Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, March 30, 2007

  Interior Dept. hollows out the Endangered Species Act

The Bush administration Interior Department has long been waging a war against the Endangered Species Act. The high cost of implementing the ESA by designating critical habitats, they claim, gets in the way protecting newly endangered species. It turns out that it gets in the way of business, too, which has been of critical concern to Bush's appointees in Interior.

Unable to dismantle the ESA, and forced by persistent lawsuits to implement it, Interior Dept. officials have been busy trying to hollow out the enforcement mechanisms by which it can be obliged to designate new species and new habitats for protection.

One of the worst offenders has been Julie MacDonald, the Deputy Assist. Sec. for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Her background? Not Fish. Not Wildlife. Not Parks. She's an engineer of all things. Her interests are firmly with those who stand to lose money if endangered species are actually protected within their habitats, as Interior is tasked with doing. Last October Juliet Eilperin of the WaPo gave us a portrait of MacDonald's reign at Interior, which the Inspector General was beginning to investigate:

A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has rejected staff scientists' recommendations to protect imperiled animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act at least six times in the past three years, documents show.

In addition, staff complaints that their scientific findings were frequently overruled or disparaged at the behest of landowners or industry have led the agency's inspector general to look into the role of Julie MacDonald, who has been deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks since 2004, in decisions on protecting endangered species.

The documents show that MacDonald has repeatedly refused to go along with staff reports concluding that species such as the white-tailed prairie dog and the Gunnison sage grouse are at risk of extinction...

MacDonald said she does not make the decision on whether to federally protect a species, because the head of the Fish and Wildlife Service has that responsibility. But she said she had made her feelings clear in an array of documents; overruled scientists' conclusions in areas where she has authority, such as designating critical habitat; and mocked rank-and-file employees' recommendations....

Francesca Grifo, who directs the union's [Union of Concerned Scientists] scientific integrity program, said MacDonald's actions are "not business as usual but a systemic problem of tampering with science that is putting our environment at risk."

In a few instances, federal judges have overturned decisions that MacDonald had influenced...

MacDonald has repeatedly urged employees to consider the position of industry officials more seriously when weighing whether to declare a species threatened or endangered.

The WaPo also documents how MacDonald arbitrarily reversed findings of fact made by Interior Dept. employees and scientists, and how she sent internal departmental drafts to favored industry officials to permit them to undercut the work of her staffers via the back door.

The Interior Dept. Inspector General has now released to Congress its report on MacDonald's tampering with endangered-species regulation. Though I can't manage to open the document at the Interior website, here is a report from the NYT about the IG's findings. Note the variety of ways that MacDonald found to hollow out the mechanisms that would normally ensure that endangered species be protected—including the no-doubt deliberate suppression of information that would back up the findings of Interior Dept. professionals, so as to invite lawsuits from affected industries.

Their report, sent to Congress this week by the department’s inspector general, does not accuse the official, Julie A. MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, of any crime. But it does find that she violated federal rules when she sent internal agency documents to industry lobbyists...

In recent years, agency lawyers reported, 75 percent of the [Interior Department's] Western offices’ findings on endangered-species status reviews and critical-habitat determinations were sent to Washington without any assurance from career lawyers and biologists that they were valid. Court challenges from both industry and environmentalists are a regular occurrence at the fish and wildlife agency. Making decisions that are vulnerable increases the risk that time-consuming, labor-intensive scientific and regulatory work must be redone...

When the inspector general asked her "why she ignored or discounted" legal opinions from the regional offices, the report said, "MacDonald replied it was a matter of policy, it was what worked best, and it was the result of the risk balancing that takes place" between pursuing policy goals and ensuring decisions have an adequate basis.

She also denied giving preferential treatment to a California Farm Bureau lobbyist who was a friend, or to any of his clients.

The inspector general also found that Ms. MacDonald had sent internal government documents by e-mail to a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation — a property-rights group that frequently challenges endangered-species decisions.

She twice sent internal Environmental Protection Agency documents — one involving water quality management — to individuals whose e-mail addresses ended in "," the report said.

