Monday, March 07, 2005

The Kidnapping of Giuliana Sgrena?
February 14, 2005
The Kidnapping of Giuliana Sgrena: Defaming the Iraqi Resistance is the Name of the Game
Giuliana Sgrena, an unembedded Italian journalist, was not kidnapped by the Iraqi resistance. If you read her stories, you will immediately realize the Iraqi resistance had absolutely no reason to abduct her. Giuliana Sgrena wrote about the suffering of the Iraqi people under occupation. “Suffering daily abuses and violence from occupation forces or their proxies, the Iraqis themselves are subjected to routine hostage-taking by the occupiers,” writes Stefano Chiarini, Il Manifesto correspondent in Baghdad.

“This type of kidnapping distorts and defames the resistance of the Iraqi people against the American occupation,” said Sheik Abdel Salam al Qubaisi of the Association of Islamic Scholars, a Sunni organization. For his effort on Sgrena’s behalf, Sheik Ali al Jabouri, a member of the Association of Islamic Scholars, was arrested by Allawi’s goons.

Sgrena worked for Il Manifesto, an Italian leftist newspaper, and she was “among the founders of the peace movement,” according to her biography on the Il Manifesto web site. “Giuliana was in Iraq to witness the plight of innocent Iraqi people and show to the world that the invasion of Iraq by US forces has brought nothing positive but more pain, sufferings and tragedies for ill-fated civilians. As a freedom-loving Italian journalist she wanted to uncover those aspects of the life of Iraqi children, women and men that are usually ignored by other known Western media,” writes Rawa (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) for Bellaciao.

In other words, she was an enemy of the United States, not the Iraqi resistance, in the same way Margaret Hassan was an enemy of the United States, or rather the policies of the United States.

Both Hassan and Sgrena were kidnapped by “counterinsurgency” black op groups—now admitted to be working in both Iraq and Iran by the Pentagon—posing as resistance fighters. I have no evidence of this but it is the only explanation that makes sense. I have written about this elsewhere, so will not repeat the details. See my Hersh Adds Credibility to Speculation Margaret Hassan was the Victim of a Counterinsurgency Operation, posted on January 18. I also wrote about it here. For speculating on such, I have been termed a conspiracy nut donning a tinfoil hat.

Eason Jordan, the chief news executive of CNN, was forced to resign recently for stating the obvious: the Pentagon targets journalists in Iraq. Jordan sheepishly attempted to backtrack after making the comment in Davos, Switzerland. “Jordan offered no evidence, and his accusation, which he may have tried to take back later, was too much for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who was in the audience and said he was ‘outraged by the comments,’” Marvin Olasky writes for the Moonie controlled Washington Times. Is it possible Dodd would be “outraged” by this page, listing the names of journalists murdered in Iraq, posted on the International Federation of Journalists web site?

It really is a no-brainer: the Pentagon is kidnapping and murdering journalists because they do not want the world to know about the war crimes they are committing in Iraq. “[Sgrena] had an appointment in a Baghdad Sunni mosque with refugees from Fallujah. A few minutes after the phone call, she was abducted,” writes Luciana Bohne. “That is all that is known at this time. However, it is noted, at least by many in Italy, that every independent journalist who attempts to investigate what happened in Fallujah is kidnapped—some, like [Enzo] Baldoni, are killed.” Baldoni and his interpreter were killed in late August of 2004, allegedly by the Islamic Army in Iraq, the same “resistance” organization that threatened to “give American civilians a taste of what civilians in our country go through,” in other words attack the United States directly, a stupid remark for a supposed resistance organization, suspect because even a dimwit realizes attacking the United States and killing U.S. citizens would shift even more support behind Bush and the Strausscons. The Islamic Army in Iraq is said to be connected to Ansar al-Sunnah, a “resistance” organization in competition with al-Zarqawi’s al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad to see who can upload more disgusting beheading videos on the internet.

Giuliana Sgrena was kidnapped because the Pentagon does not want you to know what it did in Fallujah. As Dahr Jamail reported last month, based on eye witness accounts, military bulldozers and trucks removed tons of soil from the Julan and Jimouriya quarters of Fallujah, where the heaviest fighting occurred late last year. “At least two kilometers of soil were removed,” explained one of Jamail’s contacts, “Exactly as they did at Baghdad Airport after the heavy battles there during the invasion and the Americans used their special weapons…. They went around to every house and have shot the water tanks. As if they are trying to hide the evidence of chemical weapons in the water, but they only did this in some areas, such as Julan and in the souk (market) there as well.”

