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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Flu vaccine shortage was long in the making

During the recent presidential debates, George W. Bush took pride in separating the health care crisis in the United States from the socialized medicine in Canada and Europe. He even incorrectly identified the troubled Chiron company as a British outfit (Chiron is based in California). Now, the U.S. is begging foreign suppliers for extra flu vaccines.

A 79-year-old California woman died Thursday waiting in line to get a flu shot. She had been waiting in line four hours when she fainted and suffered head injuries.

Well, the flu problem couldn't be helped, right? Wrong.

As the New York Times reports:

"[P]ublic health experts have long cautioned against the country's dependence on a few vaccine makers, and yet this has become standard practice. There are now only two major manufacturers for the nation's supply of flu vaccine, and at least a half-dozen other vaccines are made by single suppliers. Britain, by contrast, has spread its order for flu vaccines among five suppliers, precisely to avoid the kind of predicament America now faces."

The full Times story can be viewed here.

James Baker's conflict of interest in Iraq: $2 billion

In a special investigation this week, The Nation reports that James Baker is double-dealing in Iraq. On Dec. 5, 2003, George W. Bush appointed the former Secretary of State as his envoy on Iraq's national debt. Baker also happens to be a senior counselor and equity partner in the Carlyle Group, where he holds an estimated $180 million stake.


Here's where the conflict of interest comes in–and it's a whopper. The Carlyle Group, according to private documents obtained by The Nation, is seeking to obtain control of $57 billion of unpaid Iraqi debt owed to Kuwait. In return, the Carlyle Group (along with a consortium of partners) is asking the Kuwaiti government for an up-front investment of $2 billion.

Naomi Klein writes:
In a letter dated August 6, 2004, the consortium informed Kuwait's foreign ministry that the country's unpaid debts from Iraq "are in imminent jeopardy." World opinion is turning in favor of debt forgiveness, another letter warned, as evidenced by "President Bush's appointment... of former Secretary of State James Baker as his envoy to negotiate Iraqi debt relief." The consortium's proposal spells out the threat: Not only is Kuwait unlikely to see any of its $30 billion from Iraq in sovereign debt, but the $27 billion in war reparations that Iraq owes to Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion "may well be a casualty of this U.S. [debt relief] effort."

In the face of this threat, the consortium offers its services. Its roster of former high-level US and European politicians have "personal rapport with the stakeholders in the anticipated negotiations" and are able to "reach key decision-makers in the United Nations and in key capitals," the proposal states. If Kuwait agrees to transfer the debts to the consortium's foundation, the consortium will use these personal connections to persuade world leaders that Iraq must "maximize" its debt payments to Kuwait, which would be able to collect the money after ten to fifteen years. And the more the consortium gets Iraq to pay during that period, the more Kuwait collects, with the consortium taking a 5 percent commission or more.

The goal of maximizing Iraq's debt payments directly contradicts the US foreign policy aim of drastically reducing Iraq's debt burden."

A cynic might contend Baker is endangering Iraq's future for the sake of enriching his own pocket. Klein notes:

Iraq is the most heavily indebted country in the world, owing roughly $200 billion in sovereign debts and in reparations from Saddam's wars. If Iraq were forced to pay even a quarter of these claims, its debt would still be more than double its annual GDP, severely undermining its capacity to pay for reconstruction or to address the humanitarian needs of its war-ravaged citizens. "This debt endangers Iraq's long-term prospects for political health and economic prosperity," President Bush said when he appointed Baker last December... Bush assured reporters that "Jim Baker is a man of high integrity.... We're fortunate he decided to take time out of what is an active life...to step forward and serve America"...

The day before Baker's appointment was announced, John Harris, managing director and chief financial officer of Carlyle, submitted a signed statement to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. "Carlyle does not have any investment in Iraqi public or private debt," he wrote....

On January 21, 2004, James Baker's dual lives converged. That morning Baker flew to Kuwait as George Bush's debt envoy. He met with Kuwait's prime minister, its foreign minister and several other top officials with the stated goal of asking them to forgive Iraq's debts in the name of regional peace and prosperity. Baker's colleagues in the consortium chose that very same day to hand-deliver their proposal to Foreign Minister Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah--the same man Baker was meeting...

