Fly Me to...

Bush may have his eyes on the moon, but his ratings are headed elsewhere.

| Mon Jan. 26, 2004 4:00 AM EST

There is a remarkable new poll in Newsweek. After two months of a polling wasteland when it came to George Bush's job approval and general electability, the poll reports:

    "Despite having delivered a State of the Union address that was well received by his conservative core, Bush’s own standing has slipped among registered voters. "Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better," he declared Tuesday. But more people now say they are dissatisfied (52 percent) than satisfied (43 percent) with the way things are going in the United States, down from a post-9/11 peak last April of 50 percent satisfied. "

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What's more, for the first time, a named Democrat, rather than a generic Democratic candidate, beats the President in the next election:

    "Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has surged to the head of the pack of Democratic presidential hopefuls, according to the latest Newsweek poll, commanding 30 percent of support from registered Democrats, up from 11 percent two weeks ago. And for the first time in the poll's history a Democrat is enjoying a marginal advantage over President George W. Bush. In a hypothetical face-off, Kerry commanded a three-point lead over the president."

Now, all such polls have to be taken with several giant grains of salt. They are at best snapshots of passing seconds of feeling/opinion. Nonetheless, in the wake of the State of the Union speech, to see Bush fall below the Florida 50 percent mark when it comes to a second-term is at least encouraging. The State of the Union bomb (rather than the bombshell that was meant) and Kerry's Iowa boost could obviously be reversed in about thirty seconds.

In the process, of course, Howard Dean got clobbered and his serial state shouting and singular yelp have already become a national joke. It's unfortunate that no one puts much history behind that snapshot moment chosen, at least for the time being, as iconic for Dean both in the media and on late night TV. After all, the man did put some backbone into the other Democratic candidates. He gave them an ongoing tutorial in how to fight back against George and Co.

I suspect that, in retrospect, we'll find his polling figures beginning to slide almost from the moment of Saddam's capture when all the other major Democratic candidates collapsed in a heap of praise for the President. Dean remained standing and made an eminently reasonable comment: that we were no safer for Saddam's capture. Within days the full range of mainstream media had swiveled on him and launched an attack that lasted two months without surcease. The other Democratic candidates soon leapt on board to join the beating. Dean was badly pummeled in the process, then lost by an unexpectedly wide margin in Iowa. By the time he emerged on stage that night to say a few words, he was clearly a badly shaken candidate. The rest you know.

If uncurious George had been pummeled by the media for two months in the same fashion, with every word he spoke dissected and every past moment of his reconsidered, he would have been more than a lame duck, he would have been exactly the sort of creature his vice-president and Supreme Court Justice Scalia were bagging the other week in an armed love fest that passed for a vacation.

By the way, given how tough this election is likely to be, I'm glad to see that a subject, which has made its way -- sometimes a bit hysterically -- around the political Internet, is finally making its way to the mainstream (or at least to an eddy somewhere close to the main current of the river). In a powerful recent column, Paul Krugman of the New York Times for the second time took up the dangers of electronic voting. He began:

    "The disputed election of 2000 left a lasting scar on the nation's psyche. A recent Zogby poll found that even in red states, which voted for George W. Bush, 32 percent of the public believes that the election was stolen. In blue states, the fraction is 44 percent.

    Now imagine this: in November the candidate trailing in the polls wins an upset victory - but all of the districts where he does much better than expected use touch-screen voting machines. Meanwhile, leaked internal e-mail from the companies that make these machines suggests widespread error, and possibly fraud. What would this do to the nation?

    Unfortunately, this story is completely plausible. (In fact, you can tell a similar story about some of the results in the 2002 midterm elections, especially in Georgia.) Fortune magazine rightly declared paperless voting the worst technology of 2003, but it's not just a bad technology - it's a threat to the republic."

Finally, if you don't think the coming election is important, check out Robert Kuttner, hardly a wild-eyed radical, in the latest issue of American Prospect magazine. He's written a bone-chilling essay, 'America as a One-Party State', which explores in detail just how close we've already come to permanent Republican control of the House of Representatives and the Senate -- it's already become close to statistically inconceivable for the Democrats to take back control of either house in the foreseeable future -- and in the courts where only a Bush reelection is needed to seal the bargain. All of this (along with the new voting procedures Krugman focuses on) bring us "close to a tipping point of fundamental change in the political system itself"):

"The United States could become a nation in which the dominant party rules for a prolonged period, marginalizes a token opposition and is extremely difficult to dislodge because democracy itself is rigged. This would be unprecedented in U.S. history.

