Saturday, March 20, 2004
Enactment of a sweeping Medicare law last year was supposed to be the crowning achievement of President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" as he prepared for re-election.
By providing a federally subsidized prescription-drug benefit for senior citizens, albeit a limited one, administration officials thought they usurped a major issue from the Democrats and cut into Democratic support among seniors age 65 and over. And that's an especially important voting bloc in key battleground states such as Florida.
But less than four months after he signed it into law on Dec. 8, Bush's Medicare-reform dream has turned into a nightmare and a potential drag on his re-election bid. Among the developments:
• The Bush administration deliberately didn't tell Congress that the measure could cost about $100 billion more than advertised.
• Republican leaders abused House rules to push the measure to a narrow victory. There are also allegations of threats and bribes that are under investigation.
• The Bush administration spent millions of taxpayer dollars on public service TV ads touting the Medicare law that look suspiciously like Bush campaign commercials. Those, too, are under investigation.
• Polls show that a majority of Americans don't like the changes in Medicare.
Other than that, it's a great thing.
From a fire station to a Madrid bar brimming with bullfighting paraphernalia, Spaniards said Friday they were offended by a senior Pentagon official's remark that bullfighting shows they are a brave people and they shouldn't run in the face of terrorism.
They saw the comment by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as narrow-minded and promoting a stereotype.
"This is an ignorant comment," snapped Madrid firefighter Juan Carlos Yunquera, sitting on a bench outside his firehouse. "For a top official, it shows he doesn't know what he's talking about."
"The Spaniards are courageous people. I mean, we know it from their whole culture of bullfighting," Wolfowitz said. "I don't think they run in the face of an enemy. They haven't run in the face of the Basque terrorists. I hope they don't run in the face of these people."
As someone who knows something about Spain, I can tell you that invoking the "bullfighting" stereotype in this context is ignorant and off-base. Speaking in this simplistic, condescending way will not help mend relations with this important ally and its people.
Protesters took to the streets worldwide on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the Iraq war, saying the U.S.-led occupation had incited more terrorism and demanding the withdrawal of troops from the Mideast nation.
Australia kicked off a wave of worldwide rallies. Protests were also held in Japan - where 30,000 people turned out - South Korea, New Zealand, Thailand and Hong Kong. Demonstrators in the Philippines clashed with riot police, but no injuries were reported.
In London, meanwhile, two Greenpeace activists wearing helmets and harnesses scaled the Big Ben clock tower at Parliament and unfurled a banner that read "Time for Truth." Greenpeace said they were protesting the war.
"It's time we got the truth about why thousands of people had to die in a war that the world did not want," said Greenpeace executive director Stephen Tindale.
"We went to war in this country on the basis of false premises. That has been proven now," said anti-war campaigner Annette Brownlie said. "The world is less safe now than it was a year ago."
Friday, March 19, 2004
A former White House anti-terrorism advisor says the Bush administration considered bombing Iraq in retaliation after Sept. 11, 2001 even though it was clear al Qaeda had carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Richard Clarke, who headed a cybersecurity board that gleaned intelligence from the Internet, told CBS "60 Minutes" in an interview to be aired on Sunday he was surprised administration officials turned immediately toward Iraq instead of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
"They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12," Clarke says.
Clarke said he was briefing President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld among other top officials in the aftermath of the devastating attacks.
"Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq. ... We all said, 'but no, no. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan," recounts Clarke, "and Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq."'
This must be an example of that "military intelligence" you hear about.
This is the context for last weekend's election upset in Spain, where the Aznar government had taken the country into Iraq against the wishes of 90 percent of the public. Spanish voters weren't intimidated by the terrorist bombings — they turned on a ruling party they didn't trust. When the government rushed to blame the wrong people for the attack, tried to suppress growing evidence to the contrary and used its control over state television and radio both to push its false accusation and to play down antigovernment protests, it reminded people of the broader lies about the war.
By voting for a new government, in other words, the Spaniards were enforcing the accountability that is the essence of democracy. But in the world according to Mr. Bush's supporters, anyone who demands accountability is on the side of the evildoers. According to Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, the Spanish people "had a huge terrorist attack within their country and they chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists."
So there you have it. A country's ruling party leads the nation into a war fought on false pretenses, fails to protect the nation from terrorists and engages in a cover-up when a terrorist attack does occur. But its electoral defeat isn't democracy at work; it's a victory for the terrorists.
In fact, the Bush administration has done the very thing it falsely accuses Mr. Kerry of doing: it has tried repeatedly to slash combat pay and military benefits, provoking angry articles in The Army Times with headlines like An Act of 'Betrayal'. Oh, and Mr. Kerry wasn't trying to block funds for Iraq — he was trying to force the administration, which had concealed the cost of the occupation until its tax cut was passed, to roll back part of the tax cut to cover the expense.
