Friday, August 31, 2007

First suicide at Burning Man; friends thought it was performance

"His friends thought he was doing an art piece," he said.

For the first time in 21 years of Burning Man, a Burner has committed suicide, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

A man was found hanging inside a two-story-high tent this morning, said the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the festival on the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. The man's identity has not been released pending notification of his family.

He dangled for two hours before anyone in the big tent thought to bring him down, said Mark Pirtle, special agent in charge.

"His friends thought he was doing an art piece," he said.

So far, an estimated 36,000 people have arrived at the gathering, with 46,000 expected by the time things end Saturday with the burning of a 40-foot-tall wooden man. Earlier this week, a participant set the structure ablaze and was charged with arson. Burning Man organizers say the man will be rebuilt in time for the official burn.

(Photo of workers assessing arson damage to "the Man" by Brad Horn of the Nevada Appeal, via AP)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Special Report: WashPo and Time Help ABC Bury Treatment of Kucinich

Following last Sunday's Democratic presidential debate on ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Dennis Kucinich's campaign asked ABC News to address issues it had with treatment Rep. Kucinich (D-Ohio) received both during the debate and afterward in ABC's online coverage. In an email sent out to supporters on Wednesday, the campaign said it "submitted objections and inquiries to ABC News representatives on Monday and Tuesday. ABC News representatives have failed to respond - or even acknowledge - those objections and inquiries." I confirmed with the Kucinich campaign yesterday that it has subsequently been forwarded the same response ABC News Executive Director Andrea Jones sent to The Washington Post and Time magazine.

ABC News representatives felt it necessary to answer the Kucinich campaign's objections when Time magazine's National Political Correspondent Karen Tumulty queried them. Writing on the Time blog Swampland, Tumulty initially says of the Kucinich team's issues with ABC's treatment (which included Kucinich not having a chance to speak until 28 minutes into the debate), "These all seemed like fair complaints to me, so I asked ABC News to respond." Then Tumulty says, "In an e-mail, Executive Director Andrea Jones answered him [Kucinich] point by point."

While I give Tumulty credit for contacting ABC News, her investigative journalism unfortunately ends there. Once she receives the email from Jones, Tumulty slips into stenography mode. Jones' "point by point" response to the Kucinich campaign's complaints does not in itself exculpate or dispel any of ABC's wrongdoing. Tumulty fails to assess the accuracy and logic of Jones' answers.

First, just so we're all up to speed, here are the issues (an aggregate of the thousands of complaints received during and after ABC's debate coverage) that the Kucinich campaign asked ABC News to address:

* Congressman Kucinich was apparently deliberately cropped out of a "Politics Page" photo of the candidates.

* Sometime Monday afternoon, after Congressman Kucinich took a commanding lead in ABC's own on-line "Who won the Democratic debate" survey, the survey was dropped from prominence on the website.

* ABC News has not officially reported the results of its online survey.

* After the results of that survey showed Congressman Kucinich winning handily, ABC News, sometime Monday afternoon, replaced the original survey with a second survey asking "Who is winning the Democratic debate?"

* During the early voting Monday afternoon and evening, U.S. Senator Barack Obama was in the lead. By sometime late Monday or early Tuesday morning, Congressman Kucinich regained the lead by a wide margin in this second survey.

* Sometime Tuesday morning, ABC News apparently dropped the second survey from prominence or killed it entirely.

* AND, as every viewer of the nationally televised Sunday Presidential forum is aware, Congressman Kucinich was not given an opportunity to answer a question from moderator George Stephanopoulos until 28 minutes into the program.

Now back to Tumulty commenting on Jones' response [emphasis below is mine]:

This gist of her answer is this: She denies that Kucinich was cropped out of any photo, noting that "there are 20 photos live on the ABC News website, Mr. Kucinich is in a number of them and there is even one of him and his wife. He is one of 6 candidates who got his own photo in the slide show. As for the images, clearly nothing was cropped, the image in question was shot by Charlie Neibergall of the AP not ABC."

FALSE. Had Tumulty - Time magazine's National Political Correspondent and former member of the White House press corps - simply located the original AP photo (which, at most, should've taken a few minutes online), she would've found Kucinich in it and realized the following version ABC News prominently displayed online after the debate had, indeed, been cropped:

Abc_website_2 So Jones either lied when she said "clearly nothing was cropped" or was misinformed by someone on her staff. Since Tumulty seems to think her job ends with receiving answers from an ABC News spokesperson, she doesn't question the veracity of Jones' assertion, which is clearly false.

Adding to its duplicity, ABC News has now completely replaced the original photograph in question. If you click on the link in Tumulty's post (which is supposed to bring you to that photo), you are now taken to a wholly different shot that includes Dennis Kucinich and is currently the default debate photo sitting on the ABC News website.

So, in case your keeping score, first ABC disappears Kucinich from a photo by cropping him out, then denies it, then later disappears the original cropped photo, replacing it with a separate photo that includes Kucinich, making it appear as if nothing improper ever occurred.

Eat your heart out Fox News.

Tumulty does later post an update after she manages (she doesn't say how) to find her way to a page on the site Pinkraygun that shows the original AP photo and the doctored ABC photo side-by-side. This compels Tumulty to gingerly concede "there does in fact appear to have been some cropping." First, it was either cropped or it wasn't. "Some cropping" gives the impression a whole cropping didn't occur, which it did. Second, if there was "some cropping," then logic follows that Jones either did some lying or some misinforming. That, in turn, means Tumulty should be doing some follow up with Jones. She does not. Third, a question for Tumulty and her editors over at Time: How did you fail to bring this simple fact to light yourselves? You had three main points to investigate - whether a photo was cropped, whether a poll was manipulated and whether Kucinich was allotted a fair amount of time. Arguably, the cropped photo was the most simple and quick of the three to verify. Did you attempt to find this on your own? If so, what's your excuse for initially failing to obtain such readily available evidence? If not, what's your excuse for failing to pursue this evidence in the first place?

On to the poll(s):

She notes that the poll was and is live on ABC's website. (When I checked it, Kucinich was still winning, with Barack Obama a distant second.) She also notes the poll's disclaimer that it is "not a scientific survey," which seems like a decent reason for ABC not to treat it as a news story.

MISLEADING. Jones' statement circumvents the facts and the original thrust of the Kucinich campaign's complaint about the poll. Tumulty's unobtrusive reporting gives the impression the poll has always been up on ABC's site in clear view and at no time were changes made to it.

FACT: The original poll, prominently displayed, asked, "Who won the Democratic debate?" Once Kucinich jumped ahead, this poll was scuttled from its prominence on the site. As it became clear Kucinich was trouncing his competition, ABC just happened to decide to post a new poll asking, "Who is winning the Democratic debate?" As the Kucinich campaign (and Tumulty) correctly cited, Barack Obama had an early lead in this second poll; but when Kucinich pulled ahead by a wide margin, ABC then dropped this poll from prominence, too. (Because the Kucinich camp had difficulty finding the poll after ABC moved it, they questioned whether ABC may have buried the poll "or killed it entirely." It appears ABC didn't kill it entirely; they just made it difficult for users work to find - which, as anyone who knows anything about online usability, is nearly tantamount to killing it).

Though of lesser importantance (due to the current unverifiable nature of online polls), Tumulty still manages to mishandle Jones' explanation of why ABC News didn't report the poll results. This issue is about nuance and context. Not exactly Tumulty's and the mainstream media's forte.

Yes, the online poll is "not a scientific survey"* (incidentally, it's verboten to mention in the mainstream media that phone surveys, many of which include leading and misleading questions, are often far from scientific accountings as well). But since news outlets (possibly ABC among them) have certainly noted some online polls in the past but in context of their scientific shortcomings, and considering ABC's shenanigans concerning Kucinich, it seems either intellectually dishonest or misinformed for Tumulty to give Jones the free pass "which seems like a decent reason for ABC not to treat it as a news story."

Does Tumulty honestly believe it's "a decent reason"? Or does she merely believe it's decent enough because the target of the question is ABC News and the questioner is the not-so-"viable" candidate Kucinich?

I should note here that Tumulty frames her post with the opening line: "Should the networks and interest groups that have been sponsoring the seemingly endless series of debates and candidate forums start limiting their invitations to those contenders who seem, by whatever definition, 'viable'?" She then claims to like "the idea of including candidates from the second tier--and beyond--in these settings," saying, "You never know when lightning may strike, and how is an underfinanced long-shot going to get a breakout moment otherwise?" and that "candidates such as Dennis Kucinich often are the only ones giving voice to ideas--like single-payer health care and a quick withdrawal from Iraq--that have not been embraced by the leading candidates, despite having significant support among the party rank and file." Yet Tumulty seems incapable of embracing such basic tenets of a democratic political process; instead, she reverts to entrenched media establishment dogma to round out her post's frame: "Still, having decided to include them, should they be given the same amount of time and attention as the leaders in the race?"

This is the journalist we're going to trust to get to the bottom of whether ABC News treated Dennis Kucinich fairly?

Finally, there's ABC's defense of Kucinich receiving so little airtime during the debate and, once again, Tumulty's stenographic framing and conclusions [emphasis below is mine]:

As for Kucinich's complaint that he was not given a question in the first 28 minutes of the debate, Jones notes: "He may not have been addressed in the first 28 minutes, but he was the only candidate questioned in his own segment on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, two weeks in a row, that appearance is posted online as well. Also. Mr. Kucinich was the only candidate to address healthcare in Sunday's debate, and that response was immediately clipped and posted on the ABC News website." Her bottom line: "After back to back appearances on ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos, clearly their claim is not substantiated by the facts nor by the extensive coverage of his candidacy on the website."

