If you spend useless hours in the supermarket aisle trying to decide what pasta sauce you would like to pour over your spaghetti tonight (they all taste like curdled brick powder anyway) or sit fretting in a restaurant chair trying to hide your shame behind the grease-spotted newspaper-sized menu, this article is for you, from our friends, The Guardian. Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Hell is 57 varieties
Hey, it has been a long time that I have blogged Seymour Hersh. But, yes, he is alive and kickin' albeit from the other side of the pond. This good piece is from the Guardian.
The Guardian also, commenting on the Galloway (you remember him, the UK politician accused of having profited from the oil for food program in Iraq?) deposition in the Senate, depicts him as an underdog maverick on a mission to show up the pompousness and hollowness of American politicians and journalists. In an unquoted (by both the Washington Post and The New York Times) he states to have met Saddam Hussein about as often as Donald Rumsfeld, who also sold him arms.
replyGuardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | The unknown unknowns of the Abu Ghraib scandal
￼ ￼ OP-ED COLUMNIST The Young and the Jobless By BOB HERBERT Published: May 12, 2005 There were high fives at the White House last week when the latest monthly employment report showed that 274,000 jobs had been created in April, substantially more than experts had predicted. The employment bar has been set so low for the Bush administration that even a modest gain is cause for celebration. But we shouldn't be blinded by the flash of last Saturday's headlines. American workers, especially younger workers, remain stuck in a gloomy employment landscape. For example, a recent report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston tells us that the employment rate for the nation's teenagers in the first 11 months of 2004 - just 36.3 percent - was the lowest it has ever been since the federal government began tracking teenage employment in 1948. Those 20 to 24 years old are also faring poorly. In 2000, 72.2 percent were employed during a typical month. By last year that percentage had dropped to 67.9 percent. Even the recent modest surge in jobs has essentially bypassed young American workers. Gains among recently arrived immigrants seem to have accounted for the entire net increase in jobs from 2000 through 2004. Over all, only workers 55 and up have done reasonably well over the past few years. "Younger workers," said Andrew Sum, the center's director, "have just been crushed." Whatever the politicians and the business-booster types may be saying, the simple truth is that there are not nearly enough jobs available for the many millions of out-of-work or underworked men and women who need them. The wages of those who are employed are not even keeping up with inflation. Workers have been so cowed by an environment in which they are so obviously dispensable that they have been afraid to ask for the raises they deserve, or for their share of the money derived from the remarkable increases in worker productivity over the past few years. And from one coast to the other, workers have swallowed draconian cuts in benefits with scarcely a whimper. Some segments of the population have been all but completely frozen out. In Chicago, only one of every 10 black teenagers found employment in 2004. In Illinois, fewer than one in every three teenage high school dropouts are working. Last month's increase of 274,000 jobs was barely enough to keep up with the increase in the nation's working-age population. "The economy is growing and real output is up," said Mr. Sum, who is also a professor at Northeastern. "But the distribution of income, in terms of how much is going to workers - well, the answer is very little has gone to the typical worker." The squeeze on the younger generation of workers is so tight that in many cases the young men and women of today are faring less well than their parents' generation did at a similar age. Professor Sum has been comparing the standard of living of contemporary families with that of comparable families three decades ago. "Two-thirds of this generation are not living up to their parents' standard of living," he said. College graduates today are doing better in real economic terms than college graduates in the 1970's. But everyone else is doing less well. "If you look at families headed by someone without a college degree," said Professor Sum, "their income last year in real terms was below that of a comparable family in 1973. For dropouts it's like 25 percent below where it was. And for high school grads, about 15 to 20 percent below." It shouldn't be surprising that the standard of living of large segments of the population is sinking when employers have all the clout, including the powerful and unwavering support of the federal government. Workers can't even get a modest increase in the national minimum wage. Globalization was supposed to be great for everyone. Nafta was supposed to be a boon. Increased productivity was supposed to be the ultimate tool - the sine qua non - for raising the standard of living for all. Instead, wealth and power in the United States has become ever more dangerously concentrated, leaving an entire generation of essentially powerless workers largely at the mercy of employers. A remark by Louis Brandeis comes to mind: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can't have both." E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
"I Want My Safety Net" Why so many Americans aren't buying into Bush's Ownership Society
George Silli, a 66-year-old waiter from suburban Philadelphia, had a brush with President Bush's Ownership Society, and it was an experience he'll not soon forget. Silli's psyche and his wallet still bear the scorch marks of the 2000 market meltdown. He saw the value of his mutual funds drop by 60% and is convinced that opening Social Security to individual investing would produce similar results on a massive scale. ``If people are left to their own devices, we'll become top-heavy with poor people,'' Silli says.
