Monday, January 15, 2007

Inside Baghdad's civil war

Inside Baghdad's civil war
'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans'

As 20,000 more US troops head for Iraq, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the only correspondent reporting regularly from behind the country's sectarian battle lines, reveals how the Sunni insurgency has changed

Saturday January 13, 2007
The Guardian

An Iraqi man who was stopped by US troops while driving a car loaded with weapons in Ramadi, a Sunni-dominated area, is questioned by soldiers. Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

One morning a few weeks ago I sat in a car talking to Rami, a thick-necked former Republican Guard commando who now procures arms for his fellow Sunni insurgents.
Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad."

Rami was no longer involved in fighting, he said, but made a tidy profit selling weapons and ammunition to men in his north Baghdad neighbourhood. Until the last few months, the insurgency got by with weapons and ammunition looted from former Iraqi army depots. But now that Sunnis were besieged in their neighbourhoods and fighting daily clashes with the better-equipped Shia ministry of interior forces, they needed new sources of weapons and money.

He told me that one of his main suppliers had been an interpreter working for the US army in Baghdad. "He had a deal with an American officer. We bought brand new AKs and ammunition from them." He claimed the American officer, whom he had never met but he believed was a captain serving at Baghdad airport, had even helped to divert a truckload of weapons as soon as it was driven over the border from Jordan.

These days Rami gets most of his supplies from the new American-equipped Iraqi army. "We buy ammunition from officers in charge of warehouses, a small box of AK-47 bullets is $450 (£230). If the guy sells a thousand boxes he can become rich and leave the country." But as the security situation deteriorates, Rami finds it increasingly difficult to travel across Baghdad. "Now I have to pay a Shia taxi driver to bring the ammo to me. He gets $50 for each shipment."

The box of 700 bullets that Rami buys for $450 today would have cost between $150 and $175 a year ago. The price of a Kalashnikov has risen from $300 to $400 in the same period. The inflation in arms prices reflects Iraq's plunge toward civil war but, largely unnoticed by the outside world, the Sunni insurgency has also changed. The conflict into which 20,000 more American troops will be catapulted over the next few weeks is very different to the one their comrades experienced even a year ago.

In Baghdad in late October I called a Sunni insurgent I had known for more than a year. He was the mid-level commander of a small cell, active against the Americans in Sunni villages north of Baghdad. Sectarian frontlines had been hardening in the city for months - it took us 45 minutes of haggling to agree on a meeting place which we could both get to safely. We met in a rundown workers' cafe.


"Its not a good time to be a Sunni in Baghdad," Abu Omar told me in a low voice. He had been on the Americans' wanted list for three years but I had never seen him so anxious; he had trimmed his beard in the close-cropped Shia style and kept looking towards the door. His brother had been kidnapped a few days before, he told me, and he believed he was next on a Shia militia's list. He had fled his home in the north of the city and was staying with relatives in a Sunni stronghold in west Baghdad.

He was more despondent than angry. "We Sunni are to blame," he said. "In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: 'This is not jihad. You can't kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs - why provoke them?' "

Then he said: "I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming."

This man who had spent the last three years fighting the Americans was now willing to talk to them, not because he wanted to make peace but because he saw the Americans as the lesser of two evils. He was wrestling with the same dilemma as many Sunni insurgent leaders, beginning to doubt the wisdom of their alliance with al-Qaida extremists.

Another insurgent commander told me: "At the beginning al-Qaida had the money and the organisation, and we had nothing." But this alliance soon dragged the insurgents and then the whole Sunni community into confrontation with the Shia militias as al-Qaida and other extremists massacred thousands of Shia civilians. Insurgent commanders such as Abu Omar soon found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, fighting organised militias backed by the Shia-dominated security forces.

A week after our conversation, Abu Omar invited me to a meeting with insurgent commanders. I was asked to wait in the reception room of a certain Sunni political party. A taxi driver took me to a house in a Sunni neighbourhood that had recently been abandoned by a Shia family. The driver came in with me - he was also a commander.

The house had been abandoned in a hurry, cardboard boxes were stacked by the door, some of the furniture was covered with white cloths and a few cheap paintings were piled against a wall. The property had been expropriated by the local Sunni mujahideen and we sat on sofas in a dusty reception room.

Abu Omar had been meeting commanders of groups with names like the Fury Brigade, the Battalions of the 1920 Revolution, the Islamic Army and the Mujahideen Army, to discuss options they had for fighting both an insurgency against the Americans and an escalating civil war with the Shia.

Abu Omar had proposed encouraging young Sunni men to enlist in the army and the police to redress the sectarian balance. He suggested giving the Americans a ceasefire, in an attempt to stop ministry of interior commandos' raids on his area. Al-Qaida had said no to all these measures; now he wanted other Iraqi insurgent commanders to support him.

'Do politics'

A heated discussion was raging. One of the men, with a very thin moustache, a huge belly and a red kuffiya wrapped around his shoulder, held a copy of the Qur'an in one hand and a mobile phone in the other. I asked him what his objectives were. "We are fighting to liberate our country from the occupations of the Americans and their Iranian-Shia stooges."

"My brother, I disagree," said Abu Omar. "Look, the Americans are trying to talk to us Sunnis and we need to show them that we can do politics. We need to use the Americans to fight the Shia."

He looked nervously at them: suggestions of talking to the Americans could easily have him labelled as traitor. "Where is the jihad and the mujahideen?" he continued. "Baghdad has become a Shia town. Our brothers are being slaughtered every day! Where are these al-Qaida heroes? One neighbourhood after another will be lost if we don't work on a strategy."

The taxi driver commander, who sat cross-legged on a sofa, joined in: "If the Americans leave we will be slaughtered." A big-bellied man waved his hands dismissively: "We will massacre the Shia and show them who are the Sunnis! They couldn't have done anything without the Americans' support."

When the meeting was over the taxi driver went out to check the road, then the rest followed. "Don't look up, we could be monitored, Shia spies are everywhere," said the big man. The next day the taxi driver was arrested.

By December Abu Omar's worst fears were being realised. The Sunnis had become squeezed into a corner fighting two sides at the same time. But by then he had disappeared; his body was never found.

Baghdad was now divided: frontlines partitioned neighbourhoods into Shia and Sunni, thousands of families had been forced out of their homes. After each large-scale bomb attack on Shia civilians, scores of mutilated bodies of Sunnis were found in the streets. Patrolling militias and checkpoints meant that men with Sunni names dared not venture far outside their neighbourhoods, while certain Sunni areas came under the complete control of insurgent groups the Shura Council of the Mujahideen and the Islamic Army. The Sunni vigilante self-defence groups took shape as reserve units under the control of these insurgent groups.

