Saturday, December 20, 2003
The question of the week, however, seems to be whether [Saddam's capture] is satisfying enough to invalidate opposition to the war. Some pundits have suggested that it is. Indeed, Howard Dean made headlines simply for affirming that he still thinks invading Iraq was a bad idea -- a statement his fellow Democratic contenders for the presidency jumped on.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, for instance, suggested that Dean had "climbed into his own spider hole of denial."
But it's Lieberman -- and anyone else who thinks Saddam's humiliation validates the Iraq war -- who's in denial.
You feel like an ant at a picnic for pointing this out. Indeed, the only thing that might feel more awkward than standing aside from the celebratory conga line would be to join it. Because joining it requires one to forget conveniently that the reason we went to war was not to find Saddam but to find weapons of mass destruction, which, we were told, represented a clear and present danger to our security. Those weapons are yet to be found, and the suspicion is strong that they simply do not exist, that calamitous failures of intelligence lead the nation to spend time, treasure and lives on a war that did not need to be fought.
Whenever you make that point, people invariably respond that the world is a better place without Saddam in power. This is true.
But it's an after-the-fact obfuscation that fuels suspicion the president was disingenuous or misinformed when he made the case for war.
Or even that he was lying.
Libya's pledge yesterday to scrap its weapons of mass destruction is a sign the Bush administration has combined its muscular approach to containing arms proliferation with a growing willingness to negotiate with outlaw regimes and rely on the very arms control agreements it previously derided, according to weapons specialists.
The agreement, reached in Tripoli after nine months of talks among Libya, the United States, and Britain, was announced a day after Iran agreed to stricter inspections by the United Nations of Tehran's nuclear program -- as it pledged to allow in US-backed talks this fall with European leaders. Libya's pledge also was made as Washington tries to maintain the momentum in six-party talks with North Korea over Pyong-yang's nuclear weapons program.
For much of President Bush's term, top administration officials have criticized such international agreements as being weak and providing no guarantees that outlaw countries will live up to their pledges. In fact, that interpretation was used to build support for invading Iraq earlier this year. No matter how many inspections or international agreements, the administration said, Iraq could not be taken at its word about weapons of mass destruction.
This must be different, I guess.
Halliburton's own auditors warned of problems with the company's contract to deliver fuel in Iraq even before Pentagon investigators raised similar concerns, a Democratic presidential candidate said.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said a Pentagon official told him that Halliburton was refusing to turn over copies of the internal audit, which Defense Department investigators found but did not copy.
Halliburton has refused to turn over copies of the draft audit, Lieberman said.
Let’s see, if I smear someone’s good name, does that entitled me to also lock him up in a military facility, cut him off from his family and friends, deny him all his Constitutional rights and throw the key away? Well, if you’re George W. Bush, Jr., and your day job is president of the U.S. and your top legal advisor is a guy by the name of John Ashcroft, it seems you CAN! In fact, this is exactly what happened in the case of Jose Padilla, an American citizen.
In May, 2002, Padilla, a convert to Islam, was in Pakistan. When he returned home to Chicago, he was arrested at the O’Hare airport and held on a “material witness” warrant for a grand jury probe that was investigating a “dirty bomb” plot by al-Qaeda. With that legal status, Padilla had a right to counsel, to seek bail at a prompt hearing and a right to challenge the propriety of his detention via any criminal law proceeding.
But, that was all a little bit too much “rights” stuff to suit our boy-oh, “Wild West George.” Bush decided, without any legal authority or a factual basis, to designate Padilla as a “enemy combatant.” This is just a term Bush and Ashcroft made up! Padilla was never anywhere near any battle zones in the Middle East. Bush’s arbitrary “designation” put the defendant in a Kafkaesque legal hell, where he could be held by the military, (read Donald Rumsfeld), without any chance for bail or counsel, no legal rights at all, and with little hope of Constitutional relief or judicial review. Welcome to the “Bush-Ashcroft-Rumsfeld Gulag!”
Friday, December 19, 2003
Last year the U.S. intelligence community produced a formal estimate concluding that Iraq possessed large stocks of chemical and biological weapons and that it had reconstituted its nuclear bomb program. But a concerted postwar search by a U.S. survey team so far has found no weapons or nuclear program -- only suspicious facilities and a continuing intention to acquire such arms.
"So what's the difference?" President Bush demanded of ABC's Diane Sawyer in an interview broadcast Tuesday. "The possibility that [Saddam Hussein] could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger." In fact, the difference is much larger than that -- and the president's cavalier dismissal of it is shocking.
Start with the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) the administration delivered to Congress in October 2002, just as it was considering whether to authorize war. Mr. Bush told Ms. Sawyer it was "very sound" -- yet by now it is obvious that it was not. Not only did the NIE mistake the seriousness of Iraq's nuclear program, but it concluded that Iraq was still producing such deadly chemical agents as mustard, sarin and VX and had hundreds of tons of chemical weapons stockpiled. These have not been found, and the CIA-directed postwar survey group has surmised that Iraq did not have a large or centrally controlled chemical weapons program after 1991.
