Saturday, April 08, 2006
Bush called for a criminal investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of the CIA leak scandal. It turns out he may be the bottom.
Farewell, Fig Leaf
Bush called for a criminal investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of the CIA leak scandal. It turns out he may be the bottom.
By Eleanor Clift
April 7, 2006 - President Bush promised to restore honor and dignity to the White House. It was a not-so-veiled reference to the indiscretions of his predecessor. Bush relied on the trust that stemmed from his supposedly higher character to take the nation to war, a war we have since learned was waged on mostly made-up intelligence.
Lewis (Scooter) Libby’s claim that it was the president who authorized the leaking of classified information for political gain may not mean that Bush did anything illegal, but it sure strips away the last fig leaf of his moral standing. It places the president at the center of a schoolyard fight to bully retired ambassador Joseph Wilson into shutting up about the administration’s lies that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Africa. Wilson had traveled to Niger and reported back to the CIA that the claim was false, yet Bush made the alleged purchase a centerpiece of his case for war.
According to testimony by Libby—Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff—Bush gave the go-ahead through the vice president for the otherwise secretive and always dutiful Libby to leak the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to New York Times reporter Judith Miller. The leak set in motion the chain of events that led to the unmasking of Valerie Plame, Wilson’s wife, as an undercover CIA officer who had been working for an energy-related front company while investigating nuclear proliferation. It is a serious crime to reveal the identity of a covert operative, and Bush called for a criminal investigation to “get to the bottom” of the scandal. It turns out he may be the bottom.
There is no evidence that Bush specifically authorized the leaking of Plame’s identity, and the White House is refusing to comment on an ongoing court case. But it’s not that far a reach to imagine that the president gave his tacit support to the leak. There’s nothing this administration won’t do under the guise of battling terrorism. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified on Capitol Hill this week that he wouldn’t rule out the president allowing warrantless wiretapping on Americans without the fiction that they are conversing with someone overseas. The only way the American people can stop Bush’s imperial expansion of power short is to turn out in massive numbers to take back one or the other body of Congress from Republican control.
Rebuilding public support for the war in Iraq is Bush’s top priority, and with his credibility crumbling, it looks like a mission impossible. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, when asked about Iraq at a recent seminar in Delaware organized by Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, told the audience that whatever high expectation of success they might have had for Iraq, they should cut it in half. Those attending the “Biden seminar” thought that was a significant admission from a Republican who serves on the Armed Services Committee. When Graham left to take the train back to Washington, Biden was asked why he doesn’t talk more about the failures in Iraq. “Same reason I didn’t talk about Vietnam,” Biden said as he recounted the exchange at a luncheon Tuesday at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “It drove liberals crazy.”
Then, as now, Biden explained, most people’s minds are made up. Dwelling on defeat gives the other side propaganda points. “Ninety-five percent of the American people have formed their view [on Iraq]. Some are hoping against hope it can be pulled out [from disaster]. Others are convinced it is gone.” Given the skill with which this administration turned doubts about war against the Democrats in the last two elections, Biden says he doesn’t want to give Bush and Karl Rove an opening to say, “but for those Democrats, we could have done it.” He gets asked all the time why Democrats are afraid to just stand up and say we’ve lost in Iraq. “Because Bush lost,” says Biden. “This is Bush’s war, beginning, middle and end.”
Besides, Biden isn’t entirely certain Iraq is lost. When pressed, he says that achieving a good outcome there is the equivalent of a “three-point shot at the buzzer” from the far court. “But it’s possible.”
Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972 at age 29, has served with seven presidents. Assessing Bush in response to a question, he says that one of the things that he notices about the president is “a strong sense of conviction that grows from being able to beat [his drinking problem].” This is a president whose strength is a willingness to stand alone. If only he were doing it in the service of the duty and honor he once stood for instead of a bankrupt policy.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:06 AM
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
So I thought George W. Bush was against leaks.
And that he was especially against leaks of classified information.
"If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," the president said a couple of years ago.
Bush took that stance again and again in the Valerie Plame case, and said he would fire anyone who was found to have committed a crime by leaking classified stuff.
On that score, Bush is probably safe from having to fire himself, despite Scooter Libby's accusation yesterday that the president, through Dick Cheney, had authorized him to feed classified CIA data to Judy Miller. The reason: It's legal for the president to declassify something that otherwise would remain super-secret.
Politically, it's a mess.
The president finds it acceptable to authorize the sharing of government secrets with a New York Times reporter when it's advantageous to the administration? And have the vice president's chief of staff carry it out? What else don't we know about this case?
From the moment this was broken yesterday morning by National Journal's Murray Waas and the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein , television has been all over it, the Democrats have been all over it, and the White House is going to have to figure out a way to respond.
I'll be watching to see how much of the pushback comes from anonymous aides.
Some MSM [Main Stream Media] coverage:
"The testimony, cited in a court filing by the government late Wednesday, provides the first indication that Mr. Bush, who has long assailed leaks of classified information as a national security threat, played a direct role in the disclosure of the intelligence report on Iraq at a moment that the White House was trying to defend itself against charges that it had inflated the case against Saddam Hussein," says the New York Times .
"If Mr. Libby's account is accurate, it also involves Mr. Bush directly in the swirl of events surrounding the disclosure of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer."
Los Angeles Times : "Experts in national security law say a decision by President Bush to authorize the leak of classified information to a reporter probably would not be illegal. "But if Bush did so -- as a former top White House aide has testified he did -- there could be significant damage to the credibility of a president who has repeatedly and publicly expressed his abhorrence of leaks. . . .
"But the experts also said that if the testimony of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was true, Bush's actions violated a traditional unwritten understanding that any declassification decision would be made in close consultation with intelligence officials."
Boston Globe : "The possibility that Bush authorized a selective leak to a single correspondent suggests a desire to shape the news to the administration's ends -- a possible misuse of the president's national security powers. . . .
"Such tactics are hardly unusual in politics, but would seem to damage the credibility of a president who has built a reputation for forthrightness, and who has gone further than previous presidents both in keeping information secret and in launching Justice Department investigations of alleged leakers."
Chicago Tribune : "It was Bush himself, answering a reporter's question in Chicago after speaking with business leaders at the University of Chicago, on Sept. 30, 2003, who said: 'Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing.
" 'Leaks of classified information are a bad thing,' Bush said then. 'And we've had them -- there's too much leaking in Washington. That's just the way it is. And we've had leaks out of the administrative branch, had leaks out of the legislative branch, and out of the executive branch and the legislative branch, and I've spoken out consistently against them and I want to know who the leakers are.' ''
Hey, no fair, using the guy's own words against him!
American Prospect's Greg Sargent surmises a campaign coverup:
"The thing about the Plame investigation that never quite seemed to make sense was this: Why would Libby or Rove deliberately mislead the grand jury, risking perjury charges when it wasn't clear the leak was a crime?
"Thanks to Waas, for the first time, we may now know for a fact that Rove and other Bush advisers viewed the truth about the run-up to war as something that could destroy his re-election prospects. It is entirely plausible that Bush advisers calculated that if it came out that they'd outed Plame, Congress would have been forced by the resulting firestorm to run a far more aggressive investigation of Bush's pre-war deceptions -- and possibly uncover the smoking gun Waas reports on, among other things. Remember, Libby and Rove testified in early 2004, during the heat of a presidential campaign which Rove himself had apparently concluded was at risk if existing hard evidence of Bush's deceptions surfaced.
"So it seems plausible that Libby and Rove sought to minimize the chance of the aggressive congressional oversight that might have resulted if it became known that they'd outed Plame. In short, misleading the grand jury about Plame may simply have been a key piece of a broader effort to get past the election before the truth about the run-up to the war surfaced to sink his campaign."
Americablog's John Aravosis says Bush is guilty of that which he rails against:
"While it's not clear whether Bush did or didn't authorize Libby to leak Valerie Plame's name, we now know that Bush himself is a leaker - Bush thinks leaks of classified information are a-okay and a worthwhile and acceptable tool of politics. And Bush himself is directly responsible for leaking classified information to - whom? - why REPORTERS! The very people who Bush now has the Justice Department investigating for receiving leaks of classified information regarding secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. So, Bush authorized leaks of classified information to reporters, yet he's investigating people in his administration for leaking classified information to reporters. It's good to be king."
Andrew Sullivan says the White House went nuclear for little reason:
"Cheney's judgment in this matter is extremely odd. Who really cared about Joseph Wilson's op-ed? Why the extreme defensiveness and then recklessness of the Plame leak? We're either talking extreme hubris here, or someone who felt he had a lot to hide. Or an admixture of the two."
