Shiite Ticket Has Big Lead in Iraq Vote
By MARIAM FAM
February 4, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was trailing a Shiite ticket with ties to Iran in Iraq's historic election, according to partial returns released Friday. One U.S. soldier was killed and seven wounded in the north, and gunmen seized an Italian journalist in Baghdad.
The United Iraqi Alliance, endorsed by Iraq's top Shiite clerics, captured more than two-thirds of the 3.3 million votes counted so far, the election commission said. The ticket headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite, had about 18 percent - or more than 579,700 votes.
Those latest partial figures from Sunday's contest for 275 National Assembly seats came from 10 of Iraq's 18 provinces, said Hamdiyah al-Husseini, an election commission official. All 10 provinces have heavy Shiite populations, and the Alliance had been expected to do well there. So far, 45 percent of the vote has been counted in Baghdad, with varying percentages tallied in the other nine provinces.
Nevertheless, the huge lead that the Shiites were rolling up among their core constituency in the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq pointed to the likelihood of a tremendous victory. An Alliance win would seal the Shiite majority's bid to claim power after centuries of domination by Sunni Arabs, including years of oppression by Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime.
No returns have been released from the Kurdish provinces of the north or mainly Sunni provinces north and west of the capital. Many Sunni Arabs, who comprise an estimated 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, are believed to have stayed away from the polls - either out of fear of retaliation or anger at a vote held while U.S. troops are in the country.
The Shiite ticket was also running strong among Iraqis who voted in 14 foreign countries. The International Organization for Migration, which supervised the expatriate vote, said the Shiite Alliance won about 36 percent of the 263,685 absentee ballots. The Kurdish Alliance List took nearly 30 percent, and Allawi's ticket was third with about 9 percent.
Allawi, who lived in exile in Britain during Saddam's rule, had been expected to draw support from many voters outside Iraq.
Seats in the National Assembly will be apportioned according to each faction's percentage of the nationwide vote. A two-thirds majority in the assembly - possibly in a coalition with Kurds and others - would enable the cleric-backed ticket to wield considerable influence in drafting the new constitution and shaping a democratic Iraq.
The leader of the Shiite ticket, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, has promised an inclusive government and a role for the Sunnis and others in drafting the constitution - the major task of the new assembly.
Al-Hakim and other figures in the Alliance spent years in exile in mainly Shiite Iran, but they insist they have no intention of transforming Iraq into a clerical-run state. The ticket was endorsed by Iraq's most revered top Shiite cleric, the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The signs of a strong Shiite victory have sparked fears that the Sunni Arab minority will not accept any new government that emerges from the election, fueling the mainly Sunni insurgency.
The terror group al-Qaida in Iraq vowed new attacks against military targets in the coming days in an Internet statement posted Friday. The group promised ``victories, qualitative operations and the killing of the heads of the infidels and apostates.''
The statement alleged to be from al-Qaida in Iraq but the authenticity of online statements cannot be verified.
In the latest insurgent attacks, one American soldier was killed Friday and seven others were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. Another American soldier died Thursday when a U.S. Army Stryker combat vehicle detonated anti-tank mines in Mosul.
At least 1,443 American military personnel have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
Meanwhile, gunmen seized Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, in a hail of gunfire after blocking her car near the Baghdad University compound. She had gone to interview refugees from Fallujah and to attend Friday prayers at a nearby mosque, according to Italian radio journalist Barbara Schiavulli.
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said Sgrena may have been taken by a Sunni gang ``who shot at our martyrs of Nasiriyah,'' referring to the November 2003 bombing of Italian paramilitary barracks in a southern Shiite city.
The 56-year-old Sgrena is the second Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq, and at least the ninth Italian seized here in recent months. Freelance Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was abducted and killed in August.
Schiavulli said she received a call from Sgrena's cell phone as the kidnapping was under way. ``I couldn't hear anyone talking.
I heard people shooting,'' Schiavulli said. ``I kept saying, 'Giuliana, Giuliana,' and no answer.''
Later, a statement posted on two Islamic militant Web sites in the name of the little-known Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and gave Italy 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq. It did not say what would happen after the time passed.
The statement included no picture of the victim or other evidence that the claim was genuine. An official at the Italian Foreign Ministry said authorities were looking into the claim but said they were ``far from taking it too seriously'' at this stage.
More than 190 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq over the past year. At least 13 remain missing - including a French woman reporter seized last month. More than 30 were killed and the rest were freed or escaped.
U.S. military planners hope that building up Iraqi security forces will help bring stability to the country and allow the Americans to hand over responsibility for fighting the insurgents.
``Our ticket out of here is not going to be written through constant combat operations - we'd be here forever doing that,'' Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, deputy commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, told The Associated Press. ``Our ticket out of here is the Iraqi security forces.''
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander of the training effort, praised the Iraqi security forces' performance during the election and promised that ``in the months ahead we'll see the addition of a good number of adviser teams that will work with Iraqi elements'' in training programs.
There are currently 136,000 members of the Iraqi security forces and military, he told reporters at the Pentagon.
Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer, Sameer N. Yacoub and Jason Keyser contributed to this report.
Saturday, February 05, 2005
New York-Bound Flights Get Hijack Threats
February 4, 2005
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two Delta Air Lines Inc. flights received hijacking threats on Friday, but both landed in New York without incident, federal authorities said.
Delta Flight 119 from Paris, which originated in Bombay, and Delta Flight 81 from Amsterdam were both bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport, said spokesmen for the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.
At least one of the threats was called into an embassy, the Homeland Security official said, and the caller claimed there were hijackers on board.
It was unclear how the other threat was made.
Both cockpits remained secure during the flights, the TSA said.
An aviation source in Washington said authorities received "non-specific threats" about flights coming to the United States from overseas.
There was no incident aboard either plane, the airline crews followed all proper procedures and there was no attempt to divert either aircraft, the source said.
Port Authority police and the FBI met the planes in New York. No arrests were immediate, but no one was being allowed off the planes until everyone could be questioned, authorities said.
NBC reported that both planes had hijacked threats called in, one through the TSA and the other through a U.S. Embassy.
The television station showed overhead pictures of both planes on the ground being checked out by local and federal law enforcement.
The planes were being held in a confined area at the airport while the investigations were going on.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:30 AM
Friday, February 04, 2005
Bush's State of the Union: Social Security "Bankruptcy?"
That term could give the wrong idea. Bush also makes private accounts sound like a sure thing, which they are not.
February 3, 2005
In his State of the Union Address, President Bush said again that the Social Security system is headed for "bankruptcy," a term that could give the wrong idea. Actually, even if it goes "bankrupt" a few decades from now, the system would still be able to pay about three-quarters of the benefits now promised.
Bush also made his proposed private Social Security accounts sound like a sure thing, which they are not. He said they "will" grow fast enough to provide a better return than the present system. History suggests that will be so, but nobody can predict what stock and bond markets will do in the future.
Bush left out any mention of what workers would have to give up to get those private acounts -- a proportional reduction or offset in guaranteed Social Security retirement benefits. He also glossed over the fact that money in private accounts would be "owned" by workers only in a very limited sense -- under strict conditions which the President referred to as "guidelines." Many retirees, and possibly the vast majority, wouldn't be able to touch their Social Security nest egg directly, even after retirement, because the government would take some or all of it back and convert it to a stream of payments guaranteed for life.
Bush made Social Security the centerpiece of his Feb. 3 State of the Union address. He gave more details of how he proposes to change the system -- but left out facts that don't help his case.
Social Security "Headed Toward Bankruptcy?"
The President painted a dire picture of Social Security's finances:
Bush: The system, however, on its current path, is headed toward bankruptcy . And so we must join together to strengthen and save Social Security.
"Bankruptcy" is a scary term that Democrats have used too, when it suited them, but it could easily give the wrong idea. Nobody is predicting that Social Security will go out of business the way a bankrupt business does. It would continue to pay benefits -- just not as many.
The President was a little more specific about that later in his address, while repeating the word "bankrupt":
Bush: By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt . If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be dramatically higher taxes, massive new borrowing, or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.
But how severe would those benefit cuts be? In fact there are two official projections -- one by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and a somewhat less pessimistic projection by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The President referred to the SSA projection, which calculates that the system's trust fund will be depleted in 2042. After that, the system would have legal authority to pay only 73 percent of currently promised benefits -- and that figure would decline each year after, reaching 68 percent in the year 2075.
The CBO doesn't project trust-fund depletion until a decade later, in 2052, and figures that the benefits cuts wouldn't be so severe, a reduction to 78% of promised benefits. But either way, even a "bankrupt" system would continue to provide most of what's promised currently.
Furthermore, the President did not specify what he would do to fix the problem. He again urged creation of private Social Security accounts. But those would be of no help whatsoever in shoring up the system's finances, as acknowledged earlier in the day by a senior Bush administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity:
"Senior Administration Official:" So in a long-term sense, the personal accounts would have a net neutral effect on the fiscal situation of the Social Security and on the federal government.
And that "net neutral effect" is just over the long term, 75 years or more. In the shorter term, creation of private accounts would require heavy federal borrowing to finance the payment of benefits to current retirees while some portion of payroll taxes is being diverted to workers' private accounts. The administration projects it will borrow $754 billion (including interest) through 2015 to finance the initial phase-in of the accounts, and much more thereafter. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities -- which opposes Bush's proposal -- projected that $4.5 trillion (with a "t") would be required to finance the first 20 years of the accounts after they start to be phased in in 2009.
