U.S. Company Resists Job Outsourcing Trend
Canadian Who Runs U.S. Apparel Company Cites Advantages of Manufacturing in America
- The company has 1,600 people sewing, working three shifts a day, finishing a T-shirt or sweatshirt every 11 seconds. It's the kind of thing that strikes fear in the hearts of Americans who could lose their jobs to foreign workers.
But this is not a sweatshop in Honduras. This is America -- downtown Los Angeles.
"While everyone else is offshore chasing pennies, we're staying here and making dollars," said Marty Bailey, vice president of operations for the company, American Apparel.
Everything American Apparel does -- from weaving fabric to cutting, sewing, boxing and shipping -- is done right here.
Efficiency in U.S.A.
The driving force behind the company's philosophy is Dov Charney, a Canadian immigrant who believes the United States is the place to be.
"I can cut 10,000 pieces in the morning," said Charney, the company's CEO. "The next day, I can have them sewn. And the next day, I can have them on a truck headed for New York City."
Charney has doubled his sales in each of the past four years. Now, the company has 32 retail stores catering to a young, hip clientele -- and more stores coming.
Production workers earn an average of $12.50 an hour, a lot for the clothing business. But the company saves millions on shipping costs, and avoids the sewing mistakes and delays that come with foreign manufacturing. They can pay attention to every detail right here at home.
The company calls its clothes "sweatshop-free." Employees get benefits and make more money the more they produce. Charney says the new economic battle will be over automation, quality, speed to market and creativity.
"Sometimes, it doesn't come from a product developer, but just a worker," Charney said. "I've had garment workers help me develop products."
ABC News' Brian Rooney originally reported this story April 24, 2005, on "World News Tonight."
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Media still claim "nuclear option" is a Democratic term
Major news outlets have continued to misattribute the term "nuclear option" to Senate Democrats even though it was coined by Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), one of the leading advocates of the proposed change to Senate rules that would bar the filibuster of judicial nominees. Moreover, it was only after Republican strategists deemed the term a political liability that Republican senators began to attribute it to Democrats. Many in the news media have followed suit, repeating the Republicans' false attribution of the term to the Democrats.
As Joshua Micah Marshall recently noted on his blog, Talking Points Memo, correspondent Chip Reid reported on the May 12 edition of NBC's Nightly News that "Republicans are so angry" at Democratic filibusters that "they're planning what Democrats call the nuclear option." This was a variation on Reid's even more erroneous claim, on the April 25 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, that the "nuclear option" is what "Democrats call" their response to the rule change, "meaning 'we're going to shut this place [the Senate] down.' "
Similarly, in a May 10 Chicago Tribune article, as noted on Talking Points Memo, reporters Jill Zuckman and Andrew Zajac erroneously reported that "nuclear option ... is the term Democrats have given to the possible end to the filibuster." This error occurred even though, on April 28, the Tribune had run correction to an April 25 article that misattributed the "nuclear option" to Democrats.
In an April 29 Christian Science Monitor commentary, National Public Radio senior news analyst Daniel Schorr quoted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) claim that "opponents" call the rule change the "nuclear option" without noting the term's Republican origins and history.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Janet Hook reported on May 8 that "Democrats and some Republicans have dubbed [the rule change] the 'nuclear option,' " when, in fact, it was Republicans who did the original "dubbing."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:40 AM
Egypt facing judicial rebellion
By Heba Saleh
BBC News, Cairo
Judges in Egypt have refused to oversee September's presidential election unless new legislation is passed guaranteeing their independence.
They also want assurances they will be allowed to oversee all stages of the electoral process.
More than 2,000 judges backed the demands at a Cairo meeting of the judge's club, an elected body of Egypt's judiciary.
This is an unprecedented show of defiance to the Egyptian government.
The Egyptian government is used to getting its own way, but now it is facing a revolt from a key branch in the state.
The country's judges have voted massively to refrain from supervising presidential elections later this year unless the government agrees to their demands.
They want parliament to adopt legislation that would make the judiciary completely independent of government control.
They also want to supervise all stages of the election, from the preparation of voters' lists to the announcement of results.
There was no mistaking the anger of the judges who attended the Cairo meeting.
Speaker after speaker said the judiciary refused to function as a tool in the hands of the government to legitimise fraudulent elections.
They complained that in elections five years ago they were restricted to overseeing the actual casting of ballots, while outside voting stations police erected barricades to prevent opposition supporters from entering.
The judges agreed they would meet again in September to consider the response to any concessions the government might offer.
The meeting was due to be broadcast live by al-Jazeera television, but the station says police arrested its crew to prevent the transmission.
Authorities appear to have decided the fury of the judges was too incendiary to broadcast to the general public.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:37 AM
Financial Assets of Bush, Cheney Disclosed
By Deb Riechmann
Saturday, May 14, 2005; A08
A $14,000 shotgun, a $2,700 mountain bike and five fishing rods were among $26,346 in gifts President Bush accepted last year, according to his financial disclosure form, released yesterday, which also listed millions of dollars the president has invested in U.S. Treasury notes and certificates of deposit.
The annual disclosures required by law offered a glimpse into the president's and Vice President Cheney's wealth -- and what they gave each other for Christmas last year.
As might be appropriate for a second-in-command, Cheney spent more -- $170 more -- than Bush did on him. Cheney gave Bush a $595 clock that the president keeps on his desk in the Oval Office. Bush gave Cheney a $425 globe on a wooden stand.
But because federal ethics law allows them to list the values of their assets in ranges rather than precise numbers, it is difficult to discern whether the two are wealthier than they were a year ago.
The disclosure, for instance, said Bush's 1,583-acre ranch was worth between $1 million and $5 million. The president reported having at least $4.95 million in Treasury notes, $750,000 in certificates of deposit, and $217,000 in checking and money-market accounts. Bush owns the mineral rights valued at as much as $15,000 on property in Reeves County, Tex. He also owns a tree farm, which is not expected to have commercial sales until 2007, which has a value of just under $600,000.
Bush received the shotgun from Roy E. Weatherby Jr., head of a family-owned firearms firm based in Atascadero, Calif.
There is no limit on the cost of gifts a president can receive from a U.S. citizen, but federal law requires him to declare them if they are valued at $285 or more, White House deputy press secretary Dana M. Perino said. Multiple gifts from the same donor must be listed if their cumulative total exceeds the $285 limit. Gifts from foreign officials must be turned over to the National Archives on behalf of the American people.
The bike, helmets, gloves and other biking equipment were a gift from John Burke, president of Trek Bicycle Corp. in Waterloo, Wis. Former commerce secretary Donald L. Evans gave Bush a fishing rod, a shirt, three caps, a book, a sweater and fishing bait.
Bush received gold cuff links worth $650 from classical pianist Van Cliburn; a $400 cowboy hat from Mickey Foster of Austin; and two chairs from the 1949 Texas House chamber valued at $500 from Texas state Reps. Tony Goolsby (R) and Pete Laney (D), who used to be speaker.
Laura Bush accepted $400 in salad plates from Tricia Lott, wife of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and a $1,300 gold bracelet from the first couple's friends, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Bernstein of Riverdale, N.Y.
Cheney's disclosure showed he received 10 gifts. They included a $1,600 painting of a house on the Delaware River, a $400 hand-tooled fly-tying set in a carved wooden box, a dozen bottles of wine valued at $699, a $120 pen and a $350 silver apple. From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, Cheney received a $350 hatchet -- with a pewter blade and carved wooden handle -- commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:33 AM
'Protocols' Left Bush Out of the Loop
By Jim VandeHei
Saturday, May 14, 2005; A07
The nation was put on red alert. The first lady was rushed to a super-secure location. Thousands of people ran for their lives. Yet government protocols apparently didn't call for the commander in chief to be interrupted from a noontime bike ride on Wednesday when an errant plane entered Washington's restricted airspace.
That is the message put out by the White House the past two days. "The protocols that we put in place after September 11 were being followed," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday. "They did not require presidential authority for this situation."
So Bush kept on biking through the trails of rural Maryland, oblivious to the chaos miles away until 36 minutes after the all-clear was sounded.
McClellan said there have been similar (false) scares that did not require Bush's immediate attention.
"This was a situation where the president was in an off-site location," McClellan said. "He was not in danger, a situation where protocols have been put in place to address the situation. The protocols were followed." Just to make sure the point was clear, McClellan used the word "protocols" 34 times in Thursday's briefing alone.
While he did not say "protocols" that many times at yesterday's briefing, the message was the same. In an interview later, McClellan added that Bush was fine with how the situation was handled.
The protocols, which detail how to handle possible terrorist situations, such as when to shoot down an incoming plane, are secret. But this much is clear: The president does not necessarily have to be notified and does not have to give the green light to take out a plane.
The president also tried to deflect concern about being out of the loop, telling an audience yesterday, with a grin, "I strongly urge you to exercise on a regular basis." Eric Dezenhall, a Washington-based crisis-management consultant, said the president's role reinforces the scariest aspect of the episode. "The question becomes 'Do we know what we're doing when this stuff happens? The answer is that it's a crisis. Nobody does know what they're doing."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:29 AM
Dem. congressman offers 1st Soc. Sec. fix
By GLEN JOHNSON
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Breaking with party leaders, a Democratic congressman plans to introduce Social Security legislation, saying his first commitment is to his constituents.
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., said Friday: "I have the largest amount of Social Security recipients of any Democrat anywhere in the country. My allegiance to seniors is greater than my allegiance to the Democratic Party."
