Saturday, January 03, 2004
If President Bush has any intention of conducting a year-end evaluation of the attorney general's job performance, he ought to pencil the words "needs improvement" under the category of punctuality.
Three months after the Justice Department launched an investigation to determine who leaked the name of CIA employee, Attorney General John Ashcroft has finally recused himself from the case. This week, the Justice Department announced that a special counsel, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago, will now manage the probe.
What took Ashcroft so long? From the outset, it was clear that he faced a potential conflict of interest because of his longtime ties to individuals questioned in the probe, including White House adviser Karl Rove.
The case centers on allegations that senior officials in the Bush administration disclosed the name of an undercover agent to journalists in Washington in apparent violation of federal law.
U.S. occupation authorities in Iraq have imposed strict restrictions on the right of the Iraqi people to demonstrate, particularly in the capital Baghdad, in what Iraqi political analysts described as the real face of sugar-coated democracy clichés.
A statement issued by the U.S.-led authority and broadcast by the Iraqi media network Wednesday, December 31, said no individual or group is allowed to organize marches or demonstrations or even gather in streets, public places or buildings at any time without a prior from the occupation command.
It demanded those who want to demonstrate or organize a meeting to submit a written request to the occupation authorities no less than a day before.
The request, according to the statement, must include the purpose and duration of the demonstration, an estimate of the maximum number of demonstrators and names and addresses of the organizers.
Iraqi political analysts lashed out at the watertight restrictions, stressing they unmask the ugly face of the occupation, justified by sugar-coated clichés of bringing democracy to the oil-rich Arab country.
"It is unbelievable that a country boasting a democracy record would clamp such rigid restrictions on the simplest forms of freedom of expression, which is the right to demonstrate," said Dr. Abdel-Sattar Gawwad, a political expert, told IslamOnline.net.
During a town hall meeting with New Hampshire voters and a later news conference with reporters Friday, [retired General Wesley] Clark offered blunt assessments of all three as he promoted his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination as the candidate who can give his party credibility on national security.
On a snowy morning in the state capital, Clark was pressed by one questioner, who wondered whether the circumstances of Clark's retirement had left either him or his antagonists so wounded that it would compromise his ability to function effectively as commander in chief.
Not at all, Clark replied, saying that he was not relieved of his command of NATO troops, as the questioner implied -- only that he was forced to retire three months early after long-running battles over how to wage the war in Kosovo with his military superiors and then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
Regarding Bush, Clark was equally derisive, accusing the president of botching the military campaign in Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden because of a preoccupation with going to war with Iraq. "It was clearly a stopgap measure designed to bridge the time between 9/11 and when the president could get everything in order to go after Saddam Hussein," he said.
Pat Robertson said Friday that God told him President Bush will be re-elected in a landslide.
"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk," the religious broadcaster said on his "700 Club" program on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded.
"I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way," Robertson said.
"The Lord has just blessed him," Robertson said of Bush. "I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."
"I predict that Pat Robertson in 2004 will continue to use his multimillion broadcasting empire to promote George Bush and other Republican candidates," Lynn said in a statement. "Maybe Pat got a message from (Bush political adviser) Karl Rove and thought it was from God."
An easy mistake to make, these days.
Friday, January 02, 2004
For more than 30 years, environmental laws ranging from the Clean Air Act to the Endangered Species Act have provided a formidable weapon for activists and ordinary citizens trying to protect the environment. While the environment does not always prevail in court, litigation has become an essential protection tool.
If the Bush administration has its way, that could all change, some legal analysts say. When George W. Bush took office in early 2001, there were more than 100 vacancies on the federal bench—an unusually high number. Since then, he has nominated scores of candidates to fill those judgeships. But critics say that instead of choosing potential judges with strong records of upholding the law, Bush’s nominations are an orchestrated attempt to spread his ideology.
It’s not unusual for a president to nominate like-minded judges. But with so many seats vacant, Bush—who has cited conservative Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his models of judicial excellence—has a unique opportunity to stock the courts with political soulmates.
“The federal government’s ability to enforce the law and to protect people is at issue here,” says Glenn Sugameli, an environmental lawyer with Earthjustice. “There is the ability to change how judges will be ruling on a whole range of issues.” And once confirmed, federal judges stay on the bench for life.
A glance at federal court records suggests that the administration has already begun using the courts to weaken environmental protections. Department of Justice attorneys have consistently failed to defend legal challenges to strong environmental policies, such as the Clinton administration’s “roadless rule,” which would protect over 58 million acres of road-free national forest lands throughout the country. Add a well-placed smattering of anti-environment judges to the federal courts, and far greater damage could be done, Sugameli warns.
It's dispiriting to consider the damage this president has done to our nation, and to our planet, in such a short time. What will be left after four more years?
When Arizona schools superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan and a group of predominantly conservative educators launched the Education Leaders Council (ELC) in 1995, their proclaimed goal was to upset an educational establishment long dominated by the Democrats and left-leaning teachers unions.
Nearly a decade later, Keegan and her allies have become the establishment -- and the left is crying foul.
