - The last time chronic flooding forced this tiny Alaska village to relocate, sled dogs pulled the old church to its new home three miles away, far from the raging Ninglick River.
That was in 1950 and life was simpler in Newtok, mostly a collection of traditional sod dwellings. Modern structures gradually took over the new site as the river again crept to the edge of the Yupik Eskimo community. Persistent erosion has eaten an average of 70 feet of bank a year and now melting permafrost is subsiding, further subjecting the village to severe flooding from intensifying storms.
"This place is sinking," said Joseph Tommy, 48, who was born in Newtok. "If the erosion keeps on coming, we will be in a grave situation."
So once again, Newtok must move, leaving residents and officials grappling with an unprecedented crisis that looms over scores of native villages along Alaska's increasingly battered western coast.
These once-nomadic people can no longer pack up and go. The crucial difference this time: finding the funds to move and to replace millions of public dollars invested in schools, clinics and government offices. Replacement costs are beyond the reach of these remote, cash-strapped communities that typically rely on subsistence foods for economic survival - and they're costs that no single federal or state entity is equipped to shoulder.
"We've become complicated with the rest of the world," Nick Tom, Newtok's former tribal administrator, said as he led visitors through mud and snow, pointing out shifting houses and the crumbled soil fringing the Ninglick. "We can't even move an inch without any money."
It's a dilemma taking on a new urgency as the effects of climate change escalate in a region many consider a harbinger of global warming. Erosion and flooding are nothing new here, but communities are increasingly vulnerable to melting permafrost and shorter periods of the shorefast ice that historically protected them from powerful storms.
Erosion and flooding affect 86 percent - or 184 - of 213 Alaska native villages to some degree, according to a 2003 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is trying to determine which communities need the most help from a network of state and federal agencies.
"When there is a problem that develops over years and decades, such as Alaskan erosion, the perception of urgency is not as acute," said Bruce Sexauer, a senior planner with the corps. "The impacts of a hurricane can be felt nationwide, whereas similar situations in remote communities are oftentimes only known by a select few."
Newtok and two other western Alaska villages, Shishmaref and Kivalina, face the shortest life spans at their current locations.
Some officials believe conditions are most urgent in Newtok, tightly wedged between two rivers. The vast, rushing Ninglick has cut into the smaller Newtok River, turning it into a slough. This is the historical sewage dumping place for Newtok's 315 residents, who have no indoor plumbing and use buckets as toilets.
Compounding the problem, fall storms send flood waters surging through the Ninglick and up the Newtok, turning the village into an island, said Brenda Kerr, the corps' Newtok planner, part of a new multiagency effort exploring possible actions.
"The water is scary enough in and of itself, and then you consider what's in it. The public health concern is probably one of the biggest triggers here," Kerr said.
Newtok is ahead of other villages facing impending moves, having completed a federal land trade in 2004 for a hilly area called Mertarvik on Nelson Island nine miles to the south. But that's just on paper. The Corps of Engineers estimates that moving would cost as much as $130 million, or more than $412,000 per resident. That price tag reflects the challenge of carrying some existing structures and tons of construction supplies to undeveloped tundra - there are no roads here, no landing strip and no barge landing for large vessels - to build a community from the ground up.
"The land swap was successful. It's the move that will cost us money," said Stanley Tom, Newtok's acting tribal administrator and Nick Tom's brother.
About 370 miles to the north, the relocation cost would be even steeper for Shishmaref, an Inupiat Eskimo village of 600 located on a narrow island just north of the Bering Strait. Estimates run as high as $200 million to start from scratch with new infrastructure - or about half that amount to move residents to the coastal hub towns of Nome or Kotzebue.
Ultimately, multimillion-dollar projects to protect or move a few isolated people must be justified, especially post-Katrina. But it is not the government's role to bankroll the entire cost of building a new community, officials said.
"I think there's very little likelihood that the federal government or the state government could come up with $150 million to say, 'OK, Shishmaref or Newtok or Kivalina, we're going to move you next year,'" said Gary Brown, with the state's emergency management office. "When you look at the numbers it's kind of staggering, but if a community can figure out a way through the maze of political processes to do it incrementally, it might be more palatable."
Joining another community is unacceptable, said Shishmaref village transportation planner Tony Weyiouanna, who has lobbied hard for state and federal funding. In their nomadic past, natives generally stayed within a certain region. Today they hunt the same animals as their ancestors, create their artwork with the same materials, know the land intimately.