A political independent, Silli has learned enough about the market to be pessimistic about a small fry's chances. He not only wants to leave Social Security alone but also thinks politicians should expand entitlements by mandating near-universal health insurance as a shield against soaring medical bills.
Although Silli may not know it, he has plenty of company from all walks of American life. He's part of a diverse group that includes the pathologically risk-averse and those who are willing to take the Ownership Society for a spin -- as long as it's equipped with air bags.
April Tsirigotis, a 30-year-old Republican and an information technology executive from Lusby, Md., is a big fan of the President and applauds his efforts to solve Social Security's fiscal woes. But, says Tsirigotis, the divorced mother of a 7-year-old, ``I disagree with the idea of giving people private accounts in which their annual returns and their eventual benefits would be based on the stock market. It's too risky. No one knows how much will be there in the end.''
While many members of Safety Net Nation have nothing against investing and choice, they're worried that the country's web of public and private social protections is fraying. They believe in more, not fewer, safeguards against downward mobility in a world that's already pulsing with economic uncertainty. Safety Netters include plenty of card-carrying Republicans and independent swing voters, and the group may represent a broader swath of America than the White House imagines.
A Sept. 2-5, 2004, survey by the Civil Society Institute, a Newton Centre (Mass.) nonprofit group, found 67% of Americans think it's a good idea to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting. Support for a government-directed universal insurance system is strong, despite GOP warnings about socialized medicine. Similarly, a Feb. 3-5 Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 47% of respondents believe the government ought to guarantee a minimum standard of living for retirees, vs. 35% who felt that was an individual's responsibility.
The most predictable members of Safety Net Nation are liberals who favor activist government. The really crucial bloc, however, is made up of those who backed Bush in 2004. They still approve of his overall job performance but have soured on Wall Street and dislike the President's approach to Social Security. This faction -- estimates range from 17% to 22% of the electorate -- rejects both traditional liberalism and conservative laissez-faire. In an era of rampant job insecurity, when employer-provided pensions and health coverage can no longer be taken for granted, they want a middle-class security blanket that gives them protection as they build wealth.
Stretched Thin Safety netters' fear of social unraveling comes amid some disquieting trends. Big swings in family income, according to studies by Yale University political scientist Jacob S. Hacker, have increased markedly over the past two decades as the finances of two-earner households have been stretched thin. Even houses -- most Americans' entrée to the Ownership Society -- are increasingly in hock: In the past 15 years, mortgage and home-equity borrowing has risen from 35.1% of home values to 43.9%. That has made families, especially those with unskilled workers, more vulnerable to a catastrophic jolt such as job loss or serious illness. Personal bankruptcies increased fivefold from 1980 to 2002, with many filers citing a layoff or medical emergency as the tipping point.
As income volatility has grown, government -- prodded by free-market Republicans out to reverse the New Deal -- has been offloading ever more responsibility onto individuals. The financial pressure has become much more acute because of another squeeze occurring in the private sector. Corporations vying to compete globally have steadily shifted costs and responsibility for pensions and health care to their employees as part of the restructuring wave that began in the 1970s.
The Sellathon That Didn't Conservatives see disentitlement as a recognition of new economic realities -- and the death rattle of the Nanny State. But skeptics, among them prominent New Democratic thinkers, counter that America's safety net can be both modern and market-based without piling still more financial burdens onto the stooped shoulders of Joe and Jane Average.
