Saturday, March 19, 2005

Thousands Protest Iraq War Across Europe

Yahoo! News
Thousands Protest Iraq War Across Europe

By JANELLE STECKLEIN, Associated Press Writer

LONDON - Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters demonstrated across Europe on Saturday to mark the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, with 45,000 marching from London's Hyde Park past the American Embassy.

In Istanbul, Turkey, about 15,000 people protested in the Kadikoy neighborhood against the U.S. presence in Iraq.

But the rallies were nowhere near as big as those in February 2003, just before the war, when millions marched in cities around the world to urge President Bush and his allies not to attack Iraq.

With international forces still facing violent opposition in Iraq, protesters were divided about what to demand from leaders now. While some wanted a full troop withdrawal, others argued that would leave Iraqis in a worse position than before the invasion.

"We got the Iraqis into this mess, we need to help them out of it," said Kit MacLean, 29, waiting near Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner before the London march began.

Police estimated about 45,000 demonstrators marched from the park past the American Embassy and on to Trafalgar Square.

Some worried Bush might be planning another war in the Middle East or elsewhere.

"After Iraq — Iran? Syria? Cuba?" read one placard. "Stop This Man" said another, alongside a picture showing Bush with devil's horns.

One man carried fake bombs with American flags painted on them and a dartboard map of the world showed a U.S. missile sticking out of Iraq.

Security was heavy as the demonstrators moved past the U.S. Embassy. Cement barricades and metal fences blocked the building, as they have since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Two former British soldiers placed a cardboard coffin bearing the words "100,000 dead" outside the embassy.

"George Bush, Uncle Sam, Iraq will be your Vietnam," marchers chanted.

At the demonstration in Istanbul, two marchers dressed like U.S. soldiers pretended to rough up another, who was dressed as a detainee with a sack on his head, in a mimed criticism of prisoner abuse cases.

"Murderer Bush, get out," read one sign.

In the southern city of Adana, home to a Turkish military base used by American forces, protesters laid a black wreath in front of the U.S. Consulate to protest the war, the Anatolia news agency reported.

In Athens, Greece, about 3,000 protesters brought the city center to a standstill for three hours and painted outlines of bodies outside the U.S. Embassy.

Hundreds also turned out in Sweden and Norway.

"I think it's important to show that we still care about this," said Linn Majuri, 15, a member of the environmental organization Green Youth in Stockholm, Sweden. "People have become apathetic about this, it's no longer something they walk around thinking about every day."

With music and banners, marchers in Rome demanded the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq. "Iraq to the Iraqis!" read one banner.

Demonstrations also were planned in nine Spanish cities including Madrid, Barcelona and the Basque seaside resort of San Sebastian.

British elections expected in May added a charge to the London protest. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been Bush's staunchest ally in Iraq, despite strong domestic opposition to the war, especially among members of his Labour Party.

Some at the London protest said they could not support Blair but did not know whom else to vote for. The opposition Conservatives strongly backed the war while the third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats, opposed it. Several smaller parties are fielding anti-war candidates in hopes of loosening Blair's hold on power.

"I think it's outrageous what Blair and Bush think they can get away with," said retiree John Salway, 59. "I'd like to think we can put a dent in their arrogance."


Factually inaccurate ads from pro-Bush group Progress for America

Recycled Exaggerations: Local Ads Pressure Congress In Home States


The pro-Bush group Progress for America released a new TV ad
highlighting Social Security’s long-term fiscal deficit by telling voters that
the system will go bankrupt “sooner than you think.” But the ad fails to
mention that the system isn't projected to go "bankrupt" for another 37
years, when the Trust Fund is exhausted. And even then, neutral experts
agree Social Security could still pay between 70 and 80 percent of
currently scheduled benefits.

The group also takes aim at “National Democrats” for having no plan to
address the system's financial shortfall. It’s quite true that
Congressional Democrats have not endorsed a specific plan, but neither has
President Bush.

See the link below for the full article:


A New Screen Test for Imax: It's the Bible vs. the Volcano

The New York Times
March 19, 2005
A New Screen Test for Imax: It's the Bible vs. the Volcano

The fight over evolution has reached the big, big screen.

Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject - or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth - fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures.

The number of theaters rejecting such films is small, people in the industry say - perhaps a dozen or fewer, most in the South. But because only a few dozen Imax theaters routinely show science documentaries, the decisions of a few can have a big impact on a film's bottom line - or a producer's decision to make a documentary in the first place.

People who follow trends at commercial and institutional Imax theaters say that in recent years, religious controversy has adversely affected the distribution of a number of films, including "Cosmic Voyage," which depicts the universe in dimensions running from the scale of subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies; "Galápagos," about the islands where Darwin theorized about evolution; and "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from vents in the ocean floor.

"Volcanoes," released in 2003 and sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and Rutgers University, has been turned down at about a dozen science centers, mostly in the South, said Dr. Richard Lutz, the Rutgers oceanographer who was chief scientist for the film. He said theater officials rejected the film because of its brief references to evolution, in particular to the possibility that life on Earth originated at the undersea vents.

Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said the museum decided not to offer the movie after showing it to a sample audience, a practice often followed by managers of Imax theaters. Ms. Murray said 137 people participated in the survey, and while some thought it was well done, "some people said it was blasphemous."

In their written comments, she explained, they made statements like "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact," or "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence."

On other criteria, like narration and music, the film did not score as well as other films, Ms. Murray said, and over all, it did not receive high marks, so she recommended that the museum pass.

"If it's not going to draw a crowd and it is going to create controversy," she said, "from a marketing standpoint I cannot make a recommendation" to show it.

In interviews, officials at other Imax theaters said they had similarly decided against the film for fear of offending some audiences.

"We have definitely a lot more creation public than evolution public," said Lisa Buzzelli, who directs the Charleston Imax Theater in South Carolina, a commercial theater next to the Charleston Aquarium. Her theater had not ruled out ever showing "Volcanoes," Ms. Buzzelli said, "but being in the Bible Belt, the movie does have a lot to do with evolution, and we weigh that carefully."

Pietro Serapiglia, who handles distribution for the producer Stephen Low of Montreal, whose company made the film, said officials at other theaters told him they could not book the movie "for religious reasons," because it had "evolutionary overtones" or "would not go well with the Christian community" or because "the evolution stuff is a problem."

Hyman Field, who as a science foundation official had a role in the financing of "Volcanoes," said he understood that theaters must be responsive to their audiences. But Dr. Field he said he was "furious" that a science museum would decide not to show a scientifically accurate documentary like "Volcanoes" because it mentioned evolution.

"It's very alarming," he said, "all of this pressure being put on a lot of the public institutions by the fundamentalists."

People who follow the issue say it is more likely to arise at science centers and other public institutions than at commercial theaters. The filmmaker James Cameron, who was a producer on "Volcanoes," said the commercial film he made on the same topic, "Aliens of the Deep," had not encountered opposition, except during post-production, when "it was requested from some theaters that we change a line of dialogue" relating to sun worship by ancient Egyptians. The line remained, he said.

Mr. Cameron said he was "surprised and somewhat offended" that people were sensitive to the references to evolution in "Volcanoes."

"It seems to be a new phenomenon," he said, "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science."

Some in the industry say they fear that documentary filmmakers will steer clear of science topics likely to offend religious fundamentalists.

Large-format science documentaries "are generally not big moneymakers," said Joe DeAmicis, vice president for marketing at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and formerly the director of its Imax theater. "It's going to be hard for our filmmakers to continue to make unfettered documentaries when they know going in that 10 percent of the market" will reject them.

Others who follow the issue say many institutions are not able to resist such pressure.

"They have to be extremely careful as to how they present anything relating to evolution," said Bayley Silleck, who wrote and directed "Cosmic Voyage." Mr. Silleck said he confronted religious objections to that film and predicted he would face them again with a project he is working on now, about dinosaurs.

Of course, a number of factors affect a theater manager's decision about a movie. Mr. Silleck said an Imax documentary about oil fires in Kuwait "never reached its distribution potential" because it had shots of the first Persian Gulf war. "The theaters decided their patrons would be upset at seeing the bodies," he said.

"We all have to make films for an audience that is a family audience," he went on, "when you are talking about Imax, because they are in science centers and museums."

He added, however, "there are a number of us who are concerned that there is a kind of tacit overcaution, overprotectedness of the audience on the part of theater operators."

In any event, censoring films like "Volcanoes" is not an option, said Dr. Field, who said Mr. Low, the film's producer, got in touch with him when the evolution issue arose to ask whether the film should be altered.

"I said absolutely not," recalled Dr. Field, who retired from the National Science Foundation last year.

Mr. Low said that arguments over religion and science disturbed him because of his own religious faith. In his view, he said, science is "a celebration of what nature or God has done. So for me, there's no conflict."

Dr. Lutz, the Rutgers oceanographer, recalled a showing of "Volcanoes" he and Mr. Low attended at the New England Aquarium. When the movie ended, a little girl stood in the audience to challenge Mr. Low on the film's suggestion that Earth might have formed billions of years ago in the explosion of a star. "I thought God created the Earth," she said.

