The Nation

Defense Budget Follies (continued)

With President Bush's latest budget request of $245 billion for the "global war on terror" (and a warning from administration officials that there are more funding requests to come), the staggering total has now reached $745 billion. And even that is probably too low.

"There's going to be real sticker shock when we get down to what the truth is about the cost of this war," Senator Kent Conrad, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, told the Washington Post. "It's going to be way beyond what anybody has fessed up to."

Which is exactly the point Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has made time and again, saying that the war could end up costing over two trillion dollars. Not to mention what Speaker Pelosi understatedly calls an "opportunity cost" sapping the ability of the US to undertake important domestic initiatives – not only now, but for future generations when the bill for the borrowing required to fight this war comes due (in contrast to past wars, this one has been paid for on a "credit card" while taxes for the wealthy are slashed).

It is critical that Congress not only reassert its power of the purse (and use that power to protect the troops and bring them home), but also begin to rethink what an effective, rational foreign policy and defense budget means in these times. Instead of squandering our resources on the Bush course of increased militarization we should be changing course to address national security issues that this administration has avoided like a pre-war intelligence report it doesn't want to hear. For example, global warming should be considered a national security issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with hundreds of scientists drawn from 113 nations (including the US), has just concluded based on six years of research that "there is an overwhelming probability that human activities are warming the planet at a dangerous rate, with consequences that could soon take decades or centuries to reverse."

Even the Bush administration can't keep its head in the sand any longer on this front – it's hard to be a denialist now – so it has offered small, token praise. But as Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "Talk is easy. Let's all roll up our sleeves and get on with the task – and end our state of denial."

So where is the administration's boldness to confront this central challenge facing us and the world in the 21st century? Where is the call for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases from all sources of global warming pollution, including power plants and factories? Where is the commitment not only to alternative fuels – but cleaner, cheaper, and renewable sources of energy?

These challenges are enormous. But fortunately there are some beginning steps now being taken on the road towards sanity. Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer have introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act that would begin cutting emissions now and increase reductions every year – saving money and preventing disasters in the long run. And the Apollo Alliance offers a broad vision on how our nation can invest in energy independence and alternative fuels. That's the kind of commitment, determination, and leadership we need to see to face the challenges of the 21st century – instead of the same old defense budget follies from a Bush administration that would dig us deeper and deeper into its disaster.

Holding Bush to Account for Climate Lies, Neglect

Viewers of Fox News, listeners to Rush Limbaugh and all the other sorry deadenders who choose Bush administration propaganda over perspective will be shocked to learn that the debate about global warming has been over for a long time.

Climate change is real. And the cynical ploy by conservative politicians and commentators of suggesting otherwise has slowed the American response to a crisis scientists say has grown so severe that -- no matter what is now done to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases -- gases that have already been produced or are in production will continue to contribute to global warming and the rise of oceans for more than 1,000 years.

The message from the world's top scientists is sobering. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level,'' argues a new report from the climate scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change formed by the United Nations' Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization.

The Bush administration has consciously and intentionally failed for six years to address the crisis. Worse yet, the president and his aides have actively attempted to foster the fantasy that global warming: a. does not exist, b. is a natural phenomenon, c. is a good thing or d. all of the above.

The combination of deliberate inaction and delusional denial has earned this president a place in history alongside all the past Neros who have fiddled while their Romes burned. But the evidence that the Bush administration tampered with scientific research on globalwarming in order to advance its agenda calls for more immediate sanction.

The president and those around him have, as evidenced by their actions over the past six years, proven that they cannot be trusted with power. Yet, without an intervention, they will retain power for another two years.

That is not a prospect to be considered casually.

"The Bush Administration is doing to the whole world what it did to New Orleans as Katrina began to descend on the city," says Green Party co-chair Rebecca Rotzler, who has been in the forefront of demanding an official response to the administration's assault on science. "By altering scientific research on global warming to fit his political agenda and refusing to take necessary steps to protect the public, President Bush has aggravated an impending environmental, public health, and security crisis.