In the eighteen months since the US invasion, Iraq has paid out a staggering $1.8 billion in reparations--substantially more than the battered country's 2004 health and education budgets combined, and more than the United States has so far managed to spend in Iraq on reconstruction.

Most of the payments have gone to Kuwait, a country that is about to post its sixth consecutive budget surplus, where citizens have an average purchasing power of $19,000 a year. Iraqis, by contrast, are living on an average of just over $2 a day, with most of the population dependent on food rations for basic nutrition

Klein's story can be read in full here.

The Carlyle/International Strategy Group documents can be viewed here.

Francophobia (see also: Xenophobia)

A typical evening on Fox News tonight. In between tape of old Bill O'Reilly interviews, Tony Snow asked two white men in suits about Franco-American relations. The white men in suits said France had been our enemy since the dawn of the Republic. Tony Snow said, "And then there was the French and Indian War." No one from France was interviewed. Bill O'Reilly himself was "on assignment" tonight, or so it was reported.

The men in suits were National Review reporter John J. Miller and professor Mark Molesky, authors of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship With France.

Here is what Library Journal Reviews has to say about Our Oldest Enemy:

"This shallow work rests on a parsimonious use of the extensive literature on Franco-American relations. For example, the chapter on World War I and its aftermath includes 42 footnotes, 16 of which refer to the same source. The authors ignore such definitive works as Henry Blumenthal's extensive two-volume survey of Franco-American relations and significant studies from the French perspective such as Jean-Baptiste Duroselle's France and the United States from the Beginnings to the Present (o.p.). This polemical work will rest comfortably only on public library shelves that include the works of such pamphleteers as Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, and Al Franken."

Here is what CNBC host Larry Kudlow has to say about the book:

"It's just a terrific, terrific book, lots of facts and figures. Your point is you can go back 300 years, before the Revolutionary War, during, after, the Civil War, the First World War, the Cold War; France was never truly an American ally."

Bush's tactics: tired and old

"In President Bush's worldview, everything is "post-9/11" except his campaign tactics. When it comes to the tired, shopworn ways in which he's attacking John Kerry, the president is, as Dick Cheney likes to say, in a 'pre-9/11 mindset."'

The debates altered the campaign in Kerry's favor because Bush could no longer run and hide from his own record and cast Kerry as a cardboard character. The debates showcased Kerry as presidentially consistent. Bush kept changing his act. He scowled in the first debate. He practically shouted in the second. He pasted a strange smile over the scowl in the third.

And Bush's new message is so old that it is as if he ran across a tattered catalogue for Republican political consultants from the 1980s or early '90s and ordered up a pre-owned campaign plan. You could imagine the text: "Falling behind your Democrat opponent? Don't know what to say? Just call him liberal, liberal, liberal...

Kerry is trying to expand choice by allowing people to buy into the health plan that covers federal employees. He'd offer subsidies to low-income working people who now have no insurance -- and thus no choice at all. And he would make it easier for employers to provide coverage by having the federal government cover a large share of catastrophic costs, thus cutting the price of private insurance.

But Bush showed that he cared far more about caricaturing Kerry's plan than solving the problems of the uninsured. "

-Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., writing about the third presidential debate

Drug makers threaten to reduce shipments to Canada

The New York Times reports today that drug makers are threatening to reduce shipments to Canada if the United States begins importing drugs. U.S. consumers pay higher prices for pharmaceuticals than anyone else in the world, and large drug companies are not anxious to give up this profit source.

Eduardo Porter writes:
Drug makers like Pfizer say they would reduce their shipments of drugs to distributors in Canada and other countries that re-export to the United States. "We are not going to supply drugs to diverters, in Canada or elsewhere," said Hank McKinnell, chairman and chief executive of Pfizer.

And Canadian health officials, fearing shortages and higher prices of their own, would probably clamp down on their own pharmacists and distributors to keep their drugs from leaking into the United States. Canadian patient-advocacy groups have already complained about shortages from the exports to the United States that already occur, even though they violate American law...

"Is it sensible for the United States to have price controls?" asked Jean O. Lanjouw, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. "It is a real question. But we don't discuss the real questions"...