Speaking of marvels of hypocrisy, the U.N.'s books on who dealt with Iraq are not all that shrouded. For example, one of the disgusting companies actually making profits from dealing with the despicable dictator in the 1990s -- long after his depravities had become evident to even the less attentive sectors of the world -- was, well, golly, look at this, Halliburton. Between 1997 and 2000, while Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, the company sold $73 million worth of oilfield equipment and services to Saddam Hussein.
At least Halliburton was not selling luxury cars to the Baathist elite. Halliburton, the oilfield equipment company, merely kept Saddam Hussein's oil fields pumping, the only thing that allowed the s.o.b. to stay in power. Halliburton cleverly ran its business with Saddam through two of its subsidiaries, Dresser Rand and Ingersoll-Dresser, in order to avoid the sanctions.
Unlike the Germans, the French and the Russians, Halliburton was not punished by the Bush administration for dealing with the dictator. Instead, it got the largest reconstruction contract given by this administration, with an estimated value between $5 billion and $15 billion. And the company got the contract without competitive bidding.
Halliburton has amply repaid the administration's faith. The Pentagon is now investigating the company for at least $120 million in overcharges, including $60 million for importing gasoline into Iraq and $67 million on a food services contract. Among the allegations are that Halliburton had blood in its food service refrigerators and is serving our soldiers rotten meat.
I think the French will particularly enjoy being lectured on their hypocrisy, preferably by Cheney himself. It's the kind of thing sophisticated people especially appreciate.
By now, we've become accustomed to the fact that the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — the principal public rationale for the war — hasn't become a big political liability for the administration. That's bad enough. Even more startling is the news from one of this week's polls: despite the complete absence of evidence, 53 percent of Americans believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, up from 43 percent before his capture. The administration's long campaign of guilt by innuendo, it seems, is still working.
The war's more idealistic supporters do, I think, feel queasy about all this. That's why they lay so much stress on their hopes for democracy in Iraq. They're not just looking for a happy ending; they're looking for moral redemption for a war fought on false pretenses.
As a practical matter, I suspect that they'll be disappointed: the only leaders in Iraq with genuine popular followings seem to be Shiite clerics. I also wonder how much real commitment to democracy lies behind the administration's stirring rhetoric. Does anyone remember that Dick Cheney voted against a resolution calling for Nelson Mandela's release from prison? As recently as 2000 he defended that vote, saying that the African National Congress "was then perceived as a terrorist organization."
Which brings me to this week's other famous prisoner. While the world celebrated the capture of Saddam, a federal appeals court ruled that Jose Padilla must be released from military custody. Mr. Padilla is a U.S. citizen, arrested on American soil, who has been held for 18 months without charges as an "enemy combatant." The ruling was a stark reminder that the Bush administration, which talks so much about promoting democracy abroad, doesn't seem very concerned about following democratic rules at home.
The Bush administration has spent a lot of time saying how well things have gone in Iraq, contending the happy truth has been obscured by negative news media coverage. This is privately described by officials as the ''smoke and mirrors'' technique. Nobody has recognized that more clearly than Jerry Bremer. He was not summoned to Washington when he volunteered for a brief visit Nov. 11. He wanted to tell the president personally just how bad things really were in Iraq and, in fact, got a rare one-on-one meeting with Bush.
The inadequate, unrealistic planning for the occupation of Iraq will never be admitted publicly, but it is common knowledge at high levels of the administration. The notion that Iraqi exiles could step in to run the country, pressed on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by his civilian advisory board, was a chimera. Bremer, bearing credentials as an anti-terrorist expert, was brought in May 7 with the U.S. occupation already in disarray.
At last in United States military captivity, ousted former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein will soon mark an important 20th anniversary, the kind of anniversary that brings with it an appreciation of the ironies of life, and politics.
His captor, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, might also recall long-forgotten memories - or memories best forgotten - of what he was doing exactly 20 years ago.
If so, he will remember that he was in Baghdad, as a special envoy from then-president Ronald Reagan, assuring his host that, to quote the secret National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) that served as his talking points: the US would regard "any major reversal of Iraq's fortunes as a strategic defeat for the West".
It was presumably realpolitik that also persuaded Rumsfeld not to bring up Iraq's use of chemical weapons with Saddam in their first meeting of December 20, 1983, even though the administration knew about it. (After long insisting that he did raise the issue with Saddam, the recent release of State Department memoranda obtained by the National Security Archive has forced Rumsfeld to change his story. He did mention the issue, among many others, when he met with then-foreign minister Tariq Aziz separately.)
News executives of most Boston television stations are decidedly unenthusiastic about a Bush administration plan to transmit news footage from Iraq for local TV outlets in an attempt to supplement media coverage from that war-torn country.
