Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I Can't Hear You....

Where's Hillary on Iraq?

Democrat Party Jackasses

Seems the Dems don't want to play in the real world either. No wonder Fuckstick George and his buddies are getting away with destroying our future.

Lying Bastard

Seems Darth Cheney has a problem with the truth.

Listen to Colin Powell's former aide tell the BBC about it.

Crooks and Cronies, cont.

Abandoning ship before the 2006 elections, Republicans in Congress are hoping for some good luck, or better yet, another terrorist attack.

Business As Usual

The Crooks and Cronies continue handing out the candy to their pals.

Who's the Bigger Dick?

The Autumn of the Patriarchy

November 30, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
The Autumn of the Patriarchy
In the vice president's new, more fortified bunker, inside his old undisclosed secure location within the larger bunker that used to be called the West Wing of the White House, Dick Cheney was muttering and sputtering.

He wasn't talking to the pictures on the wall, as Nixon did when he finally cracked. Vice doesn't trust those portraits anyway. The walls have ears. He was talking to the only reliable man in a city of dimwits, cowards, traitors and fools: himself.

He hurled a sheaf of news reports with such force it knocked over the picture of Ahmad Chalabi that he keeps next to the picture of Churchill. Winston Chalabi, he likes to call him.

Vice is fed up with all the whining and carping - and that's just inside the White House. The only negativity in Washington is supposed to be his own. He's the only one allowed to scowl and grumble and conspire.

The impertinent Tom DeFrank reported in New York's Daily News that embattled White House aides felt "President Bush must take the reins personally" to save his presidency.

Let him try, Cheney said with a sneer. Things are nowhere near dire enough for that. Even if Junior somehow managed to grab the reins to his presidency, Vice holds Junior's reins. So he just needs to get all these sniveling, poll-driven wimps and losers back on board with the master plan.

Things had been going so smoothly. The global torture franchise was up and running. Halliburton contracts were flowing. Tax cuts were sailing through. Oil companies were raking it in. Alaska drilling was thrillingly close. The courts were defending his executive privilege on energy policy, and people were still buying all that smoke about Saddam's being responsible for 9/11, and that drivel about how we're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here. Everything was groovy.

But not anymore. Cheney could not believe that Karl had made him go out and call that loudmouth Jack Murtha a patriot. He was sure the Pentagon generals had put the congressman up to calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. Is the military brass getting in touch with its pacifist side? In Wyoming, Vice shoots doves.

How dare Murtha suggest that Cheney dodged and dodged and dodged and dodged and dodged the draft? Murtha thinks he knows about war just because he served in one and was a marine for 37 years? Vice started his own war. Now that's a credential!

It always goes this way with the cut-and-run crowd. First they start nitpicking the war, complaining about little things like the lack of armor for the troops. Then they complain that there aren't enough troops. Well, that would just require more armor that we don't have. Then they kvetch about using incendiary weapons in a city like Falluja. Vice likes the smell of white phosphorus in the morning.

What really enrages him is all the Republicans in the Senate making noises about timetables. Before you know it, it's going to be helicopters on the rooftop at the Baghdad embassy.

Just because Junior's approval ratings are in the 30's, people around here are going all wobbly. Vice was 10 points lower and he wasn't worried. Numbers are for sissies.

Why do Harry Reid and his Democratic turncoats think they can call the White House on the carpet? Do they think Vice would fear to lie about lying about the rationale for going to war? A real liar never stops lying.

He didn't want to have to tell the rest of the senators to go do to themselves what he had told Patrick Leahy to go do to himself.

Now all these idiots are getting caught, even Scooter. DeLay's on the ropes and the Dukester is a total embarrassment, spending bribes on antique commodes and a Rolls-Royce. Vice should never have let an amateur get involved with defense contracts.

Republican moderates are running scared in the House, worried about re-election. Even senators seem to have forgotten which side their bread is oiled on. Ted Stevens let oil company executives get caught lying about the energy task force meeting, while Vice can't even get a little thing like torture chambers through the Senate. What's so wrong with a little torture?

And now John Warner wants Junior to use fireside chats to explain his plan for Iraq. When did everybody get the un-American idea that the president is answerable to America?

Vice is fed up with the whining of squirrelly surrogates like Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Wilkerson on behalf of peaceniks like George Senior and Colin Powell. If Poppy's upset about his kid's mentor, he should be man enough to come slug it out.

Poppy isn't getting Junior back, Vice vowed, muttering: "He's my son. It's my war. It's my country."

(And the bad news is: this man is our vice president.)

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Protect our Borders

Fundamentally Flawed

Seems the corporate sector is scared of the American Mullahs and won't touch some subjects once considered mainstream.

Check out what Pat and Jerry don't want you to see.

Shake and Bake

November 29, 2005
Shake and Bake
Let us pause and count the ways the conduct of the war in Iraq has damaged America's image and needlessly endangered the lives of those in the military. First, multilateralism was tossed aside. Then the post-invasion fiasco muddied the reputation of military planners and caused unnecessary casualties. The W.M.D. myth undermined the credibility of United States intelligence and President Bush himself, and the abuse of prisoners stole America's moral high ground.

Now the use of a ghastly weapon called white phosphorus has raised questions about how careful the military has been in avoiding civilian casualties. It has also further tarnished America's credibility on international treaties and the rules of warfare.

White phosphorus, which dates to World War II, should have been banned generations ago. Packed into an artillery shell, it explodes over a battlefield in a white glare that can illuminate an enemy's positions. It also rains balls of flaming chemicals, which cling to anything they touch and burn until their oxygen supply is cut off. They can burn for hours inside a human body.

The United States restricted the use of incendiaries like white phosphorus after Vietnam, and in 1983, an international convention banned its use against civilians. In fact, one of the many crimes ascribed to Saddam Hussein was dropping white phosphorus on Kurdish rebels and civilians in 1991.

But white phosphorus has made an ugly comeback. Italian television reported that American forces used it in Falluja last year against insurgents. At first, the Pentagon said the chemical had been used only to illuminate the battlefield, but had to backpedal when it turned out that one of the Army's own publications talked about using white phosphorus against insurgent positions, a practice well known enough to have one of those unsettling military nicknames: "shake and bake."

The Pentagon says white phosphorus was never aimed at civilians, but there are lingering reports of civilian victims. The military can't say whether the reports are true and does not intend to investigate them, a decision we find difficult to comprehend. Pentagon spokesmen say the Army took "extraordinary measures" to reduce civilian casualties, but they cannot say what those measures were.

They also say that using white phosphorus against military targets is legal. That's true, but the 1983 convention bans its use against "civilians or civilian objects," which would make white phosphorus attacks in urban settings like Falluja highly inappropriate at best. The United States signed that convention, but the portion dealing with incendiary weapons has been awaiting ratification in the Senate.

These are technicalities, in any case. Iraq, where winning over wary civilians is as critical as defeating armed insurgents, is no place to be using a weapon like this. More broadly, American demands for counterproliferation efforts and international arms control ring a bit hollow when the United States refuses to give up white phosphorus, not to mention cluster bombs and land mines.

The United States should be leading the world, not dragging its feet, when it comes to this sort of issue - because it's right and because all of us, including Americans, are safer in a world in which certain forms of conduct are regarded as too inhumane even for war. That is why torture should be banned in American prisons. And it is why the United States should stop using white phosphorus.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


Where is the Iraq war headed next?

In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that President George W. Bush, confronted by diminishing approval ratings and dissent within his own party, will begin pulling American troops out of Iraq next year. The Administration’s best-case scenario is that the parliamentary election scheduled for December 15th will produce a coalition government that will join the Administration in calling for a withdrawal to begin in the spring. By then, the White House hopes, the new government will be capable of handling the insurgency. In a speech on November 19th, Bush repeated the latest Administration catchphrase: “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” He added, “When our commanders on the ground tell me that Iraqi forces can defend their freedom, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.” One sign of the political pressure on the Administration to prepare for a withdrawal came last week, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News that the current level of American troops would not have to be maintained “for very much longer,” because the Iraqis were getting better at fighting the insurgency.

