Saturday, January 17, 2004
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) called President Bush's proposal for a massive guestworker program and sweeping amnesty for illegal aliens an extravagant election year gift for special interests, charged to the account of American workers and taxpayers. The broad outline of the immigration initiative, formally unveiled today, essentially cedes control over U.S. immigration policy to low wage employers and the immigrants themselves, charges FAIR.
Under the president's proposal, employers would be able to seek workers in other countries who are "willing" to work at whatever wages the employers determine. In addition, nearly all of the estimated 9 to 11 million illegal aliens living in the U.S. would receive amnesty and be reclassified as guestworkers and put on the path to U.S. citizenship. The plan also calls for the admission of untold numbers of family members of those amnestied.
"The White House diligently avoided using the "A" word in its announcement," said Dan Stein, executive director of FAIR. "But no matter how much Karl Rove wishes to torture the English language, a program that legalizes millions upon millions of people who have cheated to get into this country, who have cheated by working off-the-books and avoided paying taxes, and have cheated by using billions of dollars in public services is an amnesty.
Let's all chip in and buy Karl a dictionary.
The news that Bush & Co. wanted to invade Iraq from Day One does not surprise -- Bill Clinton has been telling a similar story for some time about his meeting with Bush on Inauguration Day, 2001. It is the, "So what?" reaction that needs to be addressed.
We learn that there are no weapons of mass destruction, and the Bushes reply, "So what?" We learn there never was a connection between Sadism Hussein and Al Qaeda, and the Bushes say, "So what?" It matters because we need to understand how we got into the mess we're in, so we won't get ourselves into another one.
There has to be some recognition of how seriously we were misled. If one then wants to argue that invading Iraq was worth doing anyway, fine -- but it must be acknowledged that it was done on false premises. And as an excellent article in the current issue of Mother Jones called the The Lie Factory shows, the false premises were carefully manufactured in the Pentagon. Conservatives cannot possibly be comfortable with that, no matter how repellent Sadism Hussein.
Struggling to reconcile the ever-widening gulf between what the Bush administration claims to be true and what is actually true is getting harder by the day. Fortunately, Paul O'Neill has a timely, if disturbing, diagnosis, backed up by some 19,000 pages of lab results: the country is being governed not by the genial figurehead now running toward the center in hopes of re-election, but by a band of out-and-out fanatics.
On the administration's two defining issues, Iraq and taxes, the former Treasury Secretary paints a scathing portrait of a cabal of closed-minded zealots steadfastly refusing to allow anything as piddling as fact, evidence, or truth to get in the way of their unshakable beliefs and forgone conclusions.
When O'Neill, who had the gall to be concerned about the looming fiscal crisis triggered by the growing budget deficit, argued against a second round of tax cuts, he was quickly put in his place by Cheney. "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter," growled the Vice President, blithely ignoring the nearly 20 years it took to undo the fiscal damage Reagan's budget-busting had wrought. Besides, added Cheney, sounding less like the most powerful #2 in history than a kid cajoling his parents into giving him ice cream because he has cleaned his plate, "We won the mid-term elections, this is our due."
An over-stuffed gift bag for the president’s prosperous donor corps is our due? Is it actually possible to so badly misread what this country -- or, indeed, democracy -- is about?
This administration has nothing to do with democracy.
One year ago our nation was in the midst of a great debate. Should the United States (or any nation, for that matter) attack another sovereign nation in the absence of any direct aggression or threat?
The majority of Americans thought not. An unprovoked attack was totally against American tradition and sensibilities.
Saddam Hussein was apparently refusing to honor resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council, not resolutions passed by the Congress of the United States. The United States had no reason to act unilaterally.
I write "apparently" because, back in 1991, under pressure from the U.N. and confirmed by weapons inspectors, Hussein had suspended his work on nuclear weapons, stopped development and production of chemical, nerve gas and biological weapons.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration mounted a propaganda campaign in favor of war.
It's a disappointment to learn that Powell's declarations before the U.N. were just as phony, flawed and dishonest as those by the rest of the Bush gang.
I guess the Good One isn't so Good after all.
The panel set up to investigate why the United States failed to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, faced angry questions Thursday after revelations that two of its own senior officials were so closely involved in the events under investigation that they have been interviewed as part of the inquiry.
Philip Zelikow, the commission's executive director, worked on the Bush-Cheney transition team as the new administration took power, advising his longtime associate and former boss, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, on the incoming National Security Council.
"He came forward (to answer questions) in case he might have useful information," said Al Felzenberg, the commission spokesman.
The news was greeted with dismay by many of the relatives of the victims who campaigned for the commission to be set up.
"This is beginning to look like a whitewash," Kristen Breitweizer, who lost her husband Ron in tower two of the World Trade Center, told United Press International.
You think so?
George Bush is selling out Iraq. Gone are his hard-liners' dreams of setting up a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic republic, a light unto the Middle Eastern nations. The decision makers in the administration now realize these goals are unreachable. So they've set a new goal: to end the occupation by July 1, whether that occupation has accomplished anything valuable and lasting or not. Just declare victory and go home. The tyranny of Saddam Hussein will be over. But a new tyranny will likely take its place: the tyranny of civil war, as rival factions rush into the void. Such is the mess this president seems willing to leave behind in order to save his campaign.
