Friday, February 11, 2005

Continued Distortion of FDR

Wall Street Journal's Fund, FOX's Asman echoed Hume's Social Security distortion of FDR

Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and FOX News Live anchor David Asman both echoed FOX News Washington managing editor Brit Hume's distortion of a quote by former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to claim that Roosevelt supported "supplant[ing]" government funding of Social Security with private accounts. In fact, Roosevelt advocated "voluntary contributory annuities" -- which differ significantly from private accounts -- to supplement guaranteed Social Security benefits and never proposed replacing Social Security benefits with private accounts.

In the February 4 edition of the Wall Street Journal's "Political Diary" (subscription only, but partially reprinted here), Fund followed Hume's example -- which prompted Air America Radio host Al Franken to call on Hume to resign -- by distorting the same quote from Roosevelt's January 17, 1935, address to Congress. Fund falsely asserted that Roosevelt's "call for the establishment of Social Security directly anticipated today's reform agenda" for private accounts:

They [congressional Republicans] note that in an address to Congress on January 17, 1935, President Roosevelt foresaw the need to move beyond the pay-as-you-go financing of the current Social Security system. "For perhaps 30 years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions," the president allowed. But after that, he explained, it would be necessary to move to what he called "voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age." In other words, his call for the establishment of Social Security directly anticipated today's reform agenda: "It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans," FDR explained.

On the February 9 edition of FOX News Live, Asman credited Hume and then repeated his distortion of Roosevelt:

ASMAN: Democrats used a statue of FDR to condemn President Bush's plan to privatize at least part of Social Security. But did the founder of Social Security actually have the same thing in mind? Last week Brit Hume dug up a 1935 FDR speech in which President Roosevelt seemed to suggest he favored private Social Security accounts. But on Friday, former labor secretary Robert Reich disputed that on [FOX News'] The Big Story [with John Gibson].

REICH [video clip from the February 4 editon of The Big Story]: I know what happened, and FDR was talking about not private Social Security accounts, he was talking about separate Social Security accounts -- exactly the system we have today.

ASMAN: That was Robert Reich on The Big Story. Well, here's the exact quote of FDR's from 1935, quote "It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans -- Voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age." Does this sound like the system we have today? Well, you decide.

But neither Asman nor Fund provided "the exact quote of FDR's," as Asman claimed. As Media Matters for America has noted, Roosevelt was not advocating that the present system of guaranteed Social Security benefits "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans." Rather, he was proposing that a system of both mandatory contributions -- today's Social Security -- and voluntary annuities would eventually eliminate the need for a different fund that was established to provide pension benefits to Americans who were already too old in 1935 to contribute payroll taxes to the Social Security system.

Here is the context of Roosevelt's 1935 speech:

In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps 30 years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities, which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.

Further, while Roosevelt envisioned some form of "voluntary contributory annuities" to supplement Social Security, Fund and Asman erroneously equated those annuities with Bush's proposed private investment accounts. The voluntary annuities would differ from private accounts in that their funds would be deposited into and paid out of the Social Security trust fund, and they would provide a government-guaranteed benefit like mandatory contributions, as Edwin Witte, executive director of the Committee on Economic Security (CES), noted during 1935 congressional hearings on Roosevelt's Social Security bill.

Finally, in addition to distorting Roosevelt, Fund quoted an anonymous House Republican who suggested that Bush's proposal for private accounts could meet Roosevelt's "concerns on how to make Social Security solvent" -- even though Roosevelt was not addressing solvency and the White House has conceded that private accounts would not tackle that problem:

"What Roosevelt was talking about is the need to update Social Security sometime around 1965 with what today we would call personal accounts," says one top GOP member of the Ways and Means Committee. "By my reckoning we are only about 40 years late in addressing his concerns on how to make Social Security solvent."


Families outraged over FAA 9/11 warnings
Families outraged over FAA 9/11 warnings


February 10, 2005, 10:05 PM EST

Expressing outrage Thursday, family members of 9/11 victims called on the federal government to probe why it didn't act on intelligence warning of terrorist hijackings in the months before the World Trade Center was destroyed.

"The fact of the matter is these warnings were out there and nobody did anything about it," said Bill Doyle of Staten Island, who lost his son Joseph Doyle at the trade center. "My biggest concern is how high up did this get into the administration.

"There were people who testified at the 9/11 hearings that there were no warnings, but now we know there were. We need another investigation into the failures of 9/11. Obviously, someone at the FAA should be held accountable." Doyle said he received 253 e-mails yesterday from victim's families expressing anger over the declassified report.

Elaine Moccia, who lost her husband, Frank V. Moccia Sr., said releasing the information reopened old wounds.

"I am mad and upset that they keep bringing it up," Moccia said. "If they knew about it, why couldn't they have prevented it?"

Attorney Sanford Rubenstein, who represents families in a 9/11-related federal lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, said the families were hoping something good could come from the declassified information.

"It is clear that what the victims hope is what comes out of this information will prevent another 9/11," Rubinstein said. City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.(D-Astoria), said, "It was outrageous that no action was taken by the FAA." "How much more specific than the word hijack before the FAA increases security?" said Vallone.

City Council minority leader Jim Oddo (R-Staten Island) said the early warnings the FAA received show that "we can stop these things."

"It underscores that we have to be vigilant and use all our resources to prevent something like this from happening again. We have to keep our fingers on the pulse."


FAA Had 52 Pre - 9 / 11 Warnings

The New York Times
February 11, 2005
Report: FAA Had 52 Pre - 9 / 11 Warnings

Filed at 12:59 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Aviation Administration received repeated warnings in the months prior to Sept. 11, 2001, about al-Qaida and its desire to attack airlines, according to a previously undisclosed report by the commission that investigated the terror attacks.

The report by the Sept. 11 commission detailed 52 such warnings given to FAA leaders from April to Sept. 10, 2001, about the radical Islamic terrorist group and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

The commission report, written last August, said five security warnings mentioned al-Qaida's training for hijackings and two reports concerned suicide operations not connected to aviation. However, none of the warnings pinpointed what would happen on Sept. 11.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown on Thursday said the agency received intelligence from other agencies, which it passed on to airlines and airports.

But, she said, ``We had no specific information about means or methods that would have enabled us to tailor any countermeasures.''

Brown also said the FAA was in the process of tightening security at the time of the attacks.

``We were spending $100 million a year to deploy explosive detection equipment at the airports,'' she said. The agency was also close to issuing a regulation that would have set higher standards for screeners and, for the first time, give it direct control over the screening work force.

Al Felzenberg, former spokesman for the 9/11 commission, which went out of business last summer, said the government had not completed a review of the 120-page report for declassification purposes until recently.

Carol Ashley of Rockville Centre, N.Y., whose daughter died in the attacks, said the report should have been released sooner.

``I'm just appalled that this was withheld for five months. That contributes to the idea that the government knew something and didn't act, it contributes to the conspiracy theories out there. We need to rebut those with the actual facts, but we need the facts to do that,'' she said.

California Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, asked for a hearing on whether the Bush administration played politics with the report's release. The letter, also signed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the committee should probe whether the report was delayed until after the November elections and the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state.

The unclassified version, first reported by The New York Times, was made available by the National Archives Thursday.

According to the report:

--Aviation officials were ``lulled into a false sense of security'' and ``intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/ll did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures.''

--Of the FAA's 105 daily intelligence summaries between April 1, 2001 and Sept. 10, 2001, 52 mentioned bin Laden, al-Qaida, or both, ``mostly in regard to overseas threats.''

--It notes that the FAA did not expand the use of in-flight air marshals or tighten airport screening for weapons. It said FAA officials were more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays and easing air carriers' financial problems than thwarting a terrorist attack.

-- A proposed rule to improve passenger screening and other security measures ordered by Congress in 1996 had been held up by the Office of Management and Budget and was still not in effect when the attacks occurred, according to the FAA.

Information in this report was available to members of the 9/11 commission when they issued their public report last summer. That report itself contained criticisms of FAA operations.


Associated Press writer Devlin Barrett contributed to this story.


1/25/01 Clarke Memo to Rice on Al-Qaeda Warning Declassified

Bush Administration's First Memo
on al-Qaeda Declassified

January 25, 2001 Richard Clarke Memo:
"We urgently need . . . a Principals level
review on the al Qida network."