He replied, "Maybe that's how God did it."


Friday, March 18, 2005

S.D. Governor OKs Anti-Abortion Bills

Yahoo! News
S.D. Governor OKs Anti-Abortion Bills

By JOE KAFKA, Associated Press Writer

PIERRE, S.D. - Gov. Mike Rounds signed a series of anti-abortion bills, including one that requires doctors to tell women the procedure ends the lives of humans, his office announced Thursday.

The bill-signings further tighten state abortion restrictions that some characterize as among the toughest in the nation.

One of the four new laws requires doctors to inform pregnant women, in writing and in person, no later than two hours before an abortion that the procedure ends the lives of humans and terminates the constitutional relationship women have with their fetuses.

Women also must be told that some women die during abortions and the procedure can lead to later depression and other problems.

Supporters said the law will ensure that women seeking abortions fully understand what they are doing. Opponents said medical privacy would be undermined, and they are considering possible lawsuits before the law takes effect July 1.

Rounds, a Republican elected in 2002, also signed a bill that will automatically ban most abortions in South Dakota if the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) reverses its 1973 Roe decision and gives states authority to prohibit abortion. The only exceptions would be cases where a woman's life is in danger. Doctors who perform illegal abortions could receive up to two years in prison.

South Dakota currently allows abortions until the 24th week of pregnancy. Later abortions are allowed only if the health or lives of women are endangered.

Another bill signed by Rounds tightens the state's parental notification law to require parents to be told within 24 hours if their minor daughter receives an emergency abortion to protect her life or health. The minor could seek an exception through a court order.

A fourth new law establishes a state task force to study the history of abortion since 1973 and to see if other laws need changing. Abortion opponents said science, medicine and technology have changed considerably since the Roe v. Wade (news - web sites) decision.

About 800 abortions are done each year in South Dakota.

originally published Mar 17, 2005


S.D. Governor OKs Anti-Abortion Bills

Yahoo! News
S.D. Governor OKs Anti-Abortion Bills

By JOE KAFKA, Associated Press Writer

PIERRE, S.D. - Gov. Mike Rounds signed a series of anti-abortion bills, including one that requires doctors to tell women the procedure ends the lives of humans, his office announced Thursday.

The bill-signings further tighten state abortion restrictions that some characterize as among the toughest in the nation.

One of the four new laws requires doctors to inform pregnant women, in writing and in person, no later than two hours before an abortion that the procedure ends the lives of humans and terminates the constitutional relationship women have with their fetuses.

Women also must be told that some women die during abortions and the procedure can lead to later depression and other problems.

Supporters said the law will ensure that women seeking abortions fully understand what they are doing. Opponents said medical privacy would be undermined, and they are considering possible lawsuits before the law takes effect July 1.

Rounds, a Republican elected in 2002, also signed a bill that will automatically ban most abortions in South Dakota if the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) reverses its 1973 Roe decision and gives states authority to prohibit abortion. The only exceptions would be cases where a woman's life is in danger. Doctors who perform illegal abortions could receive up to two years in prison.

South Dakota currently allows abortions until the 24th week of pregnancy. Later abortions are allowed only if the health or lives of women are endangered.

Another bill signed by Rounds tightens the state's parental notification law to require parents to be told within 24 hours if their minor daughter receives an emergency abortion to protect her life or health. The minor could seek an exception through a court order.

A fourth new law establishes a state task force to study the history of abortion since 1973 and to see if other laws need changing. Abortion opponents said science, medicine and technology have changed considerably since the Roe v. Wade (news - web sites) decision.

About 800 abortions are done each year in South Dakota.

originally published Mar 17, 2005


Homeland Insecurity

The New York Times

Homeland Insecurity

Bush officials have always been eager to pose as the tough guys willing to make the tough decisions. On Iraq and Afghanistan, they did. But when it comes to China, the Bush administration is engaged in one of the greatest acts of unilateral disarmament ever seen in U.S. foreign policy.

National security is about so much more than just military deployments. It is also about our tax, energy and competitiveness policies. And if you look at all these areas, the Bush team has not only been steadily eroding America's leverage and room for maneuver vis-à-vis its biggest long-term competitor - China - but it has actually been making us more dependent than ever on Beijing. Indeed, if the Bush policies were wrapped into a single legislative bill it could be called "The U.S.-China Dependency Act."

The excessive tax cuts for the rich, combined with a total lack of discipline on spending by the Bush team and its Republican-run Congress, have helped China become the second-largest holder of U.S. debt, with a little under $200 billion worth. No, I don't think China will start dumping its T-bills on a whim. But don't tell me that as China buys up more and more of our debt - and that is the only way we can finance the tax holiday the Bush team wants to make permanent - it won't limit our room to maneuver with Beijing, should it take aggressive steps toward Taiwan.

What China might do with all its U.S. T-bills in the event of a clash over Taiwan is a total wild card that we have put in Beijing's hands.

On energy, the Bush team's obsession with drilling in the Alaskan wilderness to increase supply is mind-boggling. "I am sure China will be thrilled with the Bush decision to drill in Alaska," said the noted energy economist Philip Verleger Jr. "Oil in Alaska cannot easily or efficiently be shipped to our Gulf Coast refineries. The logical markets are on the West Coast of the United States and in Asia. Consumers in China and Japan, not the U.S., will be the real beneficiaries of any big Alaska find.

"With a big find, China and Japan will be able to increase imports from a dependable supplier - the U.S. - while consumers in the U.S. will still be at the mercy of unreliable suppliers, such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. It is simple geography. [Also], a big find will lead to lower prices in the short term, promoting more emissions and more warming."

Moreover, focusing exclusively on squeezing out a little more supply will only discourage conservation, Mr. Verleger added, setting the stage for higher prices again in three or four years - "when exhausting oil reserves and burgeoning demand from China and India will drive the price of oil to well above $100 a barrel." That will put even more money in the pockets of some of the world's worst governments.

That's why America urgently needs what I call a "geo-green" strategy, which combines geopolitics with environmentalism. Geo-greenism starts with a $1-per-gallon gasoline tax, which would help close our budget gap and force the U.S. auto industry to convert more of its fleet to hybrid and ethanol technology, thereby reducing the amount of money going to Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iran for oil. It would also reduce our dependence on China to finance our debt and the chances that we will end up in a global struggle with China for energy.

Finally, on competition policy, the Bush team and Congress cut the budget of the National Science Foundation for this fiscal year by $105 million. I could not put it better than Congressman Vern Ehlers, one of the few dissenting Republicans, who said: "This decision shows dangerous disregard for our nation's future ... at a time when other nations continue to surpass our students in math and science and consistently increase their funding of basic research. We cannot hope to fight jobs lost to international competition without a well-trained and educated work force."

In addition, at a time when China is encouraging its new companies to offer employees stock options to get Chinese innovators to stay at home and start new firms, the Bush team has been mutely going along with a change in accounting standards that will force U.S. companies to expense stock options by June 2005. This is likely to dampen the growth of our own high-tech companies and encourage U.S.-educated Indian and Chinese techies to go back home.

I am not a China basher. We need to engage China, and help accommodate its rising power with the world system, but the only way to do that is from a position of strength. But everything the Bush team is doing is ensuring that it will be from a position of weakness.

originally published March 17, 2005


Torturing Terri Schiavo

Torturing Terri Schiavo
— Andrew C. McCarthy

She’d be better off if she were a terrorist.

A few months back, I wrote an article for Commentary arguing that we ought to reconsider our anti-torture laws. The argument wasn’t novel. It echoed contentions that had been made with great persuasive force by Harvard’s Professor Alan Dershowitz: that under circumstances of imminent harm to thousands of moral innocents (the so-called “ticking bomb” scenario), it would be appropriate to inflict, under court-supervision, intense but non-lethal pain in an effort to wring information from a morally culpable person — a terrorist known to be complicit in the plot.

As one might predict with such a third rail, my mail was copious and indignant. Opening the door by even a sliver for torture, I was admonished, was the most reprehensible of slippery slopes. No matter how well-intentioned was the idea, no matter the lives that might be saved, no matter how certain we might be about the guilt of the detainee, the very thought that such a thing might be legal would render us no better than the savages we were fighting.

Well, lo and behold, a court-ordered torture is set to begin in Florida on Friday at 1 P.M.

It will not produce a scintilla of socially useful information. It will not save a single innocent life. It is not narrowly targeted on a morally culpable person — the torture-victim is herself as innocent as she is defenseless. It is not, moreover, meant to be brief and non-lethal: The torture will take about two excruciating weeks, and its sole and only purpose is to kill the victim.

On Friday afternoon, unless humanity intervenes, the state of Florida is scheduled to begin its court-ordered torture-murder of Terri Schiavo, whose only crime is that she is an inconvenience. A nuisance to a faithless husband grown tired of the toll on his new love interest and depleting bank account — an account that was inflated only because a jury, in 1992, awarded him over a million dollars, mostly as a trust to pay for Terri’s continued care, in a medical malpractice verdict.