The satellite link, dubbed "C-SPAN Baghdad," is designed to put a more positive spin on events and circumvent the major networks by making it possible for press conferences, interviews with troops and dignitaries, and even footage from the field to be transmitted from Iraq for use by regional and local media outlets, according to news accounts.
"I'm kind of appalled by it. I think it's very troubling," said Charles Kravetz, vice president of news at the regional cable news outlet NECN. "I think the government has no business being in the news business."
"We have no interest in this," said WBZ-TV (Channel 4) news director Peter Brown. "The Fourth Estate is independent and should remain so. As news providers, we should go there and see for ourselves."
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Back in the United States after testifying at The Hague in the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, Clark used his first campaign event to accuse the president again of a "bait-and-switch" in the war on terrorism and to criticize Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq. "Capturing Saddam doesn't change the fact that Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, Osama bin Laden, the biggest threat to the United States," Clark said in Concord, N.H.
Bush, he said, should immediately refocus intelligence and military resources on the hunt for bin Laden. Clark said that, if he were president, bin Laden would be in custody already. "I would have kept the focus on Osama bin Laden," Clark said. "I would have gotten him. . . . I would like to think I would have had Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein by this time."
Clark said that the United States should put immediate pressure on Pakistan to locate bin Laden and that he favored the creation of a joint U.S.-Saudi Arabian commando force. To free up intelligence resources for that mission, he said, the administration should turn over the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to international inspectors.
Clark was in Europe at the time of Hussein's capture and said he felt constrained to criticize Bush's foreign policy while abroad, but he wasted no time upon his return to challenge the man he wants to replace. Charging that Bush and the Republicans will try to run against the Democrats as weak on national security, Clark said, "I'll put my 34 years of defending the United States of America . . . against his three years of failed policies any day."
The Dems haven't had that many generals. We should take advantage of this one.
President Bush's goal of cutting in half a projected $500 billion federal deficit within five years is being dismissed as too timid by conservatives, unachievable by analysts, and laughable by Democrats.
Bush will include the objective in the $2.3 trillion budget for 2005 he sends Congress in February, nine months before the presidential and congressional elections. The goal is backed by many Republicans, but conservatives want a bolder move against the record deficits and big spending increases the administration has compiled.
"It's a rather anemic goal, actually," said Stephen Moore, president of the conservative Club for Growth. "We should be talking about how to balance the budget."
Bush took office when large surpluses were projected for the foreseeable future, a forecast since dashed by recession, the costs of fighting terrorism and wars, and tax cuts.
"It's like so much with this administration in respect to fiscal matters: It's all spin, all the time," said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee.
White House officials were steamed when Andrew S. Natsios, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said earlier this year that U.S. taxpayers would not have to pay more than $1.7 billion to reconstruct Iraq -- which turned out to be a gross understatement of the tens of billions of dollars the government now expects to spend.
Recently, however, the government has purged the offending comments by Natsios from the agency's Web site. The transcript, and links to it, have vanished.
This is not the first time the administration has done some creative editing of government Web sites. After the insurrection in Iraq proved more stubborn than expected, the White House edited the original headline on its Web site of President Bush's May 1 speech, "President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended," to insert the word "Major" before combat.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, administration Web sites have been scrubbed for anything vaguely sensitive, and passwords are now required to access even much unclassified information. Though it is not clear whether the White House is directing the changes, several agencies have been following a similar pattern. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USAID have removed or revised fact sheets on condoms, excising information about their effectiveness in disease prevention, and promoting abstinence instead. The National Cancer Institute, meanwhile, scrapped claims on its Web site that there was no association between abortion and breast cancer. And the Justice Department recently redacted criticism of the department in a consultant's report that had been posted on its Web site.
Remember when only the Evil Empire did this sort of thing?
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
We were told that Hussein posed an imminent threat to the world and was close to building nuclear weapons that he might give to Al Qaeda. Occupying Iraq, it was stated over and over again by the White House, was a legitimate response to the horror of Sept. 11 and a way to prevent, as Condoleezza Rice once put it, "a mushroom cloud" from appearing over an American city.
Of course, President Bush was finally forced to concede that there was no evidence that linked Hussein to 9/11. Yet, in his brief statement after the capture of Hussein, he again connected the secular dictator to the threat of fundamentalist terrorism. He did this while continuing silence on the Bush family's old business buddies in Saudi Arabia, backers of Al Qaeda and other religious fanatics, who numbered Hussein among their enemies.
We have lost valuable time and resources in the struggle to quell Al Qaeda and similar groups while creating a morass in Iraq. Hussein's removal was a politically motivated exploitation of our nation's anger and fear over the 9/11 attacks. With the historical footnote of his arrest now in the books, the White House needs to stop its daily lies of commission and omission regarding the war on terror. For example, the administration must stop its stonewalling of the panel Bush reluctantly formed to examine the origins of 9/11.