Document Central to Clarke-Rice Dispute on Bush Terrorism Policy Pre-9/11

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 147

Edited by Barbara Elias

February 10, 2005

Washington, D.C., February 10, 2005 - The National Security Archive today posted the widely-debated, but previously unavailable, January 25, 2001, memo from counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice - the first terrorism strategy paper of the Bush administration. The document was central to debates in the 9/11 hearings over the Bush administration's policies and actions on terrorism before September 11, 2001. Clarke's memo requests an immediate meeting of the National Security Council's Principals Committee to discuss broad strategies for combating al-Qaeda by giving counterterrorism aid to the Northern Alliance and Uzbekistan, expanding the counterterrorism budget and responding to the U.S.S. Cole attack. Despite Clarke's request, there was no Principals Committee meeting on al-Qaeda until September 4, 2001.

The January 25, 2001, memo, recently released to the National Security Archive by the National Security Council, bears a declassification stamp of April 7, 2004, one day prior to Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission on April 8, 2004. Responding to claims that she ignored the al-Qaeda threat before September 11, Rice stated in a March 22, 2004 Washington Post op-ed, "No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration."

Two days after Rice's March 22 op-ed, Clarke told the 9/11 Commission, "there's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options -- but all of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after September 11th. They were all done. I didn't really understand why they couldn't have been done in February."

Also attached to the original Clarke memo are two Clinton-era documents relating to al-Qaeda. The first, "Tab A December 2000 Paper: Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects," was released to the National Security Archive along with the Clarke memo. "Tab B, September 1998 Paper: Pol-Mil Plan for al-Qida," also known as the Delenda Plan, was attached to the original memo, but was not released to the Archive and remains under request with the National Security Council.

Below are additional references to the January 25, 2001, memo from congressional debates and the 9/11 Commission testimonies of Richard Clarke and Condoleezza Rice.

Excerpts from:
Eighth Public Hearing
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC
Chaired by: Thomas H. Kean

[See also 9/11 Commission Staff Statement - Intelligence Policy Staff Statement No. 7 by Alexis Albion, Michael Hurley, Dan Marcus, Lloyd Salvetti and Steve Dunne]

Testimony of Dan Marcus - 9/11 Commission staff member, general counsel:

In December 2000, the CIA developed initiatives -- moving off the Cole now -- based on the assumption that policy and money were no longer constraints. The result was the so-called Blue Sky memo, which we discussed earlier today. This was forwarded to the NSC staff.

As the Clinton administration drew to a close, the NSC counterterrorism staff developed another strategy paper; the first such comprehensive effort since the Delenda plan of 1998. The resulting paper, titled "A Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of Al Qaida; Status and Prospects," reviewed the threat, the records to date, incorporated the CIA's new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy choices. The goal was to roll back Al Qaida over a period of three to five years, reducing it eventually to a rump group like others formerly feared but now largely defunct terrorist organizations in the 1980s. Quote, "Continued anti-Al Qaida operations at the current level will prevent some attacks, but will not seriously attrite their ability to plan and conduct attacks," Clarke and his staff wrote.

Asked by Hadley to offer major initiatives, on January 25, 2001 Clarke forwarded his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 Delenda plan to the new national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Clarke laid out a proposed agenda for urgent action by the new Administration: Approval of covert assistance to the Northern Alliance; significantly increase funding; choosing a standard of evidence for attributing responsibility for the Cole and deciding on a response; going forward with new Predator missions in the spring and preparation of an armed version; and more work on terrorist fundraising.

Clarke asked on several occasions for early principals meetings on these issues, and was frustrated that no early meeting was scheduled. No principals committee meetings on Al Qaida were held until September 4th, 2001. Rice and Hadley said this was because the deputies committee needed to work through many issues relating to the new policy on Al Qaida. The principals committee did meet frequently before September 11th on other subjects, Rice told us, including Russia, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East peace process. Rice and Hadley told us that, although the Clinton administration had worked very hard on the Al Qaida program, its policies on Al Qaida, quote, "had run out of gas," and they therefore set about developing a new presidential directive and a new, comprehensive policy on terrorism.

Testimony of Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism coordinator:

TIMOTHY ROEMER, Commission Member: OK. With my 15 minutes, let's move into the Bush administration.

On January 25th, we've seen a memo that you've written to Dr. Rice urgently asking for a principals' review of Al Qaida. You include helping the Northern Alliance, covert aid, significant new '02 budget authority to help fight Al Qaida and a response to the USS Cole. You attach to this document both the Delenda Plan of 1998 and a strategy paper from December 2000.

Do you get a response to this urgent request for a principals meeting on these? And how does this affect your time frame for dealing with these important issues?

CLARKE: I did get a response, and the response was that in the Bush administration I should, and my committee, counterterrorism security group, should report to the deputies committee, which is a sub-Cabinet level committee, and not to the principals and that, therefore, it was inappropriate for me to be asking for a principals' meeting. Instead, there would be a deputies meeting.

ROEMER: So does this slow the process down to go to the deputies rather than to the principals or a small group as you had previously done?

CLARKE: It slowed it down enormously, by months. First of all, the deputies committee didn't meet urgently in January or February. Then when the deputies committee did meet, it took the issue of Al Qaida as part of a cluster of policy issues, including nuclear proliferation in South Asia, democratization in Pakistan, how to treat the various problems, including narcotics and other problems in Afghanistan, and launched on a series of deputies meetings extending over several months to address Al Qaida in the context of all of those inter-related issues. That process probably ended, I think in July of 2001. So we were ready for a principals meeting in July. But the principals calendar was full and then they went on vacation, many of them in August, so we couldn't meet in August, and therefore the principals met in September.

ROEMER: You then wrote a memo on September 4th to Dr. Rice expressing some of these frustrations several months later, if you say the time frame is May or June when you decided to resign. A memo comes out that we have seen on September the 4th. You are blunt in blasting DOD for not willingly using the force and the power. You blast the CIA for blocking Predator. You urge policy-makers to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home or abroad after a terrorist attack and ask themselves what else they could have done. You write this on September the 4th, seven days before September 11th.

CLARKE: That's right.

ROEMER: What else could have been done, Mr. Clarke?

CLARKE: Well, all of the things that we recommended in the plan or strategy -- there's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options -- but all of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after September 11th. They were all done. I didn't really understand why they couldn't have been done in February.

SLADE GORTON, Commission member: Now, since my yellow light is on, at this point my final question will be this: Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001, based on Delenda, based on Blue Sky, including aid to the Northern Alliance, which had been an agenda item at this point for two and a half years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted say on January 26th, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?


GORTON: It just would have allowed our response, after 9/11, to be perhaps a little bit faster?

CLARKE: Well, the response would have begun before 9/11.

GORTON: Yes, but there was no recommendation, on your part or anyone else's part, that we declare war and attempt to invade Afghanistan prior to 9/11?

CLARKE: That's right.

TIMOTHY J. ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Having served on the joint inquiry, the only person of this 9/11 panel to have served on the inquiry, I can say in open session to some of Mr. Fielding's inquiries that as the joint inquiry asked for information on the National Security Council and we requested that the National Security Adviser Dr. Rice come before the joint inquiry and answer those questions. She refused. And she didn't come. She didn't come before the 9/11 commission. And when we asked for some questions to be answered, Mr. Hadley answered those questions in a written form. So I think part of the answer might be that we didn't have access to the January 25th memo. We didn't have access to the September 4th memo. We didn't have access to many of the documents and the e-mails. We're not only talking about Mr. Clarke being before the 9/11 commission for more than 15 hours, but I think in talking to the staff, we have hundreds of documents and e-mails that we didn't previously have, which hopefully informs us to ask Mr. Clarke and ask Dr. Rice the tough questions.

Debate over the January 25, 2001 memo in Congress:

Congressional Record: March 25, 2004 (Senate) [Page S3122-S3123]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [DOCID:cr25mr04-92]

Excerpt from the Senate floor on March 26, 2004, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

Also in this August 2002 interview, Clarke noted the Bush administration, in mid-January of 2001--before the 9/11 attack--decided to do two things to respond to the threat of terrorism: "One, to vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all the lethal covert action finds which we have now made public, to some extent; the second thing the administration decided to do was to initiate a process to look at these issues which had been on the table for a couple of years and get them decided.''