With Bush administration corruption, the new watchword appears to be "Follow the emails!"

Much more information is available from the Union of Concerned Scientists, who have been in the thick of the fight against MacDonald's Interior depredations. They document a series of species whose protection MacDonald interfered with for reasons that may only be described as political. Here, for example, is the hash she made of attempts to protect the Gunnison Sage Grouse:

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usGunnison sage grouse is a distinct species from Greater sage grouse and occurs in eight isolated populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Gunnison sage-grouse have experienced significant declines from historic numbers and only about 4,000 breeding individuals remain.

The Endangered Species Act listing for Gunnison sage grouse was subject to delay and then reversal by Julie MacDonald and other Department of the Interior officials in Washington, DC. After exhaustive scientific study, FWS biologists and regional and field staff prepared to list Gunnison sage-grouse as “endangered” and recommend designation of critical habitat for the species in summer 2006. The agency even drafted media releases to announce the proposed listing. Then, documents show, MacDonald became involved after receiving three telephone calls concerning the proposed listing, including one from the governor of Colorado.

MacDonald first delayed the proposed listing by questioning the science used to designate Gunnison sage grouse as a separate species from Greater sage grouse. She was also involved as the FWS Headquarters required Region 6 (which submitted the listing) to reduce the substantial listing proposal to a mere outline of information—resulting in the removal of much of the text that supported listing the species. Based on the outline, and contrary to the recommendations of FWS biologists, sage grouse experts, and field staff, FWS Headquarters decided not to list the species.

Documents show that the Washington office was extensively involved in drafting the new "not warranted" listing determination, demanding extensive edits to the former listing proposal. FWS biologists made a last attempt to respond to and refute comments pertaining to the distinctness of the species, its historic range, the accuracy of literature cited, and habitat loss and threats to the species, but the new information was disregarded.

With this and other species, the UCS provides links to documentation that the Interior Department coughed up as a result of FOIA requests from activists. UCS calls upon the new head of Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, to reverse the Department's recent record of favoritism toward industry and hostility toward protecting endangered species.

As the new Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne has an opportunity to restore scientific integrity to the highest levels of the Interior Department. He should first address the demonstrated instances of political interference in science by calling for FWS to immediately withdraw the decisions on species where political interference in science has occurred and allow a new scientific review to take place.

Sadly, it appears unlikely that Bush's Interior Department will change its tune. Another report this week based on leaked Interior documents suggests that the Department has been working on plans to systematize the process of hollowing out the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. Here is the WaPo report, based upon a story broken by

The Interior Department is considering a broad revamping of how it protects animals and plants in danger of extinction, including changes that critics contend will reduce the number of species that will be saved.

Details of some of the proposed changes surfaced Tuesday in a number of draft department documents released by environmentalists, who said the changes would amount to a gutting of the federal Endangered Species Act...

One proposed change would narrow when species can be considered in danger of extinction. Currently that is widely interpreted as in some time _ as the statute directs _ "in the foreseeable future." The draft papers suggest a more specific timetable of 20 years for some species and a specific number of generations for others, [EarthJustice attorney Jan] Hasselman said.

"This would severely limit listing of new endangered species," he said.

Also being considered is giving more power to states in creating species recovery plans and in determining what plants and animals get protection, including the ability of governors to block attempts to reintroduce species in their states...

The department also hopes to narrow the geographic range over which a species must be protected. Protection would be limited to a plant or animal's current habitat and not the geographic region it has historically occupied.

Another proposal would allow logging, development and other projects even if they threaten a species, as long as they do not "hasten" its extinction. Environmentalists said currently no projects are allowed if they have any impact on a listed species.

Interior officials paradoxically both defend these proposed changes and deny that they actually represent their current planning. One of the main objects of these nefarious plans, clearly, is to circumscribe any protected habitats so severely that their existence inconveniences almost nobody.

