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Wolfowitz Out: The Spin Doesn't Matter

From the statement of the World Bank's board of directors, announcing the resignation of its president, Paul Wolfowitz:

Over the last three days we have considered carefully the report of the ad hoc group, the associated documents, and the submissions and presentations of Mr. Wolfowitz. Our deliberations were greatly assisted by our discussion with Mr. Wolfowitz. He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that. We also accept that others involved acted ethically and in good faith. At the same time, it is clear from this material that a number of mistakes were made by a number of individuals in handling the matter under consideration, and that the Bank's systems did not prove robust to the strain under which they were placed.

Note that the board does not identify which individuals made mistakes--even after a special panel of the board concluded that Wolfowitz broke the institutions rules when he devised a lucrative compensation package for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, who worked at the Bank. This is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's remark about the Iran-contra scandal: "mistakes were made." He, too, didn't say who in his administration had committed the errors (such as himself). The World Bank, in this instance, took a similar tact: no blame for Wolfowitz. That was the price Wolfowitz demanded for his resignation, and board members it seemed, were quite willing to pay it.

From Wolfowitz's statement:

I am pleased that after reviewing all the evidence the Executive Directors of the World Bank Group have accepted my assurance that I acted ethically and in good faith in what I believed were the best interests of the institution, including protecting the rights of a valued staff member.

The poorest people of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa deserve the very best that we can deliver. Now it is necessary to find a way to move forward.

To do that, I have concluded that it is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership. Therefore, I am announcing today that I will resign as President of the World Bank Group effective at the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2007).

One question: if Wolfowitz did indeed act "ethically and in good faith," why must he resign?

As I wrote on my own blog:

Words don't matter at this stage. Neither the Bank nor Wolfowitz can spin the scent of scandal from the finale of the Wolfowitz affair. The Bank's board may have accepted his claim that his actions were honorable in order to ease him out--ignoring that a special panel had concluded he broke the rules in arranging for a hefty salary boost for his girlfriend. But Wolfowitz's (forced) departure says more than any explanatory statement from the Bank or from him. Wolfowitz had to leave because of what he did. Still, under his contract, he's entitled to a year's salary of $375,000 and other benefits. If he wants to help the world's poor, perhaps he ought to donate that money to Oxfam.

Or maybe half.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

More Trouble in Latte-Land

Today Starbucks faced legal and political trouble from its own workers. On the third anniversary of the founding of the IWW Starbucks Union, baristas in Chicago marched into a shop and told the manager they were signing up. (Starbucks workers have chosen to organize without government-mediated elections, through an interesting model called "solidarity unionism.") Meanwhile, baristas in Grand Rapids, Michigan announced that they were filing a legal complaint against the company for violating their organizing rights through unlawful surveillance and other questionable tactics. All over the world -- Austria, England, Spain and Australia, as well as the United States -- Starbucks workers demonstrated in front of stores to protest the company's union-busting practices.

When you pay $4 for a cup of coffee-flavored foamy milk at Starbucks, part of what you're buying is an illusion of corporate social responsibility. The store exudes a warm glow of righteousness, from the recycled paper napkins to the empathetic messages about sustainable trade and ecological practices (Our farmers are happy! Buy a better lightbulb! Have some more foamy milk!). The workers behind the counter are hoping the public will look beyond all the greenwashing and support their campaign, which has succeeded in raising wages and improving conditions for some workers.

The baristas are asking for better wages (some make as little as $8.75 an hour even in costly Manhattan), guaranteed hours with the option to work full-time and more affordable health insurance. (Despite widely-believed corporate spin to the contrary, Starbucks insures a smaller percentage of its workforce than Wal-Mart.) In New York, the National Labor Relations Board (that bastion of radical left-wingers) has accusedStarbucks of violating workers' freedom of association in about thirty different ways, including illegally firing, threatening and disciplining workers for supporting the union. Managers forbade workers from talking about the union -- even when off-duty -- or wearing union buttons. The trial is in June. I'll be attending, and covering it on this blog, so stay tuned.