Like Abu Omar before him, Abu Aisha, a mid-level Sunni commander, had come to understand that the threat from the Shia was perhaps greater than his need to fight the occupying Americans. Abu Aisha fought in Baghdad's western Sunni suburbs, he was a former NCO in the Iraqi army and followed an extreme form of Islam known as Salafism.


Deep lines criss-crossed his narrow forehead and his eyes half closed when he tried to answer a question He seemed to evaluate every answer before he spoke. He claimed involvement in dozens of attacks on US and Iraqi troops, mostly IEDs (bombs) but also ambushes and execution of alleged Shia spies. "We have stopped using remote controls to detonate IEDs," he volunteered halfway through our conversation. "Only wires work now because the Americans are jamming the signals."

On his mobile phone he proudly showed me grainy images of dead bodies lying in the street, their hands tied behind their backs . He claimed they were Shia agents and that he had killed them. "There is a new jihad now," he said, echoing Abu Omar's warning. "The jihad now is against the Shia, not the Americans."

In Ramadi there was still jihad against the Americans because there were no Shia to fight, but in Baghdad his group only attacked the Americans if they were with Shia army forces or were coming to arrest someone.

"We have been deceived by the jihadi Arabs," he admitted, in reference to al-Qaida and foreign fighters. "They had an international agenda and we implemented it. But now all the leadership of the jihad in Iraq are Iraqis."

Abu Aisha went on to describe how the Sunnis were reorganising. After Sunni families had been expelled from mixed areas throughout Baghdad, his area in the western suburbs was prepared to defend itself against any militia attack.

"Ameriya, Jihad, Ghazaliyah," he listed, "all these areas are becoming part of the new Islamic state of Iraq, each with an emir in charge." Increasingly the Iraqi insurgency is moving away from its cellular structure and becoming organised according to neighbourhood. Local defence committees have intertwined into the insurgent movement.

"Each group is in charge of a specific street," Abu Aisha said. "We have defence lines, trenches and booby traps. When the Americans arrive we let them go through, but if they show up with Iraqi troops, then it's a fight."

A few days later Rami was telling me about the Sunni insurgents in his north Baghdad area. A network of barricades and small berms blocked the streets around the car in which we sat talking. A convoy of two cars with four men inside whizzed past. "Ah, they are brothers on a mission," Rami said.

Like every man of fighting age, Rami was required to take part in his local vigilante group, guarding the neighbourhood at night or conducting raids or mortar attacks on neighbouring Shia areas.

But he paid $30 a week to a local commander and was exempted.

According to Rami and other commanders, funding for the insurgents comes from three sources. Each family in the street pays a levy, around $8, to the local group. "And when they go through lots of ammunition because of clashes," Rami said, "they pay an extra $5." Then there are donations from rich Sunni businessmen, financiers and wealthier insurgent groups. A third source of funding was "ghaniama", loot which is rapidly becoming the main fuel of the sectarian war

'A business'

"Every time they arrest a Shia, we take their car, we sell it and use the money to fund the fighters, and jihad," said Abu Aisha. The mosque sheik or the local commander collects the money and it is distributed among the fighters; some get fixed salaries, others are paid by "operations", and the money left is used for ammunition.

"It has become a business, they give you money to kill Shia, we take their houses and sell their cars," said Rami. "The Shia are doing the same.

"Last week on the main highway in our area, they killed a Shia army officer. He had a brand new Toyota sedan. The idiots burned the car. I offered them $40,000 for it, they said no. Imagine how many jihads they could have done with 40k."

· Names have been changed in this report.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Charter reform info on radio & TV

Saratoga Springs residents: Do you have questions about the charter reform amendment on the ballot? Some TV programs are available on Channel 18 (public access). In addition, a live radio program on Saturday Nov. 4th 8-9 will have a panel discussion with caller questions concerning charter reform. Here are the details:

Thurs. Nov 2st , 3:00 to 3:30 pm on TimeWarner Ch 18: Good News & Real Facts on City Budgets and Charter Reform. Rick Thompson interviews former New York State budget director Mark Lawton about budget savings from Charter Reform. (Rebroadcast)

Sat. Nov. 4th, 8:00 to 9:00 am on Moon Radio, 1160 AM. Live on Saturday's radio show "The Senior Forum" we will have a panel discussion and take callers questions about the upcoming change in Saratoga's government. We will also be discussing Mike Lenz's recent flip-flop on the charter change and what his motives could have been.

Mon Nov 6th, 7:00 to 8:00 pm on TimeWarner Ch 18: Conversations on Good Government and Charter Reform. Moon Radio broadcasting personalities Rick Thompson and Lynn Goodness interview Saratoga Mayor Val Keehn, 2005 Charter Commission Member Pat Kane, and 2006 Charter Commission Member Rory O'Connor on Charter Reform.

For additional information: Move Saratoga Forward

Monday, October 02, 2006

Belive and Blame

Belive and Blame
Justin Frank
Huffington Post

George W. Bush is an untreated alcoholic. There can be no medical or psychiatric doubt about that. But it is not only President Bush who shows typical characteristics of what AA calls the "dry drunk" syndrome; his inner circle, which includes many in the media, behaves like the typical family of a dysfunctional drinker.

Such families live in constant fear - often masked by denial and bravado - that their alcoholic father will start drinking again if he is under too much stress. And one major stress that untreated alcoholics cannot deal with is criticism. They become defensive immediately, before attacking or hiding. And their family moves into high-gear protection mode.

Whenever things get tough for the Bush administration they use the same strategy - blame Bill Clinton. This is the strategy that will emerge in response to the classified National Intelligence Estimate report that found that the Bush-led Iraq war has invigorated Islamic radicalism and worsened the global terrorist threat. I'm waiting for bumper stickers to appear saying "Blame Bill".

This behavior of blaming anyone but dad is so typical and predictable that it shouldn't be surprising to those who are members of such families, or those who have alcoholic friends. What concerns me is that the media is once again shielding Bush.

In response to the intelligence report, Senator Ted Kennedy said,
"How many more independent reports, how many more deaths, how much deeper into civil war will Iraq need to fall for the White House to wake up and change its strategy in Iraq?"

I think the damning report matters not, and the White House will keep its same two-fold strategy: continue to occupy Iraq by force, since Bush's "beliefs" trump his own government's intelligence; and repeatedly blame Bill Clinton for whatever bad news comes its way.