A high-level Pentagon war planner told me, however, that he has seen scant indication that the President would authorize a significant pullout of American troops if he believed that it would impede the war against the insurgency. There are several proposals currently under review by the White House and the Pentagon; the most ambitious calls for American combat forces to be reduced from a hundred and fifty-five thousand troops to fewer than eighty thousand by next fall, with all American forces officially designated “combat” to be pulled out of the area by the summer of 2008. In terms of implementation, the planner said, “the drawdown plans that I’m familiar with are condition-based, event-driven, and not in a specific time frame”—that is, they depend on the ability of a new Iraqi government to defeat the insurgency. (A Pentagon spokesman said that the Administration had not made any decisions and had “no plan to leave, only a plan to complete the mission.”)

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President’s public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

“We’re not planning to diminish the war,” Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson’s views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting—Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield.”

He continued, “We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004.” The war against the insurgency “may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win,” he said. “As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we’re set to go. There’s no sense that the world is caving in. We’re in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message.”

One Pentagon adviser told me, “There are always contingency plans, but why withdraw and take a chance? I don’t think the President will go for it”—until the insurgency is broken. “He’s not going to back off. This is bigger than domestic politics.”

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that “God put me here” to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that “he’s the man,” the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: “I said to the President, ‘We’re not winning the war.’ And he asked, ‘Are we losing?’ I said, ‘Not yet.’ ” The President, he said, “appeared displeased” with that answer.

“I tried to tell him,” the former senior official said. “And he couldn’t hear it.”

There are grave concerns within the military about the capability of the U.S. Army to sustain two or three more years of combat in Iraq. Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist on military issues at the Brookings Institution, told me, “The people in the institutional Army feel they don’t have the luxury of deciding troop levels, or even participating in the debate. They’re planning on staying the course until 2009. I can’t believe the Army thinks that it will happen, because there’s no sustained drive to increase the size of the regular Army.” O’Hanlon noted that “if the President decides to stay the present course in Iraq some troops would be compelled to serve fourth and fifth tours of combat by 2007 and 2008, which could have serious consequences for morale and competency levels.”

Many of the military’s most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers. The Administration has “so terrified the generals that they know they won’t go public,” a former defense official said. A retired senior C.I.A. officer with knowledge of Iraq told me that one of his colleagues recently participated in a congressional tour there. The legislators were repeatedly told, in meetings with enlisted men, junior officers, and generals that “things were fucked up.” But in a subsequent teleconference with Rumsfeld, he said, the generals kept those criticisms to themselves.

One person with whom the Pentagon’s top commanders have shared their private views for decades is Representative John Murtha, of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The President and his key aides were enraged when, on November 17th, Murtha gave a speech in the House calling for a withdrawal of troops within six months. The speech was filled with devastating information. For example, Murtha reported that the number of attacks in Iraq has increased from a hundred and fifty a week to more than seven hundred a week in the past year. He said that an estimated fifty thousand American soldiers will suffer “from what I call battle fatigue” in the war, and he said that the Americans were seen as “the common enemy” in Iraq. He also took issue with one of the White House’s claims—that foreign fighters were playing the major role in the insurgency. Murtha said that American soldiers “haven’t captured any in this latest activity”—the continuing battle in western Anbar province, near the border with Syria. “So this idea that they’re coming in from outside, we still think there’s only seven per cent.”

Murtha’s call for a speedy American pullout only seemed to strengthen the White House’s resolve. Administration officials “are beyond angry at him, because he is a serious threat to their policy—both on substance and politically,” the former defense official said. Speaking at the Osan Air Force base, in South Korea, two days after Murtha’s speech, Bush said, “The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. . . . If they’re not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I’m going to make you this commitment: this is not going to happen on my watch.”

“The President is more determined than ever to stay the course,” the former defense official said. “He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage ‘People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.’ ” He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. “They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,” the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. “Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,” the former official said, “but Bush has no idea.”

Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. “Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?” another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked. “Will some Iraqis be targeting on behalf of Al Qaeda, or the insurgency, or the Iranians?”

“It’s a serious business,” retired Air Force General Charles Horner, who was in charge of allied bombing during the 1991 Gulf War, said. “The Air Force has always had concerns about people ordering air strikes who are not Air Force forward air controllers. We need people on active duty to think it out, and they will. There has to be training to be sure that somebody is not trying to get even with somebody else.” (Asked for a comment, the Pentagon spokesman said there were plans in place for such training. He also noted that Iraq had no offensive airpower of its own, and thus would have to rely on the United States for some time.)

The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant—and underreported—aspect of the fight against the insurgency. The military authorities in Baghdad and Washington do not provide the press with a daily accounting of missions that Air Force, Navy, and Marine units fly or of the tonnage they drop, as was routinely done during the Vietnam War. One insight into the scope of the bombing in Iraq was supplied by the Marine Corps during the height of the siege of Falluja in the fall of 2004. “With a massive Marine air and ground offensive under way,” a Marine press release said, “Marine close air support continues to put high-tech steel on target. . . . Flying missions day and night for weeks, the fixed wing aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are ensuring battlefield success on the front line.” Since the beginning of the war, the press release said, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone had dropped more than five hundred thousand tons of ordnance. “This number is likely to be much higher by the end of operations,” Major Mike Sexton said. In the battle for the city, more than seven hundred Americans were killed or wounded; U.S. officials did not release estimates of civilian dead, but press reports at the time told of women and children killed in the bombardments.

In recent months, the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased. Most of the targets appear to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and along the Syrian border. As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in a significant discussion or debate about the air war.

The insurgency operates mainly in crowded urban areas, and Air Force warplanes rely on sophisticated, laser-guided bombs to avoid civilian casualties. These bombs home in on targets that must be “painted,” or illuminated, by laser beams directed by ground units. “The pilot doesn’t identify the target as seen in the pre-brief”—the instructions provided before takeoff—a former high-level intelligence official told me. “The guy with the laser is the targeteer. Not the pilot. Often you get a ‘hot-read’ ”—from a military unit on the ground—“and you drop your bombs with no communication with the guys on the ground. You don’t want to break radio silence. The people on the ground are calling in targets that the pilots can’t verify.” He added, “And we’re going to turn this process over to the Iraqis?”

The second senior military planner told me that there are essentially two types of targeting now being used in Iraq: a deliberate site-selection process that works out of air-operations centers in the region, and “adaptive targeting”—supportive bombing by prepositioned or loitering warplanes that are suddenly alerted to firefights or targets of opportunity by military units on the ground. “The bulk of what we do today is adaptive,” the officer said, “and it’s divorced from any operational air planning. Airpower can be used as a tool of internal political coercion, and my attitude is that I can’t imagine that we will give that power to the Iraqis.”

This military planner added that even today, with Americans doing the targeting, “there is no sense of an air campaign, or a strategic vision. We are just whacking targets—it’s a reversion to the Stone Age. There’s no operational art. That’s what happens when you give targeting to the Army—they hit what the local commander wants to hit.”

One senior Pentagon consultant I spoke to said he was optimistic that “American air will immediately make the Iraqi Army that much better.” But he acknowledged that he, too, had concerns about Iraqi targeting. “We have the most expensive eyes in the sky right now,” the consultant said. “But a lot of Iraqis want to settle old scores. Who is going to have authority to call in air strikes? There’s got to be a behavior-based rule.”

General John Jumper, who retired last month after serving four years as the Air Force chief of staff, was “in favor of certification of those Iraqis who will be allowed to call in strikes,” the Pentagon consultant told me. “I don’t know if it will be approved. The regular Army generals were resisting it to the last breath, despite the fact that they would benefit the most from it.”

A Pentagon consultant with close ties to the officials in the Vice-President’s office and the Pentagon who advocated the war said that the Iraqi penchant for targeting tribal and personal enemies with artillery and mortar fire had created “impatience and resentment” inside the military. He believed that the Air Force’s problems with Iraqi targeting might be addressed by the formation of U.S.-Iraqi transition teams, whose American members would be drawn largely from Special Forces troops. This consultant said that there were plans to integrate between two hundred and three hundred Special Forces members into Iraqi units, which was seen as a compromise aimed at meeting the Air Force’s demand to vet Iraqis who were involved in targeting. But in practice, the consultant added, it meant that “the Special Ops people will soon allow Iraqis to begin calling in the targets.”