Hear no evil, so no evil. If reporters such as Giuliana Sgrena are kidnapped, never to be seen again, rest assured you will never know what really happened in Fallujah, just as you will never know the actual number of people killed because the United States bombed hospitals, described as propaganda centers. Of course, truth is always considered propaganda and truthful journalists such as Giuliana Sgrena are the enemy.

Where are the Republicans on Social Security?

Many Republicans aren't talking about Social Security
By Jon Sawyer
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau Chief

Kenny Hulshof

Social Security reform may be the signature issue of President George W. Bush's second term but so far it is mostly Democrats, not Republicans, who have answered his call for a grand national debate.

When Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia, spoke Friday to the Washington (Mo.) Area Chamber of Commerce, he talked about health care, methamphetamine and Amtrak but he barely mentioned Social Security.

He said nothing at all about personal accounts, the centerpiece of Bush's plan, even though Bush has proclaimed this his top domestic priority and even though Hulshof serves on the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.

"It's going to be a long process," Hulshof said afterward. "It's important to solicit information and opinions on some of these proposals, but until we really get down to the brass tacks of talking about specific legislation, right now it's just an informational exercise."

That Democrats are more than willing to talk specifics, not just brass tacks but maybe brass knuckles too, was evident Thursday night at a town forum sponsored by Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.

More than 150 people spilled out of the meeting room at the Weber Road Branch of the St. Louis County Public Library, a majority of them older people, but a sprinkling of 20-somethings too, and virtually unanimous in opposition to any kind of Social Security privatization.

Carnahan, a freshman, told the audience that in his view Bush had given "some really mixed messages. On the one hand he says the Social Security system is bankrupt but on the other hand he says it's stable for about the next half century. To me it can't be both.

"Experts will tell you that for the next 50 years the system is sound and even after that it can pay up to 80 percent of its benefits to everybody," Carnahan said, passing over the fact that most experts agree it would be ruinous to Social Security's long-term solvency to postpone reforms that long.

"That doesn't sound like a bankrupt system to me," he said. "This is the president's number one objective. He's made this the debate. I say, let's have the debate."

Only two attendees raised their hands to indicate they supported the idea of personal accounts. When one of them suggested that for younger people such accounts would bring better returns than the current Social Security system, he was all but shouted down.

"Where's he been for the last five years?" a man in the back of the room called out. "I lost $35,000."

"I'm a working man," said another. "When a millionaire starts trying to help me with my money, I get scared."

Leonard Thomas, 63, of Oakville, said that he had put aside money all his working life, as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, but that the stock market crash in 2000 had hit him hard.

"I lost $100,000, a third of my 401(k)" retirement account, he said. "Who's going to make that up if I'm a baby boomer and the stock market goes south again?"

Rich Brown, 51, of Lemay, noted Social Security's role in serving the disabled and survivors. "My father was 50 when I was born, and he died when I was in high school. The survivor benefits kept us out of poverty and got me at least a couple of years of higher ed.

"I'm forever grateful for it," he said. "I don't want to see any change."

In a meeting that had the feel of a pep rally, and one against an especially reviled rival, Carnahan got strong encouragement even from the young workers often cited as prime beneficiaries of Bush's proposed personal accounts.

"I came here not just to voice my opinion because I think most of us agree," said Chris Murphy, 22, of St. Louis, who waits tables at the Old Spaghetti Factory on Laclede's Landing.

"We need a champion, someone who can go full throttle on the floor of the House or Senate. It won't be citizens who can do this. ... I came here to ask you to be a champion for us."

At the Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday, by contrast, the Social Security issue sparked no questions at all from a lunchtime audience of about 100. Participants noted that Hulshof shared the stage with state legislators and the focus was on more local issues, among them the fight over state Medicaid funding and the proposed ban on stem-cell research.

But among those interviewed there was skepticism of the personal accounts even from strong Bush supporters.

"Privatization is not a solution," said Eric Park, head of a Washington-based financial planning firm. He noted that Bush administration officials themselves have acknowledged that the proposed personal accounts, funded by a portion of employee-paid payroll taxes, would not by themselves shore up the system's long-term funding shortfall.

