Norm Coleman is a fool.
Not an ideological nut case, not a partisan whack, not even a useful idiot -- just a plain old-fashioned, drool-on-his-tie fool.
The Minnesota Republican senator who took Paul Wellstone's seat after one of the most disreputable campaigns in American political history has been trying over the past year to make a name for himself by blowing the controversy surrounding the United Nations Oil-for-Food program into something more than the chronicle of corporate abuse that it is. The US media, which thrives on official sound bites, was more than willing to lend credence to Coleman's overblown claims about wrongdoing in the UN program set up in 1996 to permit Iraq -- which was then under strict international sanctions -- to buy food, medicine and humanitarian supplies with the revenues from regulated oil sales. Even as Coleman's claims became more and more fantastic, he faced few challenges from the cowering Democrats in Congress.
In January, I wrote my first Annals of Outrage weblog about the waste, fraud and abuse that the Bush Administration has perpetrated against the US taxpayer. But so much has happened in just the last three months--a cornucopia of corruption stemming, in large part, from the war in Iraq and the growing scandal that is Rumsfeld's Department of Defense--that I felt the time had arrived to do another top ten list of the most serious GAO and Inspector Generals' (IG) reports that have recently become available. It's a bracing series of studies, revealing the ever-widening scandals in this post-9-11, say-and-do-anything political environment. Happy Reading.
1) Halliburton Redux: The revelations seem to never stop when it comes to the Defense Department's favorite corporate client, Halliburton. In April, Henry Waxman released summaries of five reports in which the Defense Contract Audit Agency cited as questionable $212 million that Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root spent in Iraq under a no-bid contract. The money given to Halliburton by Defense was part of a $1.69 billion no-bid contract awarded the company. The auditors told the Army that it should withhold some of Halliburton's money. The Army refused. Halliburton continues to do its work and make millions in Iraq.
2) Democracy in the Middle East: Iraq is a "free-fraud zone." That's the description that a bravewhistleblower Frank Willis--who had served as a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq--called Iraq a few weeks ago. It's hard to know where to begin. The scope of the corruption beyond Halliburton is so widespread and endemic that multiple investigations by the government and non-governmental organizations are underway to see how much the fraud, waste and abuse have cost the US taxpayer. One corruption watchdog organization, Transparency International, reported in March that the US had completely mismanaged Iraq's oil revenues, used "faulty procedures for awarding reconstruction contracts," and that we were now potentially facing "the biggest corruption scandal in history."
I'm just back from St. Louis, where Free Press staged its second National Conference on Media Reform. Bringing together more than 2,000 of the country's most dedicated and innovative media activists and content producers with dozens of bold-face progressive names for three days of panels, meetings, strategy sessions and parties, the conference showed both the strengths and weaknesses of what now must be called an actual media reform movement.
The most obvious problem was the lack of significant representation of the vibrant non-white media movements in the US. But this conference was better on that front than the last, and the paucity of black and brown faces at the confab made it difficult for attendees and organizers to avoid this elephant in the room.
Other than the composition of the crowd, what most struck me was everyone's seriousness. Not just the panels and seminars but even the conversations in the hallways and bars spoke of fervor and conviction. People really care about creating independent media. The range of innovative projects on display and up for conversation was awesome. I could pen a year's worth of ActNow posts just by highlighting all the great ideas I heard over drinks on my first day in St. Louis.
DeGraf describes the idea as "collective intelligence and activist e-commerce" (and made a good pitch, along with his collaborator Jennifer Nix of CG, for The Nation to come on board). As his site explains, "it is something we (the users) are building together, an open resource on books: which are great, why, on what subjects, in whose opinion." It's also "a way to use online shopping to effect change. BWL collectivizes online book (actually any product at Amazon, Powells, etc.) purchases, maximizes the resulting sales commissions, and pools them to fertilize progressive independent media." Click here to learn more.
Later that day, I met some local St. Louis activists who operate a website called TrueBlueLiberal which seeks to make clear the strong presence of many so-called "blues" living and fighting in the so-called "red" states.
