Monday, October 27, 2008


Al-Qaeda Leaders Root for McCain

By Robert Parry

Gloating over the U.S. economic crisis, al-Qaeda strategists are telling each other that a John McCain victory is crucial if the slide of their American enemies is to continue and possibly accelerate.

With McCain struggling in the polls, some al-Qaeda operatives even are discussing the possibility of a new terrorist attack timed before the Nov. 4 election to rally the American people to McCain's candidacy.

"Al-Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election," declared one commentary on a password-protected site, al-Hesbah, which has been linked to the terrorist organization.

The commentary argued that a last-minute terrorist strike could galvanize American voters behind McCain's hard-line positions and bring about a McCain administration that would follow the "failing march" of George W. Bush. [Washington Post, Oct. 22, 2008]

This al-Qaeda logic is something that U.S. intelligence agencies have long understood, that Bush's tough-guy strategies often have played into al-Qaeda's bloody hands by exacerbating anti-Americanism in the Islamic world.

For instance, CIA analysts recognized that al-Qaeda's "October Surprise" for Campaign 2004 – a videotape of Osama bin Laden denouncing Bush that was released on Oct. 29, the Friday before the election – had the predictable effect of driving American voters to Bush.

"Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President," said deputy CIA director John McLaughlin in opening a meeting to review secret "strategic analysis" after the videotape had dominated the day's news, according to Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, which draws heavily from CIA insiders.

This Year's Hanging Chad

by Froma Harrop

Once again in Ohio, the presidential polls are tied and its 20 electoral votes up for grabs. Such scenarios generally don't lend themselves to gentle politics.

Ohio Republicans have been raging at what they claim is a raft of phony voter registrations by Democrats. (Rush Limbaugh has been whipping up passions on his end.) They've put a face on their wrath, and it belongs to Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's secretary of state and a Democrat.

"Eight different actions were filed against me in just a month," Brunner told me. This being Ohio, Brunner said she expected election-related suits, but she "was assuming eight for the whole election season." She's also received death threats.

Here's the issue: Federal law requires states to check new registrants against databases at their motor vehicle bureau or the Social Security Administration. Any mismatch is flagged for later examination.

Ohio has had 660,000 new registration applications, and the information on as many as 200,000 did not match that on one of the databases.

The Ohio Republican Party demanded a list of all flagged names. Brunner refused, fearing that partisan poll workers would use the information to challenge thousands of voters on Election Day. Her worry is chaos at the polls and long lines that would discourage many from participating.

These non-matches are common and usually reflect computer error or a bureaucrat's sloppy typing. In some states, 30 percent of the names didn't match, according to the Brennan Center at the New York University Law School.

Complicating matters, Ohio's motor vehicle bureau has often (and unnecessarily) used the Social Security database after getting a perfect match from a driver's license. That opened new avenues for discrepancies.

Among Ohioans flagged as mismatches is Joe the Plumber — Toledo's Joe Wurzelbacher, made famous in the third presidential debate. Another was Jon Husted, the speaker of the Ohio House and a Republican.Both cases involved a misspelled name.

Geezer Dingbat

San Francisco weighs decriminalizing prostitution


Prostitute Patricia West, 22, poses for a photograph in front of City Hall...

San Francisco Ballot Measure Would Prevent Arrests for Prostitution

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - In this live-and-let-live town, where medical marijuana clubs do business next to grocery stores and an annual fair celebrates sadomasochism, prostitutes could soon walk the streets without fear of arrest.

San Francisco would become the first major U.S. city to decriminalize prostitution if voters next month approve Proposition K—a measure that forbids local authorities from investigating, arresting or prosecuting anyone for selling sex.

The ballot question technically would not legalize prostitution since state law still prohibits it, but the measure would eliminate the power of local law enforcement officials to go after prostitutes.

Proponents say the measure will free up $11 million the police spend each year arresting prostitutes and allow them to form collectives.

"It will allow workers to organize for our rights and for our safety," said Patricia West, 22, who said she has been selling sex for about a year by placing ads on the Internet. She moved to San Francisco in May from Texas to work on Proposition K.

Even in tolerant San Francisco—where the sadomasochism fair draws thousands of tourists and a pornographic video company is housed in a former armory—the measure faces an uphill battle, with much of the political establishment opposing it.

Where did the "capital" go?

Report from the Socialist International Conspiracy

By Barbara Ehrenreich

Surely you have heard by now of the imminent socialist takeover of America, and if you find the prospect unlikely, ask yourself: How many socialists do you know who lost millions in the recent stock market crashes? Just as I thought—none—and that's not only because you don't know any socialists. The truth is that we, the Socialist International Conspiracy, not only saw this coming, we are the ones who made it happen.

