Saturday, November 26, 2005

Coping With Combat

The New York Times

Coping With Combat
The Struggle to Gauge a War's Psychological Cost

It was hardly a traditional therapist's office. The mortar fire was relentless, head-splitting, so close that it raised layers of rubble high off the floor of the bombed-out room.

Capt. William Nash, a Navy psychiatrist, sat on an overturned box of ready-made meals for the troops. He was in Iraq to try to short-circuit combat stress on the spot, before it became disabling, as part of the military's most determined effort yet to bring therapy to the front lines.

His clients, about a dozen young men desperate for help after weeks of living and fighting in Falluja, sat opposite him and told their stories.

One had been spattered with his best friend's blood and blamed himself for the death.

Another was also filled with guilt. He had hesitated while scouting an alley and had seen the man in front of him shot to death.

"They were so young," Captain Nash recalled.

At first, when they talked, he simply listened. Then he did his job, telling them that soldiers always blame themselves when someone is killed, in any war, always.

Grief, he told them, can make us forget how random war is, how much we have done to protect those we are fighting with.

"You try to help them tell a coherent story about what is happening, to make sense of it, so they feel less guilt and shame over protecting others, which is so common," said Captain Nash, who counseled the marines last November as part of the military's increased efforts to defuse psychological troubles.

He added, "You have to help them reconstruct the things they used to believe in that don't make sense anymore, like the basic goodness of humanity."

Military psychiatry has always been close to a contradiction in terms. Psychiatry aims to keep people sane; service in wartime makes demands that seem insane.

This war in particular presents profound mental stresses: unknown and often unseen enemies, suicide bombers, a hostile land with virtually no safe zone, no real front or rear. A 360-degree war, some call it, an asymmetrical battle space that threatens to injure troops' minds as well as their bodies.

But just how deep those mental wounds are, and how many will be disabled by them, are matters of controversy. Some experts suspect that the legacy of Iraq could echo that of Vietnam, when almost a third of returning military personnel reported significant, often chronic, psychological problems.

Others say the mental casualties will be much lower, given the resilience of today's troops and the sophistication of the military's psychological corps, which place therapists like Captain Nash into combat zones.

The numbers so far tell a mixed story. The suicide rate among soldiers was high in 2003 but fell significantly in 2004, according to two Army surveys among more than 2,000 soldiers and mental health support providers in Iraq. Morale rose in the same period, but 54 percent of the troops say morale is low or very low, the report found.

A continuing study of combat units that served in Iraq has found that about 17 percent of the personnel have shown serious symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder - characterized by intrusive thoughts, sleep loss and hyper-alertness, among other symptoms - in the first few months after returning from Iraq, a higher rate than in Afghanistan but thought to be lower than after Vietnam.

In interviews, many members of the armed services and psychologists who had completed extended tours in Iraq said they had battled feelings of profound grief, anger and moral ambiguity about the effect of their presence on Iraqi civilians.

And at bases back home, there have been violent outbursts among those who have completed tours. A marine from Camp Pendleton, Calif., has been convicted of murdering his girlfriend. And three members of a special forces unit based at Fort Carson, in Colorado Springs, have committed suicide.

Yet for returning service members, experts say, the question of whether their difficulties are ultimately diagnosed as mental illness may depend not only on the mental health services available, but also on the politics of military psychiatry itself, the definition of what a normal reaction to combat is and the story the nation tells itself about the purpose and value of soldiers' service.

"We must not ever diminish the pain and anguish many soldiers will feel; this kind of experience never leaves you," said David H. Marlowe, a former chief of military psychiatry at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. "But at the same time we have to be careful not to create an attachment to that pain and anguish by pathologizing it."

The legacy of Iraq, Dr. Marlowe said, will depend as much on how service members are received and understood by the society they return to as on their exposure to the trauma of war.

Memories Still Haunt

The blood and fury of combat exhilarate some people and mentally scar others, for reasons no one understands.

On an October night in 2003, mortar shells fell on a base camp near Baquba, Iraq, where Specialist Abbie Pickett, then 21, was serving as a combat lifesaver, caring for the wounded. Specialist Pickett continued working all night by the dim blue light of a flashlight, "plugging and chugging" bleeding troops to a makeshift medical tent, she said.

At first, she did not notice that one of the medics who was working with her was bleeding heavily and near death; then, frantically, she treated his wounds and moved him to a medical station not knowing if he would survive.

He did survive, Specialist Pickett later learned. But the horror of that night is still vivid, and the memory stalks her even now, more than a year after she returned home.

"I would say that on a weekly basis I wish I would have died during that attack," said Specialist Pickett, who served with the Wisconsin Army National Guard and whose condition has been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. "You never want family to hear that, and it's a selfish thing to say. But I'm not a typical 23-year-old, and it's hard being a combat vet and a woman and figuring out where you fit in."

Each war produces its own traumatic syndrome. The trench warfare of World War I produced the shaking and partial paralysis known as shell shock. The long tours and heavy fighting of World War II induced in many young men the numbed exhaustion that was called combat fatigue.

But it is post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis some psychiatrists intended to characterize the mental struggles of Vietnam veterans, that now dominates the study and description of war trauma.

The diagnosis has always been controversial. Few experts doubt that close combat can cause a lingering hair-trigger alertness and play on a person's conscience for a lifetime. But no one knows what level of trauma is necessary to produce a disabling condition or who will become disabled.

The largest study of Vietnam veterans found that about 30 percent of them had post-traumatic stress disorder in the 20 years after the war but that only a fraction of those service members had had combat roles. Another study of Vietnam veterans, done around the same time, found that the lifetime rate of the syndrome was half as high, 15 percent.

And since Vietnam, therapists have diagnosed the disorder in crime victims, disaster victims, people who have witnessed disasters, even those who have seen upsetting events on television. The disorder varies widely depending on the individual and the nature of the trauma, psychiatrists say, but they cannot yet predict how.

Yet the very pervasiveness of post-traumatic stress disorder as a concept shapes not only how researchers study war trauma but also how many soldiers describe their reactions to combat.

Specialist Pickett, for example, has struggled with the intrusive memories typical of post-traumatic stress and with symptoms of depression and a seething resentment over her service, partly because of what she describes as irresponsible leaders and a poorly defined mission. Her memories make good bar stories, she said, but they also follow her back to her apartment, where the combination of anxiety and uncertainty about the value of her service has at times made her feel as if she were losing her mind.

Richard J. McNally, a psychologist at Harvard, said, "It's very difficult to know whether a new kind of syndrome will emerge from this war for the simple reason that the instrument used to assess soldiers presupposes that it will look like P.T.S.D. from Vietnam."

A more thorough assessment, Dr. McNally said, "might ask not only about guilt, shame and the killing of noncombatants, but about camaraderie, leadership, devotion to the mission, about what is meaningful and worthwhile, as well as the negative things."

Sitting amid the broken furniture in his Falluja "office," Captain Nash represents the military's best effort to handle stress on the ground, before it becomes upsetting, and keep service members on the job with the others in their platoon or team, who provide powerful emotional support.

While the military deployed mental health experts in Vietnam, most stayed behind the lines. In part because of that war's difficult legacy, the military has increased the proportion of field therapists and put them closer to the action than ever before.

The Army says it has about 200 mental health workers for a force of about 150,000, including combat stress units that travel to combat zones when called on. The Marines are experimenting with a program in which the therapists stationed at a base are deployed with battalions in the field.

"The idea is simple," said Lt. Cmdr. Gary Hoyt, a Navy psychologist and colleague of Captain Nash in the Marine program. "You have a lot more credibility if you've been there, and soldiers and marines are more likely to talk to you."

Commander Hoyt has struggled with irritability and heightened alertness since returning from Iraq in September 2004.

Psychologists and psychiatrists on the ground have to break through the mental toughness that not only keeps troops fighting but also prevents them from seeking psychological help, which is viewed as a sign of weakness. And they have been among the first to identify the mental reactions particular to this war.

One of them, these experts say, is profound, unreleased anger. Unlike in Vietnam, where service members served shorter tours and were rotated in and out of the country individually, troops in Iraq have deployed as units and tend to have trained together as full-time military or in the Reserves or the National Guard. Group cohesion is strong, and the bonds only deepen in the hostile desert terrain of Iraq.

For these tight-knit groups, certain kinds of ambushes - roadside bombs, for instance - can be mentally devastating, for a variety of reasons.

"These guys go out in convoys, and boom: the first vehicle gets hit, their best friend dies, and now they're seeing life flash before them and get a surge of adrenaline and want to do something," said Lt. Col. Alan Peterson, an Air Force psychologist who completed a tour in Iraq last year. "But often there's nothing they can do. There's no enemy there."

Many, Colonel Peterson said, become deeply frustrated because "they wish they could act out on this adrenaline rush and do what they were trained to do but can't."

Some soldiers and marines describe foot patrols as "drawing fire," and gunmen so often disappear into crowds that many have the feeling that they are fighting ghosts. In roadside ambushes, service men and women may never see the enemy.

Sgt. Benjamin Flanders, 27, a graduate student in math who went to Iraq with the New Hampshire National Guard, recalled: "It was kind of a joke: if you got to shoot back at the enemy, people were jealous. It was a stress reliever, a great release, because usually these guys disappear."

