The New York Times
February 27, 2005
For Bush, a Long Embrace of Social Security Plan
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 - The conservative economists and public policy experts who trooped in to brief George W. Bush on Social Security not long after he was re-elected governor of Texas in 1998 came with their own ideas about how to overhaul the retirement program. But they quickly found that Mr. Bush, who was well into preparations for his first presidential race and had invited them to Austin for the discussion, already knew where he was headed.
"He never said, 'What should I do about Social Security?' " said one of the participants in the meeting, Martin Anderson, who had been a domestic policy adviser in the Reagan administration. "On the day we talked about Social Security, he said, 'We have to find a way to allow people to invest a percentage of their payroll tax in the capital markets. What do you think?' "
Mr. Bush had long been intrigued by the idea of allowing workers to put part of their Social Security taxes into stocks and bonds. One Tuesday in the summer of 1978, in the heat of his unsuccessful race for a House seat from West Texas, Mr. Bush went to Midland Country Club to give a campaign speech to local real estate agents and discussed the issue in terms not much different from those he uses now.
Social Security "will be bust in 10 years unless there are some changes," he said, according to an account published the next day in The Midland Reporter-Telegram. "The ideal solution would be for Social Security to be made sound and people given the chance to invest the money the way they feel."
Two decades later, Mr. Bush's desire to change Social Security intersected with the promotion of private accounts by well-financed interest groups and conservative research organizations, which viewed the concept as innovative if ideologically explosive. What was once a fringe proposal has been propelled to the forefront of the national agenda in one of the biggest gambles of Mr. Bush's political career, and in one of the most concerted challenges since the New Deal to liberal assumptions about the relationship of individuals, the government and the market.
Mr. Bush has told aides that he cannot remember precisely when he was introduced to the idea of individual investing as part of Social Security, and until he ran for president he did not have a high profile on the issue. But he comes from a family with deep roots on Wall Street; his great-grandfather founded an investment bank, and his grandfather later ran Brown Brothers Harriman, one of the most prominent firms in the world of finance. His early political education included exposure to the ideas of Senator Barry Goldwater, the conservative standard-bearer who in 1964 was among the first Republicans to make a national issue of private investing as an alternative to traditional Social Security, and Ronald Reagan, who also took up the idea.
In Texas, before and during his years as governor, aides say, Mr. Bush learned about counties that had opted out of Social Security under an old federal provision and instead offered their employees investment accounts. As governor, his involvement in issues relating to Latin America piqued his interest in Chile's retirement system, which gave workers the chance to invest and became a prototype for other nations.
As he prepared to run for president, Mr. Bush sought the opinions of people who shared his belief in private accounts, including Edward H. Crane, the president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research organization; José Piñera, the architect of the Chilean system; and even a Swedish official who helped revamp his nation's retirement program.
"My sense was that he was predisposed to go in that direction," said Mr. Crane, who along with Mr. Piñera discussed the issue over dinner with Mr. Bush and his wife at the governor's mansion in September 1997. "I was surprised by how knowledgeable he was in terms of the questions he asked."
Other visitors to Austin also said they found Mr. Bush serious about the idea, and as the 2000 presidential election approached, increasingly convinced that the issue could be a political winner. In June 1999, Mr. Bush stood on a stage in Amana, Iowa, to announce that he was running for president. At the beginning of the speech, he set out three main goals: cutting taxes, reducing lawsuits and giving Americans "the option of investing part of their Social Security contributions in private accounts."
In addressing Social Security, he waded into an issue that had been the subject of political wars since the system was founded in 1935.
In the 1964 Republican presidential primaries, Mr. Goldwater suggested that Social Security be made voluntary, saying many people would do better by investing on their own. He was excoriated for his position by his own party and in the general election by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Johnson's landslide victory over Mr. Goldwater helped cement Social Security's reputation as the "third rail" of American politics.
But Mr. Goldwater won important converts, among them Ronald Reagan, who continued through the mid-1970's to promote the idea of private investing as an alternative.
It is not clear how much effect Mr. Goldwater and Mr. Reagan had on the development of Mr. Bush's position. But Mr. Bush's father was a Goldwater supporter, and in 1963, during Mr. Bush's senior year of prep school, he had a copy of "Conscience of a Conservative," Mr. Goldwater's precampaign manifesto, according to "First Son," a biography of Mr. Bush by Bill Minutaglio.
In setting out one of the primary themes of "Conscience of a Conservative," that of individual responsibility in society, Mr. Goldwater pointed to Social Security as an example of where conservatives believed people should be "free throughout their lives to spend their earnings when and as they see fit."
Mr. Reagan clearly grabbed Mr. Bush's attention in 1978, when he backed Mr. Bush's opponent in the Republican primary for the House seat. Mr. Bush won the primary, but he remained under pressure in the general election to prove his conservative values. He ran on a platform of less regulation, lower taxes and other positions similar to those held by Mr. Goldwater and Mr. Reagan, including advocating private investment within Social Security.
Looking back at the 1978 race, Mr. Bush's aides played down any influence that Mr. Reagan might have had on his thinking about Social Security. Mr. Bush's position, they said, was partly derived from the increasingly urgent problems the system faced- it ran short of money and was nearly unable to pay benefits a few years later - and from a deep belief in private ownership and the wealth-building power of markets.
"It was never a new idea," said Allan B. Hubbard, who attended Harvard Business School with Mr. Bush in the mid-1970's and is now director of the National Economic Council at the White House. "It was always there, like tax cuts."
After Mr. Bush's defeat in the general election in 1978, another 16 years would pass before he ran for office again. During that period, the idea of private investing as part of Social Security all but disappeared from the national stage.
But the concept was becoming entrenched in the conservative agenda. Around the time of Mr. Bush's House race, Peter Ferrara, a student at Harvard Law School, was writing a 600-page paper that examined the general hypothesis advanced by Mr. Reagan and Mr. Goldwater: that in terms of return on investment, Social Security was a lousy deal compared with the stock market.
The paper came to the attention of Mr. Crane, who was then setting up the Cato Institute to promote limited government. Mr. Crane encouraged Mr. Ferrara to turn the paper into a book, which became the intellectual basis of Cato's long push, eventually joined by many other conservative and business groups, to inject private investing into Social Security.
"I wrote about it through the 1980's for every conservative think tank," Mr. Ferrara said. "The idea was to spread ownership of the idea and make it a movement proposal."
But it was not until the mid-1990's that various forces pushed the idea back onto the public stage.
One of those was the spread of private investing as a component of government-run pension systems in other countries. The approach taken by Chile had been adopted or expanded in various forms over the ensuing decade in Britain, Sweden and many developing nations.
Within the United States, workers had become increasingly comfortable with investing through 401(k) programs and individual retirement accounts, and by the late 1990's the stock market was booming, giving added allure to investing as a component of Social Security. Discussion of the concept was no longer restricted to Republican backbenchers.
When President Bill Clinton proclaimed in 1998 that it was time to "save" Social Security from the financial pressures of an aging population, he explicitly endorsed using the returns available in the financial markets to help, either by having the government invest some of Social Security's money or allowing individuals to do it.
"If there's any way we can get a higher rate of return in a market economy, while minimizing the risk, whether it's in either one of these approaches, we ought to go for it," Mr. Clinton said on July 27, 1998.
That same day, Mr. Bush met in Austin with a group of advisers that included George P. Schultz, a former secretary of state and treasury secretary; Michael Boskin, who had been head of the Council of Economic Advisers in the administration of Mr. Bush's father; and Mr. Anderson, the Reagan adviser.
That meeting grew from a less formal session Mr. Bush attended a few months earlier in Mr. Schultz's living room in Palo Alto, Calif. The gatherings covered most of the big domestic and foreign policy issues, including Social Security, and led to the establishment of an advisory system to help Mr. Bush delve more deeply into issues as he prepared for his presidential run. Over the next few years, he participated in discussions about the budgetary implications of moving to private accounts and in debates on detailed proposals.
By that time, Mr. Bush had also become familiar with what amounted to a laboratory for Social Security privatization. In 1981, Galveston and two other counties in Texas opted out of the Social Security system. They instead allowed their employees to join a private investment program, financed by contributions roughly equal to the Social Security payroll tax. That program, like the one in Chile, became a model often cited by conservatives as evidence that private accounts could work, although whether they result in a better deal for retirees is a matter of debate.
If Mr. Bush was hesitant, it stemmed from the political risks. Stephen Moore, a conservative activist, met with Mr. Bush in 1998 and found him sold on the principle of private accounts but not certain how to sell the country.
"His thought process was, how do you overcome the political obstacles to this?" Mr. Moore said.
Mr. Bush pressed ahead as if he had found the answer, but in some ways he never did. In the 2000 and 2004 elections, he talked in general about the advantages of private accounts, but he avoided details and never acknowledged in any but the vaguest of terms that putting Social Security on sound footing would involve benefit cuts.
He may be paying the price for that strategy now. Faced with the reality that overhauling Social Security will require unpopular votes, his own party in Congress has proven unenthusiastic, and Democrats have been almost solid in their opposition.
But Mr. Bush appears unbowed and no less committed to his approach than he was 27 years ago.
"I've touched it," Mr. Bush said in New Hampshire last week, referring to Social Security as the third rail of American politics. "I touched it in 2000, when I campaigned here and around the country. I touched it in 2004. And I really touched it at the State of the Union, because I believe we have a problem."
Saturday, February 26, 2005
The New York Times
Friday, February 25, 2005
Why I stopped blogging about politics
SECAUCUS - So much. The title should really read “Why I stopped blogging about politics so much.”
