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The Calamity Howler #87

"Sometimes an intended epithet can be turned to good advantage. In the sole surviving issue of the Decatur, Texas Times one finds the way Populists not only accepted the label `calamity howler' but insisted that they had ample reason to howl and would continue to howl until their objectives had been attained." --- THE POPULIST MIND, edited by Norman Pollack

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By Charles J. Johnson
By Patrick Sweeney
By Mark Rahner
By Robert Scheer
By Frank Rich
By Shannon Dininny
By Jim Krane

By Charles J. Johnson        
Billings Gazette
June 7, 2006

HELENA, Montana --- Jon Tester, a populist farmer, won a decisive victory over John Morrison in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and will face three-term Republican incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, who won his primary handily, in November.

Tester, outspent by Morrison by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, led almost from the start of the vote counting Tuesday evening. He ended up defeating Morrison, the state auditor, by about 25% points in the five-way primary.

Although Tester was considered an underdog in the five-candidate Democratic Senate race, he gained momentum in closing weeks of the campaign through an extensive grass-roots effort.

Burns, meanwhile, coasted to an easy victory over state Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan to capture the four-way Republican primary. Burns topped Keenan by a better than a 3-to-1 margin.

Montana's Senate race is among the most watched nationally because Burns is rated as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators for his link to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. . . . .

Over the clamor of a victory party in a Missoula hotel, Tester said in a telephone interview, "I thought we had a good chance of winning this thing. The numbers surprised me."Tester attributed his win to his campaign's grass-roots efforts involving hundreds of volunteers. Morrison outspent him $1.14 million to $662,805.

"We hit the ground running tomorrow, and it's another campaign for five months," Tester said. "It's overdrive now. It's for real. It's all-out. We did a lot of hard work getting here, and there's no looking back." Tester had argued that he was the only Democrat who could go "belly to belly and toe to toe" with Burns on the issue of ethics.

That was Tester's way of suggesting Morrison couldn't match up with Burns. The reason was that Morrison, before his election as auditor, had had an extramarital affair with a woman in Bigfork. . . . .

After being declared the winner Tuesday night and listening to a concession call from Morrison, Tester called Morrison "a stand-up guy" and said he was pleased with the auditor's pledge to unite behind him in the fall. . . .

Tester, 49, is the president of the Montana Senate after serving as minority leader in 2003. He is an organic grain farmer from Big Sandy who previously taught music in local schools. As a legislator since 1999, Tester has made health care, renewable energy, biofuels and school funding his top priorities. Tester has called on Burns to resign his Senate seat because of the Abramoff scandal.. . . . . .

By Patrick Sweeney       
St. Paul Pioneer Press
June 12, 2006

ROCHESTER, Minnesota --- Mark Ritchie won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor endorsement for Minnesota secretary of state Sunday when his only opponent, Christian Sande, conceded after the first round of balloting at the party's state convention.

The vote total was not officially announced, but a member of Ritchie's campaign provided a ballot count indicating that Ritchie got about 57% of the first-ballot vote. Sixty percent was required for endorsement.

Ritchie now will face a likely September primary contest against perennial candidate Richard Franson and perhaps other challengers.

But Ritchie is virtually assured of winning the DFL nomination and going on to face two-term incumbent Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer in November.

The endorsement of Ritchie was the major action Sunday at the DFL convention in Rochester, where delegates also unanimously endorsed Matt Entenza for attorney general and Rebecca Otto for state auditor.

State Sen. Becky Lourey of Kerrick, who failed to win the DFL endorsement for governor Saturday, also appeared at the convention today for a brief hallway news conference. She told reporters that she had no intention of abandoning a planned primary campaign against Mike Hatch, who won the endorsement for governor Saturday. . . . . .

Ritchie, 54, lives in Minneapolis. He worked for the state Agriculture Department in the mid-1980s under former Gov. Rudy Perpich. He founded a Minneapolis-based nonprofit think tank, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, in 1989 and ran the organization until two years ago.

During the 2004 elections, Richie ran a national campaign, called the National Voice, that helped nonprofit groups across the country register new voters and then encourage the new voters to cast ballots. . . . .

"Instead of working to help eligible citizens vote, our secretary of state often put up barriers or tried to intimidate those working to help register voters by threatening lawsuits and legal actions," Ritchie said.

State Republican Chairman Ron Carey issued a statement defending Kiffmeyer's record. "Under Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer," Carey said, "Minnesota's voter turnout is among the highest in the nation and more of our young people are involved in the process than at any time in our history. This is a record of success that can make all Minnesotans proud."