In this instance, though, deafening is the only word for the silence of my former interlocutors — -civil-liberties activists characteristically set on hysteria auto-pilot the moment an al Qaeda terrorist is rumored to have been sent to bed without supper by Don Rumsfeld or Al Gonzales (something that would, of course, be rank rumor since, if you kill or try to kill enough Americans, you can be certain our government will get you three halal squares a day).

Not so Terri Schiavo. She will be starved and dehydrated. Until she is dead. By court order.

Terri is a 40-year-old woman who suffered brain damage after a diagnosed heart attack when she was 26. In state legal proceedings dominated by macabre right-to-die activists, a judge found her to be reduced to a permanent vegetative state (PVS), drawing on examinations that appear grossly inadequate to the task of what objective specialists say is a complex diagnosis. Whether she would technically be found a PVS case by a court that was honestly interested in getting a real fix on her condition — rather than breaking new ground in just how far the Left can go in deciding whose life has value — is beside the point. She is alive and, periodically, both alert and responsive.

Her parents love her and want to care for her. Imagine if you had a child who was defenseless, dependent, and vulnerable — many of us, indeed, need not imagine — and the state told you not only to step aside but that you had to watch, helpless, while it took two weeks to kill her. That’s what’s happening in Florida. Starting Friday.

On another Friday, seven years ago, Mohammed Daoud al-`Owhali and Khalfan Khamis Mohammed blew up the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing over 240 people. They were brought to the United States for trial. They were given, at public expense, multiple, highly experienced capital lawyers, and permitted extensive audiences to plead with the Justice Department not to seek the death penalty. When a capital indictment nevertheless was filed, they were given weeks of voir dire to ensure a jury of twelve people open to the notion that even the lives of mass-murderers have value. They were then given seven months of trial and sentencing proceedings, suffuse with every legal and factual presumption that their lives had worth and should be spared. And so they were.

That’s what the law says we must do for terrorists seeking to destroy our country and to slaughter us indiscriminately.

What is the law doing for Terri Schiavo?

What kind of law is it, what kind of society is it, that says the lives of Khalfan Khamis Mohammed and Mohammed Daoud al-`Owhali’s have value — over which we must anguish and for the sustenance of which we must expend tens of thousands annually — but Terri Schiavo’s is readily dispensable? By court-ordered torture over the wrenching pleas of parents ready and willing to care for her?

What kind of society goes into a lather over the imposition of bright lights and stress positions for barbarians who might have information that will save lives, but yawns while a defenseless woman who hasn’t hurt anyone is willfully starved and dehydrated? By a court — the bulwark purportedly protecting our right to life?

The torture starts Friday, at 1 P.M. Unless we do something to stop it.

— Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

originally published March 17, 2005


The Ugly American Bank

The New York Times
March 18, 2005

The Ugly American Bank

You can say this about Paul Wolfowitz's qualifications to lead the World Bank: He has been closely associated with America's largest foreign aid and economic development project since the Marshall Plan.

I'm talking, of course, about reconstruction in Iraq. Unfortunately, what happened there is likely to make countries distrust any economic advice Mr. Wolfowitz might give.

Let's not focus on mismanagement. Instead, let's talk about ideology.

Before the Iraq war, Pentagon hawks shut the State Department out of planning. This excluded anyone with development experience. As a result, the administration went into Iraq determined to demonstrate the virtues of radical free-market economics, with nobody warning about the likely problems.

Journalists who spoke to Paul Bremer when he was running Iraq remarked on his passion when he spoke about privatizing state enterprises. They didn't note a comparable passion for a rapid democratization.

In fact, economic ideology may explain why U.S. officials didn't move quickly after the fall of Baghdad to hold elections - even though assuring Iraqis that we didn't intend to install a puppet regime might have headed off the insurgency. Jay Garner, the first Iraq administrator, wanted elections as quickly as possible, but the White House wanted to put a "template" in place by privatizing oil and other industries before handing over control.

The oil fields never did get privatized. Nonetheless, the attempt to turn Iraq into a laissez-faire showpiece was, in its own way, as much an in-your-face rejection of world opinion as the decision to go to war. Dogmatic views about the universal superiority of free markets have been losing ground around the world.

Latin Americans are the most disillusioned. Through much of the 1990's, they bought into the "Washington consensus" - which we should note came from Clinton administration officials as well as from Wall Street economists and conservative think tanks - which said that privatization, deregulation and free trade would lead to economic takeoff. Instead, growth remained sluggish, inequality increased, and the region was struck by a series of economic crises.

The result has been the rise of governments that, to varying degrees, reject policies they perceive as made in America. Venezuela's leader is the most obstreperous. But the most dramatic example of the backlash is Argentina, once the darling of Wall Street and the think tanks. Today, after a devastating recession, the country is run by a populist who often blames foreigners for the country's economic problems, and has forced Argentina's foreign creditors to accept a settlement that gives them only 32 cents on the dollar.

And the backlash has reached our closest neighbor. Mexico's current president, Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, is a firm believer in free markets. But his administration is widely considered a failure. Meanwhile, Mexico City's leftist mayor, Manuel López Obrador, has become immensely popular. And his populist rhetoric has raised fears that if he becomes president he will roll back the free-market and free-trade policies of the past two decades.

Mr. Fox is trying to use a minor violation of the law to keep Mr. López off the presidential ballot. If he succeeds, many Mexicans will believe that democracy was sacrificed on the altar of foreign capital.

Not long ago, the growing alienation of Latin America from the United States would have been considered a major foreign policy setback. So much has gone wrong lately that we've defined disaster down, but it's still not a good thing.

Where does Mr. Wolfowitz fit into all this? The advice that the World Bank gives is as important as the money it lends - but only if governments take that advice. And given the ideological rigidity the Pentagon showed in Iraq, they probably won't. If Mr. Wolfowitz says that some free-market policy will help economic growth, he'll be greeted with as much skepticism as if he declared that some country has weapons of mass destruction.

Moisés Naím, editor of Foreign Policy, says that the Wolfowitz nomination turns the World Bank into the American Bank. Make that ugly American bank: rightly or not, developing countries will see Mr. Wolfowitz's selection as a sign that we're still trying to impose policies they believe have failed.



A Wink and a Fraud

The New York Times

A Wink and a Fraud

At the Gridiron Dinner in Washington on Saturday, where Old Media gently mocked politicians with corny songs, I sat next to a presidential gag writer, Landon Parvin. He was saying jokes work best when Republicans make fun of Republicans and Democrats make fun of Democrats.

President Bush, looking spiffy in white tie and tails, swung by to talk to Mr. Parvin. He didn't look my way, but proceeded back up to the dais.

Suddenly, W. turned around, stopped and looked right at me. Then he flashed a wink, not a flirty wink but a mischievous Clark Gable "I've got your number and you think you've got mine but I win" wink.

Bush had a cold, but he was feeling pretty hot.

He started his presidency with a tentative demeanor and a chip on his shoulder. Now, even with the Middle East still roiling and the Democrats still spoiling for a fight over Social Security, W. feels as if he's won a lot of hands and has a big pile of chips.

He's confident enough to send two unilateralist hawks who specialize in blowing off the globe - John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz - to run global institutions that epitomize multilateralism. (Wolfie's biggest qualification to run the World Bank? His prediction that Iraqi reconstruction would pay for itself with Iraqi oil revenues.)

In The Washington Post, the reporter Mark Leibovich wrote that the president has been almost like a different person since the Iraqi elections, so loosey-goosey as he tries to sell his Social Security agenda and other programs that "he is resembling a Texas auctioneer pitching private accounts on the borscht belt."

When a woman at an Arkansas town meeting last month told W. she was from De Queen, he replied, "That is right next to De King."

At the Gridiron, Mr. Bush slyly joked that he had the "dangedest puppy" who would roll over on command - but only some of the time. "I renamed him 'John McCain.' "

I may have gotten a presidential wink, but I still don't have my regular White House pass back. (Maybe I'd get it back if I became a male escort?) But Bush aides have now decided to let in a blogger. Maybe they're grateful that bloodhound bloggers ran off Dan Rather.

But this White House may not like New Media any more than Old Media. It's already moved on to Fake Media.

Here is yesterday's headline on the humorist Andy Borowitz's Web site: "White House Reporter Turns Out to Be Cheney. Fake Mustache Falls Off Veep During Press Briefing."

The White House isn't backing off its plan to replace real news with faux news. The Bushies created their own reality to convince the country that Iraq was a threat to U.S. security. So even though the war has given birth to some of the very evils it was supposed to fix - like more recruits for Osama, and Saddam's formerly sealed weapons' falling into terrorists' hands - Bushies like the results of their war.

Now the White House has its own gulag: C.I.A. agents snatch suspects and fly them to places like Egypt and Syria to be strung up in chains and tortured. And The Times reported yesterday that at least 26 deaths of prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan may be criminal homicides. So it also has its own Soviet-style propaganda campaign.

At his news conference yesterday, the president bristled a bit when a reporter reminded him that after it was revealed that his administration was paying columnists to shill for agency programs, Mr. Bush had ordered that such tactics cease.