Salon's Joe Conason says this one is beyond spin:
"Compared with other deceptions that George W. Bush has perpetrated in the years since he promised to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office, this one cannot be spun away as a misunderstanding, a 'misunderestimate' or a mistake. From the moment that the Justice Department opened its probe of the disclosure of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA identity to the press, Bush insisted that he wanted to find and punish the culprits, especially if any of them were among his White House staff. He claimed to consider the leaking of classified information to be a matter of the utmost seriousness."
Georgia10 at Kos says someone ain't leveling here:
"Did the President personally authorize the selected release of classified information meant to manipulate public opinion about Iraq? Or did Cheney lie? If Cheney corroborates Scooter Libby's story, he implicates the President. If he denies it, he calls his former Chief of Staff a liar.
Blogger Austin Bay begs to differ:
"The sudden press flap over Scooter Libby's alleged 'revelation' that President Bush declassified intelligence information related to Iraq is silly but all too predictable. The entire flap relies on mixing terms and 'misunderstanding by innuendo' -- a technique of demagoguery, not journalism. The flap is yet more evidence that the national press is more interested in playing "gotcha" with the Bush Administration than reporting the news. . . .
"CNN is exploring another angle: that the White House is 'hypocritical' because it has come down hard on leaks. But a word is missing in this accusation: "unauthorized." The White House has indeed come down hard on anyone leaking classified information. The White House has also been tough on executive branch employees who pass information via unauthorized leaks. The president wants to control the dissemination of information and has made that clear. The information released today said that what Libby leaked as declassified and authorized -- but try getting that clear on a T.V. squawk show where the game is gotcha."
So there's no hypocrisy because Bush's leaks are authorized and the others are unauthorized? C'mon.
Seems to me Bush's defenders are all going legalistic on us. National Review's Byron York :
"I confess to being a little baffled by the excitement. . . . As for leaking portions of the National Intelligence Estimate, yes, it was classified, although it would later be declassified. But it should be remembered that when the president decides to make something public, then it can be made public."
That's right, and if we had learned that Bill Clinton had leaked CIA data to Sidney Blumenthal at the New Yorker to justify the war in Bosnia, I'm sure conservatives would have yawned and said the prez was merely exercising his legal powers.
Anyone see a contradiction between these next two paragraphs?
"Senate Republicans killed an immigration bill yesterday that they said would grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and then cast doubt on the fate of a new bill that would grant the same amnesty to a slightly smaller portion of illegals," says the Washington Times .
"'We've made huge progress,' Majority Leader Bill Frist said of the new bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida, that would give a direct path to citizenship for workers who have resided illegally in the U.S. for five years or more."
So much for compromise.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:59 AM
Bush, GOP Struggle for Public Approval
AP-Ipsos Poll: Bush, GOP Approval Ratings Sink to New Lows As Democrats Seek Advantage in Nov.
By RON FOURNIER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - President Bush has hit new lows in public opinion for his handling of Iraq and the war on terror and for his overall job performance. Polling also shows the Republican Party surrendering its advantage on national security.
The AP-Ipsos survey is loaded with grim election-year news for a party struggling to stay in power. Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction the largest percentage during the Bush presidency and up 13 points from a year ago.
"These numbers are scary. We've lost every advantage we've ever had," GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio said. "The good news is Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they may not need one."
Democratic leaders predicted they will seize control of one or both chambers of Congress in November. Republicans said they feared the worst unless the political landscape quickly changes.
There is more at stake than the careers of GOP lawmakers. A Democratic-led Congress could bury the last vestiges of Bush's legislative agenda and subject the administration to high-profile investigations of the Iraq war, the CIA leak case, warrantless eavesdropping and other matters.
In the past two congressional elections, Republicans gained seats on the strength of Bush's popularity and a perception among voters that the GOP was stronger on national security than Democrats.
Those advantages are gone, according to a survey of 1,003 adults conducted this week for The Associated Press by Ipsos, an international polling firm.
On an issue the GOP has dominated for decades, Republicans are now locked in a tie with Democrats 41 percent each on the question of which party people trust to protect the country. Democrats made their biggest national security gains among young men, according to the AP-Ipsos poll, which had a 3 percentage point margin of error.
The public gives Democrats a slight edge on what party would best handle Iraq, a reversal from Election Day 2004.
As for Bush's ratings:
Just 36 percent of the public approves of his job performance, his lowest-ever rating in AP-Ipsos polling. By contrast, the president's job approval rating was 47 percent among likely voters just before Election Day 2004 and a whopping 64 percent among registered voters in October 2002.
Only 40 percent of the public approves of Bush's performance on foreign policy and the war on terror, another low-water mark for his presidency. That's down 9 points from a year ago. Just before the 2002 election, 64 percent of registered voters backed Bush on terror and foreign policy.
Just 35 percent of the public approves of Bush's handling of Iraq, his lowest in AP-Ipsos polling.
"He's in over his head," said Diane Heller, 65, a Pleasant Valley, N.Y., real estate broker and independent voter.
Some past presidents' job approval ratings have dropped lower than Bush's. Harry Truman in 1952, Richard Nixon in 1974, Jimmy Carter in 1979 and the first George Bush in 1992 saw their ratings fall to the mid- to high 20s, according to Gallup polling.
Many have sunk as low as this president. Bill Clinton was at 39 percent in the late summer of 1994 before midterm elections that were disastrous for Democrats. Ronald Reagan was at 35 percent in January 1983 before rebuilding his support. Lyndon Johnson was at 36 percent in March 1968, just before announcing he would not run for re-election during the Vietnam War.
As bad as Bush's numbers may be, Congress' are worse.
Just 30 percent of the public approves of the GOP-led Congress' job performance, and Republicans seem to be shouldering the blame.
By a 49-33 margin, the public favors Democrats over Republicans when asked which party should control Congress.
That 16-point Democratic advantage is the largest the party has enjoyed in AP-Ipsos polling.
"I think we will win the Congress," Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said, breaking the unwritten rule against raising expectations.
Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., head of the House Republican campaign committee, said Bush's woes won't hurt GOP candidates.
"When we get to the ballot this year, there's not going to be President Bush on the ballot, and there's not going to be in my view, 'Do you want to vote with the Republicans or Democrats?' It's going to be, 'How do you feel about your member of Congress?' And if our members are doing their work and our candidates are connecting with the issues of those districts, they're going to do fine," Reynolds said.
Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House and six in the Senate for control, no easy task in the best of circumstances.
The Democratic strategy is to nationalize the elections around a throw-the-bums-out theme keyed to a burgeoning ethics scandal focused on relationships between GOP lobbyists and lawmakers.
Democrats also need hordes of GOP voters to stay home on Election Day out of frustration. Nobody can predict whether that will happen, but a growing number of Republicans disagree with their leaders in Washington about immigration, federal spending and other issues.
Bush's approval rating is down 12 points among Republicans since a year ago. Six in 10 Republicans said they disapproved of the GOP-led Congress.
Trevor Tompson, manager of news surveys for The Associated Press, and AP writer Will Lester contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:58 AM
The New York Times
Committee Acts to Doom New England Wind Farm
By CORNELIA DEAN
A Senate-House conference committee has approved a measure that would effectively kill a proposal for the first large offshore wind farm in the United States, in Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod, Mass.
The measure, an amendment to a Coast Guard budget bill, gives the governor of "the adjacent state," Massachusetts, veto power over any wind farm in the sound. Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, opposes the wind farm, and most of the candidates running to replace him in the election for governor this fall have also come out against it, as have most of the state's prominent politicians.
The budget bill now goes to the full Congress, and members are expected to consider it after their recess.
Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates, the private company that proposed the wind farm, said the language that would kill it was inserted into the measure, without hearings or other public discussion, in an "egregious abuse" of the legislative process.
"By arbitrarily legislating a new barrier on a single project, solely because of local opposition, this provision will impede the development of offshore renewable energy throughout the country," Mr. Gordon said in a statement.
But Charles Vinick, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, an organization formed to fight the project, said that the part of the sound chosen for the installation was unique in that it is federal water surrounded by state waters.
The language inserted in the bill may look "political," Mr. Vinick said, but "people were paying attention to the fact that Nantucket Sound has some unique features."
The installation would comprise 130 turbines in a grid that would occupy 24 square miles of the sound. Each tower, with its turbines and blades, would rise 420 feet above the water. Cape Wind said the project would produce three-quarters of the electricity now used on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
The proposal won the support of many environmental groups and lawmakers.