"The Bush game plan is to have pictures of some U.S. troops leaving and the Iraqis opening their own government, the U.S. having presided over the birth of this new embryonic democracy," observes former Clinton White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal. The problem is, there will be no Iraqi democracy. There might not even be a viable Iraqi government. Instead, Baghdad will become Beirut: Iraq's three major religious and ethnic groups, the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds, will consolidate their respective positions in the center, south, and north of the country, recruit their militias, and get down to fighting for control of the power vacuum that is the post-war "peace."
Once again, as so often in these last few months, an analogy is Vietnam. And, as so often in the last three years, the analogous president is Nixon.
Nixon had the decency to resign.
Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, charged Thursday that retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark endorsed President Bush's policy toward Iraq two weeks before Congress voted to authorize Bush to go to war.
If true, that would contradict the core message of Clark's presidential campaign. The complete transcript of Clark's Sept. 26, 2002, testimony, however, reveals that Clark didn't endorse Bush's policy during the congressional hearing, and that the Republican charge is based on selected excerpts of his remarks.
Gillespie accurately quoted portions of Clark's testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in which Clark said he believed that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons and was seeking nuclear weapons. But the RNC chairman didn't mention that Clark also said America should work through the United Nations to seek a diplomatic solution and go to war only as a last resort.
You can tell that they're starting to fear the General.
Friday, January 16, 2004
President Bush on Friday installed Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering on a federal appeals court in an election-year slap at Democrats who had bottled up his nomination for more than two years out of concerns over his civil rights record, sources told NBC News on Friday.
Bush named Pickering, currently a U.S. District Court judge in Hattiesburg, Miss., as a recess appointment, a rarely used maneuver that avoids the confirmation process. Such appointments are valid until the next Congress takes office, in this case in January 2005.
The appointment will allow Pickering, 66, to sit on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals through the end of 2004. Then, he would be eligible for full retirement benefits because of his age and length of service on the federal bench.
The sources, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said the White House would announce Pickering's appointment later in the day.
Later in the day on Friday, when they think nobody will hear about it. What a dirty trick. But what else do we expect?
In other words, the general gets it: he understands that America is facing what Kevin Phillips, in his remarkable new book, American Dynasty, calls a "Machiavellian moment." Among other things, this tells us that General Clark and Howard Dean, whatever they may say in the heat of the nomination fight, are on the same side of the great Democratic divide.
What makes Mr. Dean seem radical aren't his policy positions but his willingness — shared, we now know, by General Clark — to take a hard line against the Bush administration. This horrifies some veterans of the Clinton years, who have nostalgic memories of elections that were won by emphasizing the positive. Indeed, George Bush's handlers have already made it clear that they intend to make his "optimism" — as opposed to the negativism of his angry opponents — a campaign theme. (Money-saving suggestion: let's cut directly to the scene where Mr. Bush dresses up as an astronaut, and skip the rest of his expensive, pointless — but optimistic! — Moon-base program.)
The Sierra Club on Thursday debuted a print and broadcast advertising campaign across nine states and Washington that condemns the Bush administration's relaxing of mercury contamination standards while cautioning Americans against eating fish contaminated with mercury.
"During the State of the Union address, President Bush will gloss over how his administration puts our communities at risk to benefit corporate polluters," Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. "We're making sure the public knows the Bush administration consistently favors polluting industries over health and safety."
TV ads will run in select cities, including Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and New York, with print ads appearing in publications like the Washington Post and La Opinion.
Retired Army General Wesley K. Clark, who says on the stump that the war in Iraq was unnecessary, reacted with uncharacteristic anger yesterday to reports that, in 2002, he told a congressional committee that Saddam Hussein was a "threat" and said he believed the Iraqi leader had both weapons of mass destruction and connections to Al Qaeda.
The Republican National Committee yesterday circulated excerpts of Clark's testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 26, 2002, about two weeks before Congress passed a resolution authorizing war.
At a news conference in Manchester yesterday, Clark's voice rose to higher-than-usual levels as he fielded a series of questions on the topic. Calling the release "old-style politics," Clark said the Republicans "finally figured out that I'm George Bush's greatest threat" and were responding to his rising poll numbers in New Hampshire. He also said that his congressional testimony had drawn a distinction between a "preventative" and "preemptive" war, and accused Bush of "misleading" Americans into thinking the war was necessary.
"How do they think they can get away with misleading the American people?" Clark said, pointing at the news cameras as his voice rose.
They're doing a pretty good job so far.
In a sign of the difficulty President Bush faces as he tries to win black support for his reelection, several hundred protesters loudly booed him on Thursday as he laid a wreath at the grave of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
"Bush go home" and "peace not war" the predominantly black crowd of protesters shouted from behind a barrier of buses, as Bush paid tribute to King on the 75th anniversary of his birth.
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, criticized the grave visit as "yet another symbolic gesture that lacks any real substance."
"Every policy decision of the Bush Administration including the war in Iraq, healthcare, jobs, the economy, judicial nominations, housing, the environment, as well as secondary and higher education, has done nothing to strengthen Dr. King's dream," Cummings said.