But the bigger point is this: in the Bush vision, it was never legitimate to challenge any piece of the administration's policy on Iraq. Before the war, it was your patriotic duty to trust the president's assertions about the case for war. Once we went in and those assertions proved utterly false, it became your patriotic duty to support the troops — a phrase that, to the administration, always means supporting the president. At no point has it been legitimate to hold Mr. Bush accountable. And that's the way he wants it.
And, apparently, so do we.
Thomas A. Scully, the former Medicare administrator, prevented his chief actuary from sharing information with Congress, said Thursday that they believed a federal law had been violated and called on the General Accounting Office to investigate.
In a letter signed by 18 senators, including the minority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, and John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, the lawmakers cited a provision in an appropriations measure that bars using federal money to pay the salary of any employee who "prohibits or prevents, or threatens to prohibit or prevent" another employee from communicating with Congress.
The letter was sent amid a growing furor on Capitol Hill over recent accounts by the actuary, Richard S. Foster, that Mr. Scully threatened to fire him if he disclosed cost estimates of the prescription drug legislation Congress passed last year.
The issue is important because Mr. Foster's estimates were considerably higher than those lawmakers used, and support for the measure, which passed narrowly, could have eroded had the higher figures been widely known.
"I believe these actions by Bush administration officials to block Mr. Foster from providing Congress the true costs of the prescription drug bill clearly break federal law," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey and the lead author of the letter. Mr. Lautenberg added, "The questions that need to be answered are: how many administration officials knew about it, and who in the administration gave the order to conceal the information?"
There should be a separate blog ("bush denies", maybe?) that tracks all of these investigations and criminal charges against members of the Bush administration. They are really piling up now.
A year ago, the United States went to war in Iraq because President Bush and his administration convinced Congress and the country that Saddam Hussein was an urgent threat that required immediate military action. The nation has paid a high price for that decision ever since.
The case for war was based on two key claims: that Hussein was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, and that he had close ties to the Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the atrocities of Sept. 11. Both claims proved to be demonstrably false.
We can only speculate about the real reasons we went to war. What is known, however, is that, at the time the decision was being made in the summer of 2002, Osama bin Laden was still at large, the war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan had entered a troubled phase, our economy was reeling from recession, the president's approval rating in the Gallup Poll had declined from its peak of 90% after Sept. 11 to 63% by Labor Day 2002, and control of the Senate and House was at stake in the critical congressional elections in November that year.
If there's a God, he will.
On her final day as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Christie Whitman assured members of Congress that the EPA would do required economic and technical studies before proposing a rule to reduce mercury emissions from power plants.
Despite Whitman's assurance, EPA career staffers say this analysis was put off on orders from agency political appointees — and the proposal was written in part by utility interests who strongly supported it.
Whitman said in interviews this week that, if she had known the studies of the mercury proposal were not being done, she would have intervened.
But according to a June 27, 2003, response from Whitman made public Thursday by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), she had been alerted to such concerns and promised four Democratic lawmakers that all necessary analyses would be completed by Dec. 15, 2003.
In an unusual public criticism by one of the United States' staunchest allies, the president of Poland said Thursday that he had been "misled" about Iraq's alleged stocks of banned weapons before the war.
Speaking to reporters in Warsaw, President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that Iraq "without Saddam Hussein is truly better than Iraq with Saddam Hussein," but observed that "naturally, I also feel uncomfortable, due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction."
His comments, provided in a government transcript, came amid growing anxiety among a number of key U.S. allies four days after Spanish voters tossed out the government that had sent troops to Iraq.
Among governments in Europe that supported the war, "there's a rush for the exits," said Radek Sikorski, a former deputy foreign minister of Poland now at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington. He predicted that politicians' concern about the Spanish election would drive many governments that have sided with the U.S. on Iraq to align themselves more closely with France and Germany, which had opposed the war. Other analysts have said such pressure may particularly be at play in Italy and Romania.
How can we expect allies to remain allies when we deceive them on important matters?
Thursday, March 18, 2004
On the Republican side, we are already seeing the first negative ads from the Bushies, and they are indeed misleading attacks on Kerry's credentials on defense and the military. Of the numerous misrepresentations in the ads, I find particularly annoying the claim that Kerry voted to cut combat pay for soldiers. In fact, as the public record abundantly proves, it was the Bush administration that proposed to cut combat pay for soldiers in both Afghanistan and Iraq by $75 a month for imminent danger pay and by another $150 for family separation allowance. The administration backed down because of public outcry.