This official obstruction would seem to be a clear indication that Bush is worried about embarrassing details emerging that could threaten his reelection. Yet Congress and the public must know the truth about 9/11 so that we may make our judgments about what happened and about how similar tragedies can be prevented.
Tragedies like Bush's reelection.
[Vice President Dick] Cheney has often been the subject of critical news coverage, including his prewar allegations about the arsenal of unconventional weapons that Hussein might possess, his refusal to release records of his energy policy task force, and his connection to the Halliburton Co., which has been paid $5 billion on government contracts for rebuilding Iraq and has been accused by a Pentagon audit of overbilling the Army by $61 million for gasoline.
Cheney called the free press "a vital part of society," but added: "On occasion, it drives me nuts." When Williams asked what drives him nuts, Cheney said, "When I see stories that are fundamentally inaccurate."
"It's the hypocrisy that sometimes arises when some in the press portray themselves as objective observers of the passing scene, when they obviously are not objective," he said. "Cheap shot journalism. Not everybody is guilty of it, but it happens."
"There are an awful lot of people in the press who don't understand the business community," Cheney said. "I think our political opponents have spent a lot of time hammering away on trying to find some allegation that Halliburton got favoritism on contracts, or trying to make some kind of connection they've never been able to make. There's no evidence to support anything like that, but if you repeat it often enough, it becomes sort of an article of faith."
He ought to know.
No major reason for the war has been proven. The deadly WMDs became weapons of mysterious disappearance. In August 2002, Vice President Cheney said: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."
In the 48-hour warning to Saddam on March 17, 2003, Bush said, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. . . . The terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other."
On March 30, a week and a half after the start of the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted about the weapons of mass destruction, "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat."
Nine months later, no chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction have been found.
The tactics that US troops used to track down Saddam Hussein are unlikely to help allied forces in Afghanistan find Osama bin Laden, according to military officials and national security specialists.
The US military probably will share the lessons learned from the hunt for the deposed Iraqi dictator, but the fanatical nature of bin Laden's supporters, the treacherous terrain along the Afghan-Pakistani border where the Al Qaeda leader is believed to be hiding, and the relatively small numbers of allied forces in the region make him a much more elusive quarry, the specialists said.
Finding Hussein was a major public relations coup for the Bush administration, but many national security specialists contend that in terms of protecting the United States domestically, bin Laden is a more critical target because he runs a terrorist network with global reach.
U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was sanctioned by a federal judge on Tuesday for twice violating a court-imposed gag order in the Detroit terror trial.
But Ashcroft, the nation's highest-ranking law enforcement officer, will not face criminal charges of contempt of court. He apologized for what he said were inadvertent comments.
"Two serious transgressions committed in this case are simply one too many for the court to abide with no response," U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen wrote in an 83-page opinion. "More than a warning is necessary here."
Rosen criticized comments Ashcroft made at two press conferences -- the first on Oct. 31, 2001, and the second on April 17 -- in which Ashcroft praised a government witness during the trial of four Arab immigrants in Detroit.
"The attorney general attempts to minimize the consequences of his actions," they wrote. "A lawyer, who is bound by the rules of ethics and the constitution of the United States should know better. ... The integrity of the system as a whole is at stake."
The integrity of the system as a whole is shot to hell.
[Also check out this article from the Washington Post about Ashcroft's 2000 Senate being fined for campaign finance violations.]
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday the Bush administration last year told him and other senators that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but they had the means to deliver them to East Coast cities.
Nelson, D-Tallahassee, said about 75 senators got that news during a classified briefing before last October's congressional vote authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Nelson voted in favor of using military force.
Nelson said he couldn't reveal who in the administration gave the briefing.
The White House directed questions about the matter to the Department of Defense. Defense officials had no comment on Nelson's claim.
Nelson said the senators were told Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons, notably anthrax, and it could deliver them to cities along the Eastern seaboard via unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.
"They have not found anything that resembles an UAV that has that capability," Nelson said.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
The capture of Saddam Hussein is welcome news to most Iraqis, a serious blow to his loyalists and a clear warning to many dictators in the region. It is, however, unlikely to end the Iraqi resistance, lead to a relatively smooth transformation of Iraq into a democratic state - or reduce international terrorism.
Of course, the hope of many Iraqis now would be to see a public trial of Saddam in Iraq, and this also makes sense from the perspective of the US and its allies. But there would be a catch in all this: it could provide Saddam with a unique opportunity to disclose to the world the extent of his past dealings with Americans.
The US warmly courted Saddam in the 1980s as a potential ally and an Arab bulwark against the anti-American Iranian Islamic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini. Americans who, at the time, pushed for close links with Saddam's regime include Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In the Reagan administration, Cheney was Pentagon secretary and Rumsfeld a senior adviser to the Pentagon. It was Rumsfeld who met Saddam in 1983 to deliver a message of goodwill from President Reagan.
Those crazy Republicans!