That night, I saw a brilliant presentation by Kim Spencer of LinkTV and Paul Jay, a Canadian visionary intent on creating the world's first global independent news network. Operating online and on TV, the idea is to deliver independent news and real debate--without funding from governments, corporations or commercial advertising. Jay convincingly argued that internet fundraising makes it possible, as he laid out the details of his Independent World Television project. In a few years, IWT could be big. (And LinkTV is already on the air in 25 million homes in America. Click here for info on how to sign up.)
Much later, way past when I thought I'd still be learning things, I heard about microbicides, which could be the most important innovation in reproductive health since the pill. No effective microbicide is yet available to the public but ultimately, an inexpensive gel or cream could be produced which could be used by either men or women to prevent the sexual transmission of STDs, most importantly AIDS. The problem is that the economic self-interest of pharmecutical companies is not served by investing in necessary microbicide R&D. So click here to help support the campaign to press for a massive infusion of government investment to fill this R&D gap.
Apologies to all the many great ideas on display in St. Louis unremarked on here. I will try to get to them. And check out the Free Press site for coverage of the conference and info on how you can get involved in the fight for a more democratic media system.
As I wrote in March, charismatic SEIU leader Andy Stern has been anything but shy about triggering the most far-reaching strategic debate in labor in more than a generation. And while I disagree with some of SEIU's argument about what is to be done, I admire Stern's call for dramatic structural changes, his openness to remake labor's traditional ties to the Democratic Party and create new institutions and alliances for working people. His sense of urgency, even desperation about the future of labor is admirable and welcome.
On Monday, SEIU--along with its insurgent allies, including the Teamsters, Laborers and UNITE HERE --issued an unprecedented joint statement of principles, "Restoring the American Dream: Building a 21st Century Labor Movement That Can Win." (Click below to find Andy Stern's blog, and then scroll to the end where he encourages you to read the unions' joint proposal.)
Together these unions represent 5.5 million members, and the majority of the major organizing unions in the private sector. (The UFCW was also involved in drafting the statement and will take it to their executive board meeting for endorsement; the proposal is also being discussed with the Carpenters Union.)
Bill Moyers is not taking attacks by Bush Administration allies on public broadcasting in general and his journalism in particular sitting down.
"I should put my detractors on notice," declared the veteran journalist who stepped down in January as the host of PBS's NOW With Bill Moyers, who recently turned 70. "They might compel me out of the rocking chair and into the anchor chair."
Moyers closed the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis on Sunday with his first public response to the revelation that White House allies on the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have secretly been holding PBS in general -- and his show in particular -- to a partisan litmus test.
Each day, women and girls use an average of twelve personal careproducts, according to a study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "Users of these products might assumethat somebody is watching to insure that potentially toxic ingredientsare kept away from intimate contact with their body," Mark Schapirowrote in The Nation in December. "Theywould be wrong."
Thanks to a longstanding loophole, the FDA neither monitors norregulates ingredients used in cosmetics, many of which contain knownor probable carcinogens[http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/report/executive_summary.php].Yet, in the wake of mounting pressure from a coalition of publichealth and environmental groups, the American cosmetics industry isfinally cleaning up its act.
By Mother's Day, 116 personal care product manufacturers had signedthe Compact for Safe Cosmetics--agreeing to meet the standards set by the European Union's "Cosmetics Directive," which bans ingredients that are known or stronglysuspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation or birth defects. Click here for a full list of companies that have agreed to comply.
In her latest column, Ann Coulter honors me by announcing me the winner ofthe Lifetime Achievement Award for Most Wrong Predictions. I proudly acceptthis award for in Coulter's tangled, fictional world right is always wrong,and what liberals say is always wrong even when they are right.
To be more specific, Coulter accuses me of wrongly predicting that invadingIraq would lead to more terrorist retaliation. According to the recent USgovernment report, the number of terrorist attacks has increasedsignificantly since the Iraq war. The overwhelming majority of thoseincidents have been aimed at US personnel in Iraq.
She also says I was wrong when I said that invading would undermine thefight against Al Qaeda. But this is the view of many officials in the BushAdministration itself, including such distinguished departing officials asRichard Clarke. What she did not tell you is that I alsopredicted that the war would cause a spawning of new bin Laden-inspiredgroups, as most terrorist experts readily now confirm.