But we should expect negative ads to be misleading: The question in politics is always: "Are they working?" Apparently. Kerry has fired back by somberly deploring negative ads -- that could become a helpful theme, but it's rarely an exciting strategy, unless you do an ad saying, "Liar, liar, pants on fire," which somehow doesn't seem dignified enough. Besides, Ben Cohen of Vermont is already toting a large statue of Bush with his pants on fire around the country.
Then we had the incident of Kerry saying more leaders (abroad) are rooting for his election and the hilarious reaction by Bushies pretending to be outraged and demanding that he name names. Now that was splendid political farce, and anyone who failed to appreciate it is just not going to have a good time this year.
It is so obvious foreign leaders favor anyone over Bush, it's painful. A year ago, I quoted Fareed Zakaria's observation in Newsweek: "I've been all over the world in the last year, and almost every country I've visited felt humiliated by this administration." Jorge Casteneda, the former foreign minister of Mexico, told him: "Most officials in Latin countries today are not anti-American types. We have studied in the United States or worked there. We like and understand America. But we find it extremely irritating to be treated with utter contempt." The only foreign leader I can think of who would prefer Bush to Kerry is Ariel Sharon, to whom Bush has been perfectly compliant.
The stunning defeat of conservative Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's party on Sunday, despite the fact that they were leading in the polls only days before the terrorist attack on a Spanish train that killed 200 innocent people and injured nearly 1500 others, has made it plain to what degree Spaniards, like much of the rest of the world, flatly renounce American foreign policy doctrines of pre-emptive attacks, occupation and regime changes.
The Bush administration would be blind, not to mention suicidal, to ignore the message. The United States presidential elections are only months away. Indications are that the American public feels Bush's policies are not making the world, or America, any safer.
What Spanish voters were saying is that far from fighting terror, the US policies of going it alone, ignoring the United Nations, disregarding much of the world's opposition - 90 per cent of Spanish citizens opposed Spain's participation in the occupation of Iraq - have a political price tag attached.
These policies, if anything, have promoted more terror. The evidence was plain in Spain. In fact, looking around the world, the policies of the Bush administration have increased the threat of terror and encouraged more terrorist organisations to come together to fight the US.
News Item: Vice President Cheney tells gathering at Ronald Reagan Library that "it is our business" and "we have a right to know" which foreign leaders John Kerry conferred with in arriving at his claim that many foreign leaders favor his election as president.
News Item: Vice President Cheney, immediately after speech, releases the names of those he conferred with during meetings of his secret energy task force, saying, "Fair is fair. We won't ask our opponents to do something we wouldn't do ourselves."
Sorry. Made the second one up.
The House passed a resolution Wednesday praising American troops and the Iraqi people on the Iraq war's first anniversary, but only after partisan wrangling between Bush administration supporters and minority Democrats angered over being shut out of the measure's drafting and opposed to wording saying the war has made the world safer.
The final 327-93 vote after more than five hours of debate masked the angry split in the House. Some Democrats eventually voted for the symbolic resolution even though they objected to pieces of it because they felt majority Republicans had set a trap for them. No amendments were allowed, and some Democrats didn't want to head into November's elections with a vote against the resolution, fearing they would be vulnerable to charges they weren't patriotic and had abandoned America's fighting forces.
"This resolution is a part of a pattern of deception we have seen from Day One,'' said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland. "Once again, true debate is being suppressed. What a disgrace.''
Since the end of the Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda has struck at Mombasa, Bali, Riyadh, Casablanca, Istanbul, Madrid and elsewhere. Some chatter suggested that Ayman al-Zawahiri himself ordered the hit on Istanbul. The attack on a Spanish cultural center in Casablanca in May of 2003 now appears to have been a harbinger of the horrible Madrid train bombings last week. How much did Spain spend to go after the culprits in Casablanca? How much did Bush dedicate to that effort? How much did they instead invest in military efforts in Iraq?
Instead of dealing with this growing and world-wide threat, the Bush administration cynically took advantage of the American public's anger and fear after September 11 and channeled it against the regime of Saddam Hussein, which had had nothing to do with September 11 and which never could be involved in such a terrorist operation on American soil because its high officers knew exactly the retribution that would be visited on them. Only an asymmetrical organization could think of a September 11, because it has no exact return address. Even for a state to give aid to such an operation against a super power would be suicide - how could you be sure the superpower would not find out about the aid?
The initial outlay for the war against Iraq was $66 billion. Then Bush came back and asked for another $87 billion. He will ask for a similar amount again after the November election if he is reelected. It is outrageous that Congress allows him to postpone this request instead of being held accountable for it. The Iraq adventure is likely to have cost the US nearly $250 billion by next year this time. The US is no safer now than it was before the Iraq war, since Iraq did not have any weapons that could hit US soil and would not have risked using them even if it did.
