Saturday, December 27, 2003
With only a few days to wrap up 2003, a general analysis of the year may point to the fact that it was Iraq that dominated the past 360-odd days. But a deeper look at the outgoing year may suggest that the year will also be remembered for another thing - weapons of mass deception or, to put it succinctly, lies, damn lies and the Iraq war.
The whole war was based on a lie, namely, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The first to fall for the lie were the terror-stricken people of America. Opinion polls conducted at the beginning of this year showed that a vast majority of Americans believed that Saddam was responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The lies propagated and repeated by the embedded news media, which are controlled by Corporate-America became the US administration's fastest-selling commodity to a populace not only shocked by the 9/11 terror but also blinded by ultra patriotism.
Their silence has made the maxim 'truth shall prevail' irrelevant and killed the claims of the US to be the world leader on moral grounds. The US is maintaining its global leadership position largely on the strength of its military and economic power - certainly not on high moral principles, which the United States constitution has been based on.
Forget high moral principles. Think high profits.
Despite detailed regulations and pronouncements about "transparency," the Coalition Provisional Authority's process for spending Iraq's money has little of the openness, debate and paper trails that define such groups in democratic nations. Though the interim government has extensive information on its Web site, it doesn't include, for example, when contracts have been awarded. Citing security concerns, it also doesn't say what companies won them.
An international monitoring board, set up when the United Nations transferred money from the oil-for-food program to the occupation authority, is supposed to audit the Program Review Board's work. But its formation was delayed for months and it is still being organized. It held its second meeting Monday. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has yet to appoint an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority, as Congress mandated.
The occupation authority's legal standing has led to some confusion. For example, the General Accounting Office, which reviews federal contract disputes, said that because the CPA isn't a federal agency it wasn't sure it had the authority to review a protest lodged by a company that lost a bid for a reconstruction contract. The Pentagon inspector general, looking at the same issue, dropped it for the same reason.
"Our allies clearly expect there to be transparency in the process," said Christopher R. Yukins, a contracting expert and associate professor of government contract law at George Washington University Law School.
Our allies clearly are in for a disappointment.
The Bush administration has pulled another thread from the intricate legal tapestry shielding the national forests from excessive logging. On Tuesday, it announced that the Tongass National Forest in Alaska would be denied protections provided by the so-called roadless rule, a federal regulation prohibiting the building of roads — and by definition most commercial activity — on 58.5 million acres of national forests.
The administration presents the new policy as a necessary tonic for southeast Alaska's depressed economy, and as a necessary response to a state lawsuit that it says it could never have won. The reality is otherwise. This is essentially a holiday gift to Senator Ted Stevens and Gov. Frank Murkowski, both of whom have lobbied for the resumption of the clear-cutting that has already stripped the nation's only temperate rain forest of a half million acres of old-growth trees.
The announcement came wrapped in the same deceptive packaging that has camouflaged much of this administration's forest policy. The most egregious example was the Forest Service's disingenuous assertion that the new policy would allow logging on only 300,000 acres of the Tongass, or about 3 percent of the 9.6 million roadless acres that are earmarked for protection.
Though that is technically true, the actual ecological impact would be far greater. For one thing, those 300,000 acres include many of the forest's oldest trees and most valuable watersheds, as well as an extraordinary collection of wildlife. It is no exaggeration to say that these acres constitute the forest's biological heart. And because these acres are not all in one place, but are distributed among 50 different logging projects, the new roads required to reach them will inevitably violate even more of the forest.
Who cares about a forest nobody ever sees? You know, there's gold in them thar trees!
President Bush's campaign has settled on a plan to run against Howard Dean that would portray him as reckless, angry and pessimistic, while framing the 2004 election as a referendum on the direction of the nation more than on the president himself, Mr. Bush's aides say.
Some advisers to Mr. Bush, increasingly convinced that Dr. Dean will become their opponent next fall, are pushing to begin a drive to undercut him even before a Democratic nominee becomes clear. But others said the more likely plan would be to hold back until after the Democratic contest had effectively ended, probably no later than March.
As a Bush strategist put it, Dr. Dean's rivals are "doing a great job for us" with their increasingly tough attacks on him.
"Voters don't normally vote for an angry, pessimistic person to be president of the country," Matthew Dowd, a senior Bush adviser, said as he pressed the anti-Dean theme this week in an interview at Mr. Bush's re-election campaign headquarters. "They want somebody, even if times are not great, to be forward looking and optimistic."