While Wexler is proposing tax increases that would clash with President Bush's pledge not to expand the existing payroll tax, his legislation was heralded by the White House in part because Democrats had steadfastly refused to offer an alternative to Bush's plan. The president's proposal calls for creating private investment accounts and a new method for calculating future benefit growth.
Democrats have refused to put an alternative on the table until Bush drops his insistence on private accounts, which they say would destroy the Depression-era system by depriving it of critical funding.
"I would be surprised if the president were anything but pleased there is another voice with the courage to stand up and put a proposal on the table," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy. "Obviously we haven't seen the specifics on this plan, but I think the president welcomes anyone who wants to work in a good-faith effort to solve the serious challenges facing Social Security."
Wexler's bill calls for a 6 percent tax on all income above the current $90,000 cap. Three percent would be paid by workers and 3 percent paid by their employer.
At the same time, the bill would reinstitute "pay-go" rules for federal budgeting, requiring that any tax cuts or increase in entitlement spending be paid for either by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere. The requirement expired at the end of 2002.
Wexler's proposal, which he will unveil in Florida on Monday, would not require any cut in scheduled benefits or increase in the retirement age, and it does not provide for private accounts.
"The president's approach cuts benefits and it creates a privatization scheme, and on top of that does not ensure the solvency of Social Security," said Wexler, whose district includes the largest number of Social Security beneficiaries of any Democrat in the country.
The congressman said his bill, which has been reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office, would achieve solvency by eliminating the $2.1 billion program shortfall estimated by the nonpartisan agency. Social Security's trustees have pegged the figured at $3.9 billion.
"The president traveled the country for the past two months and effectively challenged the Democrats to make their own plan," Wexler said. "Today, that challenge is responded to."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recently quashed a meeting in which some of her fellow Democrats were set to discuss Social Security with the head of the AARP and a group of Republicans.
Wexler said he had twice spoken with Pelosi about his plan. While he would not reveal her reaction, he said, "It would be wrong to assume it was a receptive conversation."
Jennifer Crider, a Pelosi spokeswoman, said: "There are Democrats with a lot of different ideas. This is one member's take, but it is not the Democratic plan."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:24 AM
With the Republican House Majority Leader under fire from a series of ethics violations, how does the conservative movement choose to respond? By throwing an exclusive $250-a-plate testimonial dinner in Tom DeLay's honor.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a celebration of the vast-right wing conspiracy," the dinner's emcee, Cleta Mitchell of the American Conservative Union, proclaimed in kicking off the festivities. It was to be a night for the far right, featuring video testimonials from Dennis Hastert, Jesse Helms and James Dobson, and speeches by Tony Perkins, Brent Bozell, Phyllis Schlafly and RNC chairman Ken Mehlman (along with a guest appearence by Jeff Gannon).
Per usual, the attacks were directed at liberal politicians and "their friends in the liberal media," as DeLay put it. Bozell denounced "this whole sorry inquisition" of a "media blinded by red-hot hostility to this man." Schlafly raved about "hysterical paranoid liberals," while Perkins warned, "If they pick a fight with Tom DeLay, they pick a fight with all of us." "At various points," wrote the Washington Post's Mark Leibovich, "the New York Times, Washington Post, Dan Rather, Frank Rich and Bob Woodward were singled out and duly hissed, to varying degrees, by the audience."
DeLay clearly relished the opportunity to go on the offensive amongst friends sporting "Hooray for DeLay" stickers. "No ideas, no leader, no agenda," DeLay said of his Democratic critics. "And in just the last week we can add to that list: no class." To celebrate their leader's lofty moral position, DeLay was "served a red-white-and-blue fake cake festooned with sparkles and plastic hammers--a reference to his nickname, The Hammer--while the band played 'If I Had a Hammer,'" the Times reported.
Hammer cakes and tunes aside, the dinner was also evidence of the Majority Leader's increasingly polarizing presence. "The only way DeLay would be damaged is if his friends walked away from him," Grover Norquist, a key GOP ally for lobbyists on K Street, said earlier in the day. But when it came time for the dinner, Norquist was notably absent, along with representatives from the White House, scheduled speaker Rep. Scott Garret of New Jersey and a majority of House Republicans, of whom only two dozen attended. DeLay's legal defense fund raised $47,750 from January through March this year, far less than the $254,250 amassed in the last quarter of last year.
The conservative crowd seemed not to notice. DeLay received three standing ovations, the last before his speech at the end of the evening. He thanked his wife Christina--also a recipient on his political payroll--for standing by him "even back in the days...when I made a lot of mistakes and was a self-centered jerk." You could say the same about the right-wing, right now.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:11 AM
Bush pressured to drop UN choice
President George W Bush is coming under increasing pressure to withdraw his nomination of outspoken conservative John Bolton for UN ambassador.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has refused to support him, and referred his nomination to the full Senate without a recommendation.
Mr Bolton has been plagued by charges of bullying and arrogance, which the White House say are unfounded.
A key Republican senator on the panel said he was the wrong man for the job.
George Voinovich still joined the other nine Republicans in sending the nomination forward, but said he would lobby fellow senators on the matter.
"It is my opinion that John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be," he said.
"The United States can do better than John Bolton."
On Thursday the panel voted 10-8 along party lines to forward the nomination without endorsing it.
The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says it is highly unusual for a committee where the president's party is in the majority to fail to support one of his nominations for office.
A leading Democrat senator, Joe Biden, told the BBC the time had come for Mr Bush to think again about his choice.
Others vowed to keep up their case.
"If this comes to the floor, we're going to have a fight," Senator Barbara Boxer said during the committee meeting.
The White House said it was confident Mr Bolton's nomination would be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans hold a 55 to 45 majority.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated her belief that he "is the right man for this challenging assignment".
If the White House does not withdraw Mr Bolton's name, the Democrats have two options open to them.
Yale Law School graduate
As assistant secretary of state under George Bush senior, helped organise anti-Saddam alliance
Made under-secretary of state for arms control and international security in May 2001
In July 2003, condemned North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for living like royalty while people lived in "hellish nightmare"
They could try to persuade as many Republicans as possible to oppose Mr Bolton in the full Senate vote and thus embarrass the White House with the closeness of the result.
Or they could try to mount a filibuster, talking the nomination out and forcing the White House to back down.
The BBC's Matt Frei in Washington says that even if Mr Bolton's candidacy is confirmed, so many unpleasant details have emerged during the hearings that he would arrive at the UN as damaged goods.
The committee's vote on Mr Bolton was suspended last month after allegations about his past conduct.
HAVE YOUR SAY
The choice does not reflect the best of American diplomacy
Joy Neece Fors, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Mr Bolton - a well-known critic of the UN - was accused of bullying junior staff and trying to distort intelligence to fit his own views.
Mr Bush has called Mr Bolton "a blunt guy" who "can get the job done at the United Nations".
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:06 AM
US limits Chinese textile imports
The US has announced that it is to re-impose quotas on three categories of Chinese textile imports, arguing that thousands of jobs are at risk.
The moves follows a massive surge in clothing imports into the US since worldwide quotas were abolished at the beginning of this year.
The clothing ranges which will now be limited are cotton trousers, cotton shirts and underwear.
Last month the US and the EU began investigating Chinese import levels.
They said the goods were damaging their own textile industries.
Under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, countries have the right to act if it is determined that serious market disruption has taken place.
The US Commerce Secretary, Carlos Guitierrez, said a government investigation had established that this was indeed the case.
The EU has already urged China to curb its textile exports. Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said on Thursday that China should clamp down or face legal action.
The US decision was taken by the inter-agency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA).
It means that total shipments in the three categories will only be able to increase by 7.5% above shipments in the past 12 months.
"Today's action by CITA demonstrates this administration's commitment to levelling the playing field for US industry by enforcing our trade agreements," Mr Gutierrez said in a statement.
The action came partly in response to complaints from US textile manufacturers about the increase in imports since global quotas ended on 1 January.
The quotas could remain until the end of the year unless the US and China reach a "satisfactory" agreement, CITA said.
US retailers have opposed the quotas, on the grounds that they will raise prices for consumers.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:04 AM
The New York Times
May 14, 2005
In Cities Facing Budget Deficits, Cellphone Becomes a Taxpayer
By KEN BELSON
Last year, the City Council in Baltimore faced a budget shortfall so bad that it considered laying off 186 city police officers, reducing some fire department operations and scaling back trash collection. Then it found an untapped honey pot: cellphones.
Starting in August, the city began collecting $3.50 a month from each of Baltimore's 238,000 mobile phone subscribers. The extra income has helped to strengthen the city's finances and is expected to help the city fix up schools and trim the property tax.
"I can't remember the last time we've had such an easy budget year," said Sheila Dixon, the president of the City Council. "The bulk of our taxes come from property tax, but when you can't diversify and the federal and state taxes are drying up, you need other income."
Baltimore is not alone. The city of Springfield, Ore., for example, recently enacted a 5 percent tax on cellphones and land lines, which would help finance a new jail. Residents and utilities opposed to the tax, which is yet to take effect, have forced a referendum to be held on Tuesday.
Dozens of other cities and states have already passed cellphone taxes. Many other states and municipalities, including some in Louisiana and Missouri, are debating similar measures as they compile their budgets for the next fiscal year.
Officials are particularly eager to tax cellphones because the amounts individuals pay each month are small enough to go virtually unnoticed, but in aggregate can be substantial. Cellphone subscribers nationwide paid an estimated $17.8 billion in federal, state and local taxes last year.
