Monday, November 3, 2008

The Food Crisis and Gender

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By Katherine Coon

Statistics on the most recent global food crisis are well known. In the three years leading up to June 2008, food prices rose 83%. Although declining since, they are still 60% higher than in 2006. There is little prospect of returning to the cheap food regimes that characterized the world prior to 2005 anytime in the foreseeable future. So far, the food crisis has pushed an estimated 75 million people into chronic hunger since 2005.

Women and children, particularly girls, have been hardest hit by the food crisis. In part, this disproportionate impact is because women in poor rural communities have less access to resources, transportation, and communication networks. Any effective resolution to the food crisis — and to reinforce food security more generally — must incorporate an understanding of this differential impact on gender roles.

Rural Poverty

Most chronic hunger in the world is a failure of entitlement rather than supply. People within nations, and often nations as a whole, are unable to secure the income needed to produce or purchase enough food to meet their basic needs. Today, almost a billion people live on less than $1 a day and suffer from food insecurity. Although half of the global population lives in towns and cities, three-quarters of those subsisting on less than $1 a day live in rural areas of the global South, depending on either small-holder farming, selling labor, or a combination of both to survive. They are also net food buyers, spending up to 80% of their income on food. Not coincidentally, three-quarters of everyone suffering from chronic malnutrition also live in these same rural areas.

While rising food prices affect urban and rural poor alike, the impact on the rural poor is particularly devastating because of their geographic, economic, and political isolation. The productivity of small-holder farms is low in most of the world. This is due to the spread of trickle-down "market fundamentalism," the political marginalization of whole regions within nations, and the widespread failure to understand the importance of small-holder farming systems to poverty reduction. Because of these factors, governments and international financial institutions have failed over the long term to invest in rural infrastructure or sustainable technologies appropriate to small-holder farming systems, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where many countries are now dependent on food imports to survive.

As a result, opportunities for work in many rural areas are few, and frequently involve either the seasonal or long-term migration of at least one able-bodied adult, amplifying the burden on adults left at home. Transportation is limited, imposing high transaction costs even to reach local markets. Local and even regional markets often reflect this isolation in the form of excessive price swings between harvest, when most small-holder households are net sellers, and the rest of the year, when they are net buyers. The poorer the household, the more expensive these negative rural biases become, making it impossible for many households to reverse the tide and dig out of poverty. Because rural livelihoods are so fragile, the global rise in prices for basic cash grains, fuel, and fertilizer can trigger vicious cycles of deepening pauperization, especially when combined with long-term stresses caused by climate change or ongoing civil conflicts.

Vulnerability of Women and Children

Women and children (especially girls) are more vulnerable to food, fuel, and fertilizer price increases, and to rural poverty generally, than men. This is, of course, not intended as gender one-upmanship; men also experience hardship caused by the marginalization of rural societies. But because rural agrarian societies are gendered in terms of property rights, the division of labor, direct knowledge of the natural resource base, and access to and control over productive resources, an understanding of gender in rural households and communities is a prerequisite to informed critiques of development policies and strategies.

Compared to men, women’s independent property rights, legal protections, and social networks are fragile and contested in much of the world. Women have less access to or control over resources, transportation, or communication networks than men. As a consequence, female-headed households are sometimes disproportionately among the poorest of the poor in rural areas. And because rural poverty, civil conflict, and HIV are exacting their toll in the form of migration, suicide, debilitating illness, and mortality among prime-age adults, households legally or de facto managed by women now comprise 30-60% of all rural households in parts of eastern and southern Africa. Furthermore, these households tend to face the additional challenge of caring for sick adults and feeding and educating young children. In places that have been affected by repeated shocks over the long term, especially in eastern and southern Africa, women have become the primary farmers and managers in their communities. The main face of rural society has become female.

When women are engaged in serious cash- or staple-crop farming, systematic biases against acquisition and enforcement of secure property rights can mitigate against their capacity or willingness to make long-term investments in their farms. When women’s husbands are absent due to long-term migration, they must obtain his approval — which can be time-consuming or impossible — before they can make changes in farm management. Additional biases against women’s access to training, inputs, capital, and transportation also make it more difficult for them to produce or market as much as male-headed households with similar assets.

To the extent that day-to-day survival of female-headed households depends on selling labor to purchase food, fuel, and fertilizer, price spikes in these commodities can mean total destitution and starvation.

In married-couple households, women typically provide labor on husband’s farms — usually for market-oriented crops — while also providing childcare and running the household. In most places, the latter includes provision of water, fuel, and meals for the family, so women are ultimately responsible for family food security. In most traditional systems, men are normatively responsible for giving wives staple carbohydrates and income as their contribution to household food security and consumption. But long-term erosion of assets, productivity, and income among small-holders has led to crises in traditional norms and male gender identities, as increasing numbers of men are either unable or unwilling to provide enough food or income to tide their families over from one harvest to the next. When crops do come in, men frequently have to sell them to pay off debts and secure loans needed to plant the next season’s crops — leaving little in the way of either food or cash for family consumption.

This dynamic is an important driver of adult labor migration. But whether or not men literally leave home, the burden of filling in the breach to "make ends meet" frequently falls on women in their traditional roles as day-to-day caretakers of the family hearth. Depending on their situations and resources, women resort to a variety of strategies to keep their families alive from one harvest to the next. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa women are typically responsible for providing the "sauces" that go with staple carbohydrates at meals. Thus, women are the primary farmers (or gatherers) of legumes, groundnuts, vegetables, oil-nuts, and other sauce ingredients for family consumption. When households are stressed, women sell their sauce crops to buy cheaper carbohydrates for family consumption, which reduces family dietary diversity and, depending on relative prices, overall energy intake. The same dynamic applies to households fortunate enough to own poultry or livestock: increases in prices of basic staples translates into less consumption of their own eggs, milk, or meat.

When price or other shocks (such as HIV/AIDS, climate change, or conflict) intensify pressures on rural livelihoods over longer and longer periods of time, it eventually leads to asset stripping. Households sell livestock and other essential assets such as seed or tools just in order to survive. Because of underlying gender biases, female-headed households — or married women’s assets — may be more vulnerable to stripping than male-headed households or men’s assets.

In a common survival strategy of economically stressed rural households, women try to intensify production of "food-security crops" such as cassava, and/or to seek part-time trades or seasonal employment. Because poor women have greater difficulty accessing training and capital than men they tend to get unskilled, low-paying jobs. In the formal sector, because they are considered more pliable and easily controlled than men, women are preferred as laborers in agro-export industries — such as cut flowers or high-end vegetables — where they are paid very little and have no job security or benefits.

Since even relatively better-off rural women are already overloaded work-wise, additional pressures on their time and energy caused by intensifications of household poverty mean a reduced ability to care for children. This reduction in childcare translates into greater malnutrition among children under the age of five. And since early childhood malnutrition affects children’s lifelong cognitive capacity and ability to learn, it also affects their long-term chances of climbing out of poverty. Likewise, as mothers increase the work they do outside the home, they are more likely to pull their daughters out of school to fill in at home. Since female education is highly correlated with virtually all measures of children’s welfare, it’s likely this cycle of extreme poverty will continue from one generation to the next.

Factoring Gender In

Even before the current spike in food prices triggered food riots in cities in Haiti, Bangladesh, Egypt, and other developing countries, the World Bank and private foundations began to acknowledge the urgency of investing in agriculture, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The 2008 World Development Report "Agriculture of Development," and the recent IAASTD Synthesis Report on Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development both place investment in agriculture at the center of poverty reduction, and recognize that small-holder farming systems need to be at the heart of the new generation of agricultural development policies. Still, investments need to reach regions and groups that are politically marginalized — and so must be held to high standards of transparency and accountability regarding project development, investment decisions, contract awards, and fund distribution if benefits are to actually reach small-holder farmers.