"In past single-party eras, the majority party earned its preeminence with broad popular support. Today the electorate remains closely divided, and actually prefers more Democratic policy positions than Republican ones. Yet the drift toward an engineered one-party Republican state has aroused little press scrutiny or widespread popular protest."]

Fly me to the moon

I was one of those space kids of the 1950s. An only child, bored with my life, I spent an inordinate amount of time off in space in every sense. I still wonder where those little platforms with steering mechanisms powered by jetpacks are -- the ones that pop magazines of the era swore would take us individually zipping amongst the spired towers of our cities, creating traffic jams 30 stories up. Nothing better proves to me how pathetic our ability to predict the future is -- take my previous assessment of Kerry's presidential chances for an example -- than the fact that at 59 I still find myself subway, bus, or car-bound in the big city.

Much of my night-time life back then was spent under the covers, at hours when I was supposed to be asleep, reading H. G. Wells' First Men in the Moon or The War of the Worlds by flashlight -- talk about terror wars, don't get me started on how terrified I was -- or checking out Isaac Asimov's fabulous Foundation space operas in which empires in the stars rose and fell like clockwork. In the dark at least, Asimov prepared me well enough for the present Bush administration dreams of imperial adventure in space (though they do look so shabby by comparison).

Unfortunately, when we finally reached the moon in 1969, the Vietnam War was growing ever hotter, the first pictures back looked like they were taken from inside a washing machine, and the guys bouncing around up there were about as heavily scripted for banality as the automatons in Kubrick's already released 2001: A Space Odyssey. So I put my space dreams away and focused on what was happening back on hidebound old planet Earth. But sometime in the 1970s, I found myself at the Exploratorium, San Francisco's science museum, just as the first photos from our initial probe of Jupiter were coming in. Well, I have to tell you, my heart gave a suitable little, awed pitter-pat.

All of this is to say that some boyish part of me is still primed for the idea of space exploration. But space exploitation? Or worse, the further exploitation of our own planet via space -- well, that's another story, isn't it?

The President, of course, was enthused. Like his father -- some said in "tribute" to his father, who offered a similar plan during his presidency, but in this Oedipus Wrecks of an administration that seems doubtful -- he called on us to establish a "base" on the moon by 2020 and then head for Mars. The good news is that there's even a potential "race" into space to go with his plan. Will the Chinese, our supposed future imperial competitors, get someone to the moon first? Of course, George only plans to scrape together a billion dollars for the project over numerous years by shutting down other NASA projects, starting evidently with repairs for the Hubbell telescope, and then he naturally expects someone else to pay the gargantuan bill for this "vision" somewhere off in 2010 or after, while he's sipping non-alcoholic Mai Tais in Crawford, TX. Still, something about that payment plan has a distinctly familiar ring to it. Where have I heard the idea before that we should mortgage the future to exploit the present?

So here was the President's "vision thing" on space exploration (a vision that admittedly seemed to go over nationally with all the rocket thrust of a lead bagel), and it turns out to be subject to a little known natural law --I'd call it Cheney's Law. It goes: Where the vision thing advances, can Halliburton be far behind? In fact, as it turns out, Halliburton was far ahead; so far, in fact, that Petroleum News reported in February 2001:

    "If there is life on Mars, it would probably be microorganisms in water deep below the surface of the planet. Dr. Geoffrey Briggs, director, Center for Mars Exploration at the NASA Ames Center, told 'Meet Alaska' that NASA is looking at ways to drill on Mars to look for water - and the life it might contain.

    "Briggs said NASA has been working with Halliburton, Shell, Baker-Hughes and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to identify drilling technologies that might work on Mars... Halliburton and Baker-Hughes are working on some very advanced systems, Briggs said, some so advanced they aren't willing to talk much about them. He said the NASA Ames Center relies on working with people in the industry who "really understand the problems and make us face up to the realities ... 'We do appreciate,' he said, 'that this is a non-trivial activity.'"

Ah space, I shoulda known it -- just another place to drill. Maybe in the next decade we could find a way to transport Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the moon; then no one would care what we did to it. Mike Allen and Greg Schneider of the Washington Post wrote an interesting piece on space business, aptly headlined, Industry Hopes Soar With Space Plan, Energy and Aerospace Firms Have Long Lobbied NASA. It began:

    "President Bush emphasized American ingenuity, international cooperation and human destiny when he announced his new space policy this week, but the plan also reflected long-held ambitions of the U.S. aerospace and energy industries.