What to do? The Green Party, for reasons both of its environmental commitment and the seriousness with which it approaches issues of political accountability, has proposed a proper response. Responding to complaints from more than 120 scientists from seven federal agencies that they have been pressured to remove references to global warming from research reports, press releases, and communications with Congress, the Greens have accused the Bush administration of conspiring to deceive Congress and the America people about fundamental issues facing the nation. And there is a proper sanction for so serious an offense.

"Congress must recognize the Bush Administration's tampering with studies on global warming and other scientific research as an impeachable offense," says Jody Grage, who serves as treasurer of the Green Party. "Ever since Vice President Cheney initiated private meetings with oil company representatives to determine energy policy, the administration has placed the demands for corporate profits over urgent human and environmental needs."

Just as there are still those who debate whether climate change is actually taking place, there are still those who debate whether this president has committed acts that merit impeachment and removal from office.

But the Greens are right on this one.

The founders intended impeachment not as a legal process but as a tool for the protection of the nation and its citizens from irrational, irresponsible and immoral executives. The point of creating a procedure that allowed the Congress to interrupt a presidential term was not to punish minor acts of wrongdoing, it was to preserve the republic -- both structurally and physically -- from a president whose actions, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, might be "productive of cruel distress to our country."

The European kings and queens against whom American revolutionaries took up arms had attacked science and free thought in order not merely to advance their pet theories but to improve their fortunes. A president who did the same, Jefferson argued, was no different from a monarch -- except that his tenure was constitutionally limited. That did not mean, however, that Americans should accept a king for four years.

"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on true free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others," explained the author of the Declaration of Independence who would make himself the steadiest advocate for democratic principles in the early days of the republic.

Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason and their circle fought to assure that the Constitution would include a broad power of impeachment. It was, these men of the enlightenment knew, the essential corrective against an elective despotism that might see an imperial president reject even the logic of science in pursuit of whims, fantasies and self-interest.

The founders knew that the impetus for impeachment might not be an act, but rather an inaction. And if that inaction was the result of a choice by the president and his aides to serve their oil-industry partners and contributors rather than their country and their planet, then surely it is a high crime against the republic -- an impeachable crime in the sense intended by the authors of the Constitution -- that has been committed.

The Greens have wisely recognized this fact, and made an appropriate argument for booting a pathetic president from the Oval Office.

Perhaps if those of us who still retain a Jeffersonian regard for science begin to speak of denying climate change as the impeachable offense that it is, we can begin to put the issue in proper perspective for the folks at Fox -- who seem only to feel a sense of urgency when their dear leader is threatened with sanctions more immediate than those of history.

We may, as well, answer the most poignant of the questions left us by Thomas Jefferson. "Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic," observed the third president, who then turned his attention to those who would inherit that republic and asked: "But will they keep it?


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Libby Trial: Scooter Speaks

After two weeks of listening to a series of prosecution witnesses in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the jurors finally got to hear the defendant. He didn't take the stand. That may happen later. On Monday, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald began playing eight hours of audio tapes of Libby's two appearances before the grand jury that investigated the CIA leak case.

The tapes did not contain much information not previously disclosed. Fitzgerald had picked Libby's grand jury testimony clean for his indictment and pretrial submissions. But the airing of the tapes was a visceral moment in a trial that has sometimes bogged down in legal minutia. Jurors could hear Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff utter the words that Fitzgerald has branded lies. They could listen to the pauses, to the moments when Libby's voice became quiet, to the hesitation that occurred during some of his answers--were any of these a tell?--and seek tangible and intangible indications of whether Libby indeed made false statements to prevent himself (and perhaps the vice president) from becoming entangled in a criminal prosecution.

In one of the first questions at the March 5, 2004 grand jury session, Fitzgerald asked Libby to explain how he had received his nickname "Scooter." Libby replied with a small joke: "Are we classified in here? It's--my family is from the South and it's less uncommon than it is up here." That was all he said--he didn't answer the question. Then Fitzgerald bore down on Libby, grilling him on what he had known about the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and when he had known it.