If this is true generally it’s doubly true for women, who are marginalized by gender in addition to poverty. Unless women’s roles in small-holder farming systems and rural food security are factored into the design of agricultural development projects, we will once again fail to address the root causes of chronic food insecurity and hunger. Organizations developing agricultural policies, funding research, sector initiatives and projects must explicitly build in gender guidelines, standards, and indicators to ensure women have equal access to all training, resources, and opportunities. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently established a gender policy for agricultural projects they are funding to ensure women access activities and benefits, and to track project impacts on the welfare of women, children, and communities. Likewise, the World Bank has just published the Gender and Agricultural Livelihoods Sourcebook — which contains an extensive compendium of best practices for gender-sensitive approaches to agricultural development.

Although these actions are a first step, the reality of pro-poor, gender-sensitive agricultural development lags behind the rhetoric — both in resources needed to mainstream gender into foundation-funded projects and in mainstreaming gender in the development portfolios of large international financial institutions (IFI). Scarcity of technically trained professionals in agriculture, forestry, and irrigation, who are also skilled in gender analysis and gender sensitization, is affecting gender mainstreaming in foundation grants. On the IFI side, there is no system for ensuring World Bank project or loan-development processes incorporate gender-sensitive approaches into Bank portfolios.

While gender policies are important, the models of agricultural development themselves must support the integration of rural women’s roles as nurturers of families and communities, managers of natural resources and biodiversity, and producers of wealth. Although market-oriented production should be directed toward robust and diversified local and regional food systems, farming systems producing for local and regional markets must adapt to the reality of women’s lives. Women need to be able to manage water, rebuild soil fertility, and produce fuel, livestock, and diverse crops close to their homesteads, so they can care for their families while also growing and processing crops for food security and income.

When women (and men) are empowered with modern training and technology needed to transform homesteads into sustainable, poly-culture farms, they improve their food security and resilience in the face of climate change and price fluctuations. Biologically based techniques for building soil fertility, minimizing pests, and harvesting rainwater help small-holders extend the growing season, improve yields, and increase profit margins by reducing dependence on purchased fertilizers and pesticides. Poly-culture farms provide multiple species of micro-nutrient rich plant and animal foods close to home, so households are not as dependent on volatile and hard-to-reach markets. When small-holders producing on intensive poly-culture farms form marketing groups to aggregate and sell their products, they are also able to make significant contributions to local, regional, and national markets — thereby improving resilience to climate change and price fluctuations in global food supplies of their countries as a whole.

Machinists ratify Boeing pact, ending strike

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Contract offers job protections

Machinists union members have ratified a new contract with Boeing Co., ending an eight-week strike that cut the airplane maker's profits and stalled jetliner deliveries even as world demand was surging.

Workers were expected to return to Boeing's commercial airplane factories, which have been closed since the Sept. 6 walkout, starting last night.

The vote Saturday by members of the union, which represents about 27,000 workers at plants in Washington state, Oregon, and Kansas, was about 74 percent in favor of the proposal five days after the two sides tentatively agreed to the deal and union leaders recommended its approval.

"This contract gives the workers at Boeing an opportunity to share in the extraordinary success this company has achieved over the past several years," Mark Blondin, the union's chief negotiator, said. "It also recognizes the need to act with foresight to protect the next generation of aerospace jobs. These members helped make Boeing the company it is today, and they have every right to be a part of its future."

The union has said the contract protects more than 5,000 factory jobs, prevents the outsourcing of certain positions, and preserves healthcare benefits. It also promises pay increases over four years rather than three, as outlined in earlier offers.

The union members, including electricians, painters, mechanics, and other production workers, have lost an average of about $7,000 in base pay since the strike began. They had rejected earlier proposals by the company, headquartered in Chicago.

It was the union's fourth strike against Boeing in two decades and its longest since 1995. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers staged strikes against Boeing for 24 days in 2005, 69 days in 1995, and 48 days in 1989.

"This new contract addresses the union's job security issues while enabling Boeing to retain the flexibility needed to run the business . . . and allows us to remain competitive," said Scott Carson, Boeing Commercial Airplanes' CEO.

The work stoppage was costing the company an estimated $100 million per day in deferred revenue and postponing delivery of its long-awaited 787 jetliner, which has already been delayed three times, and other commercial planes.

Boeing has said its order backlog has swollen to a record $349 billion in value.

It remains unclear how long it would take Boeing's commercial aircraft business to return to pre-strike production levels, but the company's chief financial officer, James Bell, has said Boeing hopes it would take less than two months.

Republicans Scrambling to Save Seats in Congress

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Outspent and under siege in a hostile political climate, Congressional Republicans scrambled this weekend to save embattled incumbents in an effort to hold down expected Democratic gains in the House and Senate on Tuesday.

With the election imminent, Senate Republicans threw their remaining resources into protecting endangered lawmakers in Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, while House Republicans were forced to put money into what should be secure Republican territory in Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia and Wyoming.

Sensing an extraordinary opportunity to expand their numbers in both the House and Senate, Democrats were spending freely on television advertising across the campaign map. Senate Democrats were active in nine states where Republicans are running for re-election; House Democrats, meanwhile, bought advertising in 63 districts, twice the number of districts where Republicans bought advertisements and helped candidates.

“We are deep in the red areas,” Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on Sunday. “We are competing now in districts George Bush carried by large margins in 2004.”

What seems especially striking about this year’s Congressional races is that Democrats appear to have solidified their gains from the 2006 midterm elections and are pushing beyond their traditional urban turf into what once were safe Republican strongholds, creating a struggle for the suburbs.

Trying to capitalize on economic uncertainty, House Democrats are taking aim at vacant seats and incumbents in suburban and even more outlying areas — the traditional foundation of Republican power in the House. With many of the most contested House races occurring in Republican-held districts that extend beyond cities in states like Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, Democrats said expected victories would give them suburban dominance.

The same is true for Senate Democratic candidates, who are seeking to nail down swing counties outside urban centers and move the party toward a 60-vote majority. That majority could overcome a filibuster, if party leaders could hold the votes together.

Among open House seats Democrats say they have a good chance of capturing include those being vacated by Representatives Ralph Regula and Deborah Pryce in Ohio, Jim Ramstad in Minnesota, Jerry Weller in Illinois and Rick Renzi in Arizona.

On the list of incumbents Democrats believe they can defeat are Representatives John R. Kuhl Jr. in New York, Joe Knollenberg in Michigan, Tom Feeney and Ric Keller in Florida, Don Young in Alaska, Robin Hayes in North Carolina and Bill Sali in Idaho.

Democrats say they have been able to peel away suburbanites by emphasizing Republican culpability for the economic decline, a point they say House Republicans helped make themselves by initially balking at the $700 billion bailout and sending the markets into a tailspin that depleted retirement and college savings accounts.

“Suburban voters are angry that their quality of life and standard of living is under attack,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a leading advocate of Democrats trying to broaden their appeal in the suburbs.

The partisan spending gap was stark. As of last week, Senate Democrats had spent more than $67 million against Republican candidates, compared with $33.7 million in advertising by Republicans. In the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had spent $73 million, compared with just over $20 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to campaign finance reports.

Most of the House Republican money was spent on behalf of incumbents or in districts where a Republican is retiring, emphasizing how much the party was playing defense. By contrast, House Democrats spent most of their money in the last month going after Republican seats in Colorado, Nebraska, Washington, West Virginia and elsewhere. On Sunday, Democrats prepared one last radio advertisement to begin running Monday in an effort to claim the seat of Thomas M. Reynolds, a Republican retiring from his upstate New York district near Buffalo.

“That kind of says it all,” said Representative Thomas M. Davis III, a retiring Virginia Republican whose own suburban seat is likely to go Democratic on Tuesday. Mr. Davis said Republicans simply faced too many disadvantages heading into Election Day, including a higher number of retirements in the House and Senate, an unpopular president and an economic collapse.

“You like to see a fair fight,” said Mr. Davis, a former chairman of the Republican Congressional campaign committee, “but basically we are playing basketball in our street shoes and long pants, and the Democrats have on their uniforms and Chuck Taylors.”

Neither of the national Senate campaign arms was advertising in Colorado, New Mexico or Virginia, indicating that Republicans were virtually ceding those states, where members of their party are retiring, to the Democrats. Senate Democrats were also optimistic about the prospects of unseating Senator John E. Sununu in New Hampshire and Senator Ted Stevens in Alaska, where Mr. Stevens campaigned despite being newly convicted on felony ethics charges.