Let me repeat that. Maybe $1.3 billion for Afghanistan. $250 billion for Iraq. Bin Laden and his supporters are in Afghanistan. What is wrong with this picture?
[Juan Cole is a Professor of History at the University of Michigan. His Iraq-oriented blog is a must-read.]
Much as an army travels on its stomach, lawmakers operate on facts to get their work done. When the oratory is done, the facts provide the substance of sound public policy. That's why it is dismaying to learn that Richard S. Foster, a veteran actuary trusted by both parties for his independence, may have been muzzled when he sought to provide information that the Bush administration was underestimating the cost of the massive prescription drug benefit added to Medicare. He says he was prevented from telling Congress what the Bush team already knew privately - they were underestimating the cost of the new benefit by some $150 billion.
Actuaries calculate the costs of insurance and the reserves needed to meet insurance requirements, and Foster was the chief actuary for Medicare. Well before the new prescription drug benefit passed last fall, Foster had submitted reports to the Bush administration that showed the costs of the new program would be between $500 billion and $600 billion through 2013. This was contrary to the $400 billion trumpeted by the administration, evidently just to line up with the target set by Congress.
According to Foster, Medicare administrator Thomas Scully, who rode herd over the legislation for the White House, ordered Foster not to talk to members of Congress without his authorization. If he revealed the high figures, he risked losing his job, according to reports. Foster was barred from giving the real numbers not only to Democrats but also to Republicans such as Rep. Bill Thomas, a Californian who chairs the powerful tax writing Ways and Means Committee.
Like there wasn't one already.
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
U.S. and Spanish officials traded barbs Wednesday, rekindling a trans-Atlantic disagreement over the invasion of Iraq and the best way to fight terrorism.
Top Republicans accused the Spaniards of appeasing terrorist groups by turning out of office the party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close U.S. ally. Spain's prime minister-elect, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in turn, said the Iraq occupation "is turning into a fiasco."
Zapatero has made clear he prefers Democratic challenger John Kerry over President Bush in the White House. He said Wednesday he will stick by his decision to pull 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the United Nations takes control of peacekeeping.
House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Spain was "a nation who succumbed ... to threats of terrorism, changed their government."
"Here's a country who stood against terrorism and had a huge terrorist act within their country, and they chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists," Hastert said.
Added GOP Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee: "The vote in Spain was a great victory for al-Qaida."
Let me get this straight. Republicans here in America are calling the Spanish people "appeasers" because they resisted following our derelict president into an unnecessary, dangerous war, then turned out their own government for defying them. Hey - it's called "democracy". If I were a Spaniard (and at times, I wish I were), I would be outraged. How dare they? Oh, and here's an example of a foreign leader who explicitly prefers Kerry to Bush, if anyone is keeping track.
For months now I have been contemplating a grand project: chronicling every misleading statement George W. Bush and his crew uttered before the war about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the supposed operational connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. I covered much of this in my book The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. But there was only so much room I could devote to the task; I had to reserve space for Bush's untruthful remarks about tax cuts, global warming, missile defense, homeland security, the energy bill, Enron and many other topics. Sadly, I was forced to highlight only the most illustrative examples of Bush's pre- and postwar dis- and misinformation. In the months since my book was published, I have often come across various Bush administration assertions about Iraq that have made me exclaim, "Shoot, I wish I had this one earlier."
Several Democratic members of Congress, including Senators Carl Levin and Ted Kennedy, have recently assembled decent compilations. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put out a report in January that presented a good sampling of the best--or worst--of the administration's false remarks about Iraq's WMD and the al Qaeda-Iraq relationship. But the prize goes to Representative Henry Waxman.
He just released a report that identifies 237 specific misleading statements made by Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 125 separate public appearances. There's even an on-line database.
Click here to view Rep. Waxman's "Iraq On the Record" web site. It is truly amazing.
Among the actions detailed in the report was a dinner party Griles arranged for department officials at the home of his former lobbying partner, who was still paying Griles for his share of the company and who had mining and energy company clients with pending business before the department; a case in which one of Griles's former clients received preferential treatment for department contracts; and an instance in which Griles contacted Environmental Protection Agency officials regarding some of his former clients' efforts to gain coalbed methane extraction concessions in the Powder River basin of Wyoming and Montana.
I wouldn't count on that.
A year ago today, the Bush Administration was making its final push toward war in Iraq. We know now that much of what we were told about the threat that Iraq posed was untrue. And rather than own up to their distortion of the facts, Bush administration officials are denying they ever said such things.