Private Accounts: A Sure Thing?
The President made those private accounts -- which he now prefers to call "personal" accounts -- sound like a sure bet:
Bush: Here's why the personal accounts are a better deal. Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver -- and your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security.
History suggests that the President is correct -- the stock market has averaged a 6.8 percent "real" rate of return (adjusted for inflation) over the past two centuries, according to Jeremy Siegel, professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The administration says a conservative mix of stocks, corporate bonds and government bonds would return 4.6 percent, even after inflation and administrative costs. And the administration also figures that private accounts would need to generate only a 3 percent rate of return to beat what Social Security provides.
But there's no guarantee that history will repeat itself. Markets are inherently unpredictable and volatile. At present, for example, all major stock-market indexes are still well below where they were five years ago.
The President made no mention of one crucial aspect of the proposed accounts -- anyone choosing one would also have to give up an offsetting portion of their future guaranteed retirement benefits. If their investments in private accounts returned more than 3 percent annually over the years, they would end up better off than under the current formula. But if those investments did worse, they wouldn't make up for the portion of benefits that were given up, and the owner of an account would end up worse off. The President didn't explain that trade-off.
"The Money is Yours?"
The President also glossed over some severely restrictive aspects of the accounts he is proposing, saying flatly "the money is yours."
Bush: In addition, you'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children and -- or grandchildren. And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away .
That's not exactly true.
As described by the "senior administration official," the owners of personal accounts wouldn't be able to touch the money while they are working, not even to borrow. The money would remain in the hands of the federal government, which would administer the personal accounts for a fee which the official said would be about 30 cents per year for every $100 invested.
And even at retirement, the government would control what becomes of the money. First, the government would automatically take back a portion of the money at retirment and convert it to a guaranteed stream of payments for life -- an annuity. The amount taken back -- called the "clawback," descriptively enough -- would depend on the amount of money the retiree requires to remain above the official poverty guideline. That's currently $12,490 for a couple or $9,310 for a single person. Only after the combination of traditional Social Security benefits and the mandatory annuity payments from the private account equal the poverty level would any remaining portion in the account be "yours."
"Senior Administration Official:" They would be permitted to leave those (leftover) funds in the account to continue to appreciate; they could withdraw those amounts as lump sums to deal with a pressing financial need -- and, obviously, any additional accumulations in the accounts could be left as an inheritance. But the main restriction, again, to repeat, is that people would not be permitted to withdraw money from the accounts to such a degree that by doing so they would spend themselves below the poverty line.
The President didn't mention the "clawback" or the mandatory nature of these restrictions, calling them only "guidelines" and describing them only in positive terms:
Bush: (W)e will set careful guidelines for personal accounts. We'll make sure the money can only go into a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds. We'll make sure that your earnings are not eaten up by hidden Wall Street fees. We'll make sure there are good options to protect your investments from sudden market swings on the eve of your retirement. We'll make sure a personal account cannot be emptied out all at once, but rather paid out over time, as an addition to traditional Social Security benefits. And we'll make sure this plan is fiscally responsible, by starting personal retirement accounts gradually, and raising the yearly limits on contributions over time, eventually permitting all workers to set aside four percentage points of their payroll taxes in their accounts.
George W. Bush, "State of the Union Address ," The White House, 2 Feb 2004.
"The Short- and Long-Term Outlook for Stocks," Knowledge@Wharton website, The Wharton School, University of Pennsyvania: 2 June 2004. (Free subscription required.)
White House Office of the Press Secretary, "Background Press Briefing on Social Security," press release, 2 Feb 2005.
US Department of Health and Human Services, "Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines," Federal Register 13 Feb 2004: 7336.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:14 PM
Thursday, February 03, 2005
By Mark Weisbrot
Thursday 03 February 2005
Sometimes a number can take on great significance as a symbol. The number on a famous athlete's uniform, or the date of an historic event. Anniversaries, the turn of a century, or fears associated with such events -- remember the Y2K scare?
"Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in," declared President Bush in his State of the Union speech.
President Bush, along with others who want to cut Social Security benefits and partially privatize the program, wants Americans to believe that 2018 has some significance for the Social Security system. But according to the numbers that the President is using -- from the Social Security Trustees -- it doesn't.
What President Bush is saying is that in 2018, Social Security will have to pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes. About $16 billion more, according to his (Social Security Trustees) estimates. What he did not say is that the Social Security Trust Fund in 2018 will have more than $3.6 trillion in assets, as well as $206 billion in interest income that year. (All numbers are expressed in today's dollars).
So even if Social Security cruises along on auto-pilot for the next 13 years, 2018 will arrive and depart quietly and without notice. In 2018 a small fraction of Social Security's interest income will be used to pay benefits.
According to President Bush's numbers, the program can pay all promised benefits until 2042, using its interest income and assets, as well as payroll taxes. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it's 2052. This is exactly what was intended when our Congress raised the payroll tax in 1983. The idea was to accumulate a surplus (currently more than $1.6 trillion and rising) in order to help finance the retirement of the baby boom generation. By law, the Social Security Trust Fund can only invest in U.S. Treasury obligations.
But 2042 and 2052 are much too far away for those who want to create the impression of a Social Security "crisis." Hence the tricks that have been used to move the program's potential shortfall forward to 2018.
Over the years, I have confronted these tricks hundreds of times on talk shows. They haven't changed at all. The bonds held by the Social Security Trust Fund are dismissed as "I.O.U.'s" or "pieces of paper," as if the credit of the U.S. Treasury, which has never defaulted in the history of this country, is something rather shaky.
"The Trust Fund money's been spent!" they exclaim, as if exposing some kind of scam. Guess what: So has the $720 billion that Japan loaned to the U.S. Treasury. The Japanese government will be repaid, interest and principal. And so will Social Security.
"But where will the money come from to repay the Trust Fund?" they demand. But this is another subject altogether. Where will we get the money to pay the Chinese and Japanese governments or other creditors as they collect interest payments and redeem their Treasury bonds and notes? Mostly we will borrow, but that's not their problem. To blame Social Security for any future debt problems we may face as a country is like blaming your credit card company for your oversized spending habits. If you want to blame the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts or the war spending, that makes some sense; but Social Security is the lender here, not the spender.
Of course 2018 is only one of several tricks that Social Security's detractors have successfully deployed. These devices get plenty of unchallenged play in the media -- especially the broadcast media. No wonder most Americans are so confused. The latest Zogby poll shows 61 percent believe the system faces "serious problems" and 14 percent think it's "in crisis." In fact it is financially stronger than it has been throughout most of its history, according to the Trustees' (President Bush's) numbers.
Conspicuously absent from the Social Security portion of the President's speech was the word "crisis," which has provoked a backlash as a symbol of the Administration's exaggeration. The year 2018 is every bit as misleading as the word "crisis" in the debate over Social Security. It's time to retire that number.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis (2000, University of Chicago Press).
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:47 PM
Only One Side Told in Bush Social Security Pitch
By Calvin Woodward
The Assoicated Press
Wednesday 02 February 2005
WASHINGTON (AP) - The devil was in the missing details Wednesday night when President Bush showcased his Social Security plan and claimed advances on jobs and against terrorism that don't tell the full story.
Bush explained in detail how, under his proposal, younger workers would be able to divert some of their Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts "so you can build a nest egg for your own future."
Nowhere in his State of the Union speech did he give the other side of the equation - that Social Security benefits for those workers would be reduced as a result. He stated "your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security," without explaining that check would be smaller.
Moreover, he seemed to issue a guaranteed return on investment for people putting some of their retirement money in the market, saying: "Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver."
Although his plan promises checks and balances to ensure such money isn't frittered away on risky investments, it does not come with a guarantee of performance exceeding benefits of the current system.
Declaring Social Security will go broke if nothing is done, Bush said that by 2042, "the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt."
In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecasts Social Security as it is would be able to pay 73 percent of benefits in 2042 and stay solvent for 10 years beyond that.
In a portion of his speech dealing with economic progress in the last four years, Bush trumpeted the addition of 2.3 million jobs "in the last year alone," as if he's delivered a succession of job gains.
His number was correct for the year in question, but he left out that there was an overall job loss in those four years. He remains about 300,000 jobs short of closing that jobs deficit.
Even in a policy-packed address like a State of the Union, nuances are lost and Wednesday's speech was no exception.
Bush called Iraq "free and sovereign," an arguably premature definition in light of the relentless violence from insurgents and the overwhelming presence of U.S. troops.
He also said Iraq was "a vital front on the war on terror" and Americans "are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we do not have to face them here at home."
The terrorist link that the United States most worried about when it invaded Iraq - an alleged relationship with the al-Qaida network behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - came to little.
Close to home, Bush credited the No Child Left Behind law with improving school achievement and test scores, but many educators say they are struggling to meet the law's requirements because of a lack of money and because some requirements are inflexible.
The law demands yearly progress from all groups of students and penalizes many schools that fall short. Bush also talked about increasing Pell grants; the administration has not explained in detail how it will find the money to make that happen.
Associated Press writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:44 PM
Bush Declares War on the Poor
By Jacques Coubard
Thursday 03 February 2005
Social Security privatization guts the ultimate social protections for the most destitute inherited from the New Deal.