In other words, what Clarke was saying in 2002 to members of the press was that the Bush administration's response to the war on terror was much more aggressive than it was under the Clinton years.

Now he is singing an entirely different tune. This is a man who lacks credibility. He may be an intelligent man, he may be a dedicated public servant, but clearly he has a grudge of some sort against the Bush administration. If he was unable to develop a more robust response during the Clinton years, he would only be able to blame himself. He was in charge of counterterrorism during those 8 years. How could the Bush administration be to blame in 8 months for the previous administration's failure over 8 years to truly declare war on al-Qaida?

Congressional Record: March 30, 2004 (Senate) [Page S3315-S3317]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [DOCID:cr30mr04-151]

Excerpt from the Senate floor on March 30, 2004, Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD):

In Mr. Clarke's case, clear and troubling double standards are being applied. Last year, when the administration was being criticized for the President's misleading statement about Niger and uranium, the White House unexpectedly declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate.

When the administration wants to bolster its public case, there is little that appears too sensitive to be declassified.

Now, people around the President want to release parts of Mr. Clarke's earlier testimony in 2002. According to news reports, the CIA is already working on declassifying that testimony--at the administration's request.

And last week several documents were declassified literally overnight, not in an effort to provide information on a pressing policy matter to the American people, but in an apparent effort to discredit a public servant who gave 30 years of service to the American Government.

I'll support declassifying Mr. Clarke's testimony before the Joint Inquiry, but the administration shouldn't be selective. Consistent with our need to protect sources and methods, we should declassify his entire testimony. And to make sure that the American people have access to the full record as they consider this question, we should also declassify his January 25 memo to Dr. Rice, the September 4, 2001 National Security Directive dealing with terrorism, Dr. Rice's testimony to the 9-11 Commission, the still-classified 28 pages from the House-Senate inquiry relating to Saudi Arabia, and a list of the dates and topics of all National Security Council meetings before September 4, 2001.

Congressional Record: March 31, 2004 (House) [Page H1772-H1779]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [DOCID:cr31mr04-105])

Excerpt from the House floor on March 31, 2004, Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ):

Now, this past Sunday, Clarke said he would support the declassification of his testimony before the joint intelligence panels if the administration also declassifies the National Security Adviser's testimony before the 9/11 Commission and the declassification of the January 25, 2001, memo that Clarke sent to Rice laying out a terrorism strategy, a strategy that was not approved until months later.

Madam Speaker, House Democrats really want a full accounting of the events leading up to the September 11 attacks, including the extent to which a preoccupation with Iraq affected efforts to deal with the threat posed by al Qaeda. It is nice to see the White House has finally stopped stonewalling the commission and now says that it will provide the public testimony the commission is requesting. But Americans need to be able to fully evaluate the decisions of government leaders, especially when it comes to the life and death decisions of war and peace.

Excerpts from:
Ninth Public Hearing
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC
Chaired by: Thomas H. Kean

Testimony of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice:

MR. BOB KERREY, Committee Member: Well, I think it's an unfortunate figure of speech because I think -- especially after the attack on the Cole on the 12th of August -- October 2000. It would have been a swatting a fly. It would not have been -- we did not need to wait to get a strategic plan. Dick Clarke had in his memo on the 20th of January overt military operations as a -- he turned that memo around in 24 hours, Dr. Clarke. There were a lot of plans in place in the Clinton administration, military plans in the Clinton administration. In fact, just since we're in the mood to declassify stuff, he included in his January 25th memo two appendixes: Appendix A, "Strategy for the Elimination of the Jihadist Threat of al Qaeda;" Appendix B, "Political- Military Plan for al Qaeda."

So I just -- why didn't we respond to the Cole? Why didn't we swat that fly?

MS. RICE: I believe that there is a question of whether or not you respond in a tactical sense or whether you respond in a strategic sense, whether or not you decide that you are going to respond to every attack with minimal use of military force and go after every -- on a kind of tit-for-tat basis. By the way, in that memo, Dick Clarke talks about not doing this tit for tat, doing this on a time of our choosing.

Yes, the Cole had happened. We received, I think, on January 25th the same assessment or roughly the same assessment of who was responsible for the Cole that Sandy Berger talked to you about. It was preliminary. It was not clear. But that was not the reason that we felt that we did not want to, quote, "respond to the Cole."

We knew that the options that had been employed by the Clinton administration had been standoff options. The President had -- meaning missile strikes, or perhaps bombers would have been possible, long-range bombers, although getting in place the apparatus to use long-range bombers is even a matter of whether you have basing in the region.

We knew that Osama bin Laden had been, in something that was provided to me, bragging that he was going to withstand any response, and then he was going to emerge and come out stronger. We --
…We simply believed that the best approach was to put in place a plan that was going to eliminate this threat, not respond to it, tit-for-tat.

MS. RICE: The fact is that what we were presented on January the 25th was a set of ideas -- and a paper, most of which was about what the Clinton administration had done, and something called the Delenda plan, which had been considered in 1998 and never adopted.

We decided to take a different track. We decided to put together a strategic approach to this that would get the regional powers -- the problem wasn't that you didn't have a good counterterrorism person. The problem was you didn't have approach against al Qaeda because you didn't have an approach against Afghanistan, and you didn't have an approach against Afghanistan because you didn't have an approach against Pakistan. And until we could get that right, we didn't have a policy.

In the memorandum that Dick Clarke sent me on January 25th, he mentions sleeper cells. There is no mention or recommendation of anything that needs to be done about them. And the FBI was pursuing them. And usually when things come to me it's because I'm supposed to do something about it, and there was no indication that the FBI was not adequately pursuing the sleeper cells.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Online Reporter Quits After Liberals' Expose

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.


Social Security Problems Not a Crisis, Most Say
Social Security Problems Not a Crisis, Most Say

By Richard Morin and Dale Russakoff
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page A01

Most Americans are certain Social Security will go bankrupt but are not ready to embrace changes that would shore up the system's finances, according to two surveys by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.

Seven in 10 Americans agree with President Bush that Social Security eventually will go bankrupt if Congress fails to act, though most predict that the system will not do so for at least two decades. Yet while Bush has warned of a crisis in Social Security, barely one in four Americans believes that a crisis exists.

More broadly, the polls raise serious doubts about whether Americans are willing to make the choices necessary to fix the system's financial problems. Solid majorities reject both increases in payroll taxes and decreases in retirement benefits, except for the wealthy. Experts agree that without new revenue coming in or less flowing out as benefits -- or both -- the Social Security system will not be able to pay all its promised benefits, perhaps as early as 2042.

Other recent samplings of public opinion have gauged support for Bush's restructuring plan and other proposals for change, but these polls sought to measure what people knew about Social Security and how misinformation about the program is shaping policy preferences. The polls also tested how subtle changes in the way proposed changes are described can produce major shifts in public opinion.

A majority supports the president's proposal to allow Americans to invest part of their Social Security contributions in stocks or bonds, although opinions on this and other aspects of the president's plan frequently are weakly held and easily moved.

For example, Jerry Traylor, 58, a retired government worker who lives in Newell, Ala., said he supports Bush's proposal for personal accounts, asserting that "a person would have more interest in their own money and their future in retirement if they could invest in stocks."

But like nearly half of those surveyed, Traylor wrongly believed that the costs of creating personal accounts would be negligible. Told that the Bush administration estimates the government initially would have to borrow more than $700 billion to set up such a system, he was incredulous. "That seems very excessive," Traylor said. "I would be less inclined to favor it if it costs that much. That much money could serve a lot of good purposes."

That cost estimate proved to be the most effective of four arguments against Bush's proposal tested in the polls. While 56 percent said they support a plan for individual investment accounts, more than half of those said they would be less likely to do so after hearing the estimate. More than four in 10 supporters wavered when they heard that personal accounts would not, by themselves, reduce the financial problems facing Social Security.

Those opposed to Bush's plan were consistently more resistant to changing their view -- about one in four did -- when confronted with four arguments supporting his proposal.

Taken together, the polls found that the debate over Social Security reflects the sharp divisions of the presidential campaign, and that Bush enters the fight without a clear mandate on the issue. The surveys also found serious misunderstandings about Social Security that could be exploited by either side to shape opinion as the debate evolves.
Facts vs. Beliefs

Americans badly underestimate the share of the federal budget spent on Social Security, and most incorrectly believe that retirees, on average, receive less in benefits than they contributed to the system. And about half of those who support the president's plan incorrectly believe it would protect people from losing retirement money they invested from their personal account.