But this Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got caught blatantly contradicting his past statements, and we have the video clip.
Watch Donald squirm.
A year after the start of the Iraq war, mistrust of the United States abroad has intensified, and the ill will toward America has begun to erode support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, according to a global attitude survey released Tuesday.
The ongoing study of public opinion in nine countries was conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in February and March — before last week's bombings in Madrid and the subsequent electoral defeat of the Spanish government, which had contributed troops to the Iraq war. Spain was not included in the survey.
The study illuminates the widening gulf between the American public's beliefs and those of key U.S. allies — a divide thrust into the public eye Sunday with the surprise defeat of one of the Bush administration's staunchest allies on Iraq and the war on terrorism, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
This decline of America's prestige is one of the most troubling aspects of the Bush mis-administration. How is this making us safer?
What is the matter with the whiny American voters? They keep telling pollsters that they think America is on the "wrong path." But don't they read the statistics? Don't they know that unemployment is at a comfortable 5.6 percent, that inflation is almost nonexistent, that the economy is growing smartly at around 4 percent?
These happy statistics, alas, don't accurately capture the economic reality of ordinary people.
President Bush may have gotten away with telling the voters things about Iraq that just aren't true. But he'd better watch out when the evidence against his rosy statistics is right in voters' pocketbooks.
Ordinary people may not be professional statisticians, but they are not fools. America's voters know better than the experts whether their own personal economy is thriving. Bogus economic optimism only reinforces the growing sense that this president speaks with a forked tongue.
Last week President Bush marked International Women's Day by touting his military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, claiming they have liberated thousands of women from lives of tyranny and oppression. "The advance of freedom in the greater Middle East has given new rights and new hopes to women," he said in a White House address.
The president's unusual focus on the feminist side of his foreign policy may have been designed to deflect attention from a domestic agenda that is decidely unpopular with many women. Bush suffers a gender gap of up to 10 percentage points in comparison with Democrat John Kerry in most opinion polls. But the speech actually obscured actions the Bush administration was taking almost simultaneously in Santiago, Chile, where it dropped its commitment to the health and survival of millions of poor women abroad.
At a diplomatic meeting of 38 nations in Santiago, the US delegation alone refused to join a routine statement of support for the international agreement on population and development approved at a United Nations summit in Cairo 10 years ago. The Cairo agreement -- which the United States signed in 1994 along with 178 other countries -- replaced a sometimes coercive focus on population "control" in the developing world with a new commitment to encouraging smaller families by improving the health and prospects of women.
And rightly so.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
After first covering up and then misrepresenting the facts about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Bush administration is now shamelessly working to further mislead the public by staging phony "news reports" about how well the law will work.
Last November, during the heat of the congressional debate on the law, the White House reportedly threatened to fire a top Medicare official if he told the truth about the cost of what President Bush described as a $400 billion Medicare bill.
Medicare's chief actuary, Robert S. Foster, said it was clear from the start that the actual cost would be substantially more -- as high as $534 billion. And, he said, the White House was aware of that in June, five months ahead of the debate.
Although, by law, the actuary is charged with providing nonpartisan counsel to lawmakers, Foster said he was silenced by the White House to prevent Congress from getting the true figures. Threatened with "severe'' personal consequences, he was instead ordered to withhold the information, even if Congress asked for it.
Absent the damning cost data, the bill (bitterly contentious even among Republicans) barely eked by, passing in the House, 216 to 215. With cost as the sticking point, the likely outcome would have been reversed, if all the facts had been known. Democrats had argued that the law didn't significantly help seniors and gave drugmakers too much clout. Republicans said seniors didn't gain significantly from the much costlier plan.
In order to sell the complicated and skimpy plan to seniors, the Department of Health and Human Services is paying actors to pose as journalists in bogus TV "news'' reports. Videos have been sent to TV stations, along with government-prepared scripts for news anchors to read. The idea is to make propaganda appear to be unbiased news during prime-time viewing.
I think "crooked" and "lying" weren't strong enough words for Mr. Kerry to use. What about "immoral" and "criminal"? It's time to launch another investigation.
What homeowner, suspecting he had been gulled by a contractor, would then turn around and rehire that contractor? On a larger, more troubling scale, the Bush administration is playing out that questionable scenario with a mammoth defense contractor: Halliburton. The firm and the administration, if they expect to retain their credibility and employment, need to clean up a mess involving billions in tax dollars.
After Defense Department auditors warned on Dec. 31 that Halliburton was supplying inaccurate cost data, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded the firm $1.2 billion in new contracts in mid-January, bringing its total to $5.8 billion. The Pentagon and the Justice Department currently are investigating charges that Halliburton overbilled the U.S. by $61 million for fuel. The firm has admitted that one or two employees took kickbacks in overcharging the U.S. $6.3 million.