Because social engineering through tax breaks, preferential loan and savings plans, and other indirect subsidies favors those with good jobs and income to invest, New Democrats advocate policies that tilt savings incentives toward lower-income Americans. They include universal 401(k)s, compulsory savings plans set up for kids, and mandated social insurance -- a subsidized rainy-day fund for financial emergencies. Hacker is working on ``a kind of catastrophic insurance plan that could be administered by the private sector but heavily regulated by the government.'' Employers would be required to match employee contributions to the new financial umbrella. The price tag, he concedes, ``would not be trivial'' -- meaning a multibillion-dollar commitment.
Conservatives dismiss such proposals as security pie-in-the-sky. But they've got their own problems in the here and now trying to generate momentum for personal accounts and other becalmed elements of the Bush ownership initiative.
The centerpiece is an audacious bid to ``modernize'' the government's retirement system by letting workers divert part of their payroll taxes into stocks and bonds. On the road, Bush tells audiences he's selling a retirement iPod -- sleek, shiny, and designed for the Digital Age -- while Democrats cling to a system as retro as an LP record. Besides, he says, the downside of personal accounts will be limited. Those who opt in will have a carefully chosen range of investment options, selections modeled on conservative fund choices found on 401(k) menus.
Trouble is, the President, in his guise as Salesman-in-Chief, may have done too good a job raising alarms about Social Security's imminent implosion. ``Bush said, 'We're going to have a crisis,' and offered private accounts as part of the solution,'' says James K. Glassman, an American Enterprise Institute scholar. ``But the two things are really separate, and the President was never able to make a connection between them.'' What's more, the crisis-mongering only served to heighten anxiety among the risk-averse cohort.
Bush made an overture to critics on Apr. 28 when he offered to protect payouts for the poor. His idea: preserve the current benefit structure for the bottom third of wage earners while progressively reducing guaranteed payments for those up the income scale. The result is a means-tested version of Social Security. But despite such gambits, the President has little to show for a 60-day national sellathon that took him to 23 states. If Congress enacts Social Security reform this year, it could be a far cry from reformers' dreams of big private accounts carved out of payroll taxes. ``Bush will come out of this with something, some change or other that allows him to say he moved the ball,'' predicts pollster John Zogby. ``But it won't be what he wanted.''
Down on Wall Street Objectively, this is not a bad time to be raising the issue of reform. Baby boomers are about to retire en masse and on paper, family balance sheets have improved. Americans' household wealth has floated upward of late, propelled by recovering stock valuations and soaring real estate values. Moreover, real wages for the civilian workforce have grown 8% in the past decade after a long stretch when they fell. And the family poverty rate, tallied at 10% in 2003, has improved from the 13.9% numbers recorded four decades earlier.
Still, what private-account backers seem to have misjudged is the public's current jaundiced view of Wall Street and investing risk. America, unlike most other advanced nations, has a dual welfare system. There are direct government-transfer payments to the poor and elderly -- programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. But there is also a huge set of private-sector protections for workers, largely underwritten by employers -- items such as subsidized life insurance, disability coverage, and help with day care. Plus, powerful groups in society snare subsidies in the form of preferential loans offered to farmers, disaster relief, tax-deductible flood insurance for beachfront property owners, and a fistful of tax breaks for small businesspeople.
While federal spending on the safety net for the poor has grown briskly, it hasn't kept pace with society's needs. Medicare is straining to cover seniors' bills, and some states are downsizing Medicaid programs. In 1996, strict time limits were put on welfare dependency, a step that slashed the rolls by half. Meantime, huge holes have been ripped in the private safety net as the cost shift to workers has accelerated.
The result is riskophobia. ``With a far greater portion of family budgets devoted to the mortgage, car payment, and health insurance, a transitory shock to wages becomes much more menacing,'' says Raj Chetty, a University of California at Berkeley economics professor who studies risk. ``Equities are seen as risky, and if people aren't jumping for the investment option [as part of Social Security reform], there's a reason. Risk in general has become a much more pervasive issue.''