Another powerful factor is ambiguity about the purpose of the mission, and about Iraqi civilians' perception of the American presence.

On a Sunday in April 2004, Commander Hoyt received orders to visit Marine units that had been trapped in a firefight in a town near the Syrian border and that had lost five men. The Americans had been handing out candy to children and helping residents fix their houses the day before the ambush, and they felt they had been set up, he said.

The entire unit, he said, was coursing with rage, asking: "What are we doing here? Why aren't the Iraqis helping us?"

Commander Hoyt added, "There was a breakdown, and some wanted to know how come they couldn't hit mosques" or other off-limits targets where insurgents were suspected of hiding.

In group sessions, the psychologist emphasized to the marines that they could not know for sure whether the civilians they had helped had supported the insurgents. Insurgent fighters scare many Iraqis more than the Americans do, he reminded them, and that fear creates a deep ambivalence, even among those who most welcome the American presence. And following the rules of engagement, he told them, was crucial to setting an example.

Commander Hoyt also reminded the group of some of its successes, in rebuilding houses, for example, and restoring electricity in the area. He also told them it was better to fight in Iraq than back home.

"Having someone killed in World War II, you could say, 'Well, we won this battle to save the world,' " he said. "In this terrorist war, it is much less tangible how to anchor your losses."

Help in Adjusting to Life at Home

No one has shown definitively that on-the-spot group or individual therapy in combat lowers the risk of psychological problems later. But military psychiatrists know from earlier wars that separating an individual from his or her unit can significantly worsen feelings of guilt and depression.

About 8 service members per every 1,000 in Iraq have developed psychiatric problems severe enough to require evacuation, according to Defense Department statistics, while the rate of serious psychiatric diagnoses in Vietnam from 1965 to 1969 was more than 10 per 1,000, although improvements in treatment, as well as differences in the conflicts and diagnostic criteria, make a direct comparison very rough.

At the same time, Captain Nash and Commander Hoyt say that psychological consultations by returning marines at Camp Pendleton have been increasing significantly since the war began.

One who comes for regular counseling is Sgt. Robert Willis, who earned a Bronze Star for leading an assault through a graveyard near Najaf in 2004.

Irritable since his return home in February, shaken by loud noises, leery of malls or other areas that are not well-lighted at night - classic signs of post-traumatic stress - Sergeant Willis has been seeing Commander Hoyt to help adjust to life at home.

"It's been hard," Sergeant Willis said in a telephone interview. "I have been boisterous, overbearing - my family notices it."

He said he had learned to manage his moods rather than react impulsively, after learning to monitor his thoughts and attend more closely to the reactions of others.

"The turning point, I think, was when Dr. Hoyt told me to simply accept that I was going to be different because of this," but not mentally ill, Sergeant Willis said.

The increase in consultations at Camp Pendleton may reflect increasingly taxing conditions, or delayed reactions, experts said. But it may also be evidence that men and women who have fought with ready access to a psychologist or psychiatrist are less constrained by the tough-it-out military ethos and are more comfortable seeking that person's advice when they get back.

"Seeing someone you remember from real time in combat absolutely could help in treatment," as well as help overcome the stigma of seeking counseling, said Rachel Yehuda, director of the post-traumatic stress disorder program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Bronx. "If this is what is happening, I think it's brilliant."

Tracking Serious Symptoms

In the coming months, researchers who are following combat units after they return home are expected to report that the number of personnel with serious mental symptoms has increased slightly, up from the 17 percent reported last year.

In an editorial last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the Department of Veterans Affairs, wrote that studies suggested that the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, in particular, "may increase considerably during the two years after veterans return from combat duty."

And on the basis of previous studies, Dr. Friedman wrote, "it is possible that psychiatric disorders will increase now that the conduct of the war has shifted from a campaign for liberation to an ongoing armed conflict with dissident combatants."

But others say that the rates of the disorder are just as likely to diminish in the next year, as studies show they do for disaster victims.

Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, said that given the stresses of this war, it was worth noting that five out of six service members who had seen combat did not show serious signs of mental illness.

The emotional casualties, Colonel Ritchie said, are "not just an Army medical problem, but a problem that the V.A. system, the civilian system and the society as a whole must work to solve."

That is the one thing all seem to agree on. Some veterans, like Sergeant Flanders and Sergeant Willis, have reconnected with other men in their units to help with their psychological adjustment to home life. Sergeant Willis has been transferred to noncombat duty at Camp Pendleton, in an environment he knows and enjoys, and he can see Commander Hoyt when he needs to. Sergeant Flanders is studying to be an officer.

But others, particularly reservists and National Guard troops, have landed right back in civilian society with no one close to them who has shared their experience.

Specialist Pickett, since her return, has felt especially cut off from the company she trained and served with. She has struggled at school, and with the Veterans Affairs system to get counseling, and no one near her has had an experience remotely like hers. She has tried antidepressants, which have helped reduce her suicidal thinking. She has also joined Operation Truth, a nonprofit organization that represents Iraq veterans, which has given her some comfort.

Finally, she said, she has been searching her memory and conscience for reasons to justify the pain of her experience: no one, Specialist Pickett said, looks harder for justification than a soldier.

Dr. Marlowe, the former chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed, knows from studying other wars that this is so.

"The great change among American troops in Germany during the Second World War was when they discovered the concentration camps," Dr. Marlowe said. "That immediately and forever changed the moral appreciation for why we were there."

As soldiers return from Iraq, he said, "it will be enormously important for those who feel psychologically disaffected to find something which justifies the killing, and the death of their friends."


Republicans Are Deeply Split Over How to Apportion New Tax Cuts

The New York Times

Republicans Are Deeply Split Over How to Apportion New Tax Cuts

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 - Republicans of all stripes want to cut taxes, but rarely have they been in so much disarray about whose to cut.

If House Republicans and President Bush have their way, more than half of tax reductions over the next five years will go to the top 1 percent of households, those with average incomes of $1.1 million.

House leaders are pushing a $63-billion tax-cutting package that would extend President Bush's tax cut on stock dividends, protect oil companies from a windfall profits tax and shield people caught using illegal tax shelters.

The Republican-controlled Senate, by contrast, has passed a bill that would cut taxes by $59 billion but ignore Mr. Bush's top priority, and that contains two other provisions that have provoked his wrath.

The Senate bill omits an extension of Mr. Bush's tax cuts for stock dividends and capital gains, which are to expire at the end of 2008.

Instead, almost half of the bill is devoted to shielding middle-income and upper-income families from the alternative minimum tax.

The Senate bill has also proposed two revenue-raising measures that Mr. Bush has threatened to veto: a one-year, $5-billion tax on major oil companies and a provision that would make it easier to impose steep penalties on people caught using illegal tax shelters.

The impact of the two bills would be wildly different. According to calculations by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group, about 51 percent of the tax cuts in the House bill would go to the top 1 percent of income earners.

The Senate bill favors upper-income families, but not nearly as much: only about 12 percent of the benefits would go to the top 1 percent of earners.

The enormous gulf reflects more than just Republican disarray. With budget deficits likely to widen again next year, even as Congress cuts money for programs like Medicaid and child support, Mr. Bush and his allies have to choose between warring constituencies.

Business groups are demanding that Congress extend tens of billions of dollars' worth of tax breaks and create new ones. Mr. Bush wants to lock in his legacy, even though his tax cuts do not expire for another three years. And millions of affluent families, especially those with two or more children, want to avoid the alternative minimum tax, which excludes tax breaks for dependents.

"The great middle of America is underrepresented in Congress," said Representative Jim Leach, Republican of Iowa, who is critical of the House tax bill. "The leadership will insist that a compromise be established. But what that final product is, I have no idea."

Even staunch supporters of Mr. Bush's agenda are torn.

"We're not going to be left out in the cold," vowed Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, a New York Republican whose affluent district in the Rochester area is packed with families who could be battered by the alternative minimum tax. "There is going to be a lot of negotiation."

The budget problems have amplified Republican difficulties. Staunch fiscal conservatives, seeking to attack the budget deficit, forced Republican moderates to vote for politically painful cuts in Medicaid, student loans and child-support enforcement.

But Republican moderates are now balking at tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the very rich.

Democratic lawmakers, hoping to exploit Republican uncertainty, have remained unusually unified and were almost jubilant when Mr. Bush threatened to veto the Senate tax bill because of the tax on oil companies.

"It just shows you how outside the mainstream they are," said Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, a senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. "What they should be threatening is to veto a cut in child-support funds, cuts in student loans or cuts in funds for child health care."

Republican leaders betrayed their own anxiety, postponing a vote on the House tax bill just before Congress's Thanksgiving break.

"It could be harder to get through the House than the Senate," said Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican on the tax-writing committee. "What we decided to do is let people go back and think. We said, let's wait and make sure all the members are comfortable."

But there is no comfortable way for Republicans to deal with the budget math that confronts them.

Permanently extending Mr. Bush's tax cuts would cost about $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office says.

Republican leaders already scaled back their ambitions months ago, and are trying to pass only about $70 billion in tax cuts for the next five years.

Simply extending Mr. Bush's tax cut on stock dividends for two years, as the House bill would do, would cost $22 billion. Preventing an automatic expansion next year of the alternative minimum tax, which would mean a surprise tax increase for about 15 million households, would cost about $27 billion.