Robert Pape, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago, who has written widely on American airpower, and who taught for three years at the Air Force’s School of Advanced Airpower Studies, in Alabama, predicted that the air war “will get very ugly” if targeting is turned over to the Iraqis. This would be especially true, he said, if the Iraqis continued to operate as the U.S. Army and Marines have done—plowing through Sunni strongholds on search-and-destroy missions. “If we encourage the Iraqis to clear and hold their own areas, and use airpower to stop the insurgents from penetrating the cleared areas, it could be useful,” Pape said. “The risk is that we will encourage the Iraqis to do search-and-destroy, and they would be less judicious about using airpower—and the violence would go up. More civilians will be killed, which means more insurgents will be created.”

Even American bombing on behalf of an improved, well-trained Iraqi Army would not necessarily be any more successful against the insurgency. “It’s not going to work,” said Andrew Brookes, the former director of airpower studies at the Royal Air Force’s advanced staff college, who is now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London. “Can you put a lid on the insurgency with bombing?” Brookes said. “No. You can concentrate in one area, but the guys will spring up in another town.” The inevitable reliance on Iraqi ground troops’ targeting would also create conflicts. “I don’t see your guys dancing to the tune of someone else,” Brookes said. He added that he and many other experts “don’t believe that airpower is a solution to the problems inside Iraq at all. Replacing boots on the ground with airpower didn’t work in Vietnam, did it?”

The Air Force’s worries have been subordinated, so far, to the political needs of the White House. The Administration’s immediate political goal after the December elections is to show that the day-to-day conduct of the war can be turned over to the newly trained and equipped Iraqi military. It has already planned heavily scripted change-of-command ceremonies, complete with the lowering of American flags at bases and the raising of Iraqi ones.

Some officials in the State Department, the C.I.A., and British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government have settled on their candidate of choice for the December elections—Iyad Allawi, the secular Shiite who served until this spring as Iraq’s interim Prime Minister. They believe that Allawi can gather enough votes in the election to emerge, after a round of political bargaining, as Prime Minister. A former senior British adviser told me that Blair was convinced that Allawi “is the best hope.” The fear is that a government dominated by religious Shiites, many of whom are close to Iran, would give Iran greater political and military influence inside Iraq. Allawi could counter Iran’s influence; also, he would be far more supportive and coöperative if the Bush Administration began a drawdown of American combat forces in the coming year.

Blair has assigned a small team of operatives to provide political help to Allawi, the former adviser told me. He also said that there was talk late this fall, with American concurrence, of urging Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite, to join forces in a coalition with Allawi during the post-election negotiations to form a government. Chalabi, who is notorious for his role in promoting flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction before the war, is now a deputy Prime Minister. He and Allawi were bitter rivals while in exile.

A senior United Nations diplomat told me that he was puzzled by the high American and British hopes for Allawi. “I know a lot of people want Allawi, but I think he’s been a terrific disappointment,” the diplomat said. “He doesn’t seem to be building a strong alliance, and at the moment it doesn’t look like he will do very well in the election.”

The second Pentagon consultant told me, “If Allawi becomes Prime Minister, we can say, ‘There’s a moderate, urban, educated leader now in power who does not want to deprive women of their rights.’ He would ask us to leave, but he would allow us to keep Special Forces operations inside Iraq—to keep an American presence the right way. Mission accomplished. A coup for Bush.”

A former high-level intelligence official cautioned that it was probably “too late” for any American withdrawal plan to work without further bloodshed. The constitution approved by Iraqi voters in October “will be interpreted by the Kurds and the Shiites to proceed with their plans for autonomy,” he said. “The Sunnis will continue to believe that if they can get rid of the Americans they can still win. And there still is no credible way to establish security for American troops.”

The fear is that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would inevitably trigger a Sunni-Shiite civil war. In many areas, that war has, in a sense, already begun, and the United States military is being drawn into the sectarian violence. An American Army officer who took part in the assault on Tal Afar, in the north of Iraq, earlier this fall, said that an American infantry brigade was placed in the position of providing a cordon of security around the besieged city for Iraqi forces, most of them Shiites, who were “rounding up any Sunnis on the basis of whatever a Shiite said to them.” The officer went on, “They were killing Sunnis on behalf of the Shiites,” with the active participation of a militia unit led by a retired American Special Forces soldier. “People like me have gotten so downhearted,” the officer added.

Meanwhile, as the debate over troop reductions continues, the covert war in Iraq has expanded in recent months to Syria. A composite American Special Forces team, known as an S.M.U., for “special-mission unit,” has been ordered, under stringent cover, to target suspected supporters of the Iraqi insurgency across the border. (The Pentagon had no comment.) “It’s a powder keg,” the Pentagon consultant said of the tactic. “But, if we hit an insurgent network in Iraq without hitting the guys in Syria who are part of it, the guys in Syria would get away. When you’re fighting an insurgency, you have to strike everywhere—and at once.”

Monday, November 28, 2005

Crooks and Cronies, part IV.

Is this another friend of Jack and Tom? The Greedy Opportunist Party (GOP) members keep getting caught stealing.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Uncle George

Why We Went To Iraq, cont...

The New York Times
November 27, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Dishonest, Reprehensible, Corrupt ...

GEORGE W. BUSH is so desperate for allies that his hapless Asian tour took him to Ulan Bator, a first for an American president, so he could mingle with the yaks and give personal thanks for Mongolia's contribution of some 160 soldiers to "the coalition of the willing." Dick Cheney, whose honest-and-ethical poll number hit 29 percent in Newsweek's latest survey, is so radioactive that he vanished into his bunker for weeks at a time during the storms Katrina and Scootergate.

The whole world can see that both men are on the run. Just how much so became clear in the brace of nasty broadsides each delivered this month about Iraq. Neither man engaged the national debate ignited by John Murtha about how our troops might be best redeployed in a recalibrated battle against Islamic radicalism. Neither offered a plan for "victory." Instead, both impugned their critics' patriotism and retreated into the past to defend the origins of the war. In a seasonally appropriate impersonation of the misanthropic Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life," the vice president went so far as to label critics of the administration's prewar smoke screen both "dishonest and reprehensible" and "corrupt and shameless." He sounded but one epithet away from a defibrillator.

The Washington line has it that the motivation for the Bush-Cheney rage is the need to push back against opponents who have bloodied the White House in the polls. But, Mr. Murtha notwithstanding, the Democrats are too feeble to merit that strong a response. There is more going on here than politics.

Much more: each day brings slam-dunk evidence that the doomsday threats marshaled by the administration to sell the war weren't, in Cheney-speak, just dishonest and reprehensible but also corrupt and shameless. The more the president and vice president tell us that their mistakes were merely innocent byproducts of the same bad intelligence seen by everyone else in the world, the more we learn that this was not so. The web of half-truths and falsehoods used to sell the war did not happen by accident; it was woven by design and then foisted on the public by a P.R. operation built expressly for that purpose in the White House. The real point of the Bush-Cheney verbal fisticuffs this month, like the earlier campaign to take down Joseph Wilson, is less to smite Democrats than to cover up wrongdoing in the executive branch between 9/11 and shock and awe.

The cover-up is failing, however. No matter how much the president and vice president raise their decibel levels, the truth keeps roaring out. A nearly 7,000-word investigation in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times found that Mr. Bush and his aides had "issued increasingly dire warnings" about Iraq's mobile biological weapons labs long after U.S. intelligence authorities were told by Germany's Federal Intelligence Service that the principal source for these warnings, an Iraqi defector in German custody code-named Curveball, "never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so." The five senior German intelligence officials who spoke to The Times said they were aghast that such long-discredited misinformation from a suspected fabricator turned up in Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations and in the president's 2003 State of the Union address (where it shared billing with the equally bogus 16 words about Saddam's fictitious African uranium).

Right after the L.A. Times scoop, Murray Waas filled in another piece of the prewar propaganda puzzle. He reported in the nonpartisan National Journal that 10 days after 9/11, "President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda."

The information was delivered in the President's Daily Brief, a C.I.A. assessment also given to the vice president and other top administration officials. Nonetheless Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney repeatedly pounded in an implicit (and at times specific) link between Saddam and Al Qaeda until Americans even started to believe that the 9/11 attacks had been carried out by Iraqis. More damning still, Mr. Waas finds that the "few credible reports" of Iraq-Al Qaeda contacts actually involved efforts by Saddam to monitor or infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups, which he regarded as adversaries of his secular regime. Thus Saddam's antipathy to Islamic radicals was the same in 2001 as it had been in 1983, when Donald Rumsfeld, then a Reagan administration emissary, embraced the dictator as a secular fascist ally in the American struggle against the theocratic fascist rulers in Iran.

