donderdag 18 september 2008

VVD op de bres voor staand bier drinken

[Zittend een biertje drinken mag nog altijd. Foto ANP/Marcel Antonisse]
Zittend een biertje drinken mag nog altijd. Foto ANP/Marcel Antonisse
AMSTERDAM - Staand een biertje drinken op een terras? In Amsterdam mag dat volgens de regels niet. De VVD in de hoofdstad vindt dat onbegrijpelijk en wil er wat aan doen. Dat maakte de partij woensdag bekend.

De liberalen gaan dit najaar voorstellen de algemene plaatselijke verordening (apv) te wijzigen. Daarin staat namelijk dat het niet is toegestaan drank te verstrekken aan mensen die geen gebruik maken van de zitplaatsen op een terras.

''Het moet niet gekker worden'', aldus gemeenteraadslid Bas van 't Wout. ''Nu gaat de gemeentelijke overheid bepalen dat ik op een terrasje moet gaan zitten en niet meer mag staan. Als er overlast is, is het een ander verhaal. Maar dit is te gek voor woorden.''

Volgens de VVD schieten bestuurders door bij het handhaven en is er sprake van ''onredelijke handhavingdrift''. De partij stelt dat sinds het rookverbod in de horeca veel cafébezoekers buiten staan zonder dat dit overlast veroorzaakt. Bovendien is het voor ondernemers niet te doen om continu in de gaten te houden of iedereen wel netjes in zijn stoel zit, aldus de liberalen. (ANP)

In navolging van TON die het sinterklaasfeest tot topprioriteit heeft gesteld en de Partij voor de Dieren die zich druk maakt om de vissenkom heeft de VVD nu ook ontdekt waartoe zij hier op deze aarde is.

woensdag 17 september 2008

Top adviser claims John McCain invented the BlackBerry

Even though he can't send email

By Cade Metz in San Francisco • Get more from this author

Posted in Government, 16th September 2008 18:24 GMT

Nine years after Al Gore said he invented the internet, the John McCain campaign has claimed that the email-challenged Republican presidential nominee "helped create" the BlackBerry.

This morning, when asked what McCain had done as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee that would show he has the chops to mend the nation's broken economy, the candidate's top economic adviser waved a CrackBerry at gathered reporters.

"He did this," Douglas Holtz-Eakin said. "Telecommunications of the United States is a premier innovation in the past 15 years - comes right through the Commerce Committee - so you're looking at the miracle John McCain helped create and that's what he did."

Another McCain aide soon told the world that Holtz-Eakin's claim was "a boneheaded joke by a staffer." And you can believe the boneheaded bit.

According to this aide, McCain laughed when he heard Holtz-Eakin's comments. "He would not claim to be the inventor of anything, much less the BlackBerry," the aide explained.

A spokesman for Democratic candidate Barack Obama said this was the McCain campaign's second worst move of the week: "If John McCain hadn't said that 'the fundamentals of our economy are strong' on the day of one of our nation's worst financial crises, the claim that he invented the BlackBerry would have been the most preposterous thing said all week."

The CrackBerry is the country's most popular corporate email device, and as Obama points out in a new TV ad, John McCain doesn't even use email.

When The Reg highlighted the new ad last week, countless readers yelped that McCain's war injuries prevent him from typing on a keyword. But one commenter soon put them in their place.

"There are indeed lots of ways for people with disabilities to use the internet," he said. "I myself am completely blind and my computer uses synthetic speech...there is voice recognition...and on screen keyboards. Also tablet PCs with hand writing recognition."

If John McCain and his wife can afford eight houses, they can afford a machine that lets him send email. ®

There is no truth to the rumor . .

Posted on Wed, Sep. 17, 2008
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For the record:

Sarah Palin did not call dinosaurs ''lizards of Satan.'' Barack Obama is not a Muslim. That list of books that Palin supposedly wants to ban is a fake. Obama doesn't refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The picture of Palin wearing a flag bikini and hefting a gun is a fraud. Obama is, too, a U.S. citizen. Palin doesn't want Alaska to secede.

These and other rumors are, of course, busily bouncing all over the Internet. I dispute them only for the aforementioned record and not from any expectation that doing so will make the slightest bit of difference to the willingness of people to believe whatever they want. I just need to hear truth spoken aloud, need to be able to testify to future generations that it was stated in black and white somewhere in the midst of the maelstrom of mendacity, of lies and damned lies, that now dominates the political debate.

May I share with you the one that sent me over the top? It purports to be a column by Maureen Dowd raising questions about Obama's Internet fundraising. But reading it, I knew immediately it wasn't by Dowd; the leaden, pedestrian prose sounded nothing like The New York Times' breezy doyenne of derision. Two computer searches confirmed my suspicion: The column was a lie with Dowd's name on it.

The brazenness of it struck me. That, and a self-preservationist streak that said, if they can do it to her, they can do it to me.

Maybe you're wondering what's the fuss. Politics and lies, after all, go together like carrion and flies, and this year is no different. Palin's claim that she told Congress ''thanks but no thanks'' on that ''bridge to nowhere?'' Not quite true. Obama's claim that he co-authored a bill to help homeowners threatened by foreclosure? Fudged.

Still, there's something new at work here. After all, this stuff used to be the exclusive province of political operatives; we the people were content to leave lying to the professionals. These days, shadowy groups and shadowier individuals are in the thick of it. The Internet has made it ridiculously easy; you can sabotage a campaign without ever changing out of your PJs. And the swift boat campaign of 2004 showed the potential: John Kerry's bid for the presidency was fatally wounded by unfounded questions regarding his heroism in Vietnam.

Over the last 20 months, we've all seen the next step on this downward spiral. Meaning the right-wing campaign to paint Obama as Osama bin Laden in a suit. But the chorus of prevarication attending Sarah Palin's arrival on the national scene should dispel any notion that one ideology has a monopoly on mendacity.

Factor in the mistrust (both conservative and liberal) of what used to be regarded as the ultimate arbiters of fact -- i.e., news media -- and you have to wonder whether truth still has a future here.

Like so many other things in this country, it has become splintered and factionalized. These days, every ideology has a ''truth,'' and everybody's ''truth'' has an agenda. Nothing is settled and known. All things are up in the air, all things open to interpretation. Indeed, truth hardly seems to be the point anymore. Lies serve just as well. As a result, we are no longer grounded in the same shared body of facts and in a very real sense, have no basis upon which to reason together, no basis for shared mission, purpose or identity.

Those bases are, not incidentally, foundation blocks of nationhood.

Already the political sides in this country talk past each other like Mars and Venus. If the games of obfuscation and fabrication political hacks play really are becoming common among real people, it can only get worse.

They think they're helping a candidate win an election. Truth is, they're helping all of us lose a whole lot more.

McCain campaign admits Palin never visited Iraq

Sarah Palin: Ireland visit little more than a refuelling stopSarah Palin: Ireland visit little more than a refuelling stop
DAN GLAISTER in Los Angeles

IT WAS, she said, the "trip of a lifetime". The young governor from the remote state engaged in her own brand of shuttle diplomacy in the summer of 2007, even posing, gun in hand, with some of her loyal troops in a far-off land.

But this weekend, the story of Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin's trip to Ireland, Germany, Kuwait and Iraq began to shrink under scrutiny. Interrogated about hazy details of the itinerary - the first time she had travelled outside of North America - campaign officials acknowledged that Ms Palin had not entered Iraq, but had instead visited Alaska national guard troops on the Kuwait border.

"You have to have permission to go into a lot of areas, and [the border crossing] is where her permissions were," Alaska national guard colonel Dave Osborn told the Boston Globe . As for the trip to Ireland, that was little more than a refuelling stop.

The admission by the McCain camp further dents her foreign policy credentials. The campaign has made much of her experience dealing with Russia and Canada, countries that border Alaska. But in an interview broadcast last week, her first since becoming Mr McCain's running mate, Ms Palin indicated that her knowledge of Russia was restricted to being able to see it from Alaska. It now appears that her knowledge of Iraq is based on her having been able to see it from Kuwait.

The latest revelation about Ms Palin's travels came as several newspapers continued to investigate her tenure as the mayor of a small town in Alaska and her two years as state governor. The New York Times accused her of cronyism and carrying out vendettas against her political foes.

Undaunted, or perhaps buoyed by the controversies surrounding her candidacy, Ms Palin campaigned alone for the first time at the weekend in Nevada, a crucial swing state. Both she and the Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama were due to campaign in Colorado, another western swing state, today.

Meanwhile, despite a week of adverse opinion polls, the Obama camp announced it had raised a record $66 million (€46 million) in August. The latest figures may bolster expectations of a money advantage that Mr Obama could have over Mr McCain in the final two months before the election. Opinion polls show that the race is dead even.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the August figure was helped by 500,000 new donors. The tally for the latest month exceeded the $55 million for February, which marked a record for Mr Obama and an all-time high for any candidate in a primary.

After far surpassing Mr McCain in private fundraising, earlier this year Mr Obama opted against taking public funds for the final stretch of the campaign.

Mr McCain, who chose to take public financing, has access to an infusion of $84 million from a government presidential election fund for the period between the Republican convention and the November 4th election.