But many Massachusetts politicians of both parties have long objected to the proposal, saying Nantucket Sound, a major attraction for the region's tourism-based economy, is a poor site for so large an industrial installation. Others argued that nothing so elaborate should be built in federal waters until the government had established a way to regulate them.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:56 AM
[Editor's note: To those who don't pay attention and think this site only points out problems on one side of the political aisle, think again. The Congressman in question is a Democrat.]
The New York Times
Special Projects by Congressman Draw Complaints
By JODI RUDOREN
As lawmakers have increasingly slipped pet projects into federal spending bills over the past decade, one lawmaker has used his powerful perch on the House Appropriations Committee to funnel $250 million into five nonprofit organizations that he set up.
Those actions have prompted a complaint to federal prosecutors that questions whether any of that taxpayer money helped fuel a parallel growth in his personal fortune.
The most ambitious effort by the congressman, Alan B. Mollohan, is a glistening glass-and-steel structure with a swimming pool, sauna and spa rising in a former cow pasture in Fairmont, W.Va., thanks to $103 million of taxpayer money he garnered through special spending allocations known as earmarks.
The headquarters building is likely to sit largely empty upon completion this summer, because the Mollohan-created organization that it was built for, the Institute for Scientific Research, is in disarray, its chief executive having resigned under a cloud of criticism over his $500,000 annual compensation, also paid by earmarked federal money.
The five organizations have diverse missions but form a cozy, cross-pollinated network in the forlorn former coal capitals of north-central West Virginia. Mr. Mollohan has recruited many of their top employees and board members, including longtime friends or former aides, who in turn provide him with steady campaign contributions and positive publicity in their newsletters.
The conservative National Legal and Policy Center in Falls Church, Va., filed a 500-page complaint with the United States attorney for the District of Columbia on Feb. 28 challenging the accuracy of Mr. Mollohan's financial disclosure forms. The forms show a sharp spike in assets and income from rental properties from 2000 to 2004.
Federal authorities said yesterday that they were reviewing the complaint, which was reported in The Wall Street Journal.
The case has led several Republican leaders to call for Mr. Mollohan's removal from the House ethics committee, where he is the senior Democrat.
In a statement yesterday, he said, "These groups were not created to benefit me in any way, and they never have."
Mr. Mollohan noted that the National Legal and Policy Center had attacked other Democrats and their union supporters and that it began its inquiry last May after he had voted against Republican efforts to water down House ethics rules.
"Obviously, I am in the crosshairs of the National Republican Party and like-minded entities," said Mr. Mollohan, who faces a serious electoral challenge in November. Vice President Dick Cheney is scheduled to headline a fund-raiser on April 21 for the Republican whom the White House recruited to run against Mr. Mollohan.
"They are angry at me, and I fully expect that from now until November they will continue to make baseless charges against me, my record and my family," the statement said. "I will vigorously defend my service and not be intimidated by their heavy-handed tactics."
In previous interviews, Mr. Mollohan acknowledged that he had failed to pay 2004 taxes on income from rental properties in Washington and North Carolina, resulting in a state lien of $8,948.28 being filed on Dec. 1. He said the case was resolved by final payments of all taxes, interest and penalties by January.
"Obviously it's totally my fault," he said. "I just neglected this, and it was paid late, and I regret that."
In the last three years, Mr. Mollohan, a Democrat first elected in 1982 to a seat long held by his father, has bought $2 million worth of property on Bald Head Island, N.C., with Laura Kurtz Kuhns, a former employee who now runs one of the organizations and is on the boards of two others.
He was unapologetic about his earmarks, saying that local lawmakers knew their constituents' needs best, and that he was hardly alone in mainlining money back home. "The amount of money in the transportation bill spent in Illinois in earmarked projects is astronomical," he said. "It puts $100 million on the I.S.R. building in real perspective."
The earmarking occurred as an abundance of local projects was added to spending bills outside the normal budget review, from $32.9 billion in 2000 to $64 billion in 2006, the Congressional Research Service said. Although it is impossible to trace individual earmarks for certain, an analysis by Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington watchdog, found $480 million added in the House or in conference committees, most likely by Mr. Mollohan, for his district since 1995. That sum helped West Virginia rank fourth on the watchdog list — $131.58 for each of the 1.8 million West Virginians this year.
Although Mr. Mollohan's mentor, Senator Robert C. Byrd, has long blanketed the state in bacon in the form of large public works projects and federal complexes, Mr. Mollohan has directed more than half his earmarks to his five organizations of his design.
Several people involved in the appropriations process said no other lawmaker employed that strategy to the same extent.
The first and largest is the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation, which is absorbing the troubled Institute for Scientific Research. Another, the Canaan Valley Institute, works on stream restoration and wastewater treatment. The Vandalia Heritage Foundation redevelops dilapidated buildings, and the MountainMade Foundation helps artisans market wares.
"He's basically judge, jury and executioner for all this money," said Keith Ashdown, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington.
Of the empty building in Mr. Mollohan's hometown, Fairmont, Mr. Ashdown added, "This is sort of Mollohan's field of dreams, but in his case, he's building it, and it doesn't look like they're going to come."
Kenneth F. Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, said the bulk of his complaint to the federal prosecutors was made up of public documents that showed 260 instances of omitted or undervalued assets on the financial disclosure forms that Mr. Mollohan filed with the ethics committee from 1996 to 2004.
Those forms show a jump in Mr. Mollohan's portfolio from less than $500,000 in assets generating less than $80,000 in income in 2000 to at least $6.3 million in assets earning $200,000 to $1.2 million in 2004, along with large mortgage debts.
Among the concerns in the complaint, Mr. Boehm said, are commissions that Ms. Kuhns's husband, Donald, received as a real estate broker on deals for the organization that she controls. The couple have donated at least $10,000 to Mr. Mollohan's political committees since 1998.
The complaint also looks at whether Mr. Mollohan properly reported 27 condominiums in the Remington, near Foggy Bottom in Washington. He and his wife own the building with a cousin, Joseph L. Jarvis, whose business once received money from a federal contract in Mr. Mollohan's district.
"The $64,000 question that's all over this thing is during the period of time all these earmarks went to very closely associated nonprofits run by people who were very close to him, did any of the money go from Point A to Point B?" Mr. Boehm asked in an interview. "Did any of his newfound wealth result from, in any way, shape or form, individuals who had benefited from his official actions?"
Lifeblood for a Weak Economy
About 75 miles southeast of Fairmont along windy roads in Thomas (pop. 473) sits the Buxton & Landstreet Building, whose lifeblood is Mr. Mollohan's largess. The Vandalia Heritage Foundation used $1.2 million in earmarks from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help transform the yellow-brick behemoth, built in 1901 as the coal company store, from broken down to bustling.
The first floor is a vibrant gallery where the MountainMade Foundation, relying on its own earmarks from the Small Business Administration to pay Vandalia its $5,166.67 in monthly rent, sells items like Mr. Byrd's thick autobiography for $35 and a maple desk for $5,250.
Upstairs, 41 people work on stream restoration and wastewater treatment in the Canaan Valley office, whose $5,100 rent to Vandalia is covered by earmarks from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
"What else are you going to do to reinvent this economy?" asked Ms. Kuhns, Mr. Mollohan's former aide who runs Vandalia and is the co-owner of the North Carolina beach property with the congressman. "A lot of what we do would not get done otherwise."
Created in 2000 to help artisans market their creations over the Internet — Mr. Mollohan favors the earthenware pottery — MountainMade also runs glassblowing, spinning and felt-making workshops in another downtown building that Vandalia renovated.
The Canaan Valley Institute, which grew out of an effort to create a wildlife refuge near property that Mr. Mollohan owns, is building a $33 million headquarters with classrooms and laboratories on 3,208 acres that it bought with earmarks he secured.
Vandalia owns more than a score of properties throughout Mr. Mollohan's district like the Baltimore & Ohio station in Grafton that it is turning into a museum and office space and lots in Fairmont, where it plans to build houses. Earmarks from HUD bought the mothballed Waldo Hotel in Clarksburg ($230,000 in 2000) and 1,129 acres in Canaan Valley ($2.4 million in 2004).
Mr. Mollohan and the organizations' managers said their goal was to wean from earmarks and be self-sustaining. But Canaan Valley, the oldest, continues to rely on earmarks for 97 percent of its money. Last year, MountainMade received $1,085,308 from the S.B.A., nearly twice its $553,000 in sales. MountainMade also had a $124,000 state grant.
As for Vandalia, 92 percent of its $31.5 million in grants since 1999 arrived through federal earmarks. Separately, the 2004 tax return for the organization shows that 96 percent of its $8.5 million revenue was from government grants.