Because the point of the ESA is not, contrary to popular belief, to prevent the extinction of species! Rather, it is to manage the zones in which the species are being extirpated. The larger these habitats are permitted to become, the more likely humans will be affected by having to observe the process of extinction up close.

Imagine, if you will, the last days of the Heath Hen on Martha's Vineyard in the early 20th century. If Bush's Interior Department had been running the show, the island's inhabitants would have been fully protected from the Hens. The last specimens of this species would be hemmed in on the merest corner of the island; loggers would have been permitted to clear cut the rest of Martha's Vineyard; the Governor of Massachusetts would have been permitted to drive away any birds that managed to escape back to the mainland; and an obituary for the last of the Heath Hens ("Ben") would be drawn up and put on file in Boston, in anticipation of his eventual demise a few decades hence (no need to "hasten" it, mind you). In case anybody noticed Ben's disappearance, that is.

crossposted from Unbossed

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  Bisher al-Rawi to be released from Guantanamo

The British Foreign Secretary told Parliament on Thursday that Bisher al-Rawi will be released from the Guantanamo Bay gulag and sent back to Britain. He's been held in monstrous conditions there for four years, and before that at the Baghram Air Force base in Afghanistan, where he states he was tortured. Although he has been declared an 'unlawful enemy combatant' by a Guantanamo tribunal, like nearly all prisoners there he's never been charged and put on trial. His release is an admission that Bisher al-Rawi was guilty of nothing. Rather than being proven a terrorist, "the worst of the worst" as Bush and Cheney frequently claim, he was instead terrorized by the US government.

For four long years.

So who will pay for this injustice? Will the CIA face trial for kidnapping? Will the Army be forced in open court to state precisely how it has been treating these prisoners? Will George W. Bush be removed from office for violating human rights, the Geneva Conventions, US law, and everything that is decent?

Or will Americans pretend that justice has now been served by al-Rawi's release? After four long years?

Or will Americans pretend that justice cannot be served, not against our government, not ever?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usI've written before about this unfortunate man's case. It seems that he once cooperated with MI5 as it investigated a Muslim cleric living in London, Abu Qatada. After Bisher al-Rawi refused to cooperate further with MI5, the British government encouraged the CIA to pick him up while he was abroad, in Gambia, on a business trip. The CIA threatened to abuse him if he did not agree to resume cooperation, and when he again refused, he was dragged off to be tortured first in Baghram, and then in Guantanamo.

I've seen enough of the documentation from his case, sent to me by one of al-Rawi's lawyers (George Brent Mickum), to be able to conclude that his capture and detention were grossly unjust from the start.

However the details of his circumstances should not obscure the more basic point that there are hundreds of others who've been victimized, enslaved, in this system of gulags. And whether any of these had any connections to terrorist organizations, or none at all, is beside the point now. For they've all been held in degrading conditions. They've been mistreated, and most or all have been tortured in one way or another. The US government, then, continues to defile itself by holding these men in captivity. It has no right any longer, if it ever did, to detain these men. These men have been enslaved, and manumitting one of them does not diminish in any degree the culpability of the Bush administration.

Indeed, the release of Bisher al-Rawi looks to be an effort to stave off scrutiny of one of the most outlandish cases of kidnapping by the CIA. As The Independent reports:

Zachary Katznelson, a lawyer for the UK-based charity Reprieve, who has represented the residents during their detention...said he thought the decision to help Mr Rawi was only taken because the Government did not want an embarrassing court case in which Britain's involvement in his capture would have been made public.

The High Court in London has already permitted the disclosure of classified documents linking MI5 to Mr Rawi's arrest.

Mr Katznelson said: "Mr Rawi helped MI5 as an interpreter and acted as a go-between with Abu Qatada [a terror suspect later arrested and detained by the British authorities]. All this would have... been very embarrassing for the government and... MI5."

The Guardian adds:

Bisher al-Rawi's lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, who has visited him in Guantánamo on behalf of the campaign group Reprieve, said that his client's treatment amounted to torture. "We are grateful for British government efforts to secure Bisher's release from the black hole of Guantánamo Bay. However, the British government's job is not done. Nine other British residents remain," he said.