But, as the reporter noted, the administration is still using government money to produce stories about the government that are broadcast with no disclosure that the government is producing them.

David Barstow and Robin Stein wrote in The Times on Sunday that at least 20 agencies had made and distributed fake news segments to local TV stations; the administration spent $254 million in its first four years to buy self-aggrandizing puffery from P.R. firms.

The president joked that he could tack on an "I'm George W. Bush and I approved this disclaimer." But then he said he wouldn't - that it was up to local stations to reveal the truth.

He said his Justice Department had found that the fake news programs are "within the law so long as they're based upon facts, not advocacy."

And, of course, this is a White House that never makes up facts to suit its purposes or sell its programs. It serves its propaganda baldfaced, with no hint of its real agenda.

At least I got a wink.


originally published March 17, 2005


Questions Left by C.I.A. Chief on Torture Use

The New York Times
March 18, 2005
Questions Left by C.I.A. Chief on Torture Use

WASHINGTON, March 17 - Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence, said Thursday that he could not assure Congress that the Central Intelligence Agency's methods of interrogating terrorism suspects since Sept. 11, 2001, had been permissible under federal laws prohibiting torture.

Under sharp questioning at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Goss sought to reassure lawmakers that all interrogations "at this time" were legal and that no methods now in use constituted torture. But he declined, when asked, to make the same broad assertions about practices used over the last few years.

"At this time, there are no 'techniques,' if I could say, that are being employed that are in any way against the law or would meet - would be considered torture or anything like that," Mr. Goss said in response to one question.

When he was asked several minutes later whether he could say the same about techniques employed by the agency since the campaign against Al Qaeda expanded in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks in the United States, he said, "I am not able to tell you that."

He added that he might be able to elaborate after the committee went into closed session to take classified testimony.

Mr. Goss's comments came closer than previous statements from the agency to an admission that at least some of its practices might have crossed the legal limits, and had the effect of raising new questions about the C.I.A.'s conduct in detaining and questioning terror suspects, and in transferring them to foreign governments, in what remains one of the most secretive areas of the government's efforts to combat terrorism.

Asked to clarify his remarks, the agency issued two statements, but no official would agree to be named because of the highly classified subject matter.

"The agency complies with the laws of the United States, and the director's testimony consistently stated that," said a C.I.A. spokeswoman. "None of his comments were intended to convey anything otherwise."

Asked about the legality of practices in the past, a government official said, "The C.I.A. has always complied with the legal guidelines it received from the Department of Justice in regard to interrogation."

At the hearing, Mr. Goss acknowledged that there had been "some uncertainty" in the past among C.I.A. officers about what interrogation techniques were specifically permitted and prohibited. A legal memorandum relaxing the limits on interrogation was issued in 2002 but repudiated by the administration in 2004.

Mr. Goss said he believed that the uncertainty had been resolved, and that C.I.A. employees recently were "erring on the side of caution" in choosing what techniques to use.

Unlike the Pentagon, which has completed several broad inquiries in the last year into alleged abuses involving detention and interrogation, the C.I.A. has not completed any of what intelligence officials say are about a half-dozen internal reviews into the conduct of its employees in a number of incidents, some involving the deaths of four prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Goss said he did not know when the C.I.A.'s inspector general would complete several reviews now under way into suspected misconduct by C.I.A. officers and contract employees. Among the activities under scrutiny by the inspector general and by Congress is the agency's role in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects in Iraq, as well as the transfer of 100 to 150 people suspected of being terrorists to the custody of foreign governments since the Sept. 11 attacks.

In addition, an estimated three dozen people suspected of being terrorist leaders, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is suspected of being the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, remain in C.I.A. custody in secret sites around the world. Intelligence officials have acknowledged that the C.I.A. has used coercive techniques against those suspects, drawing from a list of practices approved within the Bush administration, including some not authorized for use by the military.

In the session, Mr. Goss was challenged by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. When Mr. McCain asked Mr. Goss about the C.I.A.'s previously reported use of a technique known as waterboarding, in which a prisoner is made to believe that he will drown, Mr. Goss replied only that the approach fell into "an area of what I will call professional interrogation techniques."

He vigorously defended "professional interrogation" as an important tool in efforts against terrorism, saying that it had resulted in "documented successes" in averting attacks and capturing important suspects. Mr. Goss said that Congress had been kept fully informed of the techniques used by the C.I.A., and that those currently being used did not constitute torture, which is prohibited by law.

"As I said publicly before, and I know for a fact, that torture is not - it's not productive," Mr. Goss said. "That's not professional interrogation. We don't do torture."

At times in his appearance, Mr. Goss described some of the approaches now used by the C.I.A., including the transfer of terrorism suspects to the custody of foreign governments, as not much more than a continuation of techniques used by the agency before the Sept. 11 attacks. But other intelligence officials have acknowledged that the C.I.A.'s use of detention, interrogation and rendition, which refers to the transfers, represents a major expansion in its authorities, and Mr. Goss seemed to acknowledge that point.

"We have changed some of the ways we gather secrets," he said, referring to the period since the Sept. 11 attacks. Despite the sharp Congressional questioning, he added, "I'd much rather explain why we did something than why we did nothing, and I'm asking your support in that endeavor."


In Blow to Bush, Senators Reject Cuts to Medicaid

The New York Times
March 18, 2005
In Blow to Bush, Senators Reject Cuts to Medicaid

WASHINGTON, March 17 - President Bush's plans to reduce the explosive growth of Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, ran into a roadblock on Thursday when the Senate voted to strip its 2006 budget of all proposed Medicaid cuts. But in a surprise move, the Senate voted to approve $34 billion more in tax cuts than Mr. Bush requested.

"It provided a huge amount of tax cuts," said Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and one of a handful of members of his party to vote against the tax cuts. "We didn't know what we were doing."

The senators agreed, 52 to 48, to strike language calling for $14 billion in Medicaid spending cuts over the next five years. Instead, they decided to create a commission to study the program and recommend changes, reporting back in one year.

The Medicaid vote, a rebuke to both the White House and the Senate leadership, put the House and Senate on a collision course. It came just hours before the House, by a vote of 218 to 214, approved its own $2.57 trillion budget resolution that included $69 billion in cuts to entitlement programs, including Medicaid.

The Senate late Thursday night passed its budget for $2.6 trillion, by a vote of 51 to 49.

With the two chambers so far apart on spending reductions, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Jim Nussle, Republican of Iowa, warned that reconciling the two documents would prove difficult.

"We have arguably our work cut out for us now," Mr. Nussle said.

He characterized the Medicaid vote as a setback for Mr. Bush's domestic agenda, suggesting that "the momentum" of the entire package, including spending control, Social Security and tax code changes, was now at stake.

"If the Senate is not going to follow in the first item on the president's agenda," he said, "then that is, I think, a signal that the president needs to receive and react to immediately."

Mr. Bush praised the House budget in a statement, saying, "It closely follows my budget proposal and reflects our shared commitment to be wise with the people's money and restrain spending in Washington." He did not comment on the action in the Senate.

The Senate's decision to strike the Medicaid cuts came in a chaotic, daylong voting marathon as lawmakers rushed to finish work on the budget before leaving for their two-week Easter recess, breaking only to consider legislation that would have allowed a federal court to review the case of Terry Schiavo, a Florida woman who is in a vegetative state and whose feeding tube is scheduled to be removed on Friday.

Senators spent nearly the entire day in the chamber, voting on more than two dozen budget amendments, on matters including national security, vocational education grants and prescription drugs.

The tax cut measure, offered by Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, nearly doubled the amount in the budget to pay for tax cuts, adding almost $64 billion to the $70 billion that Republican leaders originally proposed.

Mr. Bunning's measure would repeal an unpopular tax on Social Security benefits that was enacted in 1993. It passed 55 to 45, with five Democrats backing the plan and five Republicans breaking ranks to oppose it.

"Let us be clear," Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the senior Democrat on the budget panel, said. "the Bunning amendment doubles the tax cut."

The Senate voted 66 to 31 to keep financing for urban development grants despite a White House proposal to trim them substantially.

It rejected, 54 to 46, a Democratic effort to strip cuts in farm subsidies from the budget. And a proposal to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies when buying prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries was narrowly defeated, 50 to 49.

But the amendment striking the Medicaid cuts, sponsored by Senator Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon, was by far the most troubling to the Republican leadership. Seven Republicans joined with the Senate's 44 Democrats and one independent to approve the proposal.

Mr. Smith, who had been under intense pressure from party leaders to change the measure or withdraw it, said that he thought the vote sent a strong message that his colleagues were uneasy about the reductions.

"I think a lot of us have trouble just looking at a ledger," Mr. Smith said, "while ignoring some of the most sensitive needs of the poor."

The issue brought forth such passion that Senator Judd Gregg, an ordinarily taciturn New Hampshire Republican who, as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, proposed the $14 billion in spending reductions, addressed Mr. Smith in deeply personal terms on the Senate floor. Mr. Smith's amendment, Mr. Gregg said, would "gut the only thing in this budget" that would help tame the deficit and enforce fiscal discipline.