For all the shortcomings, the Kerry campaign argues that drug imports should be given a chance. "If the impact is so negligible, why are the drug companies fighting it so much?" said Sarah Bianchi, Senator Kerry's policy director. Even if the overall bulk of imports were not that large, she added, "they would apply some pressure on the drug industry and make them revisit their pricing policies."

And some of the drug companies' defensive tactics could be barred by law. The Senate legislation, for example, would bar pharmaceutical companies from denying supplies to distributors and pharmacies that export to the United States...

Currently, Pfizer charges an American wholesaler an average of $2.07 for a 10-milligram pill, and some 15 percent less to an H.M.O. In Canada, by contrast, the health care system run by Ontario's provincial government will reimburse only 1.60 Canadian dollars (about $1.28) for the same pill - the same price as in 1997...

Such policies have kept Canada's prescription drug prices 30 to 80 percent cheaper than in the United States.

Because most other industrial countries maintain some kind of price controls on prescription drugs, the United States has a similar drug price gap with the rest of the world. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that average prices for patented drugs in 25 other top industrialized nations were 35 percent to 55 percent lower than in the United States.

Gay-baiting (aka the latest Republican diversion)

Here's what Timothy Noah has to say on the subject:
Dick and Lynne Cheney claim to be outraged that John Kerry mentioned their daughter Mary's sexual orientation (she's gay) in the Oct. 13 debate. Immediately after the debate, Lynne said it was a "cheap and tawdry political trick." Her outrage was spontaneous, and therefore probably sincere. But the vice president, who spoke at the same press availability, glided past the subject and instead expostulated on the "whale of a job" the president had done and Kerry's poor record on defense. That suggests to me that Cheney wasn't outraged at all. (When John Edwards had mentioned Mary in the much nastier vice presidential debate, Cheney had thanked him "for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter.") The morning after the debate, Jodi Wilgoren reported that three undecided Iowans—all member of the same family—had thought it "unfair" for Kerry to mention that Mary Cheney was gay. Knowing now that outrage had tested well in a focus group, Cheney chimed in early that afternoon that he was "a pretty angry father," and said it showed that Kerry will "say and do anything in order to get elected"...

The [Wall Street] Journal, preposterously, accused Kerry of "outing" Mary Cheney, even though, when asked about gay marriage at an August campaign rally in Iowa, the vice president had said, "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with." It was hardly the first time either Cheney had acknowledged Mary's sexual orientation in public. It's been common knowledge for years...

I won't dispute that Kerry was using Mary Cheney to score a political point. But the political point was an entirely legitimate one, aimed, I believe, not at fundamentalists but at swing voters with libertarian leanings. Listen, Kerry was saying. This guy knows gay people, just like you and I do. So he must know that homosexuality isn't a "lifestyle choice." He must know that, and yet he pretends not to know it to score points with the religious right. How cynical can you get?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Sinclair losing advertisers over anti-Kerry film

As reported earlier, Sinclair Broadcast Corp. has ordered its 62 television stations to show an anti-Kerry film a week before the election. Today, the Portland Press Herald reported that three Maine companies have withdrawn advertising from WGME, Sinclair's Portland affiliate.

Bill O'Reilly's legal troubles

Andrea Mackris has filed a sexual harassment suit against Fox News host and children's author Bill O'Reilly. Court documents can be viewed here.

El Salvador: Dick Cheney's model democracy

"Brushing off Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards' gloomy take on conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vice President Dick Cheney insisted: 'Freedom is the best antidote to terror.'

Cheney explained: 'Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. ... And we held free elections. ... And as the terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places, as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote. And today El Salvador's a whale of a lot better because we held free elections.'

In the early 1980s, the United States provided the government of El Salvador more than $350 million in aid and trained hundreds of Salvadoran officers to suppress a guerilla insurgency rooted in rural poverty and militarism. After a democratic election in 1984, the government fell into the clutches of a series of military regimes, and the country into a prolonged civil war. As Cheney pointed out, more than 75,000 people were killed, and countless more tortured and forced into exile before the 1992 peace accords. In 1993, a United Nations Truth Commission revealed that government security forces and paramilitaries acting on their behalf committed 85 percent of the atrocities. Declassified U.S. intelligence confirms this.