If we allow the Bush administration another four years to complete their grand design, we will not recognize this country. America the Beautiful is already the most hated and feared power on earth, one that answers to no law and no standard of international decency. One Nation Under God is now a nation that enlists God in its persecution of those who stand in its way. We have already seen an administration keen on constitutionalizing the sacrament of marriage and proclaiming the president the moral leader of our nation. We are dominated by a movement that puts the life of an unborn fetus ahead of that of its living mother but will not even acknowledge the innocent thousands it has killed in the name of liberation.
We are appalled at how deeply the Sunnis and Shiites hate each other but too many of us ignore the deepening enmity among our own citizens. The United States is becoming parallel universes where in one everyone sees a dangerous, arrogant, bumbling, incompetent leader and in the other that same figure is seen as a heroic man of the people. The evidence is mounting that the former is reality, but will the rest wake up in time?
As the Bush administration utters a classic Emily Litella "never mind" over its bogus justifications to invade another nation, we will see an increasing barrage of distractions from the critical truth. The Bush Space Initiative is a laudable diversion and an eloquent testimony to the historic role that chimps have played in the American space program, but it will only get off the ground if some genius finds a way to fuel rockets with red ink.
And yet the Republicans continue to give this administration their unquestioning approval. Talk about faith!
National leaders of six conservative organizations yesterday broke with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, accusing them of spending like "drunken sailors," and had some strong words for President Bush as well.
"The Republican Congress is spending at twice the rate as under Bill Clinton, and President Bush has yet to issue a single veto," Paul M. Weyrich, national chairman of Coalitions for America, said at a news briefing with the other five leaders. "I complained about profligate spending during the Clinton years but never thought I'd have to do so with a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling the Congress."
Warning of adverse consequences in the November elections, the leaders said the Senate must reject the latest House-passed omnibus spending bill or Mr. Bush should veto the measure.
"The whole purpose of having a Republican president is to lead the Republican Congress," said Paul Beckner, president of Citizens for a Sound Economy, whose co-chairman is former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas. "The Constitution gives the president the power to veto legislation, and if Congress won't act in a fiscally responsible way, the president has to step in — but he hasn't done that."
Well, apparently not all Republicans are giving him a free ride.
[Also check out this article from the same source, describing conservative reaction to the president's new immigration plan.]
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski wore the uniform of the United States military for most of her adult life. In the last few years, until her retirement last April after 20 years of service, she has watched the infrastructure of American foreign policy creation rot from the inside out. Her view was not from the cheap seats, from some faraway vantage point, but from the hallways where the cancer walked and talked.
Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski worked in the same Defense Department offices where the cadre of hawkish neoconservatives that came in with George W. Bush trashed America's reputation, denigrated her fellow soldiers, and recreated the processes of government into a contra-constitutional laughingstock.
"My personal experience leaning precariously toward the neoconservative maw showed me that their philosophy remains remarkably untouched by respect for real liberty, justice, and American values," Kwiatkowski writes in the January 19 edition of The American Conservative magazine.
Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski knew it all along. "War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons," she says in her American Conservative editorial, "but the reasons given to Congress and the American people for this one were so inaccurate and misleading as to be false. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq - more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional sheikdoms, maintaining OPEC on a dollar track, and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision. These more accurate reasons could have been argued on their merits, and the American people might indeed have supported the war. But we never got a chance to debate it."
And at this rate, we never will.
General Wesley Clark unleashed his most blistering attack yet on the Bush administration in the president's home state Monday, vowing to win Texas in November if he is the Democratic nominee.
"I think we're at risk with our democracy," Clark told an audience of about 500 people at a fund-raiser at the Westin Galleria hotel. "I think we're dealing with the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory. They even put Richard Nixon to shame. They are a threat to what this nation stands for, and we need to get him out of the White House. And we're going to do it."
When a supporter yelled out, "Give it to him!" Clark responded: "We're going to give it to him, and you're going to have to take him back, right here in Texas. Let him chop cedar."
Clark said Sunday that he believed the book validated his charges, made almost daily on the campaign trail, that the Bush administration began planning for a war against Iraq immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, if not sooner.
The history of bold visions for human spaceflight is littered with more failures, delays and cost overruns than clear successes. The fates have been particularly unkind to Republican presidents, who twice made their ambitious ventures in election years.
It is a legacy that President Bush, who unveiled a plan yesterday to put Americans on the Moon, Mars "and beyond," hopes to overcome. The broad goals are the same as those his father proposed as president in 1989, but the new plan is more hedged, giving no firm date for the Mars venture and deferring the need for big spending increases until after what would be Mr. Bush's second term. In part, it seeks to make vagueness a virtue, which is giving some space experts the jitters.
"People are happy and worried at the same time," said Lawrence H. Kuznetz, a scientist at Baylor College of Medicine who conducts research for NASA. The effort to return to the Moon, instead of going straight to Mars, he added, could become "a bottomless pit of misdirected targets" and "suck up NASA's budget faster than a black hole sucks up light."
Maybe that's part of the plan.
A lot of liberals accuse George Bush of cowardice. It's a preposterous accusation to level at a president who is running at least two staggeringly expensive wars at the same time, even as he threatens to take on more, not to mention planning an invasion of Mars and cutting taxes on all your rich friends. And all this in the face of the world's biggest ever trade and budget deficits. Now that takes cojones ... unless, of course, you think that the president keeps his brains in the same general area of his anatomy.