The alternative tax was created in 1969 as a way to prevent millionaires from using too many deductions. But it is now engulfing millions of additional homes every year, partly because it is not adjusted for inflation and even more because of the way it interacts with Mr. Bush's tax cuts.

The alternative minimum tax's impact is heaviest on families with many children, because it excludes tax breaks for dependents, and for people who pay high property taxes and state income taxes.

The Bush administration estimates that, if nothing is changed, the number of families that face the tax will jump to 18 million in 1006 from 3 million this year.

More than one-third of all families with incomes below $100,000 would face the tax next year, according to the Brookings-Urban Tax Policy Center. Among married couples with two or more children, 73 percent of those earning less than $100,000 would be hit.

Senate Republican leaders, bowing to moderates in their party, decided to drop Mr. Bush's tax extension and focus on the more immediate impact of the alternative minimum tax. They also included $7 billion in tax cuts for Gulf Coast areas struck by Hurricane Katrina.

House leaders decided exactly the opposite. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Thomas of California, has told Republican lawmakers that he will take up the alternative minimum tax next year as part of a broader tax overhaul.

But prospects for a sweeping tax overhaul next year are almost zero, most analysts say, because it would prompt too much opposition from entrenched interest groups in an election year.


Even Supporters Doubt President as Issues Pile Up

The New York Times

Even Supporters Doubt President as Issues Pile Up

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Nov. 22 - Leesa Martin never considered President Bush a great leader, but she voted for him a year ago because she admired how he handled the terrorist attacks of 2001.

Then came the past summer, when the death toll from the war in Iraq hit this state particularly hard: 16 marines from the same battalion killed in one week. She thought the federal government should have acted faster to help after Hurricane Katrina. She was baffled by the president's nomination of Harriet E. Miers, a woman she considered unqualified for the Supreme Court, and disappointed when he did not nominate another woman after Ms. Miers withdrew.

And she remains unsettled by questions about whether the White House leaked the name of a C.I.A. agent whose husband had accused the president of misleading the country about the intelligence that led to the war.

"I don't know if it's any one thing as much as it is everything," said Ms. Martin, 49, eating lunch at the North Market, on the edge of downtown Columbus. "It's kind of snowballed."

Her concerns were echoed in more than 75 interviews here and across the country this week, helping to explain the slide in the president's approval and trustworthiness ratings in recent polls.

Many people who voted for Mr. Bush a year ago had trouble pinning their current discontent on any one thing. Many mentioned the hurricane and the indictment of a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, which some said raised doubts about the president's candor and his judgment. But there was a sense that something had veered off course in the last few months, and the war was the one constant. Over and over, even some of Mr. Bush's supporters raised comparisons with Vietnam.

"We keep hearing about suicide bombers and casualties and never hear about any progress being made," said Dave Panici, 45, a railroad conductor from Bradley, Ill. "I don't see an end to it; it just seems relentless. I feel like our country is just staying afloat, just treading water instead of swimming toward somewhere."

Mr. Panici voted for President Bush in 2004, calling it "a vote for security." "Now that a year has passed, I haven't seen any improvement in Iraq," he said. "I don't feel that the world is a safer place."

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll in mid-November found that 37 percent of Americans approved of Mr. Bush, the lowest approval rating the poll had recorded in his presidency. That was down from 55 percent a year ago and from a high of 90 percent shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

An Associated Press/Ipsos poll earlier in the month found the same 37 percent approval rating and recorded the president's lowest levels regarding integrity and honesty: 42 percent of Americans found him honest, compared with 53 percent at the beginning of this year.

Several of those interviewed said that in the last year they had come to believe that Mr. Bush had not been fully honest about the intelligence that led to the war, which he said showed solid evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"I think people put their faith in Bush, hoping he would do the right thing," said Stacey Rosen, 38, a stay-at-home mother in Boca Raton, Fla., who said she voted for Mr. Bush but was "totally disappointed" in him now. "Everybody cannot believe that there hasn't been one shred of evidence of W.M.D. I think it goes to show how they tell us what they want to tell us."

Mark Briggs, who works for Nationwide Insurance here, said he did not want to believe that the president "manipulated" intelligence leading the country into war, but believed that, at least, Mr. Bush had misread it.

Still, however much he may disagree with Mr. Bush's policies, Mr. Briggs said, he admires the president for standing by what he says.

"There is the notion of leadership and sticking with the plan, which I believe in," he said. "George Bush is clear and consistent. He made a tough decision to go to war - and others voted for it, too. And I think he's right: those people may be trying to rewrite history."

Kacey Wilson, 32, eating lunch with Ms. Martin, said she, too, had concerns about the death toll from the war, but she felt that Mr. Bush spoke the truth, even if it might not be what the country wanted to hear. "I like his cut-and-dry, take-no-prisoners style," Ms. Wilson said. "I think people are used to more spinning."

Others, though, saw arrogance in that approach.

"We need to not be so stubborn," said Vicky Polka, 58, a retired school principal in Statesboro, Ga., who voted for Mr. Bush and described her support for him as "waning." "Something's not going right here. We need to resolve this. I hate to say it, but I think Iraq is going the way of Vietnam."

Few people said they were following the leak scandal, which led to the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Mr. Cheney's former aide. Some who could cite main characters and events dismissed it as little more than political theater. Even fewer said they had paid attention to other scandals preoccupying Washington: the indictment of Representative Tom DeLay, the powerful Texas Republican, and the guilty plea by his former spokesman.

But several people said that the leak scandal had left them with the sense that the president was not leveling with the public about his involvement.

"He has to give us more information," said Phil Niemie, 51, an elementary school principal eating lunch with his family in Columbus. "The longer it goes without closure, it begins to trigger those Nixon Watergate years. I felt the same way with Clinton."

But for Mr. Niemie, who voted for Mr. Bush, and others, the leak scandal raised the biggest doubts about Vice President Cheney.

"A lot of problems tie back to some of Cheney's shenanigans," Ms. Martin said. "It just seems like he could have done better for vice president the second time around."

In Atlanta, Selena Smith, a director at an advertising agency, echoed others when she said she thought too much time had already been spent on the investigation.

"The war is more important to me now," said Ms. Smith, 46. "What's the plan? Give us something to hang our teeth on. What's really top of mind for me is how many people are getting killed across the creek, and how are we going to get them home?"

Here in Ohio, the most hotly contested state in the 2004 election, the heavy toll on a local Marine battalion had played out on television and in newspapers throughout the summer's end, and the majority of two dozen people interviewed here said they wanted to see the troops come home.

Some, though, faulted Americans as having short attention spans.

"Anything that takes more than a couple of months, we get bored with," said Rich Canary, 35, an information technology specialist here. "Progress has been made. The Iraqis have a constitution. They're actually creating their own country. When you hear the soldiers talk, they feel what they're doing is important."

And there was much division about how to end the war. Some military families said it was important to finish the task the troops had begun; others said they resented accusations of being unpatriotic when they criticized the war. Some who said their approval of the president had not wavered nevertheless argued for a quick end to the war, while some of Mr. Bush's strongest critics said it would destabilize Iraq to withdraw the troops anytime soon.

"Too many people would get hurt," said Laurence Melia, 28, a salesman from Newton, Mass., who campaigned against President Bush last year. "There has to be a last foot on the ground in the end, and there might be more problems if we run away too fast."

In Houston, Geoff Van Hoeven, an accountant, said he thought the war in Iraq had aggravated the terrorist threat by creating "a breeding ground for Al Qaeda." Still, Mr. Van Hoeven said a quick withdrawal was not possible, "because America's going to be perceived as extremely weak and unreliable coming in, and when the going gets rough, they pull out."

Even those who voted against Mr. Bush a year ago saw little satisfaction in his woes.

"Part of me enjoys watching him squirm," said Shirley Tobias, 46, sitting with a colleague from Netscape at a coffee shop in Grandview, a suburb of Columbus. "But he's squirming on our behalf. We're all in this together."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Cindy Chang from Los Angeles; Bill Dawson from Houston; Brenda Goodman from Atlanta; Kelli Kennedy from Boca Raton, Fla.; Gretchen Ruethling from Chicago; and Katie Zezima from Boston.


Anti-war activists return to protest Bush

Anti-war activists return to protest Bush

By Patricia Wilson

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's hopes for a brief reprieve from the bitter Iraq war debate were dashed on Friday when peace activist Cindy Sheehan rallied her troops in protest near his central Texas ranch.

Bush is spending a six-day Thanksgiving break at "Prairie Chapel," about 8 miles from the tiny town of Crawford where Sheehan dedicated a memorial garden to her son Casey, a soldier who died in Iraq last year.

"We're here to say that the killing has to stop and we're not going away," Sheehan told scores of supporters. "We want people to be held accountable and just because someone's president of the United States, it doesn't guarantee them immunity from accountability."

The California mother unveiled a stone carved with the words "Sheehan's Stand" set among cactus and yucca plants. The ceremony was punctuated by hecklers in passing pickup trucks, one of whom shouted, "Go home you freakin' losers!"

Sheehan, who plans to lead an anti-war rally on Saturday and participate in an interfaith service on Sunday, became an icon for the peace movement during a 26-day vigil outside Bush's ranch in the summer.