Saddam Hussein is captured. He can never return to Iraq as a force of violence and malelovence, only as a broken, pathetic creature who must answer for crimes against his own people. The US-backed Iraqi Governing Council says Saddam will go on trial facing a possible death penalty. President Bush says it is up to Iraqis to decide his fate.
Hallelujah, but still: Bush led this country into war with Iraq not because Saddam Hussein threatened, tortured, and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Bush led us into war because, as he told us over and over again, Saddam was a direct, specific threat to the United States. The distinction involves more than semantics; it is about telling Americans the whole truth about a new foreign policy in the post-9/11 world.
That declaration from the top US administrator in Iraq not coincidentally makes a perfect bumper sticker for the president's reelection campaign here in the United States. People who embrace it without questioning the path it took to reach this point will vote again for George W. Bush. Why settle for a substitute -- a Democrat who supported the war but wavered in the aftermath -- when you can reelect the president who, never blinking, yanked a dictator from a hole in the ground?
A president who blinks is not very tempting to the average American voter. But it would be nice to have one who links our policy in Iraq to our policy elsewhere in the world.
E.P.A. officials ruled in December 2000 that since mercury was a human neurotoxin, it had to be regulated as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That decision meant that individual power plants needed to be regulated.
The Bush proposal that was introduced on Monday would allow companies to buy and sell the right to emit mercury pollution, without any mandatory controls on individual plants. The administration and industry groups have pushed for a market-based approach to reducing mercury because they say it would be more flexible and cost effective.
Critics were skeptical.
"The Clinton administration evaluated the same approach that the Bush administration is now relying on and found that it was not legally supportable under the Clean Air Act," said Gary Guzy, an E.P.A. general counsel under Mr. Clinton.
Under this administration, the illegal magically becomes legal.
[Yes, the author of this piece is actually named Jennifer 8. Lee. Look it up.]
The story about Halliburton's strangely expensive gasoline imports into Iraq gets curiouser and curiouser. High-priced gasoline was purchased from a supplier whose name is unfamiliar to industry experts, but that appears to be run by a prominent Kuwaiti family (no doubt still grateful for the 1991 liberation). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers documents seen by The Wall Street Journal refer to "political pressures" from Kuwait's government and the U.S. embassy in Kuwait to deal only with that firm. I wonder where that trail leads.
Meanwhile, NBC News has obtained Pentagon inspection reports of unsanitary conditions at mess halls run by Halliburton in Iraq: "Blood all over the floors of refrigerators, dirty pans, dirty grills, dirty salad bars, rotting meat and vegetables." An October report complains that Halliburton had promised to fix the problem but didn't.
And more detail has been emerging about Bechtel's much-touted school repairs. Again, a Pentagon report found "horrible" work: dangerous debris left in playground areas, sloppy paint jobs and broken toilets.
Are these isolated bad examples, or part of a pattern? It's impossible to be sure without a broad, scrupulously independent investigation. Yet such an inquiry is hard to imagine in the current political environment — which is precisely why one can't help suspecting the worst.
At least twice now, Americans have celebrated the end of the war in Iraq -- once last April when the statute of Hussein was toppled in Baghdad's Firdaus Square and again the next month when Bush himself declared major combat operations over. "Mission Accomplished," the banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln proclaimed. Since then, more than 300 Americans have died in Iraq.
Bush clearly learned from that mistake. In his speech to the nation on Sunday, he specifically warned that "the capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq." On the USS Abraham Lincoln, he had proclaimed the war all but over and linked it repeatedly with Sept. 11 and al Qaeda. He mentioned Roosevelt and Truman, Normandy and Iwo Jima. This time, Bush was restrained. In fact, Hussein may turn out to be like weapons of mass destruction -- much less there than anyone thought.
The good news is that we got the bastard -- and who cannot cheer? But the bad news -- even as I continue to believe the United States will prevail -- is that we found him, craven, disheveled and, fittingly, in a hole. Because of the mistakes of the Bush administration, that's where we are too.
Monday, December 15, 2003
The end of the workweek has come to be the time to announce far-reaching regulatory changes.
"They do it on Friday afternoon because they know that is when it will get buried in the news cycle, when it will get the least attention," Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., explained earlier this year.
The latest Friday fix came just a week ago. Interior Secretary Gale Norton relaxed Clinton-era rules designed to halt overgrazing by ranchers who pay a pittance to run their livestock on federal land.
"It's not just the Friday timing," said Rob Perks of NRDC. "Decisions are announced by low-level officials. They are released in the late afternoon. On the grazing decision, we called up the agency and it would give us no information. Details were made available on Monday, when everyone had moved on."
With such tactics, TGIF-Stealth technology puts a "spin" on stories, keeps flak to a minimum and discourages pursuit of stories.
This is just one of hundreds of subtle ways in which this administration manipulates the daily reality that we experience as Americans.
Never before has the House of Representatives operated in such secrecy:
At 2:54 a.m. on a Friday in March, the House cut veterans benefits by three votes.
At 2:39 a.m. on a Friday in April, the House slashed education and health care by five votes.