Most Americans, who have been hearing endless reports about the so-called economic "boom" on TV, may not realize that the country is, in fact, worth a third less than it was a few years ago. With the dollar plummeting in value, the U.S. economy is far poorer when measured in terms of Euros or pounds.
But it is only a matter of time before the rest of the world begins to tire of financing the administration's military, fiscal and economic irresponsibility. More importantly, these nations have aging populations of their own. There is no way that their governments are going to finance the huge impending Medicare and Social Security deficits that Bush is brushing under the carpet.
Once again Bush and his top officials are responsible for an outrageous scandal whose monumental scale and grotesquely terrifying implications for our democracy make Watergate look like a fraternity prank. Yet the miscreants are getting away scot-free.
The Bush Administration, reported The New York Times on January 8, "has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team whose job was to scour the country for military equipment. The step was described by some military officials as a sign that the administration might have lowered its sights and no longer expected to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons that the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March."
The Bushies have good reason to think they won't find any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. They knew full well that the flimsy reports they used to sell their sleazy oil war were more than four years out of date--ancient history by intelligence standards. And, as The Washington Post reports, a newly discovered memo to Saddam Hussein indicates that Mr. Worse Than Hitler got rid of his WMDs in 1991. Unlike the United States, which unilaterally partitioned Iraq into no-fly zones and created a new Kurdish state, Saddam appears to have complied with the ceasefire agreement that ended the Gulf War.
[Ted Rall is the editor of the new anthology of alternative cartoons Attitude 2: The New Subversive Social Commentary Cartoonists.]
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
If you work for a living in George W. Bush's America, you're a sap.
Take a quick look, or a long one, at the tax code as Bush has altered it during his three years as president, and you're compelled to conclude that work has become a distinctly inferior kind of income acquisition in the eyes of the law. Bush tax policy rewards investment and inheritance. Relying on work for your income, by contrast, turns you into a second-class citizen.
In his first round of tax cuts in 2001, Bush got Congress to phase out the estate tax by 2010. Last year, with Republicans in control on Capitol Hill, he reduced the top tax rate on dividends from 39.6 percent to 15 percent, and brought the capital gains tax rate down from 20 percent to 15 percent as well.
This year, his new budget proposes that families be allowed to shield as much as $30,000 yearly on their investment income, which will abolish all remaining taxes on such income. Meanwhile, the income tax cuts to most middle-class families don't exceed a couple of hundred dollars, and payroll taxes for employees remain untouched. In part, this devaluing of work is simply an expression of Bush family values. As Kevin Phillips points out in his new biography of the Bush dynasty, the Bushes don't do anything so vulgar as going into professions. Rather, the clan lives by its connections. For George W. and his brothers, work has meant riffling through Pappy's Rolodex. Theirs is the cronyest form of capitalism.
The Bush family are certainly not "typical Americans". They probably don't even know any.
[Former Bush Treasury secretary Paul] O'Neill, who had been a budget wiz in the Nixon and Ford administrations and a successful chief executive at Alcoa, was able to sift through economic data to his heart's content with his old pal, Mr. Greenspan. But he soon discovered that this was merely an academic undertaking. In addition to the damage that Mr. O'Neill did to himself with his erratic public statements, he was serving in an administration that was not eager to have facts get in the way of policies set by a "praetorian guard" of ideologues surrounding the president.
Mr. O'Neill can't tell you what it feels like to steer the world economy. For that, read Mr. Rubin's book. Mr. O'Neill's is a woeful tale of what it feels like to sit in the office once occupied by Alexander Hamilton and be subservient to people like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes.
"We need to be better about keeping politics out of the policy process," Mr. O'Neill told Dick Cheney, his old friend from the Ford administration who had recommended him for the job early on. In this tale, the Treasury secretary repeatedly implores the vice president to foster a more open and rigorous policy-making process in the White House, but to no avail. These scenes are reminiscent of a spy thriller in which the protagonist warns the head of counterintelligence that there is an enemy mole in their midst, only to discover that his confidant is actually the mole.
Long after the reader has figured it out, Mr. O'Neill finally realizes that Mr. Cheney is the leader of the inner circle, which keeps facts — whether about global warming, the deficit, steel tariffs or Iraq — from getting in the way of policy.
We now have our first "fact-free" administration - everything is faith-based. Time to start praying.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned a rule, announced early in the Bush administration, that would have weakened the Clinton administration's energy efficiency standard for home air conditioners.
The ruling was the latest blow to White House efforts to ease regulations that businesses consider too burdensome. Courts in recent months temporarily blocked a new rule that would exempt companies from installing modern air-pollution controls when modifying factories and power plants in ways that would increase emissions, and reinstated a Clinton administration ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington-based bipartisan coalition of business, consumer and environmental leaders, said the higher efficiency standard would save consumers more than $1 billion by 2020 and would reduce the need to build as many as 48 power plants.
Well, no wonder the Republicans oppose it!
The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks has approached the White House and congressional leaders about securing more time to continue its inquiry, panel officials said Tuesday.
Members of the commission said delays in obtaining materials from numerous agencies and constraints on access to sensitive White House documents were among the factors that had made them skeptical that the panel could produce a comprehensive report by its May 27 deadline.