None of the three groups have dues-paying members, like many such organizations, or run regular fund-raisers. They worry about the crackdown on earmarks. The Vandalia pipeline has begun to dry up since Mr. Mollohan left the subcommittee that appropriates HUD money. The organizations said success in finding other sources had been sporadic.
The Quid Pro Quos
"The congressman gave us money" for this or that is how the groups' leaders frequently explain their programs. And they generally return the favor at fund-raisers.
A review of campaign finance records by The New York Times shows that from 1997 through February 2006, top-paid employees, board members and contractors of the five organizations gave at least $397,122 to Mr. Mollohan's campaign and political action committees.
Thirty-eight individuals with leadership roles, including all five chief executives — all but one of whose 2004 salaries outpaced the $98,456 national average among nonprofit leaders — contributed, often giving the maximum allowed.
At the same time, workers at companies that do business with the federally financed groups were among Mr. Mollohan's leading contributors. Employees of TMC Technologies, which had a $50,000 contract with Vandalia in 2003, have given $63,450 since 1998. Workers at Electronic Warfare Associates and Man Tech International, military contractors that rent space from the technology consortium and whose chief executives are on the board of the Institute for Scientific Research, combined to give $86,750.
For Kate McComas, a weaver who is the executive director of MountainMade, the $1,000 check that she wrote in March 2004 at a Mollohan fund-raiser was a first. "I bought a pair of high heels to wear," Ms. McComas recalled. "I thank him every occasion I see him for the opportunity we have here."
Asked whether contributions were required or expected, Kevin Niewoehner, the departed chief executive of the Institute for Scientific Research, said: " 'Required' is such a strong term. The political environment and the access that goes along with it has a number of expectations that involves what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate." He added that the first hint that he was falling out of favor occurred in October, when a $250 check he wrote to the campaign was returned uncashed.
"I received invitations to those events on a regular basis," he said. "I was invited to participate, and I participated."
'Teaming to Win'
Mr. Mollohan scoffed at the suggestion that the overlap among the groups that he supports and his supporters meant anything more than a meeting of the minds.
"I like to think I'm supported because I work hard," he said. "Because I bring a collaborative, a 'teaming to win,' if you will, approach to solving the really difficult challenges facing West Virginia."
The team includes overlapping rosters among the five organizations. In addition to Ms. Kuhns's multiple roles, Jack Carpenter, an old friend of the congressman, is vice president of the consortium and chairman of the MountainMade board. The board once included Mr. Mollohan's wife, Barbara.
Raymond A. Oliverio, executive vice president of the consortium, is also treasurer of the Robert H. Mollohan Foundation, named for the congressman's late father. Gina Fantasia, Vandalia's legal counsel, moved over last year from the Institute for Scientific Research. Her brother Nick, mayor of Fairmont, is chairman of the Vandalia Redevelopment Corporation, a heritage foundation sister.
"He effectively referred to it as a family," said a person involved in the Mollohan network, likening the operation to keiretsu, the Japanese concept of intermeshed corporate boards.
Down the hill from the steel structure here is the more pedestrian $14 million Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center, built with $3.5 million in earmarks. It is the home of the high-tech consortium, which began in 1990 as six small companies hoping to seed a new economic area. The center has 200 affiliates throughout the state. Earmarks are its engine, underwriting high-tech projects like AmberView, which seeks to create a national database of three-dimensional school photographs to help find missing children.
The consortium has had better luck following earmarks with competitive grants. Its Information Research Corporation was spun off as a for-profit subsidiary after obtaining a $10 million Navy contract to build 2,500 BomBots, robotlike tractors that remotely deliver explosives .
"The congressman has enabled programs and entities to get started," said Tom Witt, director of the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research. "But at some point, they're going to have to make the transition or they'll die."
The big test will be the $134 million Institute for Scientific Research building, three-quarters paid by NASA and HUD earmarks. The 57-member staff is barely large enough to fill a corner of the 600-plus capacity of the building.
David Johnston and Aron Pilhofer contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 AM
Lawyer says Rumsfeld "messed up" Guantanamo trials
By Jane Sutton
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his appointees set rules that violate President George W. Bush's order to hold fair trials for prisoners charged with terrorism in the Guantanamo tribunals, a military defense lawyer said on Friday.
"We can't help it that the secretary of defense and his delegees (sic) have messed this thing up, but they have," military lawyer Army Maj. Tom Fleener told the presiding officer at one of the hearings.
"If the rules don't provide for a full and fair trial, then they violate the president's order."
Fleener was trying to persuade the presiding officer, Col. Peter Brownback, to let a Yemeni defendant act as his own attorney on charges of conspiring to attack civilians and destroy property.
Tribunal rules set by the Pentagon require the defendants to have U.S. military lawyers who are authorized to see secret evidence that the accused may not be allowed to view. Pentagon officials have refused to allow self-representation, which Fleener called a fundamental right in nearly every court on Earth.
Fleener was appointed to defend Ali Hamza al Bahlul, an acknowledged al Qaeda member charged with conspiring to commit terrorism by acting as Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and making al Qaeda recruiting videos.
Bahlul refuses to cooperate with any lawyer appointed by the U.S. military. He asked to act as his own attorney or to have a Yemeni lawyer, and declared a boycott when the request was denied during an earlier hearing. He did not attend his hearing on Friday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Fleener said Bahlul cannot get a fair trial unless the rules change. "As the world looks at this system, it's going to have no legitimacy whatsoever," he said.
Two other defendants have also asked to act as their own attorneys. The prosecution agrees they should have that right, said the chief prosecutor, Col. Moe Davis.
"Give him the opportunity. If he screws it up, then he had his opportunity," Davis said of Bahlul.
Bush created the tribunals to try foreign terrorist suspects after the September 11 attacks, and directed Rumsfeld and his delegates to draft rules that ensure full and fair trials while protecting national security.
The chief prosecutor said those requirements had been met and described some of the angry courtroom complaints from defense attorneys as theatrical performances.
"The presiding officers have bent over backwards to protect the accused," Davis said.
Military defense lawyers and human rights groups have called the tribunals fundamentally unfair and stacked to ensure convictions. The U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to their legitimacy last month and is expected to rule by the end of June on whether the trials can proceed.
Defense lawyers say other Pentagon rules violate Bush's order, including one that gives only the presiding officer the right to act essentially as judge, rather than all the tribunal members sharing that role.
Ten of the 490 Guantanamo detainees have been charged by the tribunals and would face life in prison if convicted. Four had pretrial hearings this week, including 19-year-old Canadian Omar Khadr, who is accused of murdering a U.S. soldier by throwing a grenade at him in Afghanistan.
Khadr threatened on Wednesday to boycott the tribunal to protest his move from group housing to a solo cell where it was more difficult to meet with his lawyers.
His attorneys said on Friday they had received assurances from prison camp officials that the move was not punitive. They said Khadr agreed to participate in future proceedings.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:48 AM
White House does not dispute leak claim
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday left unchallenged a prosecutor's disclosure that President George W. Bush authorized a former top official, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to share intelligence data on Iraq in 2003 with a reporter to counter Iraq war criticism.
Spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that Bush had the authority to declassify intelligence and rejected charges from Democrats that he did so selectively for political purposes.
"Declassifying information and providing it to the public when it is in the public interest is one thing," McClellan told reporters during a combative briefing. "But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious, and there's a distinction."
Democrats seized on the issue, which has put Bush on the defensive at a time when his popularity is slumping and the Iraq war is increasingly unpopular. They accused the president, who has often spoken of the damage done by leaks, of hypocrisy.
"President Bush's selective declassification of highly sensitive intelligence for political purposes is wrong," said the House of Representatives Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada demanded an explanation from Bush, who has twice ignored shouted questions about the issue.
"Only the president can put this matter to rest. He must tell the American people whether the Bush Oval Office is the place where the buck stops, or the leaks start," Reid said.
The case is rooted in am investigation in which Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of obstruction of justice and perjury in an investigation designed to discover who leaked then-CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, emerged as a key critic of Bush's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, saying that the president knowingly gave the American people information about Iraq's alleged nuclear program that U.S. intelligence services knew was untrue.
'PERSONAL PAY BACK'
Wilson said the administration deliberately leaked his wife's identity to pay him back for his criticism.
The White House mounted an effort to respond to Wilson. On July 18, 2003, officials released portions of an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that said, among other things, that Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in a year or less once it acquired sufficient weapons-grade fissile material.
Inspectors who scoured Iraq after the U.S. invasion failed to find any signs of a nuclear program, leading to accusations that Bush manipulated intelligence in order to justify the war, a charge that follows him to this day.