What these revelations also tell us is that Mr. Bush was wrong when he said in his Veterans Day speech that more than 100 Congressional Democrats who voted for the Iraqi war resolution "had access to the same intelligence" he did. They didn't have access to the President's Daily Brief that Mr. Waas uncovered. They didn't have access to the information that German intelligence officials spoke about to The Los Angeles Times. Nor did they have access to material from a Defense Intelligence Agency report, released by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan this month, which as early as February 2002 demolished the reliability of another major source that the administration had persistently used for its false claims about Iraqi-Al Qaeda collaboration.

The more we learn about the road to Iraq, the more we realize that it's a losing game to ask what lies the White House told along the way. A simpler question might be: What was not a lie? The situation recalls Mary McCarthy's explanation to Dick Cavett about why she thought Lillian Hellman was a dishonest writer: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.' "

If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney believe they were truthful in the run-up to the war, it's easy for them to make their case. Instead of falsely claiming that they've been exonerated by two commissions that looked into prewar intelligence - neither of which addressed possible White House misuse and mischaracterization of that intelligence - they should just release the rest of the President's Daily Briefs and other prewar documents that are now trickling out. Instead, incriminatingly enough, they are fighting the release of any such information, including unclassified documents found in post-invasion Iraq requested from the Pentagon by the pro-war, neocon Weekly Standard. As Scott Shane reported in The New York Times last month, Vietnam documents are now off limits, too: the National Security Agency won't make public a 2001 historical report on how American officials distorted intelligence in 1964 about the Gulf of Tonkin incident for fear it might "prompt uncomfortable comparisons" between the games White Houses played then and now to gin up wars.

SOONER or later - probably sooner, given the accelerating pace of recent revelations - this embarrassing information will leak out anyway. But the administration's deliberate efforts to suppress or ignore intelligence that contradicted its Iraq crusade are only part of the prewar story. There were other shadowy stations on the disinformation assembly line. Among them were the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, a two-man Pentagon operation specifically created to cherry-pick intelligence for Mr. Cheney's apocalyptic Iraqi scenarios, and the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), in which Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and the Cheney hands Lewis Libby and Mary Matalin, among others, plotted to mainline this propaganda into the veins of the press and public. These murky aspects of the narrative - like the role played by a private P.R. contractor, the Rendon Group, examined by James Bamford in the current Rolling Stone - have yet to be recounted in full.

No debate about the past, of course, can undo the mess that the administration made in Iraq. But the past remains important because it is a road map to both the present and the future. Leaders who dissembled then are still doing so. Indeed, they do so even in the same speeches in which they vehemently deny having misled us then - witness Mr. Bush's false claims about what prewar intelligence was seen by Congress and Mr. Cheney's effort last Monday to again conflate the terrorists of 9/11 with those "making a stand in Iraq." (Maj. Gen. Douglas Lute, director of operations for Centcom, says the Iraqi insurgency is 90 percent homegrown.) These days Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney routinely exaggerate the readiness of Iraqi troops, much as they once inflated Saddam's W.M.D.'s.

"We're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history," the vice president said of his critics. "We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them." But according to a Harris poll released by The Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, 64 percent of Americans now believe that the Bush administration "generally misleads the American public on current issues to achieve its own ends." That's why it's Mr. Cheney's and the president's own words that are being thrown back now - not to rewrite history but to reveal it for the first time to an angry country that has learned the hard way that it can no longer afford to be without the truth.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Let's Just Shred the Bill of Rights

The New York Times
November 27, 2005
In Terror Cases, Administration Sets Own Rules

When Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced last week that Jose Padilla would be transferred to the federal justice system from military detention, he said almost nothing about the standards the administration used in deciding whether to charge terrorism suspects like Mr. Padilla with crimes or to hold them in military facilities as enemy combatants.

"We take each individual, each case, case by case," Mr. Gonzales said.

The upshot of that approach, underscored by the decision in Mr. Padilla's case, is that no one outside the administration knows just how the determination is made whether to handle a terror suspect as an enemy combatant or as a common criminal, to hold him indefinitely without charges in a military facility or to charge him in court.

Indeed, citing the need to combat terrorism, the administration has argued, with varying degrees of success, that judges should have essentially no role in reviewing its decisions. The change in Mr. Padilla's status, just days before the government's legal papers were due in his appeal to the Supreme Court, suggested to many legal observers that the administration wanted to keep the court out of the case.

"The position of the executive branch," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University who has consulted with lawyers for several detainees, "is that it can be judge, jury and executioner."

The government says a secret and unilateral decision-making process is necessary because of the nature of the evidence it deals with. Officials described the approach as a practical one that weighs a mix of often-sensitive factors.

"Much thought goes into how and why various tools are used in these often complicated cases," Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said on Friday. "The important thing is for someone not to come away thinking this whole process is arbitrary, which it is not."

Among the factors the government considers, Ms. Scolinos said, are "national security interests, the need to gather intelligence and the best and quickest way to obtain it, the concern about protecting intelligence sources and methods and ongoing information gathering, the ability to use information as evidence in a criminal proceeding, the circumstances of the manner in which the individual was detained, the applicable criminal charges, and classified-evidence issues."

Lawyers for people in terrorism investigations say a list of factors to be considered cannot substitute for bright-line standards announced in advance.

The courts have given the executive branch substantial but not total deference, often holding that the president has the authority to designate enemy combatants but allowing those detained to challenge the factual basis for the administration's determinations. Some courts have suggested that a detainee's citizenship, the place he was captured and whether he was fighting American troops should play a role in how aggressively the courts review enemy-combatant designations.

A look at the half-dozen most prominent terrorism detentions and prosecutions does little to illuminate the standards that have informed the government's decisions.

One American captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan was held in the United States as an enemy combatant. Another was prosecuted as a criminal. One foreigner seized in the United States as a suspected terrorist is being held as an enemy combatant without charges in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. Others have been prosecuted for their crimes.

In three high-profile terrorism cases, the government obtained convictions in federal court. Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen, pleaded guilty to taking part in the conspiracy that led to the Sept. 11 attacks and faces the death penalty. Richard C. Reid, who is British, pleaded guilty to trying to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic with bombs in his shoes and is serving a life term. And John Walker Lindh, the California man who pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban, is serving 20 years.

In three other cases, the administration designated terrorism suspects as enemy combatants who may be detained by the military indefinitely without charge. One, Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen of Saudi descent, was released and sent to Saudi Arabia after the Supreme Court gave him the right to contest the government's claims. A second American, Mr. Padilla, was transferred to the custody of the Justice Department last week.

The only remaining enemy combatant known to be detained in the United States, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, traveled the same road as Mr. Padilla, but in the opposite direction. "Al-Marri is precisely the flipside of Padilla," said Lawrence S. Lustberg, one of Mr. Marri's lawyers.

After 16 months of criminal proceedings on fraud charges, and less than a month before Mr. Marri's trial was to start in July 2003, President Bush designated him an enemy combatant. Mr. Marri, a Qatari who had been working on a master's degree at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., was immediately transferred into military custody and moved to the Navy brig in Charleston.

John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who is now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said two issues tended to determine how the government proceeded.

"The main factors that will determine how you will be charged," Mr. Yoo said, "are, one, how strong your link to Al Qaeda is and, two, whether you have any actionable intelligence that will prevent an attack on the United States."

Jonathan M. Freiman, one of Mr. Padilla's lawyers, questioned that, saying the administration's decisions had often seemed to be reactions to actual and anticipated court decisions.

"The government continues to be more focused on protecting its strategies than allowing them to be subjected to legal review," Mr. Freiman said.

In the indictment unsealed Tuesday, Mr. Padilla was not charged with some of the most serious accusations against him, including plotting to explode a radioactive device, because the evidence needed to prove the case had been obtained through harsh questioning of two senior members of Al Qaeda, current and former government officials have said. The statements might not have been admissible in court and could have exposed classified information, the officials said.

The Moussaoui case was also complicated by his lawyers' demands that they be given access to potentially exculpatory evidence that the government said had to be kept secret for reasons of national security.

The mere possibility of being named an enemy combatant, coupled with the difficulty of divining the standards the administration uses in choosing whom to call one, can affect the decisions of defendants in criminal plea negotiations.

"In the case of John Walker Lindh," said his lawyer, James J. Brosnahan, "there was a suggestion that even if we got an acquittal that he could be declared an unlawful combatant, that he could be a Padilla."