The push for an extension has created new friction between the panel and the Bush administration, which is concerned that a delay could lead to the release of damaging information about its counterterrorism efforts as the presidential campaign is heating up in late summer.
The Bush administration initially had opposed the creation of the commission. When it dropped the objection under political pressure, the administration pressed to shorten the panel's lifespan from the 24 months proposed in the original legislation to 18 months.
The administration seems determined to conceal the truth about September 11. But facts are stubborn things.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was a huge loser in last week's report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that said Saddam Hussein's weapons program was not an immediate threat to the United States or even his neighbors. The report said Saddam's nuclear program had been dismantled, his large-scale chemical weapons capabilities had been destroyed, and "there was no solid evidence of a cooperative relationship between Saddam's government and Al Qaeda."
Powell was asked about the report at a news conference last week. He was forced to cough up: "I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."
Powell did more than "consider" the possibilities. He was the man who went before the United Nations Security Council last Feb. 5 to persuade the world that Saddam was an imminent threat. In the march to war, he had come in for perhaps the least criticism among top White House officials, as he was considered by both supporters and critics of the administration as being its least rash figure and the one least likely to cherry-pick intelligence reports only for what he wanted to hear.
The genial treasury secretary [John Snow], a former deficit hawk, seems literally incapable of speaking truthfully about the deficit. (The same holds for National Economic Council Chairman Stephen Friedman.) In fact, if we adopt the president's policies—which include a host of new tax cuts and massive new spending programs—the deficit won't fall 50 percent in the next five years. It will grow substantially. And if President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress weren't already quietly using every penny of the massive and growing Social Security surplus to cover operating expenses—and planning to continue this habit—the deficits would be even larger.
The accounting for Social Security surpluses has always been dishonest. But in the past few years, the Bush administration has made this shady accounting a central pillar of its fiscal strategy. The unprecedented reliance on these funds hides the failure of the administration to ensure that there is some reasonable correlation between the resources it has at its disposal and the spending commitments it makes. Bush & Co. have redesigned the tax system so that collections of the progressive taxes that are supposed to fund government operations—like individual income taxes—have plummeted. Instead, with each passing year we rely for our current needs more on the regressive payroll taxes that are supposed to fund our collective retirement.
The persistence of the administration and its credulous allies in eliding these facts is flabbergasting. Of course, for the Bush administration to give an honest accounting of the deficits, and of the role that Social Security surpluses play in keeping them down, would be to admit the fundamental bankruptcy—no pun intended—of its adventuresome fiscal experiment.
Is it fair to say that the administration lied? After revelations that part of Bush's 2003 State of the Union address was based on forged documents, the Bush team seemed to fall into the worst kind of denial. The most glaring example happened on the set of "Meet the Press" on Sept. 28, when Condoleezza Rice was asked how the corruption found its way into the State of the Union.
Tim Russert recounted the history of the false intelligence reports that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger to use in developing nuclear weapons: The administration wanted to use questionable documents to show that Iraq was a nuclear threat in an October 2002 speech; the CIA told the administration that the information was not reliable; the false information wasn't used in the October speech but was used in the more important State of the Union address three months later. Between October 2002 and January 2003, Rice said, "I didn't remember" that the CIA said not to use the information.
She didn't remember? Nobody in the White House remembered?
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
The US Treasury Department has called for an investigation into whether its former head leaked secret documents in a new book.
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill appeared on a US news programme to promote the book in which documents marked "secret" were shown.
A Treasury department spokesman said it had asked its inspector general to see if disclosure laws were violated.
Mr O'Neill was sacked from the US Government in December 2002.
BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb says that despite a statemanslike response from President George W Bush, the reaction behind the scenes has been vitriolic.
Our correspondent says that the episode is a reminder that not all senior Republicans think Mr Bush has made the right choices at home or abroad.
He added that, as a member of the US president's national security team, he never saw any evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
It's interesting to note how quickly the investigation of Mr. O'Neill was initiated - the day after the charges came out - compared with the "investigations" into 9/11 (2001), the Iraqi WMD scare (2002), Wilsongate (2003), etc., which are barely getting underway now.
Asked whether they favored the United States expanding the space program the way Bush proposes, people were evenly split, with 48 percent favoring the idea and the same number opposing it, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
Most respondents said they generally support continuing to send humans into space.
However, given the choice of spending money on programs like education and health care or on space research, 55 percent said they wanted domestic programs. Based on previous estimates for a moon-Mars initiative, the space cost would run in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
"You can't have a war, cut taxes, have the economy in a garbage pail and spend billions going into space," said Dallas Hodgins, a 76-year-old retired University of Michigan researcher from Flint, Mich. "How are they going to pay for all this? I don't see how it's morally justifiable. In Flint, there isn't a school roof that doesn't leak."
The National Border Patrol Council, which represents all 9,000 of the Border Patrol's nonsupervisory agents, has told its members to challenge President Bush's proposed guest-worker program, calling it a "slap in the face to anyone who has ever tried to enforce the immigration laws of the United States."
The agents are told in a letter from Vice President John Frecker that the proposal offered last week during a White House press conference "implies that the country really wasn't serious about" immigration enforcement in the first place.