"And it's being done by Republicans," Mr. Gregg added. "You know, you just have to ask yourself how they get up in the morning and look in the mirror."

The debate over cuts in Medicaid and other so-called entitlement programs has been especially contentious on Capitol Hill this year. With the federal deficit at record levels, Mr. Bush has proposed a budget that, for the first time since 1997, seeks to reduce federal spending by cutting back entitlements. Such programs, where spending is determined by eligibility, are growing at a rapid clip.

Mr. Bush has proposed $51 billion in entitlement savings. The House budget goes further, calling for $69 billion in spending reductions on entitlements. The version proposed by Senate Republicans included $32 billion in entitlement reductions, $14 billion of it directed at Medicaid. Fiscal conservatives see the cuts as the only way to chip away at the deficit. But because the states and the federal government split the cost of Medicaid, governors around the country, including many Republicans, have voiced displeasure. In the past weeks, they have been lobbying intensely to resist the reductions.

"We need to make reforms," said Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, who voted in favor of Mr. Smith's amendment. But Mr. DeWine also said he wanted states to have flexibility to make changes to Medicaid before any reductions.

In addition to Mr. DeWine and Mr. Smith, the Republicans voting for the amendment were Senators Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

In the House, adoption of the budget was briefly threatened by a revolt among Republican fiscal conservatives, who formed a rare alliance with moderates in a bid to force the House leadership to accept new rules that would make it harder for lawmakers to exceed budget limits when they pass spending measures.

The big question now is what will happen when the House and Senate try to reconcile their budgets. "Things are not starting off on a good note," said Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, who led the conservatives' revolt.

The budget is important because it sets fiscal and tax priorities for the coming year. But this year, it also has extra provisions that Republicans desperately want to become law. On Wednesday, the Senate used a budget maneuver to clear the way for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling; if the budget does not pass, the drilling measure is doomed.

Senator Smith said he would probably vote for whatever bill emerged from the House-Senate conference because he did not want to doom the budget process.

Carl Hulse and David D. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting for this article.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Accounting for $108 million in overcharges

Accounting for $108 million in overcharges

Rep. Waxman accuses the Bush administration of deliberately withholding U.N. auditors' findings on Halliburton contracts.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Suzanne Goldenberg

The Pentagon stood accused of sitting on a damaging report from its own auditors on a $108.4 million overcharge by Halliburton for its services in Iraq on Tuesday.

In a scathing letter to President Bush, Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and John Dingell of Michigan said the Defense Contract Audit Agency's audit was completed last October -- before the election. They also note that 12 separate requests to the Pentagon to view the completed audits on the contractor's $2.5 billion contract to supply fuel and other services in postwar Iraq had been ignored.

"We would like to know why this audit report -- and audit reports on nine additional task orders -- are being withheld from Congress," they wrote. "We also want to know what steps you are taking to recover these funds from Halliburton."

In a second public letter Tuesday, Waxman accused Bush administration officials of deliberately withholding information on overcharges by Halliburton from U.N. auditors -- at its behest. Some $1.6 billion of the $2.5 billion Halliburton contract was funded from Iraqi oil revenues overseen by the U.N.

"The evidence suggests that the U.S. used Iraqi oil proceeds to overpay Halliburton and then sought to hide the evidence of these overcharges from the international auditors," the letter says.

The audit, released by the congressmen on Monday, offers the most definitive glimpse so far of overbilling by Halliburton, once run by Vice President Dick Cheney. In the most startling transaction, it charged the Pentagon $27.5 million to ship $82,100 worth of cooking and heating fuel to Iraq from Kuwait -- 335 times the actual cost of the liquefied petroleum gas, a charge the Pentagon auditors said was "illogical."

The firm and its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, face several investigations, including a fraud inquiry by the Justice Department. A preliminary Pentagon audit, focused on the immediate aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion, found that KBR overcharged the Pentagon by $61 million for kerosene and other fuels.

Critics of Halliburton are convinced this represents just a fraction of the overcharges. The audit released this week covers only one of 10 task orders undertaken under the $2.5 billion no-bid contract awarded immediately after the invasion of Iraq. The overcharges identified in the single task order already dwarf the $61 million in previously discovered overcharges. Halliburton charged the Army Corps of Engineers $875 million to supply fuel from May 2003 to March 2004. Auditors questioned $108.4 million of those costs.

As the congressmen note, the auditors criticized charges in nearly every area, saying the firm misled auditors and failed to supervise subcontracts. "Halliburton failed to demonstrate its prices for Kuwaiti fuel were 'fair and reasonable,'" the auditors say. They also note that Halliburton refused repeatedly to provide information on costs of obtaining fuel from Turkey and Jordan, or to reveal how it selected its contractors in Kuwait.

A Halliburton spokeswoman, Wendy Hall, said it was forced into paying, and charging, high costs because of the security situation following the war. "Transporting fuel into Iraq was a mission fraught with danger, which increased the prices that firms were willing to offer for transportation," she told reporters. "The report fails to take into account the fact KBR performed an urgent mission at the Army's request and the mission took place in a wartime environment."

The lawyer for an Army Corps of Engineers whistle-blower said that his client was set to be interviewed for a second time by Pentagon investigators on April 4 over her claims of contracting abuse involving KBR.

originally published March 16, 2005


Job recovery still lags far behind

Job recovery still lags far behind

Payroll jobs are now 332,000, or 0.3%, greater than at the start of the recession 47 months ago (March 2001). However, private-sector jobs are still down by 477,000, a contraction of 0.4%. The 809,000 jobs created in the government sector in this time explain the difference between growth in total payroll and private-sector jobs. Overall, this level of creation represents the worst job performance since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting monthly jobs data in 1939 (at the end of the Great Depression). In the three downturns since the early 1970s, the economy had not only recovered all the jobs lost during the recession but had also generated 6.0% more jobs (6.1% more private-sector jobs) than existed at the start of the recession. If this historical standard had prevailed in the private sector, the economy would have 7,282,000 more private-sector jobs today.

Employment down relative to population: no progress in sight
Another reflection of the labor market's prolonged weakness is that employment has not grown relative to the working-age population over the last year, failing to close any of the jobs deficit that developed in the recession. For instance, 64.3% of the working-age population was employed at the recession's start in March 2001, whereas in February 2005 only 62.3% was employed—a deficit of 4.5 million jobs. Moreover, this employment gap does not even take into account the normal expectation of growth in the employment-to-population rate each year. Even last year's job growth was insufficient to increase the employment-to-population rate, suggesting that this recovery will not close the jobs deficit anytime soon. This failure to increase the employment rate over the last year and relative to March 2001 is particularly interesting when examining these trends by gender and race.

Supporting charts available at:


Bush Picks Congressman as Trade Representative

The New York Times
March 17, 2005
Bush Picks Congressman as Trade Representative

WASHINGTON, March 17 - Representative Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area who has long had close ties to the White House, was nominated by President Bush today to be the next United States trade representative.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Portman "a tireless advocate for America's manufacturers and entrepreneurs" and a man who has shown "a deep dedication to free and fair trade."

Once confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Bush said, Mr. Portman will be a worthy successor to Robert B. Zoellick, who has become Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top deputy.

"I've asked him to take on a bold agenda," the president said at a White House ceremony. "We need to continue to open markets abroad by pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with partners around the world."

Mr. Portman, 49, said that he was sad to leave the House of Representatives after 12 years, but that he looked forward to working closely with lawmakers in both houses of Congress and in both parties.

Mr. Portman may have the closest ties to the White House of any member of Congress, according to The Almanac of American Politics. In 1980, a year after graduating from Dartmouth, he worked for the unsuccessful presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush. A decade later, he worked in the first Bush White House, initially in the counsel's office and then in legislative affairs.

In the House, Mr. Portman enjoyed a warm relationship with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois and got a coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee.

In 2004, Mr. Portman campaigned hard for President Bush in Ohio, which has lost many jobs in recent years with the decline of heavy industry - a trend that Democrats tried to link in part to Republican policies. The congressman helped Vice President Dick Cheney prepare for his debate with Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, by playing the part of Mr. Edwards in rehearsals.

Ohio has always been vital to Republican presidential hopes (no member of the party has ever been elected president without carrying it), and Mr. Bush won the state by 51 to 49 percent.

Mr. Portman also has the family-business background that Mr. Bush loves to celebrate, according to The Almanac. His father owned a forklift company in Cincinnati, while his mother's family owned an inn in Lebanon, Ohio.


Bush Nominates Arch-Hawk to Lead World Bank

Bush Nominates Arch-Hawk to Lead World Bank

Emad Mekay

U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a chief architect of one of the most unpopular wars in U.S. history, is President George W. Bush's choice to head the World Bank, the world's largest development agency.

WASHINGTON, Mar 16 (IPS) - His nomination has sparked a wave of outrage among independent development groups, who blame him for promoting unilateralism and militarism in U.S. foreign policy, and for a lack of transparency in bidding for reconstruction contracts in the occupied Arab country.