At 1:56 a.m. on a Friday in May, the House passed the Leave No Millionaire Behind tax-cut bill by a handful of votes.
At 2:33 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House passed the Medicare privatization and prescription drug bill by one vote.
At 12:57 a.m. on a Friday in July, the House eviscerated Head Start by one vote. And then, after returning from summer recess, at 12:12 a.m. on a Friday in October, the House voted $87 billion for Iraq.
Always in the middle of the night. Always after the press had passed their deadlines. Always after the American people had turned off the news and gone to bed.
What did the public see? At best, Americans read a small story with a brief explanation of the bill and the vote count in Saturday's papers.
But what did the public miss? They didn't see the House votes, which normally take no more than 20 minutes, dragging on for as long as an hour as members of the Republican leadership trolled for enough votes to cobble together a majority.
They didn't see GOP leaders stalking the floor for whoever was not in line. They didn't see Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay coerce enough Republican members into switching their votes to produce the desired result.
In other words, they didn't see the subversion of democracy.
[Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, is the ranking member on the Committee on Energy and the Commerce Subcommittee on Health.]
A telling detail, somewhat glossed over in the television coverage, is the underwhelming response to Saddam's capture from the Iraqis themselves. Aside from the bought-and-paid-for Iraqi "experts" who were promptly plunked into studio chairs for cheerleading sessions, few seemed all that thrilled. For them, the issue stopped being Saddam months ago. For the Iraqi people, the issue is now American occupation and the incontrovertible fact of America's failure to bring peace, stability and democracy to the country it destroyed – not to mention its failure to justify doing so in the first place.
Besides the tough questions surrounding Halliburton that may go unasked in the tide of Saddamania, there are other compelling issues which this glorious victory seems destined to sweep under the carpet. Where are those WMDs, anyway? How many civilians have we actually killed? Why are American service personnel still coming home in body bags, or with limbs missing?
And given that the pre-war justifications for an attack have been systematically dismantled and discredited ad nauseum – no ties to 9/11, no nuclear program, no chemical weapons, no anything – why have we sacrificed our global credibility, the goodwill of much of the world, and hundreds of U.S. soldiers in the hellhole that Iraq has become? If the Bush administration has its way, the world may never know.
The [Bureau of Land Management] wants to open 8.8 million acres in the [National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska's] northwestern third to oil development. That plan would replace specific regulations -- like those limiting truck travel over the delicate tundra and restrictions on drilling in rivers and streams -- with more general guidelines.
The proposal is cheered by industry backers. They have high hopes for the reserve, which could hold 5.9 billion to 13.2 billion barrels of oil, according to government estimates.
"The future of our industry and the future of our state will really lie in the development of the NPR-A," Mark Huber, vice president of the oil field service company Doyon Universal Services, said at a recent Anchorage public hearing.
But environmentalists have a different view.
"I don't know whether there is a strategy, other than "lease everything'," said Stan Senner, director of Alaska Audubon.
"Every single thing can be waived for economic reasons, which makes it all meaningless," said Eleanor Huffines of The Wilderness Society.
Toledo City Council voted 10-2 last night to express its opposition to the USA Patriot Act and to send a letter to President Bush and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft informing them of that fact.
Council weighed in on the federal anti-terrorist law after first rejecting a tougher resolution that would have "requested" city police to refuse to participate in investigations deemed in violation of the Constitution.
Republicans George Sarantou and Rob Ludeman voted against the resolution. All councilmen who supported the measure were Democrats, except Betty Shultz, who recently switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party.
Others said the resolution was not directed at the troops, but at domestic policy.
"This resolution should not be construed as an affront to our troops. It’s a red herring and unfair," said Councilman Ellen Grachek.
The Bush administration and its corporate allies give the impression that they would welcome a big surge in employment that would raise the wages and quality of life for all working Americans and their families. But their policies tell an entirely different story. A fierce and bitter war — not bloody like the war in Iraq, but a war just the same — is being waged against American workers. And so far, at least, the Bush administration has been on the wrong side.
The war is being fought on several fronts. For example, after years of shipping manufacturing jobs out of the U.S. to absurdly low-wage venues, we are now also exporting increasing numbers of technical and professional jobs.
Another example: Despite the loss of more than two million jobs over the past three years, and the fact that nearly nine million Americans are officially unemployed, the Bush administration has refused to support a Christmastime extension of crucial unemployment benefits.
Worse, the administration is trying to implement a regulation that would deny overtime protection for more than eight million men and women.
Efforts to get an increase in the pathetic $5.15 minimum wage continue to fail. The benefits from productivity increases that have resulted primarily from an incredible squeeze that employers have put on workers are not being shared with workers. Health and pension benefits are in a downward spiral.
And so on.
I don't understand why any working-class person would support this president.