Something happened in December from which I’m just cooling down. It represents all the worst byproducts of this useful new form of media, and it underscores that we’re all going to have to figure out how to address them or the blogosphere will succumb to Global Warming long before the planet will.
On December 27th, we got an email from the lead lawyer for John Kerry in Ohio, Daniel J. Hoffheimer (remember him? It seems like only yesterday…) cautioning reporters “not to read more into” what the Kerry-Edwards campaign had just said about the authenticity of the election. “There are many allegations of fraud. But this presidential election is over. The Bush-Cheney ticket has won.” We ran several quotes from the email on Countdown that night, and more here on the blog.
Now, we can debate the merits of the email, and whether or not Senator Kerry’s people tantalized some of their supporters in the weeks after the election by first saying what seemed to be election-challenging things, and then saying “no, we didn’t mean thaaat.” But we can’t debate who Daniel Hoffheimer was, nor his standing in the Kerry camp, nor the fact that I wouldn’t get very far if I just made the news up every day, including quotations and even entire people.
Stop it. Stop that Fox joke you were thinking of.
Nonetheless, I got an email that night from a woman who identified herself only as Alexandra, who insisted “something clearly has happened to your coverage. Looks like ‘bait and switch’ to me… your quote (was that really true???) from the Kerry attorney saying they believed Bush really won (no fraud???) is so far fetched, I may as well have been listening to Karl Rove or Scott McClellan…”
Remembering the countless nerves frayed in the preceding two months, I replied gently to Ms. Alexandra, forwarding her Hoffheimer’s email.
The next afternoon she was back. “Can someone get a statement DIRECTLY from Kerry’s office that ‘Hoffmeier’ (sic) is INDEED his attorney? No one’s heard his name before (though maybe Bush/Cheney lawyers, or Karl Rove might have a clue)…”
As Charlie Brown used to say, arrrgh!
I sent Alexandra the name of Hoffheimer’s firm and suggested she check him out herself, and noted again that I wouldn’t get very far just making this stuff up out of whole cloth. Even the nutbags at both far ends of the political spectrum get called on that.
What wore me out, of course, was the idea that because I was presenting news that a viewer didn’t like, I had to have sold out to one party or another, and/or fabricated it. The woman presumed that I had created a fictional character, was stupid enough to quote him on national television, and was guilty of both these crimes and had to get a note from John Kerry that I wasn’t making it up.
If this is the ultimate impact of the blog on the MSM, we’re only going to have a newscast once every few months. We’ll be spending the intervening time preparing the footnotes and the affidavits.
This wasn’t the first complaint email I’d ever gotten, but it was the first out of hundreds of similar tone that actually reminded me of the late Senator Moynihan’s observation that we can all have our own opinions, but we can’t all have our own facts.
I’ll get over it. I hope Alexandra found Mr. Hoffheimer and that they’re very happy together.
And I should tell you that I’m still getting an e-mail or two a day from those individuals over at James Dobson’s Focus On The Family who are apparently just getting the memo. This is the “SpongeBob SquarePants” controversy from a month ago (you know, the one Bill O’Reilly said last week that he stopped, and “saved” SpongeBob). The writers continue to miss the point, and more importantly, to underscore how Dr. Dobson missed the boat on which area has long truly needed his tub-thumping and fervor. He should’ve founded something called Focus On The School System.
originally published February 22, 2005 | 12:54 p.m. ET
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:27 PM
Bank of America loses customer data
Senators among up to 1.2 million federal employees affected
The Associated Press
Updated: 7:35 p.m. ET Feb. 25, 2005
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Bank of America Corp. has lost computer data tapes containing personal information on up to 1.2 million federal employees, including some members of the U.S. Senate.
The lost data includes Social Security numbers and account information that could make customers of a federal government charge card program vulnerable to identity theft.
Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., is among those senators whose personal information is on the missing tapes, spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.
“There were some senators’ Visa credit card accounts involved,” Schmaler said. “We don’t know how many, but he was one of them.”
The bank issued an apology.
“We deeply regret this unfortunate incident,” said Barbara Desoer, who is in charge of technology, service and fulfillment for the Charlotte-based bank. “The privacy of customer information receives the highest priority at Bank of America, and we take our responsibilities for safeguarding it very seriously.”
The bank will be sending letters to people whose private information was on the tapes -- probably hundreds of thousands of letters, according to Bank of America spokeswoman Alexandra Trower. While there were 1.2 million accounts on the tapes, some individuals had multiple accounts, she said.
Privacy incidents are keeping the U.S. Postal Service service busy lately. Just last week, a security breech at ChoicePoint Corp. led to that company sending 145,000 letters to exposed consumers.
Leahy has been a leader of calls this week for a Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry into whether more regulation of companies that buy and sell personal data is needed.
That came after the disclosure that ChoicePoint Inc., a data warehouser, had learned that as many as 140,000 consumers may have had their personal information compromised.
“I hope this latest incident at least will bring the issue closer to home so Congress will pay better attention to the rapid erosion of privacy rights that ordinary Americans are facing as more and more of their personal and financial information is collected and sold on databases that too often have too few privacy protections,” Leahy said in a statement Friday.
Baggage handlers suspected
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was told the data backup tapes were likely stolen off of a commercial plane by baggage handlers in December.
“Whether it is identity theft, terrorism, or other theft, in this new complicated world baggage handlers should have background checks and more care should be taken for who is hired for these increasingly sensitive positions,” he said.
Bank spokeswoman Eloise Hale called the system of shipping backup tapes “an industry practice and a routine bank practice. As a safety precaution measure, backup tapes are stored in different locations.”
She declined to give any more details about where and how the tapes are moved around the country.
The missing tapes include information on federal employees who use Bank of America “smart pay” charge cards for travel and expenses, Hale said Friday.
She said federal law enforcement officials were notified as soon as the tapes were discovered missing.
“The investigation to date has found no evidence to suggest the tapes or their content have been accessed or misused, and the tapes are now presumed lost,” the bank said in a news release.
Trower said the company would not comment on the format of the data on the tapes -- and wouldn't say if the data was encrypted -- but she said it would be "virtually impossible" for anyone who found the tapes to access the data.
MSNBC.com's Bob Sullivan contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:22 PM
ChoicePoint Data Theft Fallout Spreads to 145,000
By Tim Gray
Responding to pressure amid a growing PR mess after the breach of sensitive consumer data, credit-check company ChoicePoint (Quote, Chart) is notifying 145,000 people to be on the guard for identity theft.
The latest notices come after the company recently disclosed that an ID theft ring gained access to the company's vital credit information. Law enforcement officials have discovered some 750 people who have been victims of identity theft as a result of the operation, ChoicePoint said.
Chuck Jones, a spokesman for the Georgia-based data aggregating firm, said the company already alerted 35,000 Californians whose information, including credit reports, addresses and social security numbers, were compromised after the crime ring duped company officers into handing over valuable information. Now it is expanding its notices to another 110,000 Americans, bringing to 145,000 the number of citizens whose data may be at risk of being abused by identity thieves.
The con men posed as businessmen looking to do background checks on its own customers. The company is now in the process of notifying the remaining individuals.
"Anyone who does not receive a notice can be reasonably assured they have not been impacted by this fraud," Jones told internetnews.com.
ChoicePoint is a service used by landlords and merchants to conduct background checks on potential tenants and customers. It also has several law enforcement and government agencies as clients.
"There is a certain irony there," said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. "They're not doing the thing they claim their service enables their customers to do," such as conduct background checks.
The information about the data theft came to light after ChoicePoint recently notified 35,000 residents of California that their information was compromised, in accordance with state law.
However, a chorus of attorneys general leaned on ChoicePoint to alert consumers in other states whose information may have been obtained by the thieves.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with 18 other state attorneys general, contacted the company and urged it to expand its notification plans.
"Identity theft threatens a consumer's financial health, credit rating and peace of mind," Madigan said in a statement. "I will work to help make sure that ChoicePoint does the right thing by informing Illinoisans of any financial or identity theft risks they may face."
Bruce Schneier, founder and chief technology officer for Counterpane Internet Security, said it was important for ChoicePoint to immediately come clean with everyone involved.
"My advice to ChoicePoint is simple: you realize that the people whose data has been stolen are not your customers, and it's smart business not to care in the least about their problem. But by not treating this as an opportunity for good public relations, you're inviting Congress to regulate you. And you're not going to like that."
The scam began last fall when the con men posed as businessmen looking to join the ChoicePoint service. They allegedly opened about 50 fraudulent accounts.
The offline data theft case comes amid a dramatic growth in identity theft cases overall, but especially online. According to Gartner (Quote, Chart), 9.4 million online U.S. adults were victimized by identity theft between April 2003 and April 2004. The losses amounted to $11.7 billion.
Security experts said there are many ways consumers and businesses can protect themselves from this type of "social engineering" scheme without passing new laws or legislation, starting with more vigilance and common sense about protecting vital information.
"We may need to look at the way we interact with other people and exactly who has access to our data," said former U.S. cyber-security czar Howard Schmidt, who is now president and CEO of R&H Security Consulting in Washington state. Schmidt said society's awareness of the importance of information, especially personal information, is growing. "Knowledge is the most important tool," he added.
The ring leader of the operation, Olatunji Oluwatosin, 41, was sentenced in Los Angeles County Court to 16 months in federal prison on Thursday, according to several published reports.