First, Jones' "bottom line" skirts the issue at hand: she concedes ABC's debate moderators failed to address Kucinich in the first 28 minutes of the forum (though she frames her concession with the words "he may not have been addressed" rather than "he wasn't addressed," incorporating shades of doubt, as if this were somehow open to interpretation), but claims that ABC News has provided Kucinich much airtime overall.

Yet here's the real bottom line: In any equitable debate, no candidate should have to remain silent for the first 28 minutes. Period. This is not only unfair to Congressman Kucinich, but to all American citizens for whom news outlets such as ABC are supposed to be informing their decision-making process instead of acting to unduly manipulate it.

What's more, Jones' claim that Kucinich "was the only candidate questioned in his own segment on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, two weeks in a row" and that he had "back to back appearances" on this program is blatantly misleading. (I must admit this one initially slipped by me until, while fact-checking another element of this story, I stumbled across the truth in a conversation I had yesterday with Kucinich campaign spokesman Andy Juniewicz. More on that below).

FACT: Kucinich has made one appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Jones has the audacity to count Kucinich's appearance at this ABC debate as his second appearance on the show in which - breathing even new life into the word "truthiness" - he's received "his own segment." Can Jones explain how a candidate receives his own segment during a debate? What in the world is she talking about?

Moreover, in a statistical analysis of the debate performed by USA Election Polls, Kucinich was given less time to speak than any candidate with the exception of former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. Yet it gets worse: in the critical first half of the debate (the time when viewers tend to be most engaged), Kucinich received just 3.4% of airtime, the least of all the candidates. To put that in context, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama combined to chew up 60.4% of airtime during the first half of the debate.

USA Election Polls also points out:

In fact, even Chris Dodd got more air time than Kucinich which is ridiculous because Kucinich is beating Dodd in the majority of state polls. So if the emphasis was on giving the most time to the leaders in the polls, then what was Dodd doing speaking more than Kucinich?

Nevertheless, Tumulty and Time magazine show no interest in such further incontrovertible proof of the unfair treatment to which ABC News subjected Congressman Kucinich. Instead, Tumulty follows up Jones' "bottom line" by closing her post with these thoughts:

I honestly don't know what the right balance is here when you are dealing with such a large field of candidates, most of whom don't have a prayer of winning. What do you think? Was Kucinich treated unfairly? Or should he be included at all?*

*Not a scientific survey.

Cute. But parting shot at the Kucinich campaign aside, shouldn't Tumulty and Time magazine provide the facts in a piece titled "Dennis Kucinich vs. ABC News"? Instead, we're presented with a slanted, inaccurate, misleading and ill-researched breakdown of events that ends with Tumulty floating the question of whether Kucinich should be allowed to attend these debates in the first place.

And sadly, thanks to The Washington Post, that wasn't the worst coverage of the Kucinich-ABC incident by a major news outlet.

In a post titled "Kucinich Mad at ABC" over at The Washington Post blog The Sleuth (oh the irony), journalist Mary Ann Akers (a former reporter for The Washington Times as well as NPR) doesn't try to hide her contempt for Kucinich while barreling ahead without concern for facts or fact-checking.

She opens her post:

Don't expect to see too many more appearances by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) on ABC News.

An apparently irate Kucinich sent out a letter to supporters Wednesday accusing the network of ignoring him in the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

So since Kucinich - along with, and spurred on by, thousands of other American citizens - objected to ABC's handling of the debate, should we expect, and accept, that ABC has a right to actively work to further marginalize him?

If that's Akers' frame, you can guess where this is going.

Also, because she fails to cite any source, we must assume her characterization of Kucinich as "apparently irate" hinges not on fact but projection. And as it turns out, that is exactly the case.

Yesterday, when I contacted Kucinich campaign spokesman Andy Juniewicz, he addressed Akers unfounded assertion:

"Congressman Kucinich was not irate. Nothing in the email communication expressed anger," said the soft-spoken Juniewicz. "It was just a delineation of what we were hearing from thousands of people who contacted us, many of whom weren't even Kucinich supporters. We asked ABC to respond to the questions they raised." When I asked if Akers or someone else at The Washington Post had spoken with anyone in his campaign about this purported demonstration of anger, Mr. Juniewicz said, "No. No one."

Note to Akers and The Washington Post: Before the Internets, there was the telephone. Some news outlets, though fewer and fewer these days, still find it handy for checking facts.

Moving right along, Akers then runs through roughly the same terrain on which Tumulty trodded, but her condescension and bias is profligate and shameless.

Among Kucinich's charges: he was "deliberately cropped out" of photos; after he took a "commanding lead" in ABC's online survey, the survey was mysteriously "dropped from prominence on the web site"; and "as every viewer of the nationally televised Sunday presidential forum is aware" Kucinich was not asked a question until 28 minutes into the program. (Everyone clocked that at 28 minutes, right?)

"Among Kucinich's charges" blunts the fact they've all been proven to be true (something Akers apparently has no interest in uncovering or presenting). Use of the word "mysteriously" not only mocks the assertion that the poll was buried but conjures the mainstream media's favorite attack on uncomfortable truths: it must be the work of those crazy conspiracy theorists (Akers also disregards the full story - previously addressed above in this post - behind ABC's bizarre and devious manipulation of the debate's polls). "Everyone clocked that at 28 minutes, right?" is not only disparaging but gives the ludicrous impression the Kucinich campaign is contending everyone noticed the precise number of minutes Kucinich had been shut out of the debate; rather, the campaign was noting a simple fact: everyone watching certainly saw that Kucinich didn't get a chance to speak for an usually long duration of time.

We deserve more than such absurd manufactured nitpicking from Akers and The Washington Post. Rather than chasing their tail to portray Kucinich in a poor light, think of how much easier it would've been to just present the facts. And to search them out.

But hey, according to Akers, "ABC News Executive Director Andrea Jones addressed every charge Kucinich made." Incredibly, Akers not only embraces Jones' answers without question, but also unwittingly contradicts Jones' claim that the photo in question was never cropped by providing the ABC debate photo below her post. In other words, the AP photo that ABC undeniably cropped is sitting below Akers' post in which she contends no cropping occurred. Again, all one needs to do is locate the original AP photo. And presto! Cropping mystery solved.

Again, too, Jones is either lying or misinformed, and Akers and The Washington Post (along with Tumulty and Time magazine) are complicit in perpetuating this falsehood.

Escaping Akers' notice or range of journalistic concern as well is ABC's wholesale swapping out of its cropped photo with an altogether new one in which Kucinich appears alongside the rest of the Democratic candidates. ABC News, in effect, has worked diligently to cover up this despicable act, one worthy of Fox News and Orwell's vision of totalitarian media manipulation.

In their coverage of the Kucinich-ABC incident, Time magazine's Tumulty and The Washington Post's Akers wind up crystallizing the extent to which big media rigs the game against a candidate like Congressman Kucinich. In defense of sound and equitable journalism, it is incumbent upon both Time magazine and The Washington Post to correct the record on ABC's actions, and the rest of the news media to hold ABC News accountable for this disgraceful performance.

No news organization - especially one charged with facilitating part of our electoral process - should be able to so grossly transgress such basic journalistic standards and not be held to account. This isn't a partisan issue. Congressman Kucinich's chances of capturing the Democratic nomination are irrelevant to this matter.

This speaks to the viability of our national press.

At a time when the mainstream media is struggling to retain and rebuild both its credibility and coveted market share among Americans, it ignores ABC's actions at its own peril.

My Death I meet a girl, Once whom I knew Could be Would be My death And I still followed her Everywhere Her scent intoxicated me, Her voice was spring, But I knew she was the sweetest poison But I followed her Everywhere Tiny hands, Perfect beauty I die when I see her In my mind And I know She’ll be My Death Alyce Crowley
Free Book of Alyce Crowley Poems

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Random Seth Quotes

"The instruments are useful only in measuring the level of reality in which they themselves exist." The Unknown Reality, Volume 1 Session 702, Page 195 [i.e. Scientific Instruments....] * "I do not know how to explain some of this, but in your terms there is light within darkness. Light has more manifestations than its physical version, so that even when it may not be physically manifested there is light everywhere, and that light is the source of your physical version and its physical laws." Dreams, Evolution and Value Fulfillment, Volume 1 Session 900, Page 230