"All but one are kept in constant isolation, living in six by eight foot steel cells, with no windows and unrelenting electric light. One has been on hunger strike for over 100 days - tied down and force-fed twice a day. None of them are charged with a crime. Not one has had a trial."

Edward Davey, Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said: "Bisher al-Rawi is not and has never been a threat to national or international security. His case should be a lesson to us all that when you ignore natural justice, injustice follows."

Our job as American citizens is not done either. Detainee # 902 has been released from Guantanamo at long last. But the marks of injustice, abuse, torture will cling to the nation like a tatoo we may never efface.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

  Pentagon propaganda gets retooled

Three months ago when the last quarterly report on Iraq appeared, I called it blatant propaganda. Released on December 18, the day that Gates took over as Defense Secretary, the report ignored so much information about the deterioration of Iraq, while downplaying, obscuring, and misrepresenting other evidence, that it seemed an insult to the gravity of the situation. Clearly, Bush & Co. still refused to get serious about Iraq. The shallow news coverage the document received also showed that few journalists had bothered to read it.

I anticipated that the very same things would be true of the newest quarterly report, released on the eve of the 4th anniversary of the invasion. To my surprise, however, this report makes rather a show of candor. The results are far from perfect, and certainly disingenuous in some important respects. But, still, it presents a striking contrast to every other Pentagon report to date on the situation in Iraq.


From an archaeological point of view, it would be interesting to dig back through these artifacts, quarter by quarter, to examine and catalogue advances in administration propaganda. But I have little time or patience for that, so I'll take you back directly to the very first report dating from July 2005.

It was such a monstrosity that Senate Democrats produced a response to the Pentagon quarterly report: 'Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq': Report Fails to Level With American People. This DPC response addresses the basic question "whether the Administration is finally providing straight answers" about the situation in Iraq. It's an important point of reference for assessing the Pentagon's attitude, under Rumsfeld, toward these Congressionally mandated reports.

Congress directed that this report be delivered by July 11, 2005. On July 21, after the Senate was forced to pass additional legislation calling for its completion, the Department of Defense (DoD) finally delivered the report.

So much for the DoD respecting its duty to report to Congress on its activities.

The report submitted by DoD included both an unclassified document and a classified annex. The Department claims to have augmented the unclassified document by providing more specific analysis and more detailed metrics than in the classified annex; however, the Department's failure to include this critical information in the unclassified document means that the American people continue to lack essential information about operations in Iraq, and Congress is prevented from having an informed debate on the matter without violating classification security protocols.

It's a cute trick, you have to admit. But the DoD has plenty of more direct ways to suppress information.

Missing content. Congress dictated precise requirements for the content of the report in order to ensure that the Bush Administration was as specific as possible in its analysis of the situation in Iraq. The conference report directed that, at minimum, the Secretary's report should include "the primary indicators of a stable security environment in Iraq, such as number of engagements per day;" "the estimated strength of the Iraqi insurgency;" "the key indicators of economic activity that should be considered as most important for determining the prospects of stability in Iraq, including...hunger and poverty levels;" the estimated total number of Iraqi battalions needed for the Iraqi security forces to perform duties now being undertaken by coalition forces;" and "an assessment of U.S. military requirements, including planned force rotations, through the end of calendar year 2006."

Unfortunately, the unclassified report did not provide nearly the specificity envisioned by Congress. Not a single one of the criteria listed above were addressed in the DoD's report. Instead of a more specific and useful statistic on daily hostile engagements, the report attempts to obscure the ongoing security challenges by reporting an average number of engagements per week measured over several months. And, instead of including any discussion on poverty and hunger levels in Iraq, the DoD chose to include the "healthy rates" of cell phone subscriptions as a more important indicator of economic stability.

Down to the end of the Rumsfeld era, the Pentagon maintained this level of arrogance about excluding some required information and repackaging other evidence in deliberately unhelpful ways. You may recall that I highlighted several such things in my commentary on the December 2006 quarterly report.