It's incomprehensible that administration officials would tolerate, say, a French firm in similar circumstances. The White House also surely must be sensitive to public sensibilities about a firm once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, who helped set in motion the outsourcing to private firms of pacts like the ones that Halliburton profits from now. With defense contractors pouring money into political races — and with GOP candidates the big beneficiaries — the whiff may be sufficient to fuel a taxpayer urge to track where billions of federal dollars go.
Halliburton is safe as long as they keep lying. It's telling the truth that gets you in trouble with this crowd.
The most important revelation of the Iraq war has been of the Bush administration's blatant contempt for fact. Whether defined as "lying" or not, the clear manipulation of intelligence ahead of last year's invasion has been completely exposed. The phrase "weapons of mass destruction" has been transformed. Where once it evoked the grave danger of a repeat of the 9/11 trauma, now it evokes an apparently calculated American fear. The government laid out explicit evidence defining a threat that required the launching of preventive war, and the US media trumpeted that evidence without hesitation.
The result, since there were no weapons of mass destruction, as the government and a pliant press had ample reason to know, was an institutionalized deceit maintained to this day. At the United Nations, the United States misled the world. In speech after speech, President Bush misled Congress and the nation. And note that the word "misled" means both to have falsified and to have failed in leadership. To mislead, as the tautological George Bush might put it, is to mislead.
The repetition of falsehoods tied to the war on terrorism and the war against Iraq has eroded the American capacity, if not to tell the difference between what is true and what is a lie, then to think the difference matters much. The administration distorted fact ahead of the invasion, when the American people could not refute what had not happened yet. And the administration distorts fact now, when the American people do not remember clearly what we were told a year ago. That Bush retains the confidence of a sizable proportion of the electorate suggests that Americans don't particularly worry anymore about truth as a guiding principle of their government.
In that lies the irony. The Bush dynasty has in fact initiated a new order of things. The United States of America has become its own opposite, a nation of triumphant freedom that claims the right to restrain the freedom of others; a nation of a structured balance of power that destroys the balance of power abroad; a nation of creative enterprise that exports a smothering banality; and above all, a nation of forcefully direct expression that disrespects the truth. Whatever happens from this week forward in Iraq, the main outcome of the war for the United States is clear. We have defeated ourselves.
The real tragedy lies in what these people have done to our once-great nation. And in such a short time! It just takes your breath away.
When President Bush's education secretary, Rodney Paige, accused teachers of belonging to a ''terrorist organization,'' he did more than libel America's teachers. He revealed an administration attitude that is dangerous to America's children.
More than 200,000 Americans have signed a petition -- at www.firepaige.org -- calling for Paige's dismissal, but he is only a reflection of the problem, not its cause. The real culprit is a president who wants to run as an education president without being willing to tackle what needs to be done.
Bush wants credit from moderate voters for his education reforms. In reality, after the passage of the No Child Left Behind law, this president abandoned his own education program.
But this administration is on the wrong page about education. The president wants to parade as a reformer without beginning to address the basics that children deserve. Whether he can fool voters remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: You can't fool the children who are being shortchanged.
When Paige and the president declare war on teachers, it is the children who are the most likely casualties.
Isn't killing Iraqi children enough for him?
Monday, March 15, 2004
Time after time, President Bush has responded to critics who say he has alienated America's closest allies by pointing to [outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose María] Aznar as a courageous example of a leader who ignored poll numbers — upward of 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the war — and who acted in Spain's best interests.
Only last week several senior members of the administration said they fully expected that his conservatives would emerge victorious. In fact, months ago a senior adviser to Mr. Bush predicted that should a terrorist attack occur in Europe, it would probably drive the Europeans closer to the United States and its approach to the campaign against terror, not away from it.
So on Sunday evening administration officials scrambled to hide their disappointment. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, leaving for India, declined to respond publicly to the Socialists' victory, and the White House drafted a positive-sounding statement saying President Bush looked forward to working with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Socialist leader who will now become prime minister.
But it was lost on no one in Mr. Bush's inner circle that Mr. Zapatero rode to victory by denouncing Mr. Bush's approach to the world, and that he pledged to bring home Spain's 1,300 troops in Iraq in July. "We don't know how big a factor the Madrid bombing was in the outcome," one senior American official said. "We don't know that what happened in Spain marks a broader trend. But I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said this is the kind of outcome we might have wished for."
So much for the "coalition of the willing".