Today in El Salvador, the government comes from the same ARENA party (though with different leadership) that organized the death squads of the early-1980s; the murder rate is the highest in Latin America; more than half of the country lives in poverty; GDP has barely recovered to pre-war levels; a drug trade run by paramilitary forces and transnational street gangs is flourishing; and the military, an institution with a horrific human rights record, still exercises enormous influence. And yet, the government in San Salvador remains loyal to Washington; El Salvador is a member of the "Coalition of the Willing."

-Everand Meade, San Diego Union-Tribune

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Voter Suppression

Paul Krugman writes:

"Ohio's secretary of state, a Republican, tried to use an archaic rule about paper quality to invalidate thousands of new, heavily Democratic registrations.

That attempt failed. But in Wisconsin, a Republican county executive insists that this year, when everyone expects a record turnout, Milwaukee will receive fewer ballots than it got in 2000 or 2002 - a recipe for chaos at polling places serving urban, mainly Democratic voters...

Florida's secretary of state recently ruled that voter registrations would be deemed incomplete if those registering failed to check a box affirming their citizenship, even if they had signed an oath saying the same thing elsewhere on the form...

Whose applications get rejected? A Washington Post examination of rejected applications in Duval County found three times as many were from Democrats, compared with Republicans. It also found a strong tilt toward rejection of blacks' registrations.

The case of Florida's felon list - used by state officials, as in 2000, to try to wrongly disenfranchise thousands of blacks - has been widely reported. Less widely reported has been overwhelming evidence that the errors were deliberate.

In an article coming next week in Harper's, Greg Palast, who originally reported the story of the 2000 felon list, reveals that few of those wrongly purged from the voting rolls in 2000 are back on the voter lists. State officials have imposed Kafkaesque hurdles for voters trying to get back on the rolls. Depending on the county, those attempting to get their votes back have been required to seek clemency for crimes committed by others, or to go through quasi-judicial proceedings to prove that they are not felons with similar names."

Additional voter suppression techniques are reported here

Republican-affiliated group under investigation for voter fraud in Oregon, Nevada

The Oregon attorney general's office has opened a criminal investigation into possible voter fraud by employees of a Republican contractor. A Sproul & Associates canvasser told TV reporters he had been instructed to register only Republicans and he might destroy Democratic registration forms, Newsday reports.

Meanwhile, a similar investigation is being conducted in Nevada.

CBS writes:

"Acccording to KLAS-TV, a former employee claimed hundreds, if not thousands, of Democratic registration forms were destroyed by a Sproul & Associates group called Voters Outreach of America.

The former employee first told local Nevada reporters that he had personally witnessed his boss shredding eight to ten voter registration forms, according to Steve George, a spokesman for the Nevada Secretary of State."

Bush Sr. doesn't like his business dealings being investigated

George H.W. Bush told a Maine TV station today Michael Moore is a "total ass slimeball."

In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore had the audicity to bring to the public's attention miscellaneous trivia such as: On the morning of Sept. 11, George H.W. Bush was a meeting for the Carlyle Group, a private investment firm that also included the bin Laden family among its investors.

Fact-checking the debates 3.0

From the Associated Press:

"Kerry accurately quoted Bush as saying he does not think much about Osama bin Laden and is not all that concerned about him. The president protested: 'I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations.

But in March 2002, Bush indeed said: 'I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run.' He described the terrorist leader as 'marginalized,' and said, 'I just don't spend that much time on him.'"

WATE in Knoxville reports:

"Verbal volleys flew between President Bush and John Kerry during their final debate Wednesday night. However, in making their attacks, the facts seemed to be the real casualties.

The first misstatement of the evening came in the president's first response. 'I signed the Homeland Security bill to better align our assets and resources,' Bush said. 'My opponent voted against it.'

That's wrong. Sen. Kerry voted yes on final passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002...

Kerry also told the president, 'Five hundred thousand kids lost after-school programs because of your budget.' Wrong. Although the president proposed cutting $400 million from after school funding, Congress didn't go along so no children lost their programs."

John Kerry said George W. Bush hadn't met with the Congressional Black Caucus during his term in office. In fact, Bush met with the caucus in the first two weeks of his administration. More recently, Bush has turned down six invitations to meet with the caucus.