Perhaps most significant, about seven in 10 Americans believe that the cost of living has been rising faster than wages over the past 20 years, although the reverse is true. This belief probably shapes policy preferences: The same percentage wants to peg initial Social Security benefits to the cost of living, as Bush reportedly wants, instead of the current formula, which pegs them to wage increases. That change would result in significantly lower guaranteed benefits for future generations, according to both supporters and opponents.

Danny Burke, 49, a laid-off maintenance mechanic in Granite City, Ill., who said he struggles to make ends meet, believes based on experience that prices are rising much faster than wages. "Just go to the grocery store and look at a can of corn," he said. "I used to get four for a dollar; now it's five for $2."

But Robert Mitchell, 40, who owns a carpet-cleaning business in Nixa, Mo., correctly said wages rise faster, also based on what he sees. "My parents worked like dogs, and we had one TV and two old cars. Now every person I know has two brand-new cars and a plasma TV," he said.

At the same time, the polls found that the public has quickly become informed on many key elements of the Bush plan to create individual investment accounts.

Most already know that Bush's changes would exempt those 55 and older, and people polled understand that the accounts would be protected from use by government. They also know the plan would limit investments to a few relatively safe stock and bond funds.

To measure knowledge about Social Security and the Bush plan, The Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard conducted two national telephone surveys. The first poll of 1,236 randomly selected adults was conducted Feb. 3 to 6 and measured what people knew about Social Security and their attitudes toward restructuring.

The second survey, of 1,231 randomly selected adults conducted Feb. 4 to 6, focused on what people initially have learned about the Bush plan. Both surveys have margins of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The polls suggest that the debate over Social Security restructuring is a battle of words -- but not necessarily the words the administration has worried about.

Americans seem not to change their views when the president's plan is characterized as a "private" rather than a "personal" investment account -- a change from earlier studies, in which the use of "private accounts" or "privatization" drove down support. Either way, a modest majority favored the proposal, the survey found.

Far more sensitive was the characterization of the way a restructuring would include a provision to recalculate initial benefits for retirees. Opposition rose from 68 percent when this change was characterized as "reducing the rate of growth in benefits" to 86 percent when described as "cutting guaranteed benefits." Both phrases accurately describe what would happen.
Deep Divisions

The polls also revealed that the fault lines of the presidential campaign are resurfacing in the Social Security debate. Those surveyed split down the middle on whether they trusted Democrats or Republicans to lead on Social Security. And they were almost equally divided on the values that lie at the heart of the current debate -- self-reliance vs. the government's obligation to protect its citizens.

Half said the overriding value is having a guaranteed minimum standard of living in retirement, even if that means the government decides how all Social Security taxes are invested. Nearly as many said the system should above all allow Americans to invest a portion of Social Security taxes as they wish, even if they end up taking risks that hurt them financially.

Six in 10 Democrats valued the guaranteed standard of living, while six in 10 Republicans valued the freedom to invest on their own. Seniors valued the minimum standard of living by 57 percent to 32 percent. Those younger than 40 valued the right to invest on their own by 53 percent to 42 percent.

Attitudes of those older than 55 often differed significantly from those of younger Americans, with strikingly little variation among those 18 to 55. For example, people younger than 55 are about twice as likely to say the system is in crisis than older adults. They are twice as likely as older people to say they expect to receive less in Social Security benefits than they paid into the system.

"I'm expecting to live on my own savings. I'm going to prepare for the worst so I don't get in trouble," said Sarah Kirby, 19, a political science and history major at Marquette University who said she believes Social Security is "outdated" because it did not anticipate the longevity of today's seniors.

Benjamin Palmer, 23, general manager of a Pizza Hut in New Brighton, Pa., also said he expects Social Security to run out before he retires. "Who cares?" Palmer said of the risk involved in stock investments. "People my age have no guarantee now that Social Security will be there for us. So it would be more than we've got now."

Stephen Davis, 55, a metal fabricator who lives in Forney, Tex., disagrees with Bush's proposal, even though he voted for him.

"I think it's dangerous, because in the stock market the amount of risk involved is just too great," Davis said. "It's kind of like, let the fleecing begin, benefiting stock insiders, stockbrokers, large corporations."

The survey also suggests that Bush begins the fight over Social Security without a majority of Americans backing him. One in five wants him to lead the way on Social Security, while a similar proportion has more confidence in congressional Republicans. More than four in 10 -- 43 percent -- say they trust congressional Democrats on the issue. Taken together, the findings suggest that about half want Democrats to handle this issue, while about half have more confidence in Republicans.

Although half of all retirees say Social Security is their major source of income, few younger Americans say they plan to rely on the system to be anything more than a supplement to their retirement incomes.

More than two-thirds of the country knows that payroll taxes paid into the Social Security trust fund are lent to the federal government and spent on other programs. But more than six in 10 of these doubt that the federal government will ever pay that money back -- one big reason the system is now in trouble, a lopsided majority says.

"Pay it back? The government?" said Margaret Abrams, 59, who owns a plumbing company in Somerville, Mass. "They're never going to pay it back. It's not on the list."

Assistant polling director Claudia Deane contributed to this report.


Broken Windows
Broken Windows

Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page A22

THE "NEWS" that the Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost hundreds of billions more than advertised -- $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, or a mere $724 billion once various offsets are taken into account -- should come as no surprise to anyone who paid the slightest attention to the contortions the administration engaged in to cram the benefit into a (supposedly) $400 billion package. It was always clear that, even if the original estimate was correct (and the administration successfully suppressed its own, bigger assessment of $534 billion), it was achieved only because the benefit would not really be in place for the first few years of the 10-year budget window. Anyone who looked at the matter knew that, whatever the precise number, the cost was on a path to explode in the second 10 years and beyond. Those who profess sticker shock now -- and some of them are the same people who had demanded that the benefit be more generous -- have only themselves to blame.

But the phony, or at the very least unwarranted, outrage over Medicare costs underscores a real outrage: the continuing, repeated brazenness of the Bush adminis- tration and its congressional enablers in manipulating budget windows to their liking. Time and again, the administration narrows the budget window to a small crack (five years, for example) when that suits its purpose, and opens it wide (to an infinite horizon) when a longer view bolsters its case. Both by phasing in costs and setting artificial expiration dates for proposals it fully intends to make permanent, the administration minimizes the true price of its plans.

The budget released Monday and the Social Security plan unveiled last week offer the most recent examples of the administration's bad budget practices. A few years back, the administration stopped making 10-year budget projections -- too uncertain, it insisted -- and instead limited the look ahead to five years. This truncated time frame, it turns out, is convenient as the administration tries to prove its fiscal bona fides by asserting that it will cut the deficit in half by 2009. (Of course, the administration manages to achieve that false target only by having inflated its past deficit estimates and by excluding foreseeable costs such as continued military operations in Iraq, but that's a different sort of budget gimmickry.) What happens after that? The administration pretends the alleged downward trajectory will continue, but more responsible estimates show a different picture.

The Social Security discussion offers a double dose of budgetary dishonesty. To inflate the size of the Social Security "crisis," the administration departs from the traditional long-term horizon of 75 years (under which the program faces a $3.7 trillion shortfall) to an infinite timeline under which that number is bumped up to $11.4 trillion. A decade ahead, it seems, is too iffy, but Buzz Lightyear accounting (to infinity and beyond) is fine. When it comes to the cost of its private accounts, however, the administration is, literally, more shortsighted. It says the transition cost of the accounts would be $754 billion over the next 10 years. But because the accounts don't begin until 2009 and aren't fully phased in until 2011 -- conveniently, after the deficit will supposedly be cut in half -- that number is misleadingly low. In fact, according to outside estimates, the transition cost of the accounts would be $1 trillion during the first decade they were in effect and $3.5 trillion during the second decade.

Forecasting the cost of government programs and the trajectory of the deficit is always inexact, but coming up with the most honest assessment possible is a necessary ingredient of responsible policymaking. The administration's preferred approach, however, is the very definition of window dressing: "A means of improving appearances or creating a falsely favorable impression."