In a statement, ChoicePoint said it has "acted quickly to address the circumstances that led to the unauthorized access. We are continually updating our processes and procedures to ensure the integrity of our systems and the information they contain."
originally published February 18, 2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:21 PM
The New York Times
February 25, 2005
Kansas on My Mind
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Call it "What's the Matter With Kansas - The Cartoon Version."
The slime campaign has begun against AARP, which opposes Social Security privatization. There's no hard evidence that the people involved - some of them also responsible for the "Swift Boat" election smear - are taking orders from the White House. So you're free to believe that this is an independent venture. You're also free to believe in the tooth fairy.
Their first foray - an ad accusing the seniors' organization of being against the troops and for gay marriage - was notably inept. But they'll be back, and it's important to understand what they're up to.
The answer lies in "What's the Matter With Kansas?," Thomas Frank's meditation on how right-wingers, whose economic policies harm working Americans, nonetheless get so many of those working Americans to vote for them.
People like myself - members of what one scornful Bush aide called the "reality-based community" - tend to attribute the right's electoral victories to its success at spreading policy disinformation. And the campaign against Social Security certainly involves a lot of disinformation, both about how the current system works and about the consequences of privatization.
But if that were all there is to it, Social Security should be safe, because this particular disinformation campaign isn't going at all well. In fact, there's a sense of wonderment among defenders of Social Security about the other side's lack of preparation. The Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have spent decades campaigning for privatization. Yet they weren't ready to answer even the most obvious questions about how it would work - like how benefits could be maintained for older Americans without a dangerous increase in debt.
Privatizers are even having a hard time pretending that they want to strengthen Social Security, not dismantle it. At one of Senator Rick Santorum's recent town-hall meetings promoting privatization, college Republicans began chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, Social Security's got to go."
But before the anti-privatization forces assume that winning the rational arguments is enough, they need to read Mr. Frank.
The message of Mr. Frank's book is that the right has been able to win elections, despite the fact that its economic policies hurt workers, by portraying itself as the defender of mainstream values against a malevolent cultural elite. The right "mobilizes voters with explosive social issues, summoning public outrage ... which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends."
In Mr. Frank's view, this is a confidence trick: politicians like Mr. Santorum trumpet their defense of traditional values, but their true loyalty is to elitist economic policies. "Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. ... Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization." But it keeps working.
And this week we saw Mr. Frank's thesis acted out so crudely that it was as if someone had deliberately staged it. The right wants to dismantle Social Security, a successful program that is a pillar of stability for working Americans. AARP stands in the way. So without a moment's hesitation, the usual suspects declared that this organization of staid seniors is actually an anti-soldier, pro-gay-marriage leftist front.
It's tempting to dismiss this as an exceptional case in which right-wingers, unable to come up with a real cultural grievance to exploit, fabricated one out of thin air. But such fabrications are the rule, not the exception.
For example, for much of December viewers of Fox News were treated to a series of ominous warnings about "Christmas under siege" - the plot by secular humanists to take Christ out of America's favorite holiday. The evidence for such a plot consisted largely of occasions when someone in an official capacity said, "Happy holidays," instead of, "Merry Christmas."
So it doesn't matter that Social Security is a pro-family program that was created by and for America's greatest generation - and that it is especially crucial in poor but conservative states like Alabama and Arkansas, where it's the only thing keeping a majority of seniors above the poverty line. Right-wingers will still find ways to claim that anyone who opposes privatization supports terrorists and hates family values.
Their first attack may have missed the mark, but it's the shape of smears to come.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:18 PM
GREATEST PRESIDENT? HINT: HE WAS FIRST
Fri Feb 25, 7:59 PM ET
By Richard Reeves
LOS ANGELES -- Newspapers around the country celebrated Presidents Day by publishing a couple of new surveys designed to choose America's greatest president. One poll, done for Washington College, selected the old favorite, Abraham Lincoln. Another done by the Gallup Organization for CNN and USA Today chose a new champion, Ronald Reagan (news - web sites), with Bill Clinton (news - web sites) in second place.
Amazing! Reagan and Clinton? Proof positive, I assumed, that Americans have short attention spans and/or just don't know enough about history. That was the reason, I thought, that John F. Kennedy was ranked first in so many polls in recent decades.
To test that theory, I asked my class in "Politics and Media" at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California to rank the top five presidents. I fully expected them -- and any other group of bright young people -- to name Reagan and Clinton, pretty much depending on their own personal politics.
I thought wrong. This was the result, purely unscientific: Lincoln, 27 points; George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Clinton, 18; Kennedy, 15; Theodore Roosevelt, 9; Reagan, 7; Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson, 3; James Madison, 2. John Adams and Lyndon Johnson each got one fifth-place vote. (The LBJ voter added a caveat: "Before Vietnam.")
It's a fascinating game, but one I have always declined to play because I know nothing about most 19th-century presidents -- except that I think James K. Polk is the most underrated, a tough guy who decided to take the West to make the United States a continental country. Manifest Destiny and all that.
Such rankings apparently began in the Nov. 1, 1948, issue of Life magazine. That journal, the television of its day, commissioned Arthur Schlesinger of Harvard (the father of the one still writing interesting history) to rank our chief executives, and he came up with a list of "The Great ... Near Great ... Average ... Below Average ... Failures." The great ones, rated by 55 historians, were the men who served at great turning points in history: Lincoln, Washington, FDR, Wilson, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.
To put that into perspective, the same issue, which hit the newsstands a week before the election that pitted New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey against President Harry S. Truman, ran a two-page photograph of Dewey captioned: "The Next President Travels by Ferry Boat Over the Broad Waters of San Francisco Bay."
In thinking about this, I came across a couple of surveys that make you think you don't know what to think.
Who were the most successful modern presidents in terms of preserving or improving the national economy? The best, according to an index created by Forbes magazine, which is the professional home of would-be Republican nominee Steve Forbes (news - web sites), was none other than ... Bill Clinton! Yep. If you crunch the numbers of gross domestic product growth, per capita income growth, employment gains, unemployment rate reduction, inflation reduction and federal deficit reduction, you come up with the man the Republicans wanted to impeach. In second place, it's Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy is third. Liberals all.
In fourth place, according to Forbes, comes Ronald Reagan, who had a great economy during his second term after a nasty recession in his first. But he always blamed the bad times on Jimmy Carter, who, Forbes adds, had the greatest job growth record of any president in history -- unfortunately he also broke records for inflation and interest-rate growth.
Finally, there are the rankings of ConservativeTruth.org, which advertises itself as "The Antidote to the Liberal News Media." Bruce Walker of that organization ranks the five best presidents this way: 1. Washington; 2. Jefferson; 3. Reagan; 4. Lincoln; 5. George W. Bush.
Walker should have quit while he was ahead. He downgrades Lincoln, not without reason, for accomplishing his goals by bloodshed, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives, and for choosing a vice president, Andrew Johnson, who became one of the worst presidents in American history. Interesting.
I suppose I could be the antidote to Walker, but, in fact, I agree with him and his reasoning on George Washington. Says Walker: "Not just the father of his country, but in many ways the father of limited and representative government, Washington changed political history forever and for the better."
The greatest political event in our history, perhaps all history, was Washington's rejection of monarchy or of a presidency for life. His decision to go home in 1797 was what made our democracy and others possible. There was a man!
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:14 PM
Lieberman's bond with Bush angers some liberal Democrats
By Neil Vigdor
February 25, 2005
Many Democrats know it simply as "the kiss."
But when U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., exchanged a public display of affection with President Bush after this month's State of the Union address, the gesture signaled a long kiss goodbye for some liberal Democrats in the senator's home state.
Predominantly anti-war in their beliefs, Lieberman's critics say the senator has alienated himself from the party's liberal wing with his alliances with Bush on issues such as Iraq and Cabinet nominations, and should be challenged in next year's Democratic primary.
"I think Senator Lieberman has been behaving much more like a Republican than a Democrat, and I think he needs to take another look at his constituents," said Kim Hynes, a Democrat from Lieberman's hometown of Stamford. "We live in a blue state and most people are opposed to the current administration."
Aides to Lieberman, who celebrated his 63rd birthday yesterday by adding another $100,000 to his campaign war chest, defended the third-term senator's record and said he is committed to representing the people of Connecticut.
"He tries to do what he thinks is right for Connecticut and the country," Lieberman spokeswoman Casey Aden-Wansbury said. "That sometimes means making decisions that others on the right and left are going to disagree with."
Key party stalwarts continue to back Lieberman, including state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.
Hynes, who ran unsuccessfully for the General Assembly last year, is not alone, however.
"I think it would be a very healthy thing for Lieberman to be challenged in a Democratic primary," said Mary Sullivan, a former Democratic National Committee member from Riverside. "It might make him more accountable or responsive to the sentiment of Democratic voters in the state."
Sullivan, like Hynes and several other Lieberman critics, volunteered for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's failed White House bid last year.
Dean, who endeared himself
to liberals with his hard-line opposition to the war and founding of the grass-roots political organization Dem-ocracy for America, became chairman of the Democratic National Committee earlier this month.
Following the blueprint of Democracy for America, some of Lieberman's critics are trying to use the Internet to bolster support for their cause, which has been informally named, "Dump Joe."
"Are the Dean people unhappy with Joe? You bet," said Ed Anderson, a Democrat from New Haven, where Lieberman currently resides. "I'm not voting for Joe again."
From Lieberman's vote to authorize the president to go to war to his endorsement of Alberto Gonzales for U.S. attorney general despite questions about his advice to the White House on prisoners of war, Anderson criticized the senator's positions on a number of issues, as well as his appearance on conservative television programs.