By Mark Rahner    
Seattle Times
June 20, 2006

Last week's grim milestone of 2,500 American military deaths in Iraq  . . . look even grimmer after . . . . "Frontline" PBS documentary, "The Dark Side."

The damning 90-minute exposé stops short of laying those bodies at Vice President Dick Cheney's feet. But it does finger Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld --- through more than 40 interviews with CIA veterans, journalists, politicians and others --- as the ones who ignored, suppressed and manipulated intelligence after the September 11 attacks to lead us into war with a country that had nothing to do with our attackers.

And you wonder why the GOP hasn't exactly been a sugar daddy for public television.

Comedians have made countless Darth Vader jokes about Cheney, but the film's title is no joke about The Force. It's from Cheney's own words about America's response to terrorists: "We have to work the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies."

But apparently he didn't use the actual intelligence from the agencies.

The CIA and its then-director, George Tenet, knew immediately that al-Qaida in Afghanistan was responsible for the September 11 attacks and said so. But author James Bamford says that while the Pentagon was still smoking, Rumsfeld said, "We've got to see, somehow, how we can bring Saddam Hussein into this."

"The Dark Side" claims that September provided Cheney and Rumsfeld with a pretext for achieving their longstanding ambition to go after the Iraqi dictator and to boost executive power that they'd seen diminish ever since their days as allies in Nixon's administration. As consummate political infighters, they resented and continually undermined Tenet --- a sports-loving man's man who had become pally with George W. Bush.

The CIA repeatedly insisted that there was no connection between Saddam and al-Qaida, and Tenet explicitly warned that invading Iraq would "break the back" of our counterterrorism effort. Tenet even ordered the agency's records scoured 10 years back for links. CIA vet Michael Scheuer, who led that effort, says, "There was no connection between al-Qaida and Saddam."

But Cheney, the chief architect of the war on terror and the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, had made up his mind, according to "The Dark Side." CIA vets say Cheney and his now-indicted chief of staff, Scooter Libby, made unprecedented trips to CIA headquarters to pressure and "harangue" analysts who were compiling the National Intelligence Estimate.

Analyst Paul Pillar, one of its primary authors, says he regrets his role in the hastily prepared, fatally flawed document, which was "clearly requested and published for policy-advocacy purposes ... to strengthen the case for going to war with the American public."

The apparent circularity of the pro-war machinations is especially disturbing. Then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller would get off-the-record info from the White House about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, print the claims in Sunday's paper, and then Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and others would cite the articles as evidence on the Sunday talk shows to justify the invasion.

While Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell had strong reservations about Iraq, sources quoted in "The Dark Side" say the two eventually caved in. Tenet, says former weapons inspector David Kay, "traded integrity for access" to power, while Powell was ultimately a team player.

"The Dark Side" is especially timely in light of those who persisted in equating the Iraq war with the fight against terrorism in the debate leading to last Friday's pro-war House resolution.

These are the guys who want our phone records now. If "The Dark Side" is as credible as it looks --- and it's no cheap Michael Moore job --- they can't even be trusted to go after the right bad guys when they've got the right intelligence handed to them on a platter.

By Robert Scheer           
Creators Syndicate, Inc.
June 21, 2006

How do you triangulate between death, hypocrisy and stupidity? Not at all logically, which is why U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's dissembling on Iraq has become a fatal embarrassment not only for her, but for anyone who hopes she can provide progressive leadership for the nation. If she has still not found the courage to reverse course on this disastrous war, why assume that as president she would behave any differently?

It is unconscionable that those who can accurately measure the true cost of the Iraq folly in wasted lives and resources --- more than 2,500 Americans, tens of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of billions of dollars --- dare prefer her to potential 2008 presidential election rivals Al Gore, John Kerry, Russ Feingold and John Edwards, who have all come to speak honestly of this quagmire and our need to extricate ourselves from it.

If your priority is to support an inspiring female presidential candidate to break America's ultimate glass ceiling, why not draft Barbara Boxer? Not electable? Nonsense: The California senator thrashed her conservative GOP opponent in a re-election campaign that shunned the failed strategy of Democratic hacks and emphasized principle over opportunism. She proved her political integrity again this past week by voting alongside Kerry and Feingold to set a date for exiting Iraq.

Not so Sen. Clinton, who seems determined to revise the Cold War liberalism that gave us the Vietnam War --- which, according to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara , the brilliant Democratic war architect who later conceded he himself didn't believe in that enterprise, took more than three million Vietnamese and American lives.

"I do not think it is a smart strategy, either, for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government," said Clinton last week at the "Take Back America" conference. "Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interests."