"Hey, you know all those illegal aliens you risked 'life and limb' to apprehend? FAH-GED-ABOWD-IT," said Mr. Frecker, a veteran Border Patrol agent. "President Bush has solved the problem. Don´t be confused and call this an 'amnesty,' even though those who are here illegally will suddenly become legal and will be allowed to stay here.
"The president assures us that it's not an amnesty," he said.
Well, if he says so.
When will George W. Bush say, "We were wrong on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction"?
The evidence--or lack of evidence--continues to mount suggesting that Bush and his aides made false statements about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the war. Remember all that alarmist rhetoric? In an October 2002 speech, Bush said Iraq had a "massive stockpile" of weapons of mass destruction. Vice President Dick Cheney claimed "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction...that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." In his famous presentation to the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared, "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq, today, has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent."
Conservative estimate? None of these claims have come close to panning out. And it's not because--as some Bush-backers have suggested--Saddam Hussein was so good at hiding the stuff or because he managed to ship his arsenal to Syria before US troops came knocking. An extensive Washington Post front-page article published on January 7 and written by reporter Barton Gellman (and based on interviews with US weapons hunters and Iraqi weapons scientists and heretofore publicly unavailable Iraqi documentation) details the tremendous gap between the Bush rhetoric and the reality.
It's not that Hussein was not interested in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. But Gellman found that Iraq's programs in these areas were either in suspension or far from advanced and that--most important of all--they were not even close to producing actual weapons.
[Don't forget about David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A New York Times bestseller! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.]
In December, for example, the nation's employers added 1,000 new jobs, a small number, but the unemployment rate plunged 0.2 percentage points, according to data released by the bureau on Friday. How could there be only 1,000 new jobs yet 300,000 fewer unemployed people, as the December numbers suggest?
The answer, economists say, is that the labor force has changed, and the official data no longer easily capture these changes, particularly the sharp rise in low-wage employment. The disparities in the numbers are giving politicians unusual leeway to make conflicting claims about the employment picture.
The Democratic presidential candidates, for example, heaped scorn on the Bush administration for the almost nonexistent job creation in December. The president, on the other hand, pointed to the drop in the unemployment rate, to 5.7 percent from 5.9 percent in November, as "a positive sign the economy is getting better." And the chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, N. Gregory Mankiw, said in an interview that the official job count showing 1,000 new jobs in December was not accurate by itself.
"I view all economic statistics as imperfect," he said. "They have to be taken with a grain of salt."
In challenging the reliability of the official count, Mr. Mankiw sought to water down its message, which is that 2.3 million jobs have disappeared since President Bush took office in January 2001.
It'll take more than "watering down" to take people's minds off the steady loss of jobs under this administration.
Also last week, the Bush administration quietly withdrew a military team whose 400 members have scoured Iraq for the biological and chemical weapons cited by the White House as the immediate reason for going to war last March.
This group is part of the larger Iraq Survey Team, whose 1,400 members have spent the last seven months (and hundreds of millions of dollars) trying -- but failing -- to uncover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
To many military observers, the withdrawal of this team reflects the administration's tacit acknowledgment that no WMD are likely to be found.
So now we know that the U.S. government misled Congress and the American public.
What will it take for the American people to realize they've been betrayed?
Have we grown so jaded that we no longer expect the truth from our country's leaders?
But I won't. And neither should you.
Monday, January 12, 2004
In less than 11 months we will be electing the next president of the United States. Our current president has the polished appearance of a sincere, devout gentleman who gives the convincing impression that he is working hard for the best interests of our country. He prays openly, which pleases many.
Here is a little more of the picture of this man and the accomplishments of the present administration and his immediate history:
He was elected governor of Texas with the endorsement of his father and help of the oil industry, including Enron CEO Ken Lay. During his governorship he helped change Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making Texas the most polluted state in the union. During that time, Houston displaced Los Angeles as the most polluted city in our country. He helped set a record number of executions - more than any other governor in American history. He cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in borrowed money.
With the help of his brother, the governor of Florida, and his father's Supreme Court appointments, he became president after losing by a half million votes. In his first year in office, more than two million Americans lost their jobs and America continues to lose more. He spent more time on vacation than any other president. He set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips and holds the U.S. and world record for receiving the most corporate campaign donations. He has appointed more convicted criminals to his administration and his cabinet is the wealthiest presidential cabinet ever.
While professing fiscal responsibility under this administration, we have observed the highest gasoline prices, the greatest drop in the U.S. stock market, the most private bankruptcies filed and the most bank foreclosures. He has given tax rebates, cut taxes and shattered the record for the largest annual federal deficit.
The author goes on to make a number of additional points in the same vein. The message is that even if Bush were an honest man, he's still been a terrible president.
The federal 9/11 commission has formally decided to ask President Bush and former President Bill Clinton to meet with the panel and to extend its investigation by several months. Vice President Cheney and former Clinton veep Al Gore also would be called, a spokesman told the Daily News yesterday.
Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will approach the four men, said spokesman Alvin Felzenberg. The request to appear is just that, a request, and not a legal subpoena.
Felzenberg said if Bush and Clinton agree, the sessions likely won't be in public. It was unclear yesterday whether any of the four would agree to show.
