Robert Kaplan is a hugely well-informed, indefatigable journalist who
combines firsthand reporting, mostly from poor, badly governed or
ungoverned countries, with wide reading on the political,
The Medicare bills passed by the Senate Finance Committee on June 12 and
the House Ways and Means Committee on June 17 move the
thirty-eight-year-old social insurance program one step closer to
As the Pentagon scours Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi
links to Al Qaeda, it's increasingly obvious that the Bush
Administration either distorted or deliberately exaggerated the
Want to know where to find weapons of mass destruction? Last weekend, the New York Times buried an article on how authorities in Thailand had seized as much as sixty-six pounds of Cesium-137, a radioactive material which could be used to make "dirty" bombs.
Experts said they were startled by the amount found. "Pounds? Most studies of 'dirty' bombs start off by describing weapons with an ounce of Cesium," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. "Cesium-137 is serious stuff, highly radioactive. You put it alongside ten pounds or more of dynamite, and you've got a really dangerous terror weapon."
Non-proliferation experts said they wouldn't be surprised if the Cesium came from the former Soviet Union--the source of much of the radioactive material seized on the black market in recent years. Just three days later, the New York Times' World Briefing section ran a tiny item noting that police in Tbilisi, Georgia had just discovered 170 pounds of Cesium-137, along with strontium 90 in a taxi.
The FCC's 3-2 vote on June 2 to relax the few regulations concerning media ownership rules still on the books represented an unprecedented give-away to the corporate media and a striking dismissal of the public will.
The consequent popular outrage sparked a bipartisan backlash with Republicans like Trent Lott, Ted Stevens and Kay Bailey Hutchison joining Dems led by Byron Dorgan and Ernest Hollings in demanding that Congress restore a semblance of sanity and competition to the media marketplace.
"The effect of the media's march to amalgamation on Americans' freedom of voice is too worrisome to be left to three unelected commissioners," William Safire wrote yesterday in the New York Times. "The far-reaching political decision should be made by Congress and the White House, after extensive hearings and fair coverage by too-shy broadcasters, no-local-news cable networks and conflicted newspapers."
Remember General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, who warned that occupying Iraq might require hundreds of thousands of soldiers for an extended period? He was immediately reprimanded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz for being "wildly off the mark."
It's now two months since Baghdad fell, no WMD's have been found and US forces are bogged down in Iraq. American generals, happy to boast about the rapid defeat of Saddam's regime, now admit the war is far from over. The other night, General Barry McCaffrey predicted that US troops would be in Iraq for five years and warned that three divisions of the National Guard might be needed to reinforce Army divisions already deployed. And Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, recently said his troops would be needed for a long time to come, that Baghdad and a large swathe of northern and western Iraq is only a "semi-permissive" environment, and that "subversive forces" are still active.
Since Bush strutted onto the USS Lincoln to declare "Mission Accomplished," more than forty Americans have been killed with many more wounded, (sixty-six have been killed since the fall of Baghdad on April 9.) No wonder General Shinseki--the highest-ranking Asian-American in US military history--retired the other day with a blast at the arrogance of the Pentagon's civilian leaders:
MILWAUKEE -- When Democratic party activists from across Wisconsin gathered for their party's state convention last weekend, they heard speeches from three presidential candidates and surrogates for several others. They also witnessed the arrival of a new political issue that may turn out to be a significant factor in the elections of 2004.
In speech after speech to the delegates and guests at the convention, members of Congress condemned the June 2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission to weaken the few remaining barriers to consolidation of media ownership by the corporate conglomerates that already dominate most of America's political debate and cultural discourse. And the crowd responded with enthusiastic cheering and applause.
That's the good news.
"We face an unemployment problem that is certainly without precedent in my lifetime," said Paul Bremer, the US-appointed Governor of Iraq, as he unveiled a $100 million public works program for that battered country, using funds drawn from the Iraqi Central Bank. The move, according to the Wall Street Journal, is part of a broader effort to get Iraqis back to work, rebuild the country's hospitals and highways and, generally, jump-start the moribund economy.
Meanwhile, back in Palestine, West Virginia--best known as the hometown of Private Jessica Lynch--nearly half of the adults in Wirt county are unemployed, the poverty rate hovers near 20 percent and funds for civic projects like rebuilding the 41-year old county swimming pool have completely dried up.
West Virginia generally derived little benefit from the "boom" years of the 1990s, and has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn. Research by the National Center for Children in Poverty shows that the state's child poverty rate of 27.5 percent is almost ten points higher than the national average. And, according to recent census data, six percent of all West Virginia families still use wood as the sole fuel to heat their homes, five percent of households have no telephone service of any kind, and 12,009 families live without either plumbing or kitchen facilities.
From June 23th to June 25th, the Bush Administration is hosting hundreds of government ministers and corporate reps in a Sacramento, CA summit designed to pave the way for the US agenda of "free trade", water privatization, genetic engineering and factory farming at the next WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico this September.
This Sacramento meeting will promote industrial models of agriculture that enrich transnational agribusiness interests while undermining the food security, food sovereignty and welfare of the impoverished and disenfranchised peoples of the global South.
In turn, California activists, recognizing the excellent educational opportunities presented by the Sacramento Ministerial on Agriculture, Science and Technology, are planning a five-day festival of diverse resistance to the Bush Administration's economic and foreign-policy agenda. Click here to see how you can join the fun, help get the word out, get to Cali cheap, and help support a future of sustainable agriculture, community democracy and ecological sanity.