People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, recently released a report depicting Keegan's group as the center of "a network of right-wing foundations" that have received more than $77 million in U.S. Department of Education funds to promote their "school privatization" agenda. The report noted that a co-founder of the council, former Pennsylvania education secretary Eugene W. Hickok, is now the second-ranking official at the federal department.
While there is a tradition of Republican and Democratic administrations rewarding allies, critics argue that the amount of money steered toward conservative educational groups by the Bush administration far exceeds the practices of the past.
"It's a farce," said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country. "On the one hand, we have the Bush administration claiming that its education reforms are all scientifically based, and on the other hand, we see the administration providing a grab bag of Santa gifts to conservative groups."
And are we surprised?
The law, known as No Child Left Behind and signed in January 2002, seeks to raise achievement by penalizing schools where test scores do not meet annual targets. It is the most sweeping plan to shake up public education in a generation, as well as the most intrusive federal intervention in local schools. But until recently it had provoked little more than grumbling, though polls showed that educators in most of the nation's 15,000 districts considered several of its requirements ill-conceived.
In recent weeks, however, three Connecticut school districts have rejected federal money rather than comply with the red tape that accompanies the law, and several Vermont districts have shifted federal poverty money away from schools to shield them from sanctions.
Republican lawmakers from the National Council of State Legislatures, who consider the law a violation of states' rights, took their complaints to the White House in November, where they got a chilly reception.
Now, several say they will press their case in their home states. A Republican legislator has introduced a bill that would prohibit Utah authorities from complying with the law or accepting the $100 million it would bring the state. Half a dozen other state legislatures have voted to study similar action.
This reminds me of the many states and localities that have passed laws banning the Patriot Act. It seems that many people are opposed to the Acts of the Administration.
Re "Almanacs Put on FBI Watch List," Dec. 30: The latest public pronouncement from the Bush security team about the alleged danger of folks carrying almanacs is something straight out of a Rod Serling teleplay. Can you imagine being pulled over on a routine traffic stop on Wilshire Boulevard with the police officer radioing in that "we've got a suspicious driver with an almanac on his front seat."
What next? U.S. citizens armed with National Geographic? Message to those in power: Stop scaring the American people with all these self-serving public pronouncements and instead pass on solid leads to appropriate law enforcement in apprehending terrorists who mean to do us real harm. But whatever you do, please don't take my almanac.
What about all the people carrying Bibles? They might be up to something too.
The Endangered Species Act — which turned 30 on Dec. 28 and remains a visionary piece of legislation — is a public commitment by a great democracy to care for the rest of the creatures with which we share the planet.
The act has been remarkably effective. Peregrine falcons, brown pelicans, American alligators and many other species, once on the verge of disappearing, were aided by the law and now thrive. Still-protected species — black-footed ferrets, California condors and manatees among them — would almost certainly be extinct if not for this law. Just last month, I was privileged to see a pair of young condors circling in the Santa Lucia Mountains below Carmel. Twenty years ago, there were no wild condors in California.
Now, however, the administration and its congressional allies are in a pitched battle against the act. The administration has moved to exempt the military from the law.
And that list barely scratches the surface. The assault on the law is widespread and relentless.
And likely to continue for another four years.
[Former Rep. Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey (R-San Mateo), a co-founder of Earth Day in 1970, was in the House from 1968 to 1982.]
Thursday, January 01, 2004
1. MERCURY RISING - Issued public health warnings to pregnant women and children about mercury after announcing policy changes to triple amount of mercury pollution allowed from power plants.
2. SUPER DUPED - Became first administration to support shifting burden of Superfund toxic waste cleanups from polluters to taxpayers.
3. SOOTY SANTA - Dismantled provision of Clean Air Act that requires oldest, dirtiest power plants and refineries to curb soot and smog pollution.
4. BACK IN BLACKOUT - Proposed a national Energy Bill that did nothing to reduce dependence on foreign oil, repair or address antiquated electricity grid, or protect special places from oil and gas drilling.
5. DRILLING WILDERNESS - Opened nearly 9 million pristine acres in Northwest Alaska to the oil and gas industry for exploration and drilling.
The article goes on to list ten additional environmental misdeeds of the current administration.
The Dec. 19 editorial "What's the Difference?" about Diane Sawyer's interview with President Bush quoted him as saying, "Saddam Hussein was a threat, and the fact he is gone means America is a safer country."
"That statement, at least, is true," the editorial declared. What evidence does The Post have to back such a claim? Iraq is now a breeding ground for terrorists, judging by the increasingly deadly attacks on our soldiers.
Mr. Bush has declared the inability to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq a non-issue. It isn't to me. We were told repeatedly by the administration about the tons of biological agents Saddam Hussein supposedly had, and how we had to attack preemptively to prevent "the smoking gun from being a mushroom cloud" in the streets of America. Gradually, the rationale shifted to the "evidence of weapons programs."
Now we are told that our purpose was to provide freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people. A noble goal, but not what we were told we were going to war for.
The rationale for starting this war does matter. I believe Mr. Bush and his staff lied to the American people about the need to go to war and the justification for the war. That matters too.
Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said yesterday that President Bush lacks an understanding of the complexities of national security policy and has displayed a cowboy mentality toward the rest of the world that threatens to leave the country less secure against terrorist and other threats.