He also said that because of alleged stonewalling by the Bush administration and by Mayor Bloomberg's office, some commissioners want to extend their probe past the May deadline for the final report, while others are against any extension, Felzenberg said.
The White House proposed greenlighting the extension if the commission would agree to release the report after the November election, but then officials pulled back the offer, Newsweek reported yesterday.
Three months after taking office, a deferential President Bush made his debut on the world stage by embracing — and charming — Latin America.
"I grew up in a world where if you treat your neighbor well, it's a good start to developing a wholesome community," he told his 33 counterparts at the Summit of the Americas.
Three years later, Bush is deeply unpopular in much of the region. Latin Americans view him as a distant neighbor at best — often at odds with them over security and trade policies, and aloof from their worst economic and political crises.
When he arrives in Monterrey [Mexico] today for his second Summit of the Americas, Bush will meet a Latin American leadership that has shifted to the left and grown increasingly assertive with Washington as people across the region lose faith in free markets.
These attitudes help explain the rise of left-leaning politicians in the region, including Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina and Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador — all elected since Bush took office. Not since the 1960s, when the United States got Communist Cuba suspended from the Organization of American States — that is why Cuban leader Fidel Castro is not invited here this week — has Latin America tilted so far left.
The International Monetary Fund has long been accused of failing to sound the alarm before countries with reckless fiscal policies implode. So it was nice to see staff members of the fund's Western Hemisphere department hold a press conference last week to publicize one nation's worrisome trends, which threaten foreign investors and the global economy.
Who was in for the scolding? Haiti? Argentina? Mexico? Not exactly. It's the United States the fund is worried about. An economic slowdown and President Bush's huge tax cuts conspired to swing America's federal budget from a surplus of 2.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2000 to a deficit of some 4 percent in 2003. Add the states' own budget shortfalls and the country's trade deficit, the I.M.F. report notes, and the United States faces an "unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country."
No wonder the rest of the world is appalled.
A scathing new report published by the Army War College broadly criticizes the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism, accusing it of taking a detour into an "unnecessary" war in Iraq and pursuing an "unrealistic" quest against terrorism that may lead to U.S. wars with states that pose no serious threat.
The report, by Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, warns that as a result of those mistakes, the Army is "near the breaking point."
It recommends, among other things, scaling back the scope of the "global war on terrorism" and instead focusing on the narrower threat posed by the al Qaeda terrorist network.
"[T]he global war on terrorism as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly . . . its parameters should be readjusted," Record writes. Currently, he adds, the anti-terrorism campaign "is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security."
Not to compare Bush to Hitler or anything.
"If a tree gets cut in a protected forest the day before Christmas and no one's there to report it, does that mean they get away with it?"
Thus a spokeswoman for the National Environmental Trust, after the U.S. Forest Service announced on December 23 that 300,000 acres in the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska -- the largest intact temperate rain forest on earth -- would be exempted from a Clinton-era rule banning the building of new roads in roadless areas of national forests. The rule change opens the acreage, which (surprise) is rich in old-growth trees, to logging.
Announcing controversial rule changes just before a weekend or holiday, when the press and public are otherwise preoccupied, is of course, a well-known trick -- but no less effective for that. So the answer is, yes, they do get away with it.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Dynasties in American politics are dangerous. We saw it with the Kennedys, we may well see it with the Clintons and we're certainly seeing it with the Bushes. Between now and the November election, it's crucial that Americans come to understand how four generations of the current president's family have embroiled the United States in the Middle East through CIA connections, arms shipments, rogue banks, inherited war policies and personal financial links.
As early as 1964, George H.W. Bush, running for the U.S. Senate from Texas, was labeled by incumbent Democrat Ralph Yarborough as a hireling of the sheik of Kuwait, for whom Bush's company drilled offshore oil wells. Over the four decades since then, the ever-reaching Bushes have emerged as the first U.S. political clan to thoroughly entangle themselves with Middle Eastern royal families and oil money. The family even has links to the Bin Ladens — though not to family black sheep Osama bin Laden — going back to the 1970s.
Bolder critics hinted that George W. Bush had sought to shift attention away from how his family's ties to the Bin Ladens and to rogue elements in the Middle East had crippled U.S. investigations in the months leading up to 9/11. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained that even when Congress released the mid-2003 intelligence reports on the origins of the 9/11 attack, the Bush administration heavily redacted a 28-page section dealing with the Saudis and other foreign governments, leading him to conclude, "There seems to be a systematic strategy of coddling and cover-up when it comes to the Saudis."
There is no evidence to suggest that the events of Sept. 11 could have been prevented or discovered ahead of time had someone other than a Bush been president. But there is certainly enough to suggest that the Bush dynasty's many decades of entanglement and money-hunting in the Middle East have created a major conflict of interest that deserves to be part of the 2004 political debate. No previous presidency has had anything remotely similar. Not one.
[Kevin Phillips' new book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, has just been published by Viking Penguin.]
This nation's undocumented population presents real human dilemmas that we need to address. But President Bush's new immigration plan would lead to stunningly broad changes for our laws and our labor market, without being candid about its real-world effects and operations -- much less about how to address them. This lack of seriousness verges on the irresponsible.
Worse, this ill-considered plan will make it hard to find our way back to a serious effort to craft a sustainable and humane long-term immigration policy.