In her comments on my post, shirah drew attention to another important aspect of Pentagon legerdemain—misleading metrics. Here in fact is what Senate Democrats had to say about this very aspect of the first quarterly report from July 2005:

In addition to ignoring the directions of Congress to include certain key indicators, many of the performance standards set forth by the Bush Administration in the DoD's report set the bar so low as to be ineffective as metrics by which to judge U.S. success.

The Democrats then list a series of necessary metrics that the Pentagon report either omits or grossly trivializes, for example...

Security standards fail to provide a baseline by which to judge:

  • The size and strength of the insurgency

  • The effectiveness of their attacks

  • Civilian casualties

  • Development of new terrorists

  • The extent of militia operations

The rest of the Democratic response addresses the failure of the quarterly report "to Provide Honest Analysis of On-The-Ground Realities". It catalogues to "several claims that are at odds with independent reports regarding conditions on the ground in Iraq." The observations are acute, for example...

Despite nominal adherence to an artificial political timeline, the security situation on the ground remains grave and, increasingly, involved parties are expressing concerns about civil or sectarian conflict...And while reports of all-out civil war may be premature, it is clear that the insurgency continues to pose serious security challenges without any tangible sign of diminished strength. Another troublesome development: the CIA now believes that Iraq is the world's number one haven and training ground for international terrorists. (Washington Post, 1/14/05) This report leaves this issue unanalyzed -- a glaring and fundamental omission.


A year and a half later, nearly all the complaints raised by Senate Democrats about the first DoD quarterly report on Iraq remained relevant. Indeed last December, unaware of that 2005 response from Senate Democrats, I voiced similar objections about the latest installment of Pentagon double-talk.

The new Secretary of Defense, by contrast, evidently thinks he needs at least the appearance of credibility. His first quarterly report, rather strikingly, addresses several critical subjects excluded from earlier reports. It is much more detailed. Above all it seems vastly more candid than Rumsfeld's reports, and in some ways it is.

As you would expect, all this candor and the appearance of candor is harnessed to some Bush administration goals. It's a subtle balancing act that Gates has performed in the quarterly report. In another post tomorrow I'll explore what his Pentagon is doing differently, and what the object of retooling its propaganda appears to be.

crossposted from Unbossed

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

  Supporting the troops passive-aggressively

Sickening spectacle this weekend as apologists for George Bush seek to excuse the unprovoked invasion of Iraq four years ago—by putting his critics on the defensive. It appears to me that the news media, ever eager to distract from its own culpability, has played along by pretending that the nation is divided about the Iraq War.

The problem though is that Americans have turned against the war decisively. So how do you smear the majority of the public? Now that wrapping oneself in the flag has lost its cachet, and only a few fools continue to believe that we are "winning" the civil war, cheerleaders have to resort to increasingly desperate ploys.

The favorite mind game is to bitch and moan that critics are careless of the troops and their families. A shred of human decency, it's implied, and they'd know enough to keep their mouths shut. But all recklessly, Bush's critics are undermining troop morale.

That's a self-actuating justification, wouldn't you know. Criticism becomes more intense the more Bush's war falls apart, which thus validates the charge that war critics are to blame by not "supporting the troops".


How often do journalists, rather than parroting that nonsense, instead point out that none of the cheerleaders' assumptions makes the slightest sense?

  • That they can't claim to know what affects troop morale in Iraq

  • That the insecurity in Iraq is due to the administration's own policies, not to criticisms of Bush

  • That the fiasco came to fruition in a period in which public criticism of Bush's policies was muted and oversight by the Republican Congress virtually non-existent

  • That there are several ways in which the Bush administration demonstrably has failed to "support" the troops, and that these are specific rather than vaguely defined failures

  • That critics would scarcely endure years of demonization from Bush's supporters for speaking out, if they did not care about the troops' welfare

Obvious points all, but you won't see many journalists raising them. For who wants to take responsibility for demolishing the last refuge of Republican partisans? Even-handedness, it seems, requires the media to permit fantasists their fantasies.