All of which brings us to Mr. Cheney's bird-hunting trip at the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania last Monday, when he and nine others in his party shot some 400 out of 500 pen-raised pheasants released for the morning hunt. No one might have noticed the episode if The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had not reported it, including the detail that the vice president had shot more than 70 of the ring-necked pheasants himself.
As a result, a lot of other people noticed the fallen birds: hunters who pursue birds in the wild, the Democratic presidential candidates and the Humane Society of the United States, which likened the shootings to the first day of the Iraq war.
"This can only be called a shooting-gallery operation," said Wayne Pacelle, the senior vice president of the Humane Society, who pronounced himself outraged. "Hunting is supposed to involve some opportunity for the animal to evade the hunter. Hunting in this setting is reduced to mass killing."
Mr. Cheney, who almost never speaks to the news media, had no comment on his trip or the identity of his hunting companions, and his office provided only sparse information. White House officials also declined to release photographs they have of the vice president in full hunting mode.
Vice President Dick is obviously no sportsman. This is the same guy who wiggled out of Viet Nam, rarely votes, and gives almost nothing to charity. What a thoroughly unpleasant person he is.
Despite the FBI's denials, recent disclosures of intelligence efforts against lawful antiwar protesters are strong reminders of the bureau's intensive undercover operations of the 1960s and '70s. Those counterintelligence operations, known as COINTELPRO, sought to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize" the activities of targets that included communist organizations, civil rights groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and anti-Vietnam War protesters. While the current revelations are confined to the monitoring of perceived threats rather than active harassment, the broad sweep of the FBI's efforts should raise serious concerns over the bureau's motives and methods.
The New York Times has reported that these methods now include the use of "firsthand observation, informants, and public sources like the Internet" to gather "extensive information on the tactics, training, and organization of antiwar demonstrators." Bureau officials were careful to emphasize that this effort is not designed to monitor the masses of law-abiding protesters, but instead to target anarchists and other "extremist elements" likely to plot and carry out violent acts. But clearly their net was cast more broadly, as the FBI's weekly bulletin to local law enforcement officials contained information about legal movement tactics such as online fund-raising, passive monitoring of police arrests, and activist "training camps."
This is what happens when right-wing zealots are in charge. And it's happening again, right now.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
This is the seventh time I've started and restarted this essay. It's about the war in Iraq, and it's the last thing I want to write about. Like most Americans, I want to believe that the war was/is necessary even though every reason given for it has turned out to be untrue. I want to believe that we are liberators, not occupiers. Good guys, not bad guys. I want to believe there is a way out of this that makes the world a better place than it was before.
And so, like most Americans, I keep quiet. I read the headlines but not the stories. I resist understanding the difference between Shiites and Sunnis. I can spell Tikrit and Mosul, but I refuse to remember which city is sympathetic to Saddam and which is not. I am the new antiwar protester. I carry angst, not placards. I march down the aisles of Wal-Mart, not down the streets of America. I am Hamlet, deciding whether to be or not to be, deciding nothing.
I read that our occupying army is now using the techniques of the Israeli army -- burning down houses, encasing whole villages in razor wire, detaining the families of suspected insurgents. And, I am too ashamed to keep quiet.
This is what one of our colonels in Iraq said, as quoted in the New York Times: "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them." That colonel is our representative in Iraq. He is the ambassador of our values. He speaks for you and me. If he is the ugly American, so are we.
Meanwhile, the ugliest American of all squats in the White House.
President Bush, who publicly credited Russian President Vladimir Putin just 10 weeks ago for promoting freedom and democracy, has protested to the Russian leader since then for moving in the opposite direction, according to senior U.S. officials.
Bush and his foreign policy team have begun to question Putin's intentions -- and their own approach -- after the abrupt imprisonment of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and parliamentary elections derided by European monitors as an unfair government-orchestrated triumph.
"Suddenly a real debate has emerged, first on the margins in Washington and then within the administration," said Michael McFaul, a Russia scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who keeps in close touch with policymakers. "Earlier assumptions about Putin are now being reassessed."
I thought Bush saw into Putin's soul, or whatever all that nonsense was about.
The president devoted his weekly radio address yesterday to a similar review of the year, saying administration initiatives "have made us safer, more prosperous and a better country."
With critics saying the Medicare law will enrich drug, medical and insurance companies, Bush began by saying it will save seniors money and give them peace of mind. "We confronted problems with determination and bipartisan spirit," he said. "Yet our work is not done."
Among the assertions in Bush's report that drew the most attention of his critics were that the administration had practiced "fiscal restraint" and had "proposed stringent new rules on diesel fuel and power plant emissions, which will result in dramatic reductions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury."
The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning, three-month-old think tank, issued an eight-page rebuttal, "2003: A Year of Distortion." David Sirota, the center's director of strategic communications, called Bush's report "a manifesto of factual distortions and historical revision."
The Democratic National Committee said in an 11-page rebuttal that the White House rhetoric "betrays reality."
It's amazing to hear Bush speak of his "bipartisan spirit" and "fiscal restraint". These are real whoppers!