He promised it during his electoral campaign; he does it. Bush will launch his great social security reform, taking the system back seventy years to before President Roosevelt's 1935 establishment of social protection, "welfare," designed to curb the extreme poverty of the elderly during the Great Depression.
The plan Bush and his ultraconservative advisors are promoting sends the present redistribution system down the trapdoor to progressively substitute a capitalization that forces wage-earners to dedicate a portion of their contribution to the purchase of stocks or bonds that would supposedly provide a better return. The argument the authors of this project once again use as a club is fear. Fear of an abysmal deficit that would strike at social security, about to be overwhelmed by the arrival of the new generations, the baby boomers, in 2018. The federal budget will no longer suffice to save retirements, taken here at age 65. On the other hand, they would be indexed from then on to inflation and not to salaries, which always lag behind price rises. The reduction in benefits(1)will consequently be felt immediately in a country where it is common to see men and women work past the official retirement age in order to pay their bills or quite simply in order to live with dignity while poverty continues to extend ever further in a society that enjoys one of the lowest savings rates.
The consequences of the reform have provoked critical reactions even among the ranks of Republican Senators, less concerned about the workers than about the aggravation of the budget deficit the reform will provoke by depriving Social Security of contributions.
Unions, various associations, and Democrats reject this rupture of the social contract. How will low salaries be able to allow the purchase of shares when for the lowest paid workers they barely allow the minimum necessary for survival? As for other workers, they will be penalized without any guarantee of a stable and dependable income.(2) The increase in bankruptcies of the Enron or WorldCom variety has demonstrated all that is risky about the great Wall Street casino game. Tens of thousands of employees who had purchased their employers' shares or contributed to company pension funds found themselves without either savings or pensions.
In the name of his "ownership society" concept, Bush applies ultraconservative dogmas to the letter: always less government, always more privatization, always less taxes (for the wealthiest), so as to make the individual more independent, more free to determine his destiny. In fact, using the deficit as blackmail, he is proceeding to a redistribution of national wealth for the benefit of the brokers, banks, and insurance companies who will profit even from the borrowing aspect of the proposals launched by the White House. People from ... good companies, who have poured abundantly into the Bush electoral campaign coffers.
Bill Paterson, investment specialist for the AFL-CIO, sees this change as "a dangerous collusion between industry and the ideologues of the right." The retired person's association, AARP, has published ads in 50 newspapers denouncing the "social insecurity" the privatization introduces. They all draw attention to the failures of similar privatizations in Chile and Great Britain, which have proven to be more costly (with private companies taking a significant portion of the funds and their administrative management becoming much heavier). Counterproposals have been launched that rest primarily on a gentle increase in wage-earners' contributions.
Bush's success in the presidential elections and his majority in Congress give the means to accomplish his project. The future will tell whether those forces aligned with social solidarity will be able to unite to challenge it. Following the ravages of successive recessions, Kennedy, then Lyndon Johnson, claimed to declare "war on poverty." Now with Bush comes the war on the poor.
(1) In 2003, according to the latest statistics available, 10.2% of retirees lived below the poverty level.
(2) According to an official report, scheduled reductions in payouts will be 0.9 % in 2012, 25.7 % in 2032, and 45.9 % in 2075.
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:43 PM
U.S. Condoned Iraq Oil Smuggling
By Elise Labott and Phil Hirschkorn
Thursday 03 February 2005
Trade was an open secret in administration, U.N.
Documents obtained by CNN reveal the United States knew about, and even condoned, embargo-breaking oil sales by Saddam Hussein's regime, and did so to shore up alliances with Iraq's neighbors.
The oil trade with countries such as Turkey and Jordan appears to have been an open secret inside the U.S. government and the United Nations for years.
The unclassified State Department documents sent to congressional committees with oversight of U.S. foreign policy divulge that the United States deemed such sales to be in the "national interest," even though they generated billions of dollars in unmonitored revenue for Saddam's regime.
The trade also generated a needed source of oil and commerce for Iraq's major trading partners, Turkey and Jordan.
"It was in the national security interest, because we depended on the stability in Turkey and the stability in Jordan in order to encircle Saddam Hussein," Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, told CNN when asked about the memo documents.
"We had a great amount of cooperation with the Jordanians on the intelligence side, and with the Turks as well, so we were getting value out of the relationship," said Walker, who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
The memos obtained by CNN explain why both administrations waived restrictions on U.S. economic aid to those countries for engaging in otherwise prohibited trade with Iraq.
The justifications came at a time when the United States was a staunch backer of U.N. sanctions on Iraq imposed after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
"Despite United Nations Security Council Resolutions," a 1998 memo signed by President Clinton's deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, said, "Jordan continues to import oil from Iraq."
But Jordan had a "lack of economically viable alternatives" to Iraqi oil, Talbott's memo said.
Talbott's memo lauded Jordan's commitment to the Middle East peace process, citing the late King Hussein's personal efforts to broker a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"Timely, reliable assistance from the United States fosters the political stability and economic well-being critical to Jordan's continuing role as a regional leader for peace," Talbott said.
Identical language was used four years later in a 2002 memo by Richard Armitage, undersecretary of state under President George W. Bush.
"Jordan has made clear its choice for peace and normalization with Israel," Armitage said, calling Jordan "an important U.S. friend" and citing its 2001 free trade treaty with the United States.
"U.S. assistance provides the Jordanian government needed flexibility to pursue policies that are of critical importance to U.S. national security and to foreign policy objectives in the Middle East," Armitage said.
Economic and military ties to Turkey were cited by Talbott and Armitage in justifying waivers of U.S. penalties to Iraq's northern neighbor. Indeed, their memos advocated hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the U.S. allies.
Talbott's memo praised Turkey for deploying troops to the peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia, policing heroin trafficking through Turkey, and cooperating with enforcement of the "no-fly" zone in northern Iraq by allowing U.S. and British jets to use Incirlik, Turkey, as a base.
Armitage's memo said Turkey "provides irreplaceable assistance in countering the threat the Baghdad regime poses" and lauded the U.S. ally for sending troops to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
"The primacy of Turkey's role as a front-line ally in the war on terrorism is expected to assume even greater prominence and urgency as the global war on terrorism continues," Armitage said.
Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told CNN Tuesday the waivers were given to Jordan and Turkey every year since 1998.
He called both countries "special cases" in which the money Saddam made through the smuggling did not allow him weapons.
"With Jordan and Turkey the circumstances were unique," Ereli said. "We approached them in a way that preserved key alliances and didn't help the regime of Saddam Hussein."
He added that Saddam's smuggling to Syria, which the United States tried to curtail, raised far more concerns because of the possibility of "dual use" goods reaching Iraq.
Estimates of how much revenue Iraq earned from these tolerated side sales of its oil to Jordan and Turkey, as well as to Syria and Egypt, range from $5.7 billion to $13.6 billion.
This illicit revenue far exceeds the estimates of what Saddam pocketed through illegal surcharges on his U.N.-approved oil exports and illegal kickbacks on subsequent Iraqi purchases of food, medicine, and supplies -- $1.7 billion to $4.4 billion -- during the maligned seven-year U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.
The Government Accountability Office estimated last July that Iraq earned $5.7 billion from smuggling oil out of the country, especially to Jordan, Turkey, and Syria between 1996 and 2002.
A CIA-backed Iraq Survey Group report by former Iraq weapons inspector Charles Duelfer estimated last October that Saddam acquired $8 billion by smuggling oil to Jordan, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt through 2003, when oil for food ended with the toppling of Saddam.
The Senate Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations estimated last November that the Iraqi regime earned $13.6 billion by smuggling oil during the sanctions period it defined as 1991-2003, or five years before oil-for-food started.
The oil-for-food program is being investigated by U.S. congressional committees, the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a special committee appointed by the United Nations and led by former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Paul Volcker.
Volcker's committee is to issue an interim report on Thursday.
In an interview last month with the U.S.-based Arabic-language TV station Al Hurrah, Volcker said, "The big figures are smuggling, which took place before the oil-for-food program started, and it continued while the oil-for-food program was in place."
'Either Silent or Complicit'
Rep. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, one of five panels probing the oil-for-food program, told CNN the United States was "complicit in undermining" the U.N. sanctions on Iraq.
"How is it that you stand on a moral footing to go after the U.N. when they're responsible for 15 percent maybe of the ill-gotten gains, and we were part and complicit of him getting 85 percent of the money?" Menendez asked.
"Where was our voice on the committee that was overseeing this on the Security Council?
"The reality is that we were either silent or complicit, and that is fundamentally wrong."
Former State Department diplomat Walker said, "It was almost a 'don't ask, don't tell' kind of policy. It was accepted in the Security Council. No one challenged it."
John Ruggie, a former senior adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said U.S. diplomats focused on assuring U.N.-approved shipments to Iraq were free of military components, and the United States felt Jordan and Turkey needed to be compensated for the adverse impact of the sanctions.
Ruggie said, "The secretary of state of the United States said each and every year that those illegal sales were in the national security interest of the United States. So it wasn't just that the U.S. was looking the other way."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:40 PM
The State of George W. Bush
By David Corn
Thursday 03 February 2005
Whether speaking about the Iraq war, gay marriage or Social Security, the president re-affirmed that he does not reside in a reality-based community.
George W. Bush knows what to do with a bully pulpit. From the days of Thomas Jefferson to those of William Taft, the State of the Union was a written message delivered by presidents to Congress. Woodrow Wilson turned it into a speech. Subsequent presidents used the State of the Union as a high-profile opportunity to promote their political agendas.