There were several key exchanges in the first 100 minutes played before the court recessed for the day. (The tapes and the transcripts will be released to the media and the public--over the objection of Libby's defense team--after all the tapes are played in court.) In front of the grand jury, Fitzgerald repeatedly asked Libby if in June 2003 he had discussed Wilson's wife and her CIA employment with either Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman or CIA senior official Robert Grenier. (At that point, Wilson's now infamous trip to Niger--during which he concluded the allegation that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Niger was bunk--had been cited in the media without Wilson being named.) Libby repeatedly told Fitzgerald that he had not spoken with either man about Wilson's wife. Yet both Grossman and Grenier have testified in this trial that Libby demanded information from them about the Wilson mission and that they informed him the ambassador's wife was a CIA employee.

Over and over, Libby told the grand jury he could not remember any such conversations with Grossman or Grenier. "Is that something you would remember?" Fitzgerald asked. "I just don't recall the conversation," Libby replied, in a voice that dropped in volume.

This has been a critical point for Libby. His story is that at the time of the leak that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer on July 14, 2003, he possessed no official or classified information about her. He has claimed that he had forgotten--totally--the one conversation he had with Cheney about her in early June 2003, and he has said that in July 2003 he had heard from reporters--mainly Tim Russert of Meet the Press--that there were rumors that Wilson's wife was CIA. He has claimed it was as if he was learning about Valerie Wilson for the first time. Libby, according to his own account, then merely shared these rumors with other reporters.

Before the grand jury, Libby acknowledged that he had discussed Wilson's wife with his boss sometime before June 12, as Libby was preparing to speak with Walter Pincus, a Washington Post reporter looking to do a piece on the trip of a then-unnamed former ambassador (which had been reported in a column by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times a month earlier). The vice president told Libby that he had obtained information on this ex-diplomat and mentioned that the former ambassador's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, a unit within the agency's clandestine directorate. (Cheney and Libby were much concerned about the Wilson trip, for they believed the initial story about it suggested they had directly sent Wilson to Africa--which they had not--and that they had subsequently deliberately ignored information indicating that part of the administration's case for war was false.)

Questioning Libby about this conversation with Cheney, Fitzgerald asked if anything had been different in Cheney's tone of voice when he referred to the wife's CIA connection. The remark, Libby said, was a "little bit of a curiosity sort of thing." Was there any negative connotation? Fitzgerald inquired. "I wouldn't say negative," Libby replied. "It was a fact--not everybody's wife works there."

In Libby's telling, the vice president was briefing him about what the vice president had learned about Wilson's trip--a month before the Wilson imbroglio would become a public scandal--and the CIA link was no more than an oddity, even though everything else Cheney had learned about the trip was deemed important by him and Libby. "What did you think of that fact?" Fitzgerald asked, referring to the wife's CIA employment. Libby replied that he saw it as nothing but a "curiosity" that "might mean nothing, might mean something, I don't know."

That's Libby's story: the wife was a trivial matter; thus, he had no reason to lie about what he knew to the grand jury. Other elements of the Wilson trip--such as the fact that the vice president received no direct briefing on its results--were significant, but not this "curiosity." Libby has maintained that he discussed it with no one at State or the CIA. And then he forgot what Cheney had told him about the wife.

It's a hard story to believe--or follow--especially after several past and present Bush administration officials have testified at the trial that Libby was in the know about Valerie Wilson. On Tuesday, the jury will hear another six hours of Libby's grand jury testimony. It will be confusing and convoluted at times. And the jurors will be listening to what they can hear between the lines.


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.

Think Globally, Act Globally

Some ideas are just so good that once you hear them explained, you wonder, Why hasn't anyone done this already? Avaaz is just such an idea, a new MoveOn-style group that will mobilize members all over the world to take action on global issues. Avaaz -- the word means "voice" in Urdu, Hindi, Farsi and several other languages -- launches its first campaign today, with a petition and TV adon climate change. The TV spot -- the first genuinely global political TV ad -- shows world leaders snoozing in their bedrooms, while climate disaster rages outside; it begins airing in Washington, D.C. today, and over the next few weeks will show in Paris, Berlin and Delhi. Avaaz begins with 900,000 members (combining the international lists of its two founding organizations, MoveOn and Res Publica, another global citizens' group), and will operate on four continents. The petition urges the global leaders to "set binding global targets" for carbon emissions.