Indeed, the plea agreement Mr. Lindh signed contains an unusual provision. "For the rest of the defendant's natural life," it says, "should the government determine that the defendant has engaged in" one of more than a score of crimes of terrorism, "the United States may immediately invoke any right it has at that time to capture and detain the defendant as an unlawful enemy combatant."

Mr. Freiman said he, too, had been told that the government reserved the right to detain Mr. Padilla again should he be acquitted.

Arguably, it may sometimes be preferable for a defendant to be held as an enemy combatant rather than being prosecuted. Mr. Lindh's case, for instance, is at least superficially similar to that of Mr. Hamdi, another American captured in Afghanistan. But Mr. Hamdi is free after three years of confinement, though he had to relinquish his American citizenship. Mr. Lindh is in the early part of his 20-year sentence.

The government has not offered an explanation for the disparate treatment of the cases.

Mr. Marri's detention, on the other hand, is potentially lifelong. Though he has not been convicted of a crime, said Jonathan Hafetz, one of his lawyers, the conditions in the Charleston brig are as bad or worse than those in the toughest high-security prisons.

"He has been in solitary confinement for two and a half years," Mr. Hafetz said of Mr. Marri. "He hasn't spoken to or seen his wife and five children since he was designated an enemy combatant" in June 2003. "There's no news, no books, nothing."

This year, the same South Carolina federal judge heard challenges from Mr. Padilla and Mr. Marri. In July, the judge, Henry F. Floyd, ruled that the administration was authorized to detain Mr. Marri. Four months earlier, the judge had reached the opposite conclusion in Mr. Padilla's case.

The difference, he said, was that Mr. Padilla was an American citizen.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., reversed the ruling in the Padilla case. The administration's decision last week to charge Mr. Padilla and try to moot his appeal of the Fourth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court may have been driven by its desire to maintain a helpful precedent in the circuit where it brings many of its terrorism cases.

"They are seeking to keep their options open," said David D. Cole, a law professor at Georgetown, "by avoiding Supreme Court review in the Padilla case. It lets them keep standing the Fourth Circuit decision."

In Mr. Hamdi's Supreme Court case last year, the four justices who joined Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's controlling opinion used a narrow definition of "enemy combatant," saying, at least for purposes of that case, that it meant someone "carrying a weapon against American troops on a foreign battlefield."

The government has proposed a much broader definition.

"The term 'enemy combatant,' " according to a Defense Department order last year, includes anyone "part of or supporting Taliban or Al Qaeda forces or associated forces."

In a hearing in December in a case brought by detainees imprisoned in the naval facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a judge questioned a Justice Department official about the limits of that definition. The official, Brian D. Boyle, said the hostilities in question were global and might continue for generations.

The judge, Joyce Hens Green of the Federal District Court in Washington, asked a series of hypothetical questions about who might be detained as an enemy combatant under the government's definition.

What about "a little old lady in Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charitable organization that helps orphans in Afghanistan but really is a front to finance Al Qaeda activities?" she asked.

And what about a resident of Dublin "who teaches English to the son of a person the C.I.A. knows to be a member of Al Qaeda?"

And "what about a Wall Street Journal reporter, working in Afghanistan, who knows the exact location of Osama bin Laden but does not reveal it to the United States government in order to protect her source?"

Mr. Boyle said the military had the power to detain all three people as enemy combatants.

In January, Judge Green allowed the detainees' court challenges to their confinement to proceed. Another judge on her court reached the opposite conclusion, and an appeal from the two decisions is pending.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

All the Reporter's Men

Woodward's turn to answer questions about breaking—and not breaking—news
by Sydney H. Schanberg
November 22nd, 2005 11:06 AM

I have no stake in whether any Bush White House heavy goes to jail in the Plamegate scandal; incarceration is not required for the public to recognize a failed presidency. But I do care about what happens to Bob Woodward in this stew, because he became the success model for modern journalism. And to my mind, he has, over the years, drifted away from the principles he and Carl Bernstein represented when they broke the Watergate scandal three decades ago and exposed another dark presidency, which then imploded.
Then, Woodward was a striving beginner newspaperman. Now, still hardworking, he's a millionaire courtier of the Washington power elite. He has used those Watergate-baptism skills to gain access to the White House and get its big players to talk, mostly anonymously, thereby producing a series of successful insider books about government decision making. Most of the books come across as meticulously reported, but the problem is, the reader cannot tell what Woodward may be leaving out—to protect his sources and not lose his rare and coveted access. (Woodward takes strong exception to my criticisms, saying, "Your facts are wrong.")

He has a special arrangement with his newspaper, The Washington Post, where he carries the title of assistant managing editor, though he neither manages nor edits. The arrangement is known in the newsroom and acknowledged publicly by the paper. As follows: He writes an occasional story for the paper as he goes about reporting for his books and also occasionally passes tips to investigative reporters on the staff. In his book research, he grants confidentiality to his anonymous sources—they are not named or identified in any way in the books. He also promises all his interviewees that he will make no immediate use of what they tell him and will publish it only much later, in the book, which means perhaps too late for the electorate or Congress to act upon it before the White House makes and carries out crucial decisions—such as sending troops into combat.

Here, from page 423 of Plan of Attack, is an example of Woodward's agreement not to publish right away. It comes after a long interview with Bush in his office in the White House residence on December 10, 2003:

The president said he wanted to make sure that his acknowledgment that no weapons of mass destruction had been found so far would not be published in The Washington Post until the book was released. "In other words, I'm not going to read a headline, 'Bush Says No Weapons.' " I promised he would not . . .

To me, giving such assurances is the opposite of what journalists are taught and trained to do. The creed says you publish when the story has been properly confirmed, so that the public can make informed decisions.

What has brought all this to our attention now is that for more than two years, Woodward never told his editors that in 2003, while working on his last book, Plan of Attack, he became part of the Plamegate story that is now rocking the White House. He was one of the reporters, maybe the first, to whom senior officials leaked the classified identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The apparent purpose of this "outing" was to undermine the operative's husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. diplomat who was publicly questioning the scary intelligence data that President Bush used to justify and rouse public support for the preemptive invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

A what-if question is needed here: What if Woodward had told the public—as soon as he found out—all the revealing material about how the White House pulled the nation into war, instead of holding it back for Plan of Attack, which was published in April 2004? It's not unrealistic to think this might have altered the course of events. The book, like several other of Woodward's works, was a major bestseller.

We only learned about Woodward's personal role in this tale of abuse of power because a week ago—as the result of new information received by the special prosecutor investigating the case, Patrick Fitzgerald—Woodward was called in by Fitzgerald and gave testimony about discussions he had with three high administration officials in June and July of 2003, at the time of the outing of Plame. Woodward named two of the sources, the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, and I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who has been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the case. These two, Woodward said, had released him from his confidentiality agreement, but he said he couldn't recall any mention of Valerie Plame in those interviews. He did not name the third official—who was the tipster—because that person, he said, would not give him such a release. That official, Woodward claimed, was the only one he recalls bringing up the CIA identity of Valerie Plame. Woodward contended that this source introduced Plame's name and CIA employment in an "offhand" manner, not suggestive of any intent to smear. Woodward said that interview happened in "mid June," before the other two conversations.

From my 45 years as a reporter, this doesn't persuade me. Government officials with a mission to leak often affect a casual, innocent manner when dropping the information into a conversation. Woodward has been fielding leaks for too many seasons to be unaware of this tradecraft.

And also, in my experience, important conversations about important stories do not fade quite the way Woodward intimates they do when he says he doesn't recall whether Libby or Card brought up Wilson's wife. Reporters almost always remember such things.

I can remember clearly the moment in 1971 when the CIA station chief at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi approached me on a parade ground at the embassy's July 4 celebration and asked me casually, as we ate hot dogs, if I had heard about the Bangladeshi freedom fighters who had blown up a key power station in East Pakistan earlier that day, blacking out the entire capital city of Dhaka. I replied, obviously lying to go along with the game, that I had heard something about it but no details. He then offered several details, offhandedly. I finished my hot dog and went off to confirm the story at other Western embassies. I filed it that evening, and it was on the front page of The New York Times the next morning.

I—and every other seasoned journalist—have lots of memories like that. Woodward has always been proud about keeping detailed records of his reporting, especially interviews. His memory is as sharp as a sushi chef's knife. "I don't recall" was halfway believable with Ronald Reagan. Not so with Woodward.