Find out the facts about charter reform

Find out the facts about charter reform at these events:

October 3, 2006: 7pm Get the Facts series. Library Community Room (commission members will speak and answer questions)
October 5, 2006: 7:30 pm Interlaken presentation (commission chair Beth Hershenhart will speak and answer questions)
October 12, 2006: 7pm Get the Facts series. Library Community Room (commission members will speak and answer questions)
October 19, 2006: 7pm Get the Facts series. City Hall 3rd floor (commission members will speak and answer questions)
October 25, 2006: 7PM Get the Facts series. Library Community Room (commission members will speak and answer questions)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sweeney: One of the 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress

Sweeney: One of the 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress
Beyond Delay

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY)

John Sweeney is a fourth-term Congressman representing the 20th district of New York. His ethics issues stem from a ski trip to New York, the exchange of legislative assistance for campaign contributions and the hiring of his wife as a campaign fundraiser.

Misuse of public funds to pay for a trip to New York

Rep. Sweeney invited 53 people to join him from January 6-9, 2006, for a “Congressional Winter Challenge” at the Lake Placid Olympic facilities. There, Rep. Sweeney and his guests enjoyed pretending to be Olympic athletes by participating in events including skiing, bobsledding and hockey, all paid for with New York taxpayer dollars. The trip appears to violate several provisions of the House gift and travel rules, including the prohibition on recreational travel.

Relationship with National Marine Manufacturers Association

In May 2006, Rep. Sweeney introduced the Boating Safety Tax Incentive Act, legislation that the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) strongly supported and even helped draft, allowing boat manufacturers to supply new boats with free safety equipment, including up-to-date lifejackets, in exchange for a tax deduction. In apparent exchange, NMMA’s PAC has supported Rep. Sweeney and contributed to his campaign committee for the past three years. In the 2006 election cycle alone, NMMA donated $4,500 to Rep. Sweeney, making him the third highest recipient of contributions from NMMA’s PAC. Additionally, NMMA has hosted fundraisers for Rep. Sweeney on its luxurious yacht, raising a total of $12,150. If Rep. Sweeney received campaign donations in return for campaign contributions he may have violated federal bribery and honest services fraud as well as violated House rules.

Employment of Spouse Gayle Ford

Rep. Sweeney has hired his wife’s firm to fundraise for his campaign, despite the fact that she has no fundraising experience and appears to have no other clients. She receives a 10% commission on the money she brings in, the campaign paid her $42,570 during the 2004-2005 election cycle, and as of April 2006, she received $30,879 for the current election cycle. Notably, records show that Rep. Sweeney has had a fundraising consultant on monthly retainer since June of 2004, who is paid $8,583 a month. The facts suggest that Rep. Sweeney is converting campaign funds to personal use in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act and House rules.

Son Avoids Jail

Rep. Sweeney’s son, John, brutally beat another teenager, but avoided jail for his offense. The ethics committee should investigate whether the young man received special treatment because of his father’s position in violation of House rules.

Download Full Report

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Potential Collapse of Oil Prices Makes Restraint of Gasoline Consumption Key to Controlling CO2 Emissions

The Potential Collapse of Oil Prices Makes Restraint of Gasoline Consumption Key to Controlling CO2 Emissions
Raymond J. Learsy
Huffington Post

We are all becoming well aware of the dangers of an impending and catastrophic climate crisis. The State of California, only recently with bipartisan cooperation, passed laws committing to sharp reductions CO2 emissions. So too have some 295 American cities. Al Gore has warned that we are near the tipping point of climatic catastrophe.

The "Scientific American" has published a prominently featured article recently, whose lead sentence is "The debate on global warming is over." There is a growing consensus throughout the land that emergency solutions are needed. That we owe forceful action now to the planet, and to future generations.
Yet there is rarely a balanced discussion on the issue of automobile fossil fuel emissions, perhaps the most serious CO2 contaminant extant. Yes, there are a plethora of solutions put forward from downsizing our cars, to switching to bio-fuels, hydrogen powered engines, electric powered and hybrid vehicles, and on. All of which will take time, years perhaps, before they have a serious impact. But never or at least rarely ever, has there been a serious discussion on curtailing the availability of gasoline and thereby moderating our driving habits almost overnight. Why is this issue taboo? We did it during World War II, successfully, and with a great sense of shared purpose.

The issue of constricting gasoline consumption is now becoming urgent. We are all well aware that gasoline consumption has been somewhat curtailed by the recent high price of gasoline. Crude oil is the largest component by far, in the construct of gasoline prices. And the price of crude oil has been falling sharply.

In the last four weeks the price of crude oil has fallen some $18/barrel from over $78/bbl to just shy of $60/bbl, its steepest dollar decline in fifteen years. The price of gasoline has inched down correspondingly. Lower prices of gasoline clearly encourage greater consumption, and in turn result in greater CO2 emissions.

Consider the following. When natural gas prices were escalating we were forever advised
that crude oil's price increases were simply keeping in tandem with the direction of natural gas
prices. Yes, they are different markets, but that they are fundamentally energy components, made the argument persuasive.

Last December the price of natural gas touched an all time high of $15.78 per million British Thermal Units. Last Friday the closing price for natural gas was under $5.00 per mBtu. This represents a retracement in price of over two thirds from last December's highs. An equivalent percentage drop in crude oil prices would bring the price of crude to $26/bbl, not far from where they were over three years ago.

Will the price of oil drop in the same magnitude as it has for natural gas. I do not know. Certainly the fallout from the Amaranth and MotherRock Hedge Fund implosions forced significant selling in natural gas on the commodity markets. As regards oil, who knows whether there are not similar positions that yet need to be liquidated. Or whether there are hedge funds out there who played the contango card (betting that prices will be significantly higher in the future- an enormously successful trade over the past few years) having purchased physical spot crude oil at prevailing prices and storing the oil in the hope of cashing in on the contango premium. Instead they may now be faced with the prospect of being forced to sell in a steeply declining market.

And then there are other anecdotal issues. China in past months has been importing less oil on a monthly basis than a year ago. OPEC, with a production quota of 28 million barrel/ day is shipping on average some 500,000 barrels/day less, not out of cleverness but simply because there are no takers. Distillate stocks, which include heating oil and diesel, are at their highest levels in seven years (when the price of oil was around $20 barrel). Gasoline supplies are 6.4 percent higher than a year ago. Crude oil inventories are in their upper range for this time of the year and well ahead of their five year average. And the economy appears to be slowing.

We have been so brainwashed that the above scenarios had become virtually unthinkable. I still remember late last year, and in January, CNBC trotting out industry analyst after industry analyst predicting $20 per mBtu gas or higher by end of last winter (by the way, where are the post mortems to those predictions). The conditioning by the media, the oil companies, the oil industry associations and their PR campaigns, by OPEC propagandists and their disinformation, by the peak oil cheerleaders, has been such that the thought of a major retrenchment in the price of oil has been practically expunged from our dialogue.