This is pure gibberish designed to sound reasonable. The Bush administration has pressured the Iraqi government plenty, from trying to place its handpicked intelligence "assets" in power right after seizing Baghdad through the unseemly act of a sitting U.S. president dropping into Iraq last week uninvited and unannounced --- a mockery of the claim that we have transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

For more than three years, the United States has micromanaged everything from turning the American taxpayers-financed occupation into a grab fest for U.S. corporate war profiteers to the failed training of the country's new security apparatus now dominated by Shiite fanatics. Unfortunately for the great imperial Pax Americana scheme of building a pliable, secular government in Baghdad, a goal Clinton shares with the president, the Iraqi voters soundly rejected the candidates favored by the Pentagon and CIA.

They chose instead the militant Shiites nurtured in the rogue nation of Iran, ever attendant to the twisted civics lessons of the ayatollahs on both sides of the border. Predictably, the occupation by the U.S. military of a troubled Muslim nation cobbled together by European colonialists and ruled for decades by a tyrant has unleashed religious and nationalist impulses, increased the popular appeal of extremist and terrorist groups and destabilized the region. More clumsy "pressure" will only lead to more violent blowback, something Clinton should have known when she voted for this war in 2002.

Like Kerry, Clinton later pitifully explained that vote as a result of being "misled" by a president who she shouldn't have trusted for a second. Kerry, however, seems to have finally rediscovered the concern he felt as a returning Vietnam combat veteran, and is outraged that young Americans still are being sent to kill and be killed in a war that makes no sense, except for companies such as Halliburton and Bechtel.

Self-proclaimed "moderate" Democrats, who defend staying in Iraq, like to pretend they are the grown-ups in the argument. In reality, they are like children who have closed their ears to avoid hearing an uncomfortable truth: The longer we've stayed, the worse things have gotten, and that will continue to be the case.

It is not the Iraqi government that needs to be pressured by Americans, but rather our own. Clinton needs to stop prattling on about getting the Iraqi government to do this or that wonderful thing before we can pull out our troops.

The country needs an honest debate about the lies that led to this war and the true costs of its continuance. Presumably those Democrats who cheered Hillary last week are eager to win back at least one branch of Congress in the November midterm election in order to revitalize our Constitution's bedrock system of checks and balances.

But what check or balance is Sen. Clinton presenting on the most pressing issue of the day? None.

By Frank Rich      
New York Times
June 18, 2006

IF theater is in your blood, you just can't resist the urge to put on a show. After the good news arrived about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, administration officials at first downplayed any prospect of a new "Mission Accomplished" to hype the victory. But that restraint didn't last a week. In sync with Barbra Streisand, who this month announced a new concert tour to cap her 1994 farewell tour, the White House gave in to its nature and revved up its own encore.

Given our government's preference for spectacle over substance, "Baghdad Surprise 2" was more meticulously planned than security for post-liberation Baghdad. The script was a montage of the administration's greatest hits.

As with the prototype of Thanksgiving 2003, there was a breathless blow-by-blow of how President Bush faked out his own cabinet, donned a baseball cap and slipped into his waiting plane. In cautious remembrance of "Top Gun," White House photos were disseminated of the fearless leader hovering in the cockpit.

Once on the ground, Mr. Bush made much of looking into the eyes of Nuri al-Maliki, our third post-Saddam Iraqi leader, and finding him as worthy as he did Vladimir Putin after a similarly theatrical ocular X-ray. This bit of presidential shtick is now as polished as Johnny Carson's old burlesque psychic, Carnac the Magnificent.

But not every sequel is as satisfying as "Spider-Man 2." This time, the plot holes in the triumphal narrative were too obvious. Since Thanksgiving 2003, the number of American troops in Iraq has gone up and casualties have increased more than fivefold. With Italy and South Korea leading the bailout, the "coalition of the willing" is wilting. (Rest assured that Moldova and El Salvador are hanging in.)

Iraq security is such that Mr. Bush could stay only six hours, all in the Green Zone bunker. The presidential diagnosis of Mr. Maliki's trustworthiness was contradicted by the White House decision to keep the visit a secret from him until the last minute. How big a dis is that? Even the Americans the administration distrusts most --- journalists --- were told a day in advance.

Polls last week showed scant movement in either the president's approval rating (37 percent in the NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey released on Wednesday night) or that of the war (53% deem it a mistake). On NBC Tim Russert listed Mr. Bush's woes: "Iraq, Iraq, Iraq." Americans pick Iraq as the most pressing national issue, 21 points ahead of immigration, the runner-up.