And with reality threatening every day to intrude upon the cherished fantasy, Bush's supporters have turned to the tools of passive-aggression. A classic of this type was printed today as an op-ed in the Morning Call, written by the aunt of a Pennsylvania Marine killed last month in Iraq. I'll grant you that grief affects people in unpredictable ways. Yet this is truly an obnoxious, and characteristic, attack upon the war's critics:

I am writing because I need to let the citizens of the United States know that I support our troops over in Iraq. Whether or not we agree with this war, let it be known, that our troops are fighting for the freedoms that we take for granted.

Twin themes, both of them false—that war critics don't "support" our troops, and that the troops are fighting in Iraq for our freedom.

They are feeling that we in America are not behind them, and I agree with them. We have people who talk against the war and do not realize our soldiers take this personally, and feel it is directed at them. If you do not agree with the war, that is your right. However, you have this right to disagree or protest because of soldiers who are fighting for that right, just as our forefathers fought for freedom.

I'm astounded to learn that my right to protest was ever in question, and even more that I have the right because of the invasion of Iraq. The only possible reason for making such absurd claims is to set up the Republican talking-point that the only acceptable way to exercise the right to criticize the government is by not exercising it.

There are Marines in Iraq that feel this way. We need to stand behind our military and put aside our feelings on this because we are lowering the morale of the soldiers. They feel alone and that no one cares. But, our soldiers do have people here who care and are willing to stand up with them and for them. Most of them do not question why they are there.

A series of wild assertions, or I should say, thinly veiled accusations. I particularly enjoy the notion that troops we've sent into the midst of a civil war are not in any way troubled by that, but regularly sit on their bunks sobbing because people back home are expressing divergent opinions about the war. It's not the death and mayhem in Iraq, the deteriorating conditions, the administration lies, or the receding horizons, that shake up our soldiers and sailors. It's the pointed op-eds back home that really crush morale.


I suppose in 21st century America it's considered gauche to ask that people inform themselves of some relevant history before delivering their pronouncements about, say, attitudes toward civilians among veterans of long wars. You wouldn't have to look back very far, however, to find evidence that soldiers can grow deeply cynical after years of war. Alienation from the citizens back home becomes especially likely when, as happened during the First World War, civilians mindlessly accept the government's propaganda about how well the war is going and how gung-ho the soldiers are. European troops felt this alienation more profoundly than Americans because of the limited duration of our involvement in that war. But the fact is that a generation of young survivors felt contempt for the civilians back home with their fantasies about the "Great War".

In other words, if Americans choose to buy all the happy-talk from Bush & Co., we'll virtually guarantee that large numbers of returning vets will feel unable to re-integrate fully into society. Is that what the Republican talking-points aim for? An infantilized population that can't or won't seriously face up to the implications of warfare?

If this op-ed is any indication, that's what the propaganda has achieved. For after complaining about those who criticize the Bush administration's conduct of the war, the author concludes by complaining that troops in Iraq are poorly equipped.

Doesn't anyone out there really care what happens to these men and women who put their lives on the line everyday?

Has the author given the slightest thought to who has been trying to force Bush & Co. to remedy the equipment shortages and failures? Does she imagine it is the Tinkerbell wing ('clap-louder') of the Republican Party? Or could it possibly be the critics she accuses of undermining morale by ignoring all those schools being built in Iraq? The ones who insist, you know, on criticizing the administration's screw ups?


The early 1970s witnessed plenty of unprincipled attacks upon public figures who had had the bad taste to warn against the Vietnam fiasco early and often. Those who were most complicit in the war were desperate to paint the war critics as dangerous fools, at a minimum, if not cowardly and unpatriotic. The same cycle has already begun to repeat itself.

If there ever was any doubt that the war's critics would come in for sustained and ruthless attacks, in an effort to distract from the real responsibility for the mess in Iraq, then the letter printed today by Dear Abby ought to put those doubts to rest.