In August, his last month of private fundraising, Mr McCain took in $47 million, a record for his campaign and an amount that was helped by his announcement of Ms Palin as his running mate.

Despite his prodigious private fundraising, Mr Obama may not have as much of an advantage as he could when it comes to advertisements and get-out-the-vote efforts. Mr McCain benefits from money contributed to the coffers of the Republican National Committee, which has been more successful at raising money than the Democratic Party. - ( Guardian service; additional reporting Reuters)

© 2008 The Irish Times

dinsdag 16 september 2008

Anglicaan: excuses voor Charles Darwin

APLONDEN - De Anglicaanse Kerk moet Charles Darwin excuses aanbieden voor ,,de vijandige reactie'' op Darwins ideeën en zijn evolutietheorie, vindt de anglicaanse geestelijke Malcolm Brown. Brown, hoofd van de pr-afdeling van de Church of England, schrijft dat op zijn gisteren gelanceerde website. Hij meent dat de kerk Darwin verontschuldigingen moet aanbieden, omdat door het onbegrip van de kerk mensen zijn aangemoedigd Darwin verkeerd te begrijpen.

Hij wijst er op dat er nog altijd gelovigen zijn die Darwins bevindingen afwijzen. De Church of England zegt Browns standpunt over de evolutietheorie te onderschrijven, maar excuses aan Darwin af te wijzen. De kerk verwerpt de ideeën van christenen die menen dat de evolutietheorie onverenigbaar is met het Bijbelse scheppingsverhaal.

Natuurlijke selectie
Darwin (1809-1882) kreeg een opleiding als anglicaans priester, maar de evolutietheorie en de daarin centrale idee van natuurlijke selectie brachten hem in conflict met superieuren en collega-geestelijken. Hoewel de kerk destijds geen officieel standpunt innam, reageerden veel leden afwijzend. Zo vroeg de bisschop van Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, ooit in een debat aan wetenschapper en darwinist Thomas Huxley of die via zijn grootvader of grootmoeder van een aap afstamde.

Onder Darwins critici behoorden ook anglicaanse geleerden als John Stevens Henslow en Adam Sedgwick, die beiden Darwin in Cambridge les gaven. Sedgwick schreef dat hij enkele van Darwins ideeën ,,uiterst onjuist en kwaadaardig kwetsend'' vond. Brown zegt dat vanuit het huidige perspectief moeilijk de gedachte kan worden onderdrukt dat de reactie destijds vooral was gebaseerd op een emotionele afwijzing van de idee dat de mens afstamt van de aap. Hij pleit voor een toenadering tussen christendom en darwinisme.

Voor de achter-achterkleinzoon van Darwin, Andrew Darwin, hoeven excuses niet. ,,Waarom al die drukte?'', zei hij tegenover de krant de Daily Mail . ,,Als na tweehonderd jaar verontschuldigingen worden aangeboden, gaat het er niet zo zeer om iets recht te zetten dat verkeerd is, maar ervoor te zorgen dat iemand of een organisatie die excuses aanbiedt een beter gevoel krijgt.''

Nederland Dagblad

Andrew Darwin heeft groot gelijk. De Anglicaanse kerk doet dit alleen maar om er zelf een beter gevoel van te krijgen. We kunnen hier alleen onze schouders over ophalen. Uit het betoog van meneer Brown blijkt dat hij niets van de evolutietheorie heeft begrepen. Zijn pleidooi voor een toenadering tussen christendom en darwinisme is lachwekkend. Ze zijn incomensurabel. Het gebruik van de term darwinisme is sowieso misleidend. Het gaat niet om een paar dogma's die door Darwin zijn bedacht maar om een wetenschappelijke theorie waarvan Darwin de grondlegger is. We moeten spreken over de evolutietheorie. We hebben aan de ene kant een wetenschappelijke theorie en aan de andere kant een religie. Ik zie niet in welke zin deze toenadering zouden moeten of kunnen zoeken. Als meneer Brown bedoelt dat hij open staat voor wetenschappelijke inzichten en niet wegloopt voor de implicaties van de evolutietheorie voor zijn geloof dan juich ik dat alleen maar toe. Ik wil hem alleen wel waarschuwen dat deze implicaties dodelijk zijn voor zijn geloof. Hij doet er goed aan om eerst Darwins Dangerous Idea van Daniel Dennett eens te lezen. Dennett maakt duidelijk dat de creationisten de implicaties van de evolutietheorie voor onze diepste overtuigingen beter hebben begrepen dan dit soort zogenaamd ruimdenkende christenen. Ik vertrouw deze meneer Brown niet. Ik denk dat zijn werkelijke bedoeling is dat critici als Dawkins een toontje lager moeten zingen. De Anglicaanse kerk kan op deze manier mooi stellen dat Dawkins c.s. bekrompen zijn en dat de kerk ruimdenkend is. De kerk zoekt immers zogenaamd 'toenadering' en figuren als Dawkins wijzen die af en blijven maar met hun kritiek komen. Er zijn heel veel halfzachte zogenaamd ruimdenkende christenen die een dergelijk verhaal als zoete koek slikken.

maandag 15 september 2008

Hetero man zkt man

I Kissed a Girl van Kate Perry was de zomerhit van 2008 Maar niet
alleen meisjes experimenteren met hun biseksualiteit. Ook jongens hebben
die behoefte.

Het nummer I Kissed a Girl van Kate Perry is een van de meest
gedownloade nummers van afgelopen maand. In de Billboard Hot 100, de
invloedrijke Amerikaanse hitparade, stond hij 7 weken op 1. Dubai
verbood het nummer onlangs vanwege de opruiende tekst. Maar da’s Dubai.
Wie staat er hier nog van te kijken als een heteroseksuele vriendin je
vertelt dat ze na een paar drankjes met een meisje heeft gezoend? Zelfs
‘all the way’ gaan maakt haar nog niet lesbisch. Misschien was ze
dronken, uit op avontuur of hooguit bi-curious. Maar stel je nou eens
voor dat je beste hetero maatje na een weekendje stappen opbiecht dat
hij in een club stond te dansen en zich extreem aangetrokken voelde tot
een jongen. Zijn haar rook lekker en hij zag er goed uit en voor hij het
wist ging hij met zijn nieuwe fling te keer op het herentoilet. Dan trek
je toch op zijn minst een wenkbrauw op...

Toch voelt 13 % van de mannen zich wel eens seksueel aangetrokken tot
een andere man ook al noemt hij zichzelf hetero, zo blijkt uit cijfers
van de Rutgers Nisso Groep. “Daar zitten natuurlijk ook biseksuele
mannen bij of mannen die nog niet uit de kast zijn gekomen,” zegt
seksuoloog Henriëtte Schoones. “Maar er is ook een groep mannen die
zich prima voelt in de sociale rol van de hetero man maar die toch
geïnteresseerd zijn in seks met een andere man.”

Henriëtte Schoones krijgt wekelijks mannen binnen met seksuele
verlangens naar hetzelfde geslacht. Schoones: “ De seksuele spanning is
voor veel mannen een belangrijke drijfveer. Seks van man tot man is
anders dan die ze met een vrouw zouden hebben. Het gaat om geiligheid,
lust en klaarkomen in plaats van de emotionele beleving die bij de vrouw
een belangrijkere rol speelt.” Een andere reden is het ondergaan van
passieve anale seks, een penis en sperma fascinatie hebben of het
praktiseren van seksuele fantasieën over mannen. “Een groot verschil met
de homo- of biseksuele man is dat het deze mannen meer gaat om de
seksuele handeling met een man dan de man zelf,” aldus de seksuoloog.

Wie op internet gaat surfen en komt ze regelmatig tegen: de heteroman op
zoek naar seks met een andere man. In Amerika bestaat al een speciale
site voor mannen die zichzelf niet als
homoseksueel zien maar vragen hebben over hun seksuele oriëntatie.

“Ik noem mezelf hetero omdat ik toch echt verliefd word op meisjes. Ik
zie mezelf ook echt met een meisje eindigen,” zegt Michiel, 26 en
student. “Maar bij vlagen zoek ik seks met mannen wel op. Het gaat mij
om de seksuele spanning. Als ik een homotent binnenkom, word ik keihard
versierd. Bij jongens is het seksuele veel duidelijker aanwezig.
Iedereen wil daar seks en dat maakt het spannend en geiler. Je begrijpt
ook beter van elkaar waar de seks om gaat en wat je van elkaar wil.”