I'm afraid they've got Dr. Dean's number. It's "2".
Re "Dean Aims to Plug 'Hole' in Resumé," Dec. 22: Howard Dean should be commended for his honesty in admitting that he lacks foreign policy and national security experience. Unfortunately for him, this is not a problem that can be remedied by choosing the right running mate. It's not just a "resumé problem," as the former Vermont governor puts it. It's a critical shortcoming going into the first presidential election since 9/11.
If the Democrats want to have any chance of replacing George W. Bush, they're going to need a nominee with experience in building international coalitions, negotiating peace treaties and leading our troops during times of war. Only one candidate, Gen. Wesley Clark, meets that standard.
You're right, Stu. But is anybody listening?
But touch-screen voting can be vulnerable to error and even fraud if it is not implemented with great diligence. One problem is that, if the final tally is simply reported by the touch-screen computer, there is no mechanism for double checking in cases where questions arise. Last month in local races in Fairfax County, Va., some machines were suspected of subtracting votes, rather than adding them, to the desired candidate.
There also have been suggestions that an expert hacker might be able to program the computers to give results different from the actual vote, or that certain machines might be disabled intentionally.
Manufacturers say these problems are easily overcome, but the issue was given prominence recently when one of the leading manufacturers of the touch-screen systems, Walden W. O'Dell of the Ohio firm Diebold Inc., turned out also to be one of President Bush's most enthusiastic backers. "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year," O'Dell wrote last August, inviting friends to a Republican fundraiser. O'Dell is a member of Bush's "Rangers and Pioneers," meaning he has raised at least $100,000 for Bush's reelection.
Diebold already has equipment in place in Georgia and Maryland and parts of six other states.
Sounds like O'Dell is "helping" more than just Ohio.
After three straight years of double-digit increases in federal spending, President Bush and the Republican Congress say they have the situation under control. But a number of conservatives say the actual spending this year will be triple the figures cited by the White House.
The two camps have chosen different kinds of budget numbers to bolster their positions. Bush enumerates the amount of spending that Congress authorizes each year. His critics cite the actual amount the government is spending.
In effect, the president and his allies are counting the money put into the spending pipeline, while the others figure the amount flowing out the other side, some of which may have been slowly trickling through for years.
Congressional Republicans say they will hold overall discretionary spending this year to a 3 percent increase, with military spending rising 1.2 percent. Brian M. Riedl, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, put the spending increase this year at triple the GOP's number, or 9 percent.
No wonder Bush's budget numbers sound so good. They're cooked!
Friday, December 26, 2003
On Dec. 5, President Bush said, "We have captured or killed many of the key leaders of the al-Qaida network, and the rest of them know we’re on their trail."
The capture of Saddam Hussein and the war in Iraq, says President Bush, makes America safer.
"We’re on the offensive. We’re aggressively striking the terrorists in Iraq. We will defeat them there so we do not have to face them in our own country," the president said Nov. 25.
But the intelligence behind the latest terror warning calls into question the administration’s report card on the war. Al-Qaida remains organized enough to plot and powerful enough, say officials, to land a massive attack.
The announcement was a grim reminder that the nation remains at risk for a terrorist attack despite the recent capture of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and an agreement Friday by Libya to expose and dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. Both foreign policy successes were touted by the Bush administration as key victories against worldwide terrorism, but Ridge's remarks made clear that the nation is still under threat from Al Qaeda and suspected terrorist cells.
"I think that although he's suffering for it, Howard Dean was probably right -- the capture of Saddam has very little to do with day-to-day security" inside the United States, said Hurst Hannum, an international affairs professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Dean has been harshly criticized by Republican officials and his presidential primary foes for remarking that the United States is not safer because of Hussein's apprehension. "What continues to astonish me is that more of the American public continues to think there's some connection between Iraq and terrorism, which just isn't true," Hannum said.
President Bush has acknowledged that the government has no evidence that Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, although administration officials have said ousting Hussein is an important part of stopping international terrorism.
Weasel-wordy little things, aren't they?
President Bush went around Congress on Friday and installed 12 people to government panels after their nominations stalled in the Senate.
The nominations had languished in the Senate for periods ranging from six weeks to 22 months.
By approving them during the congressional recess, Bush bypassed the Senate confirmation process. Such appointments are valid until the next Congress takes office, in this case in January 2005.