But mounting taxes have led wireless companies like Verizon Wireless and Sprint to form unlikely alliances with consumer advocates and tax reformers to fight new city fees. They argue that consumers are taxed twice in states and cities that also impose sales taxes, and that the extra burden is particularly hard on retirees and low-income subscribers and also reduces overall demand for mobile service.
The cellphone taxes, when added to existing federal excise and state sales taxes, as well as fees for 911 service, mean that $8.75, or 16.7 percent, of the average monthly cellphone bill of $52.50 now goes to government agencies - about twice as much as on many other services, according to CTIA-the Wireless Association, a wireless industry trade group. While cellphone subscribers in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey pay some of the highest tax rates in the country, the states do not levy a wireless-only sales tax.
The carriers say they do not oppose collecting taxes on behalf of governments, but they object to being subject to special taxes as tobacco and alcohol are.
"We have no problem with the revenue needs of the localities," said Steven Zipperstein, general counsel for Verizon Wireless. "But we have a big problem that a certain class of customers or services should be singled out for excessive taxation."
Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile filed a lawsuit in February in Maryland Tax Court against Baltimore and Montgomery County, which has its own wireless tax. They contend the cellphone fee is effectively a sales tax, which only the state has the right to impose.
They also say that cities have no authority to collect taxes on services consumed outside their borders, noting that many of the cellphone calls made in Baltimore go outside the city limits.
"Some portion of what they are taxing is outside their boundaries, so it's defective for that reason," said Kenneth H. Silverberg, a lawyer at Nixon Peabody, the firm representing the carriers.
Others have joined the move to repeal the fee. At least one Baltimore councilman wants to exempt senior citizens from the wireless tax. Progressive Maryland, a nonprofit group that promotes "pro-working-family legislation," said Maryland lawmakers should raise the corporate tax and scale back taxes on consumers.
"When you have a thriving corporate sector paying less and less tax, the taxes get foisted on working and middle-class families," said Tom Hucker, executive director of the group.
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators called on state and local governments last December to roll back taxes, including flat taxes, on wireless services because they "disproportionately burden low-income, low-volume cellular telephone subscribers."
But a Baltimore municipal spokeswoman said the city felt it was on firm ground. The telecommunication tax was "crafted and implemented with the expectation that it would stand up to a legal challenge," said the spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory.
The tussle over the right to levy taxes on wireless services comes as phone providers and federal regulators struggle with how technology is changing the meaning of a phone call. Some lawmakers argue that to encourage the spread of new technology, new services should not be taxed as heavily as traditional ones. Others, intent on cutting and streamlining local taxes, want to limit the power of states and cities to introduce their own special fees.
Yet city councils and state lawmakers with budget holes to plug argue that "a phone call is a phone call," regardless of how it is placed. With consumers increasingly using cellphones instead of land lines, local governments are eager to start taxing wireless services just as they have taxed traditional phone lines for years.
In Baltimore, the $3.50 tax on cellphones extends to land lines as well. Businesses operating multiple phone extensions also pay 35 cents a line. Under the previous tax structure, the city charged a 12 percent tax only on land lines.
By moving to a flat fee for all phones, the city expects to raise $26.1 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, double what it received under the old formula. Of that total, $8.81 million, or 34 percent, will probably come from cellphone users, money the city did not receive before.
To be sure, the expanded phone tax is only one reason the city's finances have improved. Baltimore also nearly doubled its tax to record deeds and it expanded fees on utilities. The property market has also been booming in the area.
The income generated by Baltimore's broader phone tax has become a model for other cash-short cities. Council members in Portland, Ore., are debating whether to include cellphones for the first time in the city's utility license fee on phones. Cities in Missouri as well as the state legislature are considering similar measures.
Wireless companies point to Pennsylvania as a state with lofty taxes on cellular services. In 2003, lawmakers there extended the 5 percent gross receipts tax on land lines to include mobile phones. That tax goes on top of a 6 percent statewide sales tax.
Some cities in the state, like Philadelphia, have general sales taxes, too. Cellphone subscribers also pay into a fund for an emergency response system for wireless users. And then there is the federal excise tax of 3 percent. In all, taxes make up 19.05 percent of the average monthly wireless bill in Pennsylvania, one of the highest levels in the country.
Some state and local lawmakers are already thinking beyond cellphones. One idea is to create a uniform use tax that covers all forms of telecommunications: land lines, mobile phones, Internet-based phones, high-speed data lines and programming provided by cable and satellite companies. By spreading the tax to services like satellite television, which are subject to very little city or county taxes, the fees on phone services could be lowered.
"We've had a tax system based on technology as a utility for almost 60 years," said Steven J. Rauschenberger, a state senator from Illinois and the president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislators. "But with the convergence of technology, we need to rethink the system."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:59 AM
The New York Times
May 14, 2005
Pentagon Seeks to Shut Dozens of Bases Across Nation
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON, May 13 - The Pentagon on Friday recommended closing nearly 180 installations and offices, including 33 big bases, from Hawaii to Maine in the first major restructuring of the nation's vast military network in a decade.
Ranging from tiny Army Reserve centers to sprawling Air Force bases that have been the economic anchors of their communities for generations, the proposed closings, consolidations and reductions of more than 800 military facilities in all, which could cost several thousand civilian jobs nationwide, sent shock waves across all 50 states. The plan also underscored the Pentagon's far-reaching effort to revamp the armed services into a leaner, more agile force.
In the New York area, the Pentagon wants to shut the Navy's submarine base in Groton, Conn.; the Army's Fort Monmouth in New Jersey; and the Air National Guard Station in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The Groton base had the largest single loss of jobs in the proposal.
Other bases proposed for closing include some familiar names in military history, including Fort McPherson in Georgia, the Pascagoula Naval Station in Mississippi and Fort Monroe, Va. And in South Dakota, the state's second-largest employer, Ellsworth Air Force Base, would be shut.
The military also wants to move thousands of military and civilian workers out of leased commercial high-rise buildings near the Pentagon in Northern Virginia to more secure locations at bases around the country.
Closing bases, though, does not mean shrinking the military, just rearranging it.
"Our current arrangements, designed for the cold war, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st-century challenges," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. The plan is proposed to save $48.8 billion over 20 years.
The Pentagon sent its findings on Friday to the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or Brac, which will spend the summer reviewing them in public hearings and installation visits. Mr. Rumsfeld will testify to the panel on Monday.
If the past four base-closing rounds are a guide, most of the Pentagon's plan will prevail: previous commissions have endorsed 85 percent of the recommendations. And Congress and two past presidents have approved the panel's plans.
While the list of proposed closings and consolidations was smaller than initially expected because of the planned return of troops from Europe, the reaction from communities and their political leaders was furious and intense.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, attacked the Pentagon's plan to close the base in Groton, a submarine base since 1916 that stands to lose more than 8,000 military and civilian jobs.
"It is shortsighted," Mr. Lieberman said in a statement. "It is cruel and unusual punishment that Connecticut does not deserve and our national security cannot afford."
Lawmakers and local officials in Maine, one of the hardest-hit states with three closings, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, vowed to challenge the Pentagon's plans that would cost nearly 7,000 military and civilian jobs.
"In arriving at these inexplicable decisions, the Defense Department and the Navy must have been operating in a fog so thick they couldn't even see the facts in front of them," said Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine.
The recommendation to close Ellsworth revived an issue from one of the most fiercely contested Senate races last fall.
During the campaign, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, appeared outside the base with John Thune, the Republican challenger, and promised to use his clout to spare Ellsworth if South Dakotans turned Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, out of office. Mr. Thune won. On Friday he called the Pentagon's decision "flat wrong."
Pentagon officials said that politics played no role in a process that made military value the top priority. President Bush's home state, Texas, for instance, would gain a net total of 6,150 military and civilian jobs if the military's recommendations stand. But inside the state, there are winners and losers. The redeployment of 11,000 soldiers from the First Armored Division in Germany to Fort Bliss would be partially offset by the closing of 15 installations, including the Red River Army Depot and Ingleside Naval Station.
California, which in the past four rounds had 29 bases closed or realigned, got off relatively lightly this time, losing only about 2,000 military and civilian positions under the proposal, including 1,630 positions at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, which would be shifted to an expanded medical center in San Antonio.
Since the last round of base closings 10 years ago, Congress approved provisions that make it harder for the independent, nine-member commission to add a base to the Pentagon's list. Now, seven members must approve the addition of a base to the list instead of a simple majority, which remains the standard to drop an installation from the list or make any other alteration.
The commission, headed by Anthony J. Principi, a former secretary of veterans affairs, must present its recommendations to Mr. Bush by Sept. 8. The president and Congress must then accept or reject the list by Nov. 7. Once Congress approves the decisions, the Pentagon must begin to carry them out within two years and complete them by 2011.
This round's proposal to close 33 major bases and reduce another 29 is roughly in line with the four previous rounds - in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995. But this year's list recommends 775 minor base closings or consolidations, more than three times the total number of changes to smaller bases in the four previous rounds combined.
Christopher Hellman, a military analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a research group in Washington, said roughly three-quarters of these smaller installations belonged to the National Guard and Reserve. "This would indicate a desire on the part of the Pentagon to better integrate these units into the active force," Mr. Hellman said in a statement.