"If he were to forswear Fox News and was to start talking as critically about the Republicans as he does our own party, I might give him a second chance," said Anderson, who volunteered for Dean and is a member of Democracy for America.
Lieberman's critics spoke optimistically about mounting a challenge within their party in the August 2006 primary, but polls and the incumbent's fund-raising paint a much different picture.
A challenger would have to submit signatures of at least 2 percent of registered party members statewide -- about 12,600 people -- to petition his or her way onto the ballot against Lieberman.
Those numbers contrast with Lieberman's 69 percent ap-proval rating in a Feb. 18 Quinnipiac University poll -- a survey not limited to Democrats -- and $432,059 cash the senator had on hand for his re-election campaign as of a Dec. 31, according to the Federal Elec-tion Commission.
On the eve of his birthday, Lieberman added $100,000 to his campaign war chest at a private fund-raiser at the Greenwich home of dermatologist Andy Bronin.
Among the attendees were Blumenthal and Greenwich Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jim Himes.
"He may not always be in the safest position politically, but he charts a course and he does what he thinks is right," said Blumenthal, a Greenwich resident. "I can't say I always agree with him 100 percent of the time, but I admire him tremendously and support him."
Himes also pledged his support for Lieberman.
"I think he's an interesting guy to watch," Himes said. "He's been very forward on security issues and a lot of times that has him aligned with the president. I think the possibility of a primary is not out of the question. I think the notion of the guy not being the candidate is."
Former Greenwich First Selectman Richard Bergstresser, Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell and Stamford's Malloy, all Democrats, also defended Lieberman.
"I have friends in the party who think Joe is too conservative on cultural issues, and some other people may disagree with him on Middle East policy, (but) I haven't found a whole lot of people that are saying disagreements are such that we need a new senator," Malloy said.
Lieberman also received a major vote of confidence from DiNardo, who recently became chairwoman of the state's Democratic Party.
"He takes a lot of time making any decisions that he makes," DiNardo said. "He does not take his job lightly."
But what about "the kiss?"
Lieberman's aides and supporters made light of the exchange, in which Bush pecked Lieberman on the cheek after a brief embrace.
For the senator's critics, however, the moment will live in infamy.
"I'm not upset with the
kiss at the State of the Union," said Nathan Karnes, a member of the New Haven Democratic Town Committee and Democracy for America. "It's exactly what we needed. It's symbolic of why Joe Lieberman needs to be challenged."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:08 PM
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Don't Give Gannon A Pass
By now, almost everyone's heard of Jeff Gannon/James Guckert. He's the
fake reporter with a false name given all-too-real press credentials by
the White House. He's known for asking biased, leading questions during
press briefings before finally being exposed a month ago as a
right-wing operative with no journalism experience, a fake name, and a shady
past. There are some serious ethical, professional and national security
issues at stake. Now, "Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is circulating a
letter among his colleagues that asks President Bush to launch an
" into how Gannon gained access to White House press briefings without
any journalistic qualifications. Durbin and other concerned lawmakers
are adding their voices to a previous investigation request by Sen.
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), as well as a subpoena request by two leaders of
the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Louise
Slaughter (D-NY), who want federal prosecutors to gain access to a
record Gannon kept of his time over the past two years. Here are some basic
questions that must be answered by the White House:
HOW LONG CAN JOURNALISTS GAIN ACCESS TO THE WHITE HOUSE WITHOUT AN FBI
BACKGROUND CHECK? Most White House journalists have what is called a
"hard pass," a permanent pass obtained after undergoing a rigorous FBI
Gannon skipped over that step. Instead, as Salon's Eric Boehlert explains,
"the White House waved him into press briefings for nearly two years
using what's called a day pass." Now, day passes are special exceptions
that are "designed for temporary use by out-of-town reporters who need
access to the White House, not for indefinite use
by reporters." If the background check is necessary for reporters with
extended access to the White House, why were the rules circumvented for
Gannon? Is there a limit to how long a reporter can slide on "day"
passes, as Gannon did for years?
HOW DID GANNON GET A WHITE HOUSE PRESS PASS TWO MONTHS BEFORE HIS
SUPPOSED PUBLICATION EVEN EXISTED? Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan
admitted the White House gave Gannon his first day press pass in February
. The problem: His "publication," Talon News, didn't exist until April
BY WHAT CRITERIA DID THE WHITE HOUSE EVALUATE TALON NEWS? Talon News
is the brainchild (http://mediamatters.org/items/200501280006) of a
Republican activist from Texas, Bobby Eberle. Eberle, who runs the aptly
named "GOPUSA," told the New York Times he created Talon News because he
wanted to quietly construct a news service with a conservative slant:
"if someone were to see 'GOPUSA,' there's an instant built-in bias
there." In denying Gannon a pass, the congressional press office
pointed out Gannon was unable to show that "Talon News has any paid
They also found that while actual working reporters can show their
principal income comes from reporting stories for publication in actual
news services, Talon's "paying a single reporter a 'stipend' does not meet
the intent of the rule." As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank put it,
Gannon was "representing a phony media company
(http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/20/arts/20rich.html) that doesn't
really have any such thing as circulation or readership."
HOW DID GANNON GET A WHITE HOUSE PRESS PASS UNDER A FAKE NAME? Jeff
Gannon's real name is James Guckert. (He told Wolf Blitzer that he changed
his name because "Jeff Gannon" was easier to pronounce.) Although all
applications for White House press passes are supposed to be thoroughly
vetted, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said he was
unaware (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/20/arts/20rich.html) that Gannon was
using an alias. His predecessor, Ari Fleischer, also pleads ignorance
. Gannon signed in to the White House each day as "Jeff Guckert,"
(http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0502/10/wbr.01.html) a name
which did not match his pass -- yet no one seemed to thing that was
strange. In fact, no one at the White House seems overly concerned with what
amounts to a stunning national security breach.
WHAT IS GANNON'S CONNECTION TO THE VALERIE PLAME CASE? Jeff Gannon has
been interviewed by FBI agents who are investigating another security
breach in the White House, namely, the leaking of CIA agent Valerie
Plame's name to the press. So far, Gannon has been coy, giving "
, over many months, concerning whether he saw a secret document or
merely knew about it from other sources." Today he says he never really saw
the memo, he'd only read about it in the Wall Street Journal. Reps.
Conyers and Slaughter are asking Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead prosecutor
in the Plame investigation, to subpoena the journal Gannon kept over the
past two years to find out what Gannon actually knew, and when.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:22 PM
In his 160-page playbook
(http://www.dailykos.com/images/user/3/luntz.zip) (ZIP file) on how to
spin the right-wing agenda, Frank Luntz tells conservatives to "resist
the temptation" to use "facts and figures" about the economy. He
advises preying on people's emotions surrounding the terrorist attacks of
9/11 instead: "Much of the public anger [over the state of the economy]
can be immediately pacified if they are reminded that we would not be in
this situation today if 9/11 had not happened." For more on Luntz's
attempt to manipulate public emotions, check out ThinkProgress.org
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:21 PM
SOCIAL SECURITY -- HOUSE PRIVATIZATION LEADER A WALL ST. LUSH: The
Republican chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, Louisiana
Rep. Jim McCrery, has accepted nearly $200,000 in contributions over four
years from the very same Wall Street firms that would likely reap
billions if President Bush's privatization scheme is made law. Campaign for
, a progressive advocacy group, yesterday accused McCrery of a severe
conflict of interest
, and announced plans to run "newspaper advertisements against Mr.
McCrery under the headline ' Who Does This Man Work For?
' in his hometown, Shreveport," the New York Times reports. McCrery
responded by attacking the group's "extreme liberal bias," while ignoring
the substantive charges.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:20 PM
Bush Budget Hits South Hard
Recent studies (http://www.cbpp.org/2-22-05bud-tables.pdf) by budget
and policy groups shed new light on how President Bush's new budget
could devastate state economies. According to the Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities, one-third of President Bush's proposed $5.9 billion cut
in overall domestic discretionary funding in 2006 would come from cuts
to programs that provide funding to states and localities. But many
states " are ill-prepared to absorb such cuts
(http://www.cbpp.org/2-22-05bud.htm) ." For example, 26 states already
facing 2006 budget deficits would be forced to absorb $32 billion worth
of additional budget shortfalls. Many of the hardest hit states would
be in the American South, the focus of a major conference
(http://www.newsouthernstrategies.org/) -- co-hosted by the Center for
American Progress -- beginning tonight in Chapel Hill. The conference
will focus on critical issues facing the South and include progressive
leaders (http://www.newsouthernstrategies.org/agenda.htm) from several
states that could be hit hard by the president's budget. Look for
updates from the conference on Think Progress
NORTH CAROLINA: In North Carolina, where the conference on Southern
progress will be held, President Bush's budget proposal includes cuts of
$198.8 million (http://www.nationalpriorities.org/impact05/nc.pdf) for
discretionary grants to state and local governments. North Carolina is
already facing a projected $1.2 billion shortfall
revenue and struggling to finance hurricane relief. President Bush has
responded by slashing federal money for railroads, police programs and
Medicaid, as well as endorsing massive cuts in funds for community
development grants used to "rehabilitate older homes, pay for after-school
programs and provide housing for people in unsafe homes
(http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/business/10843386.htm?1c) ." He
also wants to eliminate a key public housing program, HOPE VI
(http://thinkprogress.org/index.php?p=157) , which enabled the state to
rebuild public housing complexes
Raleigh and Durham. According to the Charlotte Observer, the cuts will
force local governments to " cut services or raise taxes
GEORGIA: On Friday, Georgia State Senator Sam Zamarripa will address
the Southern Conference. His state would also be hit hard by Bush's
proposed budget cuts. Georgia would lose $297.6 million
(http://www.nationalpriorities.org/impact05/ga.pdf) in discretionary
grants, with education funding hit especially hard. State programs
connected to No Child Left Behind would be underfunded by $366.8 million
(http://www.cbpp.org/2-22-05bud-tables.pdf) and Georgia would be one of
eleven states to lose 75 percent or more
(http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=43433) of its federal
adult education funding. Included in that cut would be the Even Start
family literacy program -- Bush said it was " abundantly clear
(http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/02/20050208-3.html) " the
program wasn't working, but education officials in Georgia say that's "
simply not true
(http://onlineathens.com/stories/021705/new_20050217073.shtml) ." The
program "doubles young readers' chance of success in Georgia and has
helped parents improve their job skills."