According to court papers made public this week, Libby testified to a federal grand jury that Cheney had told him Bush authorized him to disclose information from the secret National Intelligence Estimate to a New York Times reporter.
The court documents did not say that Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Plame's identity.
Libby resigned from the administration last October when he was indicted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. His trial is expected to begin next January.
McClellan argued the release of the declassified information was very different from what he called the potentially damaging leak of information about Bush's domestic eavesdropping program which aims to track phone calls and e-mails in the United States to suspected terrorists abroad.
"Democrats who refuse to acknowledge that distinction are simply engaging in crass politics," he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:47 AM
White House mulls changes to plant emission rules
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House is reviewing an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal that the agency says will streamline the way the it oversees smokestack pollution from power generators, oil refineries and other industrial plants.
According to a website filing made public Friday, EPA is asking the White House's regulatory arm, the Office of Management and Budget, to sign off on a rule that EPA says will reduce paperwork and clarify how the agency tracks emissions for certain plant operations.
EPA officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
When a refiner or generator now wants to modify a section of a plant that could change how other plant equipment operates, the so-called "debottlenecking" has to be reviewed by EPA on a case by case basis.
Similarly, if a plant operator makes modifications to several units in a facility at the same time, otherwise known as "aggregation," this also triggers a specific agency review because of concern the change would mean more emissions.
EPA said in its notice to OMB that if a company commits to keep its facility emissions below its agreed level, called a "Plantwide Applicability Limit," then the proposed rules "would provide flexibility for sources to respond rapidly to market changes without compromising environmental protection."
The agency's proposal is the latest effort to change clean air plant pollution rules that are loathed by industry.
A federal appeals court on March 17 struck down a Bush administration rule that would have made it easier for coal-burning power plants to make equipment changes without installing controls to fight the pollution that would result.
The court shot down EPA's ongoing effort to let plant owners only install modern pollution fighting controls if equipment changes cost more than 20 percent of the replacement cost of the plant.
Environmentalist remain suspicious that the White House, through EPA, will continue to try and gut the so-called new source review enforcement provisions of the Clean Air Act and allow the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants to expand output without cutting polluting emissions.
"The administration is determined to grant loopholes from a program designed to keep factory emissions from increasing," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch of the latest EPA proposal.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM
Pentagon tells Congress of weapons cost overruns
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two multibillion-dollar Northrop Grumman Corp. projects -- the Global Hawk surveillance drone and a weather satellite system -- are running more than 25 percent over budget, the U.S. Defense Department told Congress on Friday in a filing that could lead to program cancellations.
Another Northrop project, a mini-submarine designed to deliver elite Navy Sea-Air-Land special forces, is being terminated. It too was running more than 25 percent over budget as of December 31, 2005, the Pentagon reported.
The department said Lockheed Martin Corp.'s multiple launch rocket system, being co-developed with Britain, Italy, France and Germany, was more than 15 percent over budget. That is below the 25 percent threshold risking cancellation but enough to require Congress be advised.
The notifications were required under a newly tightened, 24-year-old law known as Nunn-McCurdy.
The filing, known as Selected Acquisition Reports and due to Congress 60 days after President Bush's fiscal 2007 budget proposal, covered 89 major arms programs.
Programs running 25 percent or more over budget risk termination unless certified by the secretary of defense as vital to national security and meeting three other conditions.
Those additional conditions are that no alternatives exist, that costs are under control and that the management structure is adequate to keep costs under control.
The Pentagon has 60 days -- until June 5 -- to certify conditions have been met for Global Hawk and the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) or terminate them.
Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle. It entered limited production in March 2001. The program, valued at more than $6 billion, was restructured twice in 2002.
The $8 billion NPOESS system is designed to increase the accuracy of weather forecasts so that five- to seven-day forecasts are as reliable as those now looking three days out.
Under the Nunn-McCurdy rule changes enacted in January, the Pentagon also said 25 other programs were more than 50 percent over their original "baseline." In the case of the oldest program, Boeing Co.'s C-17 cargo plane, this harked backed to 1981.
Eleven other programs were reported for unit-cost breaches of more than 30 percent but less than 50 percent of their original "baseline" estimate.
The Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that represents many U.S. military contractors, said on Thursday that these baseline "breaches" reflected the stepped-up reporting requirements, not programs gone awry.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:44 AM
Friday, April 07, 2006
Woodward Affirms Bush Is a Liar
I found the back-and-forth between David Corn & Bob Woodward fascinating today.
What I found most fascinating, though, is what Corn dragged out of Woodward, who defends himself by pointing out all the times in his book that he wrote that Bush was telling his close advisors and Tony Blair that we were going to war, while at the same time publicly maintaining that we were searching for peace.
In other words, Woodward defends himself by pointing out, in numerous ways, that George W. Bush is a liar.
Now the fact that Bush is a liar comes as no shock to HuffPost readers, and certainly not to the multitudes who have perused my little posts over these past months, or gone to the web site I co-founded.
But I am puzzled--you see, I read the Washington Post every single morning, and for the life of me I can't remember the big front-page headlines where the biggest-name reporter in the Western World specifically called George W. Bush a liar about the biggest issue facing America.
And if Bob Woodward called Bush & Cheney out on one of his numerous TV appearances, I sure didn't hear about that, either.
So Bob, now that you've taken offense at David Corn's essay, would you mind following up on your own points?
Did you show these Bush Administration lies to your editors?
Did you ask for them to run a "Bush Is Lying Us Into a Needless War!" headline for the front page?
Did you ask to run an opinion column, where you drove home those lies with full force, day after day, with the intensity of Bob Novak pushing for a capital gains tax cut?
Did you ask to go on Larry King in March of 2003, as war approached, in order to make a last-ditch personal effort to stop the war, based on the insider knowledge that you had, but the mothers of the thousands of soon-to-be dead and wounded soldiers did not have?
Did you offer to write a piece for the London papers, pointing out Tony Blair's integral role in these lies?
Did you ask your editors to treat the Bush lies with at least as much intensity on the front pages, and as much repetition, as they gave the dread Whitewater/Lewinsky saga?
Did you, once you learned that Bush & Cheney & Rumsfeld & Rice were all lying to the American people, did you do everything you could to stop the war from starting?
And now that you're being so public about it, are you ready to come out publicly for impeachment? or at least censure?
Let me guess. No.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:02 AM
Backdoor Draft Blowing In
Why hasn't there been any press coverage of the Army's plans to ditch the Individual Ready Reserve in favor of a new "Individual Warriors" program that keeps soldiers on call after they've completed their active-duty requirements? According to the Army News Service:
[T]he new name will lead to a cultural shift away from the unstructured group of inactive individuals into a cohesive group of Soldiers who are trained, aware and ready to augment Army missions when called upon.
"While the mission of the IRR is to provide a pool of previously trained Soldiers who are 'individually ready' for call-up, our culture and past management of the IRR has made it difficult for many to accept that call-ups will become common practice," said Maj. Nadine Kokolis, a mobilization officer in the Army's G-1.
DailyKos diarist oregon guy "translates" the army-speak about changing the IRR into something that "resembles a personnel pool for the Active Reserve Component":
We're changing the IRR into something that looks a lot like the Reserve because the Reserve is running on fumes. Yeah, it isn't the IRR because the IRR as you have known it is going to cease to exist. Instead every knucklehead who signs on the dotted line is signing up for a full EIGHT YEARS, minimum, unless we can find a way to f--- with that as well.
What this means is that the first recruits to have signed on now that they have changed the enlistment contracts for those nifty 1- 1/2 year contracts will be ETSing [ETS means Expiration Term of Service] during fiscal year 2007. But not so many -- 5,000. Eventually the Army hopes to have 60,000 in the program. This is down from 100,000 currently in the IRR, but this is in part because about 40% of IRR enrollees are either non-deployable because the Army or someone else broke 'em or are skilled at not being found when looked for.
How is this different from the current system? "Right now every Soldier who joins the Army enlists for an eight-year commitment, with X years on active duty. If s/he volunteers to join the Guard or Reserves at his/her termination of service date, that goes toward the eight years. Otherwise, s/he is enrolled in the Inactive Ready Reserve, which has historically meant nothing. In the past four years, the Army has started pulling personnel with critical skills out of the IRR, retraining them, and deploying them. This is the famous 'backdoor draft'."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:59 AM
Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.
Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being fought in other federal science agencies as well.
These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are required to clear all media requests with administration officials, something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before then, point climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss their findings without strict agency oversight.
"There has been a change in how we're expected to interact with the press," said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to global warming and has worked at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder for two decades. He added that although he often "ignores the rules" the administration has instituted, when it comes to his colleagues, "some people feel intimidated -- I see that."