Socialist Candidate on Two Tickets for President

Stewart A. Alexander for President Peace and Freedom Party Socialist Party USA August 28, 2007 During the month of April 2007, Stewart Alexander was the first candidate to announce that he would seek the nomination for president on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in California. Now Stewart Alexander is joining 10 other candidates to seek the nomination of the Socialist Party USA to become the next President of the United States. Peace and Freedom Party and Socialist Party USA represent working class people and share common goals. Both parties remain strongly opposed to the US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and are demanding an immediate withdrawal of all American and occupying forces from both countries. Stewart Alexander has made ending the Iraq War the number one issue of his campaign. Both parties are opposed to the continued funding of the Iraq war that has now claimed the lives of more than 3,732 Americans and more than 425 American lives in Afghanistan; a war that has devastated Iraq claiming the lives of more the one million Iraqis. All the candidates for Socialist Party USA and Peace and Freedom Party place ending the war as a top campaign issue. Alexander notes that Americans are opposed to Congress wasting billions to fund the Iraq War; however within the next few weeks Congress is preparing to give Bush another $145 billion to continue his war. The two parties are united in the belief that the Bush war on terrorism has actually been an assault on the American working class; to strip away their rights and freedoms. Stewart Alexander has repeatedly accused the Democrats and Republicans for giving President Bush their continued support in this assault against the working class. The Socialist Party USA and Peace and Freedom Party are strong advocates for immigrant rights and oppose the actions of the Bush Administration to deny immigrants their human rights. Stewart Alexander has adamantly opposed border walls and guest worker “slavery” programs. While running as a candidate for California Lieutenant Governor, in the 2006 Mid Term Elections, Alexander had proposed doubling the California minimum wage. Recently the Democratic controlled Congress increase the checks of the lowest paid workers by $2.10; however Alexander wants to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.25 per hour and index it to the cost of living. Across the nation voter dissatisfaction with the rising cost of health care is growing and the two corporate parties, the Democrats and Republicans, continue to back private insurance companies; giving the insurance industry control over the nation’s health care system. Alexander believes a single-payer, universal health care program, is necessary to make good health care available to everyone. Today the majority of Americans have lost confidence in the Democrats and Republicans; the 110th Congress has the lowest voter approval rating in the past 100 years. Alexander says, “Peace and Freedom Party and the Socialist Party USA are reaching out to 298 million people in the US that are without representation. The truth about America’s two party system has now been revealed; the two rights are wrong for America.” Most of the 11 candidates for president, for the two socialist parties, will appear on the ticket for both parties. The candidates have very little funds to spend on their campaigns compared to the presidential campaigns of the two big capitalist parties that are spending millions to promote their campaigns and are dominating the corporate media. Alexander says, “My campaign is about addressing human needs, not protecting the interests and profits of the wealthy few. My mission is to share the hope of socialism, and help working people learn that capitalism only benefits the rich. My family background and my own life of hard work have helped prepare me as a representative of the many who give, rather than the few who take.” For more information search the Web for: Stewart Alexander Enters Race for President; Stewart A. Alexander for President.

Avenging Angel, Inside Shelley’s Manichaean mind

by Adam Kirsch August 27, 2007

Shelley’s radical ideals were inseparable from a kind of moral arrogance.