Park said he was also concerned by data showing the generally poor performance of 401(k) and other retirement accounts where investment decisions are left to individuals.

"I'm a red-white-and-blue Republican conservative capitalist, but this is not a solution," Park said. "It's good to promote an ownership society. But to say that this solves Social Security's problems? It doesn't."

This past week was the first recess of the 109th Congress, and the first since Bush named partial privatization of Social Security as the top domestic priority of his second term. While he himself spent the week in Europe, shoring up a sometimes fractured alliance, there were signs at home of trouble to come on his Social Security reform campaign.

First was the emergence of partisan sniping, from both sides:

Internet ads assailing the AARP, principal voice of Americans over age 50 and a leading opponent of privatization, as being pro-gay and anti-Iraq war. The ads were floated by USA Net, an offshoot of the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, the group behind ads last fall attacking the Vietnam military record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Ads from a liberal advocacy group, Campaign for America's Future, targeting Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. The ads said McCrery's receipt of some $200,000 in campaign contributions over the past for years from banks and security firms make him beholden to Wall Street interests pressing privatization.

A second sign was the reluctance of Republican congressional representatives to embrace Bush's agenda. Most, like Hulshof and Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., passed up the chance to highlight Social Security at public forums back home. Those who pressed the case, like Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., found the going rough. More than two dozen, according to Democratic counts, have already rejected privatization outright.

Third was the admission, from Bush's own inner circle, that the campaign has gotten off to a rocky start.

"We still have some work to do," Treasury Secretary John Snow said as he headed off to Florida to pitch Bush's plan. "We're at the early stages of this education process and engagement process. We're going to hit this hard. We're going to get the facts out."

Jill Quadagno, a sociologist at Florida State University, was a staff member on the 1993 entitlements reform commission, a bipartisan group that tried and failed to come up with long-term solutions to Social Security and Medicare.

Quadagno opposes personal accounts because she believes setting them up would undermine the broad public backing that has made Social Security thrive. She expects the proposal to die. But she also notes that the debate has just begun, and that Bush has already achieved much.

"What's interesting to me is that change in what's acceptable to speak about," she said. "Before the 2000 campaign it was considered suicide to bring up privatization at all. Bush did, and it didn't hurt him."

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, appearing with Hulshof, said it was way too soon to write off Bush's prospects.

"We've now had three election cycles of evidence, in which no one who's campaigned on personal accounts has been defeated," Kinder said. "I don't know how much evidence you need," he said.

Reporter Jon Sawyer
Phone: 202-298-6880

Carlyle Group Gets Another Media Outlet?

March 7, 2005
Insight Buyout Offer Is Expected Today

he Carlyle Group and the co-founders of Insight Communications, the nation's ninth-largest cable television operator, are planning to make a $650 million offer today to buy out the public shareholders of Insight, executives close to the company said yesterday.

The move follows a similar plan last year by the controlling shareholders of Cox Communications to take that company private. Insight has a joint venture with Comcast and serves 1.3 million customers in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

Carlyle and Insight's co-founders, Sidney R. Knafel and Michael S. Willner, are proposing to buy the company's outstanding shares for $10.70 a share in cash, an 11 percent premium over the closing price of Insight's stock on the Nasdaq Friday and a 17 percent premium over the six-month average closing price.

An executive close to the company said the offer price was worth more than the shares have traded for in the last 12 months. The proposal values the total equity of Insight at about $650 million. The company's existing debt will remain outstanding.

Insight's board is expected to form a special committee of independent directors to consider the proposal, which requires shareholder approval. Mr. Knafel and Mr. Willner own shares of Insight representing approximately 14 percent of the equity and 62 percent of the vote.

Morgan Stanley and Stephens are advising the group and Dow, Lohnes & Albertson and Debevoise & Plimpton L.L.P. are providing legal counsel.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |

Greenspan and His Giant Deficit

Greenspan's Warning on Deficit Ignores His Role in Its Growth
Ronald Brownstein
Washington Outlook

March 7, 2005

Is he kidding?

That's the only possible reaction to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan's conclusion last week that the massive federal budget deficit accumulated under President Bush was "unsustainable." Declared Greenspan: "The principle that I think is involved here … [is] that you cannot continuously introduce legislation which tends to expand the budget deficit."