Gephardt, who supported the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war against Iraq, passionately defended that vote, which has drawn criticism from Democratic activists in his bid for the party's nomination, by describing how much the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed his views about preventing terrorism.
But while acknowledging he has embraced some of the broad goals of Bush's policy since then, Gephardt said that, based on his meetings with Bush, he does not trust the president to conduct foreign policy. "He's not dumb," he said, "but he is not informed and he's not experienced and he hasn't surrounded himself with the right people to give him the information and the experience that he doesn't have. And he worries me."
Two years after President Bush declared he could combat global warming without mandatory controls, the administration has launched a broad array of initiatives and research, yet it has had little success in recruiting companies to voluntarily curb their greenhouse gas emissions, according to official documents, reports and interviews.
At the heart of the president's strategy is "Climate Leaders," a program that recruits the nation's industrial polluters to voluntarily devise ways to curb their emissions by 10 percent or more in the coming decade. Scientists believe these greenhouse gas emissions, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are contributing to a troubling rise in the earth's temperature that could disrupt weather patterns and cause flooding.
Only a tiny fraction of the thousands of U.S. companies with pollution problems -- 50 in all -- have joined Climate Leaders, and of the companies that have signed up, only 14 have set goals. Many of the companies that are volunteering say they did so either because reducing emissions makes good economic sense or because they were being nudged by state and federal regulators.
Talk about a half-hearted response.
A former journalist who used the Internet to criticize the Vietnamese government was sentenced to seven years in jail and three years of house arrest for spying, a court official said in Hanoi, the capital.
Nguyen Vu Binh, 35, was charged with gathering anti-government information and documents for "reactionary organizations" in exile to help them oppose the government, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
During the half-day trial at the People's Court in Hanoi, Binh admitted he had contacts with foreign organizations but maintained he did nothing wrong, the official said.
Could it happen here?
Cashing in stock options before the market crashed, the president's brother, Neil Bush, made at least $171,370 in a single day by buying and selling shares in a small US high-tech firm where he had previously been a consultant, according to tax returns that give a glimpse into his business dealings.
The July 19, 1999, purchase and quick sale of stock from Kopin Corp. of Taunton, Mass., came on a day that the company received good news about a new Asian client, which sent its stock value soaring.
"My timing on this transaction was very fortunate," Bush said.
These Bushes. They're all the same.
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Critics warned Monday that computer error or outright fraud easily could alter the outcome of elections conducted on Palm Beach County's electronic voting machines.
Vincent J. Lipsio, a software design engineer from Gainesville, said he was not a "conspiracy theorist," but expressed concern about the voting equipment put in use in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election
For example, he said, it would be easy for a beginning computer-science student to rig the devices so that 57 percent of all votes next fall go to President Bush -- regardless of whom the voters actually select.
"There's a lot of history in American politics of ballot box stuffing," he said. "A few deft keystrokes, and all the ballot boxes in a county get stuffed at once."
Lipsio, who volunteers to work on voting issues for the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers, said there are so many potential problems with the computer voting equipment that "we will have no way of knowing how the election really went."
And that's just the way they want it.
When will the media stop circulating dubious or fabricated claims -- whether from Bush administration officials or intelligence abroad? The latest chapter unfolded this month with wide publicity -- capped by a favorable mention in a William Safire column in The New York Times and the usual hosannas on Fox News -- concerning a supposed document that linked 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta to Saddam Hussein.
This sort of "evidence," which surfaces periodically, is significant, as polls have always shown that one of the major reasons the public supported the invasion of Iraq was belief that Saddam aided the 9/11 attacks. Even after more than two years have passed -- and no hard evidence of that uncovered -- a poll earlier this week showed that slightly more than half of all Americans still believe that to be true, suggesting that the media have not really done their job in debunking this belief.
Now appears a document linking Atta to Saddam, which comes amid reports that the U.S. chief weapons inspector is about to call it quits, having failed to uncover any weapons of mass destruction.
There's only one problem: Just like every other bit of paper linking Saddam to 9/11 (some of them also touted by Safire), the latest document appears to be bogus. Yet many in the media keep taking them seriously.
And many in the public keep taking the media seriously.
When facing fact, one sees a situation where many American citizens believe that our current political and socioeconomic climate is at a critical point and cannot be allowed any further decline.
Thousands and yet more likely millions of people are utterly ashamed to call them selves "American". Many have come to the nauseating realization that they now live in a nation that is seeking global domination through military might.
Each and every day More and more people are waking up to the FACT that the Department of Homeland Security and it's "terror alert levels" are nothing more than a ploy to frighten people into voting a certain way while sacrificing their constitutional rights.
This is about to end in a BIG WAY!
Federal workers will get a pay increase tomorrow, but one smaller than many civil servants and their supporters in Congress believe they deserve.
President Bush issued an executive order yesterday implementing a 2 percent pay raise, which is what he proposed in his fiscal 2004 budget. The raise is less than half of the 4.1 percent hike the Senate and the House have approved in their differing versions of legislation to fund the Transportation and Treasury departments.
How odd that massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans did not have a similar effect.
Attorney General John Ashcroft disqualified himself on Tuesday from any involvement in the investigation into whether Bush administration officials illegally disclosed the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer. At the same time, the Justice Department brought in a special counsel to lead the politically charged case.