Bush went beyond that this evening. He produced grand and effective political theater. In the middle of the address, he transformed the war in Iraq - which even after the historic election there arguably remains his largest liability - into a single, powerfully poignant moment. Exploiting the tradition of inviting symbolically significant guests to sit with the First Lady, Bush introduced the mother of a US Marine killed in Fallujah and an Iraqi human rights advocate whose father had been assassinated by Saddam Hussein and who had voted in Sunday's election. With the House chamber awash with emotion, the two women hugged. Bush was near tears. Members of Congress - perhaps including those legislators who had dyed their index fingers purple for the event - were crying. In a nutshell, here was Bush's story of sacrifice, liberty and freedom. Sentiment - sincere sentiment - was in full synch with spin. The not-too-hidden partisan message: Match that, you naysayers. This was a triumph of political communication. And it was a reminder that despite the apparent difficulties Bush faces in his top-priority effort to partially privatize Social Security, he should hardly be counted out. This man does what it takes.
Bush's approval ratings have been low, but in the aftermath of the Iraqi elections, he approached this speech as a conquering hero - a vindicated hero. There was, of course, no mention of Iraq's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. No recognition that America's standing in the world has fallen to an all-time low. No acknowledgment that the administration had failed to plan adequately for the post-invasion period. Bush has not a bashful bone. For him, the Iraqi election was a signal (from God?): full steam ahead. He did not shy away from the freedom-is-our-mission rhetoric of his inaugural speech, which was widely criticized for being cynically unrealistic. Bush declared, "America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." And he named names, calling upon Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two autocracies long supported by Washington, to move toward democracy. Certainly, he - or Condoleezza Rice - might be on the phone tomorrow to Cairo and Riyadh, explaining that Bush does not expect immediate action. Nevertheless, such words probably will provide encouragement to democracy activists in those countries and in others. These people, though, should keep in mind that Bush's father - who clearly is no role model for his son - egged on the Shiites in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War and then did not come to their rescue when they were slaughtered.
Bush also showed he has not lost his appetite for regime change and muscle-flexing. He warned Iran to abandon any pursuit of nuclear weapons, vowing that America will stand with Iranians who seek liberty. He placed Syria in the crosshairs. There was no reference to the "axis of evil," but Bush did move Syria ahead of North Korea in the you-better-worry-next category.
This president does not back down. Perhaps that's why he won in November. He repeated his assertion that Iraq "is a vital front in the war on terror, which is why the terrorists have chosen to make a stand there. Our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home." US forces in Iraq, according to the US military, are mostly fighting Baathists who had no intention of attacking the United States "at home" prior to the invasion. But Bush sticks to his talking points. And he again pledged to stay in Iraq for as long as necessary, while maintaining "we will increasingly focus our efforts on helping prepare more capable Iraqi security forces." Without referring directly to his critics, he dismissed calls for establishing any exit plan with language that was noble: "We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned."
Bush did not denounce his opponents; he cut back on the references to God. But he invoked FDR and the power of the American dream, comparing his project in Iraq to the abolition of slavery, the liberation of Europe, and the defeat of imperial communism. He was riding high on the high road.
On domestic matters, the speech was mostly predictable. He praised his tax cuts and his record on job creation. (The United States has added 2.3 million new jobs in the past year, he said, without disclosing that the economy needs to create about 2 million jobs a year to keep up with population growth.) He claimed his forthcoming budget would lead to cutting the deficit in half by 2009 - even though budget analysts have said he is relying upon phony numbers and false assumptions. He said he would increase the size of Pell grants for college students. (He promised to do so last year and did not.) He assailed "junk lawsuits" and asserted that the nation's economic performance was being "held back" by asbestos lawsuits. (Asbestos lawsuits? Who knew that was the problem?) When he made a vague reference to medical savings accounts, Republicans in the chambers applauded more loudly than when he called for a community health center in every poor county. Bush vowed to revive his defeated energy program and called for tax reform - without stating what changes he'd like to see in the tax code.
There were surprises. Throwing red meat to the red-staters, he made a rather big deal of gay marriage, noting he supports a constitutional amendment "to protect the institution of marriage" (note that he didn't say "to ban gay marriage") for "the good of... children." This was a political correction, for Bush had recently peeved social conservatives by saying there was no need to push the anti-gay amendment since there were not enough votes for the measure in the Senate. And while Bush referred to the "culture of life" and decried activist judges, he said nothing directly about abortion. Can we then presume then he believes gay marriage is a more urgent matter than a practice his supporters compare to mass murder? Bush also addressed the issue of capital punishment: not by calling for more executions but by advocating more extensive use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful convictions and proposing more funding to train defense attorneys who handle capital cases. (Too bad he didn't do that when he was governor of Texas.) He said that Laura Bush would head an initiative to keep young men out of gangs. There was no mention of the mission to Mars that Bush announced in his last State of the Union speech.
No doubt, the most anticipated part of his speech was his pitch for messing with Social Security. Bush has dramatically improved his rhetorical case for change. He made it appear he was open to many ideas, and he slyly referred to previous proposals for reform that had come from Democrats. He noted that using current payroll taxes for private retirement accounts for younger workers was not a fix for Social Security but an effort to give those under the age of 55 "a better deal." He did not use the word "crisis," but he did deploy his melodramatic and misleading argument for reform. This created the most interesting political moment of the night. As Bush remarked, "By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt," Democratic legislators shouted, "No, no...." (The Congressional Budget Office has said that come 2052 the Social Security system will only be able to pay about three-quarters of the scheduled benefits. This is a problem; it is not bankruptcy.) As Bush continued in this vein, the Democrats kept up the protest: "No, no, no...." It was reminiscent of question time in the British Parliament.
Bush, as could be expected, skated past the difficult questions: how he would pay $2 trillion to cover the shift to private accounts and how much benefits would be cut for workers under the age of 55. He cannot paper over the harsh realities of such a plan. But Democrats ought to be worried. Polling numbers and media coverage of the Social Security fight have given them reason to hope that Bush cannot pull this off. (The day before the speech, CNN's Lou Dobbs exclaimed, "How in the world do you rationalize private accounts, a $2 trillion addition in the ten-year projection across the federal government? None of it makes a lick of sense right now, let's just be honest. There's no crisis, there is no way in the world that this government responsibly could undertake $2 trillion in further debt, and seniors don't want anyone messing with their Social Security.") But Bush demonstrated he is still improving his Social Security shtick.
Bush's speech was a success - for him, that is, not the Union. After all, the State of Bush is just fine. He clearly loves being a crusader for freedom. He has learned how to project passion and what might actually be conviction. (If he doesn't read the newspapers, maybe he doesn't know his Social Security numbers are off.) Sure, close to half of the voters out there are not going to be charmed or persuaded by Bush, however he performs. And much of his rhetoric can be punctured by facts. But he displayed few, if any, political vulnerabilities. Last Election Day offered plenty of reasons for Democrats to worry. This speech provides additional cause for them to fret.
Which brings us to the Democratic response. It was middling at best, perhaps awful. Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, tried mightily hard to adopt the language of values. He took the folksy route, reminding viewers he had grown up in a small town in Nevada among hard-rock miners. He referred to a 10-year-old boy who recently told Reid that when he grows up he wants to be a senator. This, Reid noted, was evidence that no one has to tell the children of America to dream big dreams. Reid covered all the bases, critiquing Bush's economic policies and pointing out the flaws and dangers of partially privatizing Social Security. But he was not much of a match for a president riding the wave of self-proclaimed victory in Iraq.
Still, Reid fared better than House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. She proved that she can read a TelePrompTer without blinking or changing her facial expression. Reid went for the down-home approach. Pelosi was a Stepford Democrat. She expressed no emotion. She did not modulate her speech. She looked like she was reading words written by someone else, not sharing convictions that burn in her soul. Handling the national security portion of the Democratic response, she served up all the usual - and correct - criticisms of Bush. But she scored no points. In this arena, delivery counts as much as - no, make that more than - substance. On Iraq, she repeated the Kerry plan: accelerate training of Iraqi security forces, rev up the reconstruction, and intensify regional diplomacy. The goal, she said, is a "much smaller American presence" by the next election, which is scheduled for the end of the year. But it was hard to imagine her swaying anyone who wasn't already a Bush-basher. Pelosi looked like she had to be there. Bush looked like he was relishing the moment. Such a difference matters much.
Hours before Bush spoke, I received an email for the House Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House of Representatives. The headline: "House Conservatives React to State of the Union Address." Before Bush had uttered a single word, the conservatives were already praising his speech. "I was encouraged by the president's remarks regarding our need to decrease dependence on foreign sources of oil," declared Rep. Joe Barton of Texas. "As President Bush made clear tonight, freedom is a priceless right," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida exclaimed. "Whether it is in the form of joyous new voters in Afghanistan and Iraq or in the form of financial freedom here at home through responsible Social Security reform and tax reform, freedom must be promoted and defended." Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia also had a boffo review of Bush's address: "President Bush really made the case for bipartisan support on a lot of these issues." Good thing these Republicans are independent thinkers. The email was embargoed until 9:01 EST, a minute after Bush was scheduled to start speaking.
