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July 27, 2007

Here, There and Everywhere

Both Brian Fishman and Fawaz A. Gerges confirm the Administration's claims that al Qaeda indeed has a presence in Iraq. Yet both equally contend that there are many other factions at play in the region and that the situation is much more complex than simply the "U.S. vs. al Qaeda."

So, how can the United States successfully fight the terror threats of al Qaeda? Within the borders of Iraq, or elsewhere in the region, perhaps farther away from the epicenter of a Sunni/Shiite sectarian war?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently stated:

I believe that it is al Qaeda that has done the most in terms of trying to stoke sectarian violence, from the bombing of the Samarra mosque a year ago February to the second bombing of the mosque just a couple of weeks ago, and to try and provoke exactly the kind of reaction that happened after February of last year. So I think that at least in terms of the combat operations that we're conducting now, the principal enemy that they are facing is in fact al Qaeda.

While Fawaz A. Gerges, a Carnegie scholar who is undertaking a 15-month field study in the Middle East tracing the journey of what he calls “the Iraq generation” of activists and jihadis, contends that the U.S. presence in Iraq is actually bolstering the central al Qaeda network:

The administration's argument that we have to stay in Iraq in order to win the war against al Qaeda does not make sense. In fact, the opposite is true. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more we help al Qaeda spread its ideology and tactics.

What do you think?
  • Does the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq justify a continued US military campaign there?
  • Does it similarly justify our presence in Pakistan, Algeria, the Philippines, Malaysia or other regions where the terror organization allegedly has a foothold?

Why Earmarks Matter

by Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense

At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe that the impact of earmarks is greater than the billions of dollars they cost the federal treasury. With a federal budget close to $3 trillion, we know that earmarks are not the only source of government waste. But the earmarking process is a breakdown in democratic decision-making in the Congress. We are putting the unprecedented amount of power to direct billions of dollars of projects in the hands of very small group of legislators and lobbyists. The all-consuming chase for earmarks distracts Congress and takes time away from important policy debates.

This year alone, there were more than 30,000 requests for earmarks in the House of Representatives – all of which had to be reviewed by staff on the Appropriations Committee. That’s a tremendous amount of effort and time to bring $100,000 for a theater renovation or $150,000 for Robotics Training Equipment at a local community college to a local congressional district. Don’t get me wrong, these and other projects may deserve federal support, but most of us don’t get a chance to ask why these projects are better than others or why they should be funded first before other projects. The lack of a competitive or a meritorious process means that projects may be ignored in favor of those backed by the politically powerful.

When so much time and resources spent deciding which project gets $100,000 or $1 million, we divert the Congress’ attention from the major policy debates that should be guiding congressional debate. How do we address the growing federal budget deficit? How can we ensure excellence and accountability in defense spending? Are we spending more money to have private contractors do the work we used to complete with government workers?

But, possibly the worst thing about earmarks is that they have become the currency of corruption. Also, this decade of rapid growth of earmarks coincided with one of the most lax periods of Congressional oversight of the federal government. This lax scrutiny makes earmarks ripe for abuse.

What can you do to help reign in earmarking? Demand better information, and more accountability from your elected officials. An informed constituent is a powerful force. Work with Taxpayers for Common Sense to bring earmarks out of the shadows of the Congress and into the public light. TCS has been tracking all that information and pulling it together into searchable databases available to the public on our Web site. See what your member of Congress is up to.

Also, ask your lawmaker to disclose all of the earmark requests they are making. We are only able to track the successful requests, but there are tens of thousands of requests that are unknown. If a member of Congress is willing to sign on the dotted line asking for federal funding, the public should be able to know that.

Finally, after reviewing all the information, tell them what you think. And tell us what you think, too.

When one of his earmarks was challenged recently, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) complained that people were trying to take “my money.” That’s how earmarks have twisted things in Washington. It’s our money, it’s our government. Work with Taxpayers for Common Sense to make the budget more transparent and more accountable to taxpayers.

July 25, 2007

Preview: Al Qaeda, Earmarks

Watch the video

This Week on Bill Moyers Journal:

As the Bush administration promotes the idea that Al Qaeda is the enemy in Iraq, the Journal analyzes the facts on the ground to explore who the U.S. is really fighting. Also on the program, a report on the hidden spending provisions used by Congress known as earmarks—“pipelines of cash” added to legislation without any debate, public hearing or oversight—which are often used as payback for political contributions. As Congress works to put reforms in place, is it business as usual?

Check Your Local Listings here and we'll see you on the blog after the show.

July 20, 2007

Remembering Sekou Sundiata

We have sad news to report this week. Poet, musician and historian Sekou Sundiata, featured in our series "The Language of Life" passed away on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 at 5:47am. We remember him and the music of his words here:

For more information on the life and work of Sekou Sundiata, click here.

July 19, 2007

Poll: The Yes Men

Answer our poll question, then debate the topic below.