Radicals In the summer of 1812, as the half million soldiers of the Grande Armée marched across Europe in Napoleon’s doomed Russian campaign, a nineteen-year-old in the Devonshire village of Lynmouth set out to change the history of Europe all on his own. Anyone strolling along the beach at Lynmouth that summer, around sunrise or sunset, might have caught him at his epochal work, which to the casual eye would have looked like a boy’s game. He knelt down by the water and launched toy boats, waterproofed with wax and equipped with masts made of sticks, into the Bristol Channel; he launched handmade hot-air balloons, their silk canopies inflating and floating away toward Wales and Ireland. To Percy Bysshe Shelley, however, these fragile devices were as dangerous to the established order as Napoleon’s grapeshot. Each one contained a copy of “A Declaration of Rights,” a manifesto that set out Shelley’s radical creed in thirty-one propositions. “Government has no rights,” he announced. “All have a right to an equal share in the benefits and burdens of government”; “A Christian, a Deist, a Turk, and a Jew, have equal rights.” It was Shelley’s version of the declarations that had launched the American and French Revolutions, and he saw no reason that his work—though the product of a single ardent mind, instead of a Congress or an Assembly—shouldn’t have equally momentous results. Weren’t poets, as he would write almost a decade later, the unacknowledged legislators of the world? The image of Shelley entrusting his words to the elements captures both the admirable and the questionable sides of his tumultuous career. Shelley’s certainty that his messages would reach their rightful audience, despite the odds, expresses his faith that justice is radiantly simple. He wrote the “Declaration” in the same spirit, sure that if the world could be made to see the truth, as clearly and passionately as he saw it, all selfishness would disappear. Like Jesus, whom he blasphemed, admired, and at times resembled, Shelley would take no thought for the morrow. He stood to lose personally from the social revolution he preached. As the son of a country squire, he was due to inherit an estate, a title, and a fortune; but he didn’t hesitate to renounce them all for the sake of his ideals. During his first year at Oxford, he published an essay, “The Necessity of Atheism,” and sent it to the university’s leading officials, practically begging to be expelled. When he was, to the horror of his well-meaning, conventional father, Shelley made things worse by eloping with a sixteen-year-old girl, Harriet Westbrook. Cut off by his family, he was reduced to scraping by on small loans, but he remained impulsively generous to friends, and even to strangers. Unlike the average radical, then, Shelley didn’t just challenge social taboos; he openly violated them, living his personal life in accordance with unpopular principles like equality, women’s rights, and free love. As a result, he became so reviled in England that he had to emigrate, spending the last four years of his life in Italy. Such unworldliness helps to explain why Shelley’s closest friends remembered him as a kind of saint or angel. To Thomas Hogg, whom he met at Oxford, “he was a pure spirit, in the Divine likeness of the Archangel Gabriel; the peace-breathing, lily-bearing Annunciator.” At the same time, there is something exasperating, or worse, about the idea of Shelley trying to change the world with toy balloons. Throughout his adulthood, he considered himself a serious radical—even claiming, “I consider poetry very subordinate to moral and political science”—whose purpose in life was to advance the cause of liberty in England and Europe. But he consistently displayed an indifference to reality which went deeper than his propaganda techniques. Shelley’s ineffectiveness as an agitator we could dismiss with a smile. But his political beliefs demonstrated the same contempt of consequence, the same elevation of pure motive over practical effects, the same lack of self-awareness. These qualities helped to make Shelley a genuinely illiberal thinker, whose politics verged at times on the totalitarian. Because his poetry is deeply political, it is impossible to separate Shelley’s abstract ideas from his sensuous, passionate poems. And because he believed, as much as any revolutionary of the nineteen-sixties, that the personal is political, it is equally hard to separate his art from his biography. That is why, during his lifetime and ever since, Shelley’s private life, his politics, and his poetry have presented readers with a single, inextricable problem. “And did you once see Shelley plain?” Robert Browning wrote; the line is famous because nobody ever has. “Being Shelley” (Pantheon; $30), by Ann Wroe, does not even try to see Shelley plain. Instead, as the title suggests, Wroe tries to see as Shelley saw—to inhabit his consciousness and capture its every movement. This is, as she frankly says, “an experiment,” and any reader who opens the book expecting a conventional biography is in for a surprise. While Wroe offers some basic biographical information and quotes copiously from Shelley’s writings, she does not tell a chronological story or analyze individual poems. Instead, like an alchemist at the cauldron, she volatilizes Shelley’s life and work into their basic elements: her book is divided into sections titled “Earth,” “Water,” “Air,” and “Fire.” The book is more an act of mediumship than a work of biography, and it depends for its success on the fineness of Wroe’s intuition and the intensity of her identification with her subject. Fortunately, Wroe seems to have Shelley’s entire life and work spread out before her in a mental map, allowing her to draw some unexpected connections. Shelley’s language is kneaded so deeply into her own that some familiarity with the poems is required to recognize all her allusions. “If others thought him ‘a blot,’ he was a bright one,” she writes, subtly quoting Shelley’s sonnet “Lift not the painted veil”: “through the unheeding many he did move, / A splendour among shadows, a bright blot / Upon this gloomy scene.” At times, Wroe shifts from narrative to fuguelike lists of images. “Water could not be counted his friend,” begins one such catalogue, which goes on to show us Shelley being baptized in 1792, getting caught in a rainstorm in 1814, and sketching raindrops in his notebooks, which are themselves smeared with seawater. All the while, Wroe, who assumes some prior knowledge of the Shelley myth, also means us to remember how the poet died. In 1822, just a month before his thirtieth birthday, he drowned off the Italian coast near Livorno, having insisted on launching a small boat even though a storm was brewing. Wroe’s free-associative method would not get very far with most poets, perhaps. But it is well suited to Shelley, whose poems return again and again, as it were compulsively, to a few primal scenes and images. A boat travelling down a river under a canopy of leaves; a deep, narrow cave in the mountains or by the water; the play of light on the sea—these images seem to bubble up into Shelley’s consciousness from some mysterious elsewhere, much as the landscape of “Kubla Khan” came to Coleridge in a dream. To W. B. Yeats, Shelley’s use of such archetypes was proof that he had access to “some great memory that renews the world and men’s thoughts age after age.” Shelley, Yeats was sure, was “what people call ‘psychic.’ ” The whole repertoire of Shelley’s archetypes, psychic or otherwise, is on display in “Alastor,” his first major poem, written in 1815, when he was twenty-three. It recounts the visionary quest of a Poet—with an unapologetic capital “P”—who travels the East in search of a woman he once saw in a dream. This “veiled maid” is an embodiment of “Knowledge and truth and virtue.” But it is characteristic of Shelley that she is also a sexual being, and that her visitation takes the form of what we would now call a wet dream. The movement of Shelley’s verse imitates the rhythm of orgasm in a way that still feels startling: He reared his shuddering limbs, and quelled His gasping breath, and spread his arms to meet Her panting bosom; . . . she drew back a while, Then, yielding to the irresistible joy, With frantic gesture and short breathless cry Folded his frame in her dissolving arms. When the Poet wakes up, he realizes that he cannot live without seeing the maid again. But this need to pursue “Beyond the realms of dream that fleeting shade,” to find the Infinite in the real world, seals his doom. The rest of the poem is a deliquescent series of landscapes and waterscapes, as the Poet pilots his “little shallop” down a river that is nominally in the Caucasus. But no map can point the way to “the shifting domes of sheeted spray / That canopied his path o’er the waste deep,” the “pyramids / Of the tall cedar overarching,” the “Islanded seas, blue mountains, mighty streams, / Dim tracts and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom / Of leaden-coloured even,” which the Poet discovers. “Thou imagest my life,” he declares to the river, and the scenes he passes through “Have each their type in me.” Inevitably, this passage through the landscape of his mind can end only in death. Shelley’s dreamlike language and sensuous imagery made him one of the favorite poets of the prudish Victorian age, once his sexual radicalism had receded into legend. But this popularity was founded principally on such short lyrics as “To a Skylark” or “Mont Blanc,” whose descriptions of nature can be more easily detached from politics. Today, it is Shelley’s longer, stranger, more aggressively philosophical poems—some of them flawed and incomplete—that seem to represent the core of his achievement. During the poet’s Italian sojourn, masterpieces came in a steady stream. In four years, he produced the mythic drama “Prometheus Unbound,” which began as a translation of Aeschylus and became an apocalyptic allegory of revolution; “The Cenci,” an homage to the Jacobean drama, in which a father’s rape of his daughter becomes a symbol of patriarchal tyranny; “Adonais,” an ode on the death of Keats, which turns the poet into a martyr, slain by an unfeeling world; “Hellas,” a piece of propaganda for the Greek revolution against the Turks; and “The Masque of Anarchy,” a joyous libel of England’s ruling statesmen. As Shelley got older, his political vision grew broader and deeper, until the revolution he imagined was less a change of regime than a renovation of humanity itself. And this far more radical dream, nearly religious in its scope and intensity, is at the heart of his greatest poems. Shelley’s uncanny power lies in his gift for projecting his deepest fears and longings onto a hallucinatory cosmos. In his highest and most Shelleyan moments, the suggestive richness of his language, along with his ecstatic rhythms, allows him to abolish the distinction between himself and the world. In his essay “A Defence of Poetry,” when he claims and possibly believes that he is describing the effect of Bacon’s prose, he is actually talking about his own verse: “it is a strain which distends and then bursts the circumference of the hearer’s mind and pours itself forth together with it into the universal element with which it has perpetual sympathy.” That bursting and pouring reaches its highest pitch in “Ode to the West Wind.” Wroe makes much use of Shelley’s notebooks, which are preserved at Oxford and the Huntington Library, to evoke his inner world. Sometimes her interpretations of the poet’s drafts and doodles feel arbitrary, or else overdetermined, as when she sees his handwriting, in a passage about weeping, as “digging and jerking as if in paroxysms of tears.” But she finds something genuinely revelatory in the drafts of the “Ode,” which Shelley wrote on the afternoon of October 25, 1819, in a wood near the Arno in Florence. In trying to define the exact relation between himself and the wind—which he imagines as the “Destroyer and Preserver” of the universe—Shelley made several false starts. “Be thy,” “Be thou through,” “in me,” “to the,” he writes, crossing out the words each time. Finally, he lights on the famous, thrilling lines: “Be thou, spirit fierce, / My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!” No prepositions can separate the poet from the world: the two must be not just identified but identical. That is the impossible ambition of Shelley’s poetry, which at moments he seems to make possible through the power of his language. Yet it is also a Luciferian ambition, which aims to violate some essential order of the world and of the human mind. “He overleaps the bounds,” Shelley writes of the Poet in “Alastor,” and his own poetry lives in a perpetual overreaching. He was well aware that this could be considered a species of pride, and he took a mischievous pleasure in identifying himself with the great villain of pride in English literature, Milton’s Satan. The last line of his “Declaration of Rights” reads, “Awake!—arise!—or be for ever fallen”; there is no attribution, but Shelley hoped that his audience would recognize the words with which Satan rallies the fallen angels in the first book of “Paradise Lost.” In “Julian and Maddalo,” Shelley portrays himself and Lord Byron—thinly disguised as the title characters—in conversation, “forlorn, / Yet pleasing such as once, so poets tell, / The devils held within the dales of Hell, / Concerning God, freewill and destiny.” He even wrote an “Essay on the Devil and Devils,” in which he argued that “Milton’s Devil as a moral being” was “far superior to his God.” Wroe tries to explain Shelley’s interest in the Devil, and in all kinds of demons and ghosts, by invoking another of her book’s many avatars, “Monster-Shelley”—the side of him that enjoyed reading tales of horror, and liked to scare himself and other people with hideous visions. She even suggests that his vaunted atheism was just another kind of thrill-seeking: “As a devil-figure he was interesting, but not uncommon. He could do much worse, scaring the custom-bound much more thoroughly. Monster-Shelley therefore took the title ‘Atheist’ and blazoned it on his forehead.” This assumption doesn’t do justice to the earnestness and importance of Shelley’s radical commitments—although it is true that there was an element of performance in his atheism, especially at first. His letters just before he was expelled from Oxford, a martyr to the atheist creed, are filled with Voltairean bravado: “Oh! how I wish I were the avenger!—that it were mine to crush the demon; to hurl him to his native hell, never to rise again, and thus to establish for ever perfect and universal toleration.” The sentence is comic in its tonal paradox—the prophet of toleration thundering like a Spanish Inquisitor—and doubly so thanks to Shelley’s failure to recognize the comedy. To Matthew Arnold, indeed, it was this “utter deficiency in humor” that was Shelley’s “disastrous want and weakness.” Arnold did not simply mean that Shelley couldn’t tell a joke but, more fundamentally, that he could not step outside himself and look impartially at his own weaknesses, limitations, and failures. Like many adolescents, but few adults, he did not really believe that he had any. To his contemporaries, the signal example of Shelley’s moral arrogance was his treatment of his first wife. When Harriet Westbrook, in rebellion against her father and her school, begged Shelley to rescue her, it was the kind of cause that he found hard to resist. He agreed to elope with a girl he had never considered more than a friend. “If I know anything about love, I am not in love,” he had written just weeks before the marriage. He loved the idea of getting married even less: “A kind of ineffable, sickening disgust seizes my mind when I think of this most despotic, most unrequired fetter.” But he recognized that living together out of wedlock would hurt Harriet’s reputation much more than his own, and he agreed to go through with the ceremony. Things worked well enough for two and a half years, as Shelley enlisted Harriet in his political activities and taught her to parrot his catchphrases. She helped to distribute his youthful tracts but seems to have regarded the activity as little more than a lark. “We throw them out of the window and give them to men that we pass in the streets; for myself I am ready to die of laughter when it is done and Percy looks so grave,” she wrote in a letter. They had already started to grow apart when, in the summer of 1814, Shelley fell in love with Mary Godwin. Mary was then sixteen, the same age that Harriet had been when Shelley married her, and she had intellectual gifts that Harriet could never match. Just as important was her intellectual pedigree: she was the daughter of William Godwin, a radical thinker whom Shelley worshipped, and Mary Wollstonecraft, the crusader for women’s rights. Add the fact that Mary was instantly smitten with Shelley—it seems that they had sex for the first time by her mother’s grave, to mark their spiritual union—and Harriet never really had a chance. The lovers ran off to Europe, taking with them Mary’s half sister, Jane Clairmont. Harriet, pregnant with Shelley’s second child, was left behind to face scandal and ostracism. Today, it is hardly tempting to add to the chorus of moral indignation that pursued Shelley across Europe and beyond the grave. To marry someone you do not love, and then leave her for someone you do, does not look like a crime under our more liberal sexual dispensation. The truly disturbing aspect of Shelley’s behavior was his self-justifying refusal to acknowledge Harriet’s distress. According to his free-love principles, marriage should not be a permanent, exclusive arrangement; for a man to love different women at different times (and vice versa) was only natural. A heart that loved only one object would build, he wrote in “Epipsychidion,” “a sepulchre for its eternity.” And, because he was sure that his principles were correct, he could not help deducing that his actions were justified. With complete sincerity, he invited Harriet to come to Switzerland and live with him as his sister, while Mary would take over the role of wife. Then Shelley explained that he himself—the man who had just abandoned her—was Harriet’s one “firm and constant friend,” the only person in the world “by whom your feelings will never wilfully be injured. From none can you expect this but me—all else are either unfeeling or selfish.” The inhumanity of Shelley’s attitude was made even clearer a year and a half later, when Harriet—cut off from her husband, raising Shelley’s two children, and pregnant by another man—drowned herself in the Serpentine, in London. Shelley, again, knew that it could not be his fault. “Everything tends to prove,” he wrote to Mary after hearing the news, “that beyond the shock of so hideous a catastrophe having fallen on a human being once so nearly connected with me, there would in any case have been little to regret.” It is not entirely clear whether the thing that Shelley does not regret is Harriet’s death or merely his own conduct, but the words are chilling. In the months that followed, Shelley embarked on a highly self-righteous legal battle with Harriet’s father for custody of the children he had abandoned. When the ruling came down against him, he felt personally victimized by the Lord Chancellor. As always with Shelley, the personal had a political aspect. His unshakable faith in his own goodness carried over into his thought, and even his poetry, to dangerous effect. Shelley considered himself a true philanthropist, and was willing to give his time and money to any good cause. But he had an enormous capacity for hatred, especially political hatred. Perhaps Lord Castlereagh, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, deserved Shelley’s indelible attack in “The Masque of Anarchy”: “I met Murder on the way— / He had a mask like Castlereagh.” Shelley’s conviction that all authority figures were tyrants applied not just to unpopular politicians but to priests, schoolmasters, and even parents. In 1811, he inveighed, again without the shadow of a smile, against the oppression visited on Harriet, with whom he had just eloped: “Her father has persecuted her in a most horrible way, by endeavouring to compel her to go to school.” Quite simply, Shelley believed that anyone who disagreed with him was depraved at heart. As a result, his political vision was essentially Manichaean: “The Manichaean philosophy respecting the origin and government of the world, if not true, is at least an hypothesis conformable to the experience of actual facts,” he wrote. Mankind was made miserable by the willful selfishness of tyrants and priests. And the millennium, in Shelley’s limitless, idealizing vision, was not just a matter of universal suffrage. In “Prometheus Unbound,” he imagines it as a time when the mountains of the moon turn into “living fountains,” “ugly human shapes and visages” grow “mild and lovely,” and it becomes “the pain of bliss / To move, to breathe, to be.” With so much at stake, wouldn’t it be justified to kill the handful of wicked men who stood between humanity and its golden age? This was precisely the logic of the Terrorists during the French Revolution; and Shelley, though he often deplored the excesses of Jacobinism, never began to understand the perils of its utopian vision, or his own. In “The Assassins,” an unfinished story written in 1814, he imagined a quasi-Jacobin community that would kill the world’s oppressors as unhesitatingly as it would kill poisonous snakes: “And if the poisoner has assumed a human shape, if the bane be distinguished only from the viper’s venom by the excess and extent of its devastation will the savior and avenger here retract and pause entrenched behind the superstition of the indefeasible divinity of man?” “The Assassins” was a juvenile work, and most of the time Shelley went out of his way to insist that the revolution he desired must be nonviolent. He advocated a form of passive resistance, even in the wake of the Peterloo massacre of 1819, when cavalry charged at a demonstration on the outskirts of Manchester, killing eleven people: “And if then the tyrants dare, / Let them ride among you there, / Slash, and stab, and maim, and hew— / What they like, that let them do.” But these pragmatic caveats remained on the surface. In the depths of his imagination, where his poetry was born, he remained vengefully Manichaean. In “Adonais,” he seems to suggest that the right-wing reviewers who panned Keats’s “Endymion” actually did not have souls. While the dead poet’s “pure spirit” will become “a portion of the Eternal,” he writes, their “cold embers” will “choke the sordid hearth of shame.” Shelley, who frequently quoted the Platonic injunction “Know thyself,” never knew himself well enough to acknowledge the intolerance and self-righteousness that went hand in hand with his sublime egotism. Instead, exiled in Italy with few friends or readers, he indulged in the voluptuous self-pity that animates so many of his poems. In his own eyes, he was always misunderstood by the world, like the lonely creature he wrote about in “The Sensitive Plant”: “But none ever trembled and panted with bliss / In the garden, the field, or the wilderness, / Like a doe in the noon-tide with love’s sweet want, / As the companionless Sensitive Plant.” The most important limitation of Wroe’s method is that it leaves her with as little critical perspective on Shelley as Shelley had himself. Being Shelley means feeling as Shelley felt, and Wroe tremblingly recapitulates the poet’s sense of being too fragile for this world: “Rain punished Shelley, too. He stood in it, his heart naked to its freezing, battering drops.” By the time he drowns, Wroe’s Shelley has become literally angelic, ready to return to his heavenly home: “White wings unfolded vastly from his shoulders, as if through this battering frenzy he could rise to the upper sky.” But, if there is one lesson to be drawn from Shelley’s life and work, it is that you can’t trust a man who believes he is an angel.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

