This morning President Bush signed the intelligence reform bill into law. It was the kind of ceremony bureaucrats live for. When I watch these kind of dog and pony show ceremonies it always congers up the image of Mel Brooks as the old west governor in the movie, “Blazing Saddles,” as he signed anything put in front of him by his aides chanting, “work, work, work, work…we gotta do something to keep our phony-baloney jobs.”
And so it was this morning as the President signed a phony-baloney bill he assures us will provide America with phony-baloney security against very real terrorists.
Why do I say it’s phony? Because, at the very moment Bush was creating a new law his administration was blocking the release of a report that really could make a difference.
As Thomas Friedman reported in a recent column, the Bushites are blocking the release of the third in a series of United Nation’s sponsored reports on reform in the Arab world. The first two reports, produced by a group of courageous Arab economists, social scientists, scholars and Arab economists and sociologists, was devastating in their criticism of the backward, undemocratic, repressive, religiously intolerant Arab regimes that currently dominate the Arab world.
So, one would think that this next report, due out last month, would have been eagerly awaited and encouraged by the Bush folks. After all, at every opportunity Bush will wax inelegantly on the importance of democratizing the Arab world. The invasion of Iraq and our ongoing occupation of that country are now framed entirely in those terms.
The third U.N. analysis deals directly with the issue of democracy and even tackles the thorny issue of blending Islam and democracy. But the Bushites refuse to let the U.N. release this report. Why? Because there are ten pages in the forward critical of US policies in Iraq and Palestine. The report cannot be released, the Bushites demand, until those offending pages are removed.
So let’s see if I get this straight. When the U.N. refuses to "say it like it is" in cases such as the Sudan, the Bushites claim the U.N. is shirking its responsibilities and caving into special interests. But when the U.N. does try to say it like it is – as in this case – the US insists the U.N. shirk its responsibilities and cave into the U.N.’s biggest special interest.
If democratizing the Arab world is really this administration’s goal then they should get the hell out of the way and let these “good Arabs” – the ones who really do want democracy and economic development in their part of the world – release their third report.
It boggles the mind unless you understand that, just as their Clear Skies Imitative has nothing to do with clearing the skies, and Leave No Child Behind imitative does nothing but leave children behind, their stated desire to spread democracy to the Middle East has nothing to do with spreading democracy to the Middle East. In fact this administration’s policies on the Middle East are the same as every administration preceding them – maintain just enough stability in that region so as not to jeopardize the flow of oil from the region.
Need fresh proof? How about those massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Saudi Arabia yesterday? Oh, you missed them. So did the demonstrators. Because the repressive Saudi police state swept in and arrested every person who showed up to join the march. Instead of marching for democracy they were marched off to jail and a good rubber hosing.
What did the White House have to say about that? Nada. Zippo. Nothing. If the ruling clerics in neighboring Iran had pulled a stunt like that the White House spin misters would have been on FOX suggesting it was time for regime change in Iran now too. But not a whisper. As for the Saudis themselves? The demonstrators were not pro-democracy forces at all, the silk robed ones claims, they were Bin Laden-inspired terrorists.
``This is an Islamic country which does not permit protests. There is no need for it,'' said a middle-aged Saudi man outside a Riyadh mosque. ``Everything is provided for these people. They are just outlaws with strange ideology. We do not agree with them.''Is that the sound of "democracy on the march" to you?
The Bushites are not on the Saudi’s backs about it because their biggest fear right now is that the Saudi Royal Family will lose control over their own people and all hell will break loose.
Well, NEWS FLASH FOR UN-CURIOUS GEORGE: The Saudi Royal Family IS losing control over their people and all hell IS breaking loose. Continuing to support these corrupt, self-indulgent, pretend princes, will only delay the inevitable by a few more months. What it will do though is assure that when the Royal Family members are being chased through the streets and strung up on lampposts the U.S. will once again be on the wrong side of Arab public sentiment.