Student Arjen van 22 kan dat beamen. “Er komt meer lust bij kijken maar
het samenzijn met een man is ook vertrouwder. Je snapt zijn lichaam
beter want je bent zelf een man. Het is ook een manier van ‘male
bonding’ die uit een vriendschap voort kan vloeien.” Arjenƒ heeft nu
een vriendin en ziet zichzelf later ook met een vrouw eindigen maar
experimenteert ook graag met mannen. “Ik heb een sterke fysieke
aantrekkingskracht tot vrouwen. Wat ik mooi vind aan de liefde met een
vrouw is dat je helemaal in elkaar kunt opgaan. Maar de keerzijde van
een man vrouw relatie zit ‘m in het bezitterige. Zo van: nu ben jij van
mij. De homoscene is opener en vrijer met seks. Veel homorelaties zijn
dan ook open. Ik kan me daarom ook goed voorstellen dat op het moment
dat een man in een verstikkende relatie zit, hij neigt naar homoseksuele

Volgens een groot onderzoek dat de belangenorganisatie voor biseksuelen
- LNBi - vorig jaar heeft uitgevoerd onder 60.000 mensen, geeft 16,2
procent van de mannen die zichzelf als hetero bestempelen aan zich wel
eens aangetrokken te voelen tot iemand van hetzelfde geslacht. 26% van
die mannen heeft weleens gefantaseerd over seks met een man en 5,5 %
heeft de fantasie ook werkelijkheid laten worden. “Ik weet niet of het
aantal mannen dat met hun biseksualiteit experimenteert groeit maar ik
heb wel het idee dat er een verschuiving plaats vindt ,” zegt voorzitter
Luc Houtkamp. “Door de opkomst van de metroman en de emo-cultuur is het
uiten van biseksueel gedrag toch iets makkelijker.” Ook Henriëtte
Schoones ziet het maatschappelijke klimaat veranderen. “Meisjes zijn een
jaar of tien geleden al meer met elkaar gaan experimenteren. Misschien
is het taboe daardoor al wat doorbroken. Ook is het hebben van anale
seks meer uit de taboesfeer gekomen.”

Maar algemeen geaccepteerd is het nog niet. Schoones: “De getrouwde
heteroman leidt vaak een dubbelleven. Mannen praten er onderling niet
over en vaak is ook de partner er niet van op de hoogte. Wat ik vaak zie
bij mannen die seks met mannen opzoeken is dat de seksuele relatie met
hun eigen vrouw op een laag pitje staat. Open zijn over je gevoelens en
realiseren dat je mag zijn wie je bent zijn dan heel belangrijk.”
Michiel heeft nooit problemen gehad met zijn biseksuele kant. “Ik denk
dat je er in deze tijd open over kan zijn. Vooral meisjes vinden het
heel interessant. Die hebben zelf al wel eens met een vriendinnetje
gezoend en kunnen het prima handelen.” Toch is hij er niet tegen
iedereen open over. “Mijn ouders vertel ik het niet omdat het ze niets
aangaat. Tegen sommige vrienden ook niet omdat ze dan meteen denken dat
je homo bent.”

Het zal nog wel even duren voordat een Robbie Williams de hitparade
binnnendendert met I snogged a boy. Feit blijft dat de seksuele
voorkeur niet zo eenduidig in elkaar zit als sommige mensen zouden
denken of hopen. Schoones: “Niemand is 100 % hetero of homo. Dat een
man het met een man doet maakt hem dan ook niet meteen homo. Daar moet
de samenleving toch eens wat ruimer over gaan denken.”


zaterdag 13 september 2008

Vaticaan twijfelt over hersendood

11-09-2008 09:29 | Van onze correspondent

VATICAANSTAD - Is een mens gestorven als zijn hersenfuncties tot stilstand zijn gekomen? In Vaticaanse kringen wordt getwijfeld over de definitie die sinds veertig jaar in zwang is. Dat blijkt na publicatie van een artikel vorige week in L’Osservatore Romano, de spreekbuis van het Vaticaan.

De auteur brengt daarin de hersendood als het criterium om de dood vast te stellen ter discussie. De schrijfster, een lid van een prolifeorganisatie, plaatst vraagtekens bij het in medische kringen aanvaarde criterium van de dood. Haar artikel heeft gevolgen voor het ethische vraagstuk van de orgaandonatie.

Hersendood wordt vastgesteld aan de hand van een elektro-encefalogram. Maar ook als daaruit blijkt dat de hersenactiviteit tot stilstand is gekomen, kunnen andere lichaamsfuncties nog functioneren.

Organisaties die orgaantransplantatie propageren zijn bang voor de negatieve gevolgen van het artikel en een mogelijk veranderd denken bij de Rooms-Katholieke Kerk. In Italië bestaat er een tekort aan donoren.

Officieel zegt het Vaticaan niet aan het criterium van hersendood te twijfelen. De woordvoerder van het Vaticaan meent dat het artikel „niet de positie van het leergezag vertegenwoordigt.” Maar kardinaal Lozano Barragan, in het Vaticaan de verantwoordelijke voor gezondheidszaken, zei tegen de krant La Repubblica dat „criteria altijd het wetenschappelijk onderzoek in het oog moeten houden.”

De bedenkingen bij over het encefalogram als doorslaggevend criterium is in bepaalde kringen niet nieuw. „Ik zeg het al tien jaar,” aldus universiteitsdocent Paolo Becchi in het dagblad Il Giornale. „Hersendood is een verzinsel om orgaandonatie ethisch te verantwoorden.”

Jozef Ratzinger, de huidige paus Benedictus XVI, verklaarde zich in 1999 een voorstander van orgaandonatie.

Reformatorisch Dagblad

Op grond waarvan twijfelt het Vaticaan aan het criterium hersendood? Niet op grond van nieuwe wetenschappelijke inzichten lijkt mij. De auteur van het artikel is geen wetenschapper maar een fundamentalistische pro life griezel. De twijfel van het Vaticaan is dus weer eens enkel en alleen gebaseerd op religieuze dogma's. Gelovigen voelen zich gesterkt in hun twijfel door pseudowetenschappelijke verhalen van lieden als Van Lommel met zijn onzin over bijna dood ervaringen. Door dit soort onzin loop je bijvoorbeeld als nierpatient wel het risico om voortijdig een helemaal dood ervaring te ondergaan omdat mensen vanwege deze flauwekul hun organen niet willen doneren. Htichens heeft gelijk; religie vergiftigt alles. Voor mij is het weer eens duidelijk dat men in het Vaticaan al eeuwenlang hersendood is.

vrijdag 12 september 2008

Sarah Palin answers critics

See more Gina Gershon videos at Funny or Die

Goede satire door Gina Gershon

zondag 7 september 2008

Obama Might Pursue Criminal Charges Against Bush Administration Biden says criminal violations will be pursued

by Elana Schor

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden said yesterday that he and running mate Barack Obama could pursue criminal charges against the Bush administration if they are elected in November.

[US Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is introduced at a rally by his running mate Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) in Dublin, Ohio, August 30, 2008. Biden said yesterday that he and Barack Obama could pursue criminal charges against the Bush administration if they are elected in November.(REUTERS/Matt Sullivan)]US Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is introduced at a rally by his running mate Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) in Dublin, Ohio, August 30, 2008. Biden said yesterday that he and Barack Obama could pursue criminal charges against the Bush administration if they are elected in November.(REUTERS/Matt Sullivan)
Biden's comments, first reported by ABC news, attracted little notice on a day dominated by the drama surrounding his Republican counterpart, Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

But his statements represent the Democrats' strongest vow so far this year to investigate alleged misdeeds committed during the Bush years.

"If there has been a basis upon which you can pursue someone for a criminal violation, they will be pursued," Biden said during a campaign event in Deerfield Beach, Florida, according to ABC.

"[N]ot out of vengeance, not out of retribution," he added, "out of the need to preserve the notion that no one, no attorney general, no president -- no one is above the law."

Obama sounded a similar note in April, vowing that if elected, he would ask his attorney general to initiate a prompt review of Bush-era actions to distinguish between possible "genuine crimes" and "really bad policies".

"[I]f crimes have been committed, they should be investigated," Obama told the Philadelphia Daily News. "You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve."

Congressional Democrats have issued a flurry of subpoenas this year to senior Bush administration aides as part of a broad inquiry into the authorisation of torturous interrogation tactics used at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Three veterans of the Bush White House have been held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to respond to subpoenas: former counsel Harriet Miers, former political adviser Karl Rove, and current chief of staff Josh Bolten. The contempt battle is currently before a federal court.

© 2008 Guardian News and Media Limited

The Anti-Obama Hate-Fest

by Robert Parry

The Republican Party, which has defined modern-day negative politics, was back at it again, bashing Barack Obama and the news media in an ugly display that rivaled the old days of Nixon-Agnew - or George W. Bush's last convention where GOP operatives passed out "Purple Heart Band-Aids" to mock John Kerry's war wounds.

After a slow start because of Hurricane Gustav, the convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, has turned into an anti-Obama hate-fest with a nearly all-white gathering laughing at and mocking the nation's first African-American presidential nominee of a major party.

However, beyond the pulsating contempt visible on the faces of the GOP delegates, many of the nasty attacks on Obama - as well as the effusive praise for the Republican ticket - were blatantly false, as if testing the depths of American gullibility and bigotry.

In speech after speech, Republicans didn't so much as tell the Big Lie as they deployed Wholesale Lies.

The Associated Press, which mostly had been recycling the Republican spin about the supposedly "maverick" ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin, was so struck by the litany of distortions that the AP produced a special fact-checking article describing how Republicans had "stretched the truth."

For instance, Palin said about Obama, "it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform - not even in the state senate."

However, as the AP noted, Obama "worked with Republicans to pass legislation that expanded efforts to intercept illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction and to help destroy conventional weapons stockpiles. The legislation became law last year."