The AP writes:

"The last presidential debate highlighted words President Bush forgot he had spoken, a meeting John Kerry thought never happened, but did, and a refusal on both sides to back off questionable statements that have practically become classics through repetition.

Kerry claimed once more that Bush has lost 1.6 million jobs, about twice as many as have actually disappeared. The persistent discrepancy comes from his not saying that the losses he speaks of are in the private sector, and are mitigated by job gains in public service. He let go of another regular misstatement, however, this time using an accurate figure on the cost of the Iraq war.

Bush again declared of his opponent, 'He voted to increase taxes 98 times,' which should not be taken at all to mean Kerry has voted for that many tax increases. Independent analysis has found the list of 98 includes multiple votes for single measures and votes that set targets without having any effect on the tax code."

-Kerry said he had a plan to "insure all Americans." In fact, most estimates put the number of additional Americans he would insure at about 25-27 million. The number of uninsured Americans has risen to 45 million under Bush. Independent analysts have estimated that Bush's "health care plan," if implemented, would only bring health insurance to 7 million more Americans.
-Bush sought to take credit for creating the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, Bush had originally opposed created a homeland security department. As the AP put it, "President Bush overlooked a flip-flop of his own when he boasted yesterday about launching the Homeland Security Department: He was against it before he was for it."

Soldiers speak out against the war

In its current issue, Mother Jones profiles war dissenters in the military.

Here is a preview:
When Hoffman arrived in Kuwait in February 2003, his unit’s highest-ranking enlisted man laid out the mission in stark terms. “You’re not going to make Iraq safe for democracy,” the sergeant said. “You are going for one reason alone: oil. But you’re still going to go, because you signed a contract. And you’re going to go to bring your friends home.” Hoffman, who had his own doubts about the war, was relieved—he’d never expected to hear such a candid assessment from a superior. But it was only when he had been in Iraq for several months that the full meaning of the sergeant’s words began to sink in...

In a 2003 Gallup Poll, nearly one-fifth of the soldiers surveyed said they felt the situation in Iraq had not been worth going to war over. In another poll, in Pennsylvania last August, 54 percent of households with a member in the military said the war was the “wrong thing to do”; in the population as a whole, only 48 percent felt that way. Doubts about the war have contributed to the decline of troop morale over the past year—and may, some experts say, be a factor in the 40 percent increase in Army suicide rates in Iraq in the past year. “That’s the most basic tool a soldier needs on the battlefield—a reason to be there,” says Paul Rieckhoff, a platoon leader in the New York National Guard and former JPMorgan banker who served in Iraq...

Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey may be the most unlikely of the soldiers who have come out against the war. A Marine since 1992, he has been a recruiter, infantry instructor, and combat platoon leader. He went to Iraq primed to fight. “9/11 pissed me off,” he says. “I was ready to go kill a raghead.”

Shortly after Massey arrived in Iraq, his unit was ordered to man roadblocks. To stop cars, the Marines would raise their hands. If the drivers kept going, Massey says, “we would just light ’em up. I didn’t find out until later on, after talking to an Iraqi, that when you put your hand up in the air, it means ‘Hello.’” He estimates that his men killed 30 civilians in one 48-hour period...

Sergeant John Bruhns is sharply critical of soldiers who go AWOL. “I feel that if you are against the war, you should be man enough to stay put and fight for what you believe in,” he says. But he also doesn’t believe in making a secret of his opinions about the war. “I’m very proud of my military service,” he tells me from his post with the Army’s 1st Armored Division in Fort Riley, Kansas. “But I am disheartened and personally hurt, after seeing two people lose their limbs and a 19-year-old girl die and three guys lose their vision, to learn that the reason I went to Iraq never existed. And I believe that by being over there for a year, I have earned the right to have an opinion.”

Bruhns returned in February from a one-year deployment in Iraq. He is due to complete his Army service next March, but his unit may be “stop-lossed”—their terms extended beyond their discharge dates to meet the Pentagon’s desperate need for troops. Critics have called this a backdoor draft, a way to force a volunteer military into involuntarily serving long stints in an unpopular war. A California National Guard member has filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, and Bruhns has considered joining the case.