    "One industry official said the climate changed last October, when China put a man in orbit and announced plans to go to the moon. Suddenly, the official said, the White House seemed anxious to revitalize the U.S. space program, in effect telling NASA that 'we're not going to let the Chinese take the moon and let us look like fools.' NASA then spent weeks in drills to come up with an outline for getting U.S. astronauts back into space in a big way, using some of the broad ideas that companies had been pushing."

And, perhaps not so strangely, as with so much that happens in the Bush administration, behind vast ambitions and galactic plans of epic proportions there's always the same tiny, overlapping cast of corporate characters, more appropriate to a cozy bedroom drama. Allen and Schneider, for instance, quote Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky expressing enthusiasm for the Bush proposal: "Today our people in Houston, our people at Cape Canaveral, at the Marshall Space Center . . . are talking to their counterparts at NASA -- at headquarters, at all levels."

In a briefing NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe quickly reassured reporters that Bush's "exploration program" would be "industry-driven." And who wouldn't claim that industry is driven? The space exploration program seems, by the way, to have emerged at least in part from our vice president's office, where the swinging door has Halliburton written all over it. And even if none of this pans out in anybody's lifetime, in a week in which Halliburton agreed to pay back $6.3 million in overcharges for its Iraq operations without even scratching the surface of things, imagine the overcharges in space. I mean, there's no limit in space, is there?

And let's not forget the helium 3 isotope, supposedly to be found in abundance on the moon. Jim Wolf of Reuters wrote of it as "a near perfect fuel source: potent, nonpolluting and causing virtually no radioactive byproduct in a fusion reactor. 'And if we could get a monopoly on that, we wouldn't have to worry about the Saudis and we could basically tell everybody what the price of energy was going to be,' said [John] Pike [of Globalsecurity.org]."

Interestingly in regard to that small cast of characters, Wolf writes:

    "Among companies that could cash in on Bush's space plans are Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., which do big business with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as well as with the Pentagon."

All this and yet, as Dr. Seuss might have written, oh no, that is not all; oh no, that is not all. Wolf adds:

    "President Bush's plan to expand the exploration of space parallels U.S. efforts to control the heavens for military, economic and strategic gain. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld long has pushed for technology that could be used to attack or defend orbiting satellites as well as a costly program, heavily reliant on space-based sensors, to thwart incoming warheads."

Ah, Donald Rumsfeld. Michelle Ciarrocca of the World Policy Institute discusses just how long our Secretary of Defense has been eyeing the military (and industrial) control of space, while warning of future "space Pearl Harbors." As she points out, "the military has long eyed the moon as a potential base of operations as warfare is moved into the heavens." (Those of you who go to the new Errol Morris film, The Fog of War, will hear a little anecdote by former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about how the Joint Chiefs tried to scuttle a bit of arms control by claiming, in a blame-it-on-the-neighbors moment -- this was the wild-eyed 1960s, of course -- that the Russians might avoid scrutiny by secretly testing atomic weapons on the other side of the moon.)

Ciarocca points out that the normal cast of characters was well represented on Rumsfeld's "Space Commission" of 2001 and that the new presidential commission to be formed soon to consider the President's space goals will be headed by Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge Jr., former Air Force secretary and presently on the board of... you guessed it, Lockheed Martin.

Even if you don't take all this too seriously, it certainly reveals a good deal about the kinds of dreams that are deeply lodged in the Bush administration's overheated brain trust. For them, space exploration is evidently the final fantasy, the Iraq that should have been: Industry-driven; backed by government; involving a few large corporations; no guerrillas anywhere in sight; totally "privatized"; and, at the end of the "rainbow," energy sources beyond anyone's wildest imaginings, and all ours. Or maybe I'm wrong and this was all preparation work for the next Star Trek movie, Space, The Final Dollar Frontier or the Wrath of Vice-President Khan.

I did notice that, after a couple of days of soaring (or at least hopping) presidential oratory, the plan dropped from sight. Not a mention of it in the State of the Union address; not even a suggestion for a Saddam trial at the International Space Station. Right now all we're left with is two go-carts on Mars, one malfunctioning. Oh well, perhaps it's time for a little humor and the funniest space article of the week was written by Gersh Kuntzman for the Newsweek website. ("Here is what the president said: 'The moon is home to abundant resources. Its soil contains raw materials that might be harvested and processed into rocket fuel or breathable air.' Here is what the president meant: 'My friends at Halliburton are very eager to strip-mine the moon and since most of my policies seem to come from outer space anyway, I said, 'What the hell?'")