Democrats said they saw themselves with the advantage in Minnesota, North Carolina and Oregon, giving them a reasonable chance at claiming eight seats and enlarging their Senate majority to 59 if they hold their current seats.

If Democrats swept those races, it could leave the potential 60th vote to break filibusters resting on the outcome in Georgia, Mississippi or Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is in a competitive race with Bruce Lunsford, a businessman. Polls show Democrats trailing but within striking distance in all three races, with the final results potentially hinging on the presidential race and turnout among Democratically inclined black voters.

In Mississippi, which has not sent a freshman Democrat to the Senate since John C. Stennis was elected in 1947, Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican appointed last year to fill the seat left vacant by Trent Lott’s resignation, is in a tight race with former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat.

“We feel we have a lot of momentum,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, “but we are ever mindful that getting to 60 is an extremely difficult thing to do because we are in so many red states.”

Republicans privately acknowledged that there was little hope for some of their candidates, including Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. But Republicans have not given up on the idea of unseating Senator Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana, a state where Senator John McCain was running well against Senator Barack Obama in the presidential race. A victory over Ms. Landrieu by John Kennedy, the state treasurer, would be a significant moral victory for Republicans, and they pointed to internal polls that show a close race.

In Louisiana, North Carolina and Oregon, Republicans were trying to energize voters with the threat of Democratic dominance in Washington, running advertisements that warn voters about “complete liberal control of government.”

“We agree with Chuck Schumer that this is a tectonic election,” said Rebecca Fisher, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “And if Democrats get their way, this country will shift so far left it will take generations to get back on track.”

Both parties were focusing substantial final energies on the Senate race in Minnesota, where Senator Norm Coleman, the Republican, was in a heated clash with his Democratic challenger, Al Franken, a former comedian and radio talk show host.

The race remained close as Mr. Coleman was named in a last-minute lawsuit in Texas alleging that a businessman had funneled $75,000 to him through his wife’s business. Mr. Coleman, who has filed an unfair campaign practices complaint accusing Mr. Franken of broadcasting falsehoods in his advertisements, denied any impropriety, but the lawsuit led to a flurry of news accounts only days before the election.

In Kentucky, Mr. McConnell enlisted hundreds of volunteers to knock on doors and to make phone calls in the remaining hours. He was to embark on a fly-around of the state’s cities Monday in his effort to repel the serious challenge from Mr. Lunsford, who brought in one of Kentucky’s favorite daughters, the actress Ashley Judd, to campaign on his behalf in the closing days.

Strategists for both parties said it seemed increasingly possible that the full Senate picture might not even be settled Tuesday, given that a third-party candidate could cause both Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, and his Democratic opponent, Jim Martin, to fall short of 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff on Dec. 2.

Party operatives also warned that Tuesday was likely to produce some surprises, considering the strong resentment toward Congress that has been reflected in polls for months. They predicted upsets of some House incumbents not thought to be in trouble.

Republicans said they believed some top Democratic targets, like Representative Dave Reichert of Washington and Christopher Shays of Connecticut, would be able to hang on because they, and others, had run strong campaigns built on their individual images and records.

“Republican candidates who have established their own personal brand, and have framed their respective races around creating a clear choice, will succeed on Election Day despite the turbulent political environment,” said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

One problem for House Republicans was that freshmen lawmakers who gave Democrats control of the House after the 2006 elections were faring much better than party leaders had expected. Some, like Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, who represents the Hudson Valley in New York, became prime Republican targets virtually from the moment they were elected but are now favored to win second terms after raising formidable sums of money and cultivating moderate voting records that insulated them from attack.

Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the president of the Democrats’ 2006 freshman class, said only two of its members were in serious trouble: Representative Nick Lampson of Texas, who represents a heavily Republican district south of Houston, and Representative Tim Mahoney of Florida, who has been entangled in a scandal over extramarital affairs.

Mr. Yarmuth credited House Democratic leaders with pursuing an agenda that gave the freshmen substantial achievements to promote back home, especially a generous new education benefit for veterans that counterbalanced the Democrats’ opposition to the war in Iraq

“I think that was a trademark of this last Congress that created a moderate image that we were pro-military, pro-troops,” Mr. Yarmuth said.

Worry builds over possible confusion on voting day

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Tricky ballots, malfunctioning machines, long lines already among reported issues

Genie Gratto of Oakland, Calif., says early voters have been confused by arrows printed on ballots. Gary Watts reports three-hour lineups at his polling place in Renton, Wash., which provided only two dozen machines for people to vote on. Carrie Tobey has a co-worker in Cape Cod who she said was allowed to vote early instead of by absentee ballot, even though the state of Massachusetts does not allow the practice.

Tomorrow is election day in the United States, but already, reports of voting irregularities, long lineups, malfunctioning machines and badly managed polling stations are pouring in from across the country, suggesting that any victory will not come easily or without controversy.

More than 130 million Americans are expected to vote tomorrow while others, like Ms. Gratto, Mr. Watts and Ms. Tobey, have already made their choice at early polls that were far from problem-free. The trio are among those who have reported voting issues through the Twitter Vote Report, a website created by a volunteer network of software developers so problems can be mapped in real time, helping voters avoid particularly problematic polling places and prepare for specific issues.

"This year, people are really attuned to the administration of the election," said Dan Seligson of, a project of the Pew Center on the State that studies voting issues. "It's part of the reason so many people are voting early, because they're worried about election day."

Last week, his organization released a list of 12 states where voting issues are likely to arise, including important battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Almost every county in every U.S. state has variations in the voting system that present a different set of problems, ranging from strict rules governing voter identification to the likelihood of computer glitches or incomplete voter-registration databases.

For a country still feeling the repercussions of the disputed 2000 presidential election, the prospect of another contested vote is frighteningly real.

Florida, where a controversial recount led George W. Bush to victory eight years ago, is using its third voting system in as many presidential elections.

Pennsylvania, a state many believe could propel either John McCain or Barack Obama into the White House, uses electronic voting machines that retain no paper record of results.

If a machine's memory fails, there is no opportunity for a recount.

And although some areas have statewide systems, most elections are controlled by county election officials, some of whom are elected and highly partisan.

Adding to the confusion tomorrow is the sheer number of things for which Americans will be voting. In addition to the presidential race, most voters will be confronted with an array of controversial and confusing ballot questions, as well as congressional races and some choices for Senate.

But first, they must establish their right to vote.

After the 2000 election debacle, Congress decided each state would be required to create a single voter database.

Of course, many of the databases are deeply flawed, as people's names and addresses were incorrectly entered and voters are turned away when their ID doesn't match the name in the system. It's a problem one voting expert explained to Time magazine as "disenfranchisement through typo."

Even the famous campaign figure Joe the Plumber, a.k.a. Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, is registered under an incorrect name: Worzelbacher.

The current election has also seen accusations of fraudulent voter registration. A group called ACORN, a community organization that represents low-income and minority communities, signed up 1.3 million people in a registration drive this year.

But the group paid its volunteers using a quota system, creating an incentive for false records, including the registration of a voter named Mickey Mouse in Florida and most of the Dallas Cowboys football team in Nevada.

"I think the largest issue is the number of new registrants," Mr. Seligson said. "Any time you have a significant amount of new registrants there's an opportunity for people to show up and not be on the list. And the quantity of new voters this time is just extraordinary, historic."

He does not believe there will be a "catastrophic meltdown" tomorrow but said the likelihood of scattered problems across the country is high.

The only way voting problems will be inconsequential, he said, is if the margin of victory is larger than the margin of error.

"If McCain wins Oklahoma by 29 per cent, no one will care that there were 1,500 provisional ballots that haven't been counted," he said. "But if Obama wins Missouri by 350 votes, you better believe that everything that happened in that election is going to be under serious scrutiny.

"I would say that election officials are certainly hoping for a blow-out," he added. "Nothing would be better for our system than to have an easy day."