He just waits till that pesky Senate is out of town, that's all. By the way, one of his appointees is Clark Kent Ervin of Texas, to be inspector general, Homeland Security Department. But who is he really?
An obvious prospective witness [for Saddam's trial] is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who acted as a special envoy to Baghdad during the early 1980’s. On a courtroom easel, Saddam might display the famous December 1983 photograph of him shaking hands with Mr. Rumsfeld, who acknowledges that the United States knew Iraq was using chemical weapons. If his forces were using Tabun, mustard gas and other forbidden poisons, he might ask, why did Washington restore diplomatic relations with Baghdad in November 1984?
As for his horrendous persecution of the Kurds in 1988, Saddam could call executives from the banks and defense and pharmaceutical companies from various countries that sold him the equipment and materials he is alleged to have used. He might put former President George Herbert Walker Bush on the witness stand and ask, "Why did your administration and Ronald Reagan’s sell my government biological toxins such as anthrax and botulism, as well as poisonous chemicals and helicopters?"
Saddam could also subpoena Henry Kissinger, whose consulting firm’s chief economist ventured to Baghdad in June 1989 to advise the Iraqi government on restructuring its debt. "After my forces allegedly murdered thousands of Kurdish civilians in 1988," he might inquire, "why would you and other American businessmen want to help me refinance and rearm my government?"
Indeed, Saddam could conceivably seek the testimony of dozens of men and women who once served in the Reagan and Bush administrations, starting with former Secretary of State George Shultz, and ask them to explain why they opposed every Congressional effort to place sanctions on his government, up until the moment his army invaded Kuwait during the summer of 1990. Pursuing the same general theme, he might call Vice President Dick Cheney, who sought to remove sanctions against Iraq when he served as the chief executive of Halliburton Corp.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Elementary measures to make [driver's] licenses more reliable have not been undertaken. To reduce the likelihood that a terrorist would be able to get a driver's license, states are supposed to verify that the Social Security number of an applicant does not belong to someone else. This can be easily accomplished by accessing the national Social Security data bank, which states are allowed to do under a post-9/11 congressional act.
But despite all the rhetoric about homeland protection, many motor vehicle departments are not running such checks. States are also supposed to computerize death certificates in order to avoid the common practice of terrorists assuming the identity of an American who has died. Again, many states simply ignore this elementary security measure. Most damaging, no state is able to check whether another state has already issued a license to an applicant. Thus, one person still can get several licenses and hand over the extras to a terrorist.
The main reason that states give for not cooperating with federal policy is that the federal government keeps "mandating" things they are to do but does not provide them with the funds needed to carry out these tasks. The amounts involved are small. To improve the system, the states are asking for $6 million a year for six years.
Sorry. We're fresh out of money.
[Amitai Etzioni is author most recently of My Brother's Keeper: A Memoir and a Message.]
In President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address, we will hear a lot about something called an "ownership society." The idea is that American workers aspire to be owners -- of stock for their retirement, homes, businesses, good health insurance, and skills they need to navigate multiple changes of jobs and careers. It sounds just great.
Take a closer look, however, and you will recognize the trademarked Bush combination of inspiring themes coupled with an absence of useful tools. In other words, bait and switch.
But individual savings alone aren't enough. Look at how America actually became a society of broad middle-class ownership in the years after World War II. Wages went up (thanks in part to unions), so it became possible for working people to imagine buying cars, homes, and the other material trappings of the good life.
Corporations started paying decent pensions and health insurance benefits. Radical conservatives think that government help undermines individual initiative. But government programs like the GI Bill, FHA loans, Pell grants, community colleges, and federal aid to public schools allowed a lot of individual hard work to pay off. Social Security institutionalized the custom of retirement, which stimulated supplemental retirement plans. Guess who opposes all this?
And people say they like Bush because he's a "straight shooter".
Unless wiser heads in the upper reaches of the Bush administration prevail, underlings in the Interior Department are about to deliver a low blow to honesty and integrity in government. For responding with the truth to questions from The Post and other news outlets about staffing in her department, U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers has been placed on leave and notified that superiors in the National Park Service and Interior want her fired.
And what was the chief's transgression? She said her understaffed department had to curtail critical patrols in Park Service jurisdictions beyond the Mall, such as major parkways and crime-ridden U.S. parkland in neighborhoods, because of Interior Department orders requiring more officers to guard downtown national shrines. The impending action ought to be reversed. Ms. Chambers should be commended for speaking up for public safety. The Interior Department underlings trying to muzzle her are the ones who should be on their way out the door.