The author, a certain "Katrina" from Fayetteville NC, complains that somebody posted a rude comment about military wives on My Space, and from this she generalizes that all military wives are under attack by war critics.

Lately, more and more people are openly speaking out against the war in Iraq, as is their right.

Once again the self-congratulatory willingness to permit people to speak their minds...even openly...turns out to be a prelude to whacking them down for being heartless or cruel.

However, people are also speaking out against soldiers, and now, even their wives.

Which people? The author claims to know of only a single commenter on line, and yet Jeanne Phillips can't even be bothered to verify the truth of that one alleged incident. The letter concludes:

Our men fight for the rights some people take for granted. Please keep that in mind.

And again, the ridiculous insinuation that the war in Iraq is being fought to guarantee the right of free speech, a right that war critics abuse. Phillips falls all over herself endorsing the author's views:

I am pleased to help you get the message across. But please do not stop with me. Spread the word on any site you feel the need to...

It can't be long before Dear Abby begins running apocryphal stories about returning Iraq vets being spit upon at anti-war rallies. Democrats in Congress, we'll also be told, kicked the crutches out from under their arms. And I shudder to think what bloggers will be exposed for having done to the orphans and widows of vets. As the war-supporters feel themselves most vulnerable, you can be sure the propaganda will become ever nastier.


A note in closing for Journalists: The American public for a long time has been in no doubt that invading Iraq was foolish and destructive. The nation is not divided against itself, much less against its military.

It's the GOP that is divided about whether to face up to reality. When you report on war cheerleaders, please tell us where they stand inside the fractured Republican Party. Because their positions are about partisan politics, not about patriotism or any concern about "supporting the troops".

crossposted from Unbossed

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Friday, March 16, 2007

  White House cover-ups erode before our eyes

It's stunning the pace at which the administration's cover-ups are crumbling. In the first six years of Bush's rule, his only policy achievements were in the fields of public deception, stone-walling, and cover-ups. Now even that modest measure of success is all gone.


Yesterday we saw the cover pulled back from yet another potential case of obstruction of justice by Bush. It concerns the NSA's illegal program of spying on Americans without court-approved warrants. It is a constitutional crisis that Bush & Co. perhaps thought it had put to bed two months ago by announcing (abruptly) that it would resume obeying the FISA law.

But as Bush could have learned from an earlier king, Oedipus of Thebes, what starts out badly usually ends less well no matter how many regrets one may have.

Congressional investigations last winter and spring into the NSA program were truly stymied. Republicans were in a mood to stone-wall and Democrats could not get any real information about what the NSA was doing. The Acting Inspector General of the Defense Department, Thomas Gimble, declined a Congressional request to investigate because, he said, the NSA Inspector General was "already actively reviewing aspects of that program"—an investigation which never came to anything. Several Democrats in the House also asked the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility to open an investigation. But this was shut down after the DOJ officials on the case were denied clearances to review the classified information in April.

At first the head of OPR, H. Marshall Jarrett, refused to explain to Congress who had turned down the request for clearances, which routinely would have been granted. On June 8, Jarrett wrote to the Democrats who had requested the investigation that he could not identify who made the decision because to do so "would require me to disclose client confidences and internal Justice Department deliberations, which I am precluded from doing."

Finally in July 2006 Alberto Gonzales, pressured to explain to the Senate Judiciary Committee who had taken the decision to deny necessary clearances to the investigators, revealed that it was George Bush. But the DOJ continued to pretend, as before, that the decision was based on national-security considerations. As the Deputy Attorney General wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 27, 2006:

The president decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for nonoperational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [terrorist surveillance program] increases the risk that national security may be compromised.

Yesterday, we learned from Murray Waas that the truth is very different. First, it turns out that when members of Congress pressed Jarrett for an explanation, his superiors in DOJ told him to cover-up the truth:

[Rep. Maurice] Hinchey and other Democratic House members asked Jarrett why he was unable to obtain the necessary clearances; Jarrett's superiors, according to government records and to interviews, instructed him not to inform Congress that President Bush had made the decision.