Preemptive 'war:' Florida Dems sue GOP over unused tactic

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By Jay Weaver

It may be the peak of the 2008 presidential election season, but the Florida Democratic Party is taking a trip down memory lane with the first voter lawsuit filed against the GOP.

This time, it's not about ballot recounts, as in Gore v. Bush in 2000. It's a Democratic legal salvo accusing the Republicans of plotting a last-minute challenge of registered voters with potentially bad addresses, which may prevent them from casting a regular ballot at the polls Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed in Leon County last week, cites alleged evidence of Republicans trying to ''cage'' a Duval County voter and of a GOP sheriff's candidate challenging some 300 voters in Glades County. Caging is the term for sending mail to voters in a bid to identify, by the undelivered pieces, who might have moved from their address on the registration rolls.

''This is above politics,'' said state Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff. "This is about our foundation of democracy.''

Not so, said his GOP counterpart, who called the lawsuit ''bogus'' and insisted the Republicans have no intention of challenging voters at the polls.

''They're playing off the fears of Florida voters,'' said state GOP spokeswoman Erin VanSickle. "People still have memories of 2000.''

Before last week, top Democratic lawyers seemed reluctant to go to court with their Republican adversaries before Election Day.

But that all changed on Tuesday, when the state Democratic Party joined two Democrats registered to vote in Duval and Glades counties in a lawsuit. They're trying to convince a Leon County judge to stop the Republicans from doing something they haven't actually done -- submit challenge lists of registered Democratic voters with questionable addresses to supervisors of elections throughout Florida.

State Circuit Judge P. Kevin Davey has not made a decision yet.

Arabs have to rely on Britain and Israel for their history

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By Robert Fisk

There is no Public Record Office in the Arab World, no National Archive

In Damascus, a massive statue of the late President Hafez al-Assad sits on a mighty iron chair outside the 22,000sq m Assad Library, a giant book open in his right hand.

Behind him lie the archives of his dictatorship. But not a single state paper is open to the people of Syria. There are no archives from the foreign ministry or the interior ministry or the defence ministry. There is no 30-year rule – for none is necessary. The rule is for ever. There is no Public Record Office in the Arab world, no scholars waiting outside the National Archives.

It is the same in Cairo, in Riyadh, in Beirut and in Tripoli. Dictatorships and caliphates do not give away their secrets. The only country in the Middle East where you can burrow through the files is called Israel – and good for the Israelis. But the result is obvious. While Israeli scholars have been able to deconstruct the traditional story of little Israel – proving that there were no Arab radio stations calling for the Palestinians to leave their land, that the Arabs were indeed ethnically cleansed from their towns and villages by Irgun and the Hagana – there is no Arab scholar who can balance the books by drawing on the archives of his own history. They must go to the National Archives in London to read General Cunningham's dispatches from 1948 Palestine, or quote from Israeli books. The record stops there. Aside from the self-serving biographies of Arab dictators and generals, that's it. Even Walid Khalidi's huge tome on the destroyed villages of Palestine relies heavily on the work of Israeli historian Benny Morris.

Slowly, though, a little bag of history is being filled across the region. If we can't read the private papers of the leaders of the lamentable Arab Liberation Army of 1948, we can still hear the personal testimony of the Palestinian survivors. Rosemarie Esber, for example, has put her degrees from London and Johns Hopkins universities to good use by interviewing – in Jordan and Lebanon -- 126 Palestinian men and women who lost their homes and lands in 1948 and 1949. Her soon to be published work (Under the Cover of War) helps to balance documentation and diaries by one side with verbal recollection on the other. The book does not spare the Arabs – least of all the Arab atrocities or the Iraqi volunteers who turned up to fight for Palestine but didn't even know their geography – yet the suffering of those who fled is all too evident.

Here, for example, is Abu Mohamed from the village of Saqiya, east of Tel Aviv, describing what happened on 25 April, 1948: "Jews entered the village and started shooting women, men, and old people. They arrested girls, and we still don't know what happened to them. They came from the settlement that was near the village... They used Bren guns. Then armoured vehicles entered the centre of the village. Fourteen were killed that day... Two women could not run so they were killed in the village... The villagers ran together in the direction of al-Lid (Lod, the site of Ben Gurion airport in modern-today Israel). After that families started to leave separately... We left everything in the village... We thought it would be a short trip and we would come back."

In Lebanon, too, there is a flourishing market in books based on diaries and personal archives. Among the most intriguing is A Face in the Crowd: The Secret Papers of Emir Farid Chehab, 1942-1972, the private documents of Lebanon's post-Second World War intelligence boss. Apart from proving that Lebanese-Syrian relations could be as awful in the 1940s as they could be in the 1990s, he was an assiduous spy, nurturing his agents in Jordan in 1956 to find out why the young King Hussein had fired the British commander of the Arab Legion, Glubb Pasha. "Glubb was a spendthrift, tightly controlled the army's finances and secret expenses, and refused to share relevant information with Arab commanders and officers," a still unknown informant writes to Chehab on 11 March, 1956. "His interference (extended to) ... control over various ministries' telephone lines... A telephone employee in Amman admitted to me that even the Palace's and Prime Ministry's communication networks were under the army's surveillance. A secret communiqué addressed by Glubb to all British heads of army units was recently discovered; it said that in case of an Israeli attack they should retreat and not resist. The free officers took this communiqué up to the King."

So goodbye Glubb Pasha. But did this also, perhaps, have something to do with the equally secret Operation Cordage, first highlighted by Keith Kyle in his excellent book on Suez and even more rigorously investigated by Eric Grove of Salford University. "Cordage" was Britain's plan for defending its Jordanian ally from Israeli attack if Israel assaulted Egypt. The plan, according to Grove, included "an air campaign carried out by (RAF) Venoms based at Amman and Mafraq in Jordan to knock out the Israeli Air Force in 72 hours... A fighter wing of swept-wing aircraft (Sabres or Hunters) would be provided from Germany to operate from Cyprus..." A parachute brigade group would be flown to Jordan to defend British air bases and then – along with Glubb's Arab Legion – to defend Amman against the Israelis. It was at the end of February 1956 that Hussein dismissed Glubb; which, as Grove diplomatically puts it, "created problems". So how much did Glubb know about Operation Musketeer?

What really created "problems", of course, was Britain's own secret plan to attack Egypt, along with France and Israel after which Operation Musketeer – the Suez aggression – took over from Operation Cordage, and Britain's potential Israeli enemies suddenly became their secret allies. But of course, all this comes from British files. Alas, it will be many years before we know what is in the book that the iron Assad is reading outside his library in Damascus.

Nowhere man: a farewell to Dubya, all-time loser in presidential history

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By Simon Schama

"Forgotten but not gone" was the way in which the supremo of Boston politics, Billy Bulger, liked to dismiss the human irritants he had crushed beneath his trim boot. The same could now be said for the hapless 43rd President of the United States as the daylight draws mercifully in on his reign of misfortune and calamity. How is he bearing up, one wonders, as the candidate from his own party treats him as the carrier of some sort of infectious political disease? How telling was it that the most impassioned moment in John McCain’s performance in the final debate was when he declared: "I am not George Bush."

Where, O where are you, Dubya, as the action passes you by like a jet skirting dirty weather? Are you roaming the lonely corridors of the White House in search of a friendly shoulder around which to clap your affable arm? Are you sweating it out on the treadmill, hurt and confused as to why the man everyone wanted to have a beer (or Coke) with, who swept to re-election four years ago, has been downgraded to all-time loser in presidential history, stuck there in the bush leagues along with the likes of James Buchanan and Warren Harding? Or are you whacking brush in Crawford, where the locals now make a point of telling visitors that George W never really was from hereabouts anyroad.

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FlashVars="linktext=Simon Schama describes legacy of George Bush as US
Simon Schama: ’The deciding was very much done by Dick Cheney’
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Whatever else his legacy, the man who called himself "the decider" has left some gripping history. The last eight years have been so rich in epic imperial hubris that it would take a reborn Gibbon to do justice to the fall. It should be said right away that amid the landscape of smoking craters there are one or two sprigs of decency that have been planted: record amounts of financial help given to Aids-blighted countries of Africa; immigration reform that would have offered an amnesty to illegals and given them a secure path to citizenship, had not those efforts hit the reef of intransigence in Bush’s own party. And no one can argue with the fact that since 9/11 the United States has not been attacked on its home territory by jihadi terrorists; though whether or not that security is more illusory than real is, to put it mildly, open to debate.