New Voting Act Bills Introduced in Congress

The following bills have been introduced in the Senate and House of the
109th Congress
(Full details available at

S.17 Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2005
(Introduced in Senate)
PURPOSES- The purposes of this Act are as follows:
(1) To secure the opportunity to participate in democracy
for all eligible American citizens by establishing a national Federal
write-in absentee ballot for Federal elections.
(2) To expand and establish uniform and nondiscriminatory
requirements and standards to remove administrative procedural barriers
and technological obstacles to casting a vote and having that vote
counted in Federal elections.
(3) To expand and establish uniform and nondiscriminatory
requirements and standards to provide for the accessibility, accuracy,
verifiability, privacy, and security of all voting systems and
technology used in Federal elections.
(4) To provide a Federal funding mechanism for the States
to implement the requirements and standards to preserve and protect
voting rights and the integrity of Federal elections in the United

H. R. 278 Know Your Vote Counts Act of 2005 (Introduced in House)
To amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require voting systems to
produce a verifiable paper record of each vote cast and to ensure the
security of electronic data, and for other purposes.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Ben Wikler

[Media Matters ( )is watching this--check back with them as it unfolds.]

Remember Jeff Gannon? He’s the guy who somehow landed a White House press credential in order to provide content for At White House press conferences, he would ask questions like:

Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines. And Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you’ve said you are going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality? which Rush Limbaugh responded, on January 26,

Uh, Harry Reid never said “soup lines.” That’s my term for the simple way to characterize the Democrats’ view of America or vision of America. They look out there and they see 1930s soup lines all over the place, but Dusty Harry never actually said that yesterday, but the reporter attributed it to him – And I’m not angry about this at all, folks! I’m flattered and honored and proud to have a point made by this program represented in the press conference today and asked by a reporter.

So, Rush made up the “soup lines” thing, and Gannon picked it up.

(Rush, typically, looped back on himself and started attacking the mainstream press for noting that Gannon’s quotes weren’t real. From February 4:

The Boston Globe and others in the mainstream press--upset that Jeff Gannon is on-site and present at White House press conferences where he dared to ask questions accurately quoting Senate Democrat leaders. That is considered an attack by the left when you accurately quote Democrats. That’s an attack.


Anyway, Gannon has imploded. Here’s the story, from

Gannon Quits After Blogger Inquiry

The Talon News correspondent at the center of a scandal over his White House press credentials quit last night amid a growing online investigation into his history, including allegations of involvement with several websites appearing to support gay pornography and promote male prostitution.

A Right Show of Gratitude
Jeff Gannon (a pseudonym) announced last night via his personal website that he had found it "no longer possible to effectively be a reporter for Talon News. In consideration of the welfare of me and my family I have decided to return to private life."

It's this "private life" that may have precipitated Gannon's departure. In the last week, Investigative bloggers at World O'Crap, Daily Kos and Eschaton have dug up evidence that implicates Gannon as the owner of web domains,, and, which are registered under the same owner as Gannon's home page Two of the three web addresses are no longer active. The third,, requires registration before viewing the content. It now appears that the person registered as the individual owner of these domains, James "JD" Guckert, is in fact Gannon, according to investigative bloggers at Eschaton and elsewhere.

One hour prior to his resignation, MediaCitizen sent an interview request to the now former correspondent. As part of the request, I outlined a series of questions regarding Gannon's background in journalism, his relationship to members of the White House staff, to Talon News' parent company GOPUSA, as well as to the Wilmington company, Bedrock Corporation, which is the registered owner of the websites in question. Gannon resigned within an hour of receiving these questions. This was MediaCitizen's second request for an interview as a follow up to an earlier report.

Gannon's decision to leave Talon News may be related to the news site's frequent homophobic stance on issues pertaining to gay rights, marriage and adoption. A recently discovered photo, allegedly depicting the former correspondent, suggests a potential conflict between his lifestyle and the beliefs shared by his colleagues at the conservative news site. For their part, Talon News removed Gannon's bio from their website at the beginning of this controversy, nearly two weeks ago. Here's the cached bio. While blog investigators at Daily Kos claim that the image in question depicts Gannon, this has yet to be confirmed.

We needn't take the issue of Gannon's lifestyle any further. This is not a story about sexual orientation but about the viability of our Fourth Estate in the face of increasing efforts to disguise propaganda as straight news. By acting as a White House shill -- lobbing softball questions to Press Secretary McLellan and President Bush and posting, wholesale, administration press releases as "news" -- Gannon rightly came under harsh scrutiny. You can view Gannon in action via this link on CSPAN.

His decision to leave Talon News was his own, but it was aided along by a well mobilized blogosphere, intent on shedding more light on this man's duplicitous role as a White House "correspondent."


SOCIAL SECURITY: Hot Air in Motown


Hot Air in Motown

President Bush heads to Detroit, MI
( , today as part
of his aggressive marketing campaign to sell his deeply flawed -- and
very expensive -- Social Security plan. Don't hold your breath waiting
for the president to flesh out more details, however; the Detroit Free
Press reports "the traditional question and answer period after the
speech has been dropped for Bush's visit." (There may be good reason for
this: as the New York Times wrote this weekend, when it comes to the Bush
plan, "The more we learn, the worse it gets
( .")
Don't believe his hype. Here are the basics to keep in mind when
listening to his sales pitch.

IT'S A BENEFIT CUT: The private accounts President Bush wants to create
do nothing by themselves to reduce the shortfall
( . A White House memo to
conservative allies which was leaked to the press last month even
"acknowledged that individual accounts themselves would do nothing
( to close the projected Social
Security shortfall." What President Bush really is pushing are giant
benefit cuts, which he said during his State of the Union Address were
"on the table."

IT'S A TAX HIKE: President Bush has resisted raising the payroll tax to
pay for Social Security reform. But don't be fooled: his Social
Security plan is a tax hike. Here's how it works: President Bush is proposing
keeping the Social Security wage tax at the same level while reducing
benefits for future retirees. "By keeping the tax the same and reducing
future benefits," Newsweek reports, "Bush is like a candymaker that
cuts 46 percent off a chocolate bar but charges the same 75 cents for it.
In other words, his plan would effectively increase the Social
Security tax ( ."

IT INCREASES THE DEBT: The Bush plan also entails " significant new
federal borrowing ( ." Vice
President Cheney this weekend admitted the government would have to borrow $754
billion over the next decade to set up the private accounts. (That's
low-balling the number -- most experts agree the first ten years of the
Bush tax plan would cost about $2 trillion
( .) And after that? " Trillions
more after that
( ,''
he admitted. Large-scale borrowing carries a huge price for the middle
class. When the federal government runs up a large debt, that means
less money is available for average Americans to borrow when they want to
buy a house or a car or pay for college tuition. That smaller pool of
money available for loans translates into higher interest rates -- which
not only puts a squeeze on individual consumers but also slows the rate
of economic growth.
( That
means, in the long run, fewer jobs, low wage growth and less money coming
into the federal Treasury.

THE MONEY'S NOT REALLY YOURS: President Bush is trying to capitalize on
the fact that Americans like to own things to sell his program to chop
Social Security benefits. The reality of his plan is a far cry from the
private ownership he's touting, however. For example, instead of
private plans that let Americans control their own investments, there are
tight restrictions on which conservative stocks and bonds the public will
be allowed to buy. And, the New York Times writes, "the more
restrictions there are, the harder it would be
( for
people to achieve the outsized returns the administration has generally
promoted to sell the public on private accounts." Also, Bush has played
up the fact that his accounts can be passed on to one's heirs. In
reality, unless you die before you retire, there's not going to be a lot to
bequeath. Retirees under the Bush plan will be required to use the
money in their accounts to buy the annuities that will then provide them
with their post-retirement income. The only money left to pass to heirs
is whatever is left over -- if anything -- from purchasing the
annuities. As Business Week puts it, "The problem isn't the restrictions on
ownership in the Bush plan. It's the false billing
, which is aimed at drumming up support from a skeptical public."

PRESIDENT BUSH EXPLAINS IT ALL: Confused about how President Bush's
Social Security privatization proposal works? Here is his explanation
( :
"Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost
drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the
table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price
increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being
considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers,
affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get
what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what
has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of
muddled." ( Thanks to Atrios ( .)