David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation and author of "The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception." He writes a blog at davidcorn.com.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:39 PM
Democrats Hit Bush on Iraq, Soc. Security
Democrats Hit Bush on Iraq, Social Security in Vigorous Response to State of Union Speech
By ALAN FRAM
The Associated Press
Feb. 3, 2005 - Congressional Democrats hit President Bush on Wednesday for his Iraq policies and planned Social Security overhaul, hoping a vigorous response to his State of the Union speech will fuel a turnabout from their election setbacks last fall.
The prime-time address offered center stage to the president. Democrats, though, were hoping their retorts would cast them as a moderate but energetic alternative to Bush and the Republicans who control Congress.
"We all know that the United States cannot stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to be viewed as an occupying force," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the televised response she delivered after Bush's remarks.
"Neither should we slip out the back door, falsely declaring victory but leaving chaos," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "We have never heard a clear plan from this administration for ending our presence in Iraq."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who shared the response with Pelosi, said Bush's Social Security plans sound more like "Social Security roulette" than reform.
"Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings. But that doesn't mean taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it. And that's coming from a senator who represents Las Vegas," said Reid, D-Nev.
Reid said Bush should join Democrats in fighting for better job training, improved education and more affordable health care. Instead, he said, Bush has offered "the same old ideology."
Such issues "are about old-fashioned moral values that don't get talked about much in Washington," Reid said.
The comments seemed to underscore Democratic attempts to attract the segment of Americans who have told pollsters that morality is a major factor in how they vote.
"We can make sure America lives up to its legacy as a land of opportunity if the president is willing to join hands and build from the center," Reid said.
Pelosi spoke of having met with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and wounded soldiers in military hospitals.
"They remind us of our responsibility to build a future worthy of their sacrifice," she said.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said Bush "did not mention how many more lives will be lost because we still have no timetable for leaving Iraq. And he did not mention how his plans for Social Security dramatically cut benefits across the board and make the challenge worse."
House Democrats invited about 15 constituents including senior citizens to the House galleries as a symbol of their opposition to Bush's Social Security plans. Democrats also planned a news conference Thursday at a memorial to Social Security's father, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Reaching out to Hispanics, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., delivered a Spanish-language response to Bush's address Wednesday night.
Besides re-electing Bush, the Nov. 2 voting increased the small but decisive majorities Republicans hold in Congress. The GOP also ousted one of the most visible Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
That has left the lower-profile Pelosi and Reid among the party's leaders and forced Democrats to ponder what course will best help them regain House and Senate seats.
Many in the party think Bush has given Democrats a golden opportunity with his idea of letting beneficiaries divert some Social Security revenues to new personal investment accounts, and borrowing money to pay the extra costs.
"The president neither has the mandate he thinks he has, or a majority to make policy" because of worries by moderate Republicans, said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. "He's making a mistake on both, which is overreaching."
Even so, Democrats were volunteering few detailed alternatives to Bush proposals. Reid told reporters that without a specific White House blueprint for overhauling Social Security, he saw no need for Democrats to offer "a counterplan to nothing."
Reid and Pelosi also accused Bush of failing to develop a plan for protecting the country from terrorism and said Democrats wanted more health, education and job training benefits for veterans.
Bush was planning a two-day campaign-style swing, beginning Thursday, to sell his Social Security plan in states with Democratic senators from whom he hopes he can win support.
Posted by politicalstuff at 7:04 PM
President Bush's Social Security Plan Facts and Figures
Frequently Asked Questions
How is the system financed?
Social Security is financed primarily through a payroll deduction tax. Employers and employees each pay 6.2 percent (for a total of 12.4 percent) of wages up to $90,000 (for 2005). The self-employed pay the full 12.4 percent.
What is the "Social Security Trust Fund?"
The trust fund is actually financial accounts in the U.S. Treasury. Technically, there are two separate funds, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance fund, which pays retirement and survivor benefits, and the Disability Insurance fund, which pays disability benefits.
Social Security taxes and other income are put into these Treasury accounts and are then used to pay Social Security benefits. Funds not needed to pay current beneficiaries are invested in special Treasury bonds guaranteed by the U.S. government. This allows the government to use the trust fund money for other government programs such as paying for discretionary spending or paying down the debt.
What is the significance of 2018?
That is the year when the money coming in from payroll taxes will be less than the amount Social Security pays out to beneficiaries, according to Social Security trustees. At this time, the federal government will have to provide cash from general revenues to pay Social Security benefits versus using surplus cash from the Social Security trust fund to pay for other government spending.
What is the significance of 2042?
According to the Social Security Trustees, this year marks when the trust fund will be exhausted and, under current law, Social Security will pay out approximately 70 percent of estimated benefits.
What about all these different years? On Jan. 31, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released revised projections for Social Security. It concluded that the payments to beneficiaries will exceed revenue from payroll taxes in 2020 (not 2018) and that the trust fund will be exhausted in 2052 (not 2042). The director of the CBO told The Washington Post that the revisions are economically insignificant.
Facts and Figures
In 2005, more than 48 million Americans will receive approximately $509 billion in Social Security benefits.
December 2004 Monthly Payments
Retired Workers 30 million $28.6 billion $955 avg. monthly benefit
-- Dependents 3.1 million $1.5 billion
Disabled Workers 6.2 million $5.5 billion $894 avg. monthly benefit
-- Dependents 1.8 million $0.5 billion
Survivors 6.7 million $5.5 billion $920 avg. monthly benefit
Viewed as percentages:
69 percent of total benefits paid go to retired workers and their dependents
17 percent of total benefits paid go to disabled workers and their dependents
14 percent of total benefits paid go to survivors of deceased workers
Social Security pays benefits to nearly 90 percent of people over 65.
Of those, it is the major source of income (50 percent or more) for 66 percent of them.
Social Security is the only source of income for nearly 22 percent of the elderly.
Nearly 159 million workers, or 96 percent of all workers, are covered under Social Security.
53 percent of the work force has no private pension coverage.
32 percent of the work force has no savings set aside specifically for retirement.
Life expectancy of a 65-year-old:
in 1935, it was 12.5 years.
in 2005, it is 17.5 years.
there will be twice as many older Americans as today, from 31 million to 71 million.
there will be 2.1 workers for each beneficiary compared to 3.3 workers today.
Source: Social Security Administration
Posted by politicalstuff at 7:01 PM
Senate OKs Gonzales As Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales Wins Senate Confirmation As Attorney General Despite Democratic Accusations
By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
Feb. 3, 2005 - Alberto Gonzales won Senate confirmation Thursday as attorney general despite Democratic accusations that he helped formulate White House policies that led to overseas prisoner abuse and was too beholden to President Bush to be the nation's top law enforcement official.
The Senate voted 60-36 to put the first Hispanic ever into the job, with all of the "no" votes coming from Democrats. Last week, 13 Democrats voted against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's confirmation.
Gonzales will replace John Ashcroft, who four years ago won confirmation by an even smaller margin, 58-42.
Republicans and some Democrats praised Gonzales' life story: the grandson of Mexican immigrants who worked his way up to being President Bush's top lawyer in the White House.
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., the first Cuban-American senator, even broke with Senate tradition and praised Gonzales in Spanish on the Senate floor on Wednesday. "This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans," he said in English.
Democrats praised Gonzales as well, but many said they couldn't look past his participation in administration policies they said had led to abuses that occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They also complained that he refused to answer their questions on how those policies were created inside the White House.
"Mr. Gonzales was at the heart of the Bush administration's notorious decision to authorize our forces to commit flagrant acts of torture in the interrogation of detainees," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Posted by politicalstuff at 6:57 PM
The New York Times
February 3, 2005
Assembly Tries to Cancel Pataki's TV Pitches
By PATRICK D. HEALY
ALBANY, Feb. 2 - Forget the state budget. Not to mention mass transit, the proposed Jets stadium, Medicaid and that pothole in Poughkeepsie that needs filling.
On Wednesday, the people's business in the State Assembly was dominated by Gov. George E. Pataki's mug, and how often New Yorkers need to see it.
Not so often, Democrats decreed. (Newsflash!)
By 100 to 43, along mostly partisan lines, the Assembly voted to ban statewide elected officials - the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller - from appearing in taxpayer-financed commercials celebrating all things New York on television, radio and the Internet.
Mr. Pataki used to feel the same way when he was an assemblyman and Gov. Mario M. Cuomo appeared in such ads; at one point he even supported a similar bill. Today, however, Mr. Pataki is the only one of four statewide officials who appears regularly in such ads, and he has a reputation for appearing in tens of millions of dollars worth of them.
On Tuesday night's edition of the MSNBC program "Hardball," for instance, the host, Chris Matthews, asked Mr. Pataki about New York City's economy and told the governor, "I see you on a lot of the TV commercials for Lower Manhattan development."
Neither the governor's office nor several state agencies could put a precise price tag on the commercials over Mr. Pataki's three terms in office. But aides to Mr. Pataki said he appeared this winter in a $4.9 million campaign promoting investment in Lower Manhattan, $1.2 million in cable commercials for the "I Love New York" tourism campaign, and a $1 million promotion for renewable energy supplies.
Mr. Pataki also tried to build support for new children's health programs in a five-year, $26 million ad campaign, which included $9.3 million in state money, that ended about two years ago. Democrats asserted that there had been additional print, radio and television ads over his time in office that would have been banned under the bill.
David Catalfamo, Mr. Pataki's communications director, dismissed the Assembly action as silly. "Post 9/11, he's a natural spokesman to encourage the world that New York is a safe place to come to and invest in," he said.