”I appreciate the world leaders taking my phone calls as I explained to them why I think Paul will be a strong president of the World Bank,” Bush told a press conference on Wednesday.

”I've said he's a man of good experiences. He helped manage a large organisation. The World Bank is a large organisation; the Pentagon is a large organisation -- he's been involved in the management of that organisation,” Bush said.

Bush described Wolfowitz, 62, as a skilled diplomat, referring to his positions at the State Department and his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia in 1980s. The U.S. president also said Wolfowitz is ”committed to development”.

The nomination was quickly welcomed by fellow countryman James Wolfensohn, the outgoing World Bank president, and by Rodrigo Rato, the managing director of the Bank's sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

”If he is confirmed by the member countries, Mr. Wolfowitz will bring to the Bank an impressive record of public service with extensive experience of management and of international affairs, in particular in Asia and the Middle East,” said Rato in a statement.

Traditionally, the World Bank's president has been a U.S. citizen, based on the United States being the largest shareholder in the institution.

Wolfowitz's nomination would be subject to a routine vote of the World Bank's executive directors.

Before moving into the Pentagon's No. 2 position, he spent seven years as dean and professor of international relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Many independent development groups and watchdog institutions say they are shocked at the choice.

”The deputy defence secretary's strong support for the Iraq war reflects a disdain for international law and a multilateral approach to conflict resolution that disqualifies Wolfowitz from leading a multilateral institution,” said the International Rivers Network (IRN), a California-based non-governmental organisation, in a statement.

Some civil society analysts predicted a new phase of confrontation between the global social justice movement and one of the largest symbols of U.S. and European domination, the World Bank.

”In his career, Wolfowitz has so far not shown any interest in poverty reduction, environmental protection and human rights,” said Peter Bosshard, the policy director of IRN.

”His election as World Bank president would most likely exacerbate the current backlash against social and environmental concerns at the World Bank, and would initiate a new era of conflict between the Bank and civil society.”

Wolfowitz was behind the 2003 U.S. decision to exclude non-U.S. companies from competing for billions of dollars in Iraqi reconstruction contracts, a move that fueled international fury and accusations that the United States was partly motivated by economic greed in its invasion of the oil-rich Arab country.

Iraq reconstruction contracts and projects have been marred ever since by charges of favouritism, corruption and fraud because of the no-bid contracting process, little or no official supervision and manipulation of prices by several U.S. companies.

Watchdog groups say that hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted as a result of corruption by contractors and sloppy government controls.

Wolfowitz is an architect of many of the post-invasion policies in Iraq, including privatisation, deregulation and commodification of social services and public goods, along with plans to end subsidies that sustain millions of Iraqi citizens.

”Wolfowitz's role in promoting economic changes in Iraq and elsewhere suggest he would work to push the Bank to focus even more on imposing so-called 'structural adjustment' policies like forced privatisation and indiscriminate trade liberalisation, policies which have failed to create growth and have exacerbated poverty across the globe,” said Neil Watkins, national coordinator for the anti-debt campaigning group Jubilee USA Network

”Paul Wolfowitz is the most controversial choice Bush could have made,” said Njoki Njoroge Njehu, director of the 50 Years Is Enough Network.

”As the most prominent advocate of imposing the U.S.'s will on the world -- the architect of the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq -- this appointment signals to developing countries that the U.S. is just as serious about imposing its will on borrowers from the World Bank as on the countries of the Middle East,” she added.

Critics say that the Wolfowitz nomination, coming on the heels of the nomination of another hawk, John Bolton, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reveals ”the contempt this administration has for the international community.”

”Wolfowitz brings no apparent development experience to the job, but does offer a record of unabashed militarism and unilateralism that represents exactly the wrong direction for the World Bank,” said Robert Weissman, director of Essential Action.

But some economists argue against his lack of experience in development and poverty issues.

”His term as ambassador to Indonesia taught him a lot about development,” said Peter Timmer, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

”My personal sense is he got the idea of what a liberal Muslim society would look like by working in Indonesia. I honestly think he is going to surprise people and turn out to be quite effective,” said Timmer, who worked as a development economist in Indonesia while Wolfowitz was ambassador, and later served on academic committees with him.

Timmer compared Wolfowitz's anticipated leadership of the World Bank to that of Robert McNamara, a former secretary of defence during the Vietnam War. McNamara later became the longest-serving president of the World Bank, instituting sweeping changes.

Those opposed to the Wolfowitz nomination are placing their hopes on a strong European opposition. The European countries together form a substantial enough bloc that they could reject the U.S. action.

But some say that given the anti-democratic nature in which the heads of the international financial institutions, dominated by the group of seven most industrialised nations, are chosen, the Europeans are unlikely to be effective in their opposition.

Last year Rodrigo Rato, a European, was appointed to head the IMF after being nominated by the European nations. The United States made no objection in what was interpreted as an early preemption of a European objection when it is Washington's turn to pick the World Bank president.

The U.S. president, by custom, selects the president of the World Bank. Similarly, the managing director of the IMF has traditionally been a European, handpicked by European governments, much to dismay of citizen groups and some governments in developing countries who complain about the secretive process of selecting the leaders of the two institutions.

But some longtime critics of the bank still saw a silver lining to the controversial nomination.

”If confirmed, we would no longer have to work so hard to convince people that the World Bank is an instrument of U.S. foreign and economic policy,” said Soren Ambrose, senior policy analyst with the 50 Years Is Enough Network.

”Wolfowitz has no experience in development, just a fierce ideological dedication to hard-core neoliberal economics and U.S. domination.”

”In other words, between exposing the true dangers of the lack of democracy at the World Bank and putting the most visible symbol of U.S. imperialism in the most prominent position in international development, President Bush will accomplish more in de-legitimising the World Bank than any other single action ever could,” said Ambrose. (END/2005)


Ultimate Bush Insider Joins Rice at State Department
Ultimate Bush Insider Joins Rice at State Department

Analysis by Jim Lobe

The most intriguing aspect of U.S. President George W. Bush's nomination of Karen Hughes to take charge of Washington's public diplomacy apparatus - and particularly outreach to the Islamic world -- is the building out of which she will be working.

WASHINGTON, Mar 15 (IPS) - The decision to put Hughes, who, along with Karl Rove, has been Bush's closest political adviser since he first ran for Texas governor in the early 1990s, under Condoleezza Rice at the State Department took insiders by surprise.

It suggested that Rice is building a major power centre at Foggy Bottom, one that is capable of ensuring that she can penetrate the circle of foreign-policy hard-liners led by Vice President Dick Cheney and bolstered by national security adviser Stephen Hadley, and his deputy, J.D. Crouch, any time she wants.

''Cheney always got the last word (with Bush) on foreign policy if he wanted it,'' said one State Department official who asked not to be identified. ''If Hughes gets seriously involved, she can get it, and she's one of the very few people who can actually deliver bad news to the president.''

While administration officials told reporters last week that Hughes was indeed returning to Washington after moving back to Austin, Texas, in 2002, so that her son could attend high school there, the assumption was that she would take back her old office at the White House, close to Bush himself.

And while the same sources said she would be working on international affairs, rather than just domestic matters, it still made sense that she would be based at the White House. After all, not only is the National Security Council based there, but two recent blue-ribbon commissions had also urged the administration to create a White House post for public diplomacy that would oversee and co-ordinate all related efforts throughout the government.

Ignoring these recommendations, however, Bush nonetheless agreed to place his most trusted adviser a mile away at the State Department where she will be directly responsible not to him, but rather to Rice.

As described by Rice Monday, Hughes' mandate will include implementing a major reform of Washington's public-diplomacy work in addition to reaching out to the public of other nations, particularly in the Arab world, where Washington's image, according to public-opinion surveys since Bush launched his ''war on terror,'' has fallen to all-time lows.

Rice also announced that Hughes' deputy will be Dina Powell, a 31-year-old Egyptian-born Arabic speaker who, as a top White House recruitment officer, has also been a member of Bush's inner circle over the past two years -- in addition to having worked on Middle East outreach and democracy programmes at the State Department under Elizabeth Cheney, the vice president's daughter.

In her own remarks, Hughes -- whose foreign outreach so far has been confined to promoting women's programmes in Afghanistan -- also stressed the importance of better communication with Muslims.

''This job will be difficult. Perceptions do not change quickly or easily,'' she said. ''This is a struggle for ideas. Clearly, in the world after September 11th, we must do a better job of engaging with the Muslim world. As the 9/11 Commission reported, if the United States does not act aggressively to define itself, the extremists will gladly do the job for us.''

Hughes follows in the failed footsteps of two other very prominent women who were posted to the same job. After 9/11, former Secretary of State Colin Powell appointed Charlotte Beers, a legend on Madison Ave. who pioneered the advertising technique of ''branding.'' Beers, however, made a series of televised ads to promote Washington's image in the Arab world that were deemed ineffective at best and finally left after two years for ''personal reasons''.