TENNESSEE: Another Southern state, Tennessee, could be among the
hardest hit by the president's proposed budget. The state is slated to lose
$303.9 million (http://www.nationalpriorities.org/impact05/tn.pdf) in
discretionary grants, including $37.3 million for community and
economic development and $3.2 million for low-income home energy assistance
(LIHEAP). Health care and public housing were hit hard in the Volunteer
State. According to FamiliesUSA, the budget would cost Tennessee $1.2
billion over 10 years in Medicaid funding, affecting " thousands of
Tennessee children and senior citizens
." In Memphis, local officials are concerned that "huge cuts" to HOPE VI
and other federal housing programs will " severely curtail
" plans to rehabilitate several older and decrepit neighborhoods.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:19 PM
CIVIL LIBERTIES -- JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED:
A government study of crime labs
nationwide has revealed that "outdated facilities and a shortage of
employees led to a backlog of hundreds of thousand of criminal cases."
Over the course of a year, the investigated crime labs -- all of them
publicly funded facilities -- suffered a 70 percent increase in unfilled
requests; such an "overload threatened to delay justice for suspects and
victims" who must sit in limbo (or prison cells) until such cases are
handled. Furthermore, one of the co-authors of the study had this to say
about the cases that actually do get processed: "Labs are just trying
to process cases as fast as they can, get them out the door. That
becomes the prime objective, and sometimes a very necessary component of labs
-- ensuring accuracy and quality -- takes a back seat to just getting
the case done."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:18 PM
PENTAGON -- PUSHING FOR MILITARY OPS, SKIPPING DELIBERATION: Against
the wishes of the State Department and the CIA, the Pentagon continues to
pursue its latest revision to global counterterrorism operations: a
"plan that would allow Special Operations forces
to enter a foreign country to conduct military operations without
explicit concurrence from the U.S. ambassador there." If the plan were
enacted, such special missions would be conducted in secret, undermining the
"chief of mission" status of U.S. ambassadors as well as CIA station
chiefs worldwide. As "the president's top representative in a foreign
country," the authority of U.S. ambassadors has always been respected;
they have always weighed in with "political and diplomatic considerations"
before granting personnel entry. Need an example of why the State
Department and CIA want to maintain authority over Special Forces acting in
foreign countries? In a situation in Pakistan, the ambassador had to
order Special Forces soldiers out of the country for reckless behavior:
"We had SF [Special Forces] guys in civilian clothes running around a
hotel with grenades in their pockets."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:17 PM
STEM CELLS -- CALIF. CONSERVATIVES SUE TO HALT RESEARCH: Finally, some
truly frivolous lawsuits. Two conservative groups have filed suits
"seeking to invalidate the $3 billion stem cell research
institution" that California voters enthusiastically approved last
November. A spokeswoman for the institute brushed off the charges, saying
the "proposition's passage demonstrated that a majority of voters 'felt
comfortable that there was ample oversight and accountability,'" the
Associate Press reports. It's no wonder the suits aren't being taken
seriously. One, for instance, says the proposition illegally exempts
institute members of conflict-of-interest laws since "it allows members to
vote on awarding research grants that directly address diseases they or
their family members may have," the AP notes. "At least three members
have debilitating illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and multiple
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:16 PM
ADMINISTRATION -- IN GERMANY, BUSH PLAYS BUBBLE BOY: The White House
brought its sealed, dissent-free road show
(http://thinkprogress.org/index.php?p=258) to Germany this week,
scrapping an open "town-hall"-style event with average Germans for a meeting
featuring " carefully screened 'young leaders,'
" the New York Times reports. The town-hall gathering was expected to
be the "main highlight" of the president's trip -- that is, until the
German government said it was " unwilling to permit a scripted event with
questions approved in advance
" (like the one Secretary Rice held recently in France
(http://thinkprogress.org/index.php?p=202) ). Germans eager to see a
U.S. president weren't always required to undergo ideological vetting; in
1989, the first President Bush addressed an "enthusiastic audience" of
3,500 Germans during his visit. This time around, President Bush was
"entirely sealed off from Germans," who protested his events and
overwhelmingly oppose (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,148318,00.html)
his foreign policy goals.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:15 PM
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
ENVIRO -- OPPOSE 'CLEAR SKIES'? TAX RETURNS, PLEASE: Environmental
regulator John Paul, a long-time Republican who voted for President Bush in
2000 and 2004, recently told a Senate environmental committee the
president's "Clear Skies" initiative "fails on every one of our
associations' core principals," is "far too lenient" on polluters and would
undermine "states' abilities to protect air quality." After the testimony,
several senators sent a letter to Paul with follow-up questions; Sen.
James Inhofe (R-OK) the chairman of the committee and also the lead sponsor
of "Clear Skies," took a different route. Inhofe asked Paul to
immediately submit the financial statements, membership lists and tax returns
for the last six years
for both regulatory associations he represents. Rep. Henry Waxman
(D-CA) called the move "a blatant attempt at intimidation and bullying so
that experts will be afraid to speak out about a bill that rolls back air
pollution protections for all Americans." Inhofe has since delayed a
vote on the bill "after he determined that he did not have the numbers to
send it to the full Senate," the Los Angeles Times reports.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:08 PM
VALUES -- THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT GETS IT WRONG AGAIN: What is it with
Christian fundamentalists and cartoon characters? First there was Rev.
Jerry Falwell's "outing"
(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/276677.stm) of Tinky Winky.
Then Focus on the Family's leader James Dobson decided to attack
what he saw as a pro-gay message behind SpongeBob SquarePants. The
newest make-believe figure under fire from the religious right? Shrek.
That's right. The uber-right Traditional Values Coalition is warning
about the cross-dressing and transgender subtext in the movie about the
beloved green ogre. The group is promoting "family values" by deciding
to ignore the overall theme of Shrek -- a "general message of tolerance
-- that outward appearances don't matter and that it's what's
underneath that counts" -- and instead focus on a line in the movie in which
Pinocchio is teased about wearing a thong. It's time for these groups to
relinquish the remote.
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:06 PM
MILITARY -- SEND IN THE UNDERTRAINED: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
isn't working hard enough
to ensure that our troops are properly equipped; now he's trying to
rush them to war without sufficient training either. In a Jan. 31 memo,
Rumsfeld "asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide
options for cutting back
officer education during 'stress periods.'" Rumsfeld is exploring this
option in order "to allow greater numbers [of troops] to be available
for deployment," yet another sign that the Army is understaffed for
waging the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while also training for
unforeseen conflicts. The proposal has some uniformed military outraged, with
one senior Army official commenting, "We're so good because of our
professional education, and you can't eliminate it, postpone it or reduce
it if you want a professional military." Unfortunately, Rumsfeld's plan
is already being tested out; "the Army's 4th Infantry division has
decided to pull 29 officers out of [their training] early to send them to
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:06 PM
O'REILLY'S RAMPAGE: Fox News host Bill O'Reilly is on the
rampage again, this time against imaginary government-funded breast
reduction surgeries for men. MediaMatters reports that O'Reilly falsely
accused California's state government of financing "'breast reduction
surgery for men,' 'transgendered surgeries,' and cosmetic surgeries like
facelifts and nose jobs." (http://mediamatters.org/items/200502230002) In
reality, the San Jose Mercury News set the record straight last June,
reporting, "A state prison inmate who was reported to have had
breast-reduction surgery at taxpayer expense was instead operated on to remove
." O'Reilly was taking issue with an effort by Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger and other California legislators to lobby for more federal funding,
particularly homeland security money, of which the state receives less
per capita than Wyoming
. "[W]hy should we give him [Schwarzenegger] our money when the Golden
State has lost control of spending?" O'Reilly asked. Yet, as
MediaMatters states, "California is one of 18 states that paid more in federal
in fiscal year 2003 than it received in funding, [meaning]
Schwarzenegger would first have to receive his state's own money back before he
could begin to target 'our money.'"
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:04 PM
The Ignored War
It's the forgotten war. But no news is sometimes bad news, and even
though it's not making the front pages, Afghanistan today is a country on
the brink of
chaos. A new U.N. report, "National Human Development Report: Security
With a Human Face," ranked development in the war-shattered country
173rd out of 178 countries surveyed. (Only the sub-Saharan nations of
Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone rated worse.) Here's a
snapshot of life in today's Afghanistan: The average life expectancy in
Afghanistan is 44.5 years, 20 years lower than in neighboring
countries. A fifth of the rural population is going hungry. Twenty percent of
kids die before the age of 5, "80 percent of them from preventable
diseases, one of the worst rates in the world." Part of that is due to the
fact that three quarters of the population lacks access to clean drinking
water. Unless the situation is turned around, the report warned,
Afghanistan could revert to anarchy as "the fragile nation could easily
tumble back into chaos."