Bet against that there is the matter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, more than 4,000 American troops dead, many times that gravely injured, not to mention the puncture wounds and mutilations inflicted on internationally agreed standards of humane conduct for prisoners - and on the protection of domestic liberties enshrined in the American constitution. If the Statue of Liberty were alive, she would be weeping tears of blood.

If Bush himself has been largely kept out of sight, his baleful legacy has been visible in the McCain campaign. McCain has made much of his credentials for independence of mind, a claim which once was credible given his support for immigration reform and opposition to Bush’s tax cuts. But somewhere along the road to the Republican nomination, all of this became less important than the lessons of the Reagan-Bush-Rove political playbook which, with the exception of the Clinton election of 1992, seemed to have a track record of unbroken success.

McCain knew this from bitter personal experience, having been on the receiving end of Bush lowball politics in the South Carolina primary in 2000. Coming out of a convincing win against George Bush in New Hampshire he was stopped in his tracks by a smear campaign conducted through push-poll phone calls in which people were asked whether they knew that the daughter McCain had adopted from Sri Lanka was in fact the illegitimate child of an affair with a woman of colour. Now you would think McCain could never reconcile himself to a politician capable of those kinds of tactics. But there he was in the campaign of 2004, stumping the country for the incumbent, ingratiating himself with the conservative base he knew he would need, even as his old Vietnam buddy, John Kerry, was being coated in slime by the Swift Boaters.

Whatever misgivings McCain might have had about adopting the hardball tactics of his 2000 adversary have long since disappeared before the blandishments of classic Bush-style operatives like Rick Davis and Stephen Schmidt. "Do you want to be pure, or do you want to win"? they must have asked right after the nomination. Ditching Joe Lieberman as a running mate and unleashing pitbull Palin was his answer.

So even while George Bush is kept at arm’s length from the campaign, his campaign style lives on as Obama is stigmatised as a terrorist-friendly stealth-socialist, too deeply unAmerican to be let anywhere near the Oval Office. "He just doesn’t see America as we do" says Sarah Palin trying to wink her way into Dick Cheney’s seat. McCain is betting the house that this way of doing politics has at least one more hurrah left in it, and we will find out on in the early hours of Wednesday morning whether he is right.

The Bush presidency is the spectre haunting the feast in more than tactics. Although every conservative administration since Ronald Reagan has promised to deliver, through supply-side stimulation, economic growth without bloated deficits, they have never been vindicated in their blind faith in what Bush senior once rashly called "voodoo economics". Consistently, they have brought the US Wall Street crashes and recessions along with massive deficits; and yet somehow, the stake that history attempts to drive through the heart of their economic theology never puts the ghoul away.

No weight of evidence to the contrary has ever shaken the totemic belief that tax cuts can grow the economy robustly enough to compensate for drastic shortfalls in revenue. George W Bush clung to this belief even as the Clinton budget surplus was converted into a mountainous deficit, and John McCain continues to parrot the same belief with the shining face of a true believer.

Not even Gibbon could supply a story as fatefully bizarre as the ultimate consummation of Reagan-Bush conservatism, its last act: the most massive shift of financial power from the private to the public sector since the New Deal. Rather like the Pope deciding that all along he really wanted a barmitzvah.

If you look at this saga as the history of a dynasty; it’s come full circle. For, believe it or not, there once was a time when Bush politics was about centrist moderation. Dubya’s revered granddad, Prescott Sheldon Bush, son of an Ohio railroad executive and senator for Connecticut from 1952 to 1963, was punished in the Catholic towns of industrial Connecticut for his connection with Planned Parenthood. Not only that, but he was a trustee of the United Negro College Fund, the kind of institution that made the eventual career of Barack Obama conceivable.

But the Bushes have always been selective about idealism. And even at the height of the Kennedy-Johnson apogee, Prescott and George Herbert Walker Bush were turning the pages of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. They could smell the wind direction changing. The future of Republican money and Republican power lay elsewhere; with Texas oil. Hence the migration to Midland Texas of George Herbert Walker Bush and his makeover into a Texan who knew the ways of the corporate world; and how to bring about the Great Cosiness between government and business that seemed like the perfect feedback loop: money to power, power to money; tax breaks for the corporations; donations to those who might command the heights.

This is the politics George W Bush inherited, and he has been its faithful disciple; to the point of purging it of any remaining traces of pragmatism. It is astounding to hear rightwing talkshow bloviators rant about the predicament of the Bush administration being caused by its failure to carry out the true conservative agenda. For there never has been and never will be a more doctrinally faithful instrument of the creed. Never mind the hanging chads of 2000, the Cheney-Bush administration seized the moment to bring on the Goldwater-Reagan Rapture in which government was once and for all got out of the way of business.

So it hasn’t really been all George Bush’s fault, the stupendous American fiasco. He came to power armed with an ideology that was about to crash and burn; that was, years before the present tumult, already fatally disconnected from historical reality. It was on his watch that American government needed reinventing. It was responsible government that was needed in Iraq and Afghanistan; government that was desperately needed in New Orleans after Katrina, while all George Bush could manage was a fly-by. It is government that this most anti-governmental of all American administrations is learning that is needed now to save the United States from a second Depression.

In his heart of hearts I actually think the shell-shocked Dubya, somewhere in the bowels of his presidency knows this. But he is nowhere to be found, and so on goes the mad rant that health care reform and progressive taxes are the Trojan horse for socialist revolution. To which those who have another view altogether might want to say, fear not, for yours, as a Republican president once said, is a government of the people, by the people. And really it will not perish from the earth.

Pakistan warns US commander over missile strikes

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President Asif Ali Zardari warned the new US commander for Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday that missile strikes on Pakistani territory were "counterproductive" and detrimental to the 'war on terror.'


The most high-profile protest yet from Islamabad came as General David Petraeus made his first visit here since he took over the position last week, amid claims that it could signal a shift in strategy in Afghanistan.

"Continuing drone attacks on our territory, which result in loss of precious lives and property, are counterproductive and difficult to explain by a democratically-elected government," Zardari said.

"It is creating a credibility gap," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan quoted him as saying.

The series of strikes by unmanned drones against suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants hiding in Pakistan's tribal badlands bordering Afghanistan have raised tensions between the two countries.

Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar earlier told Petraeus that Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected, warning that future incidents could affect the battle for hearts and minds.

"The frequent drone attacks could lead to generate anti-America sentiments as well as create outrage and uproar among the people," Mukhtar's department said in a statement.

Former Pakistani general and defence analyst Talat Masood said Petraeus' visit could not be underplayed -- and was a sign of the increasing focus on Pakistan and disquiet about strategy to combat insurgents in Afghanistan.

By appointing Petraeus, a counter-insurgency specialist widely credited for for progress in the Iraq conflict, Masood said the United States was signalling that it believes "it is not winning in Afghanistan".

"General Petraeus is a professional, he knows it is a different war, he understands the dynamics and he may prevail upon the current and the next US administration to review the policy," he added.

"He is probably the most suited person to bring a new and fresh approach in Afghanistan and in the tribal belt."

A US Embassy spokesman played down claims that Petraeus was here because of fears at a spiral of Islamist violence that has seen a wave of deadly Taliban and Al-Qaeda suicide attacks, civil unrest and a crippled economy.

"This was a regular scheduled visit. This is something that has been on the books for quite some time," acting US embassy spokesman Wes Robertson told AFP.

Petraeus, who was joined by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and ambassador Anne Patterson, also met Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and military top brass.

Pakistan's security breakdown -- and what to do about it -- has become an election issue in the race for the White House, which culminates Tuesday when voters go to the polls.

Democratic hopeful Barack Obama has said that US forces should act against militants inside Pakistani territory, including Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, if Pakistan was "unable or unwilling to take them out."