“I’m really a patriotic soldier,” the 27-year-old infantryman tells me; he addresses me as “sir” and stops periodically to answer the squawk of his walkie-talkie. He signed up as a full-time soldier in early 2002, after serving five years in the Marine Corps Reserve. “I was really upset about what happened on 9/11,” he recalls, “and I really wanted to serve. I lost a buddy of mine in the World Trade Center. I believe what we did in Afghanistan was right.”

But what he saw in Iraq, Bruhns says, left him disappointed. “We were fighting all the time. The only peace is what we kept with guns. A lot of stuff that we heard on the news—that we were fighting leftover loyalists, Ba’ath Party holdovers—wasn’t true. When I arrested people on raids, many of them were poor people. They weren’t in with the Ba’ath Party. The people of Iraq were attacking us as a reaction to what the majority of them felt—that they were being occupied.”

Full story here.

Congress looking at raising debt ceiling; $7.4 trillion debt not enough to pay Bush Administration bills

It's a high price to pay to obtain tax cuts for the wealthy and 1,074 dead American soldiers in Iraq.

CNN reported today that Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling again to make room for a soaring national debt.

Noted during the Lou Dobbs show:

"Congress has already raised the debt ceiling twice during the Bush Administration shattering all previous records."

The Associated Press reports:
Treasury Secretary John Snow announced Thursday that the government has begun using various accounting procedures to avoid hitting the $7.4 trillion national debt limit.
Snow made the announcement in a letter to Congress, which has not passed legislation needed to boost the government's borrowing authority, which now stands at a statutory limit of $7.4 trillion.

"Given current projections, it is imperative that the Congress take action to increase the debt limit by mid-November," when "all of our previously used prudent and legal actions to avoid breaching the statutory debt limit will be exhausted," Snow wrote in the letter to House and Senate leaders of both parties.

Democrats used Snow's announcement to attack the Bush administration's record budget deficits, which will force Congress to increase the debt ceiling for the third time in three years...

"This is the burden Republican policies are passing onto next generations, and there is no plan or prospect for confronting it," said Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Congress is expected to come back in a special session after the Nov. 2 elections to deal with the debt limit and pass a massive spending bill to keep the government running.

Republican leaders did not want to take up the debt issue before the election and open themselves up to Democratic attacks about the record federal budget deficits run up during President Bush's first term in office.

Full story here.

Remember, this is a president who entered office with a SURPLUS.

U.S. refuses to join U.N. pact on women's rights

The Associated Press reports:

"The United States has refused to join 85 other heads of state and government in signing a statement that endorsed a 10-year-old U.N. plan to ensure every woman's right to education, health care and choice about having children.

President Bush's administration withheld its signature because the statement included a reference to 'sexual rights.'"

Full coverage here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Sad But True

Americans are now paying an average of almost $2/gallon at the pump and above $2.50/gallon in some locations.

Jay Leno: "I feel bad for President Bush. The oil companies are his only economic success story and he can't even brag about it."

FactCheck: Bush supporters are wrong on recession, Medicare

The claims in a new pro-Bush ad are wrong, according to FactCheck.org (the website recommended by Dick Cheney during the vice-presidential debate).

FactCheck writes:

"The ad by the pro-Bush group Progress for America Voter Fund claims the economy was already in a recession when Bush took office, but the National Bureau of Economic Research (which dates business cycles) says the recession actually began in March 2001, after Bush took office in January....

To be sure, the rate of economic growth had slowed significantly at the time Bush took office, as the longest boom in US history drew to a close. Real Gross Domestic Product, a general indicator of economic performance, grew an an unimpressive annual rate of 2.1 percent in the final quarter of 2000, after actually contracting by half a percentage point in the previous quarter. But employment was still growing when Bush was sworn in, and the economy actually added 113,000 payroll jobs between January and March 2001, before starting to decline in April....

The ad also misleads when it says Bush's tax cuts 'helped . . . create nearly 2 million jobs.'  It is true that the economy has re-gained 1.9 million jobs since the very bottom of the job slump in August of 2003, as we reported  when Bush used this number during the second presidential debate.  But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that still leaves the Bush administration with a loss of 585,000 jobs...

The facts also get stretched when the ad claims '41 million seniors now have access to lower cost prescriptions (emphasis added).' Bush's new prescription drug benefit will cover seniors on Medicare for an extra premium of about $35 a month, but not until 2006. Even the currently available drug discount cards have been used much less than expected. Current enrollment is less than 5 million.