Today I met two of the creative minds behind this project, executive director Ricken Patel and campaign director Tom Perriello (the only American on the team). Patel explains that Avaaz emerged out of "a sense that a real global consciousness is emerging." Founders are also excited by the idea of using technology to mobilize a global citizenry, with not only the Internet, but text-messaging proving to be a startlingly effective means of political communication, especially in the Third World. Of the team behind Avaaz, Perriello observes, "Most of us have policy or diplomacy backgrounds, as well as activist, so the hope is that we will be doing these things at key diplomatic moments." For instance, the climate change campaign is launching just in time for the G8 meeting.

Avaaz also expects to take up Middle East politics (war in Iraq, the need for an Israel-Palestine peace process, potential war with Iran, and Guantanamo), and global poverty. Like climate change, these are issues on which world leaders seem way out of step with most citizens, who are craving sensible solutions. "There is such a huge gap," says Patel, "between the world most people want, and the world we've got." Avaaz ambitiously aspires to narrow that gap.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,

What's good is bad, what's bad is good, you'll find out when you reach the top

You're on the bottom. --Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind"

Something is wrong with this picture: pharmaceutical giant Pfizer made nearly $15 billion last year. It recently gave a $180 million payout to former CEO Hank McKinnell. But in the last two months the company has announced it will lay off 10,000 workers in manufacturing, research, and sales.

"Incremental change is not enough," new CEO Jeffrey Kindler told the New York Times. "Fundamental change is imperative, and it must happen now."

And so the Brooklyn plant where Pfizer was born will be closed--600 jobs gone. Research sites in Michigan will be closed--2,400 jobs gone. Twenty percent of American sales positions--2,200 jobs. But if I were a betting woman--and I am – I'd bet "fundamental change" won't touch the lobbying operation which is dedicated to preventing fundamental change to the untenable way we do health care in America.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2005 there were 2,326 registered pharmaceutical lobbyists. That amounts to 4.3 lobbyists for every member of Congress, and the drug companies spent $146,783,853 on their efforts. And the Center for Public Integrity reports that between 1998-2005 the industry spent over $675 million on federal lobbying with the top twenty corporations and trade groups accounting for 70 percent of that spending.

Throw in another $133 million in federal and state campaign contributions during that time period (nearly 69 percent went to Republicans) and some key jobs offered to members and their staffs, and it's easy to see how Big Pharma gets such a stellar return on its lobbying investment (i.e. tens of billions of dollars in additional profits; a ban on the reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada; and barring Medicare from negotiating bulk drug prices for seniors.) This is great news for them, and god-awful news for the rest of us who'd like to see a sane drug policy… and the Pfizer workers in Brooklyn, Michigan, and Omaha who might like a stake in the wealth they helped to create rather than becoming just another statistic in another round of brutal layoffs.

Here's some more upside-down thinking in an industry supposedly devoted to our health and well--being, as well as the bottom line: according to the Center for Public Integrity, the industry annually spends nearly twice as much on marketing as it does on research and development. In 2004, for example, eleven major companies reported spending close to $100 billion on marketing and $50 billion on R&D (Pfizer spent nearly $17 billion on advertising and under $8 billion on R&D). Meanwhile, the US government (taxpayers) supports R&D more than any other western industrialized government through tax breaks and subsidies. But drug prices here remain higher than any where else in the world. Go figure.

States have begun to push back on the skyrocketing drug prices and sweetheart deals for Big Pharma, with legislative proposals that include negotiating for bulk purchasing prices, mandating rebates for residents who don't have prescription drug coverage, and promoting use of generics. Maybe that explains why the industry is amping up its state lobbying efforts. The Center for Public Integrity reports $44 million in spending on lobbying state governments in 2003 and 2004, as well as $8 million in campaign contributions during that time. (Because some states have minimal disclosure requirements the actual figures might be significantly higher.)