THE MEDICARE MESS: The industry-backed
( prescription drug
bill President Bush jammed through Congress is a bad law that keeps
getting worse. While the bill was pending before Congress, the
administration promised the bill would cost $400 billion over 10 years
( and
threatened to fire the Medicare actuary who knew that figure was too low
( . Later, the
administration revised its estimated price tag to $534 billion over 10
years, largely due to excessive payments to private insurers and HMOs
( . Now, in the
most recent budget, the Bush administration estimates the bill will cost
$395 billion over five years
. In the meantime, drug companies have already jacked up their prices
enough to offset any discount to seniors
( .


Bush's Middle Class Tax Hike


Bush's Middle Class Tax Hike

A closer look at the administration's 2006 budget
shows an economic agenda promoting the wrong choices and wrong priorities.
Rolling back massive tax cuts for millionaires is off the table, but
the Bush administration has no qualms about raising taxes on average
Americans. The budget President Bush submitted to Congress yesterday
imposes $5.3 billion in new, regressive taxes. (They are conveniently listed
in table 18-3 on page 305 of the Analytic Perspectives supplement
to the budget.) The administration's budget contains new taxes that
will increase the price of a six pack of beer, an airline ticket
( and prescription
drugs for veterans
. Meanwhile, the budget cuts funding for education, public health and
environmental protection and includes $1.4 trillion in new tax cuts for
the wealthy ( . Welcome to
Bushonomics. (Sound off on the president's middle-class tax hike on ( .)

THE SHELL GAME: No matter which way you slice it, the administration's
budget is egregiously fiscally irresponsible -- by its own estimates,
it will result in a $390 billion deficit in 2006
( .
Worse, that figure is only arrived at through trickery. The budget
includes over a billion dollars in revenue from drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge
( (ANWR), even
though Congress hasn't authorized such drilling and has rejected
President Bush's proposal to open ANWR to oil exploration for the last four
years. Budget Director Josh Bolten defended the move, claiming, "the
budget is the right place to present the entirety of the president's
policies, so all of his proposals are reflected in there." Really? The Bush
budget excludes all funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan
( and the administration's $2
trillion Social Security package ( .

administration, more and more Americans are struggling. The Center for Budget and
Policy Priorities sums it up: " The number of poor went up for the third
straight year in 2003 ( , the share
of total income that goes to the bottom two-fifths of households has
fallen to one of its lowest levels since the end of World War II, and the
number of people lacking health insurance rose to 45 million in 2003,
the highest level on record." Yet the Bush administration is cutting
programs that help people get back on their feet. For example, the
administration's budget proposes "a five-year freeze on child care funding
that...will result in cutting the number of low-income children receiving
child care assistance by 300,000 in 2009." The Bush budget also cuts
$45 billion from Medicaid, the program that provides basic health
coverage to the poor.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Fraud and corruption

Fraud and corruption

Forget the UN. The US occupation regime helped itself to $8.8 bn of mostly Iraqi money in just 14 months

George Monbiot
Tuesday February 8, 2005
The Guardian

The Republican senators who have devoted their careers to mauling the United Nations are seldom accused of shyness. But they went strangely quiet on Thursday. Henry Hyde became Henry Jekyll. Norm Coleman's mustard turned to honey. Convinced that the UN is a conspiracy against the sovereignty of the United States, they had been ready to launch the attack which would have toppled the hated Kofi Annan and destroyed his organisation. A report by Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US federal reserve, was meant to have proved that, as a result of corruption within the UN's oil-for-food programme, Saddam Hussein was able to sustain his regime by diverting oil revenues into his own hands. But Volcker came up with something else.

"The major source of external financial resources to the Iraqi regime," he reported, "resulted from sanctions violations outside the [oil-for-food] programme's framework." These violations consisted of "illicit sales" of oil by the Iraqi regime to Turkey and Jordan. The members of the UN security council, including the United States, knew about them but did nothing. "United States law requires that assistance programmes to countries in violation of UN sanctions be ended unless continuation is determined to be in the national interest. Such determinations were provided by successive United States administrations."

The government of the US, in other words, though it had been informed about a smuggling operation which brought Saddam Hussein's regime some $4.6bn, decided to let it continue. It did so because it deemed the smuggling to be in its national interest, as it helped friendly countries (Turkey and Jordan) evade the sanctions on Iraq. The biggest source of illegal funds to Saddam Hussein was approved not by officials of the UN but by officials in the US. Strange to relate, neither Mr Hyde nor Mr Coleman have yet been bellyaching about it. But this isn't the half of it.

It is true that the UN's auditing should have been better. Some of the oil-for-food money found its way into Saddam Hussein's hands. One of its officials, with the help of a British diplomat, helped to ensure that a contract went to a British firm, rather than a French one. The most serious case involves an official called Benon Sevan, who is alleged to have channelled Iraqi oil into a company he favoured, and who might have received $160,000 in return. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, has taken disciplinary action against both men, and promised to strip them of diplomatic immunity if they are charged. There could scarcely be a starker contrast to the way the US has handled the far graver allegations against its own officials.

Four days before Volcker reported his findings about Saddam Hussein, the US inspector general for Iraq reconstruction published a report about the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) - the US agency which governed Iraq between April 2003 and June 2004. The inspector general's job is to make sure that the money the authority spent was properly accounted for. It wasn't. In just 14 months, $8.8bn went absent without leave. This is more than Mobutu Sese Seko managed to steal in 32 years of looting Zaire. It is 55,000 times as much as Mr Sevan is alleged to have been paid.

The authority, the inspector general found, was "burdened by severe inefficiencies and poor management". This is kind. Other investigations suggest that it was also burdened by false accounting, fraud and corruption.

Last week a British adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council told the BBC's File on Four programme that officials in the CPA were demanding bribes of up to $300,000 in return for awarding contracts. Iraqi money seized by US forces simply disappeared. Some $800m was handed out to US commanders without being counted or even weighed. A further $1.4bn was flown from Baghdad to the Kurdish regional government in the town of Irbil, and has not been seen since.

Contracts to US companies were awarded by the CPA without any financial safeguards. They were issued without competition, in the form of "cost-plus" deals. This means that the companies were paid for the expenses they incurred, plus a percentage of those expenses in the form of profit. They had a powerful incentive, in other words, to spend as much money as possible. As a result, the authority appears to have obtained appalling value for money. Auditors at the Pentagon, for example, allege that, in the course of just one contract, a subsidiary of Halliburton overcharged it for imported fuel by $61m. This appears to have been officially sanctioned. In November, the New York Times obtained a letter from an officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers insisting that she would not "succumb to the political pressures from the ... US embassy to go against my integrity and pay a higher price for fuel than necessary". She was overruled by her superiors, who issued a memo insisting that the prices the company was charging were "fair and reasonable", and that it wouldn't be asked to provide the figures required to justify them.

Other companies appear to have charged the authority for work they never did, or to have paid subcontractors to do it for them for a fraction of what they were paid by the CPA. Yet, even when confronted by cast-iron evidence of malfeasance, the authority kept employing them. When the inspector general recommended that the US army withhold payments from companies which appear to have overcharged it, it ignored him. No one has been charged or punished. The US department of justice refuses to assist the whistle-blowers who are taking these companies to court.

What makes all this so serious is that more than half the money the CPA was giving away did not belong to the US government but to the people of Iraq. Most of it was generated by the coalition's sales of oil. If you think the UN's oil-for-food programme was leaky, take a look at the CPA's oil-for-reconstruction scheme. Throughout the entire period of CPA rule, there was no metering of the oil passing through Iraq's pipelines, which means that there was no way of telling how much of the country's wealth the authority was extracting, or whether it was paying a fair price for it. The CPA, according to the international monitoring body charged with auditing it, was also "unable to estimate the amount of petroleum ... that was smuggled".

The authority was plainly breaching UN resolutions. As Christian Aid points out, the CPA's distribution of Iraq's money was supposed to have been subject to international oversight from the beginning. But no auditors were appointed until April 2004 - just two months before the CPA's mandate ran out. Even then, they had no power to hold it to account or even to ask it to cooperate. But enough information leaked out to suggest that $500m of Iraqi oil money might have been "diverted" (a polite word for nicked) to help pay for the military occupation.