NARCOTIC STRANGLEHOLD: Last month, a report by the International
Monetary Fund expressed concern that Afghanistan's mushrooming opium trade
(http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N2773101.htm) was undermining
its stability as a nation. Today, three years after U.S. forces
arrived, Afghanistan is responsible "for about 87 percent of the world's opium
supply." Drug trafficking brings in almost $3 billion a year, an amount
equal to about 60 percent of Afghanistan's legitimate gross domestic
product. Experts believe that "roughly 10 percent of Afghanistan's
population of about 25 million is directly involved in poppy cultivation.
Many more are believed to work in processing, trafficking and other
illicit activities." Read more
about the impact of narcotics in Afghanistan.
ELECTION CHALLENGES: Afghanistan's first free election last October was
a victory for the country. Even more important, however, will be the
upcoming elections to decide upon the country's Parliament members. That
election is facing a rocky road
Originally scheduled to take place in April or May of this year, the
deadline is being pushed back. According to Afghan law, President Karzai
has to announce the boundaries of the electoral districts a full 120
days before the election. The team updating the land surveys and
population figures has yet to report back, and even if Karzai were to announce
the boundaries tomorrow, that means the elections couldn't be held
until at least June. Second, the Afghan government has to raise $130
million to pay for the elections. Ballots for the 400+ races have to be
printed and distributed, the 4,000 candidates need to be vetted and voters
have to be educated. Making matters even more difficult, most of the
election officials involved are brand new; most international election
workers left the country after the October vote.
THE MEDIA VACUUM: So why isn't there more being reported about the
challenges still faced in Afghanistan? One reason: the journalists have all
gone home. Afghanistan is still a hot spot in the war against al Qaeda;
the country is still facing important elections this spring. However,
according to the American Journalism Review " only three news
organizations (http://ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3815) -- Newsweek, Associated Press
and the Washington Post -- have full-time reporters stationed in Kabul,
Posted by politicalstuff at 9:01 PM
If You Can't Find Something Nice To Say...
In a "highly unusual" shift from past practice, the White House has
excised a full chapter on Iraq's economy
from last week's Economic Report of the President, "reasoning in part
that the 'feel good' tone of the writing would ring hollow against the
backdrop of...suicide bombings, assassinations, sabotage and mile-long
gasoline lines." The decision to delete a completed chapter from the
report, says the Washington Post, is unprecedented, heightening concern the
administration "does not value lengthy, reasoned analyses of its
policies." Moreover, the omission underscored the administration's concerns
about continuing violence and bloodshed in Iraq. Despite winning modest
commitments from NATO this week, President Bush still faces daunting
challenges in the country, including corruption and a political
environment unfriendly to White House aims.
WHO IS JAFARI?: Ibrahim Jafari is poised to become Iraq's new prime
minister. Jafari, a devout Shiite, lived in Iran for years as an exile,
then in London until 2003. His political party, the Dawa Party, has close
ties to Iran. Jafari "refuses to shake the hands of women and was
behind a move last year to make Islamic law Iraq's legal basis for dealing
with issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritances." As the LA Times
points out, now "the U.S. faces the prospect of dealing with a
government whose views may be closer to Tehran's than to Washington's
." It may be a far cry from the Bush administration's visions of "a
pro-U.S. regime that would support American military bases, embrace U.S.
businesses and serve as a model for democracy in the region," leaving
the U.S. in the "position of providing its armed forces to protect a
government led by an Islamist with ties to Iran
CHALABI'S POWER PLAY: Yesterday, news sources reported that the
power-hungry former Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi withdrew his disruptive
challenge to become the next prime minister of Iraq. Remember: with Chalabi,
there's always an angle. Today, there are reports the former White House
darling may have been bribed into withdrawing his name with an offer
for another top position. The Christian Science Monitor reports the
leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one
of the most powerful blocs in the Shiite alliance, met with Chalabi and
"offered to make him the top financial overseer in Iraq
(http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0222/p06s02-woiq.html) , responsible for
the oil, trade, and finance ministries in exchange for him
withdrawing." Chalabi's aides
confirmed that offer.
SYMBOLIC COMMITMENTS: President Bush was "all smiles" on Tuesday when
he received a pledge from NATO that all 26 member nations will
contribute support to Iraq. NATO's gift, however, "looks smaller when
unwrapped." Reports indicate the contributions will be "modest [and] largely
symbolic." France, for instance, will be contributing " one officer to the
Iraq training mission
in Brussels. He'll be stationed at NATO headquarters 'validating
equipment provisions.'" Belgium is sending 10 driving instructors... to the
German-led mission in the United Arab Emirates. " In a sign of lingering
," France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Greece are still refusing
to send any actual personnel to Iraq.
UNCLE BUCKY: It's not bad news for everyone in Iraq, however. Just ask
William H.T. Bush, or, as President George W. Bush calls him, Uncle
. Bucky Bush just made a cool $450,000 in war profits from Iraq through
the St. Louis-based defense contractor Engineered Support Systems Inc.
Uncle Bucky, who sits on the company's board, cashed out a half-million
of the company's stock options last month. ESSI's stock prices
skyrocketed "to record heights" with Uncle Bucky's nephew's decision to invade
Iraq. ESSI raked in millions from contracts to refit military vehicles
with extra armor, build $19 million worth of its protective shelters
for chemical and biological weapons (despite the fact that no biological
or chemical weapons have been found in Iraq), and provide
communications support services to the Coalition Provisional Authority. Of course,
the company hasn't been without its share of trouble, even with a family
member in the White House: some of ESSI's sole-source contracts (with a
value of $158 million) are now under investigation by the Pentagon.
(Share your views on Uncle Bucky at ThinkProgress.org
Posted by politicalstuff at 8:59 PM
Dollar drops on reserves concerns
The US dollar has dropped against major currencies on concerns that central banks may cut the amount of dollars they hold in their foreign reserves.
Comments by South Korea's central bank at the end of last week have sparked the recent round of dollar declines.
South Korea, which has about $200bn in foreign reserves, said it plans instead to boost holdings of currencies such as the Australian and Canadian dollar.
Analysts reckon that other nations may follow suit and now ditch the dollar.
At 1930 GMT, one euro was worth $1.325, up 1.46% on the day.
The British pound had added 0.76% to reach $1.91, while the dollar had fallen by 1.25% against the Japanese yen to trade at 104.2 yen.
Change in mood
At the start of the year, the US currency, which had lost 7% against the euro in the final three months of 2004 and had fallen to record lows, staged something of a recovery.
The comments from Korea come at a time when sentiment towards the dollar was already softening
Ian Gunner, Mellon Financial
Analysts, however, pointed to the dollar's inability recently to extend that rally despite positive economic and corporate data, and highlighted the fact that many of the US's economic problems had not disappeared.
The focus once again has been on the country's massive trade and budget deficits, with predictions of more dollar weakness to come.
"The comments from Korea came at a time when sentiment towards the dollar was already softening," said Ian Gunner, a trader at Mellon Financial.
On Tuesday, traders in Asia said that both South Korea and Taiwan had withdrawn their bids to buy dollars at the start of the session.
Mansoor Mohi-Uddin, chief currency strategist at UBS, said that there was a sentiment in the market that "central banks from Asia and the Middle East are buying euros".
A report last month already showed that the dollar was losing its allure as a currency that offered rock-steady returns and stability.
Compiled by Central Banking Publications and sponsored by the UK's Royal Bank of Scotland, the survey found 39 nations out of 65 questioned were increasing their euro holdings, with 29 cutting back on the US dollar.
Published: 2005/02/22 19:35:09 GMT
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:54 AM
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Secret Tapes Not Meant to Harm, Writer Says
Ex-Bush Adviser Contends He Recorded Their Conversations for 'Historic' Purposes
By Lois Romano and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
A former adviser to George W. Bush said yesterday that he secretly taped Bush over a two-year period when the latter was running for president for "historic" purposes, and that he had planned eventually to give the recordings to Bush for his archives.
Doug Wead, 58, an author and onetime religious adviser to Bush, said in a telephone interview that after excerpts from the tapes appeared yesterday in the New York Times, he was approached by a Bush intermediary suggesting that he turn over the recordings sooner rather than later.
But Wead -- who used the conversations for his new book, "The Raising of a President" -- said that no one from the White House has expressed anger at him for revealing portions of the tape. Asked whether Bush would view the actions as an act of treachery from a trusted friend, Wead said, "It depends on what else is on the tapes. . . . Ninety percent of the tapes have not been heard. He can see that my motive was not to try to hurt him.
"If I released all the tapes, it would be an act of betrayal," Wead said. "Most of them have never seen the light of day and never will."
The excerpts obtained by the Times and ABC show the aspiring president privately as he likes to portray himself publicly: very religious, very conservative -- and tolerant. Bush also seems to infer on one tape that he has tried marijuana, which he has never admitted publicly. Wead, who worked briefly in the White House for Bush's father, spoke to George W. Bush regularly by phone from 1998 through the 2000 presidential campaign, recording most of those conversations. The recordings show the evolution of Bush's political thinking on dealing with the religious right, as well as how he would handle rumors about his drinking and drug use.
"The cocaine thing, let me tell you my strategy on that," Bush said on the tape, according to a transcript posted on ABC's "Good Morning America" Web site. "Rather than saying no -- I think it's time for someone to draw the line and look people in the eye and say, you know, 'I'm not going to participate in ugly rumors about me and blame my opponent,' and hold the line. Stand up for a system that will not allow this kind of crap to go on."