He openly says that protecting his sources is his highest priority. Here's a response he gave to Howard Kurtz, media reporter for The Washington Post: "I apologized [to the executive editor, Leonard Downie] because I should have told him about this much sooner. I explained in detail that I was trying to protect my sources. That's Job No. 1 in a case like this. . . . I hunkered down. I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed."

Again, something is missing. Reporters have lots of different thoughts and emotions when they come across an important story. In my life, and the lives of most reporters, "Job No. 1" is getting the story confirmed and into the paper quickly. Get it to the readers now, not two years from now, so they can assess it and act on it, if they choose. A second emotion: Get it to them before the competition gets wind of it.

I believe it's fair for a reasonable person, without being inside Woodward's head, to listen to his explanations and arrive at the notion that his main priorities are protecting his sources and protecting the exclusivity (and therefore marketability) of his next book. That wasn't true when he and Bernstein were prying open the Watergate story. He didn't have any book contracts then to muddle and infect the issue. In this instance, his explanations include no thoughts about writing an early story for his paper, no reservations about holding back information from the public.

No one is questioning Woodward's reporting skills or his intelligence. And I don't want to know the names of his sources. I believe in granting confidentiality when it's the only way to get a story out—and in going to jail if that's the consequence of refusing to identify a source or turn over notes. But when your modus operandi is to hold on to information instead of publishing it right away, then, in my opinion, you are not serving the public.

Worse, in his many recent public appearances on television and elsewhere, Woodward dismissed the Plamegate investigation as so trivial as to be "laughable" and used scornful language to describe the prosecutor, who has a long history of being apolitical, thoughtful, and wedded to the law. And he did all that without revealing, even to his own newspaper, his own role in the story. Only Woodward can explain that performance.


The Ted Koppel I knew

He was a fine journalist and a decent man – but to stay atop journalism's establishment, even he had to make a deal with the devil.
By Fred Branfman

Nov. 23, 2005 | Ted Koppel's retirement in the midst of Plamegate focuses attention on the most pressing issue facing American journalism: its abdication of its responsibility to expose government wrongdoing and lies. It is critical to raise our sights above the minutiae of Plamegate -- what Miller, Cheney, Woodward, Libby, Sulzberger, Cooper, Rove, Russert, Novak and Downie said to each other and when -- to the real issue involved: how democracy is weakened when journalists trade access to high officials in return for direct or indirect support of governmental misdeeds.

The media is particularly critical to democracy at a time like today, when one party and ideology controls the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Without a media critical of government, America democracy simply ceases to exist -- as occurred when the Bush administration took this nation to war in Iraq by distorting the information it had about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

Dana Priest deserves a Pulitzer for revealing the existence of CIA-run secret prisons. Judy Miller was a mouthpiece, turning out biased reporting that was fatally dependent on administration sources pursuing their own agenda. Nicholas Kristof was a real reporter when he quoted Joseph Wilson refuting administration lies on Niger. Robert Novak was no more a journalist than a Pravda correspondent when he transmitted slimy administration attacks on Wilson. Tim Russert is a hack when he throws softball questions at high government officials like Donald Rumsfeld, while mercilessly bullying the few antiwar figures he allows on his show such as Dennis Kucinich. Bob Woodward was a hero for his role in Watergate. He was a shameless opportunist when, in return for access to inside information, he portrayed President Bush as an in-charge leader in "Bush at War" -- a portrait that was convincingly debunked by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who had actual knowledge of our clueless, disengaged and in-over-his-head president.

No one symbolizes the dilemma of establishment journalism more than Ted Koppel, one of America's most honorable and well-respected journalists -- and an unusually decent human being as well. Koppel has done an admirable job for 25 years now of providing in-depth, original and creative coverage of world events from his perch at "Nightline." His job, however, has required maintaining the goodwill of the powerful -- a fact most dramatically illustrated by his 30-plus-year friendship with Henry Kissinger, which continues to the present day. Ted Koppel knew firsthand about Kissinger's war crimes in Indochina. But even this decent man felt he had to turn a blind eye to Kissinger's actions to maintain his powerful position. It is a dramatic illustration of how the incestuous relationship between major journalists and government officials is one of the key structural and fundamental flaws in both our media and democracy.

I spent a week with Ted Koppel back in 1970. He was an ABC News correspondent for Southeast Asia, based in Hong Kong, and was visiting Laos for a series of stories. He hired me to be his interpreter, guide and resident expert. We spent most of a week together, doing stories on refugees from American bombing, CIA support of the Meo army, and the politics of the Laotian war.

During this period I worked and regularly interacted with correspondents from all the major media -- CBS, NBC, Time, the Washington Post, the Jack Anderson column, the L.A. Times, AP, UPI, Newsweek. It was clear to me from the start that Ted, whom I hadn't known from a hole in the wall before our week together, was a cut above the rest.

To begin with, he had charisma, good humor and an unusual mix of professionalism and human decency. The other journalists tended to spend their evenings getting drunk, trading office gossip, and/or chasing women at Laos' over-the-top bars and whorehouses, the most notorious in Southeast Asia. Ted was always busy writing, doing radio feeds or boning up on some of the books and articles I gave him. He was serious and genuinely interested in learning about the war in Laos: the CIA, the tribal wars, the government corruption, the guerrillas, the bombing.

What struck me most, though, was what occurred when I took him out to the refugee camps to interview peasants who had escaped the mass U.S. bombing that was even then daily murdering innocent rice farmers who had been left behind. I had taken dozens of newspeople and peace activists out to the camps in this period, and Ted had a more genuinely human response to the horror than almost any of the others. He was shaken up, touched and moved. Most of the other journalists saw the refugees as just one more "story." Ted saw them as the innocents they were: kind, decent human beings who had escaped mass murder no more justified than Hitler's against the Jews. He cared about them, and he cared that the bombing was continuing, killing more innocents daily.

He put together some moving pieces on the bombing for ABC News, which I remember stood out both for the feeling he put into them, and the hard-hitting nature of his narrative.

His response was of a piece with his basic one-on-one decency. Most of the other reporters just saw me as a hired hand, and after a week of hearing me rail against U.S. war crimes were pleased to terminate our relationship. I remember well how, on our last night together, Ted took more than an hour to teach me how to do radio feeds for ABC News. He cared about me as an individual, was concerned at my lack of money, and went out of his way to ensure I could make some extra income. I remembered his decency when I read some years later that he had stopped working as a journalist for several years to take care of his kids so that his wife could pursue her graduate degree.

A few years after working with Ted in Laos, I returned to Washington to direct the Indochina Resource Center, which sought to end U.S. bombing and other military involvement in Indochina. By 1973 one of our main targets was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who had directed a huge expansion of secret U.S. bombing into Laos and Cambodia after 1969, in a cynical attempt to avoid blame for losing the war, without taking any care whatsoever to avoid the mass murder of civilian villagers. I knew by then that Kissinger was more responsible than any other individual except President Nixon for the murder of innocents in Indochina, and would have been executed had the Nuremberg precedent for protection of civilian populations been applied to U.S. leaders. (I discussed Kissinger’s role in a 2001 Salon article, "Wanted: If Henry Kissinger isn't guilty of war crimes, no one is."

Ted was at that time the State Department correspondent for ABC News, and I decided to call him for lunch to talk about the six-month trip to Indochina I had just returned from -- particularly the new evidence I had amassed that the ongoing Kissinger-led bombing in Cambodia was continuing to murder civilians. Although I realized that Ted had to be circumspect regarding Kissinger's culpability for the war crimes that he had observed on the ground in Laos, I assumed we'd be in as much agreement on the horror as we had been in Indochina, and hoped he might do some stories on my new findings. I still remember the friendliness and warmth of Ted's jovial greeting when I called him up for lunch, and my awe as I entered the beautiful State Department restaurant, filled with important domestic and international dignitaries.

After 15 minutes or so of pleasantries and reminiscences, I brought up the flattering book on Kissinger that had just been published by the brothers Marvin and Bernard Kalb, who worked for NBC and CBS News respectively. Everyone I knew had been outraged by the book, which was a typical establishment journalist suck-up to Kissinger, praising him for his successes and avoiding even a mention of the mass murder that he was even then continuing to conduct. I was particularly annoyed because I had worked with Bernie Kalb as closely as I had with Ted, and Bernie also knew full well of Kissinger's responsibility for what was occurring.