She took her protest to Washington in September where she was arrested for demonstrating without a permit outside the White House.

With Bush out of public sight working and biking on his 1,600-acre (648-hectare) ranch, Sheehan helped fill a news void for the White House press corps -- including five television networks -- that travels with the president.

Protesters say they will come to Crawford every time Bush visits his ranch. Supporters vowed to do the same.

Across the street from the Yellow Rose gift shop, Vietnam War veteran James Vergauwen stood with a sign reading: "The price of freedom is not free." He and others will stage a pro-Bush rally on Saturday.

"I didn't like the idea of her calling the president a liar and a killer," Vergauwen said.


Crawford -- population 700, one traffic signal -- prepared for the influx by erecting a large warning sign for motorists a mile or so outside town that flashed the words: "Expect heavy traffic Friday, Saturday and Sunday."

With the American death toll in Iraq at more than 2,000 and Democrats openly questioning the administration's case for war and its progress, public opinion has shifted and Bush's credibility has suffered. Polls show his job approval at the lowest of his presidency.

Amid political pressure for a course correction in Iraq, U.S. officials have tried to reassure Americans that sufficient progress is being made in training Iraqi forces to possibly permit some U.S. troops to leave.

"I suspect that American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they're there for all that much longer, because Iraqis are continuing to make progress in function, not just in numbers, but in their capabilities to do certain functions," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told CNN earlier this week.

Rice's comments came after an acrimonious debate in Congress about Bush's Iraq policy including a demand by one of the most hawkish Democratic members, Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, that U.S. forces be withdrawn as quickly as possible.

The United States has 150,000 troops in Iraq, boosted from the usual 138,000 to tighten security for an October referendum and December elections.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Abramoff probe broader than thought


Abramoff probe broader than thought: paper

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department's probe of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is broader than previously thought, examining his dealings with four lawmakers, former and current congressional aides and two former Bush administration officials, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Prosecutors in the department's public integrity and fraud divisions are looking into Abramoff's dealings with four Republicans -- former House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, Rep. John Doolittle of California and Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, the paper said, citing several people close to the investigation.

Abramoff is under investigation over his lobbying efforts for Indian tribes with casinos. He has also pleaded not guilty to federal charges in Florida that he defrauded lenders in a casino cruise line deal.

The prosecutors are also investigating at least 17 current and former congressional aides, about half of whom later took lobbying jobs with Abramoff, as well as an official from the Interior Department and another from the government's procurement office, the Journal said.

Justice Department spokesman Paul Bresson declined to comment on the investigation.

The newspaper said investigators were looking into whether Abramoff and his partners made illegal payoffs to the lawmakers and aides in the form of campaign contributions, sports tickets, meals, travel and job offers, in exchange for helping their clients.

DeLay and Ney have already retained criminal defense lawyers.

Spokespeople for the two lawmakers told the Journal that they have both hired lawyers and have not been contacted by the Justice Department.

Michael Scanlon, a former aide to DeLay and partner to powerful Republican lobbyist Abramoff, pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Monday under a deal in which he is cooperating with prosecutors probing the alleged influence-buying.

Scanlon left DeLay's office and become a partner to Abramoff, who has been indicted for fraud in a separate case in Florida. The plea agreement has been seen as a major advance in prosecutors' efforts to investigate the lobbyist. (Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington)


Animal Instinct
Animal Instinct

Known as the 'Zoo Rabbi,' 30-year-old Natan Slifkin is at the center of a world-wide debate on teaching evolution to Jewish children. Some of his books have even been banned in both Israel and America. We spend a day at the zoo with the revolutionary rabbi.
by Benyamin Cohen

“Did you know pandas don’t have thumbs?”

Actually I didn’t and, to be completely honest, I had never even bothered to think about panda fingers, let alone their apparent lack of thumbs. And yeah, I admit, it’s a strange question. But if you consider who’s asking it, you quickly realize this is just business as usual.

It’s a bright day, sweltering as always, and I’m standing under the shade of some nearby trees by the panda paddocks at Zoo Atlanta with Rabbi Natan Slifkin, a British wunderkind who’s professed panda knowledge is wildly way off the radar.

“Thousands of animals are on the verge of extinction,” he says interjecting his own social commentary, “but when they look cute and cuddly like pandas, people care about them a lot more.”

On the outside, the guy looks extraordinarily ordinary. This day — dressed in charcoal pants, a gray button-down shirt, and a baseball cap — he appears like your typical grad student. Book bag, bottled water, and cell phone in tow he is practically the poster child for normalcy.

But, upon closer examination, you realize that what you’re staring at is an incredibly abnormal creature. In fact, he’s nowhere even near the vicinity of normal. At 22, while most of us were enjoying college, cheap liquor, and sleeping in, Slifkin wrote his first book, a compendium of thoughts on the weekly Torah portion.

He hasn’t stopped putting pen to paper since. Now, at 30, he has written seven books and has numerous more in the works — including a multi-volume encyclopedia on the Jewish view of the animal kingdom. The youngest of five siblings, he makes the underachiever in all of us cringe.

What makes Slifkin more extraordinary is his bizarre area of expertise. At his young age, he is already a widely-respected authority in the arcane field of Biblical zoology. Jewish communities the world over have invited Slifkin to give zoo tours in their towns in which he relates Biblical and Midrashic lessons about animals. Here’s a guy who, at a moment’s notice, can whip out an offbeat Talmudic reference to unicorns while explaining why the most dangerous job in America is that of the elephant keeper. Visitors to his Web site, located at, can take a virtual tour of the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem and see videos of Slifkin wrestling a crocodile.

And in typical bookish manner, all he can say is, “I’m uncomfortable with fame,” as he shrugs.

* * *

On a recent overcast morning, Slifkin is flying solo, taking in the Atlanta zoo to do some research. I ask if I can tag along, perhaps, to get some idea of who this guy really is; to study the man in his natural habitat. He obliges my request and we head out to the zoo, somewhere, admittedly, I haven’t been since a fourth-grade field trip.

Once we arrive, the surprisingly shy Slifkin seems to come into his own skin. It’s his natural environment, you can tell, and he feels quite comfortable there. Once through the entrance turnstile, Slifkin makes a metamorphosis — from shy kid to wise-beyond-his-years adult.

On the surface, Slifkin doesn’t come across as a world-renowned lecturer in Biblical zoology. But when he opens his mouth to speak, it soon becomes abundantly clear that looks can be deceiving — and the hoity-toity British accent doesn’t hurt. (He grew up in the densely-populated Jewish community of Manchester, England but now resides in Israel.) But obviously, more than that, it’s the content that makes it quality.

As we meander through the gorilla exhibit, Slifkin slips into his views on evolution, specifically that it’s not as incompatible with religion as some people might think. An Orthodox rabbi, Slifkin enjoys debunking the centuries-old myth that evolution and Judaism don’t jive. He says that with certain key modifications, evolution is an acceptable method of understanding how God might have created the world. “Evolution is a very elegant way of creating an incredibly diverse animal world,” he says. The issue is so important to him that he’s written an entire book on the subject, aptly entitled The Science of Torah. And it’s that book that will change Slifkin’s life forever.

* * *

It was just a day shy of Yom Kippur 2004 when the posters were plastered up in synagogues and on telephone poles in Jerusalem’s observant neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Bayit Vegan. Billed as a “Public Notice” three respected Israeli rabbis (one of which couldn’t even read English) were publicly bashing Slifkin, asking him to “burn all his writings.” The rabbis cited three books in particular (The Science of Torah, Mysterious Creatures, and The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax) that dealt with, among other interesting topics, the theory of evolution. Not only were they placing a ban on the sale and purchase of the books, but they were calling Slifkin a heretic and asked him to apologize.

The ban surprised the affable Slifkin who had already gone to the trouble of finding a number of respected fellow rabbis to write letters of approbation at the beginning of the books, a kind of kosher seal of approval to anyone who may come down the line and question the books’ veracity.

And so, despite the best efforts of those against Slifkin, the ban gained little traction. That is until this January when they got 21 more rabbinic authorities (from both Israel and America) to join in on the ban of Slifkin’s books.

Calling the contents of the books “hair raising,” the right-wing Hebrew newspaper Ya’ated Ne’eman picked up on the story and created a frenzy. You couldn’t surf the Internet without stumbling upon a Jewish blog that wasn’t covering the controversy. Newspapers covering the ban — including the Forward and even the New York Times — portrayed Slifkin, for better or for worse, to a latter-day Galileo.

Under pressure from the religious right, Targum Press stopped printing Slifkin’s books. And, not surprisingly, copies showed up on eBay for upwards of $300.

As for Slifkin himself, well, the ban hit him pretty hard. A bright and optimistic Gen-Xer, Slifkin was shocked at the outrage and sheer vitriol to his work. He was worried what the effect would be on his wife and two small children. And after one of the Israeli seminaries in which he lectured refused to keep him on staff, he began to wonder if he would be blackballed in the Orthodox community.

Not interested in becoming the poster child for evolution education, Slifkin tries to sidestep out of the spotlight and rarely speaks about the ban. “I was astonished and shaken,” is all Slifkin will say of those painful months earlier this year.