The plan took shape during a particularly intense criticism/self-criticism session at our 2000 annual convention in a booth at an Akron IHOP. We realized that we'd been recruiting no more new members per year than the Green Bay Packers and that, despite all our efforts, more Americans have been taken aboard UFO's than have embraced the historic promise of socialism. So we decided to suspend our usual work of standing on street corners and hissing, "Hey, how'd you like to live in a workers' paradise?" Instead of building socialism, one worker at a time, we  would focus on destroying capitalism, hedge fund by hedge fund.

First, we selected a cadre of crusty punks from the streets of Seattle, stripped off their Che t-shirts, suited them up in Armani's and wingtips, and introduced them to the concepts of derivatives and dental floss. Then we shipped them to Wall Street with firm instructions: Make as much money as you can, as fast as you can, and as soon as the money starts rolling in, send it out to make more money by whatever dodgy means you can find – subprime loans, credit default swaps, pyramid schemes – anything goes. And oh yes: Spend your own earnings in the most flamboyantly gross ways you can think of -- $10,000 martinis, fountains of champagne – so as to fan the flames of class resentment.

These brave comrades did far better than we could have imagined, quickly adapting to lives of excess and greed punctuated only by squash games at the Century Club. But we could not have inflicted such massive damage to capitalism if we hadn't also planted skilled agents in high places within the government and various quasi-governmental agencies. When all this is over, Phil Gramm, for example—the former senator and McCain economics advisor -- will be getting a Hero of Socialism award for his courageous battle against financial regulation. That's the only name I can name at this moment, but I will tell you this: If you happened to have been in a playground in the suburbs of DC any time in the last few years, and noticed an impeccably dressed elderly man poking around under rocks, that was a certain Federal Reserve Chairman, looking for his weekly orders from the central committee.

Joining the War Over the Constitution

The new president and Congress need something to help make this America again. They need you.

By Nat Hentoff

Two months after the 9/11 attacks, 25 teachers, retirees, lawyers, doctors, students, and nurses—none of them professional civil libertarians—formed the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton, Massachusetts. They knew the Bush-Cheney war on the Constitution had begun.

That October 25, the White House had terrified Congress into rushing the Patriot Act into law. In the Senate, only Democrat Russ Feingold—accurately predicting the continuous rape of the Bill of Rights—voted against it, disobeying Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who desperately wanted to avoid the Republicans tarring the Democrats as unpatriotic.

The unintimidated 25 citizens of Northampton convinced more than 1,000 of their neighbors to sign a petition that, by the following May, motivated the Northampton City Council to unanimously pass a resolution mandating local police to inform the people when federal agents of Attorney General John Ashcroft were enforcing the Patriot Act in the town and its environs.

In the spirit of this nation's founders, the resolution boldly directed: "Local law enforcement continues to preserve residents' freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and privacy; rights to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures even if requested or authorized to infringe upon these rights by federal law enforcement acting under the . . . Patriot Act or orders of the Executive Branch."

General Ashcroft was later to tell the House Judiciary Committee: "The last time I looked at September 11, an American street was a war zone." Anyone on those streets could be the enemy.

As additional Massachusetts towns and the city councils of Ann Arbor and Denver took Northampton's lead and passed similar resolutions, BORDC founder and director Nancy Talanian put together a masterful website to synchronize a growing national movement— (on which I click every morning to find out the cities, towns, and states creating new committees)—and news stories from around the country on further administration raids on the Constitution. By now, more than 400 cities and towns—and eight states—have passed BORDC resolutions and continue to monitor local and state police and their congressional representatives.

This truly grassroots movement is a 21st-century revival of the Committees of Correspondence started in Boston by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty in 1767, which became a news network throughout the colonies.

The last card

The Hyped Panic Over 'War of the Worlds'


Frank Stanton sensed trouble. Sitting in his living room on the night of October 30, 1938, the young CBS executive tuned in to catch Orson Welles's adaptation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds. The program sounded crisp and engaging — but a bit too realistic. Stanton grabbed his coat and headed back to CBS' headquarters on Madison Avenue. Pushing his way through chaotic hallways jammed with reporters, police, and network employees, he reached his desk and telephoned his friend Paul Lazarsfeld.

Stanton and the sociologist Lazarsfeld set out to measure the panic as quickly and accurately as possible before it subsided. Their basic results would spur a remarkable conversation that reverberates 70 years later in social psychology, media theory, federal regulation, and other fields.

The "War of the Worlds" broadcast remains enshrined in collective memory as a vivid illustration of the madness of crowds and the deeply invasive nature of broadcasting. The program seemingly proved that radio could, in the memorable words of Marshall McLuhan, turn "psyche and society into a single echo chamber." The audience's reaction clearly illustrated the perils of modernity. At the time, it cemented a growing suspicion that skillful artists — or incendiary demagogues — could use communications technology to capture the consciousness of the nation. It remains the prime example used by media critics, journalists, and professors to prove the power of the media.

Yet the media are not as powerful as most think, and the real story behind "The War of the Worlds" is a bit more complex. The panic was neither as widespread nor as serious as many have believed at the time or since.