But his Republican rival, John McCain, warned against such a strategy, instead urging cooperation and coordination between the two allies.

Bilateral tensions saw Patterson herself called in to the Pakistan foreign ministry last Wednesday to register its opposition to the missile strikes.

But just two days later, two separate strikes killed 32 mainly Al-Qaeda operatives, according to Pakistani security sources.

All the strikes have been blamed on US-led coalition forces or CIA-operated drones based in neighbouring Afghanistan, where US troops are engaged in escalating fighting with Taliban and other militants.

A US official said last week that Washington is looking at negotiating with "reconcilable" members of the Taliban in Afghanistan who are prepared to give up violence and respect the Afghan constitution.

No Currency Left to Buy the Big Lies

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By John Cusack

As I contemplated the real possibility of an Obama victory and listened to right wing pundits revise history still unfolding, I thought of titles for this blog:

"Neocon Logic: This Statement is Untrue"
"The Modern Free Market System is False But a New Revelation Shall Come"
" They Would Feast on Themselves: All the Money’s Gone, Nowhere to Go"
I decided on:
"No Currency Left to Buy the Big Lies"

In the pre-capitalist reality, James Madison said when he put power in the hands of the business elite, he would be entrusting "enlightened statesmen and benevolent philosophers who would devote themselves to the welfare of all."

Clearly, he believed this statement in the way I guess some modern Republicans do. The only problem was that he eventually realized this didn’t work and in 1792, disillusioned and worried about the democratic experiment, condemned what he called "the daring depravity of the times." He went on to denounce the business elites who, given ultimate power, "become tools and tyrants of government...they overwhelm government with their powers and combinations and are bribed by its largesse." That’s how he perceived the system he had helped design. In 2008, this is an apt description of the Republican relationship to government and power.

Finally, some blue light, tectonic plate shifts, a sea change, we hear... a wave of despair carrying us to a new place. The bastards are finally meeting their grisly ends and will be discarded and abandoned as men come to power who will actually try to govern. I know we’re supposed to be civil but I’m not a real believer in this method when dealing with crimes.

What does the sea change mean? How can we help people understand what is happening and help them contextualize it?

First the past: Senator McCain, Governor Palin and assorted surrogates are delusional and breathtakingly corrupt. They disgrace themselves and their country as they lie, smear, slur and write it off as political manner.

Yet the creeping truth must frighten them late at night: there is no currency left to buy the big lies.

There is no more money left to loan or borrow the big lies or to sell them. No more money left to pay off the debt, the wreckage in the wake. The orgy of excess has drained every bottle, smashed the furniture and left the cupboards bare. All that’s left is derivative debts -- bets between liars and lies. Trillions of dollars. Turned capitalism into a Ponzi scheme for trading worthless paper. No real value anywhere. No matter how much money Ben Bernanke prints.

We are asked to stand over the abyss and experience our own destruction as another political game show -- just another surreal horse race. We watch millionaires and paid Republican hacks appear on television yelling "Socialist!" at Obama as if the Bolsheviks are coming to rape our daughters. These are the same people who oversaw the greatest upward redistribution of wealth in the history of this country. The same people who, through general lawlessness and a privatization frenzy, succeeded in shredding the Constitution, turning war, illegal domestic spying, security, border patrol, interrogation, and even torture into profitable industries gorging on the state.

So define the big lie: free marketers want free markets. Not so, the facts say. They are the biggest welfare freaks on the planet.

These men and keepers of the faith would lecture us with a straight face on the evil socialists/ communists/terrorists /vampires/space aliens who would dare "redistribute wealth" by amending the tax code. Two wars and the only shared sacrifice they want is more tax cuts for the rich and for the U.S. citizenry to continue shopping. As Sidney Falco said, you gotta give it to them, their gall is gorgeous.

If we stay the course, we are told, we will finally, one day, reach that shining city on a hill, the free market-based fundamentalist utopia. Even though all evidence points the other way, we should listen, reason, step back and watch them as they devour what’s left of the government. They will feast on themselves -- the feast of carrion the Book of Revelation tells us -- but I digress, sort of. It’s over. This would be a great system if there were no human beings.

Mathematical realism. Eat what you kill. The bottom line. Greed is good. Graphs and flow charts and metrics for success. All social organization is based on profit as the unifying force and engine of the common good and even social justice; worship the market, even as you corrupt it.

Our perfect system will provide for all.

And yet Wall Street cripples America and the world because it won’t adhere to the same rules it says we must obey for the good of freedom. Because reality won’t be a slave to their machine.

And so this is how we can rationalize privatizing war. At last look, with 630 corporations like Blackwater and Halliburton getting 40% of the $2 billion spent each week in Iraq, no one can doubt the corporatist dominance of the war machine.

Mathematically, the market crash shouldn’t have happened according to their system, but human feelings make panic and panic cannot be calculated. I would bet that someday someone will discover that math adheres to a quantum reality: the participants and the observers affect the outcome. I digress again. But not really.

Instead of an international consensus based on trust and global community, the Neocons say trust no one, need no one, ask no one. Rigged, "open" markets are created at the barrel of a gun after bombing a country. We must all bow to the market.

Collapse, chaos, lawlessness. And even the market voted with its feet.

The era of market idolatry is over.

This is the end of Milton Friedman, Reaganomics and supply-side theory. This ideology has never been about free markets but a fundamentalist vision that is a cover for naked aggression and a social contract based on fear and greed. The government’s job is to create optimal conditions for corporate profit, to privatize everything in sight and to sell off its own body parts. To literally devour itself.

So we have laws that allow borrowing money against derivatives -- basically a bet between two people who create nothing without collateral. They leveraged the public financial health on something you wouldn’t be allowed to do in Vegas. It illustrates the corruption that has become institutionalized through deregulation and a culture of predatory greed. Alan Greenspan testified that he was shocked: business didn’t regulate itself. The common good was not achieved by greed. Naomi Klein read him the definition of crony capitalism and asked if it fit the description of the Bush administration’s relationship to its favorite corporations.

I suppose he was shocked about that too. His testimony was incredible and felt like it was coated in lies or at least standing deeply in their shadows. But one doesn’t doubt him as a true believer, absolved of messy feelings of collective responsibility. We made him a high priest even though we saw the suffering and the cruelty of the system.

The final irony of the free-market Darwinist model is instead of the strongest and best surviving, it’s really the weakest and the worst. From a moral and spiritual point of view this is hardly in doubt. See George Bush. The gospel he purports to serve tells us this but perhaps he saw Christ as a conqueror. I’ve always doubted men who call themselves Christians who live by the law of the jungle. The gospels, the Koran and the Torah make no bones about it: wealth is not strength; power often represents not the brightest and the best but the weakest and worst. The beast in the Book of Revelation is not a horn-rimmed devil but Rome. Empire. Any empire. Every empire.

As Bush leaves office, the real truth is this: the new economies of the world disprove everything he ever said. Apparently that doesn’t matter.

Neoconservatives will lie in the weeds and gather forces, the same players in a revolving door. They want back in and if history has proved anything, worshiping the markets is not enough. We must actually kill to feed them. A horrible cross-pollination of fundamentalism, dementia and market fever has turned America into a willing enabler of corporate cannibalism. Nothing else to call it when murder is seen as a legitimate extension of economic policy. Preemptive war is not only justified but openly referred to as a market opportunity. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. As we look out at the wreckage -- world economies collapsing, nationalized banks and a complete loss of trust -- we can see the hypocrisy as all are revealed as true socialists on the way down, crying in their scotch and Ambien as they run to the state for cover.

Many, like the Financial Times, endorse Obama. But let’s remember when the F.T. and the Wall Street Journal talked glowingly and starry-eyed about the "Baghdad Boom" -- as horrifying a moniker as Shock and Awe. It was not the site of a gold rush, it was the sight of massacre and armed robbery. Now these men jump like rats off a death ship but don’t be fooled. Francis Fukuyama and company will just lay low, regroup and rebrand. They speak openly about such things, beaten but unbowed, with no moral connection to the fiasco they have fostered. They speak as passing spectators watching the Weather Channel, (see Frum, Crystal, Brooks and all the rest), rather than intellectual architects, defenders, and foot soldiers in an illegal war and the thirty-five year assault on the New Deal.