What Slifkin may lack in PR damage control is more than made up for by Yitzchok Adlerstein, a Los Angeles rabbi who’s become the go-to-guy for the media when it’s looking for a sane Orthodox voice for comment. (He was the one rabbi who spoke out against the cult-like actions of the Kabbalah Centre in a recent 20/20 segment.) “My reaction to the ban was that of disappointment, disbelief, and bewilderment,” says Adlerstein, the Chair of Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School and one of eight Torah authorities who signed off on Slifkin’s books before they were published. “I seriously believed the book to be one of the finest tools available to calm the increasingly troubled waters by thinking people within the Orthodox community, a community I inhabit myself.”

Adlerstein is also quick to point out that the impetus for the ban came from outside of America. “Their reaction was a way to protect the gorgeously beautiful complete faith of a community in Israel that serves God without the static of cultural interference,” he explains. “It is a community that is not used to answering questions from the outside.

* * *

Slifkin’s discussion of evolution was, quite obviously, not the first time the concept caused a stir. It would seem that ever since the beginning of time, whenever you personally believe that actually may be, people have had problems coming to grips with the theory of evolution. Less than a century after Charles Darwin published his seminal work on evolution, The Origin of Species, evolution walked out on the main stage of the American political consciousness. On a broiling summer day in 1925, inside a small Tennessee courtroom (and outside of it, when the judge moved the whole trial outdoors to accommodate the large crowds and sweltering heat inside), that William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow judicially duked it out over whether you could ban the teaching of evolution in schools.

Believe it or not, the whole scene was a well-orchestrated publicity stunt. Bryan had successfully lobbied for the passage of a law banning the teaching of evolution. The American Civil Liberties Union promptly placed an ad in Tennessee newspapers, offering to pay the legal fees of the first teacher willing to flaunt the law. Looking for a little publicity, the residents of Dayton, Tennessee convinced John T. Scopes (who was not, as it turns out, a science teacher — he was the high school football coach) to take up the offer.

In the 80 years since Scopes was convicted (his conviction was later set aside on a technicality — the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the law itself), the tightly orchestrated show trial in Dayton has, pardon the phrase, evolved into a chaotic mess of lawsuits from one side of the country to the other. Arguably the highest profile case in recent memory involved the school system of Kansas deleting evolution from its curriculum. That invited a hailstorm of criticism, got several school board members booted out of office and, in the words of some, made Kansas an educational laughing stock.

The maelstrom finally found its way into Georgia when Cobb County, the conservative metro area that sent Newt Gingrich to be Speaker of the House, entered the evolution debate. Some 2,300 of its parents muscled a sticker onto the textbooks of its school system.

“This textbook contains material on evolution,” read the disclaimer affixed to each science book. “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

Though it was drafted in consultation with the school board’s lawyers, it sparked protests from parents opposed to public schools “promoting religious dogma,” in the words of attorney Michael Manley, who represented anti-sticker parents. They filed suit against the county.

In January, a federal judge agreed that the stickers were unconstitutional. In his opinion, Judge Clarence Cooper wrote, “An informed, reasonable observer would interpret the sticker to convey a message of endorsement of religion. It sends a message to those who oppose evolution for religious reasons that they are favored members of the political community ... and to those who believe in evolution that they are political outsiders.”

Having already spent $74,000 to defend the case, Cobb County nevertheless has chosen to appeal the ruling with their attorney working pro bono from here on out. Calling the decision an “unnecessary judicial intrusion into local control of schools,” the board voted 5-2 to appeal. That surprised the lead plaintiff, parent Jeffrey Selman. “They’re ludicrous,” says Selman. “They’re ignoring the ruling.”

Unaffiliated with any local synagogue, Selman has endured critics who’ve called him anti-religious. “I’m not against anybody’s religion,” argues Selman, himself Jewish. “I want everybody to practice what they believe. I practice [Judaism] the way I want to.”

Emily Cohen, a student at Campbell High in Cobb County, called the whole affair “somewhat offensive,” adding, “They kind of say, ‘consider it critically,’ as if we wouldn’t have.”

And while the ongoing controversy in Cobb County has attracted national attention and polarized forces on both sides (a squadron of Jewish groups filed “friend of the court” briefs in the case, most arguing against the stickers), elsewhere in Atlanta there are Jews saying that we can all just get along — sort of.

Rabbi Kalmen Rosenbaum, principal of Torah Day School of Atlanta, doesn’t have a problem with evolution being taught at his school. He doesn’t have a problem, that is, as long as it is taught within the framework of Torah. “At our school we give the students the opportunity to view both ends of the spectrum,” he says. “Evolution is taught as a theory. The Torah teaches us ‘who’ and science attempts to teach the theories of ‘how’. There’s not necessarily a conflict per se.”

Indeed, Slifkin was not the first religious Jew to suggest the 33 Biblical verses on creation and the concept of evolution can coexist. Numerous books have already been written on the subject of harmonizing Jewish beliefs with evolution: Yeah, God created the world in seven days but a Biblical “day” doesn’t necessarily translate to what we know as a 24 hour period. Each day could’ve been a million years. Another common approach: The Torah says that humans have been around on planet earth for 5765 years. But maybe there were other “planets” with other creatures that existed.

But not everyone sees it like Rosenbaum. “All people who possess the conviction that it is wrong to steal, or to murder, or to mate with close relatives, or to cheat on one’s spouse; all who see virtue in generosity, civility, altruism or kindness; all, for that matter, who choose to wear clothes, believe — against the dictates of Darwinism — that the human realm is qualitatively different from the animal,” says Rabbi Avi Shafran from the Agudath Israel, a right wing Jewish lobbying group.

“Either we humans are just another evolutionary development, leaving words like ‘right,’ ‘wrong,’ ‘good’ and ‘bad’ without any real meaning, or we are answerable, as most of us feel deeply we are, to something higher.”

Shafran’s lobbying efforts may actually be working. In August, President Bush essentially endorsed what Shafran and, for that matter, Christian conservatives have been asking him to do for a long time: to give equal standing in the nation’s schools to the theory of “intelligent design,” the belief that life forms are so complex that their creation can’t be explained by Darwinian evolutionary theory alone, but rather points to intentional creation, presumably divine.

* * *

As we leave the ape area of the zoo, Slifkin tells me about an absurd movement on the rise to give equal rights for gorillas. As he explains it, this group wants gorillas to have the same inalienable rights as humans, claiming that if given free choice that’s what the animals would want. Slifkin immediately casts aside the odd theory which would include allowing gorillas to vote in our elections. “We should be kind to animals not because of animal rights, but because we have a moral responsibility to take care of them,” he explains. “What makes us unique from animals is our souls, not our bodies. A gorilla doesn’t make moral choices between good and evil.”

Slifkin leads me around the zoo like a kid in a candy store. Yet, all the while, he regales me in stories like a war veteran just back from the battlefield. “When I was in Kenya, I rode on the back of a big 150-year-old turtle.”

As we meander around the reptile room, Slifkin spots a tarantula and smiles fondly. “I used to have a tarantula named Big Bob,” he says, almost like he was catching a glimpse of an old friend.

When I ask him how he got one, he looks at me quizzically, as if the answer is blatantly obvious. “At a pet store, of course,” he replies.

As if a tarantula isn’t enough, he then informs me of another exotic species-turned-pet. “I used to keep pet iguanas in yeshiva,” he says straight-faced, assuming that the sheer commonality of it is boring. “I used to walk around with it on my head.”

Dangerous reptile as head-covering aside, Slifkin is literally a walking encyclopedia of the animal kingdom. It’s as if he’s applying to be a contestant on an animal trivia game show, eager to show off his wide-ranging knowledge of the strangest things.

“Did you know that salamanders can survive a fire?” he asks as we pass by the reptile. He then goes into a classic Slifkin riff — one where he references a Harry Potter book that talks about a fire-surviving amphibian. It’s his vast cache of pop-culture references that make you wonder if he’s a rabbi or a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Shortly after telling me that his favorite movie is Jurassic Park, he laments the warped vision of animals in modern cinema. “We have a skewed version of hippopotami ever since Disney had dancing hippos in Fantasia.”

As we leave the zoo, Slifkin reaches into his backpack for a snack. He says he recently partook of a dinner where pheasants and locusts were part of the menu. It was a bizarre evening where other animal-obsessed rabbis like Slifkin were served odd creatures that the Torah considers kosher, but most people still don’t eat. To a guest, it appeared more like an episode of Fear Factor than an educational outing.

It was a fun occasion, something Slifkin is having more of these days. Time has begun to heal some of his wounds. Since the ban earlier this year, a new publisher has stepped up and decided to distribute the controversial books. “The case can be made that the days of effective banning are long gone,” explains Gil Student, who spearheaded Slifkin’s new publishing effort. “In today’s world of individuality, curious people will read what they want regardless of what is labeled ‘kosher’ and ‘non-kosher.’ Banning books only serves to make them more appealing to those who are looking for interesting reading.” The company estimates they have already done a year’s worth of business in just the first month.

* * *

Later that day, after the field trip to the zoo, Slifkin is speaking at a local synagogue to a group of about 50 who’ve come to hear the boy genius. In front of the audience, you can tell Slifkin feels comfortable in his skin. Quoting Biblical verses by heart, he exudes surprising confidence behind the pulpit. He has professor-like tendencies, asking the group questions and peppering his lecture with jokes and stories.