Plus, the AP reported, "In Illinois, he was the leader on two big, contentious measures in Illinois: studying racial profiling by police and requiring recordings of interrogations in potential death penalty cases. He also successfully co-sponsored major ethics reform legislation."

The AP's fact-checking article noted, too, that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's slap at Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden - that Palin "got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States" - was a "whopper."

The AP wrote that "Palin got 616 votes in the 1996 mayor's election, and got 909 in her 1999 re-election race, for a total of 1,525. Biden dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses, but he still got 76,165 votes in 23 states and the District of Columbia where he was on the ballot during the 2008 presidential primaries."

Parallel Reality

The Republican National Convention also acted as if the Republicans had not controlled the White House for the past eight years and the Congress for most of that time.

"We need change, all right," declared former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, "change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington - throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin."

Beyond this parallel universe of who runs Washington, there was fanciful puffery about the GOP "reformer" ticket - dubbed "maverick squared" - that doesn't square with reality at all.

For instance, the AP cited Palin's claim that "I have protected the taxpayers by vetoing wasteful spending ... and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress 'thanks but no thanks' for that Bridge to Nowhere."

The reality, of course, was much different.

As the AP noted. Palin, as mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla, hired a lobbyist and made annual treks to Washington seeking earmarked spending that totaled $27 million, and then as Alaska's governor for less than two years, she sought nearly $750 million in special federal spending, "by far the largest per-capita request in the nation."

And as for that $398 million bridge from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents, the truth is that Palin enthusiastically supported the project before she reluctantly opposed it, rejecting the "Bridge to Nowhere" only after it had become politically indefensible.

The Los Angeles Times discovered that Sen. McCain had specifically cited several of Palin's earmarks on his annual list of wasteful pork-barrel spending.

In 2001, for instance, McCain's list included a $500,000 earmark for a public transportation project in Wasilla, and in 2002, he criticized $1 million targeted for an emergency communications center that Palin sought but local law enforcement said was redundant and a source of confusion.

Remaking Palin

Now, however, Palin has been transformed into a maverick reformer. McCain's campaign even cites her experience as an abuser of the earmark process as part of the reason she supposedly understands why it must be scrapped.

McCain spokesman Taylor Griffin said Palin's successes in getting earmarked funds "was one of the formative experiences that led her toward the reform-oriented stance that she has taken as her career has progressed."

Nevertheless, Palin wrote in a newspaper column just this year that "the federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship." [For more details, see Los Angeles Times, Sept. 3, 2008]

Beyond the GOP's reality-challenged speeches, there was the startling image of a nearly all-white convention - where only 36 of the 2,380 delegates were black, the smallest number in at least 40 years - rollicking in ridicule and bristling with animosity toward Obama, an African-American.

With their loud chants of "drill, baby, drill" regarding energy policy and boisterous shouts of "USA, USA" about "victory" in Iraq, there was a sense that St. Paul was hosting a convention of American Falangists, rather than that of a modern national party.

The whiff of authoritarianism extended to outside where demonstrators and journalists were swept off the streets in indiscriminate arrests.

What's less clear about the GOP convention is whether the Republicans are on to something, that perhaps the United States has crossed over into a post-rational society that cares little about facts and reality or serious policy ideas and respectful debate, but rather is a nation moved by anger and ridicule, fear and nationalism.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there

woensdag 27 augustus 2008

CHICAGO - When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.,0,575094.story

An eye-opening survey reveals widespread belief that divine intervention can revive dying patients. And, researchers said, doctors "need to be prepared to deal with families who are waiting for a miracle."

More than half of randomly surveyed adults - 57 percent - said God's intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand such treatment.

When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.

"Sensitivity to this belief will promote development of a trusting relationship" with patients and their families, according to researchers. That trust, they said, is needed to help doctors explain objective, overwhelming scientific evidence showing that continued treatment would be worthless.

Pat Loder, a Milford, Mich., woman whose two young children were killed in a 1991 car crash, said she clung to a belief that God would intervene when things looked hopeless.

"When you're a parent and you're standing over the body of your child who you think is dying ... you have to have that" belief, Loder said.

While doctors should be prepared to deal with those beliefs, they also shouldn't "sugarcoat" the truth about a patient's condition, Loder said.

Being honest in a sensitive way helps family members make excruciating decisions about whether to let dying patients linger, or allow doctors to turn off life-prolonging equipment so that organs can be donated, Loder said.

Loder was driving when a speeding motorcycle slammed into the family's car. Both children were rushed unconscious to hospitals, and Loder says she believes doctors did everything they could. They were not able to revive her 5-year-old son; soon after her 8-year-old daughter was declared brain dead.

She said her beliefs about divine intervention have changed.

"I have become more of a realist," she said. "I know that none of us are immune from anything."

Loder was not involved in the survey, which appears in Monday's Archives of Surgery.

It involved 1,000 U.S. adults randomly selected to answer questions by telephone about their views on end-of-life medical care. They were surveyed in 2005, along with 774 doctors, nurses and other medical workers who responded to mailed questions.

Survey questions mostly dealt with untimely deaths from trauma such as accidents and violence. These deaths are often particularly tough on relatives because they are more unexpected than deaths from lingering illnesses such as cancer, and the patients tend to be younger.

Dr. Lenworth Jacobs, a University of Connecticut surgery professor and trauma chief at Hartford Hospital, was the lead author.

He said trauma treatment advances have allowed patients who previously would have died at the scene to survive longer. That shift means hospital trauma specialists "are much more heavily engaged in the death process," he said.

Jacobs said he frequently meets people who think God will save their dying loved one and who want medical procedures to continue.

"You can't say, 'That's nonsense.' You have to respect that" and try to show them X-rays, CAT scans and other medical evidence indicating death is imminent, he said.

Relatives need to know that "it's not that you don't want a miracle to happen, it's just that is not going to happen today with this patient," he said.

Families occasionally persist and hospitals have gone to court seeking to stop medical treatment doctors believe is futile, but such cases are quite rare.

Dr. Michael Sise, trauma medical director at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, called the study "a great contribution" to one of the most intense issues doctors face.

Sise, a Catholic doctor working in a Catholic hospital, said miracles don't happen when medical evidence shows death is near.

"That's just not a realistic situation," he said.

Sise recalled a teenager severely injured in a gang beating who died soon afterward at his hospital.

The mother "absolutely did not want to withdraw" medical equipment despite the severity of her child's brain injuries, which ensured the child would never wake up, Sise said. "The mom was playing religious tapes in the room, and obviously was very focused on looking for a miracle."

Claudia McCormick, a nurse and trauma program director at Duke University Hospital, said she also has never seen that kind of miracle. But her niece's recovery after being hit by a boat while inner-tubing earlier this year came close.

The boat backed into her and its propeller "caught her in the side of the head. She had no pulse when they pulled her out of the water," McCormick said.

Doctors at the hospital where she was airlifted said "it really doesn't look good." And while it never reached the point where withdrawing lifesaving equipment was discussed, McCormick recalled one of her doctors saying later: '"God has plans for this child. I never thought she'd be here.'"

Like many hospitals, Duke uses a team approach to help relatives deal with dying trauma victims, enlisting social workers, grief counselors and chaplains to work with doctors and nurses.

If the family still says, "We just can't shut that machine off, then, you know what, we can't shut that machine off," McCormick said.

"Sometimes," she said, "you might have a family that's having a hard time and it might take another day, and that's OK."



dinsdag 26 augustus 2008

zondag 24 augustus 2008

Als het ijs smelt

Ik was vandaag in het museum volkenkunde in Leiden. Ik heb daar de tentoonstelling 'Als het ijs smelt' bezocht. Deze tentoonstelling gaat over de gevolgen van de klimaatverandering, en dan met name voor het arctische poolgebied.De traditionele cultuur van Inuit, Sami, de siberische nomadenvolken etc. staat onder grote druk. Ze stonden al onder druk door de invloed van de westerse cultuur, maar nu komt de klimaatverandering er ook nog eens bij. Sommige mensen in het noordelijk poolgebied blijven er laconiek onder en gaan er van uit dat er altijd veranderingen hebben plaatsgevonden waaraan ze zich moesten aanpassen. Dat zal dit keer ook wel weer lukken. Misschien komt er straks wel weet meer kabeljauw als het poolijs smelt en de ijsbeer verdwijnt. Het optimisme en de veerkracht van deze mensen is bewonderingswaardig. Toch denk ik dat er geen reden voor optimisme is. De verandering die we nu zien plaatsvinden is ingrijpender dan we ooit hebben gezien sinds de laatste ijstijd en is zeker geen business as usual. In gebieden waar het klimaat het meest extreem is zien we de gevolgen eerder en sterker dan in onze gematigde klimaatzone. Toch zou het leuk zijn als we weer eens een Elfstedentocht zouden krijgen.

zaterdag 23 augustus 2008

Films zorgen voor roken

Het Amerikaanse National Cancer Institue heeft onderzoek gedaan naar het verband tussen het kijken naar films en het besluit van kinderen om te gaan roken. Ze kwamen tot de conclusie dat niet enkel het kijken naar films, maar in grote mate ook de marketing ervan ertoe kan leiden dat kinderen beginnen met roken.