As we help Obama try to implement another New Deal, I asked Naomi Klein about the parallels to The Shock Doctrine as it’s polar opposite. She told me:

"I have been talking about the need for a progressive shock doctrine in speeches a lot. I call it disaster populism and the key difference is democracy. The right has been using shocks to suspend and sidestep democracy, declaring states of emergency and the progressive use of shock to enlarge and deepen the democratic space to bring more people into the political process. This is why it is important to remember that the New Deal did not come only from kindly elites handing it down from on high, but also because those elites were under massive popular pressure from below. We can all use shock and crisis to move the political direction of the country, but the progressive route is a democratic one, the right is an authoritarian one, even if it takes place within an electoral democracy."

The real challenge is to erase the delusion that greed equals freedom and prosperity, let alone the hideous lie that it somehow spreads justice. Amazingly, we are asked to listen to this gibberish in political life no matter how high the bile rises.

Many believe economies must serve humanity and not the other way around. Economies must make a moral connection to the republic. Brace yourselves free marketers: the quality of economic and human transactions will have to take priority over money. Faith and hope have to manifest in the social transactions we make.

A new social contract could be coming based on a real currency my friend Kevin McCabe calls the currency of grace. It is a currency of economic fairness and institutionalizing concepts of shared responsibility; a currency based on the gold standard that every human has value and should be awarded respect and opportunity, the dignity that comes from human beings protecting each other from the values and ideals of a Darwinist world. Its spirit is in Keynesian economics, a mixed economy with regulated markets and social spending. In the new era, we must remove fundamentalist right wing economists as the high priests and kings. Their ideology will stay dead only if we remain vigilant and call things what they are. It’s a battle for the idea of America and it’s just beginning if Senator Obama becomes president.

We should worship God if we want to, not the markets.

R.I.P Studs Terkel.

For more on War, Inc. go to my MySpace Page, or

Rove electoral prediction favors Obama win

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By David Edwards and Nick Juliano

John McCain’s Election Day prospects are so bad that even Karl Rove doesn’t see much chance that he wins.

Rove appeared on Fox News Monday morning to share his pre-Election Day predictions. His state-by-state model showed Barack Obama taking at least 310 electoral college votes on Tuesday, far more than he needs for victory.

"If McCain hopes to win, he has to win all of the [toss-up] states ... then that’s not enough," Rove said. "He has to do some takeaway, and the two biggest takeaways are Ohio and Virginia and if he does that he wins the election."

Obama currently leads in polls in both those states.

Confronted with the stark news that his favored candidate has virtually no chance to win, Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy pulled the morning anchor equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and singing, "la-la-la-la I can’t hear you."

Ever the reliable conservative hack, Doocy turns the conversation to the latest entirely false GOP attack against Obama -- that his support for clean coal technology and a cap & trade program to moderate carbon emissions is aimed at "bankrupting" the industry. McCain supports virtually the same approach to moderating pollution from coal-fired power plans.

Doocy noted that two key swing states, Ohio and Virginia, have substantial coal industries, apparently hoping against hope that the attack being pushed by the McCain campaign and Republican National Committee with an assist from Fox, the Drudge Report and right-wing blogs would some how catch on in the last 24 hours before voters head to the polls.

This video is from Fox’s Fox & Friends, broadcast November 3, 2008.

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By Tom Engelhardt

The George W. Bush Story

They may have been the most disastrous dreamers, the most reckless gamblers, and the most vigorous imperial hucksters and grifters in our history. Selling was their passion. And they were classic American salesmen -- if you’re talking about underwater land in Florida, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or three-card monte, or bizarre visions of Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles armed with chemical and biological weaponry let loose over the U.S., or Saddam Hussein’s mushroom clouds rising over American cities, or a full-scale reordering of the Middle East to our taste, or simply eternal global dominance.

When historians look back, it will be far clearer that the "commander-in-chief" of a "wartime" country and his top officials were focused, first and foremost, not on the shifting "central theaters" of the Global War on Terror, but on the theater that mattered most to them -- the "home front" where they spent inordinate amounts of time selling the American people a bill of goods. Of his timing in ramping up a campaign to invade Iraq in September 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card infamously explained: "From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August."


From a White House where "victory strategies" meant purely for domestic consumption poured out, to the Pentagon where bevies of generals, admirals, and other high officers were constantly being mustered, not to lead armies but to lead public opinion, their selling focus was total. They were always releasing "new product."

And don’t forget their own set of soaring inside-the-Beltway fantasies. After all, if a salesman is going to sell you some defective product, it always helps if he can sell himself on it first. And on this score, they were world champs.

Because events made it look so foolish, the phrase "shock and awe" that went with the initial attack on Iraq in March 2003 has now passed out of official language and (together with "mission accomplished") into the annals of irony. Back then, though, as bombs and missiles blew up parts of Baghdad -- to fabulous visual effect in that other "theater" of war, television -- the phrase was constantly on official lips and in media reports everywhere. It went hand-in-glove with another curious political phrase: regime change.

Given the supposed unique technological proficiency of the U.S. military and its array of "precision" weapons, the warriors of Bushworld convinced themselves that a new era in military affairs had truly dawned. An enemy "regime" could now be taken out -- quite literally and with surgical precision, in its bedrooms, conference rooms, and offices, thanks to those precision weapons delivered long-distance from ship or plane -- without taking out a country. Poof! You only had to say the word and an oppressive regime would be, as it was termed, "decapitated." Its people would then welcome with open arms relatively small numbers of American troops as liberators.

It all sounded so good, and high tech, and relatively simple, and casualty averse, and clean as a whistle. Even better, once there had been such a demonstration, a guaranteed "cakewalk" -- as, say, in Iraq -- who would ever dare stand up to American power again? Not only would one hated enemy dictator be dispatched to the dustbin of history, but evildoers everywhere, fearing the Bush equivalent of the wrath of Khan, would be shock-and-awed into submission or quickly dispatched in their own right.

In reality (ah, "reality" -- what a nasty word!), the shock-and-awe attacks used on Iraq got not a single leader of the Saddamist regime, not one of that pack of 52 cards (including of course the ace of spades, Saddam Hussein, found in his "spiderhole" so many months later). Iraqi civilians were the ones killed in that precise and shocking moment, while Iraqi society was set on the road to destruction, and the world was not awed.

Strangely enough, though, the phrase, once reversed, proved applicable to the Bush administration’s seven-year post-9/11 history. They were, in a sense, the awe-and-shock administration. Initially, they were awed by the supposedly singular power of the American military to dominate and transform the planet; then, they were continually shocked and disbelieving when that same military, despite its massive destructive power, turned out to be incapable of doing so, or even of handling two ragtag insurgencies in two weakened countries, one of which, Afghanistan, was among the poorest and least technologically advanced on the planet.

The Theater of War

In remarkably short order, historically speaking, the administration’s soaring imperial fantasies turned into planetary nightmares. After 9/11, of course, George W. and crew promised Americans the global equivalent -- and Republicans the domestic equivalent -- of a 36,000 stock market and we know just where the stock market is today: only about 27,000 points short of that irreality.

Once upon a time, they really did think that, via the U.S. Armed Forces, or, as George W. Bush once so breathlessly put it, "the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known," they could dominate the planet without significant help from allies or international institutions of any sort. Who else had a shot at it? In the post-Soviet world, who but a leadership backed by the full force of the U.S. military could possibly be a contender for the leading role in this epic movie? Who else could even turn out for a casting call? Impoverished Russia? China, still rebuilding its military and back then considered to have a host of potential problems? A bunch of terrorists? I mean… come on!

As they saw it, the situation was pretty basic. In fact, it gave the phrase "power politics" real meaning. After all, they had in their hands the reins attached to the sole superpower on this small orb. And wasn’t everyone -- at least, everyone they cared to listen to, at least Charles Krauthammer and the editorial page of the Washington Post -- saying no less?