In January, 2000, before the dot-com bubble burst, 67% of Americans said that if they had $1,000 to spare, investing it in stock would be a good idea, according to the Gallup Poll. By April, 2005, that percentage had fallen to 45%, with 51% saying the stock market would be a bad choice. Among the groups whose faith in the market dipped most are three key Bush constituencies: baby boomers, college grads, and suburbanites.
Chasing Gushers To George W. Bush, a Texan who revels in the myth of the wildcatter, running risks in pursuit of the big gusher is a quintessential part of the American character. But as the scion of an aristocratic Eastern dynasty, the budding young tycoon always had a network of family friends and relations to call on. Those golden connections bailed George W. out of his early forays into the oil business.
The not-as-well-fixed Net Setters want some bedrock guarantees in turbulent times, too. Private Social Security accounts? Sure, in addition to core benefits. Portable medical savings accounts? Fine, but not as a replacement for employer-provided health insurance. ``They want the Ownership Society -- but they want it with a warranty,'' says Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who has introduced legislation to expand tax credits for lower-tier families and to make college savings easier.
According to a BusinessWeek analysis of data compiled by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, at the core of Safety Net Nation are white men. You read that right. These are the same white-male swing voters who have been trending strongly Republican in recent Presidential contests. They tend to be socially conservative and patriotic. They have average incomes and are slightly less educated than the citizenry as a whole.
The Safety Netters are not monolithic, however. They include aging men who are suspicious of Big Government and Big Business and who view private accounts as a giveaway to Wall Street and a gamble for their children and grandchildren. There are suburban Security Moms -- convinced by Bush that Uncle Sam should aggressively protect them from terrorists and cultural pollution -- who worry that the President is making retirement dicier. And there are the burned investors of the Baby Boom generation, who want some government safeguards from the serrated edge of globalism -- from corporate downsizing to vaporware pensions and rampant outsourcing.
Bush über-strategist Karl Rove, who commands the White House's Social Security war room, sees personal accounts as vital to shifting the allegiance of younger voters to the GOP. But there's a glitch in Rove's machine: Polls show that, rather than flocking to Bush over Social Security, the under-40s are growing skeptical of his approach.
Among those resisting a Bush move to pare middle-class entitlements are thirtysomethings who feel squeezed between saving for their kids' college education and taking care of retired or soon-to-retire parents. Then there are disillusioned techies who once wanted government to get out of the way and let them get rich by age 30 but who now favor a federal role in shielding them from the excesses of capitalism.
Put these pieces of the electorate together, and you have the makings of a political boulder that stands between Bush and his shining city on Ownership Hill. ``We are now living in the Security Society,'' says independent pollster Thomas H. Riehle. ``People say, 'Protect me.'''
If the President can't win over some of these skeptics, GOP knees will continue to buckle on Capitol Hill. More important, other elements of his agenda, from new savings plans to personal health-care accounts, could be imperiled by the flight to safety. ``If Social Security reform stalls, blood will be in the water,'' warns Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. ``Democrats fighting for what I prefer to call the Dependency Society will be emboldened to oppose all of Bush's ownership agenda.''
To complicate the President's push for private accounts, the performance of stocks in what was supposed to be a sprightly spring has led to more skepticism. In April, the Dow Jones industrial average hit a new low for the year on stagflation worries, and the major indexes gave up most of their '05 gains as investors fled from risk.
``Bush's timing is not good,'' notes Eva Bertram, a political scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. ``The public is leery of becoming more dependent on the market, and there is great anxiety over employment prospects and stagnant incomes. Right now it's just very hard to give up the security offered by things like Social Security and traditional Medicare.''
Shifting the Risk Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg is more blunt. ``I never believed this Investor Class hype for a minute,'' he says. ``What happened is that Bush gave the nation an extended tutorial on risk, and that came on top of growing awareness of the risk shift from private institutions to individuals'' as both traditional pensions and 401(k)s fell short of offering true security. The result, Greenberg's data show, ``is a collapse in support for Social Security reform.''