But I worry. Friends, we have a hearts-and-minds problem with Iraq: we've given them our hearts, and we've lost our minds. Our intentions are good in terms of what we wish for Iraq. But it is possible to do a good thing really badly. Yes, nation-building is always a messy enterprise, especially in a complex place like Iraq. As the saying goes, never watch sausage being made. But what about sausage being mismade? Now that is really ugly.
What prompts these thoughts is a series of conversations over the past month with a variety of officials involved in Iraq policy making — both Iraqis and Americans. Everyone agrees that the goal is some kind of democratic Iraq, but I have yet to come away from any of these conversations with a clear sense of how we are going to get from here to there, or even who exactly is the overall conductor of this diplomatic, financial and military symphony. I keep meeting with people, expecting to hear "The Plan," but I never quite hear it.
This is not pessimism. It's realism. Iraq is full of surprises, and some will be good. But my gut tells me we still don't have our act together. We've got the good heart thing down, but that's not enough. We must do better.
We could do better, with a different president. Maybe somebody with actual military experience instead of a draft dodger who went AWOL? It's just a thought.
In Washington, it is often assumed that the answer to every crisis is to be found in a Big Idea -- ''the vision thing,'' as President George Herbert Walker Bush once called it, somewhat dismissively. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so administrations abhor an absence of ideas (or at least convenient catch phrases). Muddling through, which is the reality of politics, rarely seems enough.
Nowhere has this been more true than in the realm of foreign policy. Iraq has been the perfect example. President George H.W. Bush's big idea about Iraq, rolling back Saddam Hussein, gave way to President Clinton's big idea about Iraq, containment, which gave way to President George W. Bush's big idea about Iraq, Iraqi liberation. But as events have shown, the liberation of Iraq alone hasn't solved the problems there, so as is often the case in Washington, one reigning idea has gradually transformed into another reigning big idea: Iraqification, the notion that what is needed to improve the situation there (and bring American troops home) is a quick transfer of control over security and the political process to the Iraqis.
For many Americans old enough to remember the Vietnam War, the term Iraqification carries the same baggage of defeat and withdrawal that Vietnamization did a generation ago. For others, it simply seems like a sensible response to the difficulties the United States has encountered in Iraq in the aftermath of the ousting of Saddam Hussein -- a sensible midterm correction or readjustment of America's original postwar plan. Still others, notably within the Bush administration, insist that Iraqification was at the heart of the U.S. government's planning for a postwar Iraq from the start, even if the public emphasis had been elsewhere.
As I recall it, the "public emphasis" was on Weapons of Mass Destruction, with no mention of Iraqification.
America's colonial efforts in Iraq are peculiarly un-American in both their spirit and implementation. But the most disturbing aspect of American policy in Iraq may be the new plan to hurriedly turn over sovereignty to a democratically elected Iraqi government.
This effort is based on the "Agreement on Political Process" that was hastily approved in mid-November by the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq and the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. The document is both fascinating and deeply irritating. Though idealistic and ambitious in its stated quest to define a transition from American-occupied Iraq to a sovereign, free and democratic Iraqi state, it also mirrors the worst aspects of the whole American adventure in the region.
It is the height of hubris to think that self-appointed American occupiers, who rode into Iraq on the backs of tanks, can now simply order Iraqis to become free and democratic — and on a timetable that was designed more to address White House domestic political concerns than to respond to realities on the ground in Iraq.
Washington has taken a good idea — transforming tyranny into democracy — and implemented it badly. In acting unilaterally and militarily, and in seeing Iraq through a narrow Western prism, the U.S. has fallen into the colonial trap of attempting to reshape a society according to Western rules and values.
Meanwhile, the Bushies are trying to reshape our society at the same time, trying to make it less democratic. What gives?
[Rami G. Khouri is executive editor of the Beirut-based Daily Star, a regional newspaper distributed throughout the Middle East.]
Two years into the post-Sept. 11 era, police across the country are cracking down on street protests, and federal prosecutors are invoking obscure laws to punish activists whose aggressive displays of political expression were once more tolerated, according to groups as diverse as Operation Rescue and Greenpeace.
While law-enforcement officials acknowledge only that the specter of terrorism has made them more wary of large crowds and disruptive behavior, activists say the newly aggressive tactics are jeopardizing a form of dissent as rooted in American tradition as the Boston Tea Party.
Having documented more than a dozen such recent incidents around the country, the American Civil Liberties Union has recently filed a lawsuit against the US Secret Service for what it says is a pattern of either the selective removal of anti-Bush protesters while pro-Bush protesters are allowed to remain, or the removal of all who are engaged in political speech while passersby are allowed to keep using the sidewalk.
"We have noticed over the last couple of years that protesters are being treated differently than they used to be by the Secret Service," said an ACLU lawyer, Chris Hansen. "We lose liberty bit by bit by bit, so you have to fight even the small erosions of fundamental rights."