Mr. Rumsfeld said on Thursday that the military had only about 5 percent to 10 percent excess capacity once it took into consideration the space it would need to accommodate 70,000 troops returning from Europe and Pentagon agencies moving from leased space, as well as the need to preserve the military's ability to surge operations at ammunition plants and maintenance depots in times of crisis. The Pentagon had earlier estimated it had 20 percent to 25 percent more capacity than it needed.
Even with fewer closings than once expected, Mr. Rumsfeld said the proposed changes would save about $5.5 billion a year after initial closing costs were paid, and $48.8 billion over 20 years. The previous four rounds of base closings saved a total of $29 billion through 2003, according to the Government Accountability Office, leaving some base-closing specialists to question the Pentagon's analysis.
"The math doesn't add up," said David Berteau, a former Pentagon official whose responsibilities included overseeing base closings and who was a consultant for the State of California this round.
But Defense Department officials who worked on the base-closing process for the last two years said that much of the savings would come from merging maintenance depots, arsenals and similar functions that each armed service now does on its own. New pilots from all services flying the Joint Strike Fighter would train at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. In the Washington area, the Pentagon plans to close the existing Walter Reed Army Medical Center and build a $1 billion national military center with the same name on the campus of the naval medical center in Bethesda, Md.
Each service has proposed consolidating functions to improve efficiencies. The Army would move its armor center from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning, Ga., home of the infantry school, to create a Maneuver Center there. The Army would close 176 Army Reserve centers and 211 Army National Guard facilities, but it would build 125 multiservice Reserve centers in places better suited to help their flagging recruiting efforts.
"By closing or divesting ourselves of inefficient facilities and moving to places where we have better demographics and constructing joint facilities, I think we give better opportunity to the members of the Reserve component, make it more convenient and give them more choices," said Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
The military services planned for what they need to fight adversaries 20 years from now. The Air Force projected having 20 percent fewer fighter jets but possible new threats in the Pacific, so it has proposed alterations to 75 percent of its 154 installations. "We saw this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our forces," said Maj. Gen. Gary Heckman, co-director of the Air Force's base-closing analysis.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:57 AM
Friday, May 13, 2005
NY Daily News
Soc Sec plan cuts kids, widows
WASHINGTON - President Bush's preferred approach for revamping Social Security would mean smaller survivor benefits for middle- and upper-income children and widows than are now promised, a top administration official said yesterday.
But Bush envisions no changes in the benefit system for the disabled, said Allan Hubbard, the administration's point man on Social Security.
In addition to retirees, Social Security provides benefits to the disabled as well as to children under 18 who have lost a working parent. Surviving spouses also can qualify for a benefit until the child turns 16.
Bush said the system needs a variety of fixes because Social Security will begin paying out more in benefits than it receives from payroll taxes in 2017.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:28 AM
GOP Seeks More Curbs On Courts
Sensenbrenner Proposes An Inspector General
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
With conservative anger at the judiciary peaking, House Republican leaders plan to use budgetary, oversight and disciplinary authority to assert greater control over the federal courts before next year's elections.
The legislative challenge to the courts reflects longtime conservative suspicion of the courts and displeasure over the courts' refusal to restore a feeding tube to Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Floridian who died March 31. A review was ordered by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), who complained about an "arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary."
Although DeLay made the issue a party signature, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) has quietly been pursuing a court-oversight agenda for years, mostly overlooked except for a few high-profile speeches he has given. Sensenbrenner said in an interview that his efforts would not be punitive and would be aimed at making the judicial branch stronger, not at retribution.
"In the early days of the Republic, the precedent was set that judges are not impeached for unpopular decisions," he said.
Sensenbrenner, 61, who has a degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School, suggested in a speech at Stanford University this week that Congress should create an inspector general for the courts to field complaints and conduct investigations.
Sensenbrenner also vowed to pursue a longtime Republican effort to split up the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which is based in San Francisco and is considered to be one of the most liberal circuits in the country. Conservatives were infuriated when the court ruled in 2002 that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional because it describes the United States as "one nation under God."
During the interview, Sensenbrenner said he will be "very active" during the final year and a half of his chairmanship in seeking to curb the judiciary -- starting with passage of a tougher disciplinary mechanism for judges. He said he will not be deterred by criticism that his party is trying to alter the balance of power among the three branches of government.
Republican leaders described the effort as a companion to the effort by President Bush and Senate Republicans to confirm conservatives to lifetime seats, so that Congress can exercise authority over liberal judges who are already on the bench.
"There are some judges that have deliberately decided to be in the face of the president and the Congress, and when they are criticized for that, they hide behind the issue of judicial independence," he said. He added that none of the three branches of government "should be given a blank check without oversight on their operations."
Conservative grievances with the judiciary have been fueled by a series of decisions in recent decades, from the Roe v. Wade abortion decision of 1973 to rulings about prayer in school and same-sex marriage.
Sensenbrenner's ideas are gaining support in the Senate, where there are several members who are courting religious conservatives in anticipation of the presidential primaries of 2008.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said his party is "going to resist all of these encroachments because they compromise the whole idea of the separation of powers."
"For us to be trying to get back at the judiciary in this kind of way, I think, is going to be a very serious weakening of the constitutional basis for the democracy, and that needs to be resisted," Conyers said.
But Democrats are outnumbered 23 to 17 on the committee.
A variety of legal scholars said the Republican blueprint looks overtly political. Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz said he does not necessarily disagree with the proposals, but he noted that the scandal-scarred Republican leaders "are the wrong people and this is the wrong political context in which to make changes to improve the judiciary."
"You can't take them seriously, considering their source and timing," he said.
The Constitution specifies that Congress will set the jurisdiction and budgets of the courts, and Republican lawmakers began agitating to exercise that power after Schiavo's death. DeLay drew wide attention to the issue by declaring that the judges involved in that case would have to "answer for their behavior." As a guide to his views on the subject, DeLay has been urging reporters to read "Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America," by Mark R. Levin.
One of the more controversial parts of Sensenbrenner's plan is exploring the creation of an office of inspector general for the federal judiciary, like those that now serve as watchdogs of executive-branch agencies, to take complaints, prepare reports, and audit and investigate the administration of the courts.
Republican congressional aides said the inspector general would find ways money could be saved, and could help lawmakers rebut appropriations requests from the judiciary. Critics contend that having such an official, who would likely have an independent office within the court system but would prepare periodic reports for Congress and answer its inquiries, would violate the separation-of-powers doctrine.
Sensenbrenner also said that he will insist that the 9th Circuit be split into three, with a new circuit based in Seattle to cover Alaska, Washington and Oregon, and another one based in Phoenix to cover four mountain states.
"The Ninth is too big in so many ways," he said Monday night at Stanford, his undergraduate alma mater. "The question is not if the Ninth will be split, but when."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:26 AM
Man's name gets flight diverted
By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY
An Air France jetliner was diverted to Maine on Thursday after Homeland Security authorities discovered that the name of one of its 169 passengers was on the government's no-fly list.
The passenger, who was traveling with his wife and two children, turned out to be the wrong man. His name was one letter off from that of the terrorist, and his birth date was the same, according to two sources familiar with the incident who asked to remain anonymous out of security concerns.
"After a thorough interview and review of the facts on the ground by Customs and Border Protection officials, the individual in question was deemed admissible to the United States," spokeswoman Kristi Clemens said.
She would not release the man's name or nationality, citing his privacy.
The flight from Paris was headed to Boston when the Transportation Security Administration diverted it to an airport in Bangor, Maine, at 2:30 ET, Air France said. The man was questioned, and it was determined that he was not the suspect on the list, Clemens said. The flight continued to Boston without the man and his family, Clemens said.
The latest case of mistaken identity involving a foreign flight bound for the U.S. caused a relatively short delay. After the man and his family were removed from the Airbus A-330 and the plane was swept for explosives, it took off for Boston. Air France said it landed an hour and 40 minutes late.
Authorities did not say how or why the man was allowed to board the plane in Paris, given that his name was so close a match to one on the no-fly list.
To prevent known or suspected terrorists from entering the United States, airlines are supposed to check passengers names against the no-fly list provided by the U.S. government before the plane boards and takes off. Then, within 15 minutes of a plane's departure, airlines are required to provide U.S. officials with names and other information about the passengers so they can be checked against terrorist watch lists.
By the times those lists are checked, planes are typically well on their way. So if a problem comes up, the planes are generally diverted to an airport in the USA in a sparsely populated area.
The U.S. government is negotiating with airlines to get the passenger lists 60 minutes before departure. Most airlines are resisting, saying flights would be delayed. But several are participating in a pilot program to see if it works.
The Bangor airport has received several such planes, including one on Sept. 21 carrying the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens. Yusuf Islam, as he is now known, was on a flight from London to Washington that was diverted because he is on the no-fly list for alleged connections to terrorist groups. Islam denies any such connections.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:22 AM
Quality of life for many Iraqis still poor, U.N. says
By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
BAGHDAD — In one of the most comprehensive surveys on living conditions in Iraq, the United Nations reported Thursday that many Iraqis have poor access to clean water, live in overcrowded conditions, struggle to stay in school and often live in homes without sewage systems.
"The people of Iraq are struggling," said Staffan de Mistura, representative for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) in Iraq. "This may sound obvious. But it has been proven in this report."
The report does not compare conditions now to living conditions in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But it does show that some basic services — electricity, water, education — have worsened since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, said Alia al-Dalli, an official in the UNDP Iraq office.
"Although the physical and social infrastructure is there, services are deteriorating," she said. "These figures give an indication not only of how things are at the moment, but of how things have been going."