What the White House proposes, in fairness, is not a complete swap of a public retirement supplement for a private one. Bush says that letting workers voluntarily set aside a chunk of their payroll taxes -- say, 4 points of the 12.4% tax -- in conservative investment options will let retirees reap a richer reward than the government system's puny 2% return. But if guaranteed benefits are slashed for the middle class and above, more Americans will be drawn into private accounts to make up the difference, changing the nature of Social Security. ``The plan does have a guarantee in it in the form of the core benefit,'' says Kent Smetters, a Wharton School associate professor and former Bush Treasury official. ``Since it's only partial privatization, Bush needs to play up the safety net angle.''
The model for private accounts is the 401(k) system of workplace savings. But critics claim Bush is overselling the ability of such self-directed plans to build a nest egg. Former Clinton economist Alicia H. Munnell, director of Boston College's Center for Retirement Research and an expert on 401(k)s, says the numbers don't bode well for Social Security.
Skimpy Savings Munnell's research shows that 26% of eligible people never opt in to 401(k)s, fewer than half of the participants take the advice of financial planners and diversify their holdings between stocks and bonds, and 55% cash out their savings when they change jobs -- which is frequently. Models project that a median-wage worker contributing 6% of pay, plus a 3% employer match, should have about $300,000 in his 401(k) as he approaches retirement. The actual figure: $42,000.
``People have not done a very good job with 401(k)s, and it weighs on them,'' Munnell says. ``I don't see any sign that they're dying to take on still more of this kind of responsibility. The Social Security debate may be testing the limit of the swing to individualism we have seen for the last 20 to 30 years.''
To the counter-reformers who believe Bush is misguided in his ownership strategy, the question is not whether to kill off market-based measures that aim to increase family savings or health-care security. It's how to use markets and choice in a more effective way.
Democrats would keep core Social Security intact but are willing to augment it with an add-on investment option. ``If the President says individual accounts would be separate from Social Security and was willing to make the financing of reform progressive, he could get Democrats to sit down, and [he would] have a shot,'' says Gene Sperling of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank. ``If he wants to start down the slippery slope toward privatization, why should we work toward goals that are the antithesis of what Democrats believe in?''
Other Dems are more forgiving. ``The President has the right idea to strive and make more people own more of America,'' says Ray Boshara, director of the asset-building program at the New America Foundation (NAF), a centrist think tank. ``Owners are better citizens. But we need to preserve the safety net while helping people build wealth.''
The NAF is pushing two pet ideas: a tax-favored savings account for every child, seeded with a $500 grant at birth and with government subsidies for low-income kids, and an option for taxpayers to direct the IRS to channel part of their tax refunds into savings accounts. If savings can be made automatic, backers claim, taxpayers are less likely to spend refunds.
An Elemental Struggle The ``kid-save'' idea is no pipe dream. An early fan was former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, and conservatives such as Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) are mulling legislation to create the accounts. Projected cost over 10 years: $38 billion.
Yale political scientist Hacker and economist Peter R. Orszag of the Brookings Institution are thinking on a larger scale. Hacker's plan for a universal family savings account is being fleshed out and is scheduled to be unveiled in August. ``You have to provide workers with a basic form of protection that follows them from job to job and covers big risks,'' Hacker says. Universal insurance would be regulated by the government, and employers would have to kick in mandated matching payments. But administration of accounts would be left to the private sector.
Not so long ago, Republican economists would have been delighted to hear political rivals floating ideas for boosting savings and shoring up Social Security's solvency. But in today's hyper-partisan climate, the fight over the ownership agenda has taken on a larger dimension. Bush wants to wind down dependence on the bureaucratic welfare state. Democrats want to revalidate government by weaving costly new safety nets for workers. It's an elemental struggle, but one in which outcomes can be perverse.