Being absorbed into another culture, even one only 100 miles away, could amount to cultural death, exposing residents to urban ills including alcohol, which is banned in Shishmaref and other dry villages. Residents fear the subsistence lifestyle their traditions and economy so heavily rely on would fall off, pushing them to welfare.
"We would like to keep our traditions and values as long as we can for the future of our children and grandchildren," Weyiouanna said.
The cultural erosion he and others dread has other causes, too.
Even without relocations, technology has brought a global media influence to even the most isolated villages. Elders say young people suffer a disconnect that gets some of the blame for chronic problems in native society - alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence, high dropout rates.
But Alaska natives, who represent 11 distinct cultures and 20 languages, are fighting back. They're hosting culture camps and rural student exchanges. Villages have resurrected dances and festivals that were banned a century ago by missionaries. Schools have launched native language immersion programs.
Debra Dommek sees herself as a tribal elder in training even though she's only 18. She learned about those ancient arts, focusing on dance, in an after-school program run by the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.
Now it's her responsibility, she said, to preserve the songs and dances, art and stories of indigenous Alaskans, including her people, Inupiat Eskimos.
"This is who I am, who my children will be," Dommek said. "Sometimes I feel pressure taking on such a position, but somebody's got to do it."
The Los Angeles Times
Monday 18 December 2006
Firms and investors, not the rank and file, reap gains from globalization and labor productivity.
American companies are about to wrap up their fourth straight year of spectacular profit growth, which has filled corporate coffers with cash and kept the bull market alive on Wall Street.
Operating earnings of the blue-chip Standard & Poor's 500 companies have risen at double-digit percentage rates for 18 straight quarters, an unprecedented streak.
But to many rank-and-file workers, the booming bottom line may only serve as a reminder of what has been missing from their own paychecks.
Wages of average workers have just begun to improve in recent months after badly lagging behind inflation for much of this decade. Amid the surge in corporate profit, many workers have faced terminated pension plans, reduced healthcare benefits and rising outsourcing of jobs overseas.
The swelling earnings of business - and of many top executives - have become part of the debate about widening U.S. income disparities. When they take control of Congress next month, Democratic Party leaders will focus intently on those disparities, they say, and on trade agreements that some contend enrich multinational firms while destroying American jobs.
"I'm very passionate about this, and I'm going to be joined by some people who are equally passionate," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.). "Some reinforcements are coming."
Corporate leaders say they shouldn't be forced to defend the profitability of their businesses.
"It is a competitive world, and companies want to innovate and compete and win," said Larry Burton, executive director of the Business Roundtable, an association of 160 chief executives of major companies.
What's more, "a lot of us who are workers also are capitalists," said Barry Bosworth, an economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Small investors gain as rising corporate earnings boost the value of stocks held in retirement savings plans and other investment accounts.
The Dow Jones industrial average has rocketed 16% this year, to a record high of 12,445.52 on Friday.
Among the biggest U.S. firms, Bank of America Corp. earned $15.9 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 23% from a year earlier. Technology giant IBM Corp. posted a 25% jump in profit in the period, to nearly $6 billion. McDonald's Corp.'s results rose 15% to $2.3 billion.
By one government measure of profit margins, U.S. businesses overall were more profitable in the third quarter than in any three-month period since 1951, according to David Rosenberg, an economist at brokerage Merrill Lynch & Co.
In part, corporations simply have benefited from the strength of the domestic and global economies since 2001. As demand for their products and services has risen worldwide, so have their sales and profits.
But many companies' tight controls over spending also have helped earnings to balloon. And because labor is the largest expense for business overall, the damping of growth in wages and benefits has been a key contributor to corporate America's profit success in this decade, analysts say.
"Companies are saying, 'We can't afford anything' " when it comes to providing for U.S. workers, said Larry Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
In the context of soaring earnings, "that's not irony, it's hypocrisy," he said.
One measure of the split between what employees get and what business retains shows up in national income accounts calculated by the Commerce Department.
Corporate earnings generated in the U.S. totaled $1.42 trillion at an annualized rate in the third quarter, or 10.7% of the economy's gross domestic income, government data show. That was the highest share of national income that companies claimed since the 1960s and was up from 6.2% at the end of 2000.