But Democrats charged that the advertisements were a self-aggrandizing waste of taxpayers' money, intended to cast Mr. Pataki as a spokesman for obviously popular issues, promote his re-election campaigns, and further his presidential aspirations in states like New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where some of the ads also appear.
The Assembly majority leader, Paul A. Tokasz, the bill's sponsor, expressed contempt on Wednesday for Mr. Pataki's championing state health care programs on the airwaves in one breath, then proposing cuts to Medicaid in his proposed budget.
"The disingenuousness is just too much," Mr. Tokasz said in an interview.
The Democrats' point made, the bill is now expected to go to the Republican-controlled Senate, and die.
Posted by politicalstuff at 6:50 PM
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Hillary Clinton, lonely in the middle
February 1, 2005
Hillary Rodham Clinton sure can cause a stir by saying something so old it's new.
As with all things Clinton, the vortex of confused pontificating turns on what, exactly, the New York senator's motives are and who, exactly, she might really be addressing.
So tongues wagged when the former first lady and potential presidential candidate used the recent anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion to re-state her support for keeping abortion legal - and to promote the common wisdom that both sides in the abortion debate should strive toward reducing our high rate of unplanned pregnancy.
The flapping was, pretty much, all about Clinton's political posturing and the supposed need for Democrats to soften their support for allowing American women to make their own medical decisions. As usual, the palaver served to cloud a dark reality that social conservatives much prefer to obscure.
There is no political common ground to be found when one side of the abortion debate has been running away from the center. Those sprinting toward radicalism haven't been feminists. They're anti-feminists. And they have, with wholehearted assistance from the Bush administration, expanded their fight against legal abortion into an increasingly successful attack on all forms of contraception. Not just for teenagers. For everybody.
The campaign started with the president's first budget, which sought to eliminate a congressional mandate requiring insurers participating in the federal employees' health plan to cover contraceptives if they cover other prescription drugs. Then the White House withheld congressionally authorized funding for the United Nations family planning organization, despite its own findings that the group has no role in China's forced abortion policy, as critics claim.
Soon came the assault on condoms. This included the expunging and altering of valid scientific data on effectiveness from the Centers for Disease Control Web site. The campaign continues with the administration's preference for funding AIDS prevention programs that focus on abstinence only. Abstinence is promoted even among married women and girls in Africa and throughout the developing world who have no choice but to marry young - sometimes against their will.
Federally funded sex education in the United States has largely become the province of the abstinence-only crowd, despite clear evidence that a combination of delaying sexual activity and more widespread use of contraceptives among adolescents has led to a decline in teen pregnancy. The abstinence-only programs the administration favors are replete with errors and poisoned by sexism. One encourages girls to emulate medieval damsels-in-distress in their pursuit of the perfect boy.
Promoting this poppycock among teenagers is, apparently, not enough. In 2003, the administration announced that it would give priority for federal family- planning funds to those health organizations - serving adults - that promote abstinence.
There is, too, the campaign against birth-control pills. Approval of over-the-counter emergency contraceptives - the "morning-after" pill - has so far been blocked by the FDA, despite scientific findings that it can safely be sold without a prescription. And the effort to curtail access to ordinary birth-control pills intensifies. This is being done through the extension of "conscience clauses" that allow insurance companies to refuse coverage of birth control and permit pharmacists to refuse to fill a valid prescription.
"What's left? Condoms are bad. The Pill is bad. Emergency contraception is bad," says Susanne Martinez, Planned Parenthood's vice president for public policy. "I guess withdrawal is still OK."
Who, exactly, is on the fringe? There are just 18 members of the House and Senate, according to a rough count by NARAL Pro-Choice America, who routinely vote against abortion rights but in favor of reproductive health policies that would reduce unplanned pregnancies. That's 18 out of 535.
So we could tie ourselves in knots over Hillary Clinton's political maneuvering and get cynical about some imagined move to the center. But neither Clinton nor like-minded people who favor family planning have shifted at all. It's others who assault modern medicine, and so destroy any chance of meeting in the sensible middle.
'There is no political common ground to be found when one side of the abortion debate has been running from the center.'
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:11 AM
Gonzales Will Not Be Blocked
Senate Is Expected to Confirm Attorney General Nominee
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2005; Page A04
Senate Democrats angrily denounced White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales yesterday as an advocate of prisoner torture but said they would not block his confirmation as attorney general.
The minority Democrats briefly considered but quickly abandoned procedural delays to prevent a vote on Gonzales. Instead, they railed against President Bush's top lawyer for his role in administration legal policies that they said allowed the torture of detainees in Iraq. But they consented to a vote, likely tomorrow, at which Gonzales is expected to be confirmed.
In the first of three days of debate on the nomination, the chamber split along party lines. Republicans, who have a 55 to 45 edge on Democrats and enough votes to confirm Gonzales, spoke of his biography: a son of migrant farm workers who climbed from poverty to White House counsel. Democrats acknowledged his compelling life story but asserted that he had been arrogant in his responses to the Senate when questions were asked about administration memos justifying torture.
Ultimately, Democrats concluded they had neither the votes nor the political stomach to block confirmation of Gonzales, who would be the first Hispanic to hold the nation's highest law enforcement office. After a bruising debate last week followed by the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as the first black woman to be secretary of state, some Democrats were concerned that they would be perceived as opposing qualified minority candidates. At a private luncheon yesterday, freshman Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who is Hispanic, defended Gonzales to Democratic colleagues.
Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the minority leader, said a "low" forecast was that 25 or 30 Democrats would vote against Gonzales, but it appeared yesterday Gonzales was in danger of receiving even more than the 42 "no" votes John D. Ashcroft got in 2001, the most opposition ever to a nominee to head the Justice Department.
In a tacit acknowledgment of the hostility his nomination has provoked, Gonzales reopened discussions yesterday about meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus after earlier resisting such a meeting. The group has declined to endorse Gonzales, sending a letter to Senate leaders last week saying that Gonzales's office had informed the caucus it would "have to wait until after he was confirmed as attorney general before being granted a meeting." As of last night, a meeting had not been scheduled.
In contrast to the Rice confirmation, in which a majority of Democrats voted in favor, the opposition party appeared almost entirely unified against Gonzales.
"Mr. Gonzales is at the center of a torture policy that has run roughshod over the values that Americans hold so dear," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said on the floor.
Kennedy repeatedly mocked Gonzales, saying "he can't remember" his role in the prisoner abuse matter. "It's hard to imagine a more arrogant insult to the constitutional role of the Senate in considering nominations," Kennedy said.
Gonzales testified to the Judiciary Committee that "torture and abuse will not be tolerated" but said he could not recall key details of his involvement in the production of an August 2002 memo that narrowly defined the tactics that constitute torture. He also declined to repudiate an administration assertion that the president has the authority to ignore anti-torture statutes on national security grounds.
Republicans argued that Gonzales has clearly condemned torture, but they spent more time pointing to the candidate's life story. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) set up a large photo of Gonzales on an easel on the floor.
"To have this man, who has come from nowhere, from the most humble of circumstances, who typifies the struggle every immigrant family to this country has gone through, to not give him this opportunity when he is fully qualified for it, I think would be a travesty," Hatch said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:59 AM
Democrats Claim Votes to Halt Social Security Plan
Bush Faces Pressure to Outline Restructuring Amid Senate Opposition to Personal Accounts
By Charles Babington and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 2, 2005; Page A10
Senate Democrats said yesterday that they have more than enough votes to block President Bush's bid to allow private accounts in Social Security, increasing pressure on the president to begin outlining a plan tonight that might offer enough compromises or incentives to win over at least a handful of Democrats.
"President Bush should forget about privatizing Social Security. It will not happen," Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. He initially said all 44 Senate Democrats had made commitments to oppose personal accounts. Later, acknowledging he had not spoken with all 44, Reid said: "I don't know of a single Democratic senator" who will back the plan.
Because Senate rules require 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to overcome delaying tactics, Democrats appear positioned to block Bush's partial privatization efforts unless he makes concessions that attract moderate Democrats from states that the president carried last fall.
But Bush's challenge goes beyond the Democrats and Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), who generally votes with them. Two moderate Republicans -- Sens. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) -- have sharply criticized the notion of private accounts, and at least two others expressed serious reservations. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he has not tried to measure the plan's support among the 55 GOP senators.
Many House Democrats, and a few Republicans, also have criticized private accounts. But House rules enable the GOP majority to overcome Democratic opposition if Republican leaders lose only a few of their members. House passage would make no difference if the Senate killed the legislation.
Bush has said personal accounts are essential to shore up young workers' faith in Social Security and to help address long-term financial challenges facing the system. Many Democrats say individual accounts would add to the deficit and force at least temporary cuts in Social Security benefits. They say the plan is the wrong solution for a system that is not in crisis.
Private accounts would redirect some of the payroll taxes that workers contribute to Social Security, investing them in stocks and bonds, which historically have increased in value more rapidly than Treasury bills in most years. A private account would follow the worker and be available when he or she retires.
Several Republicans have urged the White House to explain Bush's plans more fully and vigorously, starting with tonight's State of the Union address. They note that Bush can be highly persuasive when he pushes hard on a priority, as he did with tax cuts in his first term.
Despite Reid's comments, "there are a lot of Democrats who are open to talking" about private accounts, said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Freshman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said "we got a little behind the eight-ball communicating that message" of Social Security's long-term problems, "but that's about to change."