But whether mining the moon for a helium isotope is pure fantasy or not (Alien without the Alien, just the big, dull cargo ships plowing through space), the militarization of space isn't and our militarization of Earth is already a fact -- with, naturally, the same small cast of characters pulling more than their weight.

And, to put any future militarized moon or Mars shot into the context that matters, we all know that in a world of one Power, our defense budget -- the President asked for $401.3 billion this year and has already let us know that he'll up it for 2005 -- either staggers or beggars the social imagination. We also know that that figure doesn't even include supplemental military requests for Iraq and Afghanistan. And recent rumors have it that in a second term, George would ask for -- depending on whom you believe -- between $40-100 billion more for war-fighting and "reconstruction" in the area.

Recently in the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Insight section, Robert Higgs, a scholar at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, took a plunge into the hidden depths of the actual military budget, adding onto it "military items" like, to give but a small example, the $4 billion annually that passes for "foreign aid" but is actually "foreign military financing." He came up with a de facto "defense" budget for 2004 whose "super-grand total... will reach the astonishing amount of nearly $754 billion -- or 88 percent more than the much-publicized $401.3 billion -- plus, of course, any additional supplemental spending that may be approved before the end of the fiscal year."

Concluding his venture into the real finances that underlie our gargantuan military presence at home and in the world, he writes (Billions more for defence --and we may not even know it):

    "Although I have arrived at my conclusions honestly and carefully, I may have left out items that should have been included -- the federal budget is a gargantuan, complex and confusing document. If I have done so, however, the left-out items are not likely to be relatively large ones. Therefore, I propose that in considering future defense budgetary costs, a well-founded rule of thumb is to take the Pentagon's (always well- publicized) basic budget total and double it. You may overstate the truth, but if so, you'll not do so by much."

The thing to remember here is that nothing this big and well fed is going anywhere any time soon, no matter who's elected to what. And once you have a military of this size with this sort of hardware in hand, the itch to try it all out becomes almost unbearable. Only the other day, head of the Army General Peter Schoomaker offered some comments on this subject in an interview:

    "General Schoomaker said the attacks on America in September 2001 and subsequent events had given the US army a rare opportunity to change. 'There is a huge silver lining in this cloud,' he said. 'War is a tremendous focus... Now we have this focusing opportunity, and we have the fact that [terrorists] have actually attacked our homeland, which gives it some oomph.'

    "He said it was no use having an army that did nothing but train. 'There's got to be a certain appetite for what the hell we exist for,' he said. 'I'm not warmongering, the fact is we're going to be called and really asked to do this stuff.'"

Certainly, there are a few large corporations -- you know the names -- which will never complain about this urge to use. After all, it keeps the reorders coming in and the weapons assembly lines humming. Oh, and good news, we've got a new place to try out our stuff. The U.S. military is planning to stay in Georgia -- and we're not talking about Macon or Atlanta here, but the small state on the Russian border that recently had a "velvet revolution" and through which a key oil pipeline to the West is slated to pass. As the BBC reported last week:

    "The American military has been training and equipping the Georgian army since the spring of 2002. Having trained three battalions of Georgian soldiers, US military instructors were due to leave in March. Georgia's new president-elect has set the removal of Russian troops still based in the country as a major priority for his government.

    On Saturday the US ambassador to Georgia said they had decided to continue training the Georgian army in a full-time programme. During the Soviet era, Krtsanisi military base outside Tbilisi was home to the Red Army. Now it is US soldiers who are in charge and, according to the US Ambassador in Tbilisi Richard Miles, they are in Georgia to stay."

It's strange, isn't it? The Cold War is far behind us; "containment" is a doctrine relegated to ancient history classes; and yet ever more American deployments and bases ring what's left of the former Soviet Union.

Fly me to Iraq

Eight American soldiers have died and a number more have been wounded in the last 24 hours while, as I write, the news is coming in that the second helicopter to go down in 72 hours has just dropped into the Tigris River with two American soldiers aboard. In the carnage of the last couple of days in the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad, numerous Iraqi passersby have died or been wounded while a bus of cleaning women heading for an American base was attacked by gunmen who murdered four cleaning ladies, a grim, cruel warning to Iraqis in any way associated with the occupation, even those needing to do so to make the most modest of livings. Though it's been little written about, I've heard estimates of somewhere upwards of 600 Iraqi policemen, caught between the occupation and the ragtag insurgency, who have been killed over the last months.