On the question of marijuana use, Bush says, "Do you want your little kid to say, 'Hey Daddy, President Bush tried marijuana; I think I will.' . . . I wouldn't answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."
At another point, Bush said of the rumors about him: "It's unbelievable. They just float sewer out there."
Response from the White House yesterday about the tapes was low-key, with senior aides declining to comment or criticize Wead. White House officials said yesterday that Bush did not know he was being recorded, but did not dispute the authenticity of the tapes. Press secretary Scott McClellan characterized the conversations as "casual conversations that then-Governor Bush was having with someone he thought was a friend."
Both Wead and the White House said Wead and Bush have not talked in several years. Asked whether he had recorded anyone else, Wead said, "I don't want to go there at all. I am hoping I can legally get rid of some of these." He said he made the tapes in Texas, where it is legal to record telephone conversations as long as one party is aware of it. Wead now lives in Haymarket, Va.
Wead is well-connected in the evangelical community and served a stint in the George H.W. Bush administration as a liaison to the religious right. But he was pushed out of the elder Bush's White House after he wrote a letter complaining that representatives of the gay community had been invited to the White House for a bill signing.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, aides to then-Gov. Bush were wary of Wead. Wead told The Washington Post in 2000 that top Bush political adviser Karl Rove made it clear to Wead that he did not approve of Wead's interference. About the same time, a close Bush adviser told The Post that Wead was not close to Bush.
Nonetheless, Bush continued to call Wead from the road, Wead told The Post in 1999 and 2000. Wead said at the time that he was making notes of Bush's conversations, but did not mention to The Post that he was also taping them.
Yesterday, Wead said in the interview that he began just taking notes, and initially started recording Bush so that he could remember their conversations in case the candidate wanted him to follow up on anything. He also said that he thought Bush might ask him to write a quick biography to counter what the candidate fretted would be negative biographies.
"He's a figure of history, like a Churchill," added Wead. "I see him as a pivotal figure. I love him."
Wead's newly published book is about the parents of presidents, not just Bush. He said that he had never intended the tapes to become public, but that his publisher, Simon & Schuster, asked to hear them for libel reasons. He said after he played them for his editors, he was contacted by the Times and agreed to play portions for a reporter.
On the tapes, Bush touts John D. Ashcroft as a possible running mate or attorney general, maintains that primary opponent John McCain "will wear thin" over time, and refers to another opponent, Steve Forbes, as "mean-spirited," according to the Times.
The conversations spend much time on Bush's religious beliefs and his courting of the evangelical right. At one point, according to the Times report, Bush seemed concerned that evangelicals wanted him to come out publicly against homosexuality.
"I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Bush said after meeting high-profile Texas preacher James Robison.
The future president said he told Robison, " 'Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?' "
Referring to one conservative group, Bush said, "This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."
Wead said he first met George W. Bush in 1987, when George H.W. Bush was running for president, and Wead was a liaison with the religious community. "Apparently George W. was auditing some of the memos I was sending to his father," Wead told public television's "Frontline." "I knew that his father was vetting my memos with somebody. I suspected it was Billy Graham. It had to be someone sharp who understood evangelical Christianity. . . . George W. said, 'I've been reading your memorandum. Good stuff, Wead. I'm taking you over. You report to me.' So that was that."
Researcher Don Pohlman contributed to this report.
originally published Monday, February 21, 2005; Page A02
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:56 PM
From the 2005 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) poll of conservative activists conducted by Fabrizio McLaughlin.
One question asked attendees who they thought would be the Democratic nominee in 2008:
Another question asked who participants thought would be the Republican nominee in 2008.
11% Allen, Frist, McCain
4% Owens, Romney, Santorum
1% Hagel, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Santorum
** = figures provided to ABC News by CPAC.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:53 PM
HOMELAND SECURITY -- SPENDING FREELY BUT NOT WISELY:
President Bush made a promise to spend taxpayers' dollars wisely or not at all
(http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/02/20050202-11.html) , but
when it comes to port security, he is doing neither of those two
things. The conclusion of an audit conducted by the inspector general of the
Department of Homeland Security has found that the agency "has
allocated hundreds of millions of dollars
(http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/20/politics/20secure.html?) to protect
ports since Sept. 11 without sufficiently focusing on those that are
most vulnerable." For example, there were cases in which grants were
questionably allocated to "small projects in resort areas," which the audit
found lacked merit or failed to meet requirements, rather than to
"larger projects at ports that are more vital to the national economy." This
strategy of spending without any strategy threatens to "compromise the
nation's ability to better defend against terrorist attacks." The audit
ultimately found that "the program has not yet achieved its intended
results in the form of actual improvement in port security," a
declaration that counters every claim President Bush has made about how much
money has been spent on port security.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:43 PM
Swift Boat Redux
President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security by transferring risk
onto the nation's elderly is proving a hard sell
Even administration officials and Republican congressional leaders
"acknowledge that Bush's plan has yet to gain traction." A recent
CNN/Gallup/USA Today survey of Americans showed 55 percent think the president's
plan is a bad idea. And a recent poll by the Washington Post shows
barely one in four Americans believe the president's claim that there's a
crisis. Without public support, conservatives have turned to dirty
tricks to try to sway public opinion. But no amount of deceptive advertising
can mask the fact that Americans don't want this risky plan.
DIRTY TRICKSTERS BACK IN ACTION: The Swift Boat Veterans -- who wreaked
havoc on John Kerry's presidential campaign with untruths, innuendo
and ugly rumors (http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0824-06.htm) -- are
back and ready to focus their tricks on the Social Security fight
(http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/21/politics/21social.html) . The New
York Times reports the right-wing lobbying group USA Next is planning to
sink $10 million in commercials and other back-room tactics to hit the
AARP. ("They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal
savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, the group's president. "We will
be the dynamite that removes them.") In an attempt to manipulate public
opinion, USA Next is rounding up all the usual suspects from the Swift
Boat campaign. They've hired Chris LaCivita, the former marine paid
$30,000 during the campaign to advise the Swift Boat campaign on Kerry
attacks. They're looking to hire Rick Reed, a partner at the firm that put
together attack ads for the Swift Boat group. Also back: Creative
Response Concepts, the PR firm that backed the Swift Boat group, and
Regenery Publishing, the group that published "Unfit for Command," the screed
against Kerry's military service put out by one of the primary leaders
of the Swift Boat vets. And Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo
uncovered a link between USA Next and the United Seniors Association, a
"soft-money slush fund for a single GOP-friendly industry:
ATTACKING THE AARP: The Swift Boat vet group is already starting the
attack. The AARP, a group that looks out for the best interests of
seniors, has come out against the Bush plan. A new ad posted on the American
Spectator (http://www.spectator.org/) purports to show the "real" AARP
agenda. The weird ad shows a photo of soldiers in Iraq -- with a big
"X" through it -- next to one of two men kissing -- with a big green
check. The group doesn't even pretend to provide the rationale behind the
ad; clicking on the "click here for details" merely brings you to USA
Next's home page, with nothing about either troops or gay marriage. Thus
the ad exists just to spread the implication that AARP hates U.S.
troops but loves gay marriage. (Thanks to DailyKos
(http://www.dailykos.com/) for finding the ad.)
"POOREST FACE MOST RISK ON SOCIAL SECURITY": The Washington Post
exposes the truth behind the Bush Social Security plan: "no group of
Americans would be affected more...than those earning the least
Today, Social Security is the largest -- or only -- source of
retirement income for low-income workers. The program makes up more than half of
retirement benefits for almost two-thirds of the nation's seniors.
Further, "it is the only source of income for 20 percent of retirees." The
Bush plan, which would transfer risk onto the individuals while cutting
benefits, would be devastating to these seniors. E.J. Dionne points out
the real agenda behind the Bush plan: "The real 'crisis' we face is
created not by Social Security but by the administration's unrelenting
effort to lighten the tax burden on the wealthy, which, in turn, creates a
fiscal mess that forces cuts in programs -- for poor kids and needy
LOOK TO THE STATES: Employees in seven different states were offered
the opportunity for private accounts similar to the ones President Bush
is touting. In many cases, these accounts proved to be both unpopular
. President Bush's plan assumes two-thirds of American workers will
jump to set up private plans: in most of the states offering private
plans, only about 5 percent of workers actually signed up. Much of the
hesitancy was due to the risk involved. Take Nebraska, for example. State
and local workers who used the do-it-yourself accounts made so many
errors in investing that they "ended up making less than colleagues with
fixed-benefit pensions -- and less than what analysts have said is needed
for old age." The Nebraska legislature got rid of the accounts two
years ago. West Virginia switched teachers' retirement plans to private
accounts over a decade ago. Today the state is looking into switching
back, after finding the change "did nothing to solve the funding shortage
and ultimately cost more money." As with Nebraska, West Virginia found
teachers with private accounts had lower benefits than they would have
with the traditional system. Want to weigh in on this? Visit
ThinkProgress (http://thinkprogress.org/index.php?p=294) and tell us your
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:40 PM
23 Dead, 90 Wounded in Series of Suicide Attacks in Baghdad
Insurgents killed at least 23 people and wounded around 90 in a series of suicide attacks and bombings in Shiite Muslim districts of Baghdad on Saturday, the holiest day of the Shiite religious calendar.
Iraq's security forces had been braced for attacks in the southern holy city of Karbala, where more than 170 pilgrims were killed during the Shiite ritual of Ashoura last year.