the relationship between quantum spin and consciousness

Spin-Mediated Consciousness Theory and Its Experimental Support by Evidence of Biological, Chemical and Physical Non-local Effects

We postulate that consciousness is intrinsically connected to quantum spin since the latter is the origin of quantum effects in both Bohm and Hestenes quantum formulisms and a fundamental quantum process associated with the structure of space-time. Applying these ideas to the particular structures and dynamics of the brain, we have developed a detailed model of quantum consciousness. We have also carried out experiments from the perspective of our theory to test the possibility of quantum-entangling the quantum entities inside the brain with those of an external chemical substance...

There is no coherent view as to what is and causes consciousness. Some neuroscientists would say that it is the connections between the neurons and the coherent firing patterns thereof. Some physicists would propose that it is connected to the measurement problem in quantum theory and thus the solution lies there. A few philosophers would suggest that it is an emergent property of the complex brain or a new kind of properties and laws are required. For sure such disarray has its historical reasons. Ever since Descartes promoted his dualism philosophy in the 17th Century, science has been for the most part steered clear from this subject until very recently.

Philosophically, Searle argues that consciousness is an emergent biological phenomenon thus cannot be reduced to physical states in the brain. Chalmers argues that consciousness cannot be explained through reduction, because mind does not belong to the realm of matter. In order to develop a consciousness theory based on this approach, Chalmers suggests expanding science in a way still compatible with today’s scientific knowledge and outlines a set of fundamental and irreducible properties to be added to space-time, mass, charge, spin etc. and a set of laws to be added to the laws of Nature. Further, he considers that information is the key to link consciousness and the physical world.

conscious experience and the underlying spacetime geometry.

The explanation of consciousness in accordance with our spin-mediated theory is schematically shown at the bottom of Figure 1. The geometry inside the spinning circle represents conscious experience and is part of a Penrose tiling. It symbolizes that consciousness emerges from the non-computable collapses of entangled quantum states of the mind-pixels under the influence of spacetime dynamics schematically shown as the spinning circle.

So The unity of consciousness is achieved through quantum entanglement of the mind-pixels.

You got that?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Hope of Spirit-Fueled Social Action

By Bruce Allen Morris

Yesterday, I posted an article about our awful summer and promised a follow-up article on our true hope. Here it is:

As a strong liberal and hard-working grassroots activist (whether paid or volunteer), I often find it difficult to speak of the true source of my hope and what I believe is the only true basis for lasting, peaceful, compassionate change in our society and the world. That source is divine spirituality. Call it what you will—God, Goddess, the Universe, Spirit, Great Spirit, Allah (just Arabic for God, folks), Deus (Latin for God), Divinity, whatever. I believe, yes, have faith, that we live among untold, imperceptible (at least consciously and to most of us) forces and entities that guide us and work with our individual and collective consciousness to co-create the environment in which we live. Think of them as powerful assistants devoted to making immanent our deepest and truest desires, when backed by co-creative action on our part (that one can be scary, I know, but when we are grounded in love and compassion, or work will bear loving and compassionate results).

Cutting to the chase, here is the basic message of hope, exposed in more detail below. Good will always prevail over evil in the long run. In fact, in a true spiritual sense, evil does not exist because it is not love and only love exists in truth. So love and compassion will win out in the long run; it is guaranteed.

Here is the problem for us. The “long run” to spirit may very encompass a time period wholly unsatisfactory to human beings. If we want to see the results of good in our lives or those of our progeny, we have to get working and fast. The forces arrayed against us could very quickly destroy our world and institutions sufficiently to render it impossible to preserve our planet as a place to live a decent life. But if we get working soon enough and in sufficient quantity for the good, our efforts will prevail. It may be a long time in human years, but very positive and lasting results are possible even in the working life of this 46-year old writer.

We have been given amazing communications through ordinary human channels in recent years making the message of hope for the future very clear, but also making clear that a positive outcome is by no means guaranteed and the fate of our world depends on our actions. Some of those communications are A Course in Miracles, the Conversations With God series, just about anything from Marianne Williamson, but I like The Healing of America’s Soul, the Seth Channelings from Jane Roberts, the Kryon channelings from Lee Carroll; and the Miracle of Love series and its progeny through Paul Ferrini from the Christ mind.

Please don’t dismiss me as batty. If you are a committed secularist, agnostic or atheist and have not left already, this is where we agree: our fate depends on our own actions (its just that I believe in Spirit guiding, helping, comforting us along the way). If you must, remember Shakespeare: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

(Now, you may ask me, how can I call these messages credible, while George Bush’s and the Chritian rightist's alleged messages from God false? Simple. The messages I cite are messages of love. Bush’s and the right-wingers' war-mongering and intolerant words are messages of fear. Meister Echkart, the great modern mystic, said this; “It is a lie, any talk of God that does not comfort you.” How much does war and hatred comfort you?

All of these new communications convey essentially the same message: Loving and compassionate human consciousness was engaged in a consistent social movement toward creating a new a better world for all of us beginning sometime around the 1930’s (seeded, of course, by 18th and 19th century democratic movements) and continuing even today. Around the 1930’s we began to seek societal arrangements that placed the well-being of the many over the power and privilege of the few. People-sovereign government began spreading rapidly; nations began enacting communal policies, such as social security, progressive taxation, protection of labor and, in Europe, Japan and some other places, guaranteed, universal health care. The world rose up against fascism, which, at bottom, was a movement of the privileged to exploit the masses and could have taken hold among the elite in many other nations, including ours. But it did not and the world stood against it. We created the United Nations to build peace and avoid war.

After World War II the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin American specifically, but also unlikely places like Iran and Japan, began to expand democratic government, social welfare programs, labor protection and the like. As a result, the greatest good for the most people began to expand. Later, the world began conscious work to root out racial, gender, ethnic and religious prejudice and repression. We began social and technological efforts to eliminate pollution and protect the natural environment. The common person began to prosper and to take his and her rightful role as sovereign and free to shape society as the people, not the elite, wanted. We also stood against and largely put an end to repressive totalitarianism disguised as communism.