Researchers for the Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004, one of the most comprehensive studies of life in postwar Iraq, interviewed 21,668 households nationwide last year on such topics as housing, nutrition, employment and education.
The last similar survey performed was in 1997, but the government survey did not include the Kurdistan region to the north, al-Dalli said. The recent survey sampled all 18 provinces, she said.
The latest survey was a joint effort of Iraq's Planning Ministry and the UNDP. Among the findings:
•10% of families suffer from overcrowding. In the countryside in Ninevah province, 14% of families live in huts. In rural areas to the north, 25% of homes have been destroyed by war.
•85% of households have unreliable electricity, and 29% rely on alternative sources of power, mostly generators. Power in many parts of Iraq was intermittent under Saddam's regime as well.
•80% of families in rural areas use unsafe drinking water.
•37% of households are connected to sewage networks.
•10.5% of Iraqis are unemployed, and among youth the rate is 19%. That is a sharp decline from the 75% unemployment rate immediately after the fall of Saddam's regime.
•The median hourly wage is about 54 cents.
•Women die during childbirth at a rate of 193 out of every 100,000 births in Iraq, compared with 23 per 100,000 in Saudi Arabia and 850 per 100,000 in Yemen.
•Almost a quarter of children from 6 months to 5 years suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Literacy and education campaigns in the 1970s bolstered education levels among children, particularly girls, the survey found. But declines in education levels in the past few years have hurt women's education, it said.
Among rural women, 64% have not completed elementary education and 50% are illiterate, it said.
The report also looked at war-related deaths. According to its data, the war has claimed the lives of about 24,000 Iraqi civilians and Iraqi military personnel. Children younger than 18 accounted for 12% of the deaths, it said.
"The survey, in a nutshell, depicts a rather tragic situation of the quality of life," Iraq's new planning minister, Barham Saleh, told the Associated Press.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:19 AM
Fight for Media Reform
The first National Conference on Media Reform was held 18 months ago in Madison, Wisconsin. That conference, which drew 1,800 people from across the country and around the world, was a remarkable event in itself. But it was even more remarkable for the movement it helped advance to a new and dramatically more muscular stage.
After years of complaining as the media of the country consolidated and conglomerated into a corporate whole that was less than the sum of its parts, and where civic and democratic values were replaced by the commercial and entertainment demands of a corporate bottom line, twin streams of media critique and media activism exploded into a media reform movement that demanded fundamental changes in the way our media companies operate.
Suddenly, as journalist Bill Moyers suggested at that conference in November 2003, the fight was on "for a media system that serves as effectively as it sells – one that holds all the institutions of society, itself included, accountable."
Moyers urged the activists who gathered in Madison in 2003 to "reach out to regular citizens."
"We have to raise an even bigger tent than you have here," he told the crowd that packed a downtown theater on that Saturday night. "Those of us in this place speak a common language about the 'media.' We must reach the audience that's not here –- carry the fight to radio talk shows, local television, and the letters columns of our newspapers. (We) must engage the mainstream, not retreat from it. We have to get our fellow citizens to understand that what they see, hear, and read is not only the taste of programmers and producers but also a set of policy decisions made by the people we vote for."
That has begun to happen. Reformers are winning real battles: blocking moves by the Federal Communications Commission to allow big media companies to grow even bigger, successfully challenging efforts by telephone companies to prevent communities from developing low-cost broadband internet services, forcing the federal government to stop pouring taxpayer dollars into the production of "fake news" video releases.
But the real work of opening up the media to more voices, and to the sort of discourse that is worthy of a great democracy, has only just begun.
This weekend, in St. Louis, the second National Conference on Media Reform will convene with more activists, more energy and more focus. Moyers will be back, along with Patti Smith, Al Franken, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Phil Donahue, U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, D-California.
These are exciting times for a movement that, while young, is showing signs of the strength that Moyers said it would have to develop.
The struggle to repair the dangerously dysfunctional media system that tells us more about Michael Jackson's trial than about the truth of what is going on in Iraq will be a long and difficult one.
But this fight is on, and it is a fight we dare not lose -- as it is a struggle for nothing less than the future of freedom of the press and our very democracy.
(John Nichols is a co-founder with Robert W. McChesney of Free Press, the media reform network that has organzied the national conferences.)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:17 AM
by Katrina vanden Heuvel
In her latest column, Ann Coulter honors me by announcing me the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Most Wrong Predictions. I proudly accept this award for in Coulter's tangled, fictional world right is always wrong, and what liberals say is always wrong even when they are right.
To be more specific, Coulter accuses me of wrongly predicting that invading Iraq would lead to more terrorist retaliation. According to the recent US government report, the number of terrorist attacks has increased significantly since the Iraq war. The overwhelming majority of those incidents have been aimed at US personnel in Iraq.
She also says I was wrong when I said that invading would undermine the fight against Al Qaeda. But this is the view of many officials in the Bush Administration itself, including such distinguished departing officials as Richard Clarke. What she did not tell you is that I also predicted that the war would cause a spawning of new bin Laden-inspired groups, as most terrorist experts readily now confirm.
In addition, she accuses me of wrongly suggesting that the invasion of Iraq would "possibly unleash those very weapons of mass destruction into the hands of rogue terrorists in Iraq." I and The Nation magazine were always clear in our view that the Bush Administration had not proved its case that Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction. But we did say that if Iraq did have any such weapons, the greatest danger would be that during the chaos of war they would fall into the hands of renegade forces. And indeed a lot of deadly material and weapons did disappear into the hands of both insurgent forces and outside terrorists; many of those weapons have been used to kill American personnel.
Coulter also accuses me of wrongly predicting that the United States would stay in Iraq as a colonial power. My view was that if it did try to stay in Iraq indefinitely, it would quickly become viewed as a colonial power and therefore would encounter increasing resistance--a prediction borne out both by public opinion polls in Iraq and bloody events on the ground.
Coulter says that I was wrong when I said that elections were not very likely to produce a secular democracy. Perhaps by Coulter's standards, what Iraq now has is a secular democracy. But perhaps she should wait a little longer before giving me credit for being right--I mean wrong--on this one. After all, the new government has yet to draft a constitution and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari still talks about adopting Sharia law.
Finally, she makes some obscure reference to my long-time interest in Russia and the Soviet Union. Did the planned economy fail because the farmers had seventy years of bad weather? I can in good conscience say that I never ever made that prediction. But I did predict that Gorbachev's perestroika was for real, even as those of Coulter's ilk were predicting it was just another Soviet ruse to lull us to sleep, because I believed a new generation of Russians wanted a better life for their people.
Ms. Right gets it wrong. Again and again.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:11 AM
The New York Times
May 13, 2005
Republican Moderates in Senate Sense Intensifying Pressures
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON, May 12 - The unusual pact that permitted the nomination of John R. Bolton to go forward on Thursday without the support of a crucial Republican senator has exposed, in a very raw and public way, the extreme pressures facing Republican moderates in a Senate that is increasingly dominated by conservatives.
President Bush called the dissenting Republican, Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, on Wednesday, the day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Mr. Voinovich serves, was to take up the nomination, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said.
Karl Rove, the president's powerful political adviser, and Andrew H. Card Jr., the chief of staff, also called to chat with Mr. Voinovich in recent weeks, Mr. McClellan said.
And Mr. Voinovich, who has steadfastly refused to answer questions about any discussions with the White House, is hardly the only Republican who is feeling the squeeze these days.
From the fight over Mr. Bolton to the looming blowup over the president's judicial nominees to the debate over the proposal to overhaul Social Security, Republican moderates are caught in the middle as never before. As they look to the near future, to a possible vacancy on the Supreme Court, they realize that the pressures will only intensify.
"Bolton is a perfect example of putting the moderates in an impossible situation," said Senator Lincoln Chafee, the Rhode Island Republican who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and who agonized publicly over Mr. Bolton for weeks. "It's a no-win. Either we don't support the president or we vote for a very unpopular pick to represent us at the United Nations."
The elections in November put seven new Republicans, nearly all conservatives, in the Senate, increasing the party's majority to 55. As moderate Senate Republicans look out around the country, they are comforted by the ranks of moderate governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, George E. Pataki in New York and Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.
But here in the Capitol, their numbers are so few, said Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, that they quit having their weekly lunches about a year ago.
"Susan and I were there alone for so much of the time," Mr. Specter he said, referring to Senator Susan Collins of Maine, "we worked through all of our conversation and decided to disband."
As Mr. Voinovich's refusal to support Mr. Bolton's nomination demonstrates, "the vanishing center"-as another centrist Republican, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, often says - can still play a powerful role. There are just four core centrists in the Senate, Mr. Chafee, Ms. Collins, Ms. Snowe and Mr. Specter. They are joined from time to time by mavericks like Senators John McCain of Arizona, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mr. Voinovich.
The pressure from the White House and Republican leadership can at times be unrelenting. So much so that some have learned how to pre-empt it.
Mr. Chafee told reporters repeatedly that he was inclined to support Mr. Bolton, a move that his spokesman, Steven Hourahan, said was intended to send a clear signal to the White House about where Mr. Chafee stood.
As a result, Mr. Hourahan said, the senator received just one call from a high-level official. Mr. Card telephoned on the eve of what was supposed to be a committee vote on the nomination. The vote was delayed by Mr. Voinovich, who insisted on having more time to investigate accusations about Mr. Bolton's temperament and management style.
The senator has met administration officials, as well as Mr. Bolton, and has visited with Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader.