I hope that Messrs Hyde and Coleman won't stop asking whether Iraqi oil money has been properly spent. But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if their agreeable silence persists.


Today's Iraq News

Al Zarqawi's Military Advisor Captured
Security forces in Iraq captured a military advisor of most wanted militant Abu Musaab Al Zarqawi, according to a press release issued by the Iraqi government Tuesday. Anad Mohammad Hamad Al Qaysi, also known as Abu Walid, was captured on Jan. 24 in southern Baghdad. The statement said Abu Walid was a 41-year-old Iraqi who helped finance operations in Baghdad and was associated with other recently arrested insurgents including Abu Sayf, who al Zarqawi had appointed as emir of Baghdad. (ABCNEWS Investigative Unit)

21 Dead, 27 Hurt in Iraq Suicide Bombing
A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Iraqis outside an army recruitment center Tuesday, killing 21 other people and injuring 27 more, the U.S. military said. It was the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital since last week's election. (AP)

Egyptian Hostages Freed In Iraq
Four Egyptian engineers who were kidnapped in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, have been freed by US forces. (BBC)

Al Zarqawi In-Law Tied To 2003 Attack
Abu Musab al Zarqawi's father-in-law carried out a suicide bombing in the Shia holy city of Najaf that killed a leading Iraqi cleric, according to two senior Kurdish intelligence officials. (Newsday) Al Hayat newspaper had reported the same last December. The newspaper spoke with sources in al Zarqawi's hometown of al Zarqaa in Jordan who confirmed that Yassin Jarad carried out the attack.

Blair Hints At New Iraq Timetable
British and US governments to publish Iraq exit strategy, PM says. (The Guardian)

Syria Hands Over Moroccans Who Tried to Enter Iraq Through Borders
Two men were handed over to Morocco after trying to get into Iraq through the borders with Syria, judicial sources told al Hayat newspaper. An investigation is underway to determine whether they were planning to join the resistance. The sources said one of the men lived in Europe. Information obtained by al Hayat's indicates that the men had tried to enter Afghanistan through Pakistan in the past. (Al Hayat)


Election officials work on making changes


Election officials work on making changes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Flaw-proof election machines. Easy-to-read ballots. Registration systems that catch double-voters or dead voters still on the rolls.

For top state election officials meeting here, the pressure is on to make sure the election changes demanded after President Bush's disputed 2000 victory are in place by the Jan. 1 deadline imposed by Congress.

The goal is to have the changes ready for the November 2006 midterm elections, but many secretaries of state who gathered in Washington on Monday for four days of meetings think there are too many obstacles in their way. And they worry the federal government is undermining their authority with an assistance commission that is starting to act like a regulatory agency.

"A lot of states are still trying to sort out how to get to the deadlines," New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron said. "That's a major, major challenge. We're probably a year behind schedule."

The three-term Democrat predicts it won't be until the 2008 presidential election that all the improvements Congress demanded are up and running everywhere.

State and local officials administer elections, not the federal government. But the secretaries worry federal election reforms are spilling beyond their boundaries, chipping away at state control and responsibility.

Their group, the National Association of Secretaries of State, approved a formal resolution that asks Congress to dissolve its oversight organization, the federal Election Assistance Commission, after the 2006 elections.

They also sought assurances from Justice Department officials that states that lag behind the Jan. 1 deadline won't be harshly punished, noting that among other things states still are waiting for federal standards for new voting machines.

While the disputed 2000 presidential election produced calls for reforms, Congress didn't pass its election law until 2002. Bush then took months to appoint members to a critical oversight commission that disburses money to the states. States have now received $2.2 billion.

The statewide, computerized voter registries the law demands can go a long way to eliminate the most common problems of valid voters being denied a chance to cast a ballot because of confusion or missing paperwork. They're also supposed to guard against voter fraud.

"We're going to have real checks and balances that did not ever exist there in the past," Vigil-Giron said.

Federal election officials warned the secretaries against seeking a delay in Congress' deadline. Voters already are upset that the improvements weren't in place for 2004, said Paul DeGregorio, a member of the federal commission.

"The average voter wonders why, when they see problems that occurred in this election, or had to wait in line for several hours to vote, why haven't these been fixed?" DeGregorio said.

The secretaries said they're all working hard to improve elections but question the commission's reach.

"They're going into rulemaking by another word — not guidance," Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer said.

The election officials are even more concerned about proposals in Congress that would go beyond the 2002 law and put more federal control over elections.

"The overriding issue right now," said New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, "is should our elections be run by the national government?"

Sen. Christopher Dodds of Connecticut and several other Senate Democrats sponsored a measure that would establish federal standards for voting systems, registrations and early voting, among other facets of elections that states decide.

Some officials doubted such a measure could get through the Republican-controlled Congress anyway, after the drawn-out battles over the 2002 election bill.

But advocates for more improvements in elections system warned that the secretaries, by taking a stance against the election commission, were making stronger elections systems more elusive.

"The hodgepodge quilt of laws, interpretations and regulations is a major national issue," said Miles Rapoport, a former Connecticut secretary of state and president of Demos, a liberal advocacy group election reforms. State and federal governments need to come together to have a "good conversation" about elections, he said.


Spearing the Beast

The New York Times
February 8, 2005

Spearing the Beast

President Bush isn't trying to reform Social Security. He isn't even trying to "partially privatize" it. His plan is, in essence, to dismantle the program, replacing it with a system that may be social but doesn't provide security. And the goal, as with his tax cuts, is to undermine the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt.

Why do I say that the Bush plan would dismantle Social Security? Because for Americans who entered the work force after the plan went into effect and who chose to open private accounts, guaranteed benefits - income you receive after retirement even if everything else goes wrong - would be nearly eliminated.

Here's how it would work. First, workers with private accounts would be subject to a "clawback": in effect, they would have to mortgage their future benefits in order to put money into their accounts.

Second, since private accounts would do nothing to improve Social Security's finances - something the administration has finally admitted - there would be large benefit cuts in addition to the clawback.

Jason Furman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the guaranteed benefits left to an average worker born in 1990, after the clawback and the additional cuts, would be only 8 percent of that worker's prior earnings, compared with 35 percent today. This means that under Mr. Bush's plan, workers with private accounts that fared poorly would find themselves destitute.

Why expose workers to that much risk? Ideology. "Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state," declares Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth and the Cato Institute. "If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state."

By the welfare state, Mr. Moore means Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - social insurance programs whose purpose, above all, is to protect Americans against the extreme economic insecurity that prevailed before the New Deal. The hard right has never forgiven F.D.R. (and later L.B.J.) for his efforts to reduce that insecurity, and now that the right is running Washington, it's trying to turn the clock back to 1932.

Medicaid is also in the cross hairs. And if Mr. Bush can take down Social Security, Medicare will be next.

The attempt to "jab a spear" through Social Security complements the strategy of "starve the beast," long advocated by right-wing intellectuals: cut taxes, then use the resulting deficits as an excuse for cuts in social spending. The spearing doesn't seem to be going too well at the moment, but the starving was on full display in the budget released yesterday.

To put that budget into perspective, let's look at the causes of the federal budget deficit. In spite of the expense of the Iraq war, federal spending as a share of G.D.P. isn't high by historical standards - in fact, it's slightly below its average over the past 20 years. But federal revenue as a share of G.D.P. has plunged to levels not seen since the 1950's.

Almost all of this plunge came from a sharp decline in receipts from the personal income tax and the corporate profits tax. These are the taxes that fall primarily on people with high incomes - and in 2003 and 2004, their combined take as a share of G.D.P. was at its lowest level since 1942. On the other hand, the payroll tax, which is the main federal tax paid by middle-class and working-class Americans, remains at near-record levels.

You might think, given these facts, that a plan to reduce the deficit would include major efforts to increase revenue, starting with a rollback of recent huge tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, the budget contains new upper-income tax breaks.

Any deficit reduction will come from spending cuts. Many of those cuts won't make it through Congress, but Mr. Bush may well succeed in imposing cuts in child care assistance and food stamps for low-income workers. He may also succeed in severely squeezing Medicaid - the only one of the three great social insurance programs specifically intended for the poor and near-poor, and therefore the most politically vulnerable.

All of this explains why it's foolish to imagine some sort of widely acceptable compromise with Mr. Bush about Social Security. Moderates and liberals want to preserve the America F.D.R. built. Mr. Bush and the ideological movement he leads, although they may use F.D.R.'s image in ads, want to destroy it.