By contrast, total labor compensation accounted for 56.4% of gross domestic income in the period. That percentage has fallen from 58.4% in the fourth quarter of 2000 and has been in general decline since the early 1980s.
(The rest of national income includes rental and interest income and proprietors' profits.)
What's striking to many experts is that labor's share of the economic pie has failed to grow over the last decade even as American workers have become more productive. In essence, those productivity gains have flowed to companies and their shareholders, not to the rank and file.
"We've had nine years of great productivity growth, and most workers see no gain for it," said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
In recent months, however, some measures of worker incomes have begun to improve. In the 12 months ended in November, average hourly wages rose 4.1%, the biggest pickup since the late 1990s, Labor Department data show.
On Wall Street, many analysts believe that the profit locomotive will slow sharply in 2007, in part as companies pay more to lure workers in a tight labor market. They also note that the corporate bottom line is inherently prone to boom-and-bust cycles. In 2001, earnings collapsed with that year's recession.
"I think we're pretty close to the top" in profitability, said Jim Floyd, a senior analyst at investment research firm Leuthold Group in Minneapolis.
But some analysts worry that wage gains will slow again if the U.S. economy continues to decelerate.
Stephen Roach, an economist at brokerage Morgan Stanley in New York, believes that the persistent threat of outsourcing helps keep a lid on worker pay demands, particularly at the lower end of the income scale.
That also has been the view of some in Congress - Democrats and Republicans - who have railed against trade agreements that they say encourage U.S. companies to move jobs overseas or to use outsourcing as a lever against domestic workers.
"All these companies say the same thing: 'We have to [move overseas] to compete,' " Dorgan said. "It's not about competing - it's about fattening their profits."
Yet few analysts believe that Democrats or Republicans would try to roll back the forces of business globalization.
"You can't protect jobs by stopping cheap underwear coming from China. It'll just come from Bangladesh," said James Glassman, an economist at J.P. Morgan Securities in New York.
The shift to low-cost manufacturing overseas has bolstered earnings of many U.S. multinational companies, but it also has provided American consumers with a torrent of inexpensive imported goods.
Some corporate critics say they aren't against rising business earnings but take issue with how that money has been spent - or not spent - in recent years.
The record streak of double-digit profit growth expanded the cash on the balance sheets of the nonfinancial companies in the S&P 500 index to $611 billion as of Sept. 30, from $260 billion at the start of the decade, according to S&P.
Many blue-chip firms have been using their cash hoards to buy record amounts of their own shares on the open market - hoping to push their stocks up - rather than fund more business expansion or hiring.
"We don't view profits as being excessive. We view them as not being put to the most productive use," said Richard Ferlauto, director of pension investment policy at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Mishel, of the Economic Policy Institute, said that although companies are free to do as they please with their profits, their decisions help determine the long-term viability of the U.S. economy.
"If we have high profits and it's not translating into domestic investment and higher wages," he said, "the system isn't working."
The Washington Post
Sunday 31 December 2006
In every administration, there are usually only about a dozen barons who can really initiate and manage meaningful changes in national security policy. For most of 2006, some of these critical slots in the Bush administration have been vacant, such as the deputy secretary of state (empty since Robert B. Zoellick left for investment bank Goldman Sachs) and the deputy director of national intelligence (with Gen. Michael V. Hayden now CIA director). And with the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.
National Security Council veteran Rand Beers has called this the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" - just like little kids playing soccer, everyone forgets their particular positions and responsibilities and runs like a herd after the ball.
In the end, there are only 12 seats at the conference table in the White House Situation Room, and the key players' schedules mean that they can seldom meet there together in person or on secure video conference for more than about 10 hours each week. When issues don't receive first-tier consideration, they can slip by for months. I learned this firsthand: In the early days of the Bush administration, I called for an urgent meeting to discuss the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States. The Cabinet-level meeting eventually took place - but not until Sept. 4, 2001.
Without the distraction of the Iraq war, the administration would have spent this past year - indeed, every year since Sept. 11, 2001 - focused on al-Qaeda. But beyond al-Qaeda and the broader struggle for peaceful coexistence with (and within) Islam, seven key "fires in the in-box" national security issues remain unattended, deteriorating and threatening, all while Washington's grown-up 7-year-olds play herd ball with Iraq.