Throughout, he draws inspiration for life lessons from the animal kingdom. “The power of the lion described in Scripture does not only refer to its brute force, but, more importantly to control its aggression and live in groups.” Slifkin uses this bit of arcane information to teach us that, as humans, we should try to harness our own wild emotions.

Slifkin spends much of the lecture debunking Biblical myths — he contends the flood, for example, did not encompass the whole earth; that Aaron’s staff turned into a crocodile, not a snake.

He goes on to use ants to illustrate the wonders of God’s creation. “Each ant in a colony serves a different function,” he explains. “There are even ants that are suicide bombers, killing themselves to save the colony.” He pauses for effect. “Socialism really does work. Marx just had the wrong species.”

As the lecture comes to a close and people exit, Slifkin shows me a copy of his latest work, an intricate and complex book about evolution and mysterious creatures mentioned in the Talmud. It’s one of his banned books that’s now selling like hot-cakes. A bit of a mysterious creature himself, Slifkin’s high-brow book sports a fire-breathing dragon on its cover. Harry Potter would be proud.

-- Bradford R. Pilcher contributed to this report.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

What Bush Knew: More Evidence That He Deliberately Misled
What Bush Knew: More Evidence That He Deliberately Misled

Murray Waas, writing in the National Journal, breaks new information regarding the level of knowledge President Bush had prior to the Iraq war about the supposed Iraq/al Qaeda link:

Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda, according to government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

The information, which was provided to Bush on September 21, 2001 during the “President’s Daily Brief,” corresponds with the accounts of two former White House counterterrorism advisers:

“One week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no ‘compelling case’ existed for Iraq’s involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government were weak.” [Washington Post, 7/23/04]

According to the 9/11 Commission report, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Richard Clarke’s office sent a memo to the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, at the President’s direction, concluding that “only some anecdotal evidence linked Iraq to al Qaeda…Arguing that the case for links between Iraq and al Qaeda was weak, the memo pointed out that Bin Ladin resented the secularism of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” [9-11 Commission Report, p.334]

This information did not prevent Bush and Cheney from presenting the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda as an undisputed fact.

BUSH: “And I also mentioned the fact that there is a connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The war on terror, Iraq is a part on the war on terror.” [10/14/02]

CHENEY: “There is also a grave danger that al Qaeda or other terrorists will join with outlaw regimes that have these weapons to attack their common enemy, the United States of America. That is why confronting the threat posed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror.” [12/2/02]

Despite the risk of being labeled “dishonest and reprehensible,” this appears to be strong evidence that Bush and Cheney misled us.

For a more thorough debunking of the Bush administration’s pre-war statements, see this memo
recently authored by former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham and American Progress President and CEO John Podesta.


Heckuva Job

Heckuva Job.

The Department of Homeland Security names FEMA’s response to Katrina one of the top FEMA “accomplishments” of 2005.




Percentage of Americans who believe the Bush administration “generally misleads the American public on current issues to achieve its own ends.”


Protesters arrested near Bush ranch


Protesters arrested near Bush ranch

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - A dozen Iraq war protesters were arrested on Wednesday as they tested a new ban on camping and parking on roads near President George W. Bush's Texas ranch where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday.

The demonstration was timed to coincide with Bush's break at his 1,600-acre (650-hectare) spread and the arrival of the accompanying White House media entourage.

The group included Dede Miller, the sister of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan whose son was killed in Iraq and who became an icon for the peace movement after her 26-day vigil outside Bush's ranch in the summer. Sheehan was scheduled to arrive in Crawford on Friday.

McLennan County sheriff's deputies warned the protesters -- who had pitched tents by the roadside -- and then arrested them for trespassing.

After hundreds of demonstrators erected a tent city during Sheehan's August protest, the county banned camping, parking and sewage receptacles along roads surrounding Bush's ranch, citing health and safety concerns.

Bush arrived on Tuesday night for a six-day visit. He will spend Thanksgiving on Thursday with family, including his parents, former President George Bush and wife Barbara, as well as his twin daughters Jenna and Barbara.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Big Oil 'Participation' at Issue
Big Oil 'Participation' at Issue
Definitions Cited in Dispute Over Roles in Energy Task Force

By Justin Blum
Washington Post Staff Writer

It all depends how you define the word "participate."

While that may seem as silly as bickering over the definition of the word "is," the implications for some oil company executives who testified at a Senate hearing could be significant. Based on how the word is parsed, some executives either told the truth or did not when they were asked about their "participation" in the 2001 energy task force headed by Vice President Cheney.

The dispute stems from a question raised by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). At a hearing two weeks ago, he asked five oil executives whether they or representatives of their companies participated in meetings with Cheney's energy task force.

The chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co. and Chevron Corp. answered no. The president of Shell Oil Co. said his company did not participate "to my knowledge," and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know.

The Bush administration has refused to identify who participated in the task force meetings. But The Washington Post reported last week that a White House document shows that in 2001, officials from Exxon Mobil, Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil and BP America met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.

Yesterday, Marnie Funk, a spokeswoman for the GOP staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, one of the two panels that convened the hearing, said its lawyers had reached a preliminary conclusion: Based on a court decision in which two groups unsuccessfully challenged the secrecy of the Cheney task force, Funk said the executives appeared to be telling the truth.

"What we simply determined was that the definition of 'participation' was something litigated, and what the court concluded was that attending meetings, and even making presentations, did not rise to the level of fully participating," Funk said.

Lautenberg sees it differently, and disputes the GOP interpretation of the court decision. He also said Republicans are incorrectly interpreting his question.

"I think we're getting down to almost a silly discussion," Lautenberg said.

Lautenberg said that when he asked the question, he was thinking of the word "participation" in broad terms. Here's his definition: "If you're doing anything more than breathing in the room when you're there. Even if you're a silent observer."

The senator has asked the Justice Department to look into the matter.

Funk said that the GOP staff's findings have given "considerable comfort" to Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), the chairman of the energy panel. Funk said Domenici is reserving final judgment until after he has reviewed the written clarification that he and the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), have asked the oil companies to submit.

Yesterday, Exxon released a response to the senators, reiterating its position that its chief executive, Lee R. Raymond, testified accurately. The statement said the company had not "been a participant on the Task Force and no representative of ExxonMobil attended any meeting of the Task Force."

The statement went on to say that on Feb. 14, 2001, a 45-minute meeting took place with "an administration official" at Exxon Mobil's request. The company "provided information on the global energy supply and demand situation and steps ExxonMobil was taking to meet the world's growing energy needs."

Chevron recently submitted a statement saying that its employees had not participated in meetings with the task force. But the company said it sent a letter to President Bush outlining its position on energy policies.

ConocoPhillips has said its chief executive was appointed when Conoco and Phillips merged in 2002 and was unaware that Conoco officials had met with task force staff.


Bitter debate on Iraq 'disturbing': Army general

Bitter debate on Iraq 'disturbing': Army general

By Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The bitter battle in Washington over whether to withdraw U.S. troops quickly from Iraq is disturbing but has not damaged U.S. military morale, a senior American Army general in Baghdad said on Tuesday.

"A precipitous pullout, I believe, would be destabilizing," Lt. Gen. John Vines, the second-ranking U.S. commander there, told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference from Iraq. He refused to set any timetable.

"Of course the debate and the bitterness is disturbing. But, after all, we are a democracy, and that is what democracy is about ... people will have differences of opinion," Vines said.

"Certainly, soldiers are concerned about whether or not they enjoy the support of not only their elected representatives but the people. And they know that they have their support," Vines replied when pressed about morale among the 155,000 American troops in Iraq.

Vines, who commands the multinational corps of U.S.-led foreign troops in Iraq, declined to be drawn into the debate over a proposal by Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania that all of the troops be withdrawn within six months.

That call, issued last week by the decorated retired Marine and longtime supporter of the military, sparked a vitriolic war of words in the U.S. Congress, with some Republicans questioning Murtha's patriotism, at a time when President George W. Bush has suffered declining popularity over the war in Iraq.

Vines said any recommendation from U.S. commanders in Iraq to begin withdrawing forces would be made based on the security situation and not on political considerations.

"I'm not going to get into a timetable. It will be driven by conditions on the ground," he said.


Vines expressed regret over an incident on Monday in which U.S. troops opened fire on a crowded minivan north of Baghdad, killing at least three civilians, including a child. But he said the military would not make any changes in its "rules of engagement" that might endanger troops.

"The loss of any innocent life, indeed any life, is tragic," Vines said. "What we must never do is deprive a soldier in harm's way the ability to protect himself and his fellow soldiers."

How will Americans know, Vines was asked by reporters, that any recommendation by commanders to leave Iraq is based on military judgment rather than political questions over Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and his subsequent handling of the war?

"I know that our recommendations will be based on conditions here in-country. They will not be based on the things that you allude to," Vines said.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said U.S. military commanders in Iraq are mindful that the very presence of American forces may fuel insurgent violence in parts of that country, adding that this concern factored into decisions about future U.S. force levels.

The intensifying debate at home about the future of U.S. troops in Iraq will not play a role in the decisions being made about future force levels, Di Rita added.