Full analysis here.

Behind Locked Doors

Read the military's own reports on what went on inside the Abu Ghraib prison. Click here..

Monday, October 11, 2004

Fact-checking the debates 2.0

Before Wednesday's debate even begins, you can easily predict which lies George Bush will use. Here are a few outlined by Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

Mr. Bush will boast about the decline in the unemployment rate from its June 2003 peak. But the employed fraction of the population didn't rise at all; unemployment declined only because some of those without jobs stopped actively looking for work, and therefore dropped out of the unemployment statistics. The labor force participation rate - the fraction of the population either working or actively looking for work - has fallen sharply under Mr. Bush; if it had stayed at its January 2001 level, the official unemployment rate would be 7.4 percent.

The deficit
Mr. Bush will claim that the recession and 9/11 caused record budget deficits. Congressional Budget Office estimates show that tax cuts caused about two-thirds of the 2004 deficit.

The tax cuts
Mr. Bush will claim that Senator John Kerry opposed "middle class" tax cuts. But budget office numbers show that most of Mr. Bush's tax cuts went to the best-off 10 percent of families, and more than a third went to the top 1 percent, whose average income is more than $1 million.

-Paul Krugman, "Checking the Facts, in Advance"

James Watson, DNA pioneer, defends stem cell research

"Nobel laureate James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, on Monday defended stem cell research, saying researchers must be able to search for ways to improve quality of life despite the field's uncertainties.

'I think there's a perception that scientists are more interested in science than society, that scientists are less moral than religious people,' the 76-year-old Watson said at the opening of a Berlin exhibit on his life and books. 'I think that's completely wrong.'

'To what extent research on stem cells will improve the quality of human life, I don't know, but we should be allowed to try,' he told reporters at the Berlin Medical History Museum at the Charite Medical School."

-Matt Surman, Associated Press

Read more here.

A majority of Americans, Australians, Brits, and Italians agree: Bush's Iraq policy has actually increased the threat of terrorism

More than two-thirds of the people living in Australia, Britain and Italy — three countries allied with the United States in the Iraq war — believe the war has increased the threat of terrorism.

Leaders of those countries — prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and John Howard of Australia and Premier Silvio Berlusconi of Italy — all get low marks from their people for their handling of the war on terrorism, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll shows.

More than half of those in the United States, 52 percent, believe the Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism, while three in 10 in the United States think it has decreased the threat — a view promoted by President Bush.

-Will Lester, Associated Press

Read more here.

Working, but not making enough to pay the bills

"One in every five U.S. jobs pays less than a poverty-level wage for a family of four, according to a study by the nonpartisan Working Poor Families Project.

The result of so many low-paying jobs is that nearly 39 million Americans, including 20 million children, are members of 'low-income working families' — with barely enough money to cover basic needs like housing, groceries and child care, the study found."

-Genaro Armas, Associated Press

Read more here.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Christopher Reeve dies, "Superman" star lobbied for stem cell research

"It is painful to contemplate where we might be today if embryonic stem cell research had been allowed to go forward with full support of the government," Christopher Reeve (1952-2004), speaking in 2003.

Who is John Kerry? The prosecutor we need.

From Matt Bai's near-book-length profile of John Kerry for the New York Times Magazine:
As New York and Washington were under attack on Sept. 11, 2001, a film crew happened to come upon John Kerry leaving the Capitol. The brief moment of footage, included in a BBC documentary called ''Clear the Skies,'' tells us something, perhaps, about Kerry in a crisis. The camera captures Congressional aides and visitors, clearly distraught and holding onto one another, streaming down the back steps of the Capitol building in near panic, following the bellowed instructions of anxious police. Off to one side of the screen, there is Kerry, alone, his long legs carrying him calmly down the steps, his neck craning toward the sky, as if he were watching a gathering rainstorm. His face and demeanor appear unworried...