I said something like "Can you believe that garbage by the Kalb brothers?" To my utter amazement, Ted suddenly drew back and said, in what was to be known years later as his full-throated "Nightline" "Voice of God": "I'll have you know that Marvin Kalb is a close personal friend of mine. And so is Dr. Kissinger, for that matter!" Ted was clearly offended, and our luncheon went downhill from there. Shocked, I tried to remind him of Kissinger's war crimes, which he had personally witnessed just a few years ago. He refused to discuss it. I tried to turn the conversation to my new findings on the ongoing bombing of civilians. He wasn't interested. We parted, not to talk again for 30 years.

I realized at the time that it was not Ted who had changed, but his institutional role. In Indochina, on the ground, face-to-face with the refugees, he had been a truth-seeking foreign correspondent. Assigned to cover Kissinger back in Washington, depending upon him for information, susceptible to the secretary’s flattery and manipulations, he had become a card-carrying member of the journalistic establishment.

On Oct. 22, 2004, the N.Y. Times published an article (must be Times Select member) titled "In Calls to Kissinger, Reporters Show That Even They Fell Under Super-K's Spell," about 3,200 transcripts of phone conversations between journalists and Kissinger. "Reporters assumed the admiration and affection they expressed for Mr. Kissinger over the telephone would remain private. What they did not know was that he was having a secretary listen in and take down every word," the Times reported. Slate's Jack Shafer also reported on the love-fest between Kissinger and elite journalists.

Ted Koppel was one of those expressing what the Times called his "chumminess" with Mr. Kissinger. "It has been an extraordinary three years for me, and I have enjoyed it immensely. You are an intriguing man, and if I had a teacher like you earlier I might not have been so cynical," Koppel said. "You have been a good friend," Kissinger replied. Koppel ended by saying, "We are lucky to have had you."

To his credit, when interviewed for the story, Ted Koppel told it like it was. "Am I shocked by the notion that people were sucking up to a very powerful official they relied on for information? ... Frankly, no." David Binder, a reporter for 43 years with the N.Y. Times , was even more to the point: "The negative is that if you become too close to a guy you're covering, you become his spokesman."

It is not difficult to understand why reporters "suck up" to powerful officials, and become their "spokesmen." It is not only that official information is critical to getting a story on the TV evening news, newspaper front page, or into a bestseller. It is that the government official in question might give the information to a rival covering the same beat, the single biggest threat to a newsperson's career.

For let us remember: Reporters and officials are not merely flattering each other for the fun of it. They are trading information, the oil of Washington, a commodity that brings careers, money, Pulitzers, influence and fame to reporters, and political support to government officials to exercise the power they so enjoy. Information is literally power: the power to kill, the power to heal, the power to become rich. For all of the surface camaraderie and talk of "friendship," it is a deadly serious business.

And being a "good friend" to Henry Kissinger meant turning a blind eye to misdeeds and atrocities. Throughout Ted's tenure at the State Department, as we have noted, Mr. Kissinger was conducting mass murder of civilians in Laos and Cambodia on a daily basis, overthrowing Salvador Allende in Chile, and conducting a wide variety of other illegal and duplicitous acts. One of the key factors giving him a free hand to conduct these crimes of war was the flattering coverage given him by major journalists, and their refusal to regularly report on his violations of the Nuremberg precedent and other laws of war.

In saying this, it is important not to demonize Ted. He was, and is, a decent human being, as evidenced by his making the moving story of the dying Morrie Schwartz his last "Nightline" broadcast. And although he is not identified with a major scoop that exposed government wrongdoing and lies among his thousands of shows since 1980, he has done more than his share of demanding accountability from government officials and allowing critical voices – although rarely ones outside the accepted parameters of national discourse -- on his broadcasts. In recent years, his reading the names of all the Americans killed in Iraq was a major contribution.

It is true that "Nightline" did no better than the rest of the media in exposing the administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction, and Ted indirectly skewed coverage by embedding himself with our troops rather than providing ongoing coverage on the civilians we killed during those same months. But he behaved more honorably than most of the American media.

And that is the point. The issue isn't Ted himself but what he symbolizes: the institutional and structural corruption of an American media that has chosen to define "news" primarily as the information it receives from American officials, and which has traded a critical and independent stance for "access" to powerful figures. As long as the TV lead and Page One stories primarily come, directly or indirectly, from government officials, and as long as critics and dissenting information are ignored or relegated to page A18, Ted Koppel will be the best we get.

Perhaps the most revealing story I know about Ted comes from a young friend of mine who sought his advice about changing careers in Washington, D.C. Ted, in his typically gracious fashion, granted him a private talk. My friend explained that he had had a successful career running a nonprofit group, but was turned off by the lies and deceit he had found. What did Ted think he should do? he asked. Ted answered that he didn't know whether my friend’s ethical concerns were sincere, or if he was just looking for a job in journalism. If the latter, he seemed like a bright young guy, and Ted would consider helping him out. But if he was sincere, Ted advised, he should get out of Washington immediately. Ted then went on a rant for 15 minutes excoriating the officials he dealt with on a daily basis as liars, deceivers and hypocrites. My friend could not have a decent life and remain human so long as he remained in D.C., Ted explained. He should leave.

I talked to Ted for the first time in 30 years last March to urge him to do a "Nightline" story on April 30, the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. I suggested he consider returning to Laos, and reinterviewing some of the refugees from the U.S. bombing the Plain of Jars in northern Laos, as we had in 1970. I suggested it would add to the human interest to go with a young Laotian-American woman, Channapha Khamvongsa, who had recently started a "Legacies of War" project after being shocked to learn that even she, a Laotian, had not known of the bombing.

If "Nightline" would not remember the millions of innocents we had killed out there, I asked, who would? Wasn't it important for the sake of history, and younger generations of Americans, to at least be reminded once that our country is capable of so great an evil? "I don't do anniversary shows," Ted responded coldly. And he did not respond to the mailing I later sent him on what such a show might look like.

But Ted did respond to one point: He confirmed the thrust of what he had told my young friend about his attitude toward Washington. "I don't remember the specific incident, but it sounds about right," he said after I asked whether he had really told my friend to flee D.C.'s corruption if he wanted to remain a decent human being.

As a devotee of "Nightline," I am happy Ted didn't take his own advice. But I'm sorry for him on a personal level that he did not. I don’t understand how he can so publicly bask in the approval of government officials he has such private contempt for. And I can only hope that now, as the dean of American TV journalists, that he will do more to safeguard our democracy by becoming the kind of journalist that America really needs.

For let us be clear. The American media will not be changed from within by Plamegate. Woodward will still write his bestsellers. Hundreds of newspapers around the nation will continue to run Robert Novak's columns. Tim Russert will continue to be at the feet of the powerful and at the throat of the weak. And it is only a matter of time before the next ambitious and unprincipled Judy Miller, who won a shared Pulitzer and a severance package reported to be as high as $3 million through decades of reliance on government distortions and favor-trading, rises to the top of the journalistic heap.

Real change will occur only if and when the public understands the media's institutional and structural shortcomings, and demands a revolution. Only then will the decent Ted Koppels of the future not have to compromise their basic values to do their jobs.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Great Debate of Our Season

“The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

THOSE WORDS, PENNED IN ARTICLE 11 of the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, are as succinct a statement as we have from the Founding Fathers on the role of religion in our government. Their authorship is ascribed variously to George Washington, under whom the treaty was negotiated, or to John Adams, under whom it took effect, or sometimes to Joel Barlow, U.S. consul to Algiers, friend of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, and himself no stranger to the religious ferment of the era, having served as a chaplain in the Revolutionary Army. But the validity of the document transcends its authorship for a simple reason: it was ratified. It was debated in the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Adams without a breath of controversy or complaint concerning its secular language, and so stands today as an official description of the founders’ intent.

And it wouldn’t stand a chance in the government of the country we’ve become.

The idea of America was always informed by the ideals of its religious citizens, expressed, often, in religious terms. But the genius of America was the establishment, by those same individuals, of the world’s first secular government. That government wasn’t at odds with religion—even the separation of church and state might be construed as a policy extension of Jesus’ admonition not to pray as the hypocrites do, in public. And many religious factions (among them the 19th-century evangelicals) lobbied for secular governance, to protect themselves from the tyranny of mainstream denominations. Yet some among the faithful, uncomfortable with America from the start, saw secularism as the nation’s fatal flaw, instead of its core strength, and have fought to transform the United States into an expressly Judeo-Christian nation.