Supreme Court arguments are only six weeks away in the Sierra Club's challenge to the secrecy surrounding Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force and the formulation of the Bush administration's energy policy. And Justice Antonin Scalia, Mr. Cheney's duck-hunting buddy, still stubbornly resists stepping out of the case. To protect the Supreme Court's integrity and legitimacy — and honor the rule of law — the final choice can no longer be left to Justice Scalia alone. Unless he suddenly reverses himself, the Supreme Court as a whole has a duty to intervene, much as it reviews the recusal decisions of lower-court judges.
As late-night comedians have embarrassingly noted, again and again, Justice Scalia went duck hunting with Mr. Cheney, and accepted free rides on Air Force Two for himself and his daughter, shortly after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the task-force case. Mr. Cheney had appealed a lower-court's order to reveal the names of some of the people who helped formulate President Bush's energy policies in 2001.
Extended private socializing between a litigant and a judge poised to hear his case triggers serious concerns, not least because it gives one side a chance to talk about the case without the opposite side present. Justice Scalia has said the case did not come up, which is reassuring but inadequate. Federal judges at all levels are legally mandated to disqualify themselves from cases in which their "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." This case plainly meets that standard. No matter how Justice Scalia might rule, his involvement would hurt the court's reputation.
If it still has one, after its actions in the 2000 election.
When President Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993, the unemployment rate dropped, from 6.9 to 6.1 percent, and kept falling each of the next seven years. When President Bush cut taxes in 2001, the unemployment rate rose, from 4.7 to 5.8 percent, then drifted to 6 percent last year when taxes were cut again.
It has become conventional wisdom in Washington that rising tax burdens crush labor markets. Bush castigated his political opponents last week for "that old policy of tax and spend" that would be "the enemy of job creation."
Yet an examination of historical tax levels and unemployment rates reveals no obvious correlation.
In 1964, federal taxation as a share of the economy stood at 17.5 percent, while unemployment was at 5.2 percent. That year, income taxes were slashed, lowering the tax rate in 1965 to 17 percent of the economy. Unemployment dropped as well, to 4.5 percent.
But then tax levels rose sharply, to 19.7 percent of the economy in 1969, while unemployment fell steadily, to 3.5 percent.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan again slashed taxes. Taxation fell from 19.6 percent of the economy that year to 17.4 percent in 1983. The unemployment rate, however, rose over that period, from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent. By 1989, taxation had drifted upward again, to 18.3 percent of the economy, but unemployment had fallen to 5.3 percent.
So, exactly what does Bush mean when he promises that endless tax cuts for the super-rich will produce job growth?
In The Fringe Fires at Bush on Iraq (Commentary, March 11), Max Boot conveniently ignores the fact that my case against the decision to go to war was based on President Bush's own statements misrepresenting the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the intelligence community's specific dissents from those statements.
On Oct. 2, 2002, as Congress was preparing to vote on authorizing the war, Bush called the Iraqi regime "a threat of unique urgency." In a speech in Cincinnati, he said, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." In his 2003 State of the Union address, he said: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda."
A mushroom cloud. An urgent and unique threat. Close links to Al Qaeda. These were the administration's rallying cries for war. None of that was true. The intelligence community was far from unified. The administration concealed that fact by classifying the dissents in the intelligence community until after the war and continuing to make false claims about the immediacy of the danger. Iraqi exiles are bragging about how they misled us so effectively. The truth was there, but those in the Bush administration refused to see it. They wanted to go to war in the worst way, and they did.
In sharp contrast to the Bush administration's ad campaign touting the new Medicare law, a national health care advocacy group and other senior organizations have launched their own efforts to educate seniors about provisions in the controversial landmark measure.
"We want to make sure seniors understand this law and make good decisions," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a health-care consumer group. "We're providing real details for people. This is complex stuff. I haven't seen anything educational from the Bush administration. It's all politics."
Sunday, March 14, 2004
The opposition Socialists scored a dramatic upset win in Spain's general election Sunday, unseating conservatives stung by charges they provoked the Madrid terror bombings by supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq and making Spain a target for al-Qaida.
It was the first time a government that backed the Iraq war has been voted out of office. Incoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has pledged to bring home the 1,300 troops Spain has stationed in Iraq when their tour of duty ends in July.
The Spanish Socialist Workers Party declared victory with 96 percent of the votes counted. The party soared from 125 seats in the outgoing 350-seat legislature to 164 in the next one. The governing Popular Party fell to 148 from 183.
Rodriguez Zapatero began his victory speech with a minute of silence for those killed in the terror attacks.
"Today voters have said they want a change of government," Rodriguez Zapatero said.
Just wait till our turn.
When the House passed the "cheeseburger bill" to bar people from suing fast food joints for making them obese, Republican backers of the legislation scolded Americans, saying the fault lies not in their fries, but in themselves.