Global warming: When the possibility of invading Iraq surfaced in 2001, senior Bush administration officials hadn't thought much about global warming, except to wonder whether it was caused by human activity or by sunspots. Today, the world's scientists and many national leaders worry that the world has passed the point of no return on global warming. If it has, then human damage to the ecosphere will cause more major cities to flood and make the planet significantly less conducive to human habitation - all over the lifetime of a child now in kindergarten. British Prime Minister Tony Blair keeps trying to convince President Bush of the magnitude of the problem, but in every session between the two leaders Iraq squeezes out the time to discuss the pending planetary disaster.
Russian revanchism: When Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush leave office in rapid succession in 2008 and 2009, it seems likely that Russia will be less of a democracy and less inclined to cooperate with Washington than it was six years ago, when Bush stared into the eyes and looked into the heart of the Russian leader. Given her extensive background in Soviet studies, Condoleezza Rice would have been a natural to work on key U.S.-Russian issues, first as national security adviser and now as secretary of state. But the focus on Iraq has precluded such efforts, even as the troubling issues multiply: Russian governors are no longer elected, but appointed; dissidents die mysteriously and probably at the hands of the new KGB; opposition media are suppressed; and corporate leaders are jailed or hounded out of the country.
Meanwhile, Moscow plays petro-politics by dramatically raising the cost of energy to former Soviet republics that do not toe the Kremlin's line, and by threatening to turn off the pipeline to European nations that don't cooperate. If Bush hoped that turning a blind eye to all this would help win Russian cooperation in Iraq and Iran, the strategy failed.
Latin America's leftist lurch: In the years before the Iraq war, U.S. presidents were welcomed at summits throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Indeed, the attacks of Sept. 11 found then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in South America, visiting one area of the world where U.S. policies had worked. Friendly, democratic governments were in power in every nation in the hemisphere except Cuba. Formerly debt-ridden economies were implementing pro-market reforms, and the United States was welcomed as a partner. Washington seemed confident that if and when Fidel Castro died (there was always some doubt), even Cuba might join the democracy/free market club.
Today, Castro has been replaced, but not just by another Cuban dictator. The leader of the hemisphere's new anti-Yankee alliance is Hugo Chávez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Chávez's anti-U.S. campaign is supported by Cuban intelligence and Venezuelan oil money. By 2006, Venezuela and Cuba were not alone in their opposition to Washington; kindred spirits have been elected in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Having begun his administration pledging new cooperation with Mexico, Bush backtracked after Sept. 11, focusing instead on tightening immigration and border controls.
Africa at war: The genocide spilling from the Darfur region of Sudan into neighboring Chad has captured attention in the United States mainly because of (belated) media coverage and an aggressive advocacy campaign by concerned groups, but the prospects of Washington dealing with the problem seem slim. Darfur, however, is only one of a pox of conflicts that, together with HIV/AIDS, are depopulating parts of Africa and robbing it of potential wealth from mineral, oil and gas deposits. Wars have also raged in Chad, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Were it not for the Iraq war, Washington may have acted to stop what the Bush administration admits is genocide in Darfur, or taken steps to prevent the chaos sweeping Somalia after a group affiliated with al-Qaeda took over the country and left Ethiopia no choice but to invade in hopes of preventing a more disastrous war. Unfortunately, even designating a small presence of U.S. Special Forces to lead a U.N.-approved peacekeeping force in Darfur appears beyond the capability of the badly stretched American military.
Arms control freeze: Once atop several administrations' national security agendas, international arms control has received little White House attention since the Bush administration decided early on to walk away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley has extensive government experience working on arms control and he began to focus on this turf in early 2001, when he was number two at the National Security Council. But after 9/11, Hadley has had little opportunity to advance international efforts to control biological weapons, nuclear testing and proliferation, or the threat of nuclear or radioactive terrorist weapons. For a long time, the White House outsourced dealing with Iran's nuclear weapons to the Europeans, just as the onus of stopping North Korea's nuclear development was placed on Asian nations. The sustained senior-level attention that is needed to stop two nuclear weapons programs at the same time has simply not been available - because of Iraq.