And the state lobbying effort is working. "We are being backed up and squashed by the pharmaceutical industry money," said Massachusetts state Senator Mark Montigny, who chaired the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices in 2005. "They have killed lots and lots and lots of legislation in Massachusetts and across the country."

Connecticut state Senator Edith Prague added, "They kill everything when it comes to the bottom line…. We can't get anything done because of [lobbying by] Pfizer, Squibb and Bayer."

As Big Pharma continues to reap huge profits, pay lobbyists lavishly, and discard workers who have helped it reach the top, it's clear the health care business has hit bottom when it comes to striking a balance between concern for the bottom line and concern for human health and well being. That's one of the reasons why over 75 percent of Americans want universal coverage and an army of lobbyists is primed to preserve the status quo.

A Budget for Permanent War

Need proof that George W. Bush is not planning to withdraw US troops from Iraq on his watch? Just look at his latest budget.

The Bush Administration will ask Congress for $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan this year--on top of the $70 billion already allocated--and $145 billion for 2008. Why ask for the money if you're not planning to use it?

Administration officials, according to the Washington Post, "warned that even more money will probably will be needed." The Los Angeles Times says the military wants "even larger defense budgets."

Are you kidding me?

The costs of Iraq and Afghanistan aren't even included in the $481 billion the Pentagon demands for 2008, a 10 percent raise over this year. Total these figures up and Bush is asking for roughly $745 billion in defense spending, a higher number, when adjusted for inflation, than the entire cost of the Vietnam War.

Just pause and consider the size of that number. Three-quarters of a trillion dollars and Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Taliban are regrouping in Afghanistan and the US military is stuck in a civil war in Iraq.

"We have the largest Pentagon budget since World War II, but we are losing to an opponent in Iraq that spends less over an entire year than what we spend in one day," says Winslow Wheeler, a longtime defense expert at the Center for Defense Information.

Four defense analysts at the Security Policy Working Group recently awarded the government low or failing grades on virtually every aspect of the budget--use of nation's resources (D), affordability (D), realism (D) and transparency (F). On only one criteria, advertising, did they award at A+, "for the Pentagon managing to convince Congress that the world's largest defense budget is too small."

The question now is whether this Congress will take the bait?

States to Congress: Block War Escalation

As the Senate struggles even to open debate on a non-binding – translation: meaningless – resolution expressing frustration with President Bush's plan to surge 21,500 more U.S. troops into Iraq, state legislators across the country are telling Congress to embrace its constitutionally-defined duty to check and balance an out-of-control executive.

With encouragement from the Progressive States Network and activists across the country, members of at least 22 state legislatures have introduced resolutions urging Congress to use its authority to prevent the escalation of a war that should not have been fought in the first place. The resolutions that have been introduced generally declare that: "the Congress should pass legislation prohibiting the President from spending taxpayer dollars on an escalation in Iraq unless he first seeks Congressional approval."

This is a relatively mild intervention at a time when most Americans oppose not just the president's "surge" proposal but the war itself. What the legislators are suggesting, however, is that a divided Congress must, at the very least, act to prevent the escalation of a war that has killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, that has made Americans at home and abroad less safe and that has emptied the US treasury of funds that could pay for health care, education and other needed programs in the states.

There will be those who suggest that state and local officials have no place in federal debates. But PSN leaders, citing past moves by states to add their voices to debates over trade policy, argue that the legislative resolutions on the "surge" issue can and should play a vital role on convincing Congress to act.

"States have the power and authority to speak out on issues that will impact them and their citizens," says PSN executive director Joel Barkin. "An escalation in Iraq would cripple our already over-extended guard units, threatening readiness at home."

Barkin's found plenty of agreement for that view in state capitols around the country. So far, PSN is tracking resolutions in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

The moves by state legislators come as city officials across the country are stepping into the debate over the diversion of precious resources to an unwise and unnecessary war. Two weeks ago, the Minneapolis, Minnesota, city council passed a Bring the Troops Home Resolution, making it the 274th community to endorse an exit strategy as part of the Cities for Peace campaign organized by the Institute for Policy Studies' Cities for Progress initiative.