Christopher Milly, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said he had problems twice while drafting news releases on scientific papers describing how climate change would affect the nation's water supply.
Once in 2002, Milly said, Interior officials declined to issue a news release on grounds that it would cause "great problems with the department." In November 2005, they agreed to issue a release on a different climate-related paper, Milly said, but "purged key words from the releases, including 'global warming,' 'warming climate' and 'climate change.' "
Administration officials said they are following long-standing policies that were not enforced in the past. Kent Laborde, a NOAA public affairs officer who flew to Boulder last month to monitor an interview Tans did with a film crew from the BBC, said he was helping facilitate meetings between scientists and journalists.
"We've always had the policy, it just hasn't been enforced," Laborde said. "It's important that the leadership knows something is coming out in the media, because it has a huge impact. The leadership needs to know the tenor or the tone of what we expect to be printed or broadcast."
Several times, however, agency officials have tried to alter what these scientists tell the media. When Tans was helping to organize the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference near Boulder last fall, his lab director told him participants could not use the term "climate change" in conference paper's titles and abstracts. Tans and others disregarded that advice.
None of the scientists said political appointees had influenced their research on climate change or disciplined them for questioning the administration. Indeed, several researchers have received bigger budgets in recent years because President Bush has focused on studying global warming rather than curbing greenhouse gases. NOAA's budget for climate research and services is now $250 million, up from $241 million in 2004.
The assertion that climate scientists are being censored first surfaced in January when James Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times and The Washington Post that the administration sought to muzzle him after he gave a lecture in December calling for cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin issued new rules recently that make clear that its scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and to express personal interpretations of those findings.
Two weeks later, Hansen suggested to an audience at the New School University in New York that his counterparts at NOAA were experiencing even more severe censorship. "It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," he told the crowd.
NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. responded by sending an agency-wide e-mail that said he is "a strong believer in open, peer-reviewed science as well as the right and duty of scientists to seek the truth and to provide the best scientific advice possible."
"I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly," he added. "We ask only that you specify when you are communicating personal views and when you are characterizing your work as part of your specific contribution to NOAA's mission."
NOAA scientists, however, cite repeated instances in which the administration played down the threat of climate change in their documents and news releases. Although Bush and his top advisers have said that Earth is warming and human activity has contributed to this, they have questioned some predictions and caution that mandatory limits on carbon dioxide could damage the nation's economy.
In 2002, NOAA agreed to draft a report with Australian researchers aimed at helping reef managers deal with widespread coral bleaching that stems from higher sea temperatures. A March 2004 draft report had several references to global warming, including "Mass bleaching . . . affects reefs at regional to global scales, and has incontrovertibly linked to increases in sea temperature associated with global change."
A later version, dated July 2005, drops those references and several others mentioning climate change.
NOAA has yet to release the report on coral bleaching. James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said he decided in late 2004 to delay the report because "its scientific basis was so inadequate." Now that it is revised, he said, he is waiting for the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to approve it. "I just did not think it was ready for prime time," Mahoney said. "It was not just about climate change -- there were a lot of things."
On other occasions, Mahoney and other NOAA officials have told researchers not to give their opinions on policy matters. Konrad Steffen directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a joint NOAA-university institute with a $40 million annual budget. Steffen studies the Greenland ice sheet, and when his work was cited last spring in a major international report on climate change in the Arctic, he and another NOAA lab director from Alaska received a call from Mahoney in which he told them not to give reporters their opinions on global warming.
Steffen said that he told him that although Mahoney has considerable leverage as "the person in command for all research money in NOAA . . . I was not backing down."
Mahoney said he had "no recollection" of the conversation, which took place in a conference call. "It's virtually inconceivable that I would have called him about this," Mahoney said, though he added: "For those who are government employees, our position is they should not typically render a policy view."
Tans, whose interviews with the BBC crew were monitored by Laborde, said Laborde has not tried to interfere with the interviews. But Tans said he did not understand why he now needs an official "minder" from Washington to observe his discussions with the media. "It used to be we could say, 'Okay, you're welcome to come in, let's talk,' " he said. "There was never anything of having to ask permission of anybody."
The need for clearance from Washington, several NOAA scientists said, amounts to a "pocket veto" allowing administration officials to block interviews by not giving permission in time for journalists' deadlines.
Ronald Stouffer, a climate research scientist at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, estimated his media requests have dropped in half because it took so long to get clearance to talk from NOAA headquarters. Thomas Delworth, one of Stouffer's colleagues, said the policy means Americans have only "a partial sense" of what government scientists have learned about climate change.
"American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to know what we're doing," he said.
Researcher Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:54 AM
White House Admits Lag in Bioterror Effort
House Hearing Decries Lack of a Strategic Plan
By Justin Gillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Bush administration acknowledged yesterday that it still lacks a strategic plan for countering bioterror threats two years after Congress created a special program and appropriated billions of dollars for the purpose, and it pledged fresh efforts to speed up and streamline the troubled Project BioShield.
Under sharp questioning on Capitol Hill from members of both parties, the administration conceded many of the criticisms that have been leveled against Project BioShield by the drug and biotechnology industries in recent months. That $5.6 billion program is meant to build an elaborate national stockpile of drugs and other measures to counter biological and radioactive weapons, but corporate executives have complained of delays, bureaucratic inertia, and other problems in the way the program is being run.
"I think what's lacking in all this is a real sense of urgency," said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat representing much of Silicon Valley. "I can't help but think we are not prepared if, God forbid, any of these catastrophes were to be visited upon the United States."
While declaring that BioShield is indeed a high priority of the government, Alex M. Azar II, a deputy secretary at the Health and Human Services Department, conceded that the lack of a strategic plan has left industry guessing about the government's priorities. Corporate executives warned that they do not know what kind of research to launch, and cannot raise private money to help finance the work, without a clearer set of marching orders.
"We recognize that more can and must be done to aggressively and efficiently implement Project BioShield," Azar told the health subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. "We will make this process more transparent and work to educate the public and industry about our priorities and opportunities."
A draft plan will be made public later this year, with comments invited, and a final version should be ready soon after that, he said. Beyond the plan, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has promised to reorganize the responsible office, whose chief, Stewart Simonson, resigned recently. Simonson had drawn criticism on the Hill as lacking the scientific and emergency-management expertise necessary for the job.
But some experts declared at yesterday's hearing that shuffling people and paper within HHS won't be enough to solve the BioShield problems. Congress needs to rewrite laws to give the government more authority to subsidize expensive, risky research that small companies are having trouble financing on Wall Street, some experts said.
And Tara O'Toole, head of a University of Pittsburgh unit in Baltimore that studies biodefense issues, said that HHS simply lacks the personnel to manage the $5.6 billion program efficiently, estimating that another 100 employees are needed. About 40 people are devoted to the task now, an HHS spokesman said.
"They have lots of good people working their hearts out over there trying to administer BioShield, but they fall far short of what is needed," O'Toole declared.
She and other speakers noted that the $5.6 billion, though it sounds like a lot, is spread out over 10 years and is not much in the context of the vast expenditures on pharmaceuticals in this country. O'Toole said sharp increases will be necessary if the government is serious about building national defenses against biological, chemical and radiological weapons.
Azar, of HHS, said the government has so far committed nearly $1.1 billion in BioShield contracts, with more in the works. The initial contracts are focused on the most critical threats, including smallpox and anthrax, but experts say there has been little evident progress on a wide array of threats in the 4 1/2 years since the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Most of the money committed so far is going toward a single program to buy 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine from VaxGen Inc. of Brisbane, Calif., a plan that has run into delays and scientific hurdles. VaxGen has conceded it is at least a year behind schedule in making the vaccine and will default on its contracts in November unless the government grants a time extension.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:52 AM
Former Immigration Official Says Fraud, Corruption Rife at Agency; System 'Incapable' of Ensuring Security, Official Tells Congress
Former Immigration Official Says Fraud, Corruption Rife at Agency
System 'Incapable' of Ensuring Security, Official Tells Congress
By TOM GIUSTO
April 6, 2006 — - The agency that's supposed to protect our borders and keep out terrorists is riddled with fraud and corruption, according to testimony before Congress today.
A House subcommittee heard from Michael J. Maxwell, former director of the office of security and investigations of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. He portrayed a dysfunctional agency crippled by corruption both inside and outside that's trying to handle too many cases with too few employees.
"The integrity of the United States immigration system has been corrupted, and the system is incapable of ensuring the security of our homeland," Maxwell told the committee.
He told of overworked immigration officials pressured into approving requests to enter the United States even if proper security checks had not been done.