Transnational crime: In a nationally televised address in 1989, President George H.W. Bush held aloft a bag of cocaine that had been sold near the White House and declared a "War on Drugs." That initiative was later enlarged to target the international criminal cartels engaged in human trafficking, gun and contraband smuggling, money laundering and cyber fraud. The momentum from these efforts produced international treaties to combat hidden global crime conglomerates, but the White House leadership necessary to coordinate dozens of U.S. agencies and mobilize other nations has dissipated. Moreover, the world's international crime cartels received a major shot in the arm with the occupation of Afghanistan by NATO forces. From relatively low levels of heroin production in 2001, Afghanistan's economy is now dependent upon the widespread cultivation of heroin that is flooding black markets in Europe and Asia. With most of the U.S. Army either in Iraq, heading to Iraq or returning from Iraq, insufficient U.S. forces were available to prevent the once-liberated Afghanistan from morphing into a narco-state.
The Pakistani-Afghan border: Afghanistan increasingly receives the attention of senior U.S. policymakers, not because of the narcotics problem, but mainly because the once-defeated Taliban again threaten Afghan and coalition forces. However, if there is a solution, it lies on the other side of the Khyber Pass where a sanctuary has emerged, a Taliban-like state within a state in western Pakistan. Dealing with that problem is more than Washington has been willing or able to handle, for it involves the complex issue of who governs nuclear-armed Pakistan and how.
Thus far, Washington has accepted Gen. Pervez Musharraf's half-hearted measures for dealing with the nuclear proliferation network of A.Q. Khan, addressing the terrorist involvement of Pakistani intelligence and controlling the Taliban/al-Qaeda bases in Waziristan. Getting Pakistan to do more would require a major sustained effort by senior U.S. officials, including addressing the longstanding tensions with India. Because of Iraq, Washington's national security gurus do not have the hours in their days to manage that - nor the troops needed to secure Afghanistan.
As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing - problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens.
Richard A. Clarke, former national coordinator for counterterrorism, is chairman of Good Harbor Consulting and author of Against All Enemies (Free Press) and Breakpoint (Putnam).
The Washington Post
Sunday 31 December 2006
US, Iraq continue to experience aftereffects of their confrontations.
The day after he ordered a cease-fire and brought the Persian Gulf War to a close, President George H.W. Bush ruminated about the status quo he had left behind in Iraq. "Still no feeling of euphoria," he dictated to his diary Feb. 28, 1991. Saddam Hussein, he recognized, remained a threat. "He's got to go," Bush concluded.
It took nearly 16 years, but he's finally gone. And with Hussein's execution in Baghdad, so is the chief nemesis of the Bush family, a man who bedeviled father-and-son presidents and in different ways dominated both of their administrations. The long, tortured arc of the Bush-Hussein relationship that shaped recent U.S. history finally came to a close with the snap of a noose.
If there is a feeling of euphoria, or satisfaction, or perhaps just relief, neither Bush is expressing it publicly this weekend. President Bush went to bed Friday night without waiting for the execution and left it to an aide to release a statement praising the Iraqi people for "bringing Saddam Hussein to justice." His father remained silent. But Hussein's death removed only the man. The forces unleashed by the epic struggle remain as powerful and crippling as ever for two countries.
The timing of the execution, coming as the president searches for a new strategy to turn around a war he says the United States is not winning, could serve as a reminder of its origins. Bush has frequently cited Hussein's tyranny to justify his decision to invade Iraq. Within days, though, the death toll of U.S. troops will surely pass 3,000, a grim milestone that will trigger further national introspection. The cost of overthrowing Hussein and ending his reign of terror continues to mount, and few in Washington hold out faith that that will change anytime soon.
"The sacrifice has been worth it," Bush said at a year-end news conference nine days before the execution. A few moments later, he added: "I haven't questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out." He stopped himself. "I mean, I've questioned it - I've come to the conclusion that it was the right decision."
Bush and other architects of the war have long maintained that it was nothing personal. "I personally never thought of it that way, nor did I think the president saw it that way," said Douglas J. Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who was a key player in going to war. "When Saddam was talked about, he was talked about as a threat to the United States, not as a personal problem of the Bush family."
Ron Kaufman, a White House aide to the first President Bush, said his ex-boss does not dwell on Hussein. "I'm sure like most Americans, he'll be glad the guy's gone," he said. "The world will be a better place now, a safer place. But I don't think he'll spend any more time thinking about it than you or I."