They find the war so dispiriting that the networks spend less and less time covering it. Had the much-hyped Alberto roused itself from tropical storm to hurricane, Mr. Bush's Baghdad jaunt would have been bumped for the surefire Nielsen boost of tempest-tossed male anchors emoting in the great outdoors.

All of which makes it stupendously counterintuitive that the Republican campaign strategy for 2006 is to run on the war. But there was Karl Rove, freshly released from legal jeopardy, proposing exactly that in a speech just before the president's trip. In a drive-by Swift Boating, he portrayed John Kerry and John Murtha, two decorated Vietnam veterans calling for an expedited exit from Iraq, as cowards who exemplify their party's "old pattern of cutting and running."

Mr. Rove's speech was almost an exact replay of the first speech to politicize the war on terrorism also by him and delivered just four months after September 11. In January 2002, he said Republicans could "go to the country on this issue" because voters "trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America."

Democrats howled, but with Mr. Bush's approval ratings still sky-high, the strategy was a slam dunk. The Democratic Senate majority leader then, Tom Daschle, was yoked to Saddam Hussein in a campaign attack ad. Intimidated colleagues stampeded to sign on to a hasty Iraq war resolution, exquisitely timed by the White House to come to a vote before the midterms. The Democrats lost anyway, as they would again in 2004, when Mr. Rove elevated Swift Boating to an extreme sport.

But in 2006? The war is going so badly that it's hard to imagine how the Democrats, fractious as they are, could fail, particularly if the Republicans insist on highlighting the debacle, as they did last week by staging a Congressional mud fight about Iraq on the same day that the American death toll reached 2,500. As the Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio wittily observed in April: "The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."

Actually, though, the Democrats did have some plans, all of them now capsizing. The biggest was the hope that they could be propelled into power by their opponents' implosions. But Mr. Rove was not indicted. And the "culture of corruption" has lost its zing. Tom DeLay is gone, Duke Cunningham is in jail, and many Americans can't differentiate between Jack Abramoff, the Indian casino maven, and William Jefferson, the Louisiana Democrat who kept $90,000 of very cool cash in his freezer.

On the war, Democrats are fighting among themselves or, worse, running away from it altogether. Last week the party's most prominent politician, Hillary Clinton, rejected both the president's strategy of continuing with "his open-ended commitment" in Iraq and some Democrats' strategy of setting "a date certain" for withdrawal. She was booed by some in her liberal audience who chanted, "Bring the troops home now!" But her real sin was not that she failed to endorse that option, but that she failed to endorse any option.

Like Mr. Bush, she presented a false choice --- either stay the course or cut and run --- yet unlike Mr. Bush, she didn't even alight on one of them. This perilous juncture demands that leaders of both parties, whether running for president or not, articulate the least-disastrous Iraq exit option that Americans and Iraqis can rally around. Time is running out. The new Brookings Institution Iraq Index cites a poll showing that 87% of Iraqis want a timeline for American withdrawal, and 47% approve of attacks on American troops. A timeline does not require, as Mrs. Clinton disingenuously implies, an arbitrary "date certain" for withdrawal.

While the Democrats dither about Iraq, you can bet that the White House will ambush them with its own election-year facsimile of an exit strategy, dangling nominal troop withdrawals as bait for voters. To sweeten the pot, it could push Donald Rumsfeld to join Mr. DeLay in retirement. Since Republicans also vilify the defense secretary's incompetence, his only remaining value to the White House is as a political pawn that Mr. Rove can pluck from the board at the most advantageous moment. October, perhaps?

What's most impressive about Mr. Rove, however, is not his ruthlessness, it's his unshakable faith in the power of a story. The story he's stuck with, Iraq, is a loser, but he knows it won't lose at the polls if there's no story to counter it. And so he tells it over and over, confident that the Democrats won't tell their own. And they don't --- whether about Iraq or much else. The question for the Democrats is less whether they tilt left, right or center, than whether they can find a stirring narrative that defines their views, not just the Republicans'.

What's needed, wrote Michael Tomasky in an influential American Prospect essay last fall, is a "big-picture case based on core principles." As he argued, Washington's continued and inhumane failure to ameliorate the devastation of Katrina could not be a more pregnant opportunity for the Democrats to set forth a comprehensive alternative to the party in power. Another opportunity, of course, is the oil dependence that holds America hostage to the worst governments in the Middle East.

Instead the Democrats float Band-Aid nostrums and bumper-sticker marketing strategies like "Together, America Can Do Better." As the linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, "The very ungrammaticality of the Democrats' slogan reminds you that this is a party with a chronic problem of telling a coherent story about itself, right down to an inability to get its adverbs and subjects to agree."