Will oil prices go the way of natural gas? Again I say I don't know. Certainly OPEC will do all it can to impede a significant erosion of prices. Whether they can hold the line in a well supplied market remains to be seen. But the important thing here is that it may happen, and with it a steep decline in the price of gasoline as well as the price of distillates. All of which is not bad except as it impacts our consumption of these products. Low prices will encourage greater consumption of fossil fuels and a laxness in the impetus and steps we are beginning to take to wean ourselves away from our addiction to oil.

To protect our environment, for reasons of national security, for reasons of economic rationality and self reliance we need to kick our addiction to fossil fuels for once and for all, whether the price of oil is high or low. And much better that the price be as low as possible, especially as regards our national security and our economic well being.

High prices for crude oil are in the interests of the oil companies, their hangers on and the national producers, i.e. OPEC and its adherents such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela among others.

But we need to prepare for low prices and for that reason we need to have a plan in place to cap
our consumption of gasoline and to bring it ever lower as alternative fuels and solutions take hold. In my Post "Breaking Oil's Price, Curtailing Gas Consumption, Regaining our Self Respect" 08/14/06, I had proposed a voucher program which I felt was fairer than a gas tax. Perhaps we need an emissions tax. Perhaps a straight rationing program, perhaps a combination of all these and others. But most of all we need leadership!

A very personal opinion. The only one I see out there who has enough passion and commitment on this issue, and who appears willing to take on the vested interests both in government and industry to truly effect change is Al Gore. Now the big question. Does he care enough to put himself on the line to achieve high office where together with the bully pulpit and the political clout inherent in the Presidency he could actually take in hand our addled dependency and lead us out of our increasingly ominous wilderness?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Charter Reform Fundraiser in Saratoga Springs

Move Saratoga Forward is having a fundraiser on September 21st at The Inn at Saratoga from 5:30-7:30. Cash bar. Join Us! Please show your support! All donations welcome. What is Move Saratoga Forward? Move Saratoga Forward is a nonpartisan, nonprofit political action committee. Its mission is to support the charter reform proposal that Mayor Keehn's commission prepares and to help educate city voters so that they will understand – and support – this charter when it appears on the ballot in November 2006. We are Democrats and Republicans working together out of a love for our great city. Our goal is to enhance and modernize the city's government – and the government's ability to address the challenges the city faces. City services – and the quality of those services – will remain unchanged. If anything, they will be improved because of greater government accountability. What will change is the city's ability to address issues such as parking, truck traffic, affordable housing, open space, a recreation center, and cutting red tape.

For more information --- and facts not attacks --- about the charter reform --- go to

Most cities in New York changed away from the commissioner form of government 50 or 60 years ago. Today only Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville retain this outdated structure. There are several hidden costs of the commission form of government, including how much the city has spent to defend law suits brought about by such matters as last year's public safety debacle involving Deputy Commissioner Erin Dreyer. The examples of other cities, such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that have made similar transitions, is that this charter will save Saratoga Springs residents money. In 1995 the City’s total operating budget was $16 million. Ten years later – in 2004 – it was over $29 million, up 80%. Today it is over $32 million. Why? There is currently no system of checks and balances to rein in spending. The proposed charter will change this.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Examining Bush in August

Examining Bush in August
Justin Frank
Huffington Post

It is still August, and therefore not too late for President Bush to have the second half of his medical check-up: psychological testing. After his press conference on Monday in which he kept talking about finishing the job while attacking Democrats for wanting an exit strategy, Bush showed even more telltale signs of a particular kind of mental disturbance which medical professionals call thought disorder.

He may be physically fit to do the job, despite his five pound weight gain. But he is not mentally fit - at least not until he is pronounced so by a group of examining psychiatrists who must do a thorough mental status exam as well as a battery of psychological tests, with special emphasis on his relationship to reality.
I had always felt that his inability to respond to crisis, as seen in his response to 9/11 and Katrina and Israel's bombing of Lebanon, was because he suffered from something called affective flooding, where overwhelming anxiety paralyzes any ability to think or even function. Such a response is similar to denial but writ large. Those who observe the president at such moments - thanks to smuggled film clips and his historic April 2004 press conference when he was asked if he had made any mistakes as president - see that he starts rapid blinking movements before his eyes glaze over and become almost fixed in a blank, mindless stare. This massive disconnection from inner self and outer world is called "splitting."

But his most recent press conference (August 21, 2006) showed that when he is in control he is not flooded in this way. Rather, his splitting takes the form of hatred of reality. I use the term hatred purposefully. When he was pushed by a few increasingly frustrated reporters, he behaves like the untreated alcoholic he is - summarily dismissing material reality.

When offered a chance to re-think the Iraq war he becomes obstreperous, using sarcasm to both mask and express his internal rage at being challenged. When back in control he patronizes members of what he calls the "Democrat" party, saying that they are "good people" and that he doesn't question their patriotism. In control he is a poor man's Cicero, saying what he's not going to say anyway. Reading between the lines, he calls his critics quitters.

All of this behavior is in the service of defending himself against reality - something he actively hates. At times, his attempts to ward off reality make him appear stupid. He is not. Rather, internal and external realities are too threatening for him to face. When asked whether he had been surprised or frustrated by all the bad news from Baghdad he didn't even understand the question. This is because the very act of facing such questions threatens to destroy his tenaciously held preconceptions. This he cannot risk; he employs various coping mechanisms to attack such questions in any way he can. Instead of acknowledging personal frustration he said that the war must be frustrating for the national psyche. But his hatred of reality required a more violent approach - the day after his conference he sent more of those poor marines back into a world of horror.

His ability to dismiss reality is profound - more than the simple method used by his mother Barbara, who said she wasn't going to watch the TV news during the war because watching body bags would spoil her "beautiful mind". No, he has a rugged inner strength - unless confronted by surprise - that enables him to dismiss and destroy personal perception.

His mental pulse needs to be taken, not just his physical one. I think that what prevents his doctors from doing so is their fear of what they'd find. Without such an examination, we are left with no medical terms to describe his mental functioning, his private global war on terror which extends to attacks on his own capacity to perceive reality. I have not examined the President, so it is not proper for me to offer a diagnosis. However, my observations lead me to believe that he is psychotic.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Two Congressional Experts Explain What Has Gone Very Wrong With Congress

Two Congressional Experts Explain What Has Gone Very Wrong With Congress
Friday, Aug. 11, 2006
Congress is out of order. In the words of two of the most knowledgeable experts in the nation on the legislative branch, "it is broken." This conclusion is not the judgment of out-of-power partisans: Thomas E. Mann, the Senior Fellow in Government Studies at the Brookings Institute, and Norman J. Ornstein, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, have been studying - and working with and for - Congress since 1969.