In 2003, for instance, the White House set out to revamp Medicare by putting a lid on runaway costs of the huge entitlement program for seniors. GOP lawmakers, though, feared they would be hammered over the issue in the '04 election, so tough cost controls went out the window. What Bush wound up signing into law still has many conservatives seething: a $1.3 trillion expansion of entitlements in the form of a new Medicare prescription-drug benefit. It was hardly the monument he envisioned. But it was a testament to the raw power of Safety Net Nation, which -- for now -- seems to be just saying no to more financial risk.
￼ By Lee Walczak and Richard S. Dunham, with Mike McNamee in Washington and Ann Therese Palmer in Chicago
Thursday, May 12, 2005 Posted: 2:49 AM EDT (0649 GMT) ￼ WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Eighty-nine Democratic members of the U.S. Congress last week sent President George W. Bush a letter asking for explanation of a secret British memo that said "intelligence and facts were being fixed" to support the Iraq war in mid-2002. The timing of the memo was well before the president brought the issue to Congress for approval. The Times of London newspaper published the memo -- actually minutes of a high-level meeting on Iraq held July 23, 2002 -- on May 1.
British officials did not dispute the document's authenticity, and Michael Boyce, then Britain's Chief of Defense Staff, told the paper that Britain had not then made a decision to follow the United States to war, but it would have been "irresponsible" not to prepare for the possibility. The White House has not yet responded to queries about the congressional letter, which was released on May 6. The letter, initiated by Rep. John Conyers, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the memo "raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own administration..." "While various individuals have asserted this to be the case before, including Paul O'Neill, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council official, they have been previously dismissed by your administration," the letter said. But, the letter said, when the document was leaked Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman called it "nothing new." In addition to Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, MI6 chief Richard Dearlove and others attended the meeting. A British official identified as "C" said that he had returned from a meeting in Washington and that "military action was now seen as inevitable" by U.S. officials. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. "The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action." The memo further discussed the military options under consideration by the United States, along with Britain's possible role. It quoted Hoon as saying the United States had not finalized a timeline, but that it would likely begin "30 days before the U.S. congressional elections," culminating with the actual attack in January 2003. "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided," the memo said. "But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." The British officials determined to push for an ultimatum for Saddam to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq to "help with the legal justification for the use of force ... despite U.S. resistance." Britain's attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, advised the group that "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action" and two of three possible legal bases -- self-defense and humanitarian intervention -- could not be used. The third was a U.N. Security Council resolution, which Goldsmith said "would be difficult." Blair thought that "it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the U.N. inspectors." "If the political context were right, people would support regime change," the memo said. Later, the memo said, Blair would work to convince Bush that they should pursue the ultimatum with Saddam even though "many in the U.S. did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route."
National Briefing | Washington: About Those Weapons
George J. Tenet, former director of central intelligence, said he regretted assuring President Bush in 2002 that he had ''slam dunk'' evidence that Iraq had unconventional weapons. ''Those were the two dumbest words I ever said,'' Mr. Tenet told 1,300 people at a Kutztown University forum Wednesday in Kutztown, Pa. The theory was a leading justification for the war in Iraq. Such weapons were not found.
Günter Grass, the German novelist, reflects on the realities of the modern world in which Germany and us are immersed, and, incidentally, or not so incidentally, on the role of government. Are the economic pressures in the world really irresistible or are they only so portrayed by the now dominant ideology? Please note the contrast between the reconstruction of Germany "In the rebuilding phase businessmen were exemplary in investing every penny of profit into job creation.", and the present situation in East Germany where" West German industry and banks withheld the necessary investment and loans and, consequently, no jobs were created." He asks the decisive question :" As conscious democrats, we should freely resist the power of capital, which sees mankind as nothing more than something which consumes and produces."