"Look in the mirror, because you're the one to blame," said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, home of brats and beer bellies.
So it comes as something of a disappointment that the leader of the Republican Party, the man who epitomizes the conservative ideal, is playing the victim. President Bush has made the theme of his re-election campaign a whiny "not my fault."
His ads, pilloried for the crass use of the images of a flag-draped body carried from ground zero and an Arab-looking everyman with the message, "We can fight against terrorists," actually have a more fundamental problem. They try to push off blame for anything that's gone wrong during Mr. Bush's tenure on bigger forces, supposedly beyond his control.
One ad cites "an economy in recession. A stock market in decline. A dot-com boom gone bust. Then a day of tragedy. A test for all Americans."
Mr. Bush's subtext is clear: If it weren't for all these awful things that happened, most of them hangovers from the Clinton era, I definitely could have fulfilled all my promises. I'm still great, but none of my programs worked because, well, stuff happens."
It's as if his inner fat boy is complaining that a classic triple cheeseburger from Wendy's (940 calories and 56 grams of fat, 25 of them saturated, and 2,140 milligrams of sodium) jumped out of its wrapper and forced its way down his unwilling throat, topped off by a pushy Frosty (540 calories and 13 grams of fat, 8 of them saturated).
Mr. Bush has been in office over three years. It's time to start accepting some responsibility.
Let's just give up on him and try again with a new, real president.
Education Secretary Rod Paige says the Bush administration is working to soften the impact of important provisions of its centerpiece school improvement law that local educators and state lawmakers have attacked as arbitrary and unfair.
Tomorrow, the Education Department will announce policies relaxing a requirement that says teachers must have a degree or otherwise certify themselves in every subject they teach, Dr. Paige said in an interview on Friday. Officials are also preparing to offer new flexibility on regulations governing required participation rates on standardized tests, he said.
Those changes would follow the recent relaxation of regulations governing the testing of special education students and those who speak limited English. They appear devised to defuse an outcry against the law, known as No Child Left Behind, in thousands of local districts, especially in Western states where powerful Republican lawmakers have called the law unworkable for tiny rural schools.
Legislatures in Utah, Virginia and a dozen other states, many controlled by Republicans, are up in arms about what they see as the law's intrusion on states' rights. They have approved resolutions in recent weeks protesting or challenging the law.
This is just the latest in a series of Bush flip-flops, as he continues to back away from most of his major pronouncements.
To many Arabs, the Middle East today is less stable and thus more hospitable to international terrorism of the Al Qaeda brand. Few believed Al Qaeda had any roots in Iraq before the war, but many now believe that Iraq, because of its instability, has become a breeding ground for the terrorist organization and its allies. As a result, they fear the region could become even more unstable.
Contrary to the Bush administration's prediction that the momentum of victory in Iraq would generate a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute, most in the Arab world see the prospects of peace to have significantly diminished. The administration has spent most of its energy on making Iraq secure and governable, and now the U.S. presidential campaign has begun in earnest. This doesn't make for a situation ideal for active U.S. diplomacy. In any case, most believe that the administration deliberately avoids the Arab-Israeli issue, which remains central to their attitudes toward the U.S.
There are many democrats in the Arab world who want to believe that positive change is possible and that the U.S. means what it says. But even among this group of natural U.S. allies there is a lack of trust in U.S. intentions and discomfort with being associated with America's plans.
Our feckless "president" is spreading discontent throughout the world with his super-arrogant approach to geopolitics. And he's doing it in your name.
In his column last Sunday, Thomas Oliphant raises the question of George W. Bush's credibility (Bush campaign launch stumbles, op ed, March 7). He ends his column with a direct quote that is even more disturbing than the evidence that Bush cannot be believed. According to Oliphant, the president proclaimed to a church group that "God loves you and I love you. And you can count on both of us as a powerful message that people who wonder about the future can hear."
When one considers that statement in the context of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's assertion that Cabinet meetings were like a blind man in a room full of deaf people, one has to wonder whether George W. Bush is entirely competent, if not deranged.
What kind of a person sees himself as an equal partner of God? Is it a person who is incapable of recognizing himself, and whom no one understands when he speaks?
How does one deal with a person who suffers from megalomania, or even just run-of-the-mill manic depression, when that person happens to be the chief executive of the most powerful nation?
Does one employ the same strategy that was used to coverup Ronald Reagan's memory lapses, resulting from the ravages of Alzheimer's disease? Does one go so far as to promote his continuation in office because of the lust for power of his subordinates? One hopes not, but how else are President Bush's many incomprehensible statements to be explained?