The two steps suggested that the three-month-old investigation had reached a crucial juncture at which Mr. Ashcroft's continued involvement was considered politically untenable, officials said. Leading Democrats had pushed for months for Mr. Ashcroft to remove himself from the case because of his close ties to the White House, but he had consistently resisted those demands until Tuesday.
Federal investigators have been examining whether officials at the White House or in other federal offices leaked the identity of the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame, to Robert Novak, a syndicated columnist. Mr. Novak included the information in a column published last July.
The White House has denied that top officials there, including the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, had any role in leaking the information to Mr. Novak. The Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed Mr. Rove in October, officials said, and his relationship to the attorney general has been a source of concern for some Justice Department officials because he was a paid adviser to Mr. Ashcroft on several of Mr. Ashcroft's political campaigns in Missouri.
I like the way they waited till December 30 to announce all this, figuring nobody would notice. They're probably right.
[Also check out this Times editorial on the same subject.]
"For 2004, Bush Has Strength in the White Male Numbers" (Dec. 28), with its analysis that President Bush has overwhelming appeal to white male voters because of his aggressive approach to world affairs, scares me. I am a white male voter, 83 years old, a World War II veteran (four years as a pilot in the Army Air Corps/Air Force), and I view Bush as a threat to world peace.
After 9/11 he gained nearly universal domestic and international support for the war on terror and Osama bin Laden. He squandered the international support, however, when he switched his focus from Bin Laden to his obsession with bringing down Saddam Hussein.
He created an image of Hussein being an imminent threat to the United States, and with his arrogant "we will do it my way or no way" attitude, he unilaterally led us into an unnecessary war against Iraq. The result has been a total mess. He now claims that the capture of Hussein justifies the hundreds of deaths, thousands of casualties, mounting debts and misery he created.
Instead of making the United States more secure, I believe Bush has created new generations of anti-Americans throughout the Muslim world. Who can predict how many new wars he is willing to rush into to turn other countries into the form of democracy he envisions?
I'm with you, Bob.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
While Mrs. Bush's television appearance [on "Meet the Press"] provided little news, it did offer a glimpse into the personal life of a first lady who has been especially private. She briefly discussed her twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, saying she regretted a comment suggesting that she wanted to be a grandmother. "I don't want to put any pressure on them," Mrs. Bush said.
The first lady also said that the "Roses are red, violets are blue" poem she read at a National Book Festival gala in October was not actually written by her husband even though it has been attributed to him. She did not say who wrote the poem.
"But a lot of people really believed that he did," she said. "Some woman from across the table said, 'You just don't know how great it is to have a husband who would write a poem for you.' "
Or one who would at least claim to have written it. This raises, again, the question: is everything about this man and his family totally phony?
That something ugly happened to Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) on the long night of the House Medicare vote last month seems beyond dispute. With his party lacking the votes to muscle the prescription drug bill through, Mr. Smith was subjected to intense -- and quite possibly criminal -- pressure to induce him to abandon his opposition. As Mr. Smith related it the next day, "members and groups" offered financial and political support for his son, Brad, who is running for his father's seat, if only he would vote for the bill.
"The first offer was to give him $100,000-plus for his campaign and endorsement by national [GOP] leadership," Mr. Smith elaborated a few days later. When he refused, he said, he was threatened, "Well, if you don't change your vote . . . then some of us are going to work to make sure your son doesn't get into Congress."
Mr. Smith has since recanted, rather unconvincingly. He said he "was told that my vote could result in interested groups giving substantial and aggressive campaign 'support' and 'endorsements,' " but that "no specific reference was made to money." But a report by The Post's R. Jeffrey Smith -- quoting Republican lawmakers present at a stiffen-your-backbone dinner of GOP opponents of the bill before the Medicare vote -- reinforces Mr. Smith's original assertion that money was indeed mentioned, and makes clear that members of the Republican leadership were involved. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) recalled Mr. Smith's saying that "someone had said his son . . . would be the beneficiary if he would vote for the bill, up to the tune of about $100,000."
It sounds like bribery to me. Or was it extortion?
For nearly 21 months, a government task force steadily moved toward recommending rules that within three years would force every coal-fired power plant in the country to reduce emissions of mercury, which can cause neurological and developmental damage to humans.
The Environmental Protection Agency-sponsored working group had a well-regarded mix of utility industry representatives, state air quality officials and environmentalists. Without settling on specific emission reductions, the panel agreed that all 1,100 of the nation's coal- and oil-fired power plants must use the "maximum achievable control technology" (MACT) to reduce mercury and other hazardous pollutants.
But in April, the EPA abruptly dismantled the panel. John A. Paul, its co-chairman, said members were given no clue why their work was halted -- that is, until late last month, when the Bush administration revealed it was taking an entirely different approach, using a more flexible portion of the Clean Air Act.
Just business as usual.
Last week, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, I noted that the newly righteous Bush Administration, in its glorious zeal to prosecute Saddam's crimes against humanity, was being more than a little hypocritical -- given that it continues to actively resist efforts to prosecute dictators and war criminals Bush and his predecessors have favored.