Mann and Ornstein are hands-on political scientists who have been in Washington, and immersed in the workings of Congress, for almost four decades. Regardless of who runs Congress, they will continue their work. But during the last decade, they have grown "dismayed at the course of Congress." Although the deterioration began while the Democrats were still in control, it has, under the Republicans, accelerated and approached crisis dimensions. And a dysfunctional Congress affects our democracy profoundly.

On behalf of the institution to which they have devoted their professional lives, Mann and Ornstein are now speaking out, in The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How To Get It Back On Track (Oxford University Press). I mentioned their book briefly, prior to publication, in an earlier column; now, it has been released, and it is excellent. Its timing is fortunate too, as Congressional elections will be held this November. If only Americans would listen to what the authors have to say.

Their book is not long, yet it is remarkably comprehensive. Mann and Ornstein examine both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but for purposes of this column, I'll focus on the House.

An Overview of the Problems with Today's House of Representatives

"Over a decade of Republican control, the House went from shrill opposition to a Democratic president, culminating in his impeachment, to reflexive loyalty to a Republican president, including an unwillingness to conduct tough oversight of executive programs or assert congressional prerogatives vis-à-vis the presidency - on matters ranging from the accessibility of critical information to war-making," Mann and Ornstein write.

The House's current refusal to check its same-party President is only one of many problems the authors describe. Even more basically, they note, the House has become "an institution that has strayed far from its deliberative roots and a body that does not live up to the aspiration envisioned for it by the framers." This fact has serious consequences because "[b]ad process leads to bad policy - and often can lead to bad behavior, including ethical lapses."

This, in fact, is precisely what has occurred. Consider legislative fiascos, like the way representatives broke House rules to twist arms to vote for Medicare changes that benefit special interests. Or consider the embarrassing and improper intervention by Congress into the end-of-life care controversy regarding brain-damaged Terri Schiavo. Or think of energy legislation that takes better care of energy producers than consumers. The list is long and unpleasant, for these are only few examples....

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Losing our Democracy to the "New Authoritarians"

Mark Green
Huffington Post

Losing our Democracy to the "New Authoritarians"
READ MORE: 9/11, Wal-Mart, Iraq, CIA, James Dobson, Supreme Court, Homeland Security, Global Warming, George W. Bush
With today's federal court ruling that Bush's domestic spying program is unconstitutional, here's the first of a two-part commentary from Mark's new book, Losing Our Democracy: How Bush, the Far Right and Big Business are Betraying Americans for Power and Profit.

"Democracy can come undone. It's not something that's necessarily going to last forever once it's been established."-- Sean Wilentz in The Rise of American Democracy.

Much has been written about Bush's war for democracy abroad, but how much have you read about his war against democracy at home?
Just as the last half of the twentieth century saw a quadrupling of the number of democracies--just as, in Professor John Gaddis's view, "the world came closer than ever before to reaching a consensus that only democracy confers legitimacy."--the greatest democracy ever is being assaulted by a group of "new authoritarians" in Congress, the courts, corporations and the clergy. And leading their war on democracy is a president lauding its virtues.

President Bush does not wake up everyday wondering how to sabotage democracy. But the issue is not his intent but his actions. And connecting the dots of Bush's presidential actions reveals a clear and present danger to our constitutional traditions. While we surely haven't lost our democracy, we are now only another Bush-like presidency, another couple of Tom Coburn's in the Senate, another couple of Justice Scalia's away from losing our democracy. That's not alarmist, only descriptive.

For while there is no Great Depression or 9/11 heralding the disaster, we are moving away from rather than toward the far horizon of a better democracy. Consider five key areas:

What Rule of Law? This government invades a country contrary to the UN charter, condones torture, outs a CIA operative, ignores warrants for wiretaps, selectively leaks classified information for partisan gain, rounds up thousands of American Muslims without evidence, incarcerates hundreds at Guantánamo without charges or lawyers, and asserts the power to ignore hundreds of duly enacted laws because of an unending war on terror--and then Bush urges the world to follow his devotion to "the rule of law."

Bush views the law as largely an extension of politics, a means to an end, a speed bump to be overcome. So when he was asked about the legality of his invasion of Iraq, he sarcastically answered, "Is it legal? Oh my, I'd better call my lawyer." For 200 years after Marbury v. Madison, courts had the final say on interpreting laws and the Constitution. Then Bush aides made up a theory called the "unitary executive"--and the President in effect said that he could veto laws after signing them into law. Why? "We're at war." But a) the constitution makes the president the commander-in-chief of the military, not the country and b) since this is a war without end, the "unitary executive" is euphemism for authoritarianism.

It took the United States Supreme Court--seven of whose nine members were appointed by Republican presidents--to remind Bush that the rule of law is not a means but an end in itself. "A state of war," wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "is not a blank check for the president."

A Democracy without Voters. By the gauge of turnout, America is in the bottom fifth of democracies in the world. Compare our 48 percent average turnout of eligible voters in presidential years to Cambodia's 90 percent, Austria's 85 percent, Western Europe's 77 percent, Eastern Europe's 68 percent. If there were a World Bank category called "democracy poverty," the U.S. would be a candidate for massive international charity.

In most states, cumbersome and antiquated rules suppress the vote. The law requires that hundreds of 18 year-old graduates each find their way from high school to an election board--instead of having one election board representative go to each high school. And shutting the window for registration 30 days before an election, just when voters become aware of a contest, is foolish.

Local operatives often suppress the vote in technical or obviously discriminatory ways. Republican Ohio officials put too few voting machines in low-income Democratic precincts in November 2004, causing hours long lines and voters leaving before voting. Someone put up signs in African-American areas of Cuyahoga County telling Democrats that a) if anyone in their family voted illegally they would lose their children and b) they couldn't vote if they hadn't paid their utility bills. The spirit behind these absurd warnings was openly admitted by Michigan Republican representative John Pappageorge in 2004 when he said, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election cycle."

One way some Southern states do this under color of law is felony disenfranchisement laws. Even though they've paid their "debt to society," ex-cons can't vote, which means that a third of black men in Alabama are excluded. Felony disenfranchisement laws are essentially another way to spell Jim Crow.

Corporate Sway. They can foreclose on our homes, decide whether we have life-saving surgery, hire or fire us, effectively shutter small towns, and decisively influence legislation. "They" are not official government, but rather the private governments called corporations.

Charles Lindblom's observation in Politics and Markets in 1971 has even more relevance today, when Wal-Mart alone has more employees than Wyoming has residents: "The large corporation fits oddly into democratic theory and vision. Indeed, it does not fit."