There is more at stake than the career of a police chief who is highly regarded by officers under her command. The effect of firing Ms. Chambers because she spoke up with courage about threats to the public she is sworn to protect will have a chilling effect on public servants who believe it is their obligation to be honest about the needs of their jobs. The National Park Service officials who want the chief gone accuse her of improperly lobbying Congress and disclosing secret budget details through her public comments.
If the Bush administration lets the Park Service get away with those flimsy excuses, then the White House has been really bamboozled. Let's face it: The truth embarrassed the chief's higher-ups. So they retaliated.
These are tough times for Truth.
In the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Justice Department moved swiftly to expand its policing powers, and most members of Congress were eager to enact such legislation. But Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) took to the House floor in protest.
"Let freedom ring even as we travel through the valley of the shadow of terrorism, for freedom is a sweeter melody," Kucinich said. "Let freedom ring. If freedom is under attack from outside sources, then let us not permit an attack from within."
Kucinich has taken his mantra on the presidential campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire. In speech after speech, he accuses the Bush administration of overreaching its authority.
"This is one of the hottest issues in this country right now," he said in an interview. "Americans have a sense their liberty is under attack."
Civil liberties may seem an improbable rallying cry for a presidential campaign. But Kucinich is an improbable candidate for the highest office: a maverick who takes pride in challenging authority. The Bush administration, he tells all who will listen, is encroaching on citizens' privacy rights. "This administration has overreached in the area of civil liberties," he said. "Government shouldn't have that power. It's not consistent with what we are as a nation."
The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board has concluded that the White House made a questionable claim in January's State of the Union address about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain nuclear materials because of its desperation to show that Hussein had an active program to develop nuclear weapons, according to a well-placed source familiar with the board's findings.
In the speech Jan. 28, President Bush cited British intelligence in asserting that Hussein had tried to buy uranium from an unnamed country in Africa. The White House later said the claim should not have been made, after reports that the intelligence community expressed doubts it was true. After reviewing the matter for several months, the intelligence board -- chaired by former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft -- has determined that there was "no deliberate effort to fabricate" a story, the source said. Instead, the source said, the board believes the White House was so anxious "to grab onto something affirmative" about Hussein's nuclear ambitions that it disregarded warnings from the intelligence community that the claim was questionable.
One enduring mystery is which White House official was responsible for promoting the material in question. Senate hearings have indicated there was a disagreement between a CIA analyst and the White House National Security Council staff member about how the material was handled. "One side did not coordinate with the other," said the source familiar with the advisory board's inquiry.
Will anyone be held accountable for these lies? Or have we already forgotten about them now that Saddam has been captured?
The Bush administration Tuesday opened 300,000 more acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest to logging by exempting it from a Clinton-era rule that barred road-building in most of the 17-million-acre area, the biggest expanse of temperate rain forest left on the planet.
The widely expected decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture stemmed from the Bush administration's settlement of a lawsuit by the state of Alaska. The state charged that the Clinton administration's 2000 "roadless rule," which had declared most of the forest off-limits to vehicles, was excessively restrictive and would cause economic hardship.
U.S. Forest Service officials said Tuesday's action, which was approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would bring the total acres exposed to logging to 4% of the forest.
However, conservationists noted that it lifted the road-building restriction on a much larger area — 9.3 million acres — and argued that it would clearly lead to roads through a much greater portion of the forest as loggers pushed to reach the most desirable old-growth trees.
"The Bush administration claims this only affects the 300,000 acres, but that is the part of the forest they actually intend to log — the biggest and best trees on the Tongass," said Nicole Whittington-Evans of the Wilderness Society. "What they don't mention is that to get to those areas, they will allow roads to be built through 9 million acres."
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Something happened along the way between what the Republicans said they would do and what they actually did. Maybe their leadership never really believed the message, or maybe they got tired of all the fibbing, or maybe the lure of power was just too much of a temptation.
Regardless of what went wrong, it has become painfully obvious that the Republican Party is now the undisputed party of big government. So much so, that we no longer hear anything discussed by the "conservative" leaders in Congress that even remotely resembles the concept of a Constitutional government.
To the contrary, all we hear is talk of more spending, more broken laws, more money looted from the American people, more illegal spending programs, more deficits, more undeclared wars and more control over our lives.