That would be an entirely reasonable — even urgent — warning from someone who didn't bear so much responsibility for the problem he's describing. Greenspan lamenting higher deficits is like New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner complaining about inflated baseball salaries.

Let's recap. When Bush was elected, the nation had enjoyed three consecutive years of federal budget surpluses under President Clinton. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the government was on track to amass surpluses large enough to pay off the publicly held national debt by 2008. That would make the nation debt free for the first time since the presidency of Andrew Jackson.

Greenspan had reliably supported this fiscal discipline under Clinton. But after Bush's election, Greenspan bent to the prevailing wind. Within days of Bush's inauguration, he gave his seigniorial blessing to tax cuts in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee.

As Bruce Bartlett, a leading conservative economist, wrote at the time: "With Greenspan's support … the last substantive barrier to tax reduction has evaporated." And Congress, with Greenspan's critical reassurance, passed the largest of Bush's massive tax cuts that year.

Greenspan built his argument for tax cuts in 2001 largely on his concern that the projected surpluses would be too large, allowing the government not only to extinguish the debt but also to accumulate financial assets, such as stocks and bonds.

That always seemed a dubious notion. But if that concern was legitimate, it seemed to be pretty well resolved by the time Bush came back for another tax reduction in 2003. The federal budget had already fallen back deeply into deficit under the weight of Bush's 2001 tax cuts, the economic slowdown and the cost of responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Rather than falling, much less falling too fast, the national debt was rising again.

Against that backdrop, surely the great voice of fiscal restraint would counsel caution about burdening future generations with more debt through more tax cuts.

Well, sort of. Greenspan, to his credit, said the second round of tax cuts shouldn't be passed without offsetting spending reductions. But he never seriously pushed Congress to reconsider the initial tax cuts passed on the obsolete assumption of vast surpluses.

Even today, Greenspan endorses even more borrowing for Bush's Social Security private investment accounts (if not quite as much as Bush wants), and points at spending cuts as the principal answer to the debt trap that he helped to create. Taken together, Greenspan's advice paints him more as an activist committed to shrinking government than a dispassionate banker counseling fiscal prudence.

Tax cuts, of course, aren't the only reason Washington is drowning in debt again. But no one should minimize their impact.

One recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research group, found that of all the federal policy changes since 2001 that had enlarged the deficit, tax cuts contributed 48%, followed by increases in defense and homeland security at 37%, and domestic spending at 15%.

The best estimate is that over the next 75 years, Bush's tax cuts will cost $11 trillion — about triple the projected Social Security shortfall over the same period that Bush has labeled a crisis.

Greenspan really earned a place in the annals of chutzpah when he raised the impending costs of baby boom retirements as a principal reason why Washington should tackle its deficits. It isn't exactly a news bulletin that large numbers of baby boomers will be retiring at the end of this decade, or that this will swell the costs of Medicare and Social Security.

These trends were well known when Greenspan endorsed tax cuts in 2001. And yet by doing so, he helped sabotage America's best chance to reduce the burden of those costs for future generations.

Let's recap again. Clinton's plan was to use the projected federal surpluses to pay down the national debt. That would have significantly reduced, and eventually eliminated, federal interest payments on that debt (now running just under $180 billion annually). Then he proposed to use those savings to help fund Social Security.

That wouldn't have solved the problem of an aging society entirely: the exploding costs of Medicare would almost certainly have demanded tougher efforts to control medical costs, as well as reduced services and more taxes. But Clinton's fiscal strategy represented a good-faith effort by today's taxpayers to lighten the load on their children.

Instead we increased their burden. After voting ourselves lower taxes and more services (such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit), we have virtually guaranteed that future generations will need to raise their taxes.

As Greenspan noted last week, today's young people face the prospect of exploding interest costs (projected to exceed $300 billion by 2010) to fund our rising debt — even as our retirement and the unrelenting rise in healthcare costs saddle them with soaring bills for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Sure, the kid doesn't make the bed, but doesn't that seem a little severe?

Greenspan last week described this slow-motion crisis as if he were some concerned bystander. But in the federal government's financial crackup, Greenspan's more like the guy at the party who handed the car keys to a drunk. Now, after the wreckage, he's sad. But we'd all be better off if he had spoken up when it could have done some good.

Ronald Brownstein's column appears every Monday. See current and past columns on The Times' website at .