Senator says Bush needs to depoliticize Iraq debate

Senator says Bush needs to depoliticize Iraq debate

CHICAGO (Reuters) - President George W. Bush should take politics out of the Iraq war by admitting he made mistakes and pledging to work with both parties to find a responsible way to end it, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said on Tuesday.

By turning the discussion of the war into a for-us or against-us proposition, the White House last week "showed exactly what kind of debate it wants on the future of Iraq -- none," Obama said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

Obama, the only black in the Senate, said Bush "could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all" if he would tell the American people: "'Yes, we made mistakes. Yes. there are things I would have done differently. But ... I am willing to work with both Republicans and Democrats to find the most responsible way out.'"

The administration's response last week to Democratic Rep. John Murtha's call for an immediate troop withdrawal was "shameful," Obama said, and pushed the debate farther from finding a pragmatic solution to the conflict.

"No American wants a war without end -- a war where our goals and strategies drift aimlessly regardless of the cost in lives or dollars spent and where we end up with arbitrary poll-driven troop reductions ...," he said.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

White House Flip-Flops on Murtha

White House Flip-Flops on Murtha

First, Murtha was taking a “baffling” position only accepted by “the extreme liberal wing.” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, 11/18/05:

[I]t is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing his statement, we remain baffled — nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer.

Now, he’s taking a “clear stand” in a “legitimate discussion.” Vice President Cheney, 11/21/05:

Recently my friend Jack Murtha called for a complete withdraw of our troops in Iraq. I disagree with Jack and believe his proposal would not serve the best interest of this nation. He’s a good man, a marine, a patriot and he’s taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion.


Cheney Rewrites The Headlines

Cheney Rewrites The Headlines

Vice President Dick Cheney began his speech at the American Enterprise Institute today with the following statement:

My remarks today concern national security, in particular the war on terror and Iraq front in that war. Several days ago, I commented on some recent statements that have been made by some members of Congress about Iraq. Within hours of my speech, a report went out on the wires under the headline quote, Cheney Says War Critics Dishonest, Reprehensible, endquote. The one thing I’ve learned in the last five years is that when you’re vice president you’re lucky if your speeches get any attention at all but I do have a quarrel with that headline.

Here’s exactly what Cheney said just a few days ago, on November 16:

And the suggestion that’s been made by some U.S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

To quote President Bush, it is “deeply irresponsible to rewrite history.”


Cheney clarified later in the speech that he differentiates between war critics who believe the President misled the public into war and war critics who believe an exit strategy is needed. While he believes the latter is a patriotic group, the former is still “dishonest and reprehensible“:

What is not legitimate — and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible — is the suggestion by some U. S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence.


A Strip Search of Novak’s Column Yields No Facts

A Strip Search of Novak’s Column Yields No Facts

In his column this morning, Novak took issue with the assertion that Alito voted to approve the strip search of a 10-year-old girl:

The ad claimed Alito, as a federal appellate judge, “even voted to approve the strip search of a 10-year-old girl.” This distorts a case where a suspected drug dealer’s daughter was searched, visibly not manually, by a female police officer in the presence of the child’s mother.

Here’s what actually happened, as described by the court:

Once inside, however, the officers found no visitors, but only John Doe’s wife, Jane, and their ten year old daughter, Mary…They were instructed to empty their pockets and lift their shirts. The female officer patted their pockets. She then told Jane and Mary Doe to drop their pants and turn around. No contraband was found.

That sounds like a strip search. And as the court makes clear, the 10-year-old girl was patted down, so Novak’s claim that the girl was only searched only “visibly not manually” isn’t true. Later in the decision, the court specifically points out that the girl was “touched by a female officer who was searching for contraband.”

Also, Novak fails to point out that the girl was not covered by the warrant obtained by the officers. That’s why the majority found “Searching Jane and Mary Doe for evidence beyond the scope of the warrant and without probable cause violated their clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.”


Woodward Reveals Important Clues About White House Smear Campaign

Woodward Reveals Important Clues About White House Smear Campaign

From Woodward’s appearance on Larry King “Live” tonight:

Question: Your source, did the source indicate whether Ms. Plame was an undercover agent or a desk analyst?

Woodward: Good question. And specifically said that — the source did — that she was a WMD, weapons of mass destruction, analyst. Now, I’ve been covering the CIA for over three decades, and analysts, except — in fact, I don’t even know of a case. Maybe there are cases. But they’re not undercover. They are people who take other information and analyze it. And so — and if you were there at this moment in mid-June when this was said, there was no suggestion that it was sensitive, that it was secret.

This exchange is extremely important. From the indictment, we learned that Vice President Cheney told Scooter Libby that Plame worked in the “Counterproliferation Division,” an agency in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) – see fact #9. The DO is well-known as the clandestine arm of the CIA.

The “agency on weapons of mass destruction,” however, is part of the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), which is “on the overt side of the CIA.” Recall, Novak’s source also told him Plame worked at the “agency on weapons of mass destruction.” Matt Cooper was also told that Plame worked at the “agency on wmd.” And Judith Miller? Same deal — she was told Plame worked at “WINPAC” (the more formal acronym for the agency on weapons of mass destruction).

So, at some point along this chain, someone in the Bush administration changed Valerie Plame’s job affiliation with the CIA,

possibly to convince reporters that it was OK to report on her. Were Woodward, Miller, Novak, and Cooper all intentionally deceived about Plame’s status? If so, it strongly suggests the outing of Valerie Plame was not unintentional.


Lawmaker Returns Home, a Hawk Turned War Foe

The New York Times

Lawmaker Returns Home, a Hawk Turned War Foe

JOHNSTOWN, Pa., Nov. 21 - Representative John P. Murtha, the hawkish Democrat who spent his political career as a staunch Pentagon supporter, came home Monday as something entirely different: an antiwar symbol.

His call last week for an American troop withdrawal from Iraq within the next six months took aback many of his own constituents and made the plainspoken former Marine colonel's homecoming on Monday a moment for re-evaluation - of the congressman, as well as of the Bush administration's strategy for Iraq.

"It's really surprising that you would see Mr. Murtha speaking out and saying that it's time to get out, and if he's saying it then it's probably so," said Becky Wicks, a Johnstown resident who said she and her family had supported President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

As recently as last year, Mr. Murtha was warning that "premature withdrawal" of American troops could lead to a civil war in Iraq and leave American foreign policy in "disarray," the exact critique Republicans lodge against him now.

The evolution of his views, he said, has been driven both by the pain of frequent visits to see injured soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington and by his steady disillusionment with the Bush administration's handling of the war. But in some ways he is unsuited temperamentally to the role he has assumed.

"I just came to the conclusion finally that I had to speak out," he told reporters on Monday. "I had to focus this administration on an exit strategy."

"I'm hopeful I don't go too far," he said, adding that he "felt bad" last week after bringing up Vice President Dick Cheney's "five deferments" in the Vietnam era.

Mr. Cheney, in a speech on Monday in Washington in which he defended the administration's handling of the war, called Mr. Murtha "a good man, a marine, a patriot," and said Mr. Murtha was "taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion."

An insider most comfortable in the backrooms of Congress, Mr. Murtha said his goal was only to force a dialogue with President Bush on the need to draw down American forces - not lead his party's antiwar wing. Many fellow Democrats are uneasy about his call for an immediate withdrawal, fearing it will give Republicans a chance to brand them as weak on national security.

Not everyone in Johnstown is comfortable with Mr. Murtha's new role.

At a speech Monday morning to local executives and elected officials, Mr. Murtha received three standing ovations. The talk focused almost entirely on all the federal aid Mr. Murtha has been able to deliver to his district from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

But when he spoke briefly about Iraq, the audience seemed unsure about how to react to their congressman's public break with the Bush administration. When Mr. Murtha invited questions after his remarks, no one in the audience of several hundred came forward.

"We're all kind of perplexed," said Robert A. Gleason Jr., an insurance executive and chairman of the local Republican Committee, who said he had put aside party loyalties and voted for Mr. Murtha in the past.

The first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, in 1974, Mr. Murtha rose to become the top Democrat on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, a post he has used to look after average soldiers' needs. He keeps a running count of the number of his constituents killed in Iraq: now 13.

Since shortly after the American invasion of Iraq, he has frequently visited wounded troops at Walter Reed, an experience that he said had gradually convinced him that the American troop presence was exacerbating the violence by giving insurgents more targets to attack.

In speeches over the last week, he has repeatedly referred to a constituent, Pfc. Salvatore Ross Jr., a combat engineer from Dunbar, Pa., who was badly wounded while landmines he was clearing near Baghdad went off. The explosion blinded him in both eyes and tore off his leg below the knee, Private Ross said in an interview. He spent more than a month in a coma at Walter Reed and later underwent more than a dozen surgeries.

Mr. Murtha visited him twice in the hospital and later arranged a ceremony in Private Ross's hometown, where he received a Purple Heart. He also arranged for Walter Reed to pick up many of his medical bills for special treatment at a private hospital, Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

Only a year ago, though, Mr. Murtha wrote in the epilogue to the paperback edition of a biography he wrote with a former aide that "an untimely exit could rapidly devolve into a civil war, which would leave America's foreign policy in disarray as countries question not only America's judgment but also its perseverance."