Recently, the inheritors of this viewpoint are prevailing. The measure of religion’s intrusion into our government and politics can be found whenever the White House markets a Supreme Court candidate by flaunting her religious convictions and church affiliation, whenever liberal Democrat politicians ostentatiously genuflect to show they can be prayerful, too, whenever a FEMA website directs the public to contribute its hurricane-relief funds to a right-wing ministry. Kansas senator Sam Brownback, gearing up to run for president on a faith-based, antiabortion platform, calls the role of religion in government “the great debate of our season.”

The religious right didn’t come by this prominence by accident, by casually capturing (and capitalizing on) the desire of many Americans for a more meaningful and spiritual life, nor even by the simple tactic of wrapping itself in the purloined flag of the founders and in a misconstrued Constitution. They organized, crafting a far-flung and intricate network of political pulpits, media outlets, funding organs and think tanks, and integrating it into the political machinery of the Republican right. The religious right shares the conservatives’ will to power and also, more than previously, a conviction that it is obligated by destiny to remake the country in its image.

It’s been more than 200 years since the founders established the separation of church and state. The assault on that principle now under way promises to alter not only our form of government but our concept of religion as well.

Alito's Artless Dodges

by Marianne Means

Applying for a political job in the Reagan administration in 1985, Samuel Alito was eager to please by portraying himself as the perfect right-wing puppet.

He flatly declared that the Constitution does not protect a woman's right to choose an abortion and that he was "particularly proud" of opposing racial and ethnic quotas. He said he disagreed with rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and 1960s that desegregated schools and expanded voting rights.

Now that the Supreme Court nominee has a different, bipartisan constituency to please as he seeks Senate confirmation, he presents himself as far less dogmatic in his judicial reasoning.

Alito's excuses for this supposed 15-year ideological shift are not persuasive.

Argument one: He was only 35 at the time of the Reagan job application, and he is a wiser person now. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del, quickly demolished that one, pointing out that by the time he had attained the age of 35, he had served in the Senate for five years, and nobody ever gave him a pass for youthful voting mistakes. At 35, some maturity should have set in.

Argument two: Alito was an advocate seeking a job and therefore the document should not be considered definitive. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., wasn't impressed by that dodge. "Why shouldn't we consider the answers that you're giving today an application for another job?" Kennedy inquired. Kennedy suggested that if Alito would sacrifice principle to pander to a prospective employer back then, why wouldn't he do so now?

Argument three: President Bush never asked Alito his views on abortion and can't imagine what he would do on the bench. This is ridiculous. Bush doesn't have to ask, because he looked at Alito's record. He already knows.

Argument four: Alito respects precedent. Phooey. As a lower court judge, he had no choice but to do so. But on the Supreme Court, he has the power to fiddle with precedents all he wants. It's been done before.

It mostly comes down to whether he believes in a universal right to privacy, the principle upon which abortion is based. And Alito has been very circumspect about his views on that subject.

Moderates are increasingly suspicious that despite all the bobbing and weaving, Alito means to vote at the first opportunity to wipe abortion rights off the law books. If this impression hardens during his Senate nomination hearing, Democrats and other pro-choice senators have an unpalatable decision to face: Should they filibuster the nomination to try to talk it to death?

A constitutional crisis was narrowly averted earlier this year when 14 senators, half from each party, agreed to a compromise that allowed some filibustered federal court nominees to be confirmed in return for a Republican promise not to try to eliminate judicial filibusters altogether. It temporarily postponed a nasty explosion, but did not bring bipartisan peace to Capitol Hill.

Congressional tempers have been on ugly display lately over disputes about the Iraq war, the federal budget and tax cuts, mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts, the president's declining popularity and several GOP scandals.

This is not a political climate conducive to a debate on a stealthy conservative judicial nominee. Alito would replace the moderate Sandra Day O'Connor, and could solidify a sharp high-bench swing to the right.

Yet Republicans should be nervous about a high court repeal of abortion rights. It would eliminate their hottest issue. For decades, GOP candidates have aroused the faithful and raised money by appealing to religious conservatives who believe abortion is murder.

Further, if Roe v. Wade were reversed, those who believe in women's rights would become energized instead. And they will vote Democratic, or at least for moderate Republicans. Goodbye, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and his ilk.

This theory was recently floated by Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., who predicted a political backlash and "a sea change in suburban voting patterns" in favor of Democrats if the court undid the 1973 abortion rights decision.

Davis understands the national mood. Dare we hope Alito does?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Bad for the Country - New York Times
The New York Times

November 25, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

Bad for the Country

What was good for our country," a former president of General Motors once
declared, "was good for General Motors, and vice versa." G.M., which has
losing billions, has announced that it will eliminate 30,000 jobs. Is what's
bad for General Motors bad for America?

In this case, yes.

Most commentary about G.M.'s troubles is resigned: pundits may regret the
decline of a once-dominant company, but they don't think anything can or
be done about it. And commentary from some conservatives has an unmistakable
tone of satisfaction, a sense that uppity workers who joined a union and
demands are getting what they deserve.

We shouldn't be so complacent. I won't defend the many bad decisions of
G.M.'s management, or every demand made by the United Automobile Workers.
But job
losses at General Motors are part of the broader weakness of U.S.
manufacturing, especially the part of U.S. manufacturing that offers workers
decent wages
and benefits. And some of that weakness reflects two big distortions in our
economy: a dysfunctional health care system and an unsustainable trade

According to A. T. Kearney, last year General Motors spent $1,500 per
vehicle on health care. By contrast, Toyota spent only $201 per vehicle in
North America,
and $97 in Japan. If the United States had national health insurance, G.M.
would be in much better shape than it is.

Wouldn't taxpayer-financed health insurance amount to a subsidy to the auto
industry? Not really. Because most Americans believe that their fellow
are entitled to health care, and because our political system acts, however
imperfectly, on that belief, tying health insurance to employment distorts
the economy: it systematically discourages the creation of good jobs, the
type of jobs that come with good benefits. And somebody ends up paying for
care anyway.

In fact, many of the health care expenses G.M. will save by slashing
employment will simply be pushed off onto taxpayers. Some former G.M.
families will
end up receiving Medicaid. Others will receive uncompensated care - for
example, at emergency rooms - which ends up being paid for either by
or by those with insurance.

Moreover, G.M.'s health care costs are so high in part because of the
inefficiency of America's fragmented health care system. We spend far more
per person
on medical care than countries with national health insurance, while getting
worse results.

About the trade deficit: These days the United States imports far more than
it exports. Last year the trade deficit exceeded $600 billion. The flip side
of the trade deficit is a reorientation of our economy away from industries
that export or compete with imports, especially manufacturing, to industries
that are insulated from foreign competition, such as housing. Since 2000,
we've lost about three million jobs in manufacturing, while membership in
National Association of Realtors has risen 50 percent.

The trade deficit isn't sustainable. We can run huge deficits for the time
being, because foreigners - in particular, foreign governments - are willing
to lend us huge sums. But one of these days the easy credit will come to an
end, and the United States will have to start paying its way in the world

To do that, we'll have to reorient our economy back toward producing things
we can export or use to replace imports. And that will mean pulling a lot of
workers back into manufacturing. So the rapid downsizing of manufacturing
since 2000 - of which G.M.'s job cuts are a symptom - amounts to dismantling
a sector we'll just have to rebuild a few years from now.

I don't want to attribute all of G.M.'s problems to our distorted economy.
One of the plants G.M. plans to close is in Canada, which has national
insurance and ran a trade surplus last year. But the distortions in our
economy clearly make G.M.'s problems worse.

Dealing with our trade deficit is a tricky issue I'll have to address
another time. But G.M.'s woes are yet another reminder of the urgent need to
fix our
health care system. It's long past time to move to a national system that
would reduce cost, diminish the burden on employers who try to do the right
and relieve working American families from the fear of lost coverage. Fixing
health care would be good for General Motors, and good for the country.

Thomas L. Friedman is on vacation.

List of 11 items
. Copyright 2005

Posted by Miriam V.

Fucking Up For Fun and Profit

Which proves it ain't what you know, it's who you know.

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