The Nation

Defining "Progress" in Iraq

Three months into the job, General David Petraeus says it is difficult to predict, before the full number of troops arrive, if the surge in Baghdad will succeed. And he now says he will not have a definitive answer about prospects for progress by September, when he is to report back to Congress.

But how to define "progress"in Iraq? (And why should the US have the right to decide what progress in Iraq means? Shouldn't we, instead, be given the task of measuring the destruction we have caused and held to account for repairing the human and physical damage we have helped inflict?)

But if one does engage in this defining-progress project, here are some early measurements to consider:

*Iraqis have already defined progress with their feet -- consider that some two million have left or fled their country. And the outflow continues. In Syria, there are estimated to be 1.2 million Iraqi refugees; another 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon and 10,000 in Turkey. The number of displaced Iraqis still inside that country's borders was given as 1.9 million. This would mean approximately 15 percent of Iraqis have left their homes.

*The Iraqi Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT) with the support of UNDP released statistics this week showing a key indicator of progress trending in the wrong direction. Insurgent death squads dumped 234 bodies around Baghdad in the first 11 days of May, a 70.8 percent increase from the 137 bodies dumped around the capital during the first 11 days of April.

*Some 88 violent deaths were reported across Iraq on Wednesday, including 32 people who died the night before when a car bomb exploded near a market in the Shiite area of Abu Saydah northeast of Baghdad.

*A leading British think-tank, Chatham House, reported on Thursday that the surge has failed to reduce overall violence across the country, as insurgent groups have shifted their acts outside Baghdad.

*UN agencies working in Iraq warned that a chronic shortage of drinking water may increase diarrhea rates, particularly among children. Diarrhea is already the second highest single cause of child illness and death in Iraq.

*The survey by the Central Statistical Bureau reports that 43 percent of Iraqis suffer from "absolute poverty" and another 11 percent of them live in "abject poverty."

*The Iraqi parliament has proposed a bill, signed by a majority of members, demanding American troop withdrawal and an end to the occupation. (For those in our Congress who have placed so much stock in the idea of democracy, isn't it time to drop the neo-colonial paternalism and listen to your Iraqi counterparts. As Senator John Kerry put it today, "There are some people who would send our troops to fight and die for democracy and then not honor it.")

But the reality is that for many legislators who refuse to support a timeline for withdrawal, especially Republicans who continue to support their bunkered-in President, the question of how to measure progress in Iraq will not be answered by how many Iraqi children are dying or refugees fleeing. The answer will be the polls in their districts.

This Is What the World Bank Looks Like

Paul Wolfowitz is and always will be the honest face of the World Bank. True, he may have been forced to resign his presidency for using his influence to post his girlfriend with Liz Cheney – that's right, the World Bank employee with whom Wolfowitz was intimate was delegated to "work" with the vice president's daughter in the U.S. State Department's office of nepotism and related affairs. But that bit of petty corruption only confirmed the extent to which he was World Bank material. And his eminent departure from one of the creepiest of global institutions will leave it without an appropriate creep-in-chief.

As the poet, anti-apartheid campaigner and long-time champion of African development Dennis Brutus says, "Wolfowitz's arrogance, his insistence that any problems were the result of his colleagues' actions, never his own, were a perfect match for the World Bank, which has always refused to take responsibility for its own disastrous policies and projects, laying blame instead with the borrowing country, even though the common denominator in so many botched projects, violations of human rights, and failed policy packages has been the presence of the World Bank. The combination of war and economic crimes for which he was responsible, made Wolfowitz an appropriate symbol for the institution."

Brutus is so right. Wolfowitz and the World Bank were made for one another.

When he had finished scheming to – in his words -- "take proper advantage" of the 9-11 attacks by creating the quagmire that is Iraq, there really was no place for Wolfowitz to go but the World Bank. He had the perfect resume: As blind to the suffering of others as George Bush, as foul-mouthed as Dick Cheney, as manipulative as Karl Rove, as delusional as Donald Rumsfeld, he was perfectly qualified for the move from making war on the poor with bombs to making war on the poor with "structural-adjustment" policies.

"The failures of the World Bank's neo-liberal ideology, such as privatization of basic services, user fees for primary education and health, and the rapid deregulation of trade and investment, have been measured in death, marginalization, and impoverishment," explains Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu, one of many critics of the bank's devastating policies in Africa. "Let's hope people look beyond the sensational scandal to see just how right Wolfowitz really was for the World Bank."

When Wolfowitz went to the bank, there were some who said that this ideologue might actually force the institution he was about to head do some good in the world – if only to promote the sort of stability that might further the neoconservative fantasy that it is possible or even preferable to force a one-size-fits-all version of liberal democracy and free markets on the planet. But the "Paul is really a bleeding heart" argument was a comic misread by those who never knew Wolfowitz or the World Bank Group.

Wolfowitz was right when he suggested that the World Bank was a cesspool of corruption. But he never proposed nor even imagined "reforms" that would have made this messy collection of financial institutions into a anything more than what it is: the global equivalent of a mob enforcer coming in to break the knees of the sovereign nations that do not march to the drum beat of the wealthy nations that own it.

It is true that Wolfowitz was a bad fit with the bureaucracy at the World Bank, but it was a stylistic rather than an ideological mismatch. World Bank employees are schooled in social niceties. They do not comb their hair with spit-drenched combs, as Wolfowitz so memorably did in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," and they don't get caught inflating the bank accounts of their significant others.

So Wolfowitz is out. And the World Bank will soon be headed by a more properly-groomed president. But it will never be headed by a more accurate reflection of itself.

We can only hope that Sameer Dossani, the executive director of the 50 Years Is Enough Network, which has led the campaign to expose the dangerous doings of the bank and its partner in crime, the International Monetary Fund, is right when he says: "Paul Wolfowitz, now exposed as a corrupt liar, has been an invaluable asset in exposing the fundamental illegitimacy and institutional corruption of the World Bank. Though we are not sad to see him go, we would like to take a minute to thank him for bringing to light the rampant corruption, favoritism and double standards that help make these institutions tick."


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

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.


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..."


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!