I mean, what else would you do, if you suddenly, almost miraculously (after an election improbably settled by the Supreme Court), found yourself in sole command of the globe’s only "hyperpower," the only sheriff on planet Earth, the New Rome. To make matters more delicious, in terms of getting just what you wanted, those hands were on those reins right after "the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century," when Americans were shocked and awed and terrified enough that anything-goes seemed a reasonable response?

It might have gone to anyone’s head in imperial Washington at that moment, but it went to their heads in such a striking way. After all, theirs was a plan -- labeled in 2002 the Bush Doctrine -- of global domination conceptually so un-American that, in my childhood, the only place you would have heard it was in the mouths of the most evil, snickering imperial Japanese, Nazi, or Soviet on-screen villains. And yet, in their moment of moments, it just rolled right out of their heads and off their tongues -- and they were proud of it.

Here’s a question for 2009 you don’t have to answer: What should the former "new Rome" be called now? That will, of course, be someone else’s problem.

The Cast of Characters

And what a debacle the Bush Doctrine proved to be. What a legacy the legacy President and his pals are leaving behind. A wrecked economy, deflated global stock markets, collapsing banks and financial institutions, soaring unemployment, a smashed Republican Party, a bloated Pentagon overseeing a strained, overstretched military, enmired in an incoherent set of still-expanding wars gone sour, a network of secret prisons, as well as Guantanamo, that "jewel in the crown" of Bush’s Bermuda Triangle of injustice, and all the grim practices that went with those offshore prisons, including widespread torture and abuse, kidnapping, assassination, and the disappearing of prisoners (once associated only with South America dictatorships and military juntas).

They headed a government that couldn’t shoot straight or plan ahead or do anything halfway effectively, an administration that emphasized "defense" -- or "homeland security" as it came to be called in their years -- above all else; yet they were always readying themselves for the last battle, and so were caught utterly, embarrassingly unready for 19 terrorists with box cutters, a hurricane named Katrina, and an arcane set of Wall Street derivatives heading south.

As the supposed party of small government, they succeeded mainly in strangling civilian services, privatizing government operations into the hands of crony corporations, and bulking up state power in a massive way -- making an already vast intelligence apparatus yet larger and more labyrinthine, expanding spying and surveillance of every kind, raising secrecy to a first principle, establishing a new U.S. military command for North America, endorsing a massive Pentagon build-up, establishing a second Defense Department labeled the Department of Homeland Security with its own mini-homeland-security-industrial complex, evading checks and powers in the Constitution whenever possible, and claiming new powers for a "unitary executive" commander-in-chief presidency.

No summary can quite do justice to what the administration "accomplished" in these years. If there was, however, a single quote from the world of George W. Bush that caught the deepest nature of the president and his core followers, it was offered by an "unnamed administration official" -- often assumed to be Karl Rove -- to journalist Ron Suskind back in October 2004:

"He] said that guys like me were ’in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ’believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ’That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ’We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors.... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’"

"We create our own reality… We’re history’s actors."

It must for years have seemed that way and everything about the lives they lived only reinforced that impression. After all, the President himself, as so many wrote, lived in a literal bubble world. Those who met him were carefully vetted; audiences were screened so that no one who didn’t fawn over him got near him; and when he traveled through foreign cities, they were cleared of life, turned into the equivalent of Potemkin villages, while he and his many armored cars and Blackhawk helicopters, his huge contingent of Secret Service agents and White House aides, his sniffer dogs and military sharpshooters, his chefs and who knows what else passed through.

Of course, the President had been in a close race with the reality principle (which, in his case, was the principle of failure) all his life -- and whenever reality nipped at his heels, his father’s boys stepped in and whisked him off stage. He got by at his prep school, Andover, and then at Yale, a c-level legacy student and, appropriately enough when it came to sports, a cheerleader and, at Yale, a party animal as well as the president of the hardest drinking fraternity on campus. He was there in the first place only because of who he wasn’t (or rather who his relations were).

Faced with the crises of the Vietnam era, he joined the Texas Air National Guard and more or less went missing in action. Faced with life, he became a drunk. Faced with business, he failed repeatedly and yet, thanks to his dad’s friends, became a multi-millionaire in the process. He was supported, cosseted, encouraged, and finally -- to use an omnipresent word of our moment -- bailed out. The first MBA president was a business bust. A certain well-honed, homey congeniality got him to the governorship and then to the presidency of the United States without real accomplishments. If there ever was a case for not voting for the guy you’d most like to "have a beer with," this was it.

On that pile of rubble at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001, with a bullhorn in his hands and various rescuers shouting, "USA! USA!" he genuinely found his "calling" as the country’s cheerleader-in-chief (as he had evidently found his religious calling earlier in life). He not only took the job seriously, he visibly loved it. He took a childlike pleasure in being in the "theater" of war. He was thrilled when some of the soldiers who captured Saddam Hussein in that "spiderhole" later presented him with the dictator’s pistol. ("’He really liked showing it off,’ says a... visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. ’He was really proud of it.’") He was similarly thrilled, on a trip to Baghdad in 2007, to meet the American pilot "whose plane’s missiles killed Iraq’s Al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" and "returned to Washington in a buoyant mood."

While transforming himself into the national cheerleader-in-chief, he even kept "his own personal scorecard for the war" in a desk drawer in the Oval Office -- photos with brief biographies and personality sketches of leading al-Qaeda figures, whose faces could be satisfyingly crossed out when killed or captured. He clearly adored it when he got to dress up, whether in a flight suit landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in May 2003, or in front of hoo-aahing crowds of soldiers wearing a specially tailored military-style jacket with "George W. Bush, Commander In Chief" hand-stitched across the heart. As earlier in life, he was supported (Karl Rove), enabled (Condoleezza Rice), cosseted (various officials), and so became "the decider," a willing figurehead (as he had been, for instance, when he was an "owner" of the Texas Rangers), manipulated by his co-president Dick Cheney. In these surroundings, he was able to take war play to an imperial level. In the end, however, this act of his life, too, could lead nowhere but to failure.

As it happened, reality possessed its own set of shock-and-awe weaponry. Above all, reality was unimpressed with history’s self-proclaimed "actors," working so hard on the global stage to create their own reality. When it came to who really owned what, it turned out that reality owned the works and that possession was indeed nine-tenths of one law that even George Bush’s handlers and his fervent neocon followers couldn’t suspend.

Exit Stage Right

The results were sadly predictable. The bubble world of George W. Bush was bound to be burst. Based on fantasies, false promises, lies, and bait-and-switch tactics, it was destined for foreclosure. At home and abroad, after all, it had been created using the equivalent of subprime mortgages and the result, unsurprisingly, was a dismally subprime administration.

Now, of course, the bill collector is at the door and the property -- the USA -- is worth a good deal less than on November 4, 2000. George W. Bush is a discredited president; his job approval ratings could hardly be lower; his bubble world gone bust.

Nonetheless, let’s remember one other theme of his previous life. Whatever his failures, Bush always walked away from disastrous dealings enriched, while others were left holding the bag. Don’t imagine for a second that the equivalent isn’t about to repeat itself. He will leave a country functionally under the gun of foreclosure, a world far more aflame and dangerous than the one he faced on entering the Oval Office. But he won’t suffer.

He will have his new house in Dallas (not to speak of the "ranch" in Crawford) and his more than $200 million presidential "library" and "freedom institute" at Southern Methodist University; and then there’s always that 20% of America -- they know who they are -- who think his presidency was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Believe me, 20% of America is more than enough to pony up spectacular sums, once Bush takes to the talk circuit. As the president himself put it enthusiastically,"’I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.’ With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, ’I don’t know what my dad gets -- it’s more than 50-75’ thousand dollars a speech, and ’Clinton’s making a lot of money.’"

This is how a legacy-student-turned-president fails upward. Every disaster leaves him better off.

The same can’t be said for the country or the world, saddled with his "legacy."

Still, his administration has been foreclosed. Perhaps there’s ignominy in that. Now, the rest of us need to get out the brooms and start sweeping the stables.