From a spiritual perspective, we were working with a strong collective energy of compassion and love and were co-creating with spirit a world of that nature. Spirit was amazed and impressed. One of the common themes of many recent channels was that the old spiritual messages were shifting. Many spiritual seekers believed the Mayan calendar that placed the end of the world at 2012, and noted the number of astonishing accuracies of this calendar in the past. Many Christians had also begun predicting the end of the world and their apocalypse at the turn of the third millennium.

But the new messages are not that the Mayan mystics and Christian preachers (and many others predicting basically the same thing) were wrong, but that our collective work changed the prophecy and made continuation of life on earth possible beyond the early 21st Century. If you think about how bad global warming and pollution are now and then think how much worse it would be without a strong environmental movement in the last half of the 20th Century and its not hard to imagine THAT climate change could be making life on earth impossible very soon. Combine that with the massive uprising likely from 70 more years of the type of repression we were seeing world-wide in the early 20th Century and with fascism and totalitarian “communism” unopposed, and the end of the world does not look so improbable.

Now, here is the problem today. This new energy of love and compassion made great progress for more than 60 years and still moves forward today in many ways and places. But the old energy of selfishness and self-seeking did not just go away. It was surprised, if you will, by the sudden emergence of love energy and lost many social arguments for a long time before it could gather itself to fight back.

And the old energy fighting back with a vengeance is what we are seeing today. We are caught now in a huge clash for the energy and consciousness of humanity. The old knows it faces huge odds (see next paragraph) and is, despite appearances otherwise, currently losing. That is why its actions and pronouncements are so dramatic and exaggerated. It fears its death is imminent without a huge and sudden push taking it over the top once and for all.

In the United States, in some ways, it appears the resurgence of old energy is winning. But in most ways and in truth, it is not. Even here, we are still seeing continuous progress toward equality for women, racial minorities, and now for homosexuals and transgendered people. Yes, there are set backs and hate speech and actions, but that is the old energy striking back; the general direction remains forward. Europe is still moving generally in the direction of providing for the common good. The amazing and surprising popular sovereignty movement in Latin America is perhaps the most hopeful sign of all. Virtually the entire world is recognizing and acting on the need to change our energy usage and consumption patterns to save the Earth as our life support system, against the best efforts of the old energy.

Even in the United States, the people largely support compassionate societal arrangements and policies that support the common good. Large majorities support some form of universal, guaranteed health care; better environmental protection; a dependable, compassionate safety net for the less fortunate; progressive, but fair taxation of the richest Americans and biggest corporations to support social programs; effective regulation of business to protect the people; and the preservation and protection of our civil rights and liberties and the right to actual sovereignty of the people. Large majorities oppose our imperial wars, excessive militarization and hostile and aggressive foreign policy.

We don’t see these policies enacted because the old energy is strong and has a huge store of old energy power (that’s’ money, folks) behind it. We don’t have the old energy’s money, but we do have ourselves, our greater number and the only true engine of Spirit, Love, behind us. Political organizers say the way to beat organized money is with organized people. Spirit says the same.

So we are facing the old energy making what it knows is its last stand. It will not go quietly. It is desperate and terrified. It actually believes the abandonment of its principles and policies will lead to the end of the world, because for it, the world will end. The loss of the old energy feels like death to the old energy; just as the loss of the new energy feels like death to it (us).

Our hope, as I led off, is that Spirit is Love and Love will always prevail. Our challenge is that spirit will not give us that for which we are not working in co-creative cooperation with spirit.

Many of us are on the fence and doing little or nothing to revive the spirit of compassion as the organizing principle of our society. When the new energy was generally prevailing and rising, it was acceptable for many of us to stay on the fence, not really active, not really working for change, but living our nice and improving lives quietly, just as we want and should be able to do. But the old energy came flying off the fence and is working as hard as it can to reestablish its dominion and rid the world of the new energy for all time.

What we need to prevail is for enough of those who seek the good to get off the fence. We know the Edmond Burke Quote: “The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

The opposite, of course, and the hope for our age: all that is needed for good to triumph is for good people to do something.

When enough of us being to work consistently, diligently and with compassionate hearts to seek the greatest good for the most people, we will prevail. Love cannot be stopped, for love is all there is. Btu we have to work, we have to get involved. And, yes that means involved in politics and is social activism. NOW!

A Course In Miracles says this: “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Therein lies the peace of God.” Therein lies the source of my faith and hope that we can apply love to our lives and bring peace and harmony to our world.

Authors Website: Authors Bio: Bruce is 46 year-old father of one, stepfather of three and grandfather of two, who left a lucrative law practice at a large national law firm to work, advocate and write for social justice and equality and find a way to incorporate a spiritual life into the material world. He now struggles along to make a decent living while holding true to his deepest principles in Portland Oregon.

The Great Iraq Swindle

[Thanks dada for the link]

How Bush Allowed an Army of For-Profit Contractors to Invade the U.S. Treasury --From Issue 1034

Posted Aug 23, 2007 8:51 AM

How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins -- he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.

You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress -- until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.

Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you've been promising her all these years. The place on Park Street in Dunn Loring, Virginia, looks pretty good -- four bedrooms, fireplace, garage, 2,900 square feet, a nice starter home in a high-end neighborhood full of spooks, think-tankers and ex-apparatchiks moved on to the nest-egg phase of their faceless careers. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.

A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that's supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

You've done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: "We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate," they write, adding that "the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles" and that "during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member's shirt." The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.

When Congress gets wind of the fias­co, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill -- after all, you're a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.

You blink. Fuck if you know. "I have some conjecture, but that's all it would be" is your deadpan answer.

The room twitters in amazement. It's hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company's compensation. Touchy subject -- you've got a "cost-plus" contract, which means you're guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make -- and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you've got to cut him off. "So you won't voluntarily look at this," Van Hollen is mumbling, "and say, given what has happened in this project . . . "

"No, sir, I will not," you snap.

". . . 'We will return the profits.' . . ."

"No, sir, I will not," you repeat.

Your testimony over, you wait out the rest of the hearing, go home, take a bath in one of your four bathrooms, jump into bed with the little woman. . . . A year later, Iraq is still in flames, and your president's administration is safely focused on reclaiming $485 million in aid money from a bunch of toothless black survivors of Hurricane Katrina. But the house you bought for $775K is now ­assessed at $929,974, and you're sure as hell not giving it back to anyone.

"Yeah, I don't know what I expected him to say," Van Hollen says now about the way Robbins responded to being asked to give the money back. "It just shows the contempt they have for us, for the taxpayer, for everything."

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc­racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit­eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure -- American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted. Since time immemorial, the distribution of government largesse had followed a staid, paper-laden procedure in which the federal government would post the details of a contract in periodicals like Commerce Business Daily or, more ­recently, on the FedBizOpps Web site. Competitive bids were solicited and contracts were awarded in accordance with the labyrinthine print of the U.S. Code, a straightforward system that worked well enough before the Bush years that, as one lawyer puts it, you could "count the number of cases of criminal fraud on the fingers of one hand."

There were exceptions to the rule, of course -- emergencies that required immediate awards, contracts where there was only one available source of materials or labor, classified deals that involved national security. What no one knew at the beginning of the war was that the Bush administration had essentially decided to treat the entire Iraqi theater as an exception to the rules. All you had to do was get to Iraq and the game was on.

But getting there wasn't easy. To travel to Iraq, would-be contractors needed permission from the Bush administration, which was far from blind in its appraisal of applicants. In a much-ballyhooed example of favoritism, the White House originally installed a clown named Jim O'Beirne at the relevant evaluation desk in the Department of Defense. O'Beirne proved to be a classic Bush villain, a moron's moron who judged applicants not on their Arabic skills or their relevant expertise but on their Republican bona fides; he sent a twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock exchange, and appointed a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget. James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan's community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq's health-care system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed was . . . an anti-smoking campaign.

Town-selectmen types like Haveman weren't the only people who got passes to enter Iraq in the first few years. The administration also greenlighted brash, modern-day forty-niners like Scott Custer and Mike Battles, a pair of ex-Army officers and bottom-rank Republican pols (Battles had run for Congress in Rhode Island and had been a Fox News commentator) who had decided to form a security company called Custer Battles and make it big in Iraq. "Battles knew some people from his congres­sional run, and that's how they got there," says Alan Grayson, an attorney who led a whistle-blower lawsuit against the pair for defrauding the government.

Before coming to Iraq, Custer Battles hadn't done even a million dollars in business. The company's own Web site brags that Battles had to borrow cab fare from Jordan to Iraq and arrived in Baghdad with less than $500 in his pocket. But he had good timing, arriving just as a security contract for Baghdad International Airport was being "put up" for bid. The company site raves that Custer spent "three sleepless nights" penning an offer that impressed the CPA enough to hand the partners $2 million in cash, which Battles promptly stuffed into a duffel bag and drove to deposit in a Lebanese bank.

Custer Battles had lucked into a sort of Willy Wonka's paradise for contractors, where a small pool of Republican-friendly businessmen would basically hang around the Green Zone waiting for a contracting agency to come up with a work order. In the early days of the war, the idea of "competition" was a farce, with deals handed out so quickly that there was no possibility of making rational or fairly priced estimates. According to those familiar with the process, contracting agencies would request phony "bids" from several contractors, even though the winner had been picked in advance. "The losers would play ball because they knew that eventually it would be their turn to be the winner," says Grayson.