From Chile's Augusto Pinochet to Rios Montt in Guatemala to certain gated communities in South Florida, they reside in luxurious retirement, living off their spoils, far removed from any spider holes or worries of execution. And, of course, their American handlers are not only safe from prosecution -- many such handlers used their past crimes as resume builders for their current high-level Bush Administration positions.
The common thread here is not a new U.S. ideological commitment to the forgiveness of the debts of dictators; it's a commitment, as ever, to enriching the Bush White House's friends.
That's what America means to me now.
It was a merry Christmas for Sharper Image and Neiman Marcus, which reported big sales increases over last year's holiday season. It was considerably less cheery at Wal-Mart and other low-priced chains. We don't know the final sales figures yet, but it's clear that high-end stores did very well, while stores catering to middle- and low-income families achieved only modest gains.
Based on these reports, you may be tempted to speculate that the economic recovery is an exclusive party, and most people weren't invited. You'd be right.
Commerce Department figures reveal a startling disconnect between overall economic growth, which has been impressive since last spring, and the incomes of a great majority of Americans. In the third quarter of 2003, as everyone knows, real G.D.P. rose at an annual rate of 8.2 percent. But wage and salary income, adjusted for inflation, rose at an annual rate of only 0.8 percent. More recent data don't change the picture: in the six months that ended in November, income from wages rose only 0.65 percent after inflation.
A good indicator of the share of increased profits that goes to different income groups is the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of the share of the corporate profits tax that falls, indirectly, on those groups. According to the most recent estimate, only 8 percent of corporate taxes were paid by the poorest 60 percent of families, while 67 percent were paid by the richest 5 percent, and 49 percent by the richest 1 percent. ("Class warfare!" the right shouts.) So a recovery that boosts profits but not wages delivers the bulk of its benefits to a small, affluent minority.
The same small, affluent minority that is running the country right now.
Sometimes democracy works. Though the wheels of accountability often grind slowly, they also can grind fine, if lubricated by the hard work of free-thinking citizens. The latest example: the release of official documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that detail how the U.S. government under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush nurtured and supported Saddam Hussein despite his repeated use of chemical weapons.
The work of the National Security Archive, a dogged organization fighting for government transparency, has cast light on the trove of documents that depict in damning detail how the United States, working with U.S. corporations including Bechtel, cynically and secretly allied itself with Hussein's dictatorship. The evidence undermines the unctuous moral superiority with which the current American president, media and public now judge Hussein, a monster the U.S. actively helped create.
The documents make it clear that were the trial of Hussein to be held by an impartial world court, it would prove an embarrassing two-edged sword for the White House, calling into question the motives of U.S. foreign policy. If there were a complete investigation into those who aided and abetted Hussein's crimes against humanity, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State George Shultz would probably end up as material witnesses.
Do you still think there will be a trial?
Although President Bush's faith-based initiative -- one of the centerpieces of his domestic agenda -- has yet to win congressional approval, ramifications of the proposal has been felt in a number government agencies. The latest agency to take up the president's faith-based call is the National Park Service. Over the past several months, the NPS has brought Christian displays to our national parks and creationist books to the souvenir shops at the parks. It has also been reported that the NPS was considering removing historical information it found "conservatively incorrect" from historical documents and video presentations.
According to a late-December press release issued by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the National Park Service "approved the display of religious symbols and Bible verses, as well as the sale of creationist books giving a non-evolutionary explanation for the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders within national parks."
In addition, the press release claimed that pressure from conservative groups was causing the Park Service to consider editing a videotape, shown at the Lincoln Memorial since 1995, which contains images of demonstrations -- including gay rights and abortion rights rallies -- that occurred at the memorial.
I thought this item was satire when I first read it. Apparently not. This shows how far things have deteriorated.
Tens of thousands of angry people have shoved the Bush administration away from its effort to obliterate Clean Water Act provisions for a whole class of streams and wetlands, one that includes almost all the waterways in Southern California. But the action will mean little if the administration doesn't also rescind an "interim" order to the Army Corps of Engineers that makes it hard for the agency to protect these waters.
A blizzard of 133,000 public comments, almost all of them opposing, hammered the administration's plan to strip protection from "ephemeral" waters — those fed by rain or snowmelt rather than groundwater and that don't flow at least six months a year. In other words, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, seasonal ponds and pretty much any water you can name in the Southwest. Never mind that interconnected streams, rivers and wetlands sustain wildlife and that most flow to the ocean, where they can contribute to coastal pollution.
Many people believed at the time that the trauma of 9/11 would change the world. My feeling was that our American response would be far more crucial. The President, after all, did not have to declare war. He could have called the terrorists mass murderers, their deeds crimes against humanity. He could have said to the American people and the world, "We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. We will share intelligence, freeze assets and engage in forceful extraditions of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. I promise to do all in my power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never by the law of force."
It was a ripe moment--to educate the soul of the nation, to improve the quality of our suffering. We had lost our sense of invulnerability and superpower invincibility, but as these were only illusions, we should not have grieved their passing. Other nations too had been unfairly hurt, many of them, and far worse than we. But instead of deepening our kinship with the world's suffering, the President chose to invoke an almost unlimited sense of entitlement to pursue in our own way what he termed a struggle "to rid the world of evil."