The Bush proposal offers legal temporary worker status to all undocumented migrants who can show they are working here -- maybe 8 million people. The plan then promises future temporary visas for new foreign employees to fill any job for which an employer, after undergoing an unspecified "quick and simple" process, cannot find American workers.
They aren't. The comforting talk about this plan as a way of improving security is hollow. Any "quick and simple" admission system will become a target of opportunity for the entry of terrorists and criminals.
Retired general Wesley Clark, on the rise in two recent polls of the Democratic presidential race, on Thursday vowed to end "corporate welfare" by cracking down on the shelters U.S. companies use to avoid taxes and increasing the penalties faced by offenders.
Campaigning with Enron Corp. whistle-blower Sherron Watkins, who has become a symbol of U.S. corporate governance reforms, Clark fleshed out details of his plan to finance middle class tax cuts by clawing back up to $10 billion a year in revenues now lost to corporate tax avoidance schemes.
"We seem to have created a tax system that's encouraging American businesses to devote resources to avoiding taxes," he said. "It shouldn't be that way."
Clark's plan would seek to outlaw all tax shelters, which would be defined as any financial transactions conducted solely for the purpose of avoiding taxes. It would also double the current fines for corporations found to have abused the tax code and quadruple them for repeat offenders.
"Today the fines simply aren't high enough to deter companies," he said. "The chances of getting caught are too low and the pay-offs are too high."
There seems little doubt that the Bush administration's prime justification for invading Iraq — the fear that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction — was way off base. Nine months of fruitless searching have made that increasingly clear.
But last week three new reports cast further doubt on the administration's reckless rush to invade Iraq. Taken together, they paint a picture far different from the one presented to Americans early last year. They depict a world in which Saddam Hussein, though undeniably eager to make Iraq a threatening world power, was far from any serious steps to do that. The reports strengthen our conviction that whatever threat Iraq posed did not require an immediate invasion without international support. And they underline the importance of finding out how far the Bush administration's obsession with the Iraqi dictator warped the American intelligence reports that did so much to convince Congress and the public that the attack was justified.
But the Carnegie experts are even harsher in condemning the administration for deliberate exaggerations. They argue that the intelligence community gave reasonably cautious assessments up until mid-2002, when official statements and estimates suddenly became increasingly alarmist. The Carnegie analysts accuse the Bush administration of putting intense pressure on intelligence experts to conform, of minimizing the existence of dissenting views, and of routinely dropping caveats and uncertainties in painting a worst-case picture.
Taking millions of currently undocumented immigrants and routing them into bureaucratic channels to make their status legal — as President Bush is proposing — could be like trying to divert a wild river into a leaky municipal aqueduct.
And former immigration officials in Democratic and Republican administrations say the task could overwhelm the Homeland Security Department, even if Congress allocates enough money to hire and train additional immigration officers, add hundreds of new computers and bring in private contractors to help process requests.
Some experts have also expressed concern that the new program would be susceptible to fraud and ultimately not succeed in fixing the problems in the current system.
"The scale of this is such that it could swamp any real chance of building an effective immigration system," said University of Virginia law professor David Martin, who served as general counsel with the Immigration and Naturalization Service for three years during the Clinton administration.
Still, some experts say they are troubled that Bush seems to have glossed over potential problems. They worry that speedy approvals for guest workers could open the program to fraud, or in the worst case, penetration by terrorist groups.
Just what we need! This proposal, like so many others recently, just doesn't make sense once you take a good look at it.
President Bush's visits last week to urban schools in two 2004 battleground states was no coincidence. The White House intends to make education a winning campaign issue and a reason for minority voters to support Bush, despite a gathering storm of criticism for his policies from many educators, teachers, and Democratic candidates.
"When it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act, the president will be speaking from the heart in a number of different venues and attempt to address a broader audience of families," said Eugene W. Hickok, acting deputy secretary of Education, who oversees enforcement of the law, which Bush signed in January 2002.
The No Child Left Behind Act, aimed at raising student achievement, closing a gap between white and minority children, and pumping more federal money into public schools in low-income areas, passed Congress with wide bipartisan support.
But implementation of the law, covering kindergarten through grade 12, has been rocky. This is partly because students in almost 24,000 schools did not show required levels of student progress in math and English in the first year. It is also because, Democratic sponsors say, the Bush administration shortchanged school districts already struggling with shrinking state education budgets to meet the law's mandates.
But don't expect Bush to mention those facts during the photo ops at the schools.
The official White House line, repeated once again by President Bush at a fund-raiser at a lush Palm Beach golf resort only on Thursday, is that "there's plenty of time for politics." The message is that he is so focused on the business of running the nation that he has paid little attention to the details of his re-election campaign.
In reality, presidential advisers say, Mr. Bush is wholly absorbed by the race.
The president personally made the decision to hold the Republican National Convention in New York City, one adviser said. He talks daily to Karl Rove, his chief political aide, about the ups and downs of his Democratic competitors. He keeps a close eye on his fund-raising totals, which now amount to more than $130 million.
Other advisers say that Mr. Bush, who was deeply involved in his father's presidential campaigns, is far more immersed at this point than his re-election staff likes to admit, and often sets strategy hand in hand with Mr. Rove.
Makes you wonder who's really running the country.