"Employees are tempted to grant benefits in order to receive cash, promotions, time off rather than deny the benefit," he said. He accused supervisors of putting pressure on workers to handle 12 to 16 applications an hour, which he called a dangerously high caseload.
In one example, Maxwell said, the agency employed an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen suspected of being a foreign intelligence agent to review asylum applications.
The USCIS said the agency's inspector general is investigating Maxwell's allegations. USCIS spokeswoman Angelica Alfonso-Royals told The Associated Press today that the agency's top priority "continues to be preserving and enhancing the integrity of the immigration system." She said the agency has confidence in the system but continually strives for improvement and "it takes allegations seriously."
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif., feared terrorists could enter our borders. "There are dozens of terrorists who have defrauded our immigration system, including many since 9/11, to remain in this country," he said.
Maxwell related the story of one manager who told him of "benefits parties" at the end of the month where the immigration employees who cleared the most cases were given cash prizes. "We also have documentation where performance appraisals, promotions, if you will, are based upon the number of affirmative adjudications," he said.
He warned that terrorists could exploit the weaknesses in the immigration agency and enter the United States. "It is clear that the system that exists now, the process that exists now cannot suitably protect the homeland based on the workload we have now," Maxwell said.
Royce said immigration officials aren't taking seriously their responsibility to counter terrorism. "The system, it's clear, is rigged to approve immigration applications and the system is rigged to shortchange security," he concluded.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 AM
DeLay Supporters Crash Democrat's Event
DeLay Supporters Protest Appearance by Democratic Nominee for Lawmaker's Seat
By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
SUGAR LAND, Texas - Supporters of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay protested at an event Thursday held by the Democratic candidate for the congressman's seat, and the event quickly dissolved into a shouting and shoving match. Police were called, but made no arrests.
"I got pushed. I got hit. I got a sign wadded up in my face and my hat pulled down over my eyes," said Marsha Rovai, 69, a supporter of Nick Lampson. "They just did it to be nasty."
DeLay campaign manager Chris Homan said he organized the protest but DeLay, a Republican, didn't know about it.
"Mr. Lampson is going to have to get used to being confronted about his voting record the next seven months," Homan said.
DeLay, who is under indictment on campaign finance charges, announced this week that he will resign from Congress sometime before mid-June.
At the news conference, Lampson called on the governor to set a May 13 special election so the district would be represented after DeLay leaves.
But moments after the event began in DeLay's home town, Lampson and his supporters were surrounded by protesters who held up hand-written signs. Lampson was silenced by their chanting.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry later said that, unless DeLay offers him his resignation letter by the end of the week, the seat would not be filled until the November general election. The election of a Democrat now could give the Democratic Party a leg up in November.
Lampson represented an adjacent district for eight years until DeLay-engineered redistricting cost him re-election in 2004. He said the protest was nothing new.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:50 AM
The New York Times
Gonzales Suggests Legal Basis for Domestic Eavesdropping
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, April 6 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggested on Thursday for the first time that the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States.
"I'm not going to rule it out," Mr. Gonzales said when asked about that possibility at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The attorney general made his comments, which critics said reflected a broadened view of the president's authority, as President Bush offered another strong defense of his decision to authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without warrants on international calls and e-mail messages to or from the United States.
Mr. Bush, in an appearance in North Carolina, told a questioner who attacked the program that he would "absolutely not" apologize for authorizing it.
"You can come to whatever conclusion you want" about the merits of the program," Mr. Bush said. "The conclusion is I'm not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program."
At the House hearing, Mr. Gonzales faced tough questioning from Democrats and Republicans but declined to discuss many operational details.
Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of the administration's staunchest allies, accused the administration of "stonewalling."
"Mr. Attorney General, how can we discharge our oversight responsibilities if every time we ask a pointed question, we're told that the answer is classified?" Mr. Sensenbrenner asked. "Congress has an inherent constitutional responsibility to do oversight. We are attempting to discharge those responsibilities."
The House and Senate have conducted limited inquiries into the surveillance program, which many Democrats contend is illegal.
Republicans on the Senate intelligence panel have agreed on measures to impose new oversight but allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days.
Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has proposed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have a role in ruling on the legitimacy of the program. In the past, Mr. Gonzales and the administration have avoided discussing what they consider hypothetical possibilities in the face of Democrats' accusations that Mr. Bush has asserted unbridled authority to fight terrorism.
At the hearing, Mr. Gonzales inched closer toward acknowledging that intercepting purely domestic calls could be considered legally permissible in his view if the communications involved Al Qaeda.
"You would look at precedent," he said. "What have previous commander in chiefs done?"
Answering his question, he cited Woodrow Wilson's authorizing the interception of all cables to and from Europe in World War I "based upon the Constitution and his inherent role as commander in chief."
Mr. Gonzales said he would use that legal framework to decide whether intercepting purely domestic communications without a warrant was legally permissible. He would not say whether such wiretapping has been conducted.
The attorney general and other administration officials have said the National Security Agency eavesdropping was authorized just to monitor communications with one end outside the United States.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who raised the question with Mr. Gonzales, said the refusal to rule out purely domestic interceptions without a warrant was "very disturbing."
The position, Mr. Schiff said, "represents a wholly unprecedented assertion of executive power."
"No one in Congress would deny the need to tap certain calls under court order," he added. "But if the administration believes it can tap purely domestic phone calls between Americans without court approval, there is no limit to executive power. This is contrary to settled law and the most basic constitutional principles of the separation of powers."
The Justice Department later backed away somewhat from Mr. Gonzales's statement and said his comments should not be interpreted as a change in policy.
A department spokeswoman, Tasia Scolinos, said, "The attorney general's comments today should not be interpreted to suggest the existence or nonexistence of a domestic program or whether any such program would be lawful under the existing legal analysis."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:43 AM
US decides not to run for new UN rights body
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, its own human rights record under attack, said on Thursday it would not run for a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council.
The decision drew mixed reaction from the U.S. Congress with a senior Democrat expressing outrage while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist praised the decision.
Some human rights experts said U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and its treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba may have made it hard for Washington to win a seat in the May 9 election in the U.N. General Assembly.
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledged that the United States was concerned it might not have won a seat on the council.
"Our leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the U.S. not running," he told reporters at U.N. headquarters.
The United States would probably seek a seat on the council next year, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Washington had voted against the council's creation, arguing there were not enough barriers to human rights abusers winning seats. But the United States would support the council financially and encourage it to address human rights abuses in Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sudan and North Korea, he said.
'SIGNAL OF U.S. ISOLATION'
Rep. Tom Lantos of California, senior Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, called the decision "a major retrenchment in America's long struggle to advance the cause of human rights around the world.
"It is a profound signal of U.S. isolation at a time when we need to work cooperatively with our Security Council partners," he said in a statement.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said it was "childish" for Washington not to run for a seat, even though it risked the embarrassment of possible failure.
"It's unfortunate that the Bush administration's disturbing human rights record means that the United States would hardly have been a shoo-in for election to the council. Today's decision not to run seems like an effort to make a virtue of necessity," Roth added.
At U.N. headquarters, U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was disappointed but hoped Washington would run for a seat next year.
Frist, a Tennessee Republican who is considering running for his party's 2008 presidential nomination, said President George W. Bush made a courageous decision that would deny the council unwarranted legitimacy.
The 191-member U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on March 15 to create the new human rights body to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, whose current members include Zimbabwe, Sudan, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, all of whom have poor rights records.
So far 35 nations have submitted their candidacies for three-year terms including Cuba and Iran as well as U.S. allies Canada, Britain, Germany and France.
Council members must be elected by an absolute majority of the 191 U.N. states, or 96 countries, as compared to the former practice of voting for regional slates.
(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold and Irwin Arieff at the United Nations)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:34 AM
Bush said to have cleared Iraq leak
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former top White House aide testified that President George W. Bush authorized leaking classified intelligence in 2003 in the face of criticism of his Iraq policy from a former ambassador, according to court papers made public on Thursday.
Democrats seized on the news, accusing Bush of hypocrisy. The president has often denounced leaks from his administration and vowed to punish the leakers. This was the first time Bush was directly linked to this incident.
"If the disclosure is true, it's breathtaking. The president is revealed as the leaker-in-chief," said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
The papers cited Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, as testifying to a federal grand jury that Cheney had told him that Bush authorized him to disclose information from a secret National Intelligence Estimate to a New York Times reporter in July 2003.
The disclosure arose out of a long-running investigation into the leak of CIA's operative Valerie Plame's identity. Libby testified that he was specifically directed by the vice president to reveal the intelligence information to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
The court documents did not say that Bush or Cheney authorized Libby to disclose Plame's identity.