Female GIs flash breasts, thong in mud-wrestling contests
Female GIs flash breasts, thong in mud-wrestling contests

Associated Press
Feb. 7, 2005 08:50 AM

The mud-wrestling babes weren't coeds but MPs. And the scene was an Army-run detention center in Iraq.

The New York Daily News reports female MPs mud-wrestled in October, with a crowd of male soldiers cheering them on. According to snapshots obtained by the News, one young military woman lifted her T-shirt to expose her breasts, while another revealed her thong panties.

Those involved are reported to be members of the 160th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve Unit from Tallahassee, Fla.

The unit has since returned to the states. Military officials say one female soldier was demoted for indecent exposure.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Israel Spying on Iran from Iraq
Israel Spying on Iran from Iraq: Report
Feb. 7, 2005
The Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, installed radars and advanced spying equipment in the Iraqi island of Om al Rassas near the city of Basra to monitor Iranian military and security movements, al Hayat newspaper reported Sunday. The paper reports, according to "informed sources," that this was done with the cooperation of the U.S. forces in Iraq. The radars were installed on high pillars less than a mile away from an Iranian port and can be seen clearly from Iranian soil, the sources claimed. This comes while Iran's chief nuclear negotiator warned that Iran would retaliate if the U.S. or Israel attacked its atomic facilities.


Iraq News

February 7, 2005


Sistani Wants Islam to Be Sole Source of Legislation
Iraq's Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani and another top cleric yesterday demanded that Islam be the sole source of legislation in the country's new constitution. Hours later US Vice President Dick Cheney said Iraq has the right to shape its own democracy without becoming "an Iraqi version of America." (Arab News)

At Least 30 Killed in Iraq
Bombings target Iraqi police station in Baqubah and a hospital in Mosul. (Washington Post)

Egypt Engineers Abducted In Iraq
Four Egyptian engineers working for a mobile telephone company have been kidnapped by gunmen in Baghdad. (BBC)

Web Site: Iraq Group to Release Italian Hostage
An Iraqi group which claims it is holding an Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq said Monday it would release her soon because she was not a spy, a statement on an Islamist Web site said. (Reuters)

Zarqawi Group Denies it's Behind Kidnapping of Italian Journalist
A statement posted online by Abu Musaab Al Zarqawi's Group, al Qaeda of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers, denied that said it was behind the kidnapping of an Italian journalist in Iraq as some had reported. Asharq Al Awsat newspaper also reports today that a second group, al Jihad Al Islami Organization, had previously claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and threatened to kill the journalist today if Italy did not withdraw its troops from Iraq. (ABCNEWS Investigative Unit, Asharq Al Awsat)

U.N. Oil-For-Food Program Chief Suspended
Secretary-General Kofi Annan suspended the head of the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq and a senior U.N. official who dealt with contracts following an independent investigation that accused them of misconduct, a U.N. spokesman said Monday. (AP)

Barzan Al Tikriti Will Be First to Stand Trial
Saddam's half brother Barzan Al Tikriti will be the first person associated with the former Iraqi regime to be tried within a month, according to sources who spoke to Asharq Al Awsat newspaper. The sources however refused to say where or exactly when the trial will take place. (Asharq Al Awsat)

Miles of Barren Desert Dotted With Smugglers, Insurgents
As Washington accuses Syria of providing a haven to militants, Marines try to halt the flow of fighters and weapons into Iraq. (LA Times)

Militant Group Kills Iraqi Translator-Web
Iraqi militant group Army of Ansar al-Sunna said it had shot dead an Iraqi translator working for U.S. forces and posted an Internet video of the killing today. (Reuters)

Iraqi Police Use Kidnappers' Videos to Fight Crime
In one scene, the videotape shows three kidnappers with guns and a knife, preparing to behead a helpless man who is gagged and kneeling at their feet. (NY Times)

Six Months For Abu Ghraib Abuser
A US soldier who stamped on Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison has been sentenced to six months in jail and discharged from the army. (BBC)


Edwards gets rid of mole

Edwards gets rid of mole


MANCHESTER, N.H. -- John Edwards was frequently asked about the large mole on his lip during last year's national elections. Radio personality Don Imus even gigged him for "that thing on your lip."

Now the mole is gone, or at least barely visible. But Edwards said part of it was removed to provide a medical biopsy, rather than for any cosmetic reasons.

"I didn't want to do it," Edwards said in an interview before a speech to a Democratic dinner. "What the doctor told me last summer when I got the physical for the v.p. thing that the thing on your lip has gotten bigger and could be skin cancer and you need to get it biopsied."

Edwards said he couldn't do it in the middle of the campaign. But he decided to have it done several weeks ago -- especially in light of his wife, Elizabeth, being diagnosed with breast cancer. The mole turned out to be benign.


John Edwards: Staying in the Game

Staying in the Game
One day, he lost the election. The next, he found out his wife had cancer. John Edwards is hanging tough
By Melinda Henneberger

Feb. 14 issue - I'm OK," former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards says, nodding determinedly, in a tone that makes clear he could be a lot better. It's been three months now since he lost an election one day and found out his wife, Elizabeth, had breast cancer the next. But in an interview last week at their home in Georgetown, he was neither falsely upbeat nor immobilized. On the contrary, the one-term senator and onetime trial lawyer is full of fresh plans, despite being fully aware that none of us can ever do more than pencil them in.

"I just picked up the kids' stuff, even if it doesn't look like it, so let's sit back here'' to talk about what comes next, he says, leading the way to a family room off the kitchen, where jars of Goldfish and Rice Krispies Treats compete for counter space with stacks of books that tell a little of the story: in one pile is a how-to called "Building Your Home'' and a copy of David Shipler's "The Working Poor: Invisible in America,'' along with a historical novel on the theme of race and some picture books belonging to their two younger children.

"They're just fine," he says of 4-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Emma Claire, "because their understanding is that Mommy has a bump on her breast and that bump is called cancer and she's gonna get well. It's been harder on Cate," their 22-year-old, "because she's lived with death and loss and she knows what that is," he adds, referring to their son Wade, who was killed in a freak highway accident in 1996 at the age of 16. Edwards knows, too, of course, and the worry shows on him. Yet the day his wife was diagnosed "was not even close to the worst day in our lives, is what Elizabeth says." For one thing, there is so much that can be done and that must be attended to, "unlike when Wade died, and there was nothing we could do."

She's almost through with her 16 weeks of chemo now, and when that's behind her she'll have surgery and then radiation. Sometime in the next few months, they'll put their house in Washington on the market. Come spring, when school lets out, they'll move back to North Carolina, where he has taken a position as director of the new Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and his wife met there, 30 years ago, in their first year of law school. As he explains it, the center will study ways to lift people out of poverty.

The Edwardses have already bought some land out in the country there, where they are looking to build a new house. The kids will attend public school nearby. He'll also be burnishing his foreign-policy credentials, apparently, though he won't spell out how. (Some think-tank thing? "No, more like a commission thing.") Clearly, he'd like to preserve the option of running for president again in four years. But he is not being coy when he says he can't focus on that at the moment.

He and John Kerry, who lives just one block over in Georgetown, have so far stayed in closer touch than many had assumed the former and perhaps future rivals would. "We talk all the time, and Jack and Emma Claire were over there yesterday afternoon" with Kerry's wife, Teresa, "and came home with half a pound cake." On the subject of how their party should proceed, he says, "Stand up for what we believe in! The last thing we need is strategic maneuvering. I'm going to work in poverty because I care about it"—a point he hit hard in a speech in New Hampshire Saturday night. Asked what lessons could be drawn from the '04 campaign, he says that if others want to spend time mulling them, "they're welcome to do that, but it's not what I'm going to do."

A little of the fire he showed on the stump then comes back as he talks about a woman he met recently in North Carolina, "an African-American woman who had worked years in a wash house and has a little pizza franchise now. There was this guy with her who had helped her get her loan and he said, 'Tell how many people work for you,' and she said, 'There are eight of us.' Not 'seven people work for me,' but 'there are eight of us.' That's the kind of thing I want to make possible. There's an awful lot of good to be done, and that's how we ought to be thinking" about the future—both for his family and for the country.