De onderzoekers willen nu dat er, voordat een speelfilm waarin gerookt wordt begint, een waarschuwing in beeld komt die meldt dat er in de film wordt gerookt. Vorige maand besloot men al om anti-rookteksten te zetten op DVD's met films erop waarin gerookt wordt. In Amerika is het ook verboden om, zonder begeleiding van een volwassene, te kijken naar een film waarin gerookt wordt als de kijker jonger dan 17 jaar is.

Ik ben een tegenstander van roken, maar dit vind ik een beetje mal. Moeten er nu echt waarschuwingen bij films als Casablanca? Dat lijkt me overdreven en bovendien is het de vraag of een dergelijke waarschuwing effectief is. Misschien gaan jongeren roken dan nog meer zien als 'stoer'. Ik vraag me ook af hoe sterk het verband tussen roken in films en het beginnen met roken is. In het bericht heeft men het zowel over roken in films als over marketing. Het lijkt er op dat ze de factor 'marketing' niet hebben geisoleerd van de factor 'roken in films'. Marketing lijkt me een belangrijker factor. Van nog groter belang lijkt mij het rookgedrag van de leeftijdsgenoten waaronder jongeren verkeren. Ik ben nu ruim twee jaar geleden gestopt met roken. Toen ik op zestien jarige leeftijd begon met roken was het mee willen doen met de stoere klasgenoten de belangrijkste reden om te gaan roken. Ik denk dat ik niet de enige ben die zo is begonnnen.

vrijdag 22 augustus 2008

Bush makes last-minute grab for civil liberties

'I'm still in the White House you know'
By Bill Ray → More by this author
Published Thursday 21st August 2008 16:15 GMT
Nail down your security priorities. Ask the experts and your peers at The Register Security Debate, September 24 2008.

US citizens could be investigated without just cause under a new plan from the Justice Department, while those who choose to leave the country will have their records kept for 15 years and available to any litigious attorney.

The Justice Department plan won't be unveiled in detail until next month, but the New York Times is reporting that the plan will to allow the FBI to open an investigation into anyone without clear suspicion, and that's got civil liberty groups understandably concerned.

Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security has been quietly building a database of every border crossing by a US citizen, claims the Washington Post, and intends to hang onto the data for 15 years - foreigners will have their data stored for 75 years. All this information sits in a database which will be exempted from the 1974 Privacy Act, which would require individuals to be informed if lawmen request the data.

Both these moves are about solidifying temporary powers that were put into place following the terrorist attack in New York in September 2001, and doing so before Bush leaves office and is replaced by someone who may be less hard-line.

Details of the Justice Department plan were revealed in closed briefings to Congressional staff, and four Democratic senators have written to the Attorney General expressing their concern. The letter, signed by Russ Feingold, Richard J. Durbin, Edward M. Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse, claims the new plan "might permit an innocent American to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or on protected First Amendment activities".

As a result the Attorney has agreed not to sign the plan before Congress gets a proper look at it on September 17th.

The border-crossing database being created in the name of Homeland Security came to light last month in a Federal Register notice, and is intended to form a record which can "quite literally, help frontline officers to connect the dots", according to a Homeland Security spokesman.

But it won't just be terrorists who are tracked on the database. The information will be available to any court or attorney in civil litigation, or even the media: "When there exists a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of the information."

As a fully paid up member of the fourth estate The Register is looking forward to having access to US border crossing records, but we promise to only use the information in legitimate cases, so if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear from us. ®

Swiftboat 2008

Supernatural science: Why we want to believe

Monsters are everywhere these days, and belief in them is as strong as

By Robert Roy Britt

Monsters are everywhere these days, and belief in them is as strong as
ever. What's harder to believe is why so many people buy into hazy
evidence, shady schemes and downright false reports that perpetuate
myths that often have just one ultimate truth: They put money in the
pockets of their purveyors.

The bottom line, according to several interviews with people who study
these things: People want to believe, and most simply can't help it.

"Many people quite simply just want to believe," said Brian Cronk, a
professor of psychology at Missouri Western State University. "The
human brain is always trying to determine why things happen, and when
the reason is not clear, we tend to make up some pretty bizarre

A related question: Does belief in the paranormal have anything to do
with religious belief?

The answer to that question is decidedly nuanced, but studies point to
an interesting conclusion: People who practice religion are typically
encouraged not to believe in the paranormal, but rather to put their
faith in one deity, whereas those who aren't particularly active in
religion are more free to believe in Bigfoot or consult a psychic.

"Christians and New Agers, paranormalists, etc. all have one thing in
common: a spiritual orientation to the world," said sociology
Professor Carson Mencken of Baylor University.

A tale last week by three men who said they have remains of Bigfoot in
a freezer was reported by many Web sites as anywhere from final proof
of the creature to at least a very compelling case to keep the fantasy
ball rolling and cash registers ringing for Bigfoot trinkets and
tourism (all three men involved make money off the belief in this
creature). Even mainstream media treated a Friday press conference
about the "finding" as news.

Reactions by the public ranged from skeptical curiosity to blind faith.

"I believe they do exist but I'm not sure about this," said one reader
reacting to a story on LiveScience that cast doubt the claim. "I guess
we will find out ... if this is on the up and up," wrote another.
"However, that said, I know they exist."

A subsequent test on the supposed Bigfoot found nothing but the DNA of
humans and an opossum, a small, cat-like creature.

Also last week, in Texas there was yet another sensational yet
debunkable sighting of chupacabra, a beast of Latin-American folklore.
The name means "goat sucker." In this case, law enforcement bought
into the hooey with an apparent wink and nod.

Ellie Carter, a patrol trainee with the DeWitt County sheriff's
office, saw the beast and was, of course, widely quoted. "It was this
— thing, looking right at us," she said. "I think that's a
chupacabra!" After watching a video of the beast taken by a sheriff's
deputy, biologist Scott Henke of Texas A&M University said, "It's a
dog for sure," according to a story on Scientific American's Web site.

Meanwhile, the sheriff did nothing to tamp down rampant speculation,
expressing delight that he might have a monster on his hands. "I love
this for DeWitt County," said Sheriff Jode Zavesky, who would
presumably be just as thrilled to let Dracula or a werewolf run free.

With that kind of endorsement and the human propensity to believe in
just about anything, it's clear that Bigfoot and chupacabra are just
two members in a cast of mythical characters and dubious legends and
ideas will likely never go away.

In a 2006 study, researchers found a surprising number of college
students believe in psychics, witches, telepathy, channeling and a
host of other questionable ideas. A full 40 percent said they believe
houses can be haunted.

Why are people so eager to accept flimsy and fabricated evidence in
support of unlikely and even outlandish creatures and ideas? Why is
the paranormal realm, from psychic predictions to UFO sightings, so
alluring to so many?

woensdag 20 augustus 2008

You Can’t Be Serious: How a Comedian Became the most Influential Voice in American Politics

by Leonard Doyle

When Jon Stewart inaugurated his fake news anchor on The Daily Show eight years ago, his goal was to send up the hyperbolic and manufactured controversy of US Cable News and, if possible, be even more outrageous. Now, in a wonderful through-the-looking-glass moment, he has supplanted the subjects of his mockery in the country’s current affairs consciousness, and finds himself crowned the bemused voice of reason in an insane world.The underground comic has become such a cultural touchstone that The New York Times asked this week whether he has become “the most trusted man in America”.0819 04 1 2 3

For anyone who has missed the influential anchor, then his take on the way mainstream media peddles false rumours about Barack Obama is instructive. He calls it “Baracknophobia” and shows clips of blow-dried anchors and experts repeating widely-believed but baseless rumours - that the Democrat is actually a secret Muslim, a plagiarist, a misogynist etc. The purveyor of fake news lacerates the networks’ talking heads as they blame the internet for rumour mongering about Obama.

The highlight is a straight-faced Mr Stewart saying: “Oh, this is interesting. SomeguyI’ is reporting presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama has lady parts. Obviously scurrilous and unfounded, we’ll examine it tonight in our special, ‘Barack Obama’s Vagina: The October Surprise In His Pants’.”

The latest sign of how far the show and its host have come from their edgy early days will come at the Democratic Convention in Denver, where he and his reporters are fully accredited.

When asked last year by the Pew Research Centre to name the journalist they most admired, Americans placed the fake news anchor Mr Stewart at number four on the list. He was tied with such luminaries as Tom Brokaw of NBC, Dan Rather, then of CBS, and Anderson Cooper of CNN.

The Daily Show and the equally funny and successful Colbert Report shows are broadcast more than 23 times a week, “from Comedy Central’s World News Headquarters in New York”. The side-street studio on Manhattan’s West Side is not only the undisputed locus of fake news, but it is increasingly the epicentre of real news - administered with a wrapping of college humour.

The whispered advice of a State Department spokesman to a foreign correspondent trying to make sense of American politics was very simple: tune into The Daily Show. “I watch the reruns every morning at 10.30,” she said, “it’s the only way to find out what’s really going on.”