As a result we squandered the widely felt sympathy that was ours on 9/11, symbolized by the headline in Le Monde the following day: Nous sommes tous Américains. We also squandered the near-record budget surplus that could have helped victims abroad as well as the homeless and hungry in the United States, where poverty is a tragedy that great wealth makes a sin. Finally, ironically and predictably, the Bush doctrine of unilateralism and preventive war has recruited more terrorists than it has cowed. Clearly the past two years have been morally and politically disastrous.
You think this is bad? Wait till the second term.
The Pentagon has frozen new funds approved for Iraqi reconstruction amid growing allegations of corruption and cronyism associated with the rebuilding process.
Companies eager for a stake in the $18.6 billion in fresh postwar funds that Congress approved in November have been told not to expect requests for proposals from the Defense Department, the first step in the kind of ambitious redevelopment slated for the war-torn country. The freeze will almost certainly mean the United States will not issue new contracts until well after the initial Feb. 1 target date.
"We're on hold and we'll be on hold until we hear differently," Admiral David Nash, the director of the Pentagon's Iraq Program Management Office, yesterday told the Engineering News-Record, a construction trade journal. He gave no further details.
The Pentagon also announced last week it would postpone until early January a conference for companies interested in rebuilding Iraq, according to Robyn Powell of the National Defense Industrial Association, which coordinates meetings between industry and the military.
"I don't know why the conference has been canceled again," Powell told Reuters.
The Pentagon's decision to delay Iraqi reconstruction is another setback for a process already hobbled by political insecurity and, increasingly, concerns over corruption and misconduct. The success of the US-led bid to remake Iraq politically depends largely on efforts to reverse the country's chronic unemployment by repairing it economically. But lawmakers in Washington and businesspeople in Iraq say the bidding process lacks transparency and favors a growing class of monopolists and oligarchs that could overwhelm the country's infant regulatory framework.
Sounds like America! We have a growing class of monopolists and oligarchs too.
Monday, December 29, 2003
Ah, the ease with which George W. Bush attracts superlatives! Helen Thomas calls him "the worst president ever." A kinder, gentler Jonathan Chait ranks him "among the worst presidents in US history." No such restraint from Paul Berman, who brands him "the worst president the US has ever had." Nobel Laureate George Akerlof rates his government as the "worst ever." Even Bushie du jour, Christopher Hitchens, calls the man "unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things." Only Fidel Castro, it would appear, has had kind words for our 43rd President. "Hopefully, he is not as stupid as he seems, nor as Mafia-like as his predecessors were."
Vain hopes. In a mere three years, President Bush has compiled a record of disasters that Fidel could only envy. While cutting taxes for the rich, starving out federal programs for the poor, dismantling environmental protections, riding roughshod over civil liberties, and running the largest budget deficit in history, his administration has pursued a "law of the jungle" brand of foreign policy fueled by overt paranoia and an imperious sense of omnipotence. Its shrill, threatening rhetoric, relentlessly echoed by a gang of media goons, has coarsened public discourse and alienated friends and allies.
At home, Bush has stoked the fears of a public traumatized by 9/11 and encountered rare success preaching an "us-against-them" Weltanschauung soaked in self-righteousness. Dissent has been equated with lack of patriotism, illegal detentions have gone unchallenged, and racial profiling has been given new life. In the run-up to the war, international disapproval met with sophomoric tantrums ("freedom fries, anyone?") and vindictive hissy fits (canceled exchange programs with French high schools): hardly America's finest hour.
Abroad, the image of the United States has never been worse. Ever. While the horrors of 9/11 prompted an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy for the US worldwide, Bush squandered it all away and morphed "America the Benevolent Giant" into "America the Shrill Bully." Bush's vision of a dog-eat-dog Hobbesian universe in which the US plays by its own rules is repellent to most nations.
Including this one.
When last we reported on the legislative machinations of Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Alaska Republican was pushing a series of obnoxious appropriations riders related to fisheries in Alaska's waters. Since then, Mr. Stevens has backed off the worst of the riders: a provision that would have blocked federal money for the identification and protection of cold water coral beds and other sensitive marine habitats.
But other special-interest goodies remain in the omnibus spending package, including two in which the senator's son -- state legislator Ben Stevens -- has direct financial interests. One would force crab fishermen in the state to sell 90 percent of their catch of certain species to officially designated processors -- processors whose trade association pays the senator's son as a consultant. The other would give the exclusive right to fish for pollock in an area off the Aleutian Islands to a native corporation -- which has the younger Mr. Stevens on the board of directors of one its subsidiaries.
Ted Stevens insists that his advocacy for these projects has nothing to do with his son. But it turns out that Ben Stevens is not the only one benefiting financially from his legislative efforts. A remarkable recent story in the Los Angeles Times detailed the senator's apparent habit of doing legislative favors for those who have been helping him turn modest sums into a considerable personal fortune.
It seems to always be Republicans who act this way. It's Republicans who impeach, it's Republicans who recall, it's Republicans who redistrict, it's Republicans who rig elections. Has anyone else noticed how one-sided American politics has become?
[Also check out this LA Times editorial on the same subject.]