But he was careful not to take the White House and the leadership by surprise. In the days leading up to the vote, he informed Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and Dr. Frist of his decision. "Senator Voinovich arrived at his decision," said Eric Ueland, Dr. Frist's chief of staff, "and we arrived at the process for moving the nomination to the full Senate."
The next squeeze, for the moderates, will be the explosive question of whether Republican leaders should change Senate rules to bar Democrats from using the filibuster, a two-century-old parliamentary tactic, to block the judicial nominees. Dr. Frist is advocating the change, and a confrontation is widely expected next week. Mr. . McCain and Mr. Chafee have said they will oppose it, and Ms. Snowe has indicated strongly that she will do so, too.
Mr. Specter is in a particularly tight spot. He is trying to remain neutral, but as Judiciary Committee chairman is expected to advocate for the nominees. John Breaux, a centrist Democrat who was in the Senate until last year, said defying party leaders could be especially risky for a committee chairman.
"They can put an awful lot of pressure on you," he said of the leaders. "They say, 'Look, you're a chairman because your party is in control, and you've got to be with the party.' So when you break with them, you have to be fast on foot to explain it."
Ms. Collins, chairwoman of the domestic security committee, is also taking that risk. Along with Ms. Snowe, she has expressed reservations about the rules change, as well as the Social Security plan. Last week, the two returned to Maine to find themselves the targets of an advertising campaign on the judicial nominees, a campaign that had the endorsement of Dr. Frist.
By this week, Ms. Collins seemed a bit worn down by that debate. "It seems like it's issue after issue this year," she said, adding that she often envies "those senators for whom everything is black and white."
Ms. Snowe, meanwhile, had a message for fellow Republicans: "Frankly," she said, "the election of the president drew from Americans who describe themselves as moderates, which is about 45 percent of Americans today. That's something we overlook at our own peril."
Richard W. Stevenson contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:00 AM
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Panel Sends Bolton Nomination to Senate
By BARRY SCHWEID
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday sent the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador to the full Senate. But it took the rare step of refusing to endorse the blunt-speaking conservative.
The move kept the contentious nomination alive, leaving its fate in the hands of the GOP-run Senate. By not recommending that senators approve Bolton's nomination, the committee delivered a slap at President Bush in one of the first big battles of his second term.
"It doesn't appear that Mr. Bolton has the confidence of the majority of this committee," said Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the panel. "And I would suggest that it may be worth the president's interest to take note of that."
The panel acted after a pivotal Republican member, Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, voiced opposition to the nomination, calling Bolton arrogant and bullying. Yet Voinovich broke a committee impasse by agreeing to let the full Senate vote rather than joining Democrats' effort to kill the nomination in committee.
All 10 Republicans voted to send the nomination to the floor. All eight Democrats voted no.
Bolton, 56, who is now the top arms control diplomat at the State Department, has strong ties among political conservatives both inside and outside the administration.
The panel delayed its vote for three weeks after four Republican members asked for more time to study accusations that Bolton bullied subordinates and exaggerated intelligence assessments.
Three of the four said they had decided to support Bolton, but Voinovich said he could not. "The United States can do better than John Bolton," Voinovich told the panel during a debate lasting over five hours.
The panel's Republican chairman, Richard Lugar of Indiana, declined to hold a vote on sending the nomination to the Senate with the committee's endorsement once it became clear that Voinovich's opposition would have caused a 9-9 split, with a majority needed to prevail.
Instead, he embraced Voinovich's suggestion to send the nomination to the floor without a recommendation. Committees usually endorse the nominees they send to the Senate for a vote.
Other Republicans fell in line behind Voinovich's suggestion.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who earlier expressed misgivings about the nomination, told the panel he decided he had "enough confidence in this president to take him at his word, and take Mr. Bolton at his word."
But with Bolton short of enough votes for committee approval, Hagel announced he would support Voinovich's proposal to send the nomination to the floor with no recommendation.
Despite Voinovich's sharp criticism of Bolton, who now serves as undersecretary of state for arms control, the White House was clearly relieved that the Ohio senator had agreed to let the full Senate decide.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House is now confident Bolton will be confirmed by the full Senate.
"We respect Sen. Voinovich's decision, but there are many people who agree with the president that John Bolton is the right person at the right time for this important position," he said.
Democrats have not ruled out using procedural delays to try killing Bolton's nomination in the full Senate. It would take the votes of 60 of the 100 senators to stop the delay.
Voinovich called Bolton "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." He said Bolton would be fired if he was in the private sector.
"That being said, Mr. Chairman, I am not so arrogant to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective of the U.S. position in the world community on the rest of my colleagues," he added.
Voinovich told reporters he would vote against Bolton in the full Senate. Will Bolton win eventual confirmation? "I have every faith in my colleagues. No one really is excited about him. We'll see what happens," he said.
He said he hoped the full Senate, where Republicans hold a 55-45 majority, would reject the nomination.
"What message are we sending to the world community?" Voinovich asked.
Lugar defended the nomination, while conceding that "Secretary Bolton's actions were not always exemplary."
Bolton misjudged the actions of subordinates and sometimes clashed with superiors in his current role as the top arms-control diplomat at the State Department, Lugar said.
But weeks of intense Senate inquiry turned up no evidence that Bolton did anything that would disqualify him as Bush's choice for the United Nations job, Lugar said.
"His blunt style alienated some colleagues. But there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct," Lugar said.
Biden opposed sending the nomination to the floor without a recommendation. "I think we have undermined our authority and shirked our constitutional responsibility," Biden said.
Later, Biden told reporters he did not know if Bolton's vote could be stopped in the full Senate. "Would I have liked it better to have a 'no' vote? Yes," he said.
Committee Republicans and Democrats alternately praised and denounced Bolton's qualifications and direct manner.
"We are not electing Mr. Congeniality. We do not need Mr. Milquetoast," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va., arguing that Bolton would be an effective agent for change at the United Nations.
But Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, last year's Democratic presidential nominee, portrayed Bolton as a loose cannon whose pronouncements would prompt other diplomats to ask, "Who is he speaking for?"
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:03 PM
The New York Times
May 12, 2005
The Young and the Jobless
By BOB HERBERT
There were high fives at the White House last week when the latest monthly employment report showed that 274,000 jobs had been created in April, substantially more than experts had predicted.
The employment bar has been set so low for the Bush administration that even a modest gain is cause for celebration. But we shouldn't be blinded by the flash of last Saturday's headlines. American workers, especially younger workers, remain stuck in a gloomy employment landscape.
For example, a recent report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston tells us that the employment rate for the nation's teenagers in the first 11 months of 2004 - just 36.3 percent - was the lowest it has ever been since the federal government began tracking teenage employment in 1948.
Those 20 to 24 years old are also faring poorly. In 2000, 72.2 percent were employed during a typical month. By last year that percentage had dropped to 67.9 percent.
Even the recent modest surge in jobs has essentially bypassed young American workers. Gains among recently arrived immigrants seem to have accounted for the entire net increase in jobs from 2000 through 2004.
Over all, only workers 55 and up have done reasonably well over the past few years. "Younger workers," said Andrew Sum, the center's director, "have just been crushed."
[Editors Note: Unfortunately, Mr. Herbert's information is not quite accurate. The only workers 55 and up that have done reasonably well are the ones who are already in the top 1% income bracket, not the average worker.]
Whatever the politicians and the business-booster types may be saying, the simple truth is that there are not nearly enough jobs available for the many millions of out-of-work or underworked men and women who need them. The wages of those who are employed are not even keeping up with inflation.
Workers have been so cowed by an environment in which they are so obviously dispensable that they have been afraid to ask for the raises they deserve, or for their share of the money derived from the remarkable increases in worker productivity over the past few years. And from one coast to the other, workers have swallowed draconian cuts in benefits with scarcely a whimper.
Some segments of the population have been all but completely frozen out. In Chicago, only one of every 10 black teenagers found employment in 2004. In Illinois, fewer than one in every three teenage high school dropouts are working.
Last month's increase of 274,000 jobs was barely enough to keep up with the increase in the nation's working-age population.
"The economy is growing and real output is up," said Mr. Sum, who is also a professor at Northeastern. "But the distribution of income, in terms of how much is going to workers - well, the answer is very little has gone to the typical worker."
The squeeze on the younger generation of workers is so tight that in many cases the young men and women of today are faring less well than their parents' generation did at a similar age. Professor Sum has been comparing the standard of living of contemporary families with that of comparable families three decades ago.
"Two-thirds of this generation are not living up to their parents' standard of living," he said.
College graduates today are doing better in real economic terms than college graduates in the 1970's. But everyone else is doing less well. "If you look at families headed by someone without a college degree," said Professor Sum, "their income last year in real terms was below that of a comparable family in 1973. For dropouts it's like 25 percent below where it was. And for high school grads, about 15 to 20 percent below."
It shouldn't be surprising that the standard of living of large segments of the population is sinking when employers have all the clout, including the powerful and unwavering support of the federal government. Workers can't even get a modest increase in the national minimum wage.
Globalization was supposed to be great for everyone. Nafta was supposed to be a boon. Increased productivity was supposed to be the ultimate tool - the sine qua non - for raising the standard of living for all.
Instead, wealth and power in the United States has become ever more dangerously concentrated, leaving an entire generation of essentially powerless workers largely at the mercy of employers.