To make such deals legal, someone in the military would simply sign a piece of paper invoking an exception. "I know one guy whose business was buying ­weapons on the black market for contractors," says Pratap Chatterjee, a writer who has spent months in the Mideast researching a forthcoming book on Iraq contracts. "It's illegal -- but he got military people to sign papers allowing him to do it."

The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the "entrepreneurship" of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent "three sleepless nights" putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking "like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later." The two simply "presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract."

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport ­security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad's airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, "I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.

Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax­payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. "Yes -- $100 bills in plastic wrap," Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. "We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while."

The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials -- a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair's phony invoicing. "It was the worst case of fraud I've ever seen, hands down," says Grayson. "But it's also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime."

But even being the clumsiest war profit­eers of all time was not enough to bring swift justice upon the heads of Mr. Custer and Mr. Battles -- and this is where the story of America's reconstruction effort gets really interesting. The Bush administration not only refused to prosecute the pair -- it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money. The administration argued that Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA was not part of the U.S. government. When the lawsuit went forward despite the administration's objections, Custer and Battles mounted a defense that recalled Nuremberg and Lt. Calley, arguing that they could not be guilty of theft since it was done with the government's approval.

The jury disagreed, finding Custer Battles guilty of ripping off taxpayers. But the verdict was set aside by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who cited the administration's "the CPA is not us" argument. The very fact that private contractors, aided by the government itself, could evade conviction for what even Ellis, a Reagan-appointed judge, called "significant" evidence of fraud, says everything you need to know about the true nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Is it ­really possible to bilk American taxpayers for repainted forklifts stolen from Iraqi Airways and claim that you were just following orders? It is, when your commander in chief is George W. Bush. font >There isn't a brazen, two-bit, purse-snatching money caper you can think of that didn't happen at least 10,000 times with your tax dollars in Iraq. At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he'd have agents go to the various stashes -- a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam's former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch -- withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills. When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he'd withdrawn. Bremer's office "acknowledged not having any supporting documentation" for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, "suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash."

In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find. "Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?" asked Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "But that's exactly what our government did."

Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. "They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire," an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, "so the decision was made to torch the truck."

In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as "sailboat fuel."

In Fallujah, where the company was paid based on how many soldiers used the base rec center, KBR supervisors ordered employees to juke the head count by taking an hourly tally of every soldier in the facility. "They were counting the same soldier five, six, seven times," says Linda Warren, a former postal worker who was employed by KBR in Fallujah. "I was even directed to count every empty bottle of water left behind in the facility as though they were troops who had been there."

Yet for all the money KBR charged taxpayers for the rec center, it didn't provide much in the way of services to the soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting of the war. When Warren ordered a karaoke machine, the company gave her a cardboard box stuffed with jumbled-up electronic components. "We had to borrow laptops from the troops to set up a music night," says Warren, who had a son serving in Fallujah at the time. "These boys needed R&R more than anything, but the company wouldn't spend a dime." (KBR refused requests for an interview, but has denied that it inflated troop counts or committed other wrongdoing in Iraq.)

One of the most dependable methods for burning taxpayer funds was simply to do nothing. After securing a contract in Iraq, companies would mobilize their teams, rush them into the war zone and then wait, citing the security situation or delayed paperwork -- all the while charging the government for housing, meals and other expenses. Last year, a government audit of twelve major contracts awarded to KBR, Parsons and other companies found that idle time often accounted for more than half of a contract's total costs. In one deal awarded to KBR, the company's "indirect" administrative costs were $52.7 million, and its direct costs -- the costs associated with the ­actual job -- were only $13.4 million.

Companies jacked up the costs even higher by hiring out layers of subcontractors to do their work for them. In some cases, each subcontractor had its own cost-plus arrangement. "We called those 'cascading contracts,' " says Rep. Van Hollen. "Each subcontractor piles on a lot of costs, and eventually they would snowball into a huge payout. It was a green light for waste."

In March 2004, Parsons -- the firm represented by Earnest O. Robbins -- was given nearly $1 million to build a fire station in Ainkawa, a small Christian community in one of the safest parts of Iraq. Parsons subcontracted the design to a British company called TPS Consult and the construction to a California firm called Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. ITSI, in turn, hired an Iraqi outfit called Zozik to do the actual labor.

A year and a half later, government ­auditors visited the site and found that the fire station was less than half finished. What little had been built was marred by serious design flaws, including concrete columns so shoddily constructed that they were riddled with holes that looked like "honeycombing." But getting the fuck-ups fixed proved problematic. The auditors "made a request that was sent to the Army Corps, which delivered it to Parsons, who then asked ITSI, which asked TPS Consult to check on the work done by Zozik," writes Chatterjee, who describes the mess in his forthcoming book, Baghdad Bonanza. The multiple layers of subcontractors made it almost impossible to resolve the issue -- and every day the delays dragged on meant more money for the companies.

Sometimes the government simply handed out money to companies it made up out of thin air. In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers found itself unable to award contracts by the September deadline imposed by Congress, meaning it would have to "de-obligate" the money and return it to the government. Rather than suffer that awful fate, the corps obligated $362 million -- spread out over ninety-six different contracts -- to "Dummy Vendor." In their report on the mess, auditors noted that money to nobody "does not constitute proper obligations."

But even obligating money to no one was better than what sometimes happened in Iraq: handing out U.S. funds to the enemy. Since the beginning of the war, rumors have abounded about contractors paying protection money to insurgents to avoid attacks. No less an authority than Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that such payoffs are a "significant source" of income for Al Qaeda. Moreover, when things go missing in Iraq -- like bricks of $100 bills, or weapons, or trucks -- it is a fair assumption that some of the wayward booty ends up in the wrong hands. In July, a federal audit found that 190,000 weapons are missing in Iraq -- nearly one out of every three arms supplied by the United States. "These weapons almost certainly ended up on the black market, where they are repurchased by insurgents," says Chatterjee. font >For all the creative ways that contractors came up with to waste, mismanage and steal public money in Iraq, the standard remained good old-fashioned fucking up. Take the case of the Basra Children's Hospital, a much-ballyhooed "do-gooder" project championed by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. This was exactly the sort of grandstanding, self-serving, indulgent and ultimately useless project that tended to get the go-ahead under reconstruction. Like the expensive telephone-based disease-notification database approved for use in hospitals without telephones, or the natural-gas-powered electricity turbines green­lighted for installation in a country without ready sources of natural gas, the Basra Children's Hospital was a state-of-the-art medical facility set to be built in a town without safe drinking water. "Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?" said Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona.

Bechtel was given $50 million to build the hospital -- but a year later, with the price tag soaring to $169 million, the company was pulled off the project without a single bed being ready for use. The government was unfazed: Bechtel, explained USAID spokesman David Snider, was "under a 'term contract,' which means their job is over when their money ends."

Their job is over when their money ends. When I call Snider to clarify this amazing statement, he declines to discuss the matter further. But if you look over the history of the Iraqi reconstruction ­effort, you will find versions of this excuse every­where. When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, "We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn't say they had to work."

Such excuses speak to a monstrous vacuum of patriotism; it would be hard to imagine contractors being so blithely disinterested in results during World War II, where every wasted dollar might mean another American boy dead from gangrene in the Ardennes. But the rampant waste of money and resources also suggests a widespread contempt for the ostensible "purpose" of our presence in Iraq. Asked to cast a vote for the war effort, contractors responded by swiping everything they could get their hands on -- and the administration's acquiescence in their thievery suggests that it, too, saw making a buck as the true mission of the war. Two witnesses scheduled to testify before Congress against Custer Battles ultimately declined not only because they had received death threats but because they, too, were contractors and feared that they would be shut out of future government deals. To repeat: Witnesses were afraid to testify in an effort to ­recover government funds because they feared reprisal from the government.

The Bush administration's lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. "For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism," Grayson said in congressional testimony, "it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers." In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million.

What's more, when anyone in the government tried to question what contractors were up to with taxpayer money, they were immediately blackballed and treated like an enemy. Take the case of Bunnatine "Bunny" Greenhouse, an outspoken and energetic woman of sixty-three who served as the chief procurement executive for the Army Corps of Engineers. In her position, Greenhouse was responsible for signing off on sole-source contracts -- those awarded without competitive bids and thus most prone to corruption. Long before Iraq, she had begun to notice favoritism in the awarding of contracts to KBR, which was careful to recruit executives who had served in the military. "That was why I joined the corps: to stop this kind of clubby contracting," she says.

A few weeks before the Iraq War ­started, Greenhouse was asked to sign off on the contract to restore Iraqi oil. The deal, she noticed, was suspicious on a number of fronts. For one thing, the company that had designed the project, KBR, was the same company that was being awarded the contract -- a highly unusual and improper situation. For another, the corps wanted to award a massive "emergency" contract to KBR with no competition for up to five years, which Greenhouse thought was crazy. Who ever heard of a five-year emergency? After auditing the deal, the Pentagon found that KBR had overcharged the government $61 million for fuel. "The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR," Greenhouse testified before the Senate, "represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

And how did her superiors in the Pentagon respond to the wrongdoing highlighted by their own chief procurement officer? First they gave KBR a waiver for the overbilling, blaming the problem on an Iraqi subcontractor. Then they dealt with Greenhouse by demoting her and cutting her salary, citing a negative performance review. The retaliation sent a clear message to any would-be whistle-blowers. "It puts a chill on you," Greenhouse says. "People are scared stiff."