Margaret Tutwiler, a top aide and spokesperson for former Secretary of State James Baker and a former ambassador to Morocco, succeeded Beers but quit after only one year, reportedly out of frustration with the lack of resources and the administration's general failure to understand that the basic problems faced by Washington in the Middle East. This had much to do with U.S. policies as with general anti-Americanism.

''Tutwiler (and her interim successor, Pat Harrison) really did understand that Washington's image problems in the Arab world were being driven by its policies and could not be addressed simply by sophisticated advertising and message-spinning,'' said James Zogby, director of the Arab-American Institute. ''But that was something the White House didn't really want to hear''.

That was also the conclusions reached by two high-powered panels on public-diplomacy over the last two years which called on the administration both to sharply increase funding for public-diplomacy efforts focused particularly on the Islamic world and to reject the comforting and oft-repeated neo-conservative nostrum that many Muslims ''hated'' the U.S. for ''who we are'' rather than ''what we do''.

'''Spin' and manipulative public relations and propaganda are not the answer'', according to an October 2003 report, 'Changing Minds, Winning Peace,' by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James Baker Institute whose principal author, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Edward Djerejian, was present at Hughes' nomination ceremony Monday. ''Foreign policy counts.''

''Public opinion cannot be cavalierly dismissed,'' the report said. ''Citizens in these countries are genuinely distressed at the plight of Palestinians and at the role they perceive the United States to be playing, and they are genuinely distressed by the situation in Iraq.''

A second report released last fall by the Defense Science Board (DSB), which is made up of private-sector and academic experts appointed by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, reached a similar conclusion. It called on U.S. policymakers to spend more time ''listening'' to their intended audience and use messages that ''should seek to reduce, not increase perceptions of arrogance, opportunism and double standards (by the U.S.).''

''Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies,'' the DSB wrote in a direct challenge to the administration's own propaganda. ''The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states.''

Naturally, neither Rice nor Hughes alluded to these particular findings, although both stressed that Washington must indeed do a better job of listening, and Hughes, who stressed that she was born in Paris and lived in Canada and Panama, stressed that she had ''learned firsthand that America's policies can be interpreted differently in different places and from different perspectives''.

Zogby, who has advised several administrations on both policy and public diplomacy in the Arab world, hopes that such an appreciation may bring Hughes to the same understanding about the relationship between U.S. policy and image as reached by Tutwiler and Harrison, although he worries that she will adopt ''what seems to be in vogue today - the explanation that (the Arabs) don't really dislike us, they dislike their own governments, so if we advocate freedom, we'll win'' as the main message for Washington to crank out to the region.

If, on the other hand, she reaches a similar conclusion about policy issues as the DSB, in particular - and she is more likely to reach such a conclusion from her interaction with foreign service officers experienced in the Middle East than in the White House - ''this could be a very important appointment.''

''Her ability to communicate with the president is very clear'', said Zogby. ''She could make a huge difference.'' (END/2005)


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Italy 'to pull troops from Iraq'


Italy 'to pull troops from Iraq'

Italy is to begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq in September 2005, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said.

He told Rai state television the pullout would take place "in agreement with our allies".

Italy has 3,000 troops in Iraq - the fourth largest foreign contingent.

Domestic opposition to Italy's involvement in Iraq intensified after the killing of an Italian agent by US troops in Baghdad earlier this month.

The surprise announcement came as Italy's lower house of parliament backed a recent Senate vote to extend the country's military presence in Iraq beyond June.

'Progressive reduction'

Mr Berlusconi has been one of US President George W Bush's staunchest allies in the US-led war in Iraq.

Main international troops in Iraq
US : 150,000
UK : 8,000
South Korea : 3,600
Italy : 3,085
Poland : 1,700
Ukraine : 1,600
Georgia : 898
Romania : 730
Japan : 550
Denmark : 496
Bulgaria : 450
Australia : 400
Source: Global Security

But, he said, after speaking to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair he concluded that public opinion in both countries favoured a troop withdrawal.

"In September we will begin a progressive reduction of the number of our soldiers in Iraq.

"I spoke to Tony Blair about it, and public opinion in our countries is expecting this decision," he told Rai.

He said the exact numbers would depend on the Iraqi government's ability to deal with security.

Strained relations

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan played down the announcement.

"We certainly appreciate the contributions of the Italians. They have served and sacrificed alongside Iraqis and alongside other coalition forces," he said.

He emphasised that Italy's withdrawal "will be based on the ability and capability of Iraqi forces and the Iraqi government to be able to assume more responsibility".

But he rejected suggestions that Italy's decision was due to strained relations after secret service agent Nicola Calipari was shot dead by US troops in Baghdad on 4 March.

"I haven't heard any comment to that effect from Italian officials," he was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Mr Berlusconi has said the US must accept responsibility for the shooting, which is being investigated by the US military.

The BBC's Tamsin Smith in Rome says it is the first time Mr Berlusconi has suggested a timetable for withdrawal.

Our correspondent says the Italian government is also mindful of local elections looming early next month.

Also on Tuesday, two other members of the US-led coalition in Iraq - the Netherlands and Ukraine - began a phased withdrawal from the country.


U.S. Report Lists Possibilities for Terrorist Attacks and Likely Toll

The New York Times
March 16, 2005
U.S. Report Lists Possibilities for Terrorist Attacks and Likely Toll

WASHINGTON, March 15 - The Department of Homeland Security, trying to focus antiterrorism spending better nationwide, has identified a dozen possible strikes it views as most plausible or devastating, including detonation of a nuclear device in a major city, release of sarin nerve agent in office buildings and a truck bombing of a sports arena.

The document, known simply as the National Planning Scenarios, reads more like a doomsday plan, offering estimates of the probable deaths and economic damage caused by each type of attack.

They include blowing up a chlorine tank, killing 17,500 people and injuring more than 100,000; spreading pneumonic plague in the bathrooms of an airport, sports arena and train station, killing 2,500 and sickening 8,000 worldwide; and infecting cattle with foot-and-mouth disease at several sites, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Specific locations are not named because the events could unfold in many major metropolitan or rural areas, the document says.

The agency's objective is not to scare the public, officials said, and they have no credible intelligence that such attacks are planned. The department did not intend to release the document publicly, but a draft of it was inadvertently posted on a Hawaii state government Web site.

By identifying possible attacks and specifying what government agencies should do to prevent, respond to and recover from them, Homeland Security is trying for the first time to define what "prepared" means, officials said.

That will help decide how billions of federal dollars are distributed in the future. Cities like New York that have targets with economic and symbolic value, or places with hazardous facilities like chemical plants could get a bigger share of agency money than before, while less vulnerable communities could receive less.

"We live in a world of finite resources, whether they be personnel or funding," said Matt A. Mayer, acting executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness at the Homeland Security Department, which is in charge of the effort.

President Bush requested the list of priorities 15 months ago to address a widespread criticism of Homeland Security from members of Congress and antiterrorism experts that it was wasting money by spreading it out instead of focusing on areas or targets at greatest risk. Critics also have faulted the agency for not having a detailed plan on how to eliminate or reduce vulnerabilities.

Michael Chertoff, the new secretary of homeland security, has made it clear that this risk-based planning will be a central theme of his tenure, saying that the nation must do a better job of identifying the greatest threats and then move aggressively to deal with them.

"There's risk everywhere; risk is a part of life," Mr. Chertoff said in testimony before the Senate last week. "I think one thing I've tried to be clear in saying is we will not eliminate every risk."

The goal of the document's planners was not to identify every type of possible terrorist attack. It does not include an airplane hijacking, for example, because "there are well developed and tested response plans" for such an incident. Planners included the threats they considered the most plausible or devastating, and that represented a range of the calamities that communities might need to prepare for, said Marc Short, a department spokesman. "Each scenario generally reflects suspected terrorist capabilities and known tradecraft," the document says.

To ensure that emergency planning is adequate for most possible hazards, three catastrophic natural events are included: an influenza pandemic, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in a major city and a slow-moving Category 5 hurricane hitting a major East Coast city.

The strike possibilities were used to create a comprehensive list of the capabilities and actions necessary to prevent attacks or handle incidents once they happen, like searching for the injured, treating the surge of victims at hospitals, distributing mass quantities of medicine and collecting the dead.

Once the White House approves the plan, which could happen within the next month, state and local governments will be asked to identify gaps in fulfilling the demands placed upon them by the possible strikes, officials said.

No terrorist groups are identified in the documents. Instead, those responsible for the various hypothetical attacks are called Universal Adversary.

The most devastating of the possible attacks - as measured by loss of life and economic impact - would be a nuclear bomb, the explosion of a liquid chlorine tank and an aerosol anthrax attack.

The anthrax attack involves terrorists filling a truck with an aerosolized version of anthrax and driving through five cities over two weeks spraying it into the air. Public health officials, the report predicts, would probably not know of the initial attack until a day or two after it started. By the time it was over, an estimated 350,000 people would be exposed, and about 13,200 would die, the report predicts.

The emphasis on casualty predictions is a critical part of the process, because Homeland Security officials want to establish what kinds of demands these incidents would place upon the public health and emergency response system.