The Daily Show is also a top priority for ambitious politicians and was described by Newsweek as “the coolest pit stop on television” for presidential candidates, world leaders and ex-presidents. While mainstream news gave an even-handed report on the legacy of the Blair-Bush years after Tony Blair’s farewell visit to Washington last year, The Daily Show tore Mr Blair to ribbons.

One of the programme’s signature techniques - of using video montages showing politicians contradicting themselves - is now a staple technique of mainstream news shows.

Nor is The Daily Show afraid of tackling what it calls “super depressing” stories, such as President George Bush’s decision to approve the use of torture after the September 11 attacks and the unprecedented concentration of executive power by the White House. Interviews with serious authors such as Seymour Hersh have helped focus attention on potentially illegal acts by the Bush administration and win a wider audience for their work.

Mr Stewart’s frequent outbursts of “Are you insane?!” seems to capture the post-M*A*S*H, post-Catch-22 sensibilities of a country that waged a war in Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Now, with the most promising candidate in generations running for president, Mr Stewart asks whether the country may be about to reject him at the ballot box because of rumours that he is Muslim.

The purpose of The Daily Show is to entertain, not inform, Mr Stewart insists, and he likens his job to “throwing spitballs” from the back of the room. But he and the high-powered writers who work with him like nothing better than tackling the big issues of the day - in ways that straight news programs cannot.

“Hopefully, the process is to spot things that would be grist for the funny mill,” Mr Stewart, 45, told The New York Times. “In some respects, the heavier subjects are the ones that are most loaded with opportunity because they have the most … potential energy, so to delve into that gives you the largest combustion, the most interest. I don’t mean for the audience. I mean for us.”

The Daily Show’s success comes from blending the informality and attitude of bloggers with the hard-nosed research and expertise of the best investigative reporters to reveal a new news medium. Like bloggers, a key to his show’s success is the authenticity that comes from in-depth reporting, combined with stating the blindingly obvious.

Every day begins with a morning meeting where material culled from 15 video recorders, as well as newspapers, magazines and websites, is pored over. The meeting, Mr Stewart says, “would be very unpleasant for most people to watch: it’s really a gathering of curmudgeons expressing frustration and upset, and the rest of the day is spent trying to … repress that through whatever creative devices we can find”. Josh Lieb, one of the executive producers of the show, describes the process as looking for stories that “make us angry in a whole new way”.

By 3pm a script has been prepared and Mr Stewart’s rehearsals begin. After an hour of rewrites, taping the show starts at 6pm.

The fake news anchor may be the antidote to fake news, which has a habit of showing up in American newspapers. After all, the US government had an initiative in 2005 to plant “positive news” in Iraqi newspapers to sway public opinion about the war. The Bush administration has worked closely with big business to keep it flowing.

According to Professor Robert Love, of Columbia Journalism School: “They have used fringe scientists and fake experts to muddy scientific debates on global warming, stem-cell research, evolution, and other matters.”

For all his fakery, Mr Stewart may be pointing the way to the future of news: bluntness and informality fused with ruthless editing and a funny bone which helps to ensure that stories he wants to cover are watched.



dinsdag 19 augustus 2008

Why McCain May Well Win

by Robert Parry

It might seem unlikely that the United States would elect John McCain to succeed George W. Bush when that would ensure continuation of many unpopular Bush policies: an ill-defined war with the Muslim world, right-wing consolidation of the U.S. Supreme Court, a drill-oriented energy strategy, tax cuts creating massive federal deficits, etc., etc.

But there are reasons - beyond understandable concerns about Barack Obama’s limited experience - that make a McCain victory possible, indeed maybe probable.

Here is one of the big ones: The U.S. news media is as bad as ever, arguably worse.

On Monday, Obama gave a detail-rich speech on how he would address the energy crisis, which is a major point of concern among Americans. From ideas for energy innovation to retrofitting the U.S. auto industry to conservation steps to limited new offshore drilling, Obama did what he is often accused of not doing, fleshing out his soaring rhetoric.

McCain responded with a harsh critique of Obama’s calls for more conservation, claiming that Obama wants to solve the energy crisis by having people inflate their tires. McCain’s campaign even passed out a tire gauge marked as Obama’s energy plan.

For his part, McCain made clear he wanted to drill for more oil wherever it could be found and to build many more nuclear power plants.

These competing plans offered a chance for the evening news to address an issue of substance that is high on the voters’ agenda. Instead, NBC News anchor Brian Williams devoted 30 seconds to the dueling energy speeches, without any details and with the witty opening line that Obama was “refining” his energy plan.

So, instead of dealing with a serious issue in a serious way, NBC News ignored the substance and went for a clever slight against Obama, hitting his political maneuvering in his softened opposition to more offshore drilling.

Williams’s quip fit with one of the press corps’ favorite campaign narratives, Obama’s flip-flopping. But the coverage ignored far more important elements of the story, such as the feasibility of Obama’s vow that “we must end the age of oil in our time” or the wisdom of McCain’s emphasis on drilling - and nuking - the nation out of its energy mess.

And, as for flip-flops, McCain’s dramatic repositioning of himself as an anti-environmentalist - after years of being one of the green movement’s favorite Republicans - represents a far more significant change than Obama’s modest waffling on offshore oil.

The Sierra Club, one of the nation’s premier environmental organizations, has repudiated McCain and now is running ads attacking his energy plan. But McCain’s flip-flops - even complete reversals - remain an underplayed part of the campaign story. They just don’t fit the narrative of maverick John McCain on the “Straight Talk Express.”

Loving the ‘Surge’

The major U.S. news media has been equally superficial in dealing with the Iraq War and the “war on terror.” It is now a fully enshrined conventional wisdom that George W. Bush’s troop “surge” was a huge success and vindicates McCain’s early support for it.

On Obama’s overseas trip, it became de rigueur for each interviewer to pound him for the first 10 or 15 minutes with demands that he accept the accepted wisdom about the “surge” and admit that he was wrong and McCain was right.

Obama’s attempts to offer a more subtle explanation of what had occurred in Iraq - that key reasons for the declining violence actually predated the “surge” - were treated with bafflement by the interviewers, who simply reframed their questions and came back at him in a show of toughness against Obama’s supposed evasions.

CBS News anchor Katie Couric started this pattern, but others fell smartly in line, including NBC’s Tom Brokaw on “Meet the Press.” Indeed, many of the same media stars who had cheered the nation to war in 2003 (such as Brokaw) were now hectoring Obama, who had spoken out against the invasion in real time.

Conversely, McCain is never challenged about his misjudgment in advocating a rapid pivot from Afghanistan to Iraq in late 2001 and early 2002, before Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda were captured and before Afghanistan had stabilized.

That premature pivot now stands as one of the biggest military blunders in U.S. history, leaving American troops bogged down in two open-ended wars and allowing the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to regroup and to plot in safe havens inside Pakistan.

However, American voters who rely on the major news media for their information would have no idea about McCain’s central role in this fiasco. All they hear about is how McCain was right about the “surge” and how Obama won’t admit he was wrong.


When American news consumers aren’t hearing misinformation, they’re almost surely hearing trivia. The TV news shows couldn’t resist endlessly repeating McCain’s attack ad that compared Obama and his enthusiastic reception in Berlin to misbehaving celebrities Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Though the juxtaposition was clearly meant to demean - and reminded some political observers of the “call me” ads of a sexy white woman whispering to black Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford - McCain’s campaign insisted it was all in good fun.

While some pundits did take note of McCain’s detour onto the low road, others picked up McCain’s campaign theme that Obama is a “presumptuous” elitist who looks down on others.

That powerful attack line, which touches on the grievances of working-class whites who feel that some blacks have gotten unfair advantages from affirmative action, is at the heart of modern American racism. Since the Nixon era, Republicans have played this Southern Strategy with great success, telling whites that they’re the real victims.

This Obama-elitist theme reached its apex (or nadir, if you prefer) when the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank distorted a reported quote from Obama to a closed Democratic caucus and used it to prove Obama was a “presumptuous nominee.” [Washington Post, July 30, 2008]

Jonathan Capehart, Milbank’s colleague from the Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial page, then took the point a step further on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, citing Milbank’s misleading quote to establish that Obama is an “uppity” black man.

Yet, the true meaning of the Obama quote appears to have been almost the opposite of how Milbank used it.

Painting Obama as a megalomaniac, Milbank wrote: “Inside [the caucus], according to a witness, [Obama] told the House members, ‘This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,’ adding: ‘I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.’”

However, other people who attended the caucus complained that Milbank had yanked the words out of context to support his “presumptuous” thesis, not to reflect what Obama actually said.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, said Obama’s comment was “in response to what one of the [House] members prefaced the question by,” a reference to the crowd of 200,000 that turned out to hear Obama speak in Berlin.

According to Clyburn, Obama “said, ‘I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t. Because it’s not about me. It’s about America. It’s about the people of Germany and the people of Europe looking for a new hope, new relationships, as we go forward in the world.’ So, he expressly said that it’s not about me.”

A House Democratic aide sent an e-mail to Fox News saying, “Lots of people are reading the quote about Obama being a symbol and getting it wrong. His entire point of that riff was that the campaign IS NOT about him.