The Cities for Peace campaign, an outgrowth of a pre-war push to get local governments to weigh in on Iraq, began long before the president made his "surge" proposal in January.

The new effort to get state legislators to pass anti-escalation resolutions began several weeks ago. In a PSN-organized conference call with legislators and activists, Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, who had just proposed legislation that would require the president to attain congressional approval for any move to send more troops to Iraq, said that states should weigh in on the "surge" issue.

Kennedy suggested that members of Congress can be prodded by the states, noting that moves by states to increase the minimum wage has played a role in forcing the US House and Senate to address the issue.

States can do the same on the war, explained Kennedy.

PSN answered the call, using its website to encourage citizens to contact state legislators and urge them to speak out against the surge. More than 10,000 did. And the numbers are expected to rise quickly, as PSN will join MoveOn, True Majority and the Women Legislators' Lobby are preparing to launch a national drive to build citizen support for the state-based anti-escalation resolutions.

The anti-war surge from below comes in conjunction with a broader Americans against Escalation in Iraq campaign, which has won backing the Service Employers International Union (SEIU), US Action, Move On, Win Without War, Vote Vets, Center for American Progress, Campaign for America's Future and United States Student Association.

Americans Against Escalation plans to launch a multi-million-dollar campaign in up to two dozen states with the stated purpose of creating "a firestorm of grass-roots mobilization (to insist that Congress stand up to the President and insist on a policy which responsibly brings our troops home."

The point, explains former Congressman Tom Andrews, the Maine Democrat who serves as Win Without War's national director, is to prevent George Bush from steering the United States deeper into the Iraq quagmire.

"From the outset, the Bush administration's Iraq policy has been rooted in denial and deception and carried out with a lethal combination of arrogance, ignorance and incompetence," says Andrews. "When you find yourself in a hole, the first principle is to stop digging."


John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism.

Kuwaiti Singer's Video Satirizes the Bush War

Within the highly wired world of the urban Middle East, the latest and most potent means of political communication are short videos that are disseminated either via YouTube or from cellphone to cellphone.

I'm writing this from Egypt. Everyone here agrees that the video images of the hanging of Saddam Hussein played a huge role in stirring up anti-US and also anti-Shiite feelings among many of the Sunni Muslims who make up the majority of the Arab world's people.

Now, a well-known Kuwaiti singer called Shams has come out with a new 5-minute video called Ahlan! Ezayek? ("Hi! How are you"), which is a hard-hitting anti-Bush satire. She energetically sings and performs a well-known Egyptian popular song of romantic repudiation. "Hi! How are you... You think you're so great? I never want to see you again!" while hamming it up with a dizzying array of props representing aspects of Bush's policy in the Middle East. And yes, that includes Washington's "information" policies, too, with repeated visual references to newspaper stories and to round-table type TV talk-shows...

I've remarked before on the complex relationship between pornography and war. In this video-- which was apparently shot in Cairo and used remarkably high production values-- Shams does her own mocking (and I would say, extremely feminist) riff on that relationship... She sashays provocatively up to a cardboard image of Bush at the "presidential" podium before she takes over the podium herself... She stands dancing and primping in a sand desert in front of huge letters spelling out "DEMOCRACY" before hitting into the sand various heavily armed US soldiers undertaking operations all around her... She wanders with a "lovelorn" look around a sound-studio full of (male) talking heads hung from puppets' strings around a table, and being manipulated by members of the Bush administration before, with a wicked smile, she snips the string of one of the puppets. (The string/rope left swinging there at the end is an eery visual reminder -- same lighting and all-- of the videos of the Saddam execution.)

You have to see how she blows the blond toupee off the head of an ageing Arab male journo, provocatively fans herself with the card holding her "detainee number" as she stands in a police line-up, or disports herself langorously along the top of the large letters "GUANTANAMO" laid out in front of (an image of) the White House...