Yet the history of animosity between the Bushes and Hussein is hard to ignore. The relationship actually began as one of pragmatic friendship in the 1980s, when Hussein was at war with the main U.S. enemy in the region, Iran, and George H.W. Bush was vice president in an administration that offered him help. A 1992 New Yorker article suggested that Bush, through Arab intermediaries, advised Hussein to intensify the bombing of Iran.
Hussein soon became too much to handle. "People came to understand him as someone who was much less stable and someone who could not be trusted," said Craig Fuller, chief of staff to the elder Bush when he was vice president. Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 proved a strategic miscalculation that put him and the Bushes forever on opposite sides.
The elder Bush wrongly assumed that Iraqis would overthrow Hussein, and his decision not to march to Baghdad after freeing Kuwait would haunt him and his son. An unbowed Hussein defied the international community, and in April 1993, when Bush went to Kuwait for a hero's welcome, a group of Iraqis crossed the border in what was called a thwarted attempt to kill him. President Bill Clinton launched 23 Tomahawk missiles against Iraqi targets in retaliation.
Among those on that trip who could have been killed were Barbara Bush and Laura Bush. George W. Bush had stayed in Texas, where he was running the Texas Rangers baseball team and preparing to run for governor. Some later questioned the seriousness of the assassination attempt or its connections to Baghdad. But the incident clearly was a searing moment for the Bush family.
By the time the younger Bush ran for president, he appeared determined not to repeat the mistake he believed his father made with Hussein. "No one envisioned him still standing," the candidate told BBC in November 1999. "It's time to finish the task."
At a debate a couple of weeks later, Bush was more explicit. "If I found that in any way, shape, or form that he was developing weapons of mass destruction, I'd take him out," he said.
At Bush's first National Security Council meeting after taking office, he seemed to some aides to be ready to go. "From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," Paul O'Neill, Bush's first treasury secretary, later told CBS News. In Ron Suskind's book, "The Price of Loyalty," O'Neill was quoted as saying that Bush told aides to prepare to remove Hussein: "That was the tone of it, the president saying ... 'Go find me a way to do this.' "
Others on the inside came to a similar conclusion. In a memo in March 2002, Peter Ricketts, a top British official, sounded skeptical of U.S. motivations: "For Iraq, 'regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam."
That impression was fueled by both father and son that fall. "I hate Saddam Hussein, and I don't hate a lot of people," George H.W. Bush told CNN. "I don't hate easily, but I think he is - as I say, his word is no good, and he is a brute. He has used poison gas on his own people. So, there's nothing redeeming about this man, and I have nothing but hatred in my heart for him."
Six days after that aired, his son mused about Hussein at a Texas fundraiser. "There's no doubt his hatred is mainly directed at us," he said. "There's no doubt he can't stand us. After all, this is the guy that tried to kill my dad at one time."
Bush later talked with then-Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) aboard Air Force One about assassinating Hussein, saying he would repeal the executive order banning assassination of foreign leaders if intelligence gave him a clear shot. "The fact that he tried to kill my father and my wife shows the nature of the man," Bush told interviewers in March 2003. "And he not only tried to kill my father and wife, he's killed thousands of his own citizens." But he denied a vendetta. "Nah, no," he said. "I'm doing my job as the president, based upon the threats that face this country."
When Bush launched the invasion weeks later, he ordered it to start earlier than planned with a missile strike targeting Hussein. The Iraqi leader survived, but U.S. troops quickly toppled his government. Soldiers went to the Al Rashid Hotel and destroyed a mosaic, of the elder Bush's face over the slogan "Bush Is Criminal," that Hussein had laid in the lobby entrance so every guest would step on it.
Eight months later, other soldiers found Hussein in a "spider hole." "President Bush sends his regards," one soldier told the disheveled Iraqi leader.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld delivered the news in Washington. "Mr. President, the first reports are not always accurate," he started cautiously.
"This sounds like it's going to be good news," Bush interrupted.
Rumsfeld said reports indicate "that we got Saddam Hussein."
"Well, that is good news."
Aides said the president made a point of not personalizing it. "I never heard him take any particular relish in Saddam's capture or the fate that obviously awaited him," said Matthew Scully, a former White House speechwriter who helped prepare Bush's remarks about Hussein's capture. "I remember vividly that the president's reaction that day was kind of businesslike. He always saw Saddam as part of the larger picture."
Still, in his White House study, the president keeps a memento - the pistol taken from Hussein when he was captured. If there ever was a duel, it is now over.