The U.S. got sideways with the Arab street originally because we backed repressive regimes in their countries because it suited our own interests to do so. After half a century of that, guess what, some of them came to hate us. What a surprise. “Gee… what did we do to deserve that?” was the question asked by too many people after 9/11.
Of course there is no excuse for killing innocent people and I do not mean to “blame the victim” here. But, when we are looking for solutions – real solutions – to mounting anger directed at us from the Middle East, just signing a new intelligence bill into law ain’t gonna do it. Not even close.
The real solutions to stemming the tide of Middle Eastern terrorism lay within the pages of that U.N. report the Luddites in the Bush administration are blocking. Stupid is as stupid does.
Class Warfare Sighting
I like to keep an eye open for whenever some of those Bush tax cuts trickle down out of the bank accounts of their wealthiest recipients. Well it seems that Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire CEO of News Corp., finally decided how to spend his Bush Bucks. Rupert is buying a three-story penthouse in New York. The price: $44 million.
The joint used to be owned by Larry Rockefeller. The 20-room apartment spans the 14th, 15th and 16th floors of the building. It has 8,000 square feet of floor space and spacious terraces on each floor. The monthly maintenance fee alone is $21,469.07.
Of course, there are restrictions. Owners are not allowed to have cars up on blocks in the yard or hang laundry outside their windows.
I read that story then opened my email to read the following from a reader about my piece yesterday on Social Security reform:
“As a pizza man making $9.00 hour, I would like to thank-you for your defense of Social Security. Keep up the good work.
Well Dave, you can bet Murdoch is all for Bush’s Social Security privatization idea. Not that he has to worry about his retirement. Which of course is why he’s all for it.
Two Americas indeed. Rupert and George live in one, Dave and a growing number of the rest of us, in the other.
More Other America News
Rupert and other Bush tax cut recipients not only do not have to worry about housing costs but health costs either. But the rest of us sure do. And, as the failed Bush presidency begins its second term in office, things only get worse. Now companies are requiring retirees, already on fixed incomes, to pay a larger and larger share of premiums and other health costs. The trend-line says to anyone paying attention that they will eventually they will cut them off entirely.
"Prospects for retiree health coverage are slowly disappearing for America's workers, and retirees who have it will be paying more," said Drew E. Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducted the study with Hewitt, a benefits consulting firm. Asked about Mr. Altman's assessment, Kate Sullivan Hare, executive director of health care policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said: "That's absolutely true. I can't disagree." The chamber represents businesses of all sizes.
For a typical worker 65 or older who retired this year, the annual premium for health benefits was $1,212, a 24 percent jump from 2003. According to a Kaiser study, back in 1988 two-thirds of all employers provided their retirees health coverage. Today only a third do.
The message to workers: Die young or stay well. Anything in between and you are screwed.
Army of the Bribed
As enlistment in the National Guard drops like a rock, the administration is laying out cold hard cash to lure fresh young blood to fill the dwindling Guard ranks.
“Pssst.. hey, kid… out of work? Tired of flipping burgers at McDonald’s? Want to buy your girlfriend a nice engagement ring? Well, here’s a check .. made out to you.. for 15,000 buckaroos.. All you have to do is sign here and it’s yours. Who knows, you might even live to spend it.”
• $15,000 for new Guard recruits who have served in the military, triple the previous figure.
• $15,000 for Guard soldiers who will re-enlist for six years, also three times the previous amount.
• $10,000 bonus for recruits who have never served in the military, up from $6,000 and now the largest bonus the Guard has offered such recruits.
"These are big incentives. We're putting our money where our mouth is," said a National Guard recruiter.
About 40% of the 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are Guard and reserve soldiers."
But it may take more than big buck bribes to get even poor kids to bite. Especially when the ones who have already been to Iraq are willing doing almost anything not to return. It was reported yesterday that a 23-year old Philadelphia Army combat veteran on leave from a unit headed back to Iraq had a buddy shoot him in the leg to avoid returning to the war zone.
In my mind I hear a low sorrowful moan emanating from Vietnam Memorial Wall when I read stories like that.