A remark by Louis Brandeis comes to mind: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can't have both."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:50 PM
The New York Times
May 12, 2005
United's Pension Debacle
On Tuesday, when it received a federal bankruptcy court's permission to terminate its pension plans, United Airlines became the biggest pension defaulter in the history of corporate America. Analysts fear that Delta may also default, as well as other ailing airlines, followed by auto parts companies and perhaps even, in five years or so, the carmakers themselves.
When the court's decision is finalized, United will unload $6.6 billion of obligations onto the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that insures corporate pensions. Some of the 134,000 employees and retirees of United will see little change in their retirement payouts because the government insures a big chunk of promised benefits - up to $45,614 this year for someone retiring at age 65. But for others, especially pilots, who typically accumulate six-figure pensions and must retire at age 60, the cuts will be draconian.
Sadly, it's too late to offer relief to the burned United employees. But their plight should compel Congress to learn the right lessons and take the necessary steps to protect Americans' pensions.
There are, for instance, loopholes in the law that is supposed to penalize companies for underfunding their pensions. Currently, the government estimates that, at most, 20 percent of a total of $450 billion in underfunding is due to financial distress at companies. The rest is occurring at businesses that are financially healthy and are simply dodging their responsibility to put the proper resources into their pensions.
Congress must also raise the premiums that corporations pay the government for federal pension insurance, something that hasn't been done since 1994. This is politically difficult because corporations obviously don't want to pay higher premiums. Unions, fearing that corporations will cut back or drop pensions if forced to pay more, have not been lobbying for the change. But study after study shows that premiums are underpriced by one-sixth to one-half. No wonder that with the United default, the pension agency's deficit will rise to $23 billion; as recently as 2001, it had a surplus of $7.7 billion.
If the pension agency itself was pushed toward bankruptcy, some 40 million Americans who are covered by traditional corporate pensions would be more vulnerable to catastrophic losses. In addition, taxpayers would be called upon to rescue another failing federal institution, as in the savings and loan bailout of the 1980's.
The United debacle also holds a broader lesson about retirement security. The level of risk that exists in pensions and other retirement savings plans has no place in the core tier of retirement savings, Social Security. If lawmakers and policy makers are not yet convinced of that, they should talk to the people at United.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:48 PM
CNN's Mercurio invoked unfounded Whitewater allegations, referenced "the sleazy side of the Clinton administration"
CNN's Mercurio invoked unfounded Whitewater allegations, referenced "the sleazy side of the Clinton administration"
In an ostensibly straight news report on the trial of David Rosen, former finance director for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), for alleged campaign finance violations, CNN political editor John Mercurio opined that the case "reminds people of Whitewater" and the "sleazy side of the Clinton administration that she and the president are both trying to forget."
Rather than revealing a "sleazy side" of the Clinton administration, numerous investigations into Whitewater allegations over the course of many years turned up insufficient evidence to charge the Clintons with anything. Investigations by special prosecutor Robert Fiske, a Republican; by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, a Republican, who spent more than 4 1/2 years and more than $47 million as independent counsel investigating Whitewater; by former prosecutor Jay Stephens, a Republican; by the House Banking Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA); and by a Senate Whitewater panel, chaired by former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), all failed to produce any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the Clintons, as did endless media coverage and speculation, led by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Right-wing billionaire financier Richard Mellon Scaife bankrolled the "Arkansas Project," which successfully promoted allegations through the media regarding Whitewater and the Clintons. The project also provided cash payments to the Clintons's chief accuser in the investigation, David Hale, an admitted liar and convict who bilked the federal government out of millions of dollars.
From the May 10 edition of CNN's Inside Politics:
JUDY WOODRUFF (host): The circumstances [of the Rosen case] are somewhat confusing, but one fact bears repeating: Hillary Clinton has not been implicated in whatever happened, and she's not expected to testify in the case. That said, the Rosen trial has become fodder for some of the senator's political foes.
MERCURIO: This reminds people of Whitewater. It reminds people of the Lincoln bedroom, and it reminds people of sort of this sleazy side of the Clinton administration that she and the president are both trying to forget.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:47 AM
Michael Reagan falsely claimed that only Democrats have criticized a U.S. president while he was abroad
Michael Reagan falsely claimed that only Democrats have criticized a U.S. president while he was abroad
On Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, nationally syndicated conservative radio host Michael Reagan falsely asserted that only Democrats have criticized a U.S. president while he was abroad. In fact, during the 2000 presidential campaign, both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney criticized President Clinton while he was abroad, as did House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) on two occasions.
"[T]he Clinton-Gore record cries out for a new sign on the Pentagon that says 'Under new management,'" Bush said on May 30, 2000 [Associated Press, 5/30/00]. Clinton was on a European trip that began in Portugal and included his first summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin on May 30-June 5, 2000 [ABC News, 5/30/00 and 6/5/00].
Vice-presidential candidate Cheney criticized the Clinton administration for "eight years of neglect and misplaced priorities" regarding the military on August 30, 2000 [AP, 8/30/00]. That same day, Clinton was on a one-day trip to Colombia accompanied by a congressional delegation [The Washington Post, 8/31/00].
"[T]he president of the United States and his foreign policy is a total disaster. I mean, look at Russia, Kosovo, Baltic, Haiti, the Sudan, China, Taiwan, anywhere that he's had any influence whatsoever, the outcome has been unfor -- really unfortunate. And it's because this president is -- has a foreign policy that does not stand before -- with American values," DeLay said on March 23, 2000. DeLay further stated: "This president has lost all moral authority, and that's evident when he goes overseas. He's in India right now, and India treats an American president like they did, just shows you the kind of disdain that they feel" [MSNBC, Hardball, 3//23/00]. Clinton was in south Asia on March 19-25, 2000 [Los Angeles TImes, 3/20/00, 3/26/00].
"I'm suggesting that the president of the United States cannot be believed, and I think it's reflective in his foreign policy. The president of the U -- Saddam Hussein knows it, and that's why he jerks his chain all the time," DeLay said on December 13, 1998 [NBC, Meet the Press, 12/13/98]. Clinton was in the Middle East December 12-15, 1998 [AP, 12/12/98 and 12/15/98].
From the May 9 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
REAGAN: And the other side of the coin is, it used to be where this kind of stuff stopped at the water's edge. The president of the United States heads over to Europe to meet with Putin and others over there for this 60th anniversary of V-E Day.
And it used to be that we didn't say things, we didn't have this kind of rhetoric, this kind of talk when the president of the United States was going to a foreign land. It seems since Jimmy Carter's days and Bill Clinton's days, who took it to another level, that in fact they don't mind saying derogatory things about the president of the United States when he is meeting or going to meet with foreign leaders.
That's what's terribly wrong here. And it is only the Democrat Party [sic] that does that, only the Democrat Party [sic].
Reagan claims a daily audience of more than 5 million listeners for his radio show, which is syndicated by Radio America. He also writes a weekly column syndicated by Cagle Cartoons.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:44 AM
The end of pensions
In the future, will any company offer a pension?
By Dan Ackman
NEW YORK - In the future, will any company offer a pension? The answer is probably not, and the future is getting closer all the time.
Tuesday a U.S. federal Bankruptcy judge approved a plan by UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, to transfer its pension plans, which are underfunded by $9.8 billion, to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which is itself underfunded.
UAL's move is expected to spur similar actions by other so-called legacy carriers among the airlines, which are squeezed by high costs, competition from airlines without substantial pension obligations and, lately, by rising fuel costs.
More broadly, UAL's action takes place against a looming retirement crisis in which the relatively benign problems of the Social Security system are just a part (see "Retirement Doomsday").
The decline of pensions is likely well past the tipping point already. No so long ago, the defined benefit pension -- guaranteed retirement income -- was a prevalent aspect of the U.S. financial scene. But no more. In 1980, 38 percent of Americans had a defined benefit pension as their primary retirement plan. By 1997, just 21 percent of Americans had such plans, according to the Pension Benefits Council. That percentage is certainly lower now, and more and more plans have been passed off to the PBGC, a federal agency that insures pensions, but which does not necessarily pay the benefits retirees expected.
The ratio of active to inactive workers in existing defined benefit pension plans has fallen to roughly 1-to-1, down from more than 3.5-to-1 in 1980, according to the PBGC. This retirement math is starker than that faced by the Social Security system. The PBGC now pays the pensions of more than 1 million retirees.
While many more workers now have retirement savings plans such as 401(k)s, relatively few have sufficient assets to fund their retirements in a way that will maintain all or most of their pre-retirement incomes.
United's unions are preparing to fight the decision made by the company and permitted by the bankruptcy court, and they have threatened to strike. But with the defined pensions now a decidedly minority benefit, their partial loss is not likely to resonate politically or among United's customers.
More likely, the court's decision will encourage other airlines to follow suit. US Airways Group, which, like UAL, is in bankruptcy, terminated the last of its pension plans earlier this year. Tuesday, Delta Air Lines said it might have to seek bankruptcy protection, too, adding that it expected a significant loss for 2005. The airline industry already has the second-most beneficiaries of any industry covered by the PBGC guaranties. Steel is by far the first. Unlike steel, however, the airline industry is not in a long-term slide in terms of total employment, despite its financial troubles over the past several years.
The PBGC guarantees corporate pension plans and pays benefits to retirees when company plans fail. When it takes over a plan, it receives its assets as well as its liabilities, and also collects insurance premiums from the plans it guarantees. So far, the agency has been able to meet its obligations, but currently it faces a $23.3 billion deficit between its assets and long-term liabilities. The takeover of the UAL pension plan is already factored in that number. Overall, it backstops the pensions of 44.3 million beneficiaries.