Over a third of the Army's active-duty combat troops are now in Iraq, and by spring the Pentagon plans to let most of them come home for urgently needed rest. Many will have served longer than a normal overseas tour and under extremely harsh conditions. When the 130,000 Americans rotate out for home leave, nearly the same number will rotate in. At that point, should the country need to send additional fighters anywhere else in the world, it will have dangerously few of them to spare.
This is the clearest warning yet that the Bush administration is pushing America's peacetime armed forces toward their limits. Washington will not be able to sustain the mismatch between unrealistic White House ambitions and finite Pentagon means much longer without long-term damage to our military strength. The only solution is for the Bush administration to return to foreign policy sanity, starting with a more cooperative, less vindictive approach to European allies who could help share America's military burdens.
Words like "sanity" and "cooperative" don't seem to be in this administration's vocabulary. "Vindictive" they've got.
The government's public-relations drive to build a favorable impression abroad — particularly among Muslim nations — is a shambles, according to Republican and Democratic lawmakers, State Department officials and independent experts. They say the effort, known as public diplomacy, lacks direction and is starved of cash and personnel.
Washington has failed to capitalize on the ouster of Saddam Hussein, those critics say, and did not maintain the sympathy generated by the Sept. 11 attacks. In Iraq, occupation officials routinely place blame for their miscalculations on pessimistic American news media, a reflex that even some hawks denounce as deceptive.
Public diplomacy is "a complete and utter disaster in Iraq," said Mark Helmke, a senior staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who holds that the occupation authority has done little to counter criticism that it is an imperial, occupying force. "We have four different agencies running media operations there. There's no coordination, no strategy."
A senior State Department official, who is active in public diplomacy, says he starts his day pondering the antipathy to the United States.
"Why, in Jordan, do people think Osama bin Laden is a better leader than George Bush?" he asked. "It's not just Arabs who are angry with the United States. It's worldwide."
Sorry, but it's not the United States that everyone is angry with. It is our illegitimate, corrupt leadership and their destructive policies. So let's throw 'em out!
The nation's official jobless rate is 5.9%, a relatively benign level by historical standards. But economists say that figure paints only a partial — and artificially rosy — picture of the labor market.
To begin with, there are the 8.7 million unemployed, defined as those without a job who are actively looking for work. But lurking behind that group are 4.9 million part-time workers such as [writer Lisa] Gluskin who say they would rather be working full time — the highest number in a decade.
There are also the 1.5 million people who want a job but didn't look for one in the last month. Nearly a third of this group say they stopped the search because they were too depressed about the prospect of finding anything. Officially termed "discouraged," their number has surged 20% in a year.
Add these three groups together and the jobless total for the U.S. hits 9.7%, up from 9.4% a year ago.
"There's certainly an arbitrariness to the official rate," says Princeton University economics professor Alan Krueger. "It irks me that it's not put in proper perspective."
Don't expect to hear any real numbers from the Bushies.
This has been a grim year for environmental causes, with everything from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming to protections for public lands to critical wildlife habitat taking a beating from the Bush administration and its regulatory enablers. The nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters has given President Bush an unequivocal grade of F on his environmental policies -- worse than his father's performance and all other presidents since the league began keeping score in the Reagan administration.
In the presidential campaign thus far, environmental concerns have largely been lost in the din of debate about the war in Iraq. But the league is vowing to change that, taking advantage of campaign finance laws that should enhance the role of advocacy groups as political parties face new spending restrictions.
The 1,045-page Medicare bill, passed with only one day of debate in the House and four in the Senate, is yielding some surprises to seniors as they read the fine print, according to lawmakers and advocates for senior citizens.
Among the concerns: Patients will not be guaranteed their desired medications -- only drugs treating their general ailments. Insurers can opt to drop a drug even after the patient is locked into a plan, and need only alert seniors by posting the change on the Internet. Some patients may have a choice only between one free-standing drug plan and an HMO, and the costs could vary widely.
Now, some advocates for senior citizens fear that the highly complex $396 billion prescription drug benefit -- heralded as a historic gift to seniors when signed by President Bush three weeks ago -- will cause more headaches than benefits when it goes into effect in January 2006.
"We wanted a bill very much," said Barbara Kennelly, a former Democratic member of Congress and president of the Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. But now, seniors "are getting more and more upset" as they learn what's in the package, she said.
It hasn't taken people long to discover that this under-debated Medicare "reform" is actually a giveaway to the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, all big Bush contributors. So who really benefits?
By prohibiting soldiers and officers from leaving the service at retirement or the expiration of their contracts, military leaders have breached the Army's manpower limit of 480,000 troops, a ceiling set by Congress. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, disclosed that the number of active-duty soldiers has crept over the congressionally authorized maximum by 20,000 and now registered 500,000 as a result of stop-loss orders. Several lawmakers questioned the legality of exceeding the limit by so much.
To many of the soldiers whose retirements and departures are on ice, however, stop-loss is an inconvenience, a hardship and, in some cases, a personal disaster. Some are resigned to fulfilling what they consider their patriotic duty. Others are livid, insisting they have fallen victim to a policy that amounts to an unannounced, unheralded draft.