The Gravest Generation - New York Times
Stephen Zunes writes: Amid the blare of the Bush Administration's alarms about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons capabilities, few remember that the United States, from the Eisenhower through the Carter presidencies, played a major role in the development of Iran's nuclear program. In 1957 the United States and Iran signed their first civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Over the next two decades, the United States not only provided Iran with technical assistance but supplied the country with its first experimental nuclear reactor, complete with enriched uranium and plutonium with fissile isotopes. Despite the refusal of the Shah to rule out the possibility of Iran's developing nuclear weapons, the Ford Administration in 1975 approved the sale of up to eight nuclear reactors with fuel to Iran and, in 1976, approved the sale of lasers believed to be capable of enriching uranium. The Washington Post reported that an initially hesitant President Ford was assured by his advisers that Iran was interested only in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Ford's Defense Secretary was Donald Rumsfeld, his Chief of Staff was Dick Cheney and his man in charge of nonproliferation efforts at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency was Paul Wolfowitz.
On Tuesday, April 25, Michael Moss' superb story about E Company of the First Marine Division, which during its six-month stay in Ramadi last year had more than one-third of its 185 troops either wounded or killed -- the highest casualty rate of any unit in Iraq -- was on the front page of The New York Times. It is a story about the extraordinary courage of the young Marines of E Company, both enlisted and officers, and about the cowardly callousness of this nation's civilian and military leadership.
The Marines of E Company were assigned the task by their superiors of rooting out one of Iraq's most determined insurgencies. They endured 26 firefights, 90 mortar attacks and more than 90 homemade bombs. The Marines were sent on this deadly mission into the jaws of Hell in unarmored Humvees. U.S. defense spending for this year is already $ 501 billion -- which is more than the total spent by the next 25 countries of the world -- and American heroes in Iraq are forced to scrounge for scrap metal to make more safe the unarmored vehicles that carry them into combat.
Even though Moss' story about E Company was on the front page of what is called the nation's most influential newspaper, as of this writing, there has not been one word spoken by any of the 535 members of Congress in public debate expressing outrage, demanding answers from the secretary of defense, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the man in the White House. If any of the syndicated talk-show hosts who endorsed the invasion of Iraq has even mentioned the tragic subject, I have missed it.
Ten times in the last year alone, the Pentagon has changed its orders for Humvees. Here we are in the third year of the war, spending a half a trillion dollars on national defense, and American soldiers and Marines face enemy machine guns, bombs and, yes, death in unarmed vehicles. Doesn't that make you angry?
To compound the betrayal of the men of E Company who have risked their careers by publicly speaking about the cobbled-together armor that did not save their comrades, Capt. Kelly D. Royer, the company commander, is paying the price for his candor about his men's safety. His fitness report of May 31, 2004, concluded, "He has single-handedly reshaped a company in sore need of a leader; succeeded in forming a cohesive fighting force that is battle-tested and worthy." But after confronting the brass about the shortages threatening his men, Royer's superiors found him to be "dictatorial," with "no morale or motivation in his Marines." To put it bluntly, Royer is almost surely being railroaded out of the Marine Corps he has served so bravely. Why is there no outrage?
Where is the anger of all those stateside patriots with their "Support Our Troops" decals on their SUVs and Old Glory pins on their tailored lapels? Are they too busy fighting for the preservation of their share of the wartime tax-cuts? Does any of them really give a damn whose brother, whose father, whose husband, whose son because of negligent lack of protection will be next to die?
Lance Cpl. Rafael Reynosa from Santa Ana, Calif., whose wife was expecting twins and PFC. Cody S. Calavan, 19, from Lake Stevens, Wis., both of E Company, were killed last May 29 in an unarmored Humvee on a highway in Ramadi by explosives. Their families were not famous. They were not Rangers or Pioneers, did not make "soft money" contributions or "summer" in Kennebunkport or Nantucket. They were American heroes, and their lives mattered to those they loved -- and their lives ought to matter to the leaders and people of the nation for which they gave them.
Our outrage -- or the continued lack thereof -- will tell us all we need to know about who we really are and what we truly value.
To find out more about Mark Shields, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
Let us say that I have been around the block a few times. So I have learned that I don't know much, and that I think that I am smarter than I really am. But I would like you to hear about my take on the world, on my original country, this country, this campaign, myself, my life, your life and how I believe that you should live it.