They were scared stiff in Iraq, too, and for good reason. When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases -- a life-threatening situation for any American. Robert Isakson, a former FBI agent who worked for Custer Battles, says that when he refused to go along with one scam involving a dummy company in Lebanon, he was detained by company security guards, who seized his ID badge and barred him from the base in Baghdad. He eventually had to make a hazardous, Papillon-esque journey across hostile Iraq to Jordan just to survive. (Custer Battles denies the charge.)

James Garrison, who worked at a KBR ice plant in Al Asad, recalls an incident when Indian employees threatened to go on strike: "They pulled a bus up, got them in there and said, 'We'll ship you outside the front gate if you want to go on strike.' " Not surprisingly, the workers changed their mind about a work stoppage.

You know the old adage: You don't pay a hooker to spend the night, you pay her to leave in the morning. That maxim also applies to civilian workers in Iraq. A soldier is a citizen with rights, a man to be treated with honor and respect as a protector of us all; if one loses a limb, you've got to take care of him, in theory for his whole life. But a mercenary is just another piece of equipment you can bill to the taxpayer: If one is hurt on the job, you can just throw it away and buy another one. Today there are more civilians working for private contractors in Iraq than there are troops on the ground. The totality of the thievery in Iraq is such that even the honor of patriotic service has been stolen -- we've replaced soldiers and heroes with disposable commodities, men we ­expected to give us a big bang for a buck and to never call us again.

Russell Skoug, who worked as a refrigeration technician for a contractor called Wolfpack, found that out the hard way. These days Skoug is back home in Diboll, Texas, and he doesn't move around much; he considers it a big accomplishment if he can make it to his mailbox and back once a day. "I'm doing a lot if I can do that much," he says, laughing a little.

A year ago, on September 11th, Skoug was working for Wolfpack at a base in Heet, Iraq. It was a convoy day -- trucks braved the trip in and out of the base every third day -- and Skoug had a generator he needed to fix. So he agreed to make a run to Al Asad. "If I would've realized that it was September 11th, I never would've went out," he says. It would turn out to be the last run he would ever make in Iraq.

An Air Force vet, Skoug had come to Iraq as a civilian to repair refrigeration units and air conditioners for a KBR subcontractor called LSI. But when he arrived, he discovered that LSI had hired him to fix Humvees. "I didn't know jack-squat about Humvees," he says. "I could maybe change the oil, that was it." (Asked about Skoug's additional assignment, KBR boasted: "Part of the reason for our success is our ability to employ individuals with multiple capabilities.")

Working with him on his crew were two other refrigeration technicians, neither of whom knew anything about fixing Humvees. Since Skoug and most of his co-workers had worked for KBR in Afghanistan, they were familiar with cost-plus contracting. The buzz around the base was that cost-plus was the reason LSI was hiring air-conditioning guys to work on unfamiliar military equipment at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000 a year. "They was doing the same thing as KBR: just filling the body count," says Skoug.

Thanks to low troop ­levels, all the military repair guys had been pressed into service to fight the war, so Skoug was forced to sit in the military storeroom on the base and study vehicle manuals that, as a civilian, he wasn't allowed to check out of the building. That was how America fought terrorism in Iraq: It hired civilian air-conditioning techs to fix Humvees using the instruction manual while the real Humvee repairmen, earning a third of what the helpless civilians were paid, drove around in circles outside the wire waiting to get blown up by insurgents.

After much pleading and cajoling, Skoug managed to convince LSI to let him repair some refrigeration units. But it turned out that the company didn't have any tools for the job. "They gave me a screwdriver and a Leatherman, and that's it," he recalls. "We didn't even have freon gauges." When Skoug managed to scrounge and cannibalize parts to get the job done, he impressed the executives at Wolfpack enough to hire him away from LSI for $10,000 a month. The job required Skoug, who had been given no formal security training, to travel regularly on dangerous convoys between bases. Wolfpack issued him an armored vehicle, a Yugoslav-made AK-47 and a handgun, and wished him luck.

For nearly a year, Skoug did the job, trying at each stop to overcome the hostility that many troops felt for civilian contractors who surfed the Internet and played pool and watched movies all day for big dollars while soldiers carrying seventy-pound packs of gear labored in huts with broken air conditioning the civilian techs couldn't be bothered to repair. "They'd have the easiest thing to fix, and they wouldn't do it," Skoug says. "They'd write that they'd fixed it or that they just needed a part and then just leave it." At Haditha Dam, Skoug witnessed a near-brawl after some Marines, trying to get some sleep after returning from patrol, couldn't get a group of "KBR dudes" to turn down the television in a common area late at night.

Toward the end of Skoug's stay, insurgent activity in his area increased to the point where the soldiers leading his convoys would often drive only at night and without lights. Skoug and his co-workers asked Wolfpack to provide them with night-vision goggles that cost as little as $1,000 a pair, but the company refused. "Their attitude was, we don't need 'em and we're not buying 'em," says Thomas Lane, a Wolfpack employee who served as Skoug's security man on the night of September 11th.

On that evening, the soldiers leading the convoy refused to let Skoug drive his own vehicle back to Heet without night-vision goggles. So a soldier took Skoug's car, and Skoug was forced to be a passenger in a military vehicle. "We start out the front gate, and I find out that the truck that I was in was the frickin' lead truck," he recalls. "And I'm going, 'Oh, great.' "

The bomb went off about a half-hour later, ripping through the truck floor and destroying four inches of Skoug's left femur. "The windshield looked like there was a film on it," he says. "I find out later it was a film -- it was blood and meat and stuff all over the windshield on the inside." Skoug was loaded into the back of a Humvee, his legs hanging out, and evacuated to an Army hospital in Germany before being airlifted back to the States.

When Skoug arrived, it was his wife, Linda, who had to handle all his affairs. She was the one who arranged for an air ambulance to take him to Houston, where she had persuaded an orthopedic hospital to admit him as a patient. She had to do this because almost right from the start, Wolfpack washed its hands of Russell Skoug. The insurance policy he had been given turned out to be useless -- the company denied all coverage, beginning with a $72,597 bill for his stay in the German hospital. Despite assurances from Wolfpack chief Mark Atwood that he would cover all Skoug's expenses, neither he nor the insurance company would pay for the $16,000 trip in the air ambulance. Nobody paid for the operations Skoug had in Houston -- as many as three a day, every day for a month. And nobody paid for his subsequent rehab stint in another Houston hospital -- despite the fact that military law requires every company contracting with the government to fully insure all of its employees in the war zone.

Now that he's out, sitting at home on his couch with only partial use of his left hand and left leg, Skoug has a stack of unpaid medical bills almost three inches tall. As he speaks, he keeps fidgeting. He apologizes, explaining that he can't sit still for very long. Why? Because Skoug can no longer afford pain medication. "I take ibuprofen sometimes," he says, "but basically I just grin and bear it."

And here's where this story turns into something perfectly symbolic of everything that the war in Iraq stands for, a window into the soul of for-profit contractors who not only left behind a breathtaking legacy of fraud, waste and corruption but, through their calculating, greed-fueled hijacking of this generation's broadest and most far-reaching foreign-policy initiative, pushed America into previously unknown realms of moral insanity. When I contact Mark Atwood and ask him to explain how he could watch one of his best employees get blown up and crippled for life, and then cut him loose with debts totaling well over half a million dollars, Atwood, safe in his office in Kuwait City and contentedly suckling at the taxpayer teat, decides that answering this one question is just too much to ask of poor old him.

"Right now," Atwood says, "I just want some peace."

When Linda Skoug petitioned Atwood for help, he refused, pointing out that he had kept his now-useless employee on the payroll for four whole months before firing him. "After I have put forth to help you all out," he wrote in an e-mail, "you are going to get on me for your husband not having insurance." He even implied that Skoug had brought the accident upon himself by allowing the Army to place him at the head of the convoy: "He was not even suppose [sic] to be in the lead vehicle to begin with."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the Iraq War in a nutshell. In the history of balls, the world has never seen anything like the private contractors George W. Bush summoned to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collectively, they are the final, polished result of 231 years of natural selection in the crucible of American capitalism: a bureaucrat class capable of stealing the same dollar twice -- once from the taxpayer and once from a veteran in a wheelchair.

The explanations that contractors offer for all the missing dollars, all the myriad ways they looted the treasury and screwed guys like Russell Skoug, rank among the most diabolical, shameless, tongue-twisting bullshit in history. Going back over the various congres­sional hearings and trying to decipher the corporate responses to the mountains of thefts and fuck-ups is a thrilling intellectual journey, not unlike tackling the Pharaonic hieroglyphs or the mating chatter of colobus monkeys. Standing before Congress, contractors and the officials who are supposed to monitor them say things like "As long as we have the undefinitized contract issue that we have . . . we will continue to see the same kinds of sustension rates" (translation: We can't get back any of the fucking money) and "The need for to-fitnessization was viewed as voluntary, and that was inaccurate as the general counsel to the Army observed in a June opinion" (translation: The contractor wasn't aware that he was required to keep costs down) and "If we don't know where we're trying to go and don't have measures, then we won't know how much longer it's going to take us to get there" (translation: There never was a plan in place, other than to let contractors rip off every dollar they could).

According to the most reliable ­estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America's contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where's the incentive to deliver success? There's no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don't pay the bills.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]