In the fast-paced denouement of the video a cowboy-hatted Bush propositions her on top of a castle built in the sand in the form of an economist's graph showing, I think, oil-price rises. She swats Bush off the castle (more Saddam hanging imagery here), then throws down on top of him a stone block that turns out to be an "E" that is rapidly joined by all the other letters of the word "LIBERTY"... which is then itself immediately placed behind iron bars... Finally, from a fortune-teller Shams learns that her future is to walk happily off into the sunset with... Naji al-Ali's iconic, Kuwaiti-born child, Handala. (And if you don't know who Handala is, or what he represents, then you probably need to find out. Hint: "old-fashioned" pan-Arab nationalism... )

Anyway, if you have a fast internet connection, check out the video and see what you think.

Afghanistan in Headlines

Afghanistan remains the forgotten war and yet, in an eerie lockstep with Iraq, it seems to be following a distinctly Bush administration-style path toward "the gates of hell." While almost all attention in Washington and the U.S. media has been focused on the President's new "surge" plan in Iraq -- is it for 21,000 or 50,000 American troops? Just how astronomical will the bills be? Just how strong will Congressional opposition prove? Just how bad, according to American intelligence, is the situation? -- Afghanistan is experiencing its own quiet surge plan: more U.S. (and NATO) troops, more military aid, more reconstruction funds, more fighting, more casualties, heavier weaponry, more air power, more bad news, and predictions of worse to come.

The repetitive and dismal headlines, often tucked away in back pages, tell the tale:

On the fighting:

"Airstrike kills up to Seven in Afghanistan"

"12 militants killed in West Afghanistan"

"Nato offensive 'kills 30 Taleban'"

"Group: Over 1,000 Afghan civilians killed" ("More than 1,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2006, most of them as a result of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government forces in the country's unstable south, a rights group said Tuesday…")

"Driving the Taleban off Nipple Hill -- again"

"No foreseeable end to assaults facing Royal Marines in Helmand" ("Another day, another attack. Yesterday the barrage of mortars, rockets and rifle fire began raining down on the British base at Kajaki at just after six in the morning…")

"Taleban forces retake town" ("Taleban forces in southern Afghanistan have taken control of a town which British troops had pulled out of after a peace deal with local elders…")

On calls for intensification of the military struggle:

"Britain to increase forces in Afghanistan"

"NATO to step up efforts to control Afghan border: general"

"U.S. lawmakers, back from Afghanistan, say more NATO troops needed"

On the repetitively dismal tale of "reconstructing" Afghanistan and on drugs:

"Afghan rebuilding hit by ‘violence and waste'" ("The international body established to co-ordinate Afghanistan's reconstruction effort marked its one-year anniversary on Wednesday by admitting it was struggling to make progress in the face of rising violence, waste and poor administration.")

"AFGHANISTAN: Girls and women traded for opium debts" ("On 4 November 2006, Nasima, 25, a member of a local women's council, grabbed the AK-47 from the policeman guarding the council meeting in the Grishk district of southern Helmand province and killed herself. She had had enough of the daily beatings by her husband. Like many other women in Helmand, Nasima was given away by her family in 2005. Her father owed a huge amount to an opium dealer…")

On predictions of more and worse to come (with faint hopes of better sooner or later):

"New U.S. commander in Afghanistan expects rise in suicide attacks in 2007" ("The incoming commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan said Monday he expects Taliban militants to launch more suicide attacks this year than in 2006, when militants set off a record 139 such bombings…")

"NATO general expects offensive, says Taliban beaten" ("The Taliban will launch an offensive within months once the snows melt, but they are effectively a beaten force, according to the outgoing head of NATO forces in Afghanistan...")

So goes the repetitive, if ever deepening, tragedy of our other war- and under such headlines lie massive tragedies that seldom make the headlines anywhere like the plight of Afghanistan's "liberated" women (as recently vividly described by former humanitarian aid worker and author of Kabul in Winter, Ann Jones), who remain "by custom and practice, the property of men," capable of being "traded and sold like any commodity," despite all the hoopla about their improved status offered by the Bush administration.

In the case of Afghanistan, the question remains: What ever made the top officials of the Bush administration think that they could succeed in conquering and occupying Afghanistan, when so many others from Alexander the Great to the imperial British and the imperial Russians failed so dismally at the same task?