But guerrillas targeted the capital, which has borne the brunt of violence since last month's elections.
In the worst attack, a man wearing a vest laden with explosives boarded a bus in the Shiite Khadamiya district and blew himself up, according to witnesses and the U.S. military.
Police said 17 people were killed and 41 wounded in the blast, close to a barrier protecting a Shi'ite mosque.
A Reuters photographer at the scene said bodies were lying in the road, blown apart and burned. The orange bus was torn almost in half and reduced to a burnt wreck.
In a separate attack in the same area, a suicide bomber blew himself up after an exchange of fire with security forces. One U.S. soldier was killed.
Earlier, a suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a group of people attending the funeral of a woman killed in one of Friday's bombings. Four mourners were killed and 39 wounded, hospital officials said.
While Baghdad was rocked by the blasts, Shiites in Karbala were able to observe Ashoura in relative peace.
Officials said several hundred thousand pilgrims marched through the city's streets, chanting, beating their breasts and crying "Hussein" in honour of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohamad, who died in a battle in 680 A.D.
Some cut themselves with knives in a symbolic act of atonement for Hussein's death.
Traffic was banned around the city to limit the threat of car bombs, and local residents helped set up checkpoints.
This year's Ashoura came days after results from Iraq's Jan. 30 election confirmed Shiites would dominate the new national parliament at the expense of Sunni Arabs who held sway under Saddam Hussein and before.
Shiites have been repeatedly attacked by guerrillas who the government says are trying to spark a sectarian war. Shiite religious leaders have urged restraint from their followers and said they had expected some attacks.
North of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber killed an Iraqi soldier and a civilian at an army base in the mixed Sunni and Shiite city of Baquba, and a roadside bomb killed another Iraqi soldier in the city of Samarra.
There were attacks in Samarra and the northern city of Kirkuk overnight. Among the victims was a prominent Kurdish Islamic figure, Sheikh Mohamad Rustom Abdul-Rahman, who died with his wife when gunmen attacked their car.
Few Sunnis voted in the election, a result of boycotts and intimidation, and will barely be represented in the new 275-seat National Assembly to be inaugurated in the coming weeks.
But Shiite politicians, wary of sectarian tensions, have said Sunnis will play a role in shaping Iraq's new political landscape despite their lack of representation.
The assembly's main task this year will be to draft a constitution under which a new parliamentary election should be held by the end of the year.
The United States is hoping a legitimate Iraqi government can provide for its own security and allow Washington to withdraw its forces, currently numbering some 150,000.
Talks have been going on for two weeks over who will take the top government positions, with Kurds expected to get the presidency and the main Shi'ite bloc the prime minister's post.
The new prime minister will face the daunting challenge of improving security in a country plagued by kidnapping and other crime as well as guerrilla bombings.
Insurgents holding two Indonesian journalists issued a video tape on Friday, demanding Indonesia explain what the pair were doing in Iraq. The president of the world's most populous Muslim nation said they were providing media reports.
originally published 2005/02/19
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:36 PM
Aboard Air CIA
The agency ran a secret charter service, shuttling detainees to interrogation facilities worldwide. Was it legal? What's next?
A NEWSWEEK investigation
By Michael Hirsh, Mark Hosenball and John Barry
Feb. 28 issue - Like many detainees with tales of abuse, Khaled el-Masri had a hard time getting people to believe him. Even his wife didn't know what to make of his abrupt, five-month disappearance last year. Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was taken off a bus in Macedonia in south-central Europe while on holiday on Dec. 31, 2003, then whisked in handcuffs to a motel outside the capital city of Skopje. Three weeks later, on the evening of Jan. 23, 2004, he was brought blindfolded aboard a jet with engines noisily revving, according to his lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic. Masri says he climbed high stairs "like onto a regular passenger airplane" and was chained to clamps on the bare metal floor and wall of the jet.
Masri says he was then flown to Afghanistan, where at a U.S. prison facility he was shackled, repeatedly punched and questioned about extremists at his mosque in Ulm, Germany. Finally released months later, the still-mystified Masri was deposited on a deserted road leading into Macedonia, where he brokenly tried to describe his nightmarish odyssey to a border guard. "The man was laughing at me," Masri told The New York Times, which disclosed his story last month. "He said: 'Don't tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it. Everyone will laugh'."
No one's laughing these days, least of all the CIA. NEWSWEEK has obtained previously unpublished flight plans indicating the agency has been operating a Boeing 737 as part of a top-secret global charter servicing clandestine interrogation facilities used in the war on terror. And the Boeing's flight information, detailed to the day, seems to confirm Masri's tale of abduction. Gnjidic, Masri's lawyer, called the information "very, very important" to his case, which is being investigated as a kidnapping by a Munich prosecutor. In what could prove embarrassing to President Bush, Gnjidic added that a German TV station was planning to feature Masri's tale ahead of Bush's much-touted trip to Germany this week. German Interior Minister Otto Schily recently visited CIA Director Porter Goss to discuss the case, and German sources tell NEWSWEEK that Schily was seeking an apology. CIA officials declined to comment on that meeting or any aspect of Masri's story.
The evidence backing up Masri's account of being "snatched" by American operatives is only the latest blow to the CIA in the ongoing detention-abuse scandal. Together with previously disclosed flight plans of a smaller Gulfstream V jet, the Boeing 737's travels are further evidence that a global "ghost" prison system, where terror suspects are secretly interrogated, is being operated by the CIA. Several of the Gulfstream flights allegedly correlate with other "renditions," the controversial practice of secretly spiriting suspects to other countries without due process. "The more evidence that comes out, the clearer it is that there's been a stunning failure of accountability," says lawyer John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
CIA officials are increasingly fretful about being saddled with this secret prison network at a time of intense pressure from lawyers and human-rights activists. The CIA's anxiety only deepened last week when President Bush named John Negroponte, his ambassador to Iraq, as the country's first director of national intelligence. Negroponte, a demanding career diplomat, will take over the coveted president's daily brief, or PDB, from Goss. Bush sought to reassure the CIA that it would still be welcome in the Oval Office. But Bush also signaled that Negroponte would preside over a major shift in power in intelligence gathering. "John and I will work to determine how much exposure the CIA will have to the Oval Office," the president told reporters.
While it battles for influence in Washington, the agency is also fighting a rear-guard action against critics at home and abroad. Some CIA officials fear the White House is now exposing them to legal peril. New Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, under pressure while he awaited his confirmation hearings late last year, repudiated a controversial August 2002 memo that CIA officials carefully solicited from the Justice Department for legal authorization on renditions and the agency's treatment of Qaeda prisoners. Today the CIA has dozens of detainees it doesn't know how to dispose of without legal procedures. "Where's the off button?" says one retired CIA official. "They asked the White House for direction on how to dispose of these detainees back when they asked for [interrogation] guidance. The answer was, 'We'll worry about that later.' Now we don't know what to do with these guys. People keep saying, 'We're not going to shoot them'."
The new evidence supporting Masri's case will only inflame the debate. According to data filed with European aviation authorities, the Boeing 737 landed in Skopje on Jan. 23, 2004, after a flight from the island of Majorca off Spain (a U.S.-friendly government), and left that night. Masri's passport has a Macedonian exit stamp for Jan. 23. The flight plan shows that the plane landed the next day in Baghdad and then went onto Kabul, Afghanistan, on Jan. 25, which also conforms to Masri's account. According to Federal Aviation Administration records, the jet was owned at the time by Premier Executive Transport Services, a now-defunct Massachusetts-based company that U.S. intelligence sources acknowledge to NEWSWEEK fits the profile of a suspected CIA front.
The Boeing flights are part of a detailed two-year itinerary for the 737 obtained by NEWSWEEK. The jet's record dates to December 2002 and shows flights up until Feb. 7 of this year. The Boeing 737 may have served as a general CIA transport plane for equipment and supplies as well. Among the stops recorded are Libya, where the U.S. government has been dismantling Muammar Kaddafi's clandestine nuclear program, and Jordan, where the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that high-level Qaeda detainees, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were being held. (A Jordanian spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.) The Boeing also landed at Guantanamo.
Ironically, many U.S. officials say, the CIA secret facilities have proven very effective for quietly interrogating a handful of known Qaeda suspects. But when such rough practices "migrated" to Iraqi war detainees and bigger facilities like Abu Ghraib prison—under the direction of the Defense Department—the public backlash compromised the CIA's intel-gathering efforts. Today the agency's cover has been blown and critics are questioning why no full-time CIA employees have been prosecuted despite several cases of serious abuse linked to the agency.
Among these cases is that of Manadel al-Jamadi, the Iraqi whose corpse was notoriously photographed with grinning U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib last year. An Associated Press report last week said that documents show Jamadi died under CIA interrogation while suspended by his wrists at the prison. But only the Navy SEALs who delivered him to Abu Ghraib are currently being investigated, officials say.
U.S. officials insist the CIA has stopped rendering suspects to countries where they believe torture occurs. NEWSWEEK has learned that shortly after a Canadian jihadi suspect of Syrian origin, Maher Arar, was shipped back to Syria in September 2002, officials began having grave second thoughts about rendering suspects to that nation. As a result, the administration made a secret decision to stop sending suspects to Syria. But officials acknowledge that such scruples are being ignored when it comes to rendering suspects to allies like Egypt and Jordan, even though some officials do not believe "assurances" from these nations that they were not mistreating prisoners. Now the CIA may have to supply many more assurances—and Khaled el-Masri, among others, is waiting for them.
With Stephen Grey in London and Stefan Theil in Berlin
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:33 PM