But in several trips to Iraq in the last year, he said that he became convinced that the military was not making progress at defeating the insurgency. Yet, he said, the Bush administration ignored his efforts to open private discussions on devising a bipartisan course change.

A letter on Iraq that Mr. Murtha said he sent to Mr. Bush last year did not get a reply until five months later, and then from a underling at the Pentagon, he complained.

"I deserve more respect than that," he said.

Mr. Murtha said he began discussing his growing unease with the military presence in Iraq with longtime advisers, including two retired generals and a former secretary of the Army, whom he would not identify. They urged him not to call publicly for a withdrawal, he said, but as his doubts about the war grew, "they finally came around."

Even Mr. Gleason, the local Republican chairman, predicted that Mr. Murtha's stance would cause him no significant political problems in next November's elections.

Though most voters lean Democratic in this blue-collar region, they are generally conservative. President Bush only lost the district by 8,000 votes in 2004.

Even so, no Republican has yet announced a run against Mr. Murtha, although that may speak as much to Republican concerns over the political climate and the 2006 election as it does about Mr. Murtha's popularity in his district.

His break with the Bush administration could still entice a candidate into the race. But years of delivering federal money from his Appropriations Committee seat has made him all but invulnerable, Mr. Gleason conceded.

Colonel Denies Disparaging Murtha

By The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 - A colonel in the Marine reserves has taken issue with how his views were represented in a Republican attack last week on Representative Murtha.

Speaking on the House floor on Friday, Representative Jean Schmidt, Republican of Ohio, asserted that the colonel had "asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message: that cowards cut and run, marines never do."

But a spokeswoman for the colonel, Danny R. Bubp, said Ms. Schmidt had misconstrued their conversation.

While Mr. Bubp, a Republican member of the Ohio House of Representatives, opposes a quick withdrawal for forces, "he did not mention Congressman Murtha by name nor did he mean to disparage Congressman Murtha," said Karen Tabor, his spokeswoman. "He feels as though the words that Congresswoman Schmidt chose did not represent their conversation."

Asked to respond on Monday, the congresswoman's office said only, "Mrs. Schmidt's statement was never meant to disparage Congressman Murtha."


Murtha Says Americans Back Iraq Pullout

Murtha Says Americans Back Iraq Pullout

Associated Press Writer

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a key Democrat on military issues, on Monday defended his call to pull U.S. troops from Iraq, saying he was reflecting Americans' sentiment.

"The public turned against this war before I said it," Murtha said. "The public is emotionally tied into finding a solution to this thing, and that's what I hope this administration is going to find out."

Murtha, 73, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said he has received support from the public since calling for the troop pullout on Thursday. He said he has gotten e-mails from World War II veterans and parents of American soldiers in Iraq.

Murtha noted that his great-grandfather served in the Civil War, his father and three uncles in World War II, and that he and his brothers were Marines. Murtha said western Pennsylvania, where his district is located, is a "hotbed of patriotism and they've lost confidence in this effort."

He said Iraqis must take control of their own destiny.

"We cannot win this militarily. Our tactics themselves keep us from winning," Murtha said at a scheduled news conference after a speech to a civic group in his hometown of Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.

House Republicans on Friday pushed for a vote on a nonbinding resolution to pull out the troops after Murtha's comments. It was rejected 403-3, but Democrats said the quick call for the vote was a political stunt designed to undermine Murtha's comments.

"The guys in Congress are scared to death to say anything because they might be vilified," Murtha said. "The soldiers can't speak for themselves. We sent them to war and, by God, we're the ones that have to speak out."

Murtha said he was unmoved by criticism he's received from President Bush, others in Congress and the public.

U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, spoke on the House floor Friday about a phone call she got from a Marine colonel who said, "cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Asked about it, Murtha called the comment ridiculous.

"You can't spin this. You've got to have a real solution," Murtha said. "This is not a war of words, this is a war."

Aware that his comments last week would draw fire from conservatives, Murtha said he specifically asked more liberal members of his party not to step forward to support him.

"I didn't want (the public) to think this was a Democrat position plotted from the left wing," Murtha said.

Murtha expressed confidence that terrorist bombings in Iraq would cease once U.S. troops were gone and Iraqis became solely responsible for their destiny.

"Absolutely, we're the target. We're the enemy," Murtha said. "(The Iraqis) are a proud people, they've been around a lot longer than we have. They've going to win this themselves, they're going to settle this themselves. They have to, there's no alternative."

Murtha said he believes President Bush needs to realize how citizens feel about the war.

"All of us want to support the president when he's at war," Murtha said "But you can't support him when he won't change directions, won't listen."


GM slashing production and jobs

GM slashing production and jobs

By Tom Brown

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. said on Monday it would cut 30,000 North American manufacturing jobs and close a dozen plants as it struggles to compete with fast-growing rivals led by Toyota Motor Corp.

The cuts affect about a quarter of the North American factory work force at GM and are the deepest since it eliminated 21 plants and 74,000 jobs over four years beginning in December 1991.

The latest plan, which affects factories in the United States and Canada, allows GM to reduce costs by $7 billion by the end of 2006 -- $1 billion above its previous target -- and increases by 5,000 the jobs the company had said it would cut.

The world's largest automaker warned that it would take a "significant restructuring charge" with the plan, but did not say how much it would be or when it would be taken.

Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa said in a note late on Monday that he expects the charge to range from $1 billion and $2 billion, "which is a tough number to justify without tangible results."

This is the largest single U.S. layoff announcement since Kmart said it would cut 37,000 jobs in January 2003, according to employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

GM Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, who took the unusual step of denying in a letter to staff last week that GM was preparing to file for bankruptcy protection, said he was not prepared to discuss GM's 2006 profit outlook.

Shares of GM closed down 47 cents, or 1.95 percent, at $23.58 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. The company has lost nearly $4 billion this year, while its shares have lost more than 40 percent of their value and hit a 14-year low last week.

"The plan was in-line with our expectations and is only the beginning of a long restructuring process," Casesa said in the note.

Plants marked for closure include those in Doraville, Georgia, Ontario, Canada, Portland, Oregon and Pittsburgh, an Oklahoma City plant that makes mid-size sport utility vehicles and GM's Lansing, Michigan Craft Center, which makes a poor-selling sport pickup truck.

Separately, GM has closed or stopped production this year at three assembly plants in Lansing, Michigan, Linden, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland.

Wagoner first announced plans to cut North American manufacturing capacity, in line with its shrinking market share and to match demand by 2008, at the company's annual shareholders meeting in June.

"It's a big move ... We're confident that this is what it's going to take to get us going," Wagoner told a news conference in Detroit on Monday.

GM, which was founded in 1908, said it hoped it could achieve many of the job cuts through attrition and buyouts.


Wagoner said the leadership of the United Auto Workers union had been told of the plans, calling it "tough medicine for everyone involved."

The UAW responded to Wagoner's announcement with an angry statement to the media indicating it would push to keep furloughed workers on GM's payrolls for the duration of its current labor contract, which expires in 2007.

That could mean that laid off workers would continue to receive most of their pay and benefits, with the plant closings providing little immediate savings to GM.

"The UAW-represented workers impacted by today's action are protected by our job security program as well as other provisions and protections of the UAW-GM National Agreement," the union said in its statement.

"The full cost savings won't be realized until 2008," said analyst David Healy of Burnham Securities, citing the impact of the restrictive UAW labor agreement.

Basil "Buzz" Hargrove, head of the Canadian Auto Workers union, said the closing of one of GM's assembly plants in Oshawa, Ontario, came as a "complete shock" to him because it was the company's most productive facility in North America.

"It's a jewel so to speak, and we couldn't imagine them kind of killing the lead horse," Hargrove told local radio. He blamed the decision on bad trade policies and what he described as unfair competition from Japan and South Korea.

"They ship into our market but they don't allow us to ship back to their market," Hargrove said. "As long as we have this

unfair trade situation ... you're going to see a continuing decline in the fortune of General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler."

Pressures on Wagoner have mounted amid concerns that nothing short of a change at the top would improve the automaker's fortunes. He took the company's helm in 2000, but assumed control of daily operations at its North American unit in April 2005. On Monday, he dismissed any notion stepping aside.

"I haven't given any consideration whatsoever to that. I wasn't brought up to run and hide when things get tough," he said. "We're on the battlefield, we're taking the actions we need to, and I'm convinced that's the way the company is going to get righted."

Wagoner said his planned cuts in GM's North American production capacity did not mean that it would be ceding ground to Toyota as the world's No. 1 automaker when ranked by production.

Some analysts see that as inevitable, however, and Wall Street remained uncertain about his strategy.

In a warning issued not long after GM's restructuring announcement, Standard & Poor's said GM's credit rating could be cut further into junk territory.

Wagoner has also been under pressure from investor Kirk Kerkorian, who owns 9.9 percent of GM's stock and may demand a seat on the board next year.

GM and its crosstown rival Ford Motor Co. have both been grappling with high health-care and materials costs, loss of U.S. market share to foreign rivals, and slumping sales of large SUVs that used to be their profit centers but have lost popularity as gasoline prices rose.

Ford is expected to announce its own cuts in North American manufacturing jobs and a series of plant closings by no later than January. The No. 2 U.S. automaker announced on Friday that it was cutting 4,000 white-collar jobs, or about 10 percent of its salaried North American work force.