“The Post left out the important first half of the sentence, which was something along the lines of: ‘It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have just become a symbol …’”

So, it appears that Obama’s attempt to show humility was transformed into its opposite, establishing that, as Capehart put it, Obama is an “uppity” black man. [Capehart himself is black.]

A week after Milbank pulled the Obama quote inside out, the Washington Post had yet to run a correction or a clarification. The august Post apparently judges that Obama’s supporters don’t have the clout to punish a news organization for getting a quote wrong, even if it continues to reverberate through the media echo chamber to millions of Americans.

Putting Obama at Risk

Yet possibly even more offensive than the quote, Milbank’s column shoved everything, including the Secret Service security arrangements for Obama, through the lens of proving that the candidate is arrogant.

When Washington police and the Secret Service blocked off roads for Obama’s motorcade, that was not simply prudence in the face of extraordinary security concerns for Obama’s life; it was proof that Obama already sees himself as a head of state.

“He traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual President’s. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities.”

Milbank groused, too, about the tight security that the police put around Obama’s movements on Capitol Hill.

“Capitol Police cleared the halls — just as they do for the actual President. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door — just as they do for the actual President,” Milbank wrote.

While Milbank portrayed these security steps as further evidence of Obama’s hubris, there is no reason to believe that Obama had any say in the decisions of his security detail to protect the candidate.

Milbank and the Post were behaving as if they were oblivious to the physical danger that surrounds the first African-American to have a serious chance to be elected President of the United States. It was almost as if they were baiting him to order the Secret Service to pull back or face the accusation that he is, as Capehart put it, “uppity.”

This pattern of how the major media treats Obama also is not new. Although the McCain campaign and the right-wing media insist that Obama gets easy treatment from the press corps, that amounts to more “working the refs” than a legitimate complaint.

Just because Obama gets more coverage than McCain - the centerpiece of the Republican complaint - doesn’t mean that the press favors Obama, anymore than the fact that Bill Clinton got lots of coverage in 1998 over the Monica Lewinsky scandal meant that the press was favoring him.

Indeed, there have been repeated examples of media double standards working against Obama.

For instance, during the primaries, the major media obsessed for weeks over controversies that would have blown over for other candidates in days. The stupid remarks by Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were endless fodder for news programs, while offensive comments from pro-McCain pastors were just tiny blips and soon disappeared.

Similarly, Obama’s lack of a flag-lapel pin became a theme that was used to challenge his patriotism, although neither John McCain nor Hillary Clinton wore a pin. Neither, by the way, did ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson as they moderated the April 16 debate in Philadelphia where Obama was grilled over his lack of a flag-lapel pin.

(The flag-lapel “issue” was first given national prominence by New York Times columnist William Kristol and was given more impetus by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. To put the issue to rest, Obama finally began wearing a flag pin, though McCain still doesn’t wear one regularly.)

Economic Determinism

Every presidential election year, it seems, some economist publishes an article that declares that economic data - good or bad - will decide whether the White House will be won by the in-power party or the out-of-power party. For instance, the booming economy of 2000 supposedly assured Al Gore a resounding victory.

In Campaign 2008, this thinking holds that Americans - faced with severe economic troubles - will throw the Republicans out of the White House and elect a Democrat.

However, this economic determinism may no longer hold sway in a nation that is as inundated with media as the United States is. The ability to float false “themes” against one candidate or another and have the major media constantly repeat the propaganda is an extraordinarily powerful force in deciding American elections.

As we describe in our book Neck Deep, millions of Americans went to the polls in November 2000 believing a number of false claims that had been circulated about Vice President Gore (including the bogus notion that he had been part of a plan to sell nuclear secrets to China, when those secrets actually had been compromised during the Reagan years.)

Given the persistent superficiality - and cowardice - of the major U.S. news media, there’s even the larger question of whether a meaningful democracy can survive when the public is so thoroughly misinformed.

Although there are some Internet sites that challenge the major media’s errors, the imbalance remains tilted heavily toward the ideological Right. Especially when prestige newspapers like the Washington Post contribute to the distribution of false or misleading information - as with Milbank’s quote about Obama - the pro-Republican media eagerly amplifies it and most Americans never hear the other side.

Right-wing Internet sites also have proven to be very adept at inserting completely false claims about Obama that stick with many Americans, such as the oft-repeated lie that Obama is a Muslim or that he trained at a radical Islamic madrassah.

To assume that people will somehow see through such distortions has proven to be naïve in the past. More likely, many millions of Americans will head to the polls in November having internalized a hodgepodge of negative themes about Obama. Indeed, a significant number who have absorbed the uglier accusations will have come to hate him.

So, even if a McCain victory guarantees that the United States would solidify the policies of a deeply disliked President, many Americans may set aside what may be good for the country - or even good for their own pocketbooks - and vote against Obama, more based on perceptions than reality.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to

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Behind Politics, A Philosophy of Fear

by Eliot J. Chandler

George Orwell, in his novel “1984,” described Oceania, a society in which the prime motivating force for controlling the populace was fear, both fear of its own government and its enemies. He wrote of continual war, of enemies so horrendous that the public was constrained to rigid compliance with its rulers in order to demonstrate its patriotism. Much of Orwell’s description is found again in the teachings of University of Chicago Professor Leo Strauss, who died in 1973.

Strauss’s political philosophy contains many subtle and not-so-subtle effects evident in the Bush administration’s activities since Sept. 11. And remarkably, taken as a whole, they resemble the fictional world of Oceania. For instance, there’s the perpetual political deception between rulers and ruled, a necessity according to Strauss. There’s the obsession with secrecy and the Machiavellian conviction that stability among the populace requires an external threat, that if no such threat exists one must be manufactured. John Foster Dulles fully understood this when he recommended that, “In order to bring a nation to support the burdens of great military establishments, it is necessary to create an emotional state akin to psychology. There must be the portrayal of external menace. This involves the development of a nation-hero, nation-villain ideology and the arousing of the population to a sense of sacrifice.”

Strauss and today’s neocons believe that our nation must maintain the appearance of continuous war. As Vice President Dick Cheney said, “This war may last for the rest of our lives.” The government can thus sustain a continued state of war hysteria to keep the population motivated. Through this creation and control of mass paranoia they can maintain an intense nationalism with complete loyalty and total subservience to the “national interest.”

Orwell described a “labyrinthine world of doublethink …” for instance, “to believe that democracy was impossible, and that the party was the guardian of democracy.”

Americans believe very deeply in the ideals that America stands for, will sacrifice their lives and those of their children when necessary to defend them. Yet at the same time, the neocons have convinced the public to believe that these ideals are impractical in dealing with the complexities of today’s world. To burden the federal government with our revered Constitution and its checks and balances would cripple it in its difficult fight against terrorism. We must, they say, sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve them.

The neocons, who have controlled the White House for the past seven years, have utilized Strauss and Orwell’s observations to provide a society much like that described in Orwell’s novel.

Oceania had an archenemy which the population was encouraged to fear and hate. In the novel this demonic figure was of Jewish heritage, but today’s “hated” figure is an Iranian leader named Ahmadinejad.

Our government and news media must keep painting him as a terrible threat, not only to Israel, but also to world peace. Our administration has distorted many of Ahmadinejad’s talks into violent threats, and the media has repeated them endlessly, making them seem truthful, just as Orwell described in his novel.

For instance, in a talk by our president in March 2006, “the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That’s a threat, a serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace.”

Yet Ahmadinejad was actually calling for a regime change in Israel and the U.S. He was not threatening to physically “wipe Israel off the map.” His goal was to end the terrible oppression of the Palestinians. Common sense must reveal that, should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, bombing Israel would also destroy the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. And it would mean certain suicide for Iran.

This fostering of fear and hate among Americans is necessary in order to prepare our nation to go to war. It was carefully crafted prior to the invasion of Iraq and is now being used to stir up the blood of Americans for invading another country. This is the “continuous war” predicted by Orwell. When will we ever learn?

Eliot J. Chandler of Bangor is the author of “Ancient Sagadahoc,” a book on Maine history.
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The Plot Against Liberal America

by Thomas Frank

The most cherished dream of conservative Washington is that liberalism can somehow be defeated, finally and irreversibly, in the way that armies are beaten and pests are exterminated. Electoral victories by Republicans are just part of the story. The larger vision is of a future in which liberalism is physically barred from the control room - of an “end of history” in which taxes and onerous regulation will never be allowed to threaten the fortunes private individuals make for themselves. This is the longing behind the former White House aide Karl Rove’s talk of “permanent majority” and, 20 years previously, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s declaration to the Republican convention that it’s “the job of all revolutions to make permanent their gains”.

When I first moved to contemplate this peculiar utopian vision, I was struck by its apparent futility. What I did not understand was that beating liberal ideas was not the goal. The Washington conservatives aim to make liberalism irrelevant not by debating, but by erasing it. Building a majority coalition has always been a part of the programme, and conservatives have enjoyed remarkable success at it for more than 30 years. But winning elections was not a bid for permanence by itself. It was only a means.

The end was capturing the state, and using it to destroy liberalism as a practical alternative. The pattern was set by Margaret Thatcher, who used state power of the heaviest-handed sort to implant permanently the anti-state ideology.

“Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul,” she said, echoing Stalin. In the 34 years before she became prime minister, Britain rode a see-saw of nationalisation, privatisation and renationalisation; Thatcher set out to end the game for good. Her plan for privatising council housing was designed not only to enthrone the market, but to encourage an ownership mentality and “change the soul” of an entire class of voters. When she sold off nationally owned industries, she took steps to ensure that workers received shares at below-market rates, leading hopefully to the same soul transformation. Her brutal suppression of the miners’ strike in 1984 showed what now awaited those who resisted the new order. As a Business Week reporter summarised it in 1987: “She sees her mission as nothing less than eradicating Labour Party socialism as a political alternative.”

In their own pursuit of the free-market utopia, America’s right-wingers did not have as far to travel as their British cousins, and they have never needed to use their state power so ruthlessly. But the pattern is the same: scatter the left’s constituencies, hack open the liberal state and reward friendly businesses with the loot.

Grover Norquist, one of the most influential conservatives in Washington and the “field marshal of the Bush plan”, according to the Nation magazine, has been most blunt about using the power of the state “to crush the structures of the left”. He has outlined the plan countless times in countless venues: the liberal movement is supported by a number of “pillars”, each of which can be toppled by conservatives when in power. Among Norquist’s suggestions has been the undermining of defence lawyers - who in the US give millions of dollars to liberal causes - with measures “potentially costing [them] billions of dollars of lost income”. Conservatives could also “crush labour unions as a political entity” by forcing unions to get annual written approval from every member before spending union funds on political activities. His coup de grâce is that the Democratic Party in its entirety would become “a dead man walking” with the privatisation of social security.

Much of this programme has already been accomplished, if not on the precise terms Norquist suggested. The shimmering dream of privatising social security, though, remains the great unreachable right-wing prize, and the right persists in the campaign, regardless of the measure’s unpopularity or the number of political careers it costs. President Bush announced privatisation to be his top priority on the day after his re-election in 2004, although he had not emphasised this issue during the campaign. He proceeded to chase it deep into the land of political unpopularity, a region from which he never really returned.

He did this because the potential rewards of privatising social security justify any political cost. At one stroke, it would both de-fund the operations of government and utterly reconfigure the way Americans interact with the state. It would be irreversible, too; the “transition costs” in any scheme to convert social security are so vast that no country can consider incurring them twice. Once the deal has been done and the trillions of dollars that pass through social security have been diverted from the US Treasury to stocks in private companies, the effects would be locked in for good. First, there would be an immediate flood of money into Wall Street; second, there would be an equivalent flow of money out of government accounts, immediately propelling the federal deficit up into the stratosphere and de-funding a huge part of the federal activity.
Business elites

The overall effect for the nation’s politics would be to elevate for ever the rationale of the financial markets over such vague liberalisms as “the common good” and “the public interest”. The practical results of such a titanic redirection of the state are easy to predict, given the persistent political demands of Wall Street: low wage growth, even weaker labour organisations, a free hand for management in downsizing, in polluting, and so on.

The longing for permanent victory over liberalism is not unique to the west. In country after country, business elites have come up with ingenious ways to limit the public’s political choices. One of the most effective of these has been massive public debt. Naomi Klein has pointed out, in case after case, that the burden of debt has forced democratic countries to accept a laissez-faire system that they find deeply distasteful. Regardless of who borrowed the money, these debts must be repaid - and repaying them, in turn, means that a nation must agree to restructure its economy the way bankers bid: by deregulating, privatising and cutting spending.

Republicans have ridden to power again and again promising balanced budgets - government debt was “mortgaging our future”, Ronald Reagan admonished in his inaugural address - but once in office they proceed, with a combination of tax cuts and spending increases, to inflate the federal deficit to levels far beyond those reached by their supposedly open-handed liberal rivals. The formal justification is one of the all-time great hoaxes. By cutting taxes, it is said, you will unleash such economic growth that federal revenues will actually increase, so all the additional government spending will be paid for.

Even the theory’s proponents don’t really believe it. David Stockman, the libertarian budget director of the first Reagan administration, did the maths in 1980 and realised it would not rescue the government; it would wreck the government. This is the point where most people would walk away. Instead, Stockman decided it had medicinal value. He realised that with their government brought to the brink of fiscal collapse, the liberals would either have to acquiesce in the reconfiguration of the state or else see the country destroyed. Stockman was candid about this: the left would “have to dismantle [the government’s] bloated, wasteful, and unjust spending enterprises - or risk national ruin”.

This is government-by-sabotage: deficits were a way to smash a liberal state. The Reagan deficits did precisely this. When Reagan took over in 1981, he inherited an annual deficit of $59bn and a national debt of $914bn; by the time he and his successor George Bush had finished their work, they had quintupled the deficit and pumped the debt up to more than $3trn. Bill Clinton called the deficit “Stockman’s Revenge” - and it domin ated all other topics within his administration’s economic teams. With the chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan himself speaking of “financial catastrophe” unless steps were taken to control Reagan’s deficit, Clinton was soon a convert. He got tough with the federal workforce.
So-called virtues

George W Bush proceeded to plunge the budget into deficit again. Indeed, after seeing how the Reagan deficit had forced Clinton’s hand, it would have been foolish for a conservative not to spend his way back into the hole as rapidly as possible. “It’s perfectly fine for them to waste money,” says Robert Reich, a former labour secretary to Bill Clinton, summarising the conservative viewpoint. “If the public thinks government is wasteful, that’s fine. That reduces public faith in government, which is precisely what the Republicans want.”

In 1964, the political theorist James Burnham diagnosed liberalism as “the ideology of western suicide”. What Burnham meant by this was that liberalism’s so-called virtues - its openness and its insistence on equal rights for everyone - made it vulnerable to any party that refuses to play by the rules. The “suicide” that all of this was meant to describe was liberalism’s inevitable destruction at the hands of communism, a movement in whose ranks Burnham had once marched himself. But his theory seems more accurately to describe the stratagems of its fans on the American right. And the correct term for the disasters that have disabled the liberal state is not suicide, but vandalism. Loot the Treasury, dynamite the dam, take a crowbar to the monument and throw a wrench into the gears. Slam the locomotive into reverse, toss something heavy on the throttle, and jump for it.

Mainstream American political commentary customarily assumes that the two political parties do whatever they do as mirror images of each other; that if one is guilty of some misstep, the other is equally culpable. But there is no symmetry. Liberalism, as we know it, arose out of a compromise between left-wing social movements and business interests. It depends on the efficient functioning of certain organs of the state; it does not call for all-out war on private industry.

Conservatism, on the other hand, speaks not of compromise, but of removing its adversaries from the field altogether. While no one dreams of sawing off those branches of the state that protect conservatism’s constituents - the military, the police, legal privileges granted to corporations - conservatives openly fantasise about doing away with the bits of “big government” that serve liberal ends. While de-funding the left is the north star of the conservative project, there is no comparable campaign to “de-fund the right”; indeed, it would be difficult to imagine one.

“Over the past 30 years, American politics has become more money-centred at exactly the same time that American society has grown more unequal,” the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written. The resources and organisational heft of the well-off and hyper-conservative have exploded. But the org anisational resources of middle-income Amer icans . . . have atrophied. The resulting inequality has greatly benefited the Republican Party while drawing it closer to its most affluent and extreme supporters.”

In this sense, conservative Washington is a botch that keeps on working, constructing an imbalance that will tilt our politics rightward for years, a plutocracy that will stand, regardless of who wins the next few elections. And as American inequality widens, the clout of money will only grow more powerful.

As I write this, the lobbyist-fuelled conservative boom of the past ten years is being supplanted by a distinct conservative bust: like the real-estate speculators who are dumping properties all over the country, conservative senators and representatives are heading for the revolving door in record numbers.

The Democrats who have taken their place are an improvement, certainly, but for the party’s more entrepreneurial leaders electoral success in 2006 was merely an opportunity to accelerate their own courtship of Washington’s lobbyists, think-tanks and pressure groups staked out on K Street. Democratic leaders have proved themselves the Republicans’ equals in circumvention of campaign finance laws.

Throwing the rascals out is no longer enough. The problem is structural; it is inscribed on the map; it glows from the illuminated logos on the contractors’ office buildings; it is built into the systems of governance themselves. A friend of mine summarised this concisely as we were lunching in one of those restaurants where the suits and the soldiers get together. Sweeping his hand so as to take in our fellow diners and all the contractors’ offices beyond, he said, “So you think all of this is just going to go away if Obama gets in?” This whole economy, all these profits?

He’s right, of course; maybe even righter than he realised. It would be nice if electing Democrats was all that was required to resuscitate the America that the right flattened, but it will take far more than that. A century ago, an epidemic of public theft persisted, despite a long string of reformers in the White House, Republicans and Democrats, each promising to clean the place up. Nothing worked, and for this simple reason: democracy cannot work when wealth is distributed as lopsidedly as theirs was-and as ours is. The inevitable consequence of plutocracy, then and now, is bought government.

This is an edited extract from Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew“, published this month by Harvill Secker (£14.99)

© Thomas Frank, 2008