Libby also said he was cleared to brief the reporter about Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who had criticized Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Democrats, who hope to seize control of Congress from Republicans in November elections, demanded an explanation. Bush ignored a reporter's shouted question about the case.
The White House declined to discuss the disclosure. "Our policy is not to discuss ongoing legal proceedings and that policy is unchanged," said spokesman, Ken Lisaius.
Libby resigned from the administration last October when he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leaking of Plame's name.
The information about Bush came to light in a 39-page document filed by Fitzgerald in which he argued against Libby's demand for more government documents, which his lawyers say he needs to defend himself.
Libby testified he had been authorized to disclose the information because it rebutted Wilson and Cheney thought it "very important" for it to come out.
Wilson has said White House officials deliberately leaked his wife's identity to pay him back for attacking the grounds used by Bush to justify the Iraq invasion.
Bush had the authority to declassify the material. But the court papers quoted Libby as saying that "it was unique in his recollection" to get approval from the president, via the vice president, for such an action.
The leak occurred at a time when opponents were stepping up their criticism of the March 2003 invasion after U.S. forces had failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Libby said he brought a brief summary of the key findings when he met with Miller on July 8, 2003 at a hotel.
In Congress, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said, "President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said, "It's time for the White House to ... just step forward and honestly state what they knew, when they knew it and what they did about it."
New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer demanded an explanation from Bush and Cheney.
"The president has said he'd fire anyone who leaked this kind of information. But it now seems that he authorized leaks just like this in the first place. The American people deserve the truth," he told reporters.
Bush has often complained about leaks in Washington and vowed to take action against those who released unauthorized information to the public.
"There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington," he said after the Plame news broke in 2003.
"There's leaks at the executive branch, there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is," Bush said then.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:07 AM
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Pentagon finds wrongly collected surveillance data
WASHINGTON (AP) — As many as 260 reports in a classified Defense Department database on suspicious people or activities were improperly collected or kept there, the Pentagon said Wednesday in a review that also found the system to be a valuable tool in terrorism investigations.
The review was ordered last December after reports that the database collected information on anti-war groups and U.S. citizens — prompting members of Congress and others to raise questions about possible domestic spying.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said there are about 13,000 entries in the database, and that less than 2% either were wrongly added or were not purged later when they were determined not to be real threats.
Pentagon officials wouldn't discuss details of the classified database, including what specifically the improper entries contained.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, in a memo dated March 30 and released Wednesday, called the program productive and said it "has detected international terrorist interest in specific military bases and has led to and supported counterterrorism investigations."
England also noted, however, that the system should only be used to report information about "possible international terrorist activity." And he said that to insure the program is working properly, he ordered an annual review of the system, and set up a working group to examine how well Pentagon agencies are coordinating their collection and use of the data.
Known as TALON — or the Threat and Local Observation Notice — the system was developed by the Air Force in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to collect information about possible terrorist threats.
The TALON reports — collected by a wide array of Defense Department agencies including law enforcement, intelligence, counterintelligence and security — are then compiled in a large database and analyzed by an obscure Pentagon agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity. CIFA is a three-year old outfit whose size and budget are classified as secret.
The review, said Whitman, "confirmed that the TALON reporting system is important and that it should be used to report information regarding possible international terrorist activity."
Whitman said some people using the database may have considered it a way to collect more general threat information, rather than data on "suspicious activity linked to possible international terrorists."
Whitman said Defense Department personnel who use the database also have gone through a refresher course on what should or should not be included. And, he said, there are new requirements that supervisors must review all the reports before they are submitted to the Counterintelligence Field Activity for entry into the database. Then CIFA must also review them before entering them in the database.
The database was first reported by NBC, which said it included nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation or recruitment center.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:57 AM
Democracy In Iraq Not A Priority in U.S. Budget
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
While President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to carry out his vision by building democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups.
The administration has included limited new money for traditional democracy promotion in budget requests to Congress. Some organizations face funding cutoffs this month, while others struggle to stretch resources through the summer. The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society.
The shift in funding priorities comes as security costs are eating up an enormous share of U.S. funds for Iraq and the administration has already ratcheted back ambitions for reconstructing the country's battered infrastructure. While acknowledging that they are investing less in party-building and other such activities, administration officials argue that bringing more order and helping Iraqis run effective ministries contribute to democracy as well.
Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, an advocacy group that hosted a Bush speech last week, called the situation "a travesty" and said she is "appalled" that more is not being done. "This is the time to show that democracy promotion is more than holding an election. If the U.S. can't see fit to fund follow-up democracy promotion at this time," then it is making a mistake, she said.
"The commitment to what the president of the United States will say every single day of the week is his number one priority in Iraq, when it's translated into action, looks very tiny," said Les Campbell, who runs programs in the Middle East for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, known as NDI.
NDI and its sister, the International Republican Institute (IRI), will see their grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development dry up at the end of this month, according to a government document, leaving them only special funds earmarked by Congress last year. Similarly, the U.S. Institute of Peace has had its funding for Iraq democracy promotion cut by 60 percent. And the National Endowment for Democracy expects to run out of money for Iraqi programs by September.
"Money keeps getting transferred away to security training. Democracy's one of the things that's been transferred," said Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's project on democracy and the rule of law. "Without that, all the other stuff looks like just background work."
Among the projects facing closure is the Iraq Civil Society and Media Program, funded by USAID and run by America's Development Foundation and the International Research & Exchanges Board. The program has established four civil society resource centers around the country, conducted hundreds of workshops and forums, and trained thousands of government officials in transparency and accountability. It also helped Iraqis set up the National Iraqi News Agency, the first independent news agency in the Arab world.
The program was supposed to run at least through June 2007 but without $15 million more, it will have to close this summer.
Officials at the White House, the State Department, the Office of Management and Budget and USAID were contacted for comment in recent days, but none would speak on the record. In response to a request for comment, USAID sent promotional documents hailing past accomplishments in Iraq, such as sponsoring town hall meetings, training election monitors, and distributing pamphlets, posters and publications explaining voting and the new constitution.
The president's supplemental Iraq spending request includes just $10 million for democracy promotion, and his proposed budget for fiscal 2007 asks for $63 million, a fraction of the tens of billions of dollars spent each year on Iraq. But officials argue that other funds in effect further the same goal. For instance, the administration targeted $254 million for enhancing the rule of law by creating a fair judiciary and a humane prison system.
For Bush, developing democracy in Iraq has become perhaps the signature of his presidency, and he takes special pride in the three elections held since sovereignty was transferred by U.S. authorities. Veterans of past democracy-building efforts, however, have complained that having elections is not enough -- an argument the president has embraced lately, both in his speeches and in his newly released National Security Strategy.
"Elections start the process. They're not the end of the process," Bush told Freedom House last week. "And one of the reasons I respect the Freedom House is because you understand that you follow elections with institution-building and the creation of civil society."
Money flowed to such programs in the beginning of the Iraq enterprise. The National Endowment for Democracy, which supported projects in the Kurdish north of Iraq even before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, found itself soon after Baghdad fell with $25 million to expand elsewhere in the country and eventually received a total of $71 million. It distributed some to IRI and NDI and some to groups such as the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights in Babylon and the Organization for a Model Iraqi Society.
Last month the endowment received the final $3 million owed on past allocations, with no further funding identified. "It does feel like everybody's getting squeezed in this area," said Barbara Haig, the endowment's vice president. "There probably is a commitment to these programs in principle. I don't know how much commitment there is in specificity."
IRI and NDI, which are affiliated with the two U.S. political parties, will lose USAID financing April 30. The two party institutes led a coalition to educate Iraqis before last year's elections. An evaluation commissioned by USAID in December called it "essential" that the program "be continued for at least another 24 months."
The party institutes will be able to continue some programs for now only because of a special earmark inserted into legislation last year with $56 million for the two groups. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) sponsored the earmark with support from Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) after it appeared that NDI and IRI would run out of money last year.
"The solution to Iraq lies in the political process, and it's reckless for the White House to cut funds to strengthen democracy in Iraq at this time," Kennedy said yesterday.
At current spending rates, the earmark will run out this year. After that, the Bush administration has included just $15 million for the two party institutes as part of the $63 million for Iraqi democracy in next year's budget, which would require most programs to be cut.
The U.S. Institute of Peace faces similar cutbacks to its program. "It's just vital," said Daniel P. Serwer, an institute vice president. All the democracy programs in Iraq combined, he noted, cost less than one day of the U.S. military mission. "Am I absolutely sure that we will shorten the deployment time of American troops enough to justify the cost of the program? Yes," he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:55 AM