Rep. Rob Portman (Ohio), a GOP leader with close White House ties, said public support for personal accounts will grow "if it's properly explained."
"I think it's salable," he said. "I don't think the Democrats' do-nothing solution helps them politically as much as they think."
Bush will explain tonight why he thinks personal accounts will bolster Social Security's long-term financial health, a White House official said. The president "will flesh out new details and how he views the personal retirement accounts will work," the official said.
Tomorrow and Friday, Bush will visit five politically competitive states that are home to seven Democratic senators, four of whom face reelection next year. Of those, only Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has talked of perhaps being open to private accounts for Social Security.
Nelson told home state reporters on a conference call that he will look at Bush's plan "very cautiously, carefully and conservatively."
Meanwhile yesterday, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow visited Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) -- two other targets of Bush's tour -- to discuss Social Security. Baucus told reporters he would listen to Snow's pitch, but thus far, "I don't see the will" on the White House's part to compromise with Democrats.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas, another state Bush will visit, said the president is "going to have to radically change his approach" to enlist any Democrats. She said she would favor personal accounts if they encouraged saving by young people, but "diverting their payroll taxes will not encourage savings, and I think it would devastate current beneficiaries."
Democrats yesterday trumpeted a Congressional Research Service analysis that concluded that a proposed change in Social Security's benefit structure would have thrown millions of senior citizens into poverty had it been implemented at the system's inception. The White House has floated the idea of setting initial Social Security benefits according to the rise in inflation over a worker's career, instead of the rise in wages, as the system now does. Because prices tend to rise slower than wages, the proposal would eliminate the projected $3.7 trillion gap between benefits promised future retirees and taxes expected to be collected. But it would also impose significant cuts in scheduled benefits.
Had Social Security implemented such "price indexing" in 1940, the CRS concluded, the number of poor American retirees would have nearly tripled from the 3.6 million currently beneath the poverty threshold to 10.5 million.
Staff writers Dan Balz and Jonathan Weisman contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:54 AM
Monday, January 31, 2005
Hollow Election Held on Bloody Day
Mon, 31 Jan 2005
From beneath the apparently satisfactory number of voters, IPS brings
up stories from ground level on the shape of the Iraq election. It was
one thing that votes were cast in the north and the south, and that the
centre almost did not vote. It was another that even in north and
south, the voting was not driven by a democratic drive. The facts reported
by IPS correspondents raise some difficult questions.
IRAQ: Hollow Election Held on Bloody Day
By Dahr Jamail
BAGHDAD - An overnight rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad
that killed two Americans and injured four others set the tone for the
IRAQ: 'A Real Election After All'
By Ferry Biedermann
MOSUL - Election day in Iraq's violence-prone, third largest city Mosul
ended as it began, with a spate of bomb attacks. But in between a fair
number of people voted.
IRAQ: Kurds Could Not Wait To Vote
By Aaron Glantz
ARBIL, Northern Iraq - It is 8.30 in the morning and the roads of Arbil
appear for a moment to be eerily silent. Most cars have been banned
from the streets of this Kurdish city of 800,000. Roadblocks are up all
IRAQ: This Democracy Could Be Paper Thin
By Aaron Glantz
ARBIL, Northern Iraq - Many Kurds in Northern Iraq are facing new
threats - and they do not come from masked Arab terrorists. They come from
the two main Kurdish parties doing all they can to gain strength in the
election Sunday, independent local journalists and opposition
IRAQ: The Dollar Campaigns for Allawi
By Dahr Jamail
BAGHDAD - U.S.-appointed interim Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi
recently handed out 100- dollar bills to journalists at a press conference.
He then gave teachers an unexpected 100-dollar bonus.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:13 AM
Sunday, January 30, 2005
The New York Times
January 30, 2005
Forget Armor. All You Need Is Love
JAN. 30 is here at last, and the light is at the end of the tunnel, again. By my estimate, Iraq's election day is the fifth time that American troops have been almost on their way home from an about-to-be pacified Iraq. The four other incipient V-I days were the liberation of Baghdad (April 9, 2003), President Bush's declaration that "major combat operations have ended" (May 1, 2003), the arrest of Saddam Hussein (Dec. 14, 2003) and the handover of sovereignty to our puppet of choice, Ayad Allawi (June 28, 2004). And this isn't even counting the two "decisive" battles for our nouveau Tet, Falluja. Iraq is Vietnam on speed - the false endings of that tragic decade re-enacted and compressed in jump cuts, a quagmire retooled for the MTV attention span.
But in at least one way we are not back in Vietnam. Iraq hawks, like Vietnam hawks before them, often take the line that to criticize America's mission in Iraq is to attack the troops. That paradigm just doesn't hold. Americans, including those opposed to the war, love the troops (Lynndie England always excepted). Not even the most unhinged Bush hater is calling our all-volunteer army "baby killers." This time, paradoxically enough, it is often those who claim to love the troops the most - and who have the political power to help alleviate their sacrifice - who turn out to be the troops' false friends.
There was, for instance, according to the Los Angeles Times, "nary a mention" of the Iraq war or "the prices paid by American soldiers and their families" at the lavish Inauguration bash thrown for the grandees of the Christian right by the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition at Washington's Ritz-Carlton. This crowd cares about the troops much the way the Fifth Avenue swells in the 1936 Hollywood classic "My Man Godfrey" cared about the "forgotten men" of the Depression - as fashion ornaments and rhetorical conveniences. In that screwball comedy, a socialite on a scavenger hunt collects a genuine squatter from the shantytown along the East River. "All you have to do is go to the Waldorf-Ritz Hotel with me," she tells her recruit, "and I'll show you to a few people and then I'll send you right back."
In this same vein, television's ceremonial coverage of the Inauguration, much of which resembled the martial pageantry broadcast by state-owned networks in banana republics, made a dutiful show out of the White House's claim that the four-day bacchanal was a salute to the troops. The only commentator to rudely call attention to the disconnect between that fictional pretense and the reality was Judy Bachrach, a writer for Vanity Fair, who dared say on Fox News that the inaugural's military ball and prayer service would not keep troops "safe and warm" in their "flimsy" Humvees in Iraq. She was promptly given the hook. (The riveting three-minute clip, labeled "Fair and Balanced Inauguration," can be found at ifilm.com, where it has seized the "most popular" slot once owned by Jon Stewart's slapdown of Tucker Carlson.)
Alas, there were no Fox News cameras to capture what may have been the week's most surreal "salute" to the troops, the "Heroes Red, White and Blue Inaugural Ball" attended by Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. The event's celebrity stars included the Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who had been booted from Iraq at the start of the war for compromising "operational security" by telling his viewers the position of the American troops he loves so much. He joked to the crowd that his deployment as an "overpaid" reporter was tantamount to that of an "underpaid hero" in battle. The attendees from Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital, some of whose long-term care must be picked up by private foundations because of government stinginess, responded with "deafening silence," reported Roxanne Roberts of The Washington Post. Ms. Roberts understandably left the party after the night's big act: Nile Rodgers and Chic sang the lyrics "Clap your hands, hoo!" and "Dance to the beat" to "a group of soldiers missing hands and legs."
All the TV time eaten up by the Inaugural froufrou - including "the most boring parade in America," as one network news producer covering it described it to me - would have been better spent broadcasting a true tribute to the American troops in Iraq: a new documentary titled "Gunner Palace." This movie, which opens in theaters March 4, is currently on an advance tour through towns near military bases like Colorado Springs, Colo. (Fort Carson), Killeen, Tex. (Fort Hood) and Columbus, Ga. (Fort Benning). Its directors, Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, found that American troops in Iraq often see their lives as real-life approximations of "M*A*S*H," "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," and, given the many 21st-century teenagers among the troops, " 'Jackass' Goes to War." But their film's tone is original. This sweet yet utterly unsentimental movie synthesizes the contradictions of a war that is at once Vietnam redux and the un-Vietnam.
Watching "Gunner Palace" - the title refers to the 2-3 Field Artillery's headquarters, the gutted former Uday Hussein palace in Baghdad - you realize the American mission is probably doomed even as you admire the men and women who volunteered to execute it. Here, at last, are the promised scenes of our troops pursuing a humanitarian agenda. Delighted kids follow the soldiers like pied pipers; schools re-open; a fledgling local government council receives a genial and unobtrusive helping American hand. In one moving scene, Specialist James Moats tenderly cradles a tiny baby at an Iraqi orphanage while talking about the birth of his own first son back home: "I've seen pictures but I haven't got to hold him yet." He's not complaining, just explaining. He is living in the moment, offering his heart fully to the vulnerable infant in the crook of his arm.
These scenes are set against others in which the troops, many of them from small towns "that read like an atlas of forgotten America," have to make do with substandard support from their own government. "It'll probably slow down the shrapnel so that it stays in your body instead of going straight through," says one soldier as he tries to find humor in the frail scrap metal with which he must armor his vehicle. Eventually many of his peers, however proud to serve, are daunted by what they see around them: the futility of snuffing out a growing insurgency, the fecklessness of the Iraqi troops they earnestly try to train, the impracticality of bestowing democracy on a populace that often regards Americans either indifferently or as occupiers. When "The Ride of the Valkyries" is heard in "Gunner Palace," it does not signal a rip-roaring campaign as it did in "Apocalypse Now" but, fittingly for this war, a perilous but often fruitless door-to-door search for insurgents in an urban neighborhood.