Georgie Feels the Love

"I'm startin' to get on board with the impeachment folks"

"The rule of law has just been thrown out the window. I agree that impeachment is in order."

"Refusal to uphold the US Constitution he swore to. Abdication of power to the ILLEGAL lobby."

"Bring my Step-Son home from Iraq now El Presedente [sic]. You don't deserve his service."

"I have long thought that BJBilly was the worst president in history, now I am not so sure………..At least Clinton stuck to BJs instead of trying to f*ck the entire country, like Jorge."

Wild-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth liberals? Not quite. These are responses posted on Free Republic, the bastion of rightwing ideologues, in response to Bush's approval of a bipartisan immigration proposal granting legal status to illegal immigrants.

George Bush: at last, a uniter not a divider, but sadly for all the wrong reasons. [via Wonkette]

 

Costa Rica Quits SOA

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias announced May 16 that his country will stop sending police to train at the US Army Ft. Benning facility, citing its history of involvement in military coups and human rights abuses throughout Latin America.

Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, made the decision after talks with a delegation of the School of the Americas Watch, including the Rev. Roy Bourgeois and Lisa Sullivan Rodriguez. The human rights advocacy group has campaigned since 1990 for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School for the Americas (SOA), located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

As I wrote in this space last month, the SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, interrogation tactics, and, yes, torture. These graduates have consistently used their skills against their own people, frequently on behalf of anti-democratic US-supported governments.

Costa Rica is the fourth Latin American country to announce a withdrawal from the SOA/WHINSEC. In 2006, new leftist governments in Argentina and Uruguay ceased all training at the school, and Venezuela stopped sending troops to the school back in 2004.

Costa Rica has no army but has sent approximately 2,600 police officers over the years for training. Minor Masis, leader of Costa Rica's former "Comando Cobra" anti-drug squad attended the School in 1991 and returned to Costa Rica, only to serve a 42-year jail term for rape and murder committed during a 1992 drug raid. Costa Rica currently has three policemen at the center. But, "when the courses end for the three policemen we are not going to send any more," Arias told the press.

Costa Rica's decision is a great victory for human rights in Latin America and a decisive rejection of the idea that combat training and military spending are a means of solving social problems and bringing about peace and democracy.

Check out the SOA Watch website for tips on what you can do to help close the school's doors permanently for all nations and check out this YouTube interview with SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois to learn more about the school's bloody history.

A Bluegrass Battle for Dems

On Tuesday, Democrats in Kentucky will choose their nominee to battle notoriously corrupt Governor Ernie Fletcher this November. This is not just a typical Democratic primary, but another chapter in what some have described as the ongoing battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.

The race pits relatively progressive Attorney General Steve Beshear against multimillionaire healthcare executive Bruce Lunsford, who's running as a Democrat even though he's given tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, endorsed Fletcher in '03 and has been involved in a number of questionable business ventures. Oh, and his political consultant is Doug Schoen, former partner of Mark Penn.

Organized labor has pummeled Lunsford, forming a 527 specifically to oppose him. Cliff Schecter has more on Lunsford's corporate background on his blog:

 

This race involves a candidate in Bruce Lunsford, who not only belongs in the Republican primary, but he belongs in the Ken Lay wing of the Republican Party. Lunsford made his millions founding the healthcare company formerly known as Vencor. While he was the CEO, the federal government brought a fraud claim of $1.3 billion against it, alleging that Vencor overbilled Medicare.

 

 

The company eventually agreed to pay a $104.5 million settlement, and ended up in bankruptcy. However, Lunsford's attacks on Kentucky's working families may not have ended there. Lunsford split his Vencor company before it headed to bankruptcy and created a second company, Ventas. It may not be to anyone's surprise that the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, current Secretary of Labor to George W. Bush, Elaine Chao, was named to the Board of Directors.