In some sense, as the situation in Iraq becomes murkier and more dangerous, it also becomes clearer. In the north, Kurdish parties are demanding an autonomy that verges on independence (which might, in turn, cause neighboring states to intervene) as well as control over the oil region of Kirkuk, something other Iraqis are unlikely to cede willingly. In the center of the country, Sunni Iraq and the capital, where the occupation is ever more harshly enforced, a low-level insurgency now rages. In the majority Shiite south, a conservative Ayatollah with powerful support insists on a democratic election which will certainly deliver the country into the hands of a possibly weak Shiite government. And yet, nothing is faintly this simple. Iraq doesn't really divide up neatly into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite areas (even forgetting other minorities); and many in all regions of the country clearly prefer to think of themselves as Iraqis first. Still, one can see here the makings of a truly explosive situation.

Last week, according to the reliable Knight-Ridder team of Warren Stroebel and Jonathan Landay, the CIA issued a warning: "[T]he country may be on a path to civil war, current and former U.S. officials said Wednesday, starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment that President Bush gave in his State of the Union address." (Do I detect a tad of payback politics here as well?)

In Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review" section in a piece by Elisabeth Bumiller (who is so far inside the White House she's practically on staff), I noted the following telling little sentence: "It is no surprise that the biggest fear of the current White House, short of another terrorist attack, is that Iraq will implode before the election."

And so, while David Kay resigns his leadership of the team in Iraq searching for weapons of mass destruction and announces that they are undoubtedly nonexistent, L. Paul Bremer and the Bush foreign policy team rush to the UN, reconsider their plans for handing over sovereignty in Iraq, and generally twist madly in the breeze, trying to figure out how to deal with Shiite Ayatollah Sistani's call for actual democratic elections in Iraq, while still somehow securing an agreement to keep American troops in Iraq for years, ensuring that the economy remains "open" to the Halliburtons of our world, and installing someone in Baghdad not likely to abrogate all this. Stay tuned, folks...

As Jonathan Steele wrote in the Guardian last week:

    "At least in Iowa, the Democratic party caucuses involve elections. Not in the US plan for Iraq. The US is proposing that 'notables' in each province attend these caucuses to appoint an assembly which would select a government. Not surprisingly, the Shia leadership smells a rat. After generations of being excluded from power, first by the British occupiers in 1920, and then by successive Sunni governments up to the one led by Saddam, they are angry."

Ehsan Ahrari of the Asia Times asks:

    "Who is the most powerful man in Iraq today? Not L Paul Bremer, the US viceroy of Iraq, not even Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of the coalition forces. It is that quiet Shi'ite cleric who is seldom seen in public, and who does not grant any interviews, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani. He communicates with his followers through written edicts (fatwas), and everyone, including the US president, listens...

    Hojatul Islam Ali Abdulhakim Alsafi, the second most senior cleric of Iraq, in a letter to President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has adopted a threatening tone by stating that their refusal to let the Iraqis chose their own institutions would drag their countries into a battle they would lose. Needless to say, Alsafi was saying what Sistani wasn't saying directly and explicitly, but really meant to say."

The Washington Post's superb correspondent in Iraq Anthony Shadid reports that recently Sistani

    "deemed a U.S. plan for the country's political transition unacceptable in 'its totality and its details.'... The depth of the objections suggested a widening gulf between compromises U.S. officials are willing to consider and the demands of a man who is perhaps Iraq's most powerful figure...

    The confrontation between the Bush administration and Sistani, who has not appeared in public in nearly a year, has created an enduring irony for the U.S. occupation, with the conservative clergy emerging as the most vocal constituency pressing for democratic elections. Sistani's call has resonated among the long-repressed Shiites, whose gratitude following the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in April has given way to mounting frustration over joblessness and to distrust of U.S. plans... [Sistani spokesman] Musawi also warned that the clergy would be sensitive to U.S. or British pressure and suggested that Sistani would retain the right to veto any alternative the [visiting UN] team proposed."

The Sistani veto. We're certainly seeing the formation of a new system in Iraq -- just as the Busheviks once claimed they fervently wanted.

The most vivid description of this administration's idea of "democracy" and its elaborate plan for caucuses meant to put its own Iraqis in power for 17 months before any election even theoretically need occur, can be found in a piece by the remarkable Naomi Klein in the Toronto Globe and Star in which she writes in part (but do read the whole piece):

    "Iraqi sovereignty will be established by appointees appointing appointees to select appointees to select appointees. Add to that the fact that Mr. Bremer was appointed to his post by President Bush and that Mr. Bush was appointed to his by the U.S. Supreme Court, and you have the glorious new democratic tradition of the appointocracy: rule by appointee's appointee's appointees' appointees' appointees' selectees."