Not since the Gilded Age when wealthy businessmen essentially appointed U.S. Senators (before direct elections) has big business held such sway in America and Washington. An ocean of corporate lobbyists has overwhelmed the levees of power in Congress and drowned consumers and workers below sea level who couldn't flee. Nearly every proposal or law of Bush 43--from cutting job training programs, eroding the minimum wage, reversing ergonomic standards, cutting taxes on the rich and social programs for the poor--contribute to the tilt from labor to capital. And recall Phil Cooney, who came from the American Petroleum Institute to the White House where he dictated the policy that global warming was unproven, before returning to ExxonMobil.

As a result, George Bush is redistributing the wealth far more than George McGovern ever dreamed of, except up rather than down. There may be no exact point when the concentration of income and wealth becomes so extreme as to be undemocratic, but it's certainly odd when the head of ExxonMobil earned $368 million in a year, or more per hour than his workers earned per year.

Congressional Tyranny. The legislature of the world's greatest democracy is not democratic. Not even close.

First, since money rather than merit so often determines elections--and since political redistricting means few competitive elections in any event--Congressional incumbents predictably listen more to donors than to voters.

Second, the rules of this Republican Congress have essentially eliminated Democrats from our democracy. "For my purposes," said an aide to the Republican leadership, "they're irrelevant." In the House, Speaker Hastert will only schedule a bill for a vote if it has a "majority of the majority" and will hold a vote open for as many hours as necessary to secure--or importune or bribe--his way to a majority.

Third, Congress is failing its checks-and-balances function by essentially becoming a West Wing of the White House. Its "oversight" function has become literal, as Executive Branch blunders and scandals go unexamined. Hence, there are no serious hearings into a) how Bush administration incompetence pre-9/11 allowed that attack to occur, b) the willful misuse of intelligence pre-9/11, c) how the employment of so many National Guard troops have compromised homeland security, d) the level of torture in Iraq, e) the cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Congress was not always such a puppy-dog: during WWII and the Vietnam war, Senators Truman and Fulbright respectively held hearings critical of these war efforts.

Religious McCarthyism. The founding fathers understood that the "establishment clause" in the very first amendment both protected government from religious intolerance and religion from government interference. That is, pluralism is patriotic, allowing all to practice their religion free from the kind of interference the original American settlers fled.

This is something today's far religious (f)right profoundly misunderstands. From radicals like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell outside of government to Tom Coburn within--his office said he'd like to impeach and imprison the judges who ruled against Terry Schiavo's parents--these people seek an American theocracy where democratic dissent is deemed sacrilegious. We're not talking about a few kooks but religious power houses who can speed-dial White House decision-makers. Indeed, when Gary Bauer was asked who the head of the Religious Right was in America, he answered, "President Bush."

The results of this marriage are both profound and pathetic: stem cell research is thwarted, and the National Parks Service issues brochures at the Grand Canyon challenging the scientific consensus about the age of the canyon in favor of a "young earth" great-flood interpretation.

Extremism posturing as democracy may be shocking, but it's not surprising, not if one thinks about Bush's philosophy, experience, and base. He himself comes out of hierarchical CEO background where Ayn Rand heroes pronounce policy from Olympus, damn the consequences and shareholders. Half his base are radical Religious Rightists, who are accustomed to demanding fealty to divine or priestly pronouncements, parishioners and the poor be damned. Such business and religious leaders are accustomed to governing by catechism not collaboration, by standards far closer to autocracy than democracy. When Bush said "I am the decider" in response to a question about Rumsfeld and Iraq, he was betraying his true view of the democratic conversation.

One more ingredient added to this stew makes it unusually toxic. Bush uses the catastrophe of 9/11 as a license to engage in all kinds of illegal or unprecedented behavior. But awful as that day was, 9/11 is not more important than the U.S. Constitution and over two hundred years of democratic progress. We can't allow that horror to license a group of phony patriots to trample on the values of our flag far more than a few fools who annually burn it.

It can happen here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Politicos beware: You live in YouTube's world

August 18, 2006 edition

Politicos beware: You live in YouTube's world
By Linda Feldmann
The Christian Science Monitor

WASHINGTON – S.R. Sidarth never imagined his 15 minutes of fame would come from a sleepy campaign stop in the southwest Virginia town of Breaks. Or that his handiwork with a camcorder would catapult to the list of most-watched videos on the Web's most-trafficked video site. Or that The Washington Post would devote an entire article to exploring exactly what to call the 20-year-old college student's hairstyle - a mohawk or a mullet? (Answer: neither.)
Sen. George Allen (R) of Virginia also surely never imagined that the young man assigned to track his campaign appearances would cause him days of grief, simply by recording a comment that critics have called "racist" or, at best, "insensitive."

But in the brave new world of YouTube politics, almost anything is possible. And just 18 months after its launch, the website is already playing an integral role in campaigns.

Supporters of Ned Lamont, the Democratic upstart who beat Sen. Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut primary Aug. 8, discovered that by capturing funny, embarrassing, and otherwise telling campaign moments on video and posting them on YouTube, they could reach voters in a way that's far more entertaining than over-the-top rants by bloggers.

Anyone familiar with the Mentos-and-cola phenomenon - put the candy in the soda and watch it explode - has probably already visited YouTube. But for the uninitiated, YouTube is a free site that allows people to post, watch, and share video clips. By plugging in keywords, as with search engines, users can easily find topics of interest. The searchability is key....

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Democrats Mean Business: Washington needs an entrepreneurial approach


The Democrats Mean Business: Washington needs an entrepreneurial approach

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

In the past week, my victory in the Connecticut Senate primary has been labeled everything from the death knell of the Democratic Party to the signal of our party's rebirth. Beneath all of this punditry is a question that I want to face directly: how the experience I will bring to the U.S. Senate will help Connecticut and the Democratic Party during this time of testing for our country.

I ran at a time when people said "you can't beat a three-term incumbent," because I believed that President Bush, enabled by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, had weakened our country at home and abroad. We're weaker economically, because we're more dependent on foreign energy and foreign capital. Our national security has also been weakened, because we stopped fighting a real war on terror when we made the costly and counterproductive decision to go to war in Iraq.

My confidence that Connecticut was ready for a real debate and a real choice this year was founded not only on current events but also past experience. It was my career in business that shaped my outlook, and helped prepare me to run the race I did.

In 1984, with a loan from People's Bank, I started Campus TeleVideo from scratch. Our offer was unique: Rather than provide a one-size-fits-all menu of channels, we let the customers design their cable system based on the character of the community being served.
From the moment I filled out that loan application, I've been in every part of the business--pulling cable, hiring workers, picking a good health-care plan, closing deals, listening to customers and fixing problems. It's been profitable, and it's been instructive, a quintessentially American experience. Here, entrepreneurs have the freedom to be successful in ways the rest of the world admires.