''I remember looking up at the sky as I walked down the steps,'' Kerry told me recently, when I asked him about the film clip. He said that he and other members of the Senate's Democratic leadership had just watched on television as the second plane hit the World Trade Center, and shortly after that they heard the sonic boom of an explosion and saw, through a large window, the black smoke rise from the Pentagon. ''We'd had some warning that there was some airplane in the sky. And I remember seeing a great big plane -- I think it was a 747 or something -- up there, but it wasn't moving in a way that, you know, I was particularly concerned. I remember feeling a rage, a huge anger, and I remember turning to somebody and saying, 'This is war.' I said, 'This is an act of war'''...

[W]hen you listen carefully to what Bush and Kerry say, it becomes clear that the differences between them are more profound than the matter of who can be more effective in achieving the same ends. Bush casts the war on terror as a vast struggle that is likely to go on indefinitely, or at least as long as radical Islam commands fealty in regions of the world. In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the ''Today'' show in August that he didn't think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. ''I don't think you can win it,'' he said -- a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life"...

In 1988, Kerry successfully proposed an amendment that forced the Treasury Department to negotiate so-called Kerry Agreements with foreign countries. Under these agreements, foreign governments had to promise to keep a close watch on their banks for potential money laundering or they risked losing their access to U.S. markets. Other measures Kerry tried to pass throughout the 90's, virtually all of them blocked by Republican senators on the banking committee, would end up, in the wake of 9/11, in the USA Patriot Act; among other things, these measures subject banks to fines or loss of license if they don't take steps to verify the identities of their customers and to avoid being used for money laundering...

By singling out three states in particular- Iraq, North Korea and Iran -- as an ''axis of evil,'' and by invading Iraq on the premise that it did (or at least might) sponsor terrorism, Bush cemented the idea that his war on terror is a war against those states that, in the president's words, are not with us but against us. Many of Bush's advisers spent their careers steeped in cold-war strategy, and their foreign policy is deeply rooted in the idea that states are the only consequential actors on the world stage, and that they can -- and should -- be forced to exercise control over the violent groups that take root within their borders.

Kerry's view, on the other hand, suggests that it is the very premise of civilized states, rather than any one ideology, that is under attack. And no one state, acting alone, can possibly have much impact on the threat, because terrorists will always be able to move around, shelter their money and connect in cyberspace; there are no capitals for a superpower like the United States to bomb, no ambassadors to recall, no economies to sanction. The U.S. military searches for bin Laden, the Russians hunt for the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev and the Israelis fire missiles at Hamas bomb makers; in Kerry's world, these disparate terrorist elements make up a loosely affiliated network of diabolical villains, more connected to one another by tactics and ideology than they are to any one state sponsor. The conflict, in Kerry's formulation, pits the forces of order versus the forces of chaos, and only a unified community of nations can ensure that order prevails...

Kerry's view, that the 21st century will be defined by the organized world's struggle against agents of chaos and lawlessness, might be the beginning of a compelling vision. The idea that America and its allies, sharing resources and using the latest technologies, could track the movements of terrorists, seize their bank accounts and carry out targeted military strikes to eliminate them, seems more optimistic and more practical than the notion that the conventional armies of the United States will inevitably have to punish or even invade every Islamic country that might abet radicalism.

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White House alienating allies all across Europe

The Associated Press reports:

"From Britain to the Baltics, many sense a sea change in sentiment toward an America they once admired — largely linked to what they call an arrogant contempt of others after 9-11...

Like many Europeans who see the American chief executive as reshaping their world, [Cedric] Judicis wishes he could vote.

'To us, America was always the gold standard,' he said. 'It made mistakes, but it always meant well. We were like pupils who admired the master.'

Judicis has made six trips to the United States and, unlike some others, he is eager to go back.

'But America is different now,' he said. 'It rules by force, not by the weight of respect. There's a sense of 'do what I say and not what I do.' It was always so open. Now it seems to us totalitarian.'

Jillie Faraday, a British filmmaker based in Paris, still loves to visit American friends. She knows the society well, avoiding generalities that often lead its critics astray.

Still, she excoriates the Bush administration because of Iraq. 'Can't they see that they're just making more terrorists, more bitterness, more frustration?' she asked.

And she thinks a Republican cabal is conning an apathetic, foolish mainstream. She is outraged, for instance, at the new electronic voting system in Florida which leaves no paper record.

'If they tried to do that in anywhere in Europe, people would riot in the streets," she said. "Americans are fed propaganda, and they say it's democracy.'"

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