"I'm furious. I'm aggravated. I feel violated. I feel used," said [Ronald] Eagle, 42, the targeting officer, who has just shipped to Iraq with his field artillery unit for what is likely to be a yearlong tour of duty. He had voluntarily postponed his retirement at his commander's request early this year and then suddenly found himself stuck in the service under a stop-loss order this fall. Eagle said he fears his fledgling business in West Virginia may not survive his lengthy absence. His unexpected extension in the Army will slash his annual income by about $45,000, he said. And some members of his family, including his recently widowed sister, whose three teenage sons are close to Eagle, are bitterly opposed to his leaving.
"An enlistment contract has two parties, yet only the government is allowed to violate the contract; I am not," said [Peter] Costas, 42, who signed an e-mail from Iraq this month "Chained in Iraq," an allusion to the fact that he and his fellow reservists remained in Baghdad after the active-duty unit into which they were transferred last spring went home. He has now been told that he will be home late next June, more than a year after his contractual departure date. "Unfair. I would not say it's a draft per se, but it's clearly a breach of contract. I will not reenlist."
Well, somebody has to fight Bush's wars for him.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
A storm is brewing over reports that the White House ignored intelligence that could have prevented 9/11. CBS Evening News reported on Dec. 17, "For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented." Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican who was appointed by President Bush, said plainly, "This was not something that had to happen" and he "is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame." Kean said, "There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed."
CBS notes Kean's report may "shed light on one of the most controversial assertions of the Bush administration—that there was never any thought given to the idea that terrorists might fly an airplane into a building." As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on May 16, 2002, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." Similarly, President Bush denied having any idea about the threat, saying on May 17, 2002 "Had I know that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people."
Soon after these denials, ABC News reported, "White House officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks that bin Laden's terrorist network might try to hijack American planes." The president received that briefing around the same time the FBI was receiving information that a large number of Arabs were training at U.S. flight schools.
When CBS asked other Administration officials about Rice and Bush's denials, they hit a brick wall: "The usually talkative Attorney General John Ashcroft just stared when reporters asked him about the terror warnings. FBI Chief Robert Mueller also refused to comment." Others were outraged. Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow, said, "How is it possible we have a national security advisor coming out and saying we had no idea they could use planes as weapons when we had FBI records from 1991 stating that this is a possibility."
[This piece originally appeared in the Center for American Progress' daily e-mail bulletin, the Progress Report. To sign up, visit americanprogress.org.]
A growing number of analysts have come to see Cheney as the key administration figure in moving the United States to war with Iraq, even sanctioning what Newsweek recently referred to as a "parallel government" that circumvented normal policy-making and intelligence channels to persuade Bush to take unilateral action.
Without Cheney running interference for them, according to this view, the neo-cons and other hawks, will quickly be marginalized in a second Bush term.
While the invasion's quick success boosted Cheney's influence, as well as that of the neo-conservatives in his office and around Rumsfeld, the botch-up of the postwar occupation – brought home to the public in the steadily rising number of US casualties – created a major opening for the "realists" this autumn, particularly as Bush's poll numbers began falling precipitously, and his top political aide, Karl Rove, sensed disaster.
Those included his refusal to accept the painstaking findings of US intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein did not have a role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center or that an Iraqi intelligence agent had not met with one of the Sept. 11 hijackers in Prague five months before the attacks.
Dick's the "Father Knows Best" type.
The Government has spent months fighting claims its dossier on Iraq’s weapons had been “sexed up” – a key part of the Hutton inquiry.
Now Mr Blair is facing fresh embarrassment after claiming the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) had found “massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories”.
In a Christmas message to troops he said the discovery showed Saddam had attempted to “conceal weapons”.
But Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said that was not true. However, he did not realise Mr Blair had made the claim when it was put to him.
In fact, it sounded like a “red herring” put about by someone opposed to military action to undermine the coalition, Mr Bremer said.
“I don’t know where those words come from but that is not what (ISG chief) David Kay has said,” he told ITV1’s Jonathan Dimbleby programme.
“I have read his reports so I don’t know who said that.
“It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me. It sounds like someone who doesn’t agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down.”
Mr Bremer was forced to row back when told the claims were made by America’s staunchest ally Mr Blair.
“There is actually a lot of evidence that had been made public,” he said.
Oops. Let's get our stories straight next time.
The discussion of an upcoming trial of Saddam Hussein was overshadowed by two appellate court decisions that serve as a sobering reminder to the Bush administration that presidential authority does not exist in a vacuum.
In separate cases, U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Ninth Circuit ruled that "enemy combatants" should be granted lawyers and due process. Up to now, President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have played fast and loose with the laws of war and bent the rules to suit them. For the fallen Iraqi dictator, the president has called for a trial that meets international standards, yet here at home "enemy combatants" face primitive military tribunals.
How ironic that the president who singlehandedly rolled back most of the international legal gains of the 1990s is now calling for a trial that will bear "international scrutiny." While a legitimate trial for Hussein could firmly establish his guilt in the eyes of his countrymen, any trial designed to "educate" the Iraqi people could quickly turn to farce as trials cannot be asked to teach historical lessons. Trials, at best, can only establish legal guilt or innocence.