The bankruptcy court frees UAL from $3 billion in pension contributions over the next five years. But the shortfall between its pension plan assets and its liabilities is much greater, nearly $10 billion, according to PBGC estimates.
It is not immediately clear which beneficiaries will be paid less and by how much. The PBGC's maximum guaranteed benefit is adjusted yearly. This year, the maximum paid to most retirees is $45,614 for a 65-year-old, so those who are now due more or who retire earlier would be paid less.
UAL says unloading its pensions is critical to obtaining the $2 billion or more in debt financing it needs to get out of bankruptcy. However necessary, in a world where employer-paid pensions are increasingly rare, unloading pension obligations is likely to become increasingly common.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:27 AM
Bush asked to explain UK war memo
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Eighty-nine Democratic members of the U.S. Congress last week sent President George W. Bush a letter asking for explanation of a secret British memo that said "intelligence and facts were being fixed" to support the Iraq war in mid-2002 -- well before the president brought the issue to Congress for approval.
The Times of London newspaper published the memo -- actually minutes of a high-level meeting on Iraq held July 23, 2002 -- on May 1.
British officials did not dispute the document's authenticity, and Michael Boyce, then Britain's Chief of Defense Staff, told the paper that Britain had not then made a decision to follow the United States to war, but it would have been "irresponsible" not to prepare for the possibility.
The White House has not yet responded to queries about the congressional letter, which was released on May 6.
The letter, initiated by Rep. John Conyers, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the memo "raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own administration. ...
"While various individuals have asserted this to be the case before, including Paul O'Neill, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council official, they have been previously dismissed by your administration," the letter said.
But, the letter said, when the document was leaked Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman called it "nothing new."
In addition to Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, MI6 chief Richard Dearlove and others attended the meeting.
A British official identified as "C" said that he had returned from a meeting in Washington and that "military action was now seen as inevitable" by U.S. officials.
"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
"The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
The memo further discussed the military options under consideration by the United States, along with Britain's possible role.
It quoted Hoon as saying the United States had not finalized a timeline, but that it would likely begin "30 days before the U.S. congressional elections," culminating with the actual attack in January 2003.
"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided," the memo said.
"But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
The British officials determined to push for an ultimatum for Saddam to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq to "help with the legal justification for the use of force ... despite U.S. resistance."
Britain's attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, advised the group that "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action" and two of three possible legal bases -- self-defense and humanitarian intervention -- could not be used.
The third was a U.N. Security Council resolution, which Goldsmith said "would be difficult."
Blair thought that "it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the U.N. inspectors."
"If the political context were right, people would support regime change," the memo said.
Later, the memo said, Blair would work to convince Bush that they should pursue the ultimatum with Saddam even though "many in the U.S. did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:17 AM
The Pentagon secretly keeps track of many grim statistics in Iraq. The numbers are not encouraging.
By Christopher Dickey
May 11 - The morning news from Iraq today brought fresh chronicles of slaughter. Yes, even more than usual. American troops are waging an offensive they call Operation Matador in a remote stretch of desert near the Syrian border, while suicide bombs are going off in Iraq’s towns and cities, including the capital. Who’s winning? Who’s losing? Who knows?
The military and political future of Iraq remains so uncertain that the Pentagon in recent months has gone back to the Vietnam-era practice of citing bodycounts as measures of success. We’re told, for instance, that “as many as 100” insurgent fighters have been killed by the Matador forces. But of course that’s just a guesstimate, while the toll on the Americans and their Iraqi allies is all too concrete. Today alone, the insurgents managed to kill more than 60 would-be Iraqi military recruits and civilian bystanders in urban Iraq. The Americans are drawing lines in the sand, it would seem, while Tikrit and Baghdad are bathed in blood. Meanwhile, the total number of American dead in this war is now more than 1,600. And the Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. troops? Well, we’ll get back to that.
If there’s good news, it’s that while the Pentagon may obscure this grim reality in public presentations, it doesn’t seem to be kidding itself, as it did in Vietnam. An accidentally declassified Pentagon report about a killing on the road to Baghdad airport at the beginning of March shows quite clearly how much worse the overall situation is than the Bush administration would like us, or even its allies in the Coalition forces, to believe.
“The U.S. considers all of Iraq a combat zone,” says the report, which was wrapped up at the end of April, three months after the elections that were supposed to have turned the tide in this conflict. “From July 2004 to late March 2005,” says the document, “there were 15,527 attacks against Coalition Forces throughout Iraq.” Then comes one of several paragraphs marked S//NF (secret, not for distribution to foreign nationals): “From 1 November 2004 to 12 March 2005 there were 3306 attacks in the Baghdad area. Of these, 2400 were directed against Coalition Forces.” In a span of four and a half months, which included the election turning point, that’s not only a hell of a lot of hits in the capital city, it’s just pure hell.
The report in question was prepared at the direction of the Multi-National Corps commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, to answer questions about a now-infamous incident on the night of March 4. Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena had just been released by the hostage-takers who’d held her for a month, and she was on her way to Baghdad airport with Nicola Calipari, a major general in the Italian intelligence service who had negotiated her freedom. At a U.S. roadblock on an access ramp leading to the airport highway, U.S. troops opened fire, wounding Sgrena and killing Calipari.
The sequence of events outlined in the report, which recommends “no disciplinary action be taken against any soldier involved in the incident,” was generally the way you might have figured at the time. “On that road at 8:30 at night,” as I wrote then, “when you have an unexpected car and an unexpected checkpoint, it’s a good bet somebody’s going to die.” The situation was made all the worse because the guys at the roadblock had only expected to be there about 15 or 20 minutes. Their mission was to close the road so John D. Negroponte, then the U.S. ambassador and now the nation's intelligence supremo, could be driven more safely to an appointment near the airport. But the weather was so miserable, his staff couldn’t decide whether he’d be able to return to Baghdad in a chopper or go back in a car. While they dithered, tension mounted out on the rain-swept highway. The troops had been in position an hour when the Italians’ car came sweeping around the on-ramp.
Sgrena, and many others who are automatically suspicious of U.S. actions and motivations, continues to believe there may have been some sort of conspiracy or cover-up involved. Meanwhile, the Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi certainly doesn’t want to have to admit that the shroud of secrecy surrounding the hostage negotiations—perhaps because a ransom was involved—put Calipari and Sgrena at such risk. According to the American report, an Army captain assigned as an aide-de-camp to the ranking Italian general in Iraq was the only American official who had any idea what Calipari was up to as he went off to meet with the kidnappers and free Sgrena. “It is best if no one knows,” the Italian general told the American captain. Certainly no one at the roadblock knew, the report says, and the rest is history.
After long delays, the American report was posted on the Web at the end of April with classified sections blacked out. But those sections could be restored, as it happened, with just a couple of mouse clicks that revealed all the S//NF material, including the names of every soldier at the checkpoint and the second Italian secret agent driving the car.
Under the heading “Atmospherics,” the author lays out the reasons the soldiers at the checkpoint were getting so jumpy—even though they acted according to the rules of engagement and within regulations. Everyone knows the eight-mile road from downtown Baghdad to the airport is dangerous. Here’s how dangerous: “(S//NF) Between 1 November 2004 and 12 March 2005, there were 135 attacks or hostile incidents that occurred along Route Irish,” as the military calls the airport highway. That’s just about one attack per day during those months, by the Pentagon’s calculations, or, looking at it another way, almost 17 attacks per mile. There were nine “complex attacks” combining, say, the explosion of a roadside bomb along with small-arms fire and mortars; there were 19 explosive devices found, three hand grenades, seven “indirect fire attacks” 19 roadside explosions, 14 rocket-propelled grenades, 15 car bombs and four other kinds of attacks. Investigators into the March 4 shooting had a grenade thrown at them when they tried to visit the scene. (Sgrena has suggested in some interviews that she was on a special road for VIPs when she was shot. In fact there’s only one highway to the airport, and this, sad to say, is it.)
Suicide bombs are the biggest threat. “The enemy is very skillful at inconspicuously packing large amounts of explosives into a vehicle,” says the report. “When moving, these [car bombs] are practically impossible to identify until it is too late.” The number of suicide attacks has been increasing steadily, including some using “multiple vehicles.” “Suicide [car bombs] are typically used against convoys, Coalition Force patrols, or Coalition checkpoints where they can achieve maximum damage,” says the report. “Such vehicles will rapidly approach the vehicle from the rear and attempt to get in between convoy vehicles before detonating.” The week of the March 4 shooting, 17 suicide bombs had gone off in Iraq, averaging 23 people killed per detonation. That average will be higher now.
As I write this, I can’t help but think about my friend Marla Ruzicka, who was killed on the airport road on April 16 while trying to pass a convoy, reportedly at just the moment when a suicide bomber struck. Because Marla’s passion was for helping people who’d suffered from the war, and because she had to deal with the military frequently to do that, she was sure that the same officials who kept such detailed numbers about everything else in the Iraq conflict had to be keeping a record somewhere of the civilians they killed and wounded. They always maintained they did not. But just before she died, Marla wrote a report with a partial number she said she’d received from U.S. military sources: 29 civilians killed by small-arms fire in Baghdad alone during firefights between U.S. troops and insurgents over the course of five weeks before April 5. Estimates of the total number of Iraqi civilian casualties in this war, calculated by reporters and human-rights groups, have ranged from about 10,000 to the much-less-plausible 100,000. Does the Pentagon know? If so, it should tell.
In the meantime, without a doubt, the bodycounts will continue.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:14 AM