"The public will want to know very quickly if it is safe to remain in the affected city and surrounding regions," the anthrax attack summary says. "Many persons will flee regardless of the public health guidance that is provided."

Even in some cases where the expected casualties are relatively small, the document lays out extraordinary economic consequences, as with a radiological dispersal device, known as a "dirty bomb." The planning document predicts 540 initial deaths, but within 20 minutes, a radioactive plume would spread across 36 blocks, contaminating businesses, schools, shopping areas and homes, as well as transit systems and a sewage treatment plant.

The authors of the reports have tried to make each possible attack as realistic as possible, providing details on how terrorists would obtain deadly chemicals, for example, and what equipment they would be likely to use to distribute it. But the document makes clear that "the Federal Bureau of Investigation is unaware of any credible intelligence that indicates that such an attack is being planned."

Even so, local and state governments nationwide will soon be required to collaboratively plan their responses to these possible catastrophes. Starting perhaps as early as 2006, most communities would be expected to share specially trained personnel to handle certain hazardous materials, for example, instead of each city or town having its own unit.

To prioritize spending nationwide, communities or regions will be ranked by population, population density and an inventory of critical infrastructure in the region.

The communities in the first tier, the largest jurisdictions with the highest-value targets, will be expected to prepare more comprehensively than other communities, so they would be eligible for more federal money.

"We can't spend equal amounts of money everywhere," said Mr. Mayer, of the Homeland Security Department.

To some, the extraordinarily detailed planning documents in this effort - like a list of more than 1,500 distinct tasks that might need to be performed in these calamities - are an example of a Washington bureaucracy gone wild.

"The goal has to be to get things down to a manageable checklist," said Gary C. Scott, chief of the Campbell County Fire Department in Gillette, Wyo., who has served on one of the many advisory committees helping create the reports. "This is not a document you can decipher when you are on a scene. It scared the living daylights out of people." But federal officials and some domestic security experts say they are convinced that this is a threshold event in the national process of responding to the 2001 attacks.

"Our country is at risk of spending ourselves to death without knowing the end site of what it takes to be prepared," said David Heyman, director of the homeland security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based research organization. "We have a great sense of vulnerability, but no sense of what it takes to be prepared. These scenarios provide us with an opportunity to address that."


Betraying the Public Trust


Betraying the Public Trust

The Bush administration is planning to finally unveil its mercury
emissions policy today. These new, polluter-friendly rules were politically
driven, based on phony science and drafted in part by the polluters
themselves. They will curb toxic mercury pollution at a much slower rate
than other more environmentally favorable plans while instituting a
cap-and-trade system, which lets dirty power plants buy credits from
cleaner ones. Thus, under the new system, some power plants will actually "
increase pollution
, while others turn a profit selling unused pollution allowances." The
result: "hot spots," localized areas of serious contamination. The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution today sums up the true effect of the new White
House rules, writing, " There's no gentle way to put it
( : The
White House is ignoring the public's will, betraying the public's trust
and endangering the public's health by proposing weak mercury
regulations for the nation's power plants."

POLLUTED NUMBERS: Every year, power plants emit 48 tons of toxic
mercury into the atmosphere. President Bush likes to claim his plan will
reduce mercury pollution by 70 percent by 2018. What he doesn't tell the
public: that's a big step backwards. The Bush administration rolled back
a 2000 Clinton White House plan which "would have mandated curtailing
emissions at every plant by the maximum amount possible, which
proponents said could bring a 90% reduction in three years
using existing technology." In fact, a preliminary report released by
the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences
found that "the Bush administration's bill to curb air pollution from
power plans would reduce air pollution less than the current Clean Air
act rules."

PLAYING GAMES WITH SCIENCE: The EPA's own inspector general and the
nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) have sharply criticized
the EPA for bypassing scientific ethics and willfully distorting
analysis while creating the mercury emission rules. Last month, the EPA
inspector general reported the White House had pushed EPA scientists to
ignore scientific evidence
and instead "find" predetermined conclusions the Bush administration
needed to justify the polluter-friendly cap-and-trade plan. Last week,
the GAO also slammed the EPA for twisting analysis
( to
falsely make Bush's plan seem superior to other plans which would
actually clean the air faster and better. Both the EPA's inspector general
and the GAO demanded the EPA conduct additional -- and real -- analyses
of the mercury rules before issuing the new rule. EPA spokeswoman
Cynthia Bergman yesterday, however, confirmed that hasn't happened
( .

LETTING INDUSTRY WRITE THEIR RULES: The EPA's mercury emission rules
are so industry friendly that they were even partially drafted by the
very energy companies they're supposed to regulate. In April 2003, a group
of eight power plants reviewed the administration's plan and submitted
a "wish list" of changes to weaken regulations. The Washington Post
last year found that, in a side-by-side comparison of the rules and the
power-plant memo, at least "a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes
, from the industry suggestions."

FORGETTING THE CHILDREN: Mercury is a powerful toxin that can have
serious neurological effects, especially in kids. Mercury directly harms
the nervous systems
of infants and children, causing birth defects and serious learning
disabilities. According to an EPA analysis, 600,000 babies born in the
U.S. every year "may be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the
womb." The Los Angeles Times points out that even the EPA's very own
Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee reported last year that the
industry-friendly EPA mercury rule " does not sufficiently protect our
nation's children
." A member of that panel yesterday criticized the new rules, saying,
"This rule flies in the face of the best science, and the best experts
and the public." She also revealed the committee "repeatedly had asked
the EPA to do additional analysis on the rule and to address 'hot
spots,' but the agency had failed to do either."

THE CANARY IN THE COAL MINE: Power plants burn coal, which releases
mercury pollution into the air. From there, it rises in the atmosphere and
returns in the form of polluted rain, which accumulates in lakes, bays,
ponds and rivers. Scientists have long known the poisonous effects
mercury pollution has on fish (and, thus, people who eat fish.) In fact, 45
states currently have do-not-eat warnings for certain fish that have
been contaminated with mercury. But the environmental effect is even more
widespread than previously thought. A study last week unexpectedly
found toxic levels of mercury in birds
living on mountaintops in Vermont. Biologist Kent McFarland called the
surprising new finding a "wake-up call" about how much mercury is
pervading the atmosphere. (For more, check out this editorial
( by
John Podesta and John Monks.)




administration is poised to cave to pressure from Lockheed Martin to supply F-16
fighter jets to Pakistan and India. The upcoming announcement -- which
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to make during her trip to
the region next week -- represents a reversal of longstanding policy.
The United States has previously refused to sell the jets to Pakistan
and India to avoid " destabilizing the fragile political and military
balance in the region
." The move could also "draw charges of a double standard from European
countries since the U.S. has been criticizing the European Union's plan
to lift its arms embargo on China."




Halliburton continues to squander hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars
in Iraq due to graft and mismanagement. A Pentagon audit "found more
than $100 million in questionable costs in one section of a massive,
no-bid Halliburton Co. contract for delivering fuel to Iraq." In one case,
a Halliburton subsidiary " reported it had purchased liquefied gas for
$82,100, and then spent $27.5 million to transport it

And that's not all. Eight other audits into possible wrongdoing by Halliburton
subsidiaries were completed in October 2004. The audits documenting the questionable charges were withheld from Congress by the administration for months.

Want to know more? Too bad. The White House is hiding the reports from public view
( , despite repeated requests from Congress for details.




ETHICS -- THUMBS UP TO PROPAGANDA: On Feb. 17, the nonpartisan
Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent an opinion to the administration
advising it that it was illegal to produce videos "designed to resemble
independently reported broadcast news stories so that TV stations can
run them without editing." Last week the Justice Department sent another
memo, telling the administration to ignore the GAO
. Essentially, the Justice Department argued that the administration
can produce "covert propaganda" as long as the propaganda is true. David
M. Walker, comptroller general of the GAO, said the administration's
approach was "both contrary to appropriations law and unethical."




effort to rally support for his Social Security privatization scheme is
going very badly. A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows " only 35
percent of Americans now saying they approve of his handling of the issue
," while "56 percent disapprove of his approach." Among younger workers
-- whom the administration claims love the idea of private accounts --
support for the plan is not much higher. According to the poll, "only
40 percent of these younger workers say they support Bush's Social
Security proposal."

ahead" for President Bush's campaign to privatize Social Security, a
group representing the nation's biggest financial companies and headed by
former Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY) said Monday it had backed out of a
business coalition raising millions to back President Bush's campaign
. The Financial Services Forum, which represents Citigroup, Goldman
Sachs and American Express, was a co-founder of the Coalition for the
Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security (Compass), but
has left the coalition because its members could not endorse President
Bush's plan to divert payroll taxes into private accounts. "We never
really came to a consensus on things like personal accounts," said Ken
Trepeta, the forum's vice president. "I couldn't in good conscience sign
our guys up for this." The forum's retreat "follows the decision by two
securities firms -- Edward Jones and Waddell & Reed -- to drop out of a
related lobbying group set up to promote private accounts on Capitol
Hill, the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security."