Poetry and Prejudice

This week on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL, Bill Moyers talks with scholar and poet Martín Espada about the borders of racism facing the Latino community in America today, and how the news media sometimes perpetuates these issues:

"We talk about borders all the time. In fact, for Latinos, the true borders of our experience have always been the borders of racism. Having said that, I also believe that we don't necessarily see the situations in which solidarity happens. We don't see the situation where somebody reaches out to somebody to someone else. Does that make the news? Do we hear about that?"

Here is a poem by Martín Espada that speaks to the issues of race and borders entitled "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100." You can more of Espada's poems here.

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees
Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant,
who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.

Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the shudder deep in the glass of the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan and Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.

Photo: Robin Holland

July 13, 2007

Bill Moyers Essay: The War Debate

Click the picture above to watch Bill Moyers' essay on the ongoing war debate in Congress.

Then tell us what you think by commenting below.

July 5, 2007

What Can I Do?

As this week's story on the Earth Conservation Corps and Bill Moyers' interview with E.O. Wilson both demonstrate, local efforts can make a difference in helping to maintain a healthy and sustainable environment.

Back in October, when we aired "Is God GREEN?" the MOYERS ON AMERICA special about recent efforts within the evangelical movement to preserve our planet, many viewers wrote in about local environmental successes in their community. Here are just a few excerpts:

Joan Conley wrote:

I am very fortunate to live in the city of Syracuse, NY which is right next door to the Onondaga Nation. The Onondagas have a long history of dedication to the land. About a year ago they filed a land rights claim that is not about getting land back or getting money. It is their wish to work with us--their cousins, as they call us, to do a meaningful clean-up of Onondaga Lake, which is said to be the most polluted lake in the US; and also to engage in a real work of stewardship of the land and all of it's creatures. It has been my great privilige to learn about loving the creator through loving creation.

Jennifer Knott-Kimbrell wrote:

In Austin, Texas our church held a light bulb exchange. We encouraged members and visitors alike to bring in incandescent bulbs and trade them in for Compact Fluorescent bulbs. Now people want to know things like if the altar candles burning are petroleum-based, or if the insulation in the building is enough. It all starts with one person, one event and goes from there.

In the spirit of continuing the conversation, we ask you to tell us about environmental programs going on in your city or town, as evidence that little by little, important work is being done to save our planet and its diverse inhabitants. As E.O. Wilson reminds us, we've only discovered 10% of Earth's species. "We live in an unexplored planet." Only concentrated efforts, often starting humbly at the local level, can ensure that there's something left to explore.

July 3, 2007

Story Updates: Libby, Eagles, Trade and more

Libby Sentence Commuted: Reaction to President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence was rapid. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. announced that he will be holding a full committee hearing next week titled, "The Use and Misuse of Presidential Clemency Power for Executive Branch Officials." After President Clinton pardoned 140 people on his last day in office, Congressional leadership held similar hearings entitled, "Proposals to amend the president’s power to grant reprieves and pardons." Read an excerpt from testimony here.

Read more about the issues surrounding the case and continue the conversation.

Watch Bill Moyers' recent essay entitled, "Begging his Pardon"

"We have yet another remarkable revelation of the mindset of Washington's ruling clique of neoconservative elites—the people who took us to war from the safety of their Beltway bunkers. Even as Iraq grows bloodier by the day, their passion of the week is to keep one of their own from going to jail."

Watch Bill Moyers interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson from NOW with Bill Moyers, February 28, 2003. It was the release of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent which led to the Libby trial.

"Somehow it's hard for me to imagine that a democratic system will emerge out of the ashes of Iraq in the near term. And when and if it does, it's hard for me to believe that it will be more pro-American and more pro-Israeli than what you've got now," says Joseph Wilson in his interview.

More about Plamegate and Judith Miller from BUYING THE WAR.

President loses fast-track authority: On July 1, 2007, Presidential fast-track authority expired, and according to a statement released last week from the House Democratic Leadership, new trade legislation will not include a renewal of fast-track.


"Since 1975, only one other president, Bill Clinton, has been stripped of that trade-promotion authority, designed to speed the reduction of trade barriers and open new markets with other countries. Bush won't get it back again, and the next president might not either."

Read the latest press release from the House Democratic Leadership regarding the four pending trade deals.

Watch Bill Moyers' interviews with Public Citizen's Lori Wallach and HARPER'S Rick MacArthur.
Bald Eagle Leaves Endangered Species List: Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced last week that the American bald eagle has been removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1963, scientists could only account for 417 mating pairs of bald eagles in the country, attributing this scarcity to hunters and DDT poisoning. Today, this number has reached nearly 10,000. "The rescue of the bald eagle...ranks among the greatest victories of American conservation," said John Flicker, president of the National Audobon Society.

Find out more on what we've learned from the rescue of the bald eagle that can be applied to other endangered birds. Also, more on what you can do to help preserve the planet's biodiversity.

Journalist Alan Johnston Freed: BBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been released after four months in captivity. Johnston was the only international correspondent working in the Gaza Strip. Learn more about the dangers posed to journalists worldwide at the UN's World Press Freedom Day site and from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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