These defining lessons of my business experience are central in my campaign: identifying the challenges that face our state and offering real solutions. Something clearly worked, because the voters decided to do what our Founding Fathers envisioned; they put their trust not in a career politician but in a concerned citizen and experienced businessman who promises to rock the boat down in Washington.

Here are the four lessons of my business life that I talked about every day on the campaign trail, and that have resonated with Connecticut Democrats:

• First, entrepreneurs are frugal beasts, because the bottom line means everything. In Connecticut, voters are convinced that Washington has utterly lost touch with fiscal reality. We talked about irresponsible budget policies that have driven the annual federal deficit above $300 billion and the debt ceiling to $9 trillion. Meanwhile, the government is spending $250 million a day on an unprovoked war in Iraq while starving needed social investment at home. I am a fiscal conservative and our people want their government to be sparing and sensible with their tax dollars.

• Second, entrepreneurs invest in human resources. Our business strives to pay good wages and provide good health benefits so that we can attract employees that give us an edge in a competitive marketplace. Well-trained and well-cared-for people are essential for every business these days, particularly in a global economy. It's getting harder and harder for American businesses to compete on price, but we innovate and change better than any economy on the planet. The quality of our work force is one of America's competitive advantages--if our education system fails our children and our employers, we'll lose the future.

That's why I talked about my work as a volunteer teacher in the Bridgeport public schools, which can't afford to be open later than 2:30 p.m., schools that send children home to an empty house. That's why my campaign offered a strong alternative to standardized tests and No Child Left Behind. That's why I believe in an employer-based health-care system that covers everyone, and providing tax benefits to small businesses so they can provide insurance without risking bankruptcy.

• Third, in a market-driven economy, entrepreneurs can never lose touch with what customers, suppliers and workers are saying. A great strength of our campaign is that we embraced the grassroots and netroots, suburbs and inner cities, and used the most advanced technology to empower our door-knockers and activists. We listened hard and respectfully to what voters told us, and gave them the confidence to trust someone new.

• Finally, entrepreneurs are pragmatic. Unlike some politicians, we don't draw a false strength from closed minds, and we don't step on the accelerator when the car is headed off the cliff.

By every available metric, the "stay the course" strategy in Iraq is not a winning strategy. Changing course is neither extreme nor weak; it is essential for our national security.

We start with the strongest, best-trained military in the world, and we'll keep it that way. But here's how we'll get stronger by changing course. We must work closely with our allies and treat the rest of the world with respect. We must implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and put in place real protections for ports, airports, nuclear facilities and public transit.

Good judgment is an essential part of good governance. But we're bogged down in Iraq, and hamstrung in the war against terror, by leaders who lacked judgment, historical perspective, openness to other cultures and plain old common sense. We offer something different.
But in the final analysis, the results of this election say less about me, and more about the people of Connecticut. They turned out in record numbers; they spoke every day with a simple eloquence and urgency about the country we love. They oppose the war and the fiscal nightmare crafted by President Bush and his allies. But their vote, finally, was one based on pragmatism and reality, on optimism and hope. And it is to these ideals and values that we plan to address my campaign in the months until November.

Mr. Lamont won the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut last week.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lamont victory: A triumph of new moral center

Lamont victory: A triumph of new moral center
Connecticut Post

Ned Lamont's stunning upset of incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary race on Tuesday sends shock waves through the dead sea of American politics.
Lamont did the impossible — this virtual unknown beat in his own party's primary an 18-year incumbent with universal name recognition, a more than $9 million campaign war chest and the support of Washington insiders, the punditry and the corporate lobbies.

His victory represents a growing voter revolt against the failed policies and politics of the Bush administration and its congressional enablers, particularly the debacle in Iraq. Until a few weeks ago, Lieberman prided himself on being the president's leading Democratic ally in touting the war.

After his defeat, Democrats will show more backbone in challenging the current disastrous course and more Republicans will look for ways to distance themselves from the president.

Lamont's victory was propelled by a rising tide of progressive energy — activists who are tired of losing elections to the right and disgusted with cautious politicians who duck and cover rather than stand and fight. Until a few weeks ago, Lieberman exemplified those Democrats who establish their "independence" by pushing off the causes of their own party and embracing the right's agenda.

His voters didn't abandon him; he abandoned them long ago. After his defeat, incumbents in both parties may begin to listen more closely to their voters and less avidly to their donors.

Lamont's victory was fueled by a new generation coming into politics with a passion — and organizing over the Web. Over the past year, the Washington establishment has scorned them as extreme and mocked them for failing to win anything. After Tuesday, there will be no more "bring 'em on" challenges issued to the bloggers.

Most important, Lamont represents a new moral center in American politics — a challenge to the failed status quo and a demand for a new direction that a growing majority of Americans are searching for.

Bring an end to the disastrous occupation in Iraq and bring the troops home with honor. Change priorities to invest in our schools, in universal pre-kindergarten, in modern infrastructure. Champion affordable national health care for all.

These are not issues from the "edges of our politics," as Lieberman suggests, but ideas whose time has come.

Lieberman, in a classic sore-loser posture, refuses to accept the verdict of the voters. The man who spent the last weeks of his campaign boasting that he was a good Democrat now announces he'll form his own party and denounces partisan politics. The man who last week said he had gotten the message and would go to Washington to challenge the president's policies now says he'll go to Washington to make common cause with Republicans to "get things done."

But his brand of "getting things done" is exactly what Americans are turning against.

He joined with the president in championing the war in Iraq — got that done.

He joined with Republicans and corporate lobbies in passing corporate trade deals that have destroyed American manufacturing and undermined wages in America — got that done.

He joined with conservatives in championing the privatization of Social Security — at least he was blocked there.

He joined with CEOs in defending off the books, stock options that gave CEOs a multimillion-dollar personal incentive to cook the books and raid pension funds — got that done.

Lieberman doesn't get it. The problem isn't that things aren't getting done — the problem is that the things he was helped to produce are weakening this country abroad and undermining workers and middle-class families at home.

Lieberman's sore loser campaign will be well financed by the corporate lobbies he has served. Since he has no new ideas to offer, he'll run a nasty negative campaign of personal vilification against Lamont, trying to smear him before voters have a chance hear what Lamont has to say.

And that race will be a test for every Democratic leader. Will they come to support Lamont and the new energy, the new ideas, the new moral center that he represents? Or will they offer nominal support but stay away, refusing to challenge Lieberman's low-road campaign? Their reactions will be a true measure of who is ready to fight for a new direction for this country and who is not.

Robert L. Borosage is a veteran political strategist and co-director of the Campaign For America's Future.