The fact is, our federal government has more in common with a vast criminal enterprise than it does anything like a legitimate government. Which puts the very survival of our Republic in serious jeopardy. So this is a battle we dare not back away from, no matter how bad the odds may look.
Harsh talk from a Conservative source.
It was a banner week for government secrecy.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would consider an effort by Vice President Cheney to keep private the records of the energy policy task force he ran. On Friday, the White House announced that it has known for two weeks about an attack on a convoy carrying Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer -- but had decided not to divulge the information. Later that day, President Bush announced a disarmament deal with Libya reached during nine months of secret negotiations.
Also last week, it emerged that the government was acting to keep more Pentagon information out of the public domain and that it has removed from the U.S. Agency for International Development Web site remarks by an administration official that had badly understated the cost of Iraqi reconstruction.
In the meantime, however, the chairman of the federal Sept. 11, 2001, commission, in remarks released last week, criticized needless government secrecy.
"I've been reading these highly, highly classified documents. In most cases, I finish with them, I look up and say, 'Why is this classified?' " said the chairman, former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, a Republican. "And so one of the things that I hope is that maybe out of our work and maybe others, a lot of these documents that are classified, will be unclassified."
I don't know. The trend seems to be in the other direction.
Monday, December 22, 2003
Even though experts continue to raise questions about the vulnerability of touch-screen voting systems to fraud and computer glitches, Maryland election officials seem determined to press a flawed plan to adopt them. The state is buying into a system that has come under increasing scrutiny since July, when researchers from the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University cited numerous vulnerabilities in touch-screen technology. They determined that, among other shortcomings, the computer code in the voting machines made by Diebold Elections Systems was anything but hacker-proof; that an outsider could tamper with the program, and the tampering would be difficult to detect.
That was the first red flag, enough to prompt Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to order a review by Science Applications International Corp., which also concluded that the system was "at high risk of compromise." Then, last month, computer scientist Aviel D. Rubin of the Johns Hopkins team reiterated his criticism, telling the state House Ways and Means Committee that a computer programmer could switch 10 percent of the votes from one candidate to another and leave no traces.
As if this weren't enough to generate uneasiness, Diebold's chief executive, an active Republican fundraiser, has been quoted as saying he is committed to "helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes" to President Bush next year. Then there's the report of an e-mail found in files apparently stolen from the firm that recommended charging Maryland "out the yin-yang" if the state were to ask that machines be equipped to produce paper printouts that can be verified by the voters.
Our election process should not be held hostage by a small group of Republican-leaning corporations. I don't trust 'em.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
The problem is not Tom Kean's assertion that the terrorist attack on the United States two years ago was preventable, it is President Bush's repeated assurance that it was not. The vaunted Bush attack machine stirred briefly last week, but paused before ginning up the conservative establishment for an assault on the moderate Republican chairman of the commission investigating Sept. 11, 2001.
Instead, the White House decided to lead a fresh burst of weird propaganda on a nearly two-year-old theme about unconnected dots and intelligence chatter, designed to create the impression that the attacks were literally bolts from the blue instead of evidence that the government had been caught napping. The political response to a few progress report-type comments by former New Jersey governor Kean displays the protective line that has been drawn by Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet.
That is why the least understandable argument of all is the line first used by Rice in May of 2002, that no one could have foreseen that terrorists would hijack airplanes and crash-fly them into buildings. It is especially odd coming from the coordination person in the White House who was also in charge of keeping Bush informed about a world he only dimly understood. It is also odd coming from the official who had an administration plan for actions against Al Qaeda on her desk on the day of the attacks.
Instead of prompting a hoped-for national conversation about reconciliation and justice, the capture of Saddam Hussein has sparked a new round of internecine violence, laced with suspicion, conspiracy theories, and entrenched hatreds and loyalties.
It is too soon to measure the ultimate impact of the former dictator's arrest, but in the first week Iraqis responded with anger and violence, ranging from political assassinations to schoolyard fisticuffs between children of Ba'athists and children of those who were tortured under the rule of Hussein's Ba'ath Party.
One holds that it was not Hussein, but rather a double who was caught. Another supposes that the ousted leader was drugged by soldiers, explaining why he did not put up a fight.
The most intricate theory holds that US forces caught Hussein a month ago but announced the capture only last weekend. This is clear, proponents of this popular notion said, because televised images of the raid showed a date palm with yellow fruit, which were in season a month ago.
"I can't quite figure out why the Americans would do this, but I'm sure they did," said an unemployed salesman named Mohammed al-Azzawi.