By the way, while considering the present carnage in Iraq, here's an instant myth that deserves to be shot down: The Vietnam analogy doesn't apply to Iraq because American casualties there are so relatively modest. After all, 58,000 American died in Vietnam. In contrast, R. Jeffrey Smith in the San Francisco Chronicle offers this startling comparison:

    "The U.S. military death toll after 10 months of engagement in Iraq surpassed 500 this weekend, roughly matching the number of U.S. military personnel who died in the first four years of the U.S. military engagement in Vietnam."

So it's true that Vietnam doesn't apply, just not in the ways we imagined.

Oh yes, and in the overstretched-military category, about a week ago I mentioned rumors I had seen about retired reservists being called up. The following interesting e-letter came in from a reader:

    "RE: your comment 'and according to the Albany Times Union, rumors are circulating that the military may soon start calling up retired reservists.' I am a retired medical corps reservist and am in the process of being called up. The paper work is done and I am waiting for the time to leave."

If this isn't a limited and unfair "draft" for a desperately overstretched military, I don't know what is.

Fly me to my stomach

Is there a UN program the Bush administration wouldn't like to eliminate, an international effort it wouldn't like to shoot down, or a treaty it wouldn't like to ditch? I think not. This administration has given new meaning to former First Lady Nancy Reagan's "just say no" anti-drug campaign. At the very moment that the administration has turned to the UN for some help in salvaging its Iraq wreck (but not too much help please, just get that Ayatollah off our back), it managed this week to toss a monkey wrench into the works on the least controversial of international efforts -- not a curb on global warming or biological weapons or land mines, but an attempt to cut down on one of the great international killers, sugar.

According to Reuters, "The United States, where two-thirds of adults are overweight, succeeded Tuesday in stalling a global plan [by the World Health Organization] to fight an obesity epidemic." WHO was about to launch a global campaign against sugar's role in obesity, but it hardly had turned the key in the motor when the American Hummer crushed it (with the help of a couple of sugar-producing islands, Russia, South Korea and India).

Why? Well, after pointing out that we are the globe's major sugar junkies ("Americans, who comprise only 5% of the world's population, account for a whopping 33% of total global sugar consumption - over 10 million tons annually. According to the WHO, over half of Americans are overweight and 31% -- 38.8 million people -- are obese. Obesity rates in children have risen 50% in recent years"), Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis explains not just how overconsumption of sugar leads to cardiovascular disorders and diabetes, but why the WHO campaign was put on hold (Overweight America is hooked on sugar):

    "The real reason for the administration's preposterous position is that the powerful U.S. sugar industry is one of its biggest financial backers, and a major power in the key electoral state of Florida. The sugar industry is also one of Washington's most successful lobby groups and a huge contributor to congressmen and senators of both parties.

    "The result: the federal government subsidizes U.S. sugar producers to the tune of $1.4 billion US annually. Import restrictions protect them from foreign competition and keep domestic sugar prices three or four times higher than world prices. Sugar remains the nation's most heavily subsidized crop at almost $500 per acre per annum."

Sugar in outer space anyone?

Pardoning the turkeys

Just because I can't help it, let me end by recommending a new piece by Arundhati Roy, who has been one of the freshest voices on planet Earth since 9/11. She's got an essay in the latest Nation magazine on the "New Imperialism," or how an empire is to be run in this post-modern age and offers the following passage on the far less messy "New Racism" that goes with it.

    "The best allegory for New Racism is the tradition of 'turkey pardoning' in the United States. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the US President with a turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year, in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the President spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the 50 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has won the Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky birds to be sociable, to interact with dignitaries, school children and the press. (Soon they'll even speak English!)

    "That's how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully bred turkeys--the local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (like myself)--are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot. But the Fortunate Fowls in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work for the IMF and the WTO--so who can accuse those organizations of being antiturkey? Some serve as board members on the Turkey Choosing Committee--so who can say that turkeys are against Thanksgiving? They participate in it! Who can say the poor are anti-corporate globalization? There's a stampede to get into Frying Pan Park. So what if most perish on the way?"

Additional briefings by Tom Engelhardt can be read throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a web-log of The Nation Institute.

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