 

 

In 1997, Lunsford and his partners were sued for "insider trading, fraudulent omissions and stock prices punctured by bad news in the health care industry." (Lexington Herald Leader, 6/1/2001) The lawsuit was tossed by a Louisville judge but in 2001, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reinstated the case after holding that the plaintiffs arguments "permit a strong inference that defendants engaged in securities fraud." (Courier-Journal, 6/7/2001)

 

 

Lunsford never learned to steer clear of his crowd of Republican friends, and ran for governor with a coterie of advisors that looked like a Jack Abramoff foursome returning from a Scottish golfing trip. One of his top advisors in 2003, Larry Townsend, followed Lunsford's lead in supporting George W. Bush, and even took it a step further by co-chairing "Democrats for Bush" with Zell Miller.

 

There's speculation in Kentucky that Lunsford, who supported Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for re-election in 2002, made a deal to support (or at least not actively oppose) him again. McConnell is one of the Democrats top targets in '08. That's one of the reasons why Tuesday's race has ramifications beyond the Bluegrass state.

GOP Senators to Gonzales: Go Already!

"The president still has full confidence in Alberto Gonzales," says White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Yikes! The president still has confidence.

Even Snow, whose willingness to explore the outer limits of spin is well established, can't pretty this mess up.

There is no way to get around the fact that the Attorney General is in bigger trouble today than he was yesterday, and he will almost certainly be in more trouble tomorrow.

The latest shoe to drop took the form of the revelation by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey that Gonzales in March 2004 - when he served as George Bush's White House counsel - plotted to undermine the authority of the department he now heads by pressuring Ashcroft to approve the president's warrantless wiretapping project.

Comey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week -- which came the same day as the No. 2 man in the Department of Justice announced he was exiting -- proved to be the last straw for two more key senators.

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a maverick potential presidential candidate, issued a statement to the effect that: "The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead."

There will be those who suggest that Hagel's abandonment of Gonzales was to be expected, but no one can say that of Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, who chaired the Intelligence Committee at the time when Comey says Gonzales was scheming to clear the way for the illegal gathering of intelligence.

Yet, on Wednesday, Roberts said that Gonzales should consider quitting. "When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it," explained Roberts, a conservative who is generally seen as one of the premier Bush administration loyalists in the Senate.

Roberts echoed statements by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and several other key Republicans in the Senate.

And more Republicans are rumored to be preparing calls for Gonzales to step down.

The debate over whether Gonzales should stay is no longer a partisan or ideological fight. At stake is the question of whether the Department of Justice can continue to function when the Attorney General is suspected of lying to Congress and the American people on a regular basis.

The question of the Gonzales's credibility is highlighted by a new letter from four key players on the Judiciary Committee -- Democratic Senators Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Chuck Schumer of New York, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Dick Durbin of Illinois -- that asks Gonzales: "In light of Mr. Comey's testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?"

Translation: "We don't want to call you a 'liar,' but..."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

George, Mahmoud, Benedict

In an era when every Ann, Isaiah and Tim can bask in the toxic green glow of homophobe fame just by throwing around the F-word a few times in public, it's nice to know that some people still have standards. To commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17), my friends over at Human Rights Watch have assembled a Hall of Shame. And they are not messing around with this GLAAD-Entertainment Tonight-Rehab-Apology bullshit.

This year's inductees include: Pope Benedict (for politicizing the Catholic Church's theological views on homosexuality), George W. Bush (for threatening the health of LGBT people by mandating abstinence-only sex education) and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (for launching a campaign against "public immorality" that has led to the arbitrary arrest of thousands). As HRW's Scott Long put it, the Hall of Shame "highlights leaders who have lent their authority to denying basic human rights." Jerry Falwell, may he rest forever, would be proud. You can check out the full list of dishonors here.

Speaking of Falwell, I'm just passing along news (via queerty) that the Lesbian Death Angels have claimed responsibility for hexing Rev. Falwell into the afterlife. This coven of self-described "pro-choice radical lesbians" seeks justice "one hex at a time." And they are looking for their "next target for early karmic justice." Ladies, I'm not sure human rights and witchcraft are compatible, but see HRW's list!