The opinions expressed are the author's and not necessarily those of Connecticut Postor Please direct comments to or

Saturday, August 12, 2006

NY-03: An Introduction to Change

NY-03: An Introduction to Change
by Dave Mejias for Congress

Tue Jul 18, 2006 at 11:20:58 AM PDT

My name is Dave Mejias and I am the Democratic candidate for New York's 3rd Congressional District against Republican incumbent Peter King. I wanted to introduce myself, tell you why I am running for Congress, and why Peter King no longer deserves to represent the people of the 3rd District. I also want to ask for the support of this online community, as I see blogging to be the future of grassroots politics. I look forward to using the amazing opportunity provided by this site to speak with individuals concerning the important issues facing our country today.

Follow me below the fold for more about my background and why I think I can beat Peter King.

Dave Mejias for Congress's diary :: ::
As a member of the Nassau County Legislature on Long Island, New York, I am proud to serve as the elected representative of over 75,000 residents in Nassau's 14th Legislative District. I made history in 2003 by becoming the first Latino ever elected to Nassau County government, and my re-election in 2005 was due largely to the close connection with the community I have developed throughout my life. I was born and raised in the district I now represent, and I know firsthand the problems that my constituents face on an everyday basis because my family and I have lived under the same burdens that Peter King has failed to address.

I am a first-generation American, and the first member of my family born in the US. My father came to this country as a political refugee from Cuba, where he spent 4 years in jail as a political dissident. He watched as his brother was tortured and murdered in front of him for promoting democracy and fighting against Castro in the early 1960s. My mother fled economic strife in Ecuador during the `60s. They first met in an English class for adults here on Long Island. My father passed away when I was very young, and my mother raised me and my siblings as a single parent. I can never thank her enough for her courage and devotion to her family when we needed her the most. With her love and support, I attended State University of New York at Albany, and received my Juris Doctor from Fordham Law. I opened my own law firm at the age of 26 and have been active participant in politics ever since.

Like most Long Islanders, I have watched with dismay over the past six years as this administration, backed by the Republican Congress, has squandered the largest surplus in our nation's history and created an even larger deficit. Under the watch of the George Bush and Peter King, our middle class continues to be squeezed more and more each day. The Bush Administration, with the blank-check support of their lapdogs in Congress, led us into a misguided war without an end in sight. The Republicans continue to dismantle the social safety net, drastically under-fund public education, push for the privatization of Social Security, and ignore the desperate need for health care reform, leaving 45 million Americans with no insurance.

We suffer from record high gasoline prices and MTBE-contaminated drinking water, while oil companies stuff their pockets with our hard-earned cash. Their record windfall profits are ensured by Republican Congressmen like my opponent, Peter King, who vote against laws to combat price gouging or hold companies accountable for poisoning our natural resources. At every opportunity over the last six years, Republicans have steered this nation towards fear, war, and intolerance. I want to change that trend.

Over the next few months I will use this forum to present my positions and agenda on how to right the course of this great nation. I will discuss issues that affect Americans everyday: healthcare, education, the economy, national security. I will hold this administration and Peter King accountable for their countless failures, and present my own plan for America.

I need your help to get my message out to a larger audience. By spreading the word, we can challenge Peter King to answer for his failures on the issues that are most important to us. I look forward to hearing your comments and sharing my ideas with you. Together we can take back America and return accountability to Congress.

Thank you,

David L. Mejias
Nassau County Legislator, 14th LD
Democratic Candidate for Congress, NY-3

PS - I'm in the process of building my new website,, but for now please visit for information about my campaign.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


San Diego Press Telegram

Thursday 10 August 2006

San Diego's awful audit leaves it looking for ways to pay its pension bills.
The all-but-bankrupt city of San Diego has earned the comparison with such financial failures as Enron, WorldCom and Orange County, according to Arthur Levitt Jr., and he ought to know. He is the former chairman of the Security and Exchange Commissions and a respected figure in the field of finance.

Levitt also headed a months-long investigation by Kroll Inc., a New York risk management firm that issued its findings Tuesday. The bottom line: San Diego city officials for many years recklessly mismanaged finances; they owe taxpayers the truth about a bloated and underfunded pension system, and they must face up to the fact the city needs more revenue (tax increases, in other words).

The Koll report said city officials deliberately broke the law, disregarded fiscal responsibility, disregarded the financial welfare of residents and, oh by the way, cheated residents on their monthly sewage fees to benefit large industrial users.

You might expect that would be enough to get some politicians in trouble, and it was. The mayor resigned, along with several other officials, and a federal grand jury has indicted five city pension board members for approving a pension mess that now is sinking the city.

After the scandal become evident, San Diego voters approved a strong-mayor form of government to centralize authority and responsibility. But, the Kroll report says, the city still can't handle such basic functions as bank reconciliations, and long-range budget planning is nonexistent.

Nobody has come close to figuring out what to do about the $2 billion difference between the costs of San Diego's extravagant new pension plan and what the city can afford to pay. The new mayor, Jerry Sanders, has been pretty good with the platitudes, but his only specific commitments have been: no more borrowing to cover up the problem, and no new taxes no matter what. That doesn't leave much room for solutions.

The Kroll report clearly didn't buy the argument of San Diego's city attorney, Michael Aguirre, who argued that since the procedure for granting the big pension increases was illegal, it ought to be legal to simply roll them back. Levitt called Aguirre a demagogue, which seems about right.

San Diego evidently has a long way to go before things get better. So does Orange County, and the reference to its financial problems was timely. The county still is recuperating from a bankruptcy triggered by $1.7 billion in debt, which is beginning to look almost small compared to the current $3.7 billion deficit caused by swollen county employee pensions and retiree medical benefits.

Nobody in Orange County government has figured out what to do about its deficit either, although the county's wisest critic, Treasurer and Supervisor-elect John M.W. Moorlach, told the L.A. Times something has to give and "everything is on the table." That's at least promising.

Should taxpayers outside San Diego and Orange County give a whit about these political and financial disasters? Yes, because politicians' giveaways have created serious underfunding of pensions in state government and in many local entities.

The city of Long Beach is quick to point out that it has no unfunded pension liabilities (though growing retiree medical costs are a separate issue). And its pension enhancements aren't without cost.

After the stock market took a nose dive in 2001, Long Beach had to resume pension-fund payments at the rate of more than $30 million a year, 25 percent of which is caused by enrichment of employees' pension benefits.

At some point, voters will either have to wake up and elect more public officials like Orange County's Moorlach, or accept increased taxes or decreased services, or both.

That, plus the possibility of joining the ranks of Enron, WorldCom, San Diego and Orange County, are more than enough of a wake-up call.

U.S. Mayors Abide by Kyoto Treaty

U.S. Mayors Abide by Kyoto Treaty
Posted: 08.08.05
News Hour

In an unprecedented move for local officials, over 100 mayors across the country have agreed to abide by the terms of an international environmental treaty that President Bush rejected....