On Wednesday Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were to announce their party's "New Direction" agenda  actually, an inoffensive checklist of old directions (raise the minimum wage, cut student loan costs, etc.) --- that didn't even mention Iraq. Symbolically enough, they had to abruptly reschedule the public unveiling to attend Mr. Bush's briefing on his triumphant trip to Baghdad.

Those who are most enraged about the administration's reckless misadventures are incredulous that it repeatedly gets away with the same stunts. Last week the president was still invoking September 11 to justify the war in Iraq, which he again conflated with the war on Islamic jihadism --- the war we are now losing, by the way, in Afghanistan and Somalia.

But as long as the Democrats keep repeating their own mistakes, they will lose to the party whose mistakes are, if nothing else, packaged as one heckuva show. It's better to have the courage of bad convictions than no courage or convictions at all.

By Shannon Dininny       
Associated Press
June 21, 2006

YAKIMA, Washington --- The cost to build a waste treatment plant at the highly contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation in south-central Washington has risen to $11.55 billion, according to a new cost estimate released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The vitrification plant is being built to convert millions of gallons of radioactive waste to glasslike logs for permanent disposal in a nuclear waste repository. The plant has long been considered the cornerstone of cleanup at the Hanford site, but the project has been mired in cost overruns, construction problems and delays.

In 2000, the construction cost was estimated at $4.3 billion. The May 2006 estimate released Wednesday estimates the new cost at $11.553 billion, which includes the addition of $1 billion in contingency money to address potential unknown costs.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup costs expected to total as much as $60 billion.

Key to the cleanup is the removal of 53 million gallons of toxic, radioactive waste from 177 aging underground tanks. Dozens of the tanks have leaked into the groundwater, threatening the nearby Columbia River and making construction of the one-of-a-kind vitrification plant a priority.

Once completed, the plant will stand 12 stories tall and be the size of four football fields.

By Jim Krane         
Associated Press
June 20, 2006

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates --- The increasing ease of becoming a millionaire became clear Tuesday, with the announcement that the ranks of world millionaires had swelled to 8.7 million last year --- half a million more than the population of New York City.

Millionaires also invested more aggressively, pouring cash into emerging markets and pulling it out of fixed income holdings, as their wealth reached $33.3 trillion, more than double U.S. economic output, a study by Merrill Lynch and consultancy Capgemini found.

The red-hot Middle East saw nearly ten percent growth in millionaires -- the world's fastest rate --- with record oil revenues and soaring stock markets pushing 300,000 people over the million-dollar mark.

"This is becoming a very attractive place to invest," said Mones R. Bazzy, Merrill Lynch's head of Middle East private banking, based in the Gulf boomtown of Dubai. Bazzy spoke in a hotel conference room overlooking the world's newest international stock market, the futuristic arch-shaped Dubai International Financial Center.

One factor in the Middle East's growth in millionaires was the stock markets that spiked by more than 100% in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last year. Thus far 2006, those markets have plunged by more than 50%, which Bazzy said may have since knocked a few millionaires off the list.

Worldwide, the number of millionaires has nearly doubled since Merrill Lynch found 4.5 million of them in 1996.

Last year's 6.5 percent growth in millionaires slowed slightly over last year's 6.6 percent, with the U.S. and Europe slowing most alongside their cooling economies.

But the ranks of the ultra-rich --- those worth more than $30 million --- climbed by more than ten percent to 85,400.

Merrill Lynch said the ultra-rich did better because they found "select pockets" of high-growth investments in Asia, Latin America and the Mideast, while most investors stuck with stodgy earnings in North America and Europe.

North America held a slight edge over Europe in the population of millionaires, with 2.9 million to Europe's 2.8 million. Asia counted 2.4 million, Latin America 300,000 and Africa 100,000.

The world's millionaires are increasingly branching out from their home countries, with 65% paying attention to foreign markets and 30% buying homes overseas, the study found.

Growth of private equity holdings in 2005 outlined an increasing preference for aggressive assets, with investors funneling cash into emerging markets, while unloading fixed-income bank deposits and bonds.

That phenomenon is only supposed to grow, as some $41 trillion is expected to be passed to heirs over the next four decades, and money managers saying more than 80% of inheritors will want to boost their international exposure.

Dubai might be one destination. Bazzy said the ease of investment and galloping economic growth in the mushrooming city was spurring the world's premier companies to set up businesses here.

"There are no unions, no taxes and administration is very easy. Barriers to entry are going lower and lower," Bazzy said. Overall, the UAE counts 59,000 millionaires, while neighboring Saudi Arabia had 80,000, Bazzy said.