Nobody died of fright or was killed in the panic, nor could any suicides be traced to the broadcast. Hospital emergency-room visits did not spike, nor, surprisingly, did calls to the police outside of a select few jurisdictions. The streets were never flooded with a terrified citizenry. Ben Gross, the radio columnist of the New York Daily News, later remembered a "lack of turmoil in front of CBS" that contrasted notably with the crowded, chaotic scene inside the building. Telephone lines in New York City and a few other cities were jammed, as the primitive infrastructure of the era couldn't handle the load, but it appears that almost all the panic that evening was as ephemeral as the nationwide broadcast itself, and not nearly as widespread. That iconic image of the farmer with a gun, ready to shoot the aliens? It was staged for Life magazine.

So what accounts for the legend? First — and perhaps most important — the news media loved the story, and Welles loved the news media. The panic became a global story literally overnight. Even the Nazis could not resist commenting, noting the credulity of the American public. Americans certainly appeared gullible, but they were not alone. The news media, handed a sensational story of national scope, reported every detail (including fictional ones) about Welles, the program, and the reaction.

Welles's greatest performance that evening wasn't in the studio; it was in a hallway, at the improvised news conference, when he feigned a stunned, apologetic demeanor.

20 Billion Barrels: Another Gamechanger for Cuba

For those of us arguing for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba based on a realist calculation of American interests, Cuba's announcement that the geology in their territorial waters could contain up to 20 billion barrels of crude oil certainly tips the scales. Whether the estimate is accurate or not, the sooner we change course, the better.

Consider the situation. Last month, Cuba was devastated by three hurricanes that ripped up the island's housing, infrastructure, and destroyed one-third of its crops. It was the worst hurricane season in memory, with more than a quarter of the population displaced at one point. Based on an internal food security assessment that I recently completed, the Cuban people are now surviving on Government rations which may run out in December, well before Cuban agriculture bounces back by February or March. While some ministers of the Cuban government have denied the possibility of a mass famine, others have been steadily preparing for the worst. While I now discount the possibility for an October surprise, it is still more than possible that on January 20, 2009 televisions in Miami will have a split screen: one watching the new U.S. president sworn in while the other chronicles severe hunger in or even mass migration from Cuba.


A Teen Who Got Pregnant as a Result of Rape has a Message for Governor Palin

Palin still doesn't grasp role of VP

by Nick Juliano and David Edwards

Sarah Palin burst onto the national scene out of nowhere a couple months ago when she became the Republican vice presidential nominee, but the Alaska governor seems to still not fully understand the details of the job she is applying for.

In an interview with a local Colorado TV station, Palin said the vice president is "in charge of the United States Senate" and "can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes."

Palin's statement seems to betray a fundamental understanding about the nature of the vice president's job. As regards the Senate, the vice president's official role is to serve as presiding officer, although those duties are traditionally handled by the president pro temproe. Only in the event of a tie can the vice president cast a vote, and such a scenario seems unlikely as Democrats are expected to pick up anywhere between three and nine seats in November.

If Palin didn't want to break out the copy of the Constitution that is presumably gathering dust on a bookshelf somewhere in the governor's mansion, she could have simply looked to pop-culture for some easy to follow guidance. The Emmy-winning HBO mini-series John Adams featured a memorable scene of the country's first vice president being reminded of the lack of authority his position entailed.

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F is for Failure

The Bush Doctrine in Ruins
By Tom Engelhardt

On the brief occasions when the President now appears in the Rose Garden to "comfort" or "reassure" a shock-and-awed nation, you can almost hear those legions of ducks quacking lamely in the background. Once upon a time, George W. Bush, along with his top officials and advisors, hoped to preside over a global Pax Americana and a domestic Pax Republicana -- a legacy for the generations. More recently, their highest hope seems to have been to slip out of town in January before the you-know-what hits the fan. No such luck.

Of course, what they feared most was that the you-know-what would hit in Iraq, and so put their efforts into sweeping that disaster out of sight. Once again, however, as in September 2001 and August 2005, they were caught predictably flatfooted by a domestic disaster. In this case, they were ambushed by an insurgent stock market heading into chaos, killer squads of credit default swaps, and a hurricane of financial collapse.

At the moment, only 7% of Americans believe the country is "going in the right direction," Bush's job-approval ratings have dropped into the low 20s with no bottom in sight, and North Dakota is "in play" in the presidential election. Think of that as the equivalent of a report card on Bush's economic policies. In other words, the Yale legacy student with the C average has been branded for life with a resounding domestic "F" for failure. (His singular domestic triumph may prove to be paving the way for the first African American president.)

But there's another report card that's not in. Despite a media focus on Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the record of his Global War on Terror (and the Bush Doctrine that once went with it) has yet to be fully assessed. This is surprising, since administration actions in waging that war in what neoconservatives used to call "the arc of instability" -- a swath of territory running from North Africa to the Chinese border -- add up to a record of failure unprecedented in American history.

Dumb and Dumber