It says much about the distance between the homefront and these troops that the Motion Picture Association of America this month blithely awarded "Gunner Palace" an "R" rating - which means that it cannot be seen without parental supervision by 16-year-old high-school kids soon to be targeted by military recruiters. (The filmmakers are appealing this verdict.) The reason for the "R" is not violence - there is virtually none on screen - but language, since some of the troops chronicle their Iraq experience by transposing it into occasionally scatological hip-hop verse.
The Bush administration's National Endowment for the Arts, eager to demonstrate that it, too, loves the troops, announced with much self-congratulatory fanfare that it will publish its own anthology of returning veterans' writings about their wartime experience ("Operation Homecoming") - by spring 2006. In "Gunner Palace," you can sample this art right now, unexpurgated - if you're over 16. Here's one freestyle lyric from Sgt. Nick Moncrief, a 24-year-old father of two: "I noticed that my face is aging so quickly/ Cuz I've seen more than your average man in his 50's." True, he does go on to use a four-letter word - to accentuate his evocation of metal ripping through skin and bones. The Traditional Values Coalition would no doubt lobby to shut down the endowment were it to disseminate such filth.
Another of the movie's soldiers, Robert Beatty, a 33-year-old Army lifer with three children back home, wonders whether Americans who "don't have any direct family members in the military" regard the war as anything other than "just entertainment" and guesses that they lost interest once "major combat" had given way to the far deadlier minor combat that followed. A Gallup poll last year showed that most Americans might fall into that group, since two-thirds of those surveyed had no relative, friend or co-worker serving in Iraq. Does that vast unconnected majority understand what's going on there? Sergeant Beatty gives his answer in one of the film's most poignant passages: "If you watch this, you're going to go get your popcorn out of the microwave and talk about what I say. You'll forget me by the end. ..."
The words land so hard because we are already forgetting, or at least turning our backs. In Washington the gears are shifting to all Social Security all the time. A fast growing plurality of the country wants troops withdrawn from Iraq, but being so detached from the war they are unlikely to make a stink about it. The civilian leaders who conceived this adventure are clever at maintaining the false illusion that the end is just around the corner anyway.
They do this by moving the goal posts for "mission accomplished" as frequently as they have changed the rationale for us entering this war in the first place. In the walk-up to the Inauguration, even Iraq's Election Day was quietly downsized in importance so a sixth V-I Day further off in the future could be substituted. Dick Cheney told Don Imus on Inauguration morning that "we can bring our boys home" and that "our mission is complete" once the Iraqis "can defend themselves." What that means, and when exactly that might be is, shall we say, unclear. President Bush and Prime Minister Allawi told the press in unison last September that there were "nearly 100,000 fully trained and equipped" Iraqi security forces ready to carry out that self-defense. Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month that there are 120,000. Time magazine says this week that the actual figure of fully trained ground soldiers is 14,000, but hey: in patriotism as it's been redefined for this war, loving the troops means never having to say you're sorry - or even having to say the word Iraq in an Inaugural address.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:38 PM
The New York Times
January 30, 2005
The Doctrine That Never Died
By TOM WOLFE
SURELY some bright bulb from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton has already remarked that President Bush's inaugural address 10 days ago is the fourth corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. No? So many savants and not one peep out of the lot of them? Really?
The president had barely warmed up: "There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants ... and that is the force of human freedom.... The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. ... America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one..." when - bango! - I flashed back 100 years and 47 days on the dot to another president. George W. Bush was speaking, but the voice echoing inside my skull - a high-pitched voice, an odd voice, coming from such a great big hairy bear of a man - was that of the president who dusted off Monroe's idea and dragged it into the 20th century.
"The steady aim of this nation, as of all enlightened nations," said the Echo, "should be to strive to bring ever nearer the day when there shall prevail throughout the world the peace of justice. ...Tyrants and oppressors have many times made a wilderness and called it peace. ...The peace of tyrannous terror, the peace of craven weakness, the peace of injustice, all these should be shunned as we shun unrighteous war. ... The right of freedom and the responsibility for the exercise of that right cannot be divorced."
Theodore Roosevelt! - Dec. 4, 1904, announcing to Congress the first corollary to the Monroe Doctrine - an item I had deposited in the memory bank and hadn't touched since I said goodbye to graduate school in the mid-1950's!
In each case what I was hearing was the usual rustle and flourish of the curtains opening upon a grandiloquent backdrop. But if there was one thing I learned before departing academe and heading off wayward into journalism, it was that these pretty preambles to major political messages, all this solemn rhetorical throat-clearing - the parts always omitted from the textbooks as superfluous - are inevitably what in fact gives the game away.
Theodore Roosevelt's corollary to President James Monroe's famous doctrine of 1823 proclaimed that not only did America have the right, à la Monroe, to block European attempts to re-colonize any of the Western Hemisphere, it also had the right to take over and shape up any nation in the hemisphere guilty of "chronic wrongdoing" or uncivilized behavior that left it "impotent," powerless to defend itself against aggressors from the Other Hemisphere, meaning mainly England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.
The immediate problem was that the Dominican Republic had just reneged on millions in European loans so flagrantly that an Italian warship had turned up just off the harbor of Santo Domingo. Roosevelt sent the Navy down to frighten off the Italians and all other snarling Europeans. Then the United States took over the Dominican customs operations and debt management and by and by the whole country, eventually sending in the military to run the place. We didn't hesitate to occupy Haiti and Nicaragua, either.
Back in 1823, Europeans had ridiculed Monroe and his doctrine. Baron de Tuyll, the Russian minister to Washington, said Americans were too busy hard-grabbing and making money to ever stop long enough to fight, even if they had the power, which they didn't. But by the early 1900's it was a different story.
First there was T.R. And then came Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1912 Japanese businessmen appeared to be on the verge of buying vast areas of Mexico's Baja California bordering our Southern California. Lodge drew up, and the Senate ratified, what became known as the Lodge Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The United States would allow no foreign interests, no Other Hemispheroids of any description, to give any foreign government "practical power of control" over territory in This Hemisphere. The Japanese government immediately denied having any connection with the tycoons, and the Baja deals, if any, evaporated.
Then, in 1950, George Kennan, the diplomat who had developed the containment theory of dealing with the Soviet Union after the Second World War, toured Latin America and came away alarmed by Communist influence in the region. So he devised the third corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Kennan Corollary said that Communism was simply a tool of Soviet national power. The United States had no choice, under the mandates of the Monroe Doctrine, but to eradicate Communist activity wherever it turned up in Latin America ... by any means necessary, even if it meant averting one's eyes from dictatorial regimes whose police force did everything but wear badges saying Chronic Wrongdoing.
The historian Gaddis Smith summarizes the Lodge and Kennan Corollaries elegantly and economically in "The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945-1993." Now, Gaddis Smith was a graduate-schoolmate of mine and very much a star even then and has remained a star historian ever since. So do I dare suggest that in this one instance, in a brilliant career going on 50 years now, that Gaddis Smith might have been ...wrong? ... that 1945 to 1993 were not the last years of the Monroe Doctrine? ... that the doctrine was more buff and boisterous than it has ever been 10 days ago, Jan. 20, 2005?
But before we go forward, let's take one more step back in time and recall the curious case of Antarctica. In 1939 Franklin Roosevelt authorized the first official United States exploration of the South Pole, led by Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The expedition was scientific - but also military. The Japanese and the Germans were known to be rooting about in the ice down there, as were the Russians, the British, the Chileans, the Argentines, all of them yapping and stepping on one another's heels. Gradually it dawned on the whole bunch of them: at the South Pole the hemispheres got ... awfully narrow. In fact, there was one point, smaller than a dime, if you could ever find it, where there were no more Hemispheres at all. Finally, everybody in essence just gave up and forgot about it. It was so cold down there, you couldn't shove a shell into the gullet of a piece of artillery ... or a missile into a silo.
Ah, yes, a missile. On the day in November 1961, when the Air Force achieved the first successful silo launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the SM-80, the Western Hemisphere part of the Monroe Doctrine ceased to mean anything at all - while the ideas behind it began to mean everything in the world.
At bottom, the notion of a sanctified Western Hemisphere depended upon its separation from the rest of the world by two vast oceans, making intrusions of any sort obvious. The ICBM's - soon the Soviet Union and other countries had theirs - shrank the world in a military sense. Then long-range jet aircraft, satellite telephones, television and the Internet all, in turn, did the job socially and commercially. By Mr. Bush's Inauguration Day, the Hemi in Hemisphere had long since vanished, leaving the Monroe Doctrine with - what? - nothing but a single sphere ... which is to say, the entire world.
For the mission - the messianic mission! - has never shrunk in the slightest ... which brings us back to the pretty preambles and the solemn rhetorical throat-clearing ... the parts always omitted from the textbooks as superfluous. "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one," President Bush said. He added, "From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth."
David Gelernter, the scientist and writer, argues that "Americanism" is a fundamentally religious notion shared by an incredibly varied population from every part of the globe and every conceivable background, all of whom feel that they have arrived, as Ronald Reagan put it, at a "shining city upon a hill." God knows how many of them just might agree with President Bush - and Theodore Roosevelt - that it is America's destiny and duty to bring that salvation to all mankind.
Tom Wolfe is the author, most recently, of "I Am Charlotte Simmons."
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:35 PM