Stuck in the Sand

It's dispiriting for opponents of the war that a motion to bring an end to combat operations in Iraq by March 2008 received only 29 votes in the Senate yesterday.

True, this was a largely symbolic vote; an amendment to a water bill that had no chance of passing. And sure, it was a sign of progress that there was a vote at all on a controversial measure like this.

But still. Only seven more Democrats voted to end the war as to oppose it in the first place. There were some notable converts, such as Hillary Clinton. Yet even supposedly antiwar Democrats, such as Carl Levin, Jon Tester and Jim Webb, voted against the Reid-Feingold proposal. Not one Republican strayed from the party line.

One could argue that this was yet another example of Congress's disconnect from the American public. Yet if 70 percent of Americans strongly favored getting out of Iraq by a firm, set date, then don't you think more Senators would've voted aye? They're behind public opinion, but not that far behind.

Look at the polls. The American people oppose this war and want it to end. But when asked, they're not quite certain of how. Apparently neither is Congress.

The Iraq Memoir Industry

The Iraq-official memoir publishing industry is beginning to resemble a circular firing squad. In last Sunday's Washington Post, Paul Bremer duked it out with those who've accused him of incompetence and stupid decisions which contributed to the insurgency we see raging in Iraq today.

Bremer accuses former CIA Director George Tenet of pillorying him in his just-published, best-selling memoirs, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. But it's not only Tenet, Bremer whines. "Similar charges are unquestionably repeated in books and articles." And while the charges, counter-charges, accusations, rebuttals may titillate, while providing misleadingly biased drafts of history, it's worth remembering that a few key officials (who helped mislead this nation into the most colossal foreign policy disaster in US history) are profiting nicely.

Take George Tenet. He was paid a whopping $ 4 million for his memoirs. When asked by ABC's Charles Gibson why he had waited so long, nearly three years after his resignation, to make criticisms he had not made during the 2004 election, Tenet replied that he needed the time to collect his thoughts. What he might have said is that he needed the time to collect the money.

Then there's Ari Fleischer's Taking Heat, Bremer's My Year in Iraq and, in March 2008 HarperCollins is bringing out Douglas Feith's War and Decision. There are bound to be more Iraq memoirs on the way. How could Rummy not cut a deal to tell his side of the story? Or Wolfie-- after he's booted from the World Bank. Condi is already planning hers. Check out what she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer when he asked her about Tenet's assertion that she did not perform her job well, she said, "Well, look, not everything went right....There were some things that went right and some things that went wrong. And you know what? We'll have a chance to look at that in history, and I'll have a chance to reflect on that when I have a chance to write my book."

As the human and economic cost of this war soar, shouldn't these officials be barred from making money off of books about their illegal, immoral, security-destroying failures of judgment and action? Perhaps there is a model to be found in how a few states forbid criminals and others from profiting off violent crime. After all, as a recent article reports, "Criminals had been barred from making money off their exploits until 1991, when the Supreme Court overturned a NY law after finding that it was so broad it would discourage people from telling stories of public interest --such as the Watergate scandal." While a unanimous 1991 Court decision said such laws could stand only if carefully worded to protect First Amendment rights, some states have already revised or created new laws to address that concern.

So, I propose that we citizens demand that any official involved in decision making which misled us into this debacle be required to contribute advances and royalties made off their Iraq-related memoirs to organizations helping veterans or Iraqi civilians. (I've made a short list below; I am sure there are others you can add.)

And the publishing houses involved--HarperCollins, Threshold Editions, William Morrow--should also consider contributing any company profits.

* Iraq Veterans Against The War
* Vets' For Justice
* Military Families Speak Out
* Gold Star Families for Peace
* International Committee of the Red Cross
* Families for Peace Humanitarian Aid Delegation
* International Rescue Committee
* No More Victims