Second, we learn that the OPR probe, had it gone forward, would almost certainly have been investigating Alberto Gonzales for his role in the warrantless spy program.

Sources familiar with the halted inquiry said that if the probe had been allowed to continue, it would have examined Gonzales's role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general.

And third, we learn that after Gonzales discovered that he would be a focus of the investigation, he advised Bush on the question of whether the clearances should be granted to the OPR investigators.

In short, depending upon what Gonzales said to Bush in that meeting, one or both men may have engaged in obstruction of justice.

Both the White House and Gonzales declined comment on two issues -- whether Gonzales informed Bush that his own conduct was about to be scrutinized, and whether he urged the president to close down the investigation...

Current and former Justice Department officials, as well as experts in legal ethics, question the propriety of Gonzales's continuing to advise Bush about the investigation after learning that it might examine his own actions. The attorney general, they say, was remiss if he did not disclose that information to the president. But if Gonzales did inform Bush about the possibility and the president responded by stymieing the probe, that would raise even more-serious questions as to whether Bush acted to protect Gonzales, they said.


Even if Bush & Co. could do nothing else right, they used to be able to keep a veil pulled over their politicization of every last corner of the Executive branch. Their stone-walling used to hold firm. When the WH stiff-armed the Congress, they could offer any old explanation, or none at all, without suffering the consequences.

Consider for example their remarkable success in rebuffing Nancy Pelosi's request last winter for a list of the members of Congress who had been briefed on the NSA illegal wiretap program. When Pelosi refused to be fobbed off with evasions, the WH simply drew up such a list, classified it, and refused to grant her permission to see it. The stunt was a piece of absurdist comedy, as I remarked. But did reporters turn it into a damaging scandal? Did the WH pay any penalty for its egregious cover-up? I don't remember the slightest peep raised in public protest.

Now, though, it seems there's a fair chance that any given ploy by Bush & Co. is almost bound explode in their faces.


The firing of several US Attorneys for political reasons is one such ploy. On Tuesday of this week, I rather enjoyed the spectacle of the administration selectively leaking official emails. The leaked emails purported to show that (i) the firings grew out of an innocent proposal in early 2005 to replace all 93 US Attorneys; and (ii) the proposal was the brainchild of the former WH Counsel, Harriet Miers.

Oddly, these were leaked to the Washington Post before being handed over to Congress.

The White House suggested two years ago that the Justice Department fire all 93 U.S. attorneys, a proposal that eventually resulted in the dismissals of eight prosecutors last year, according to e-mails and internal documents that the administration will provide to Congress today...

Lawmakers requested the documents as part of an investigation into whether the firings were politically motivated. While it is unclear whether the documents, which were reviewed yesterday by The Washington Post, will answer Congress's questions, they show that the White House and other administration officials were more closely involved in the dismissals, and at a much earlier date, than they have previously acknowledged.

At the time, it seemed almost certain that the WH was leaking emails to the Post selectively in order to spin the story to its liking. Bush must fear above all a charge of obstruction of justice in these cases, because several of the fired Attorneys had been investigating Bush's Republican allies and donors. What Tuesday's Post story did, by a most striking coincidence, was insulate Bush from the allegation of obstructing justice because: (i) the first plan was to sack everybody; and (ii) Bush had nothing to do with the plan initially.

Indeed, the Post story also insulated Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales in a splashy way. Both men are under intense criticism because of this scandal:

But the documents and interviews indicate that the idea for the firings originated at least two years ago, when then-White House counsel Harriet E. Miers suggested to Sampson in February 2005 that all prosecutors be dismissed and replaced.
Gonzales rejected that idea as impractical and disruptive, Justice officials said, but over the next 22 months Sampson orchestrated more limited dismissals...

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that "it doesn't appear the president was told about a list nor shown a list" of U.S. attorneys at any point in the discussions. She said White House political adviser Karl Rove had an early conversation with Miers about the idea of firing all chief prosecutors and did not think it was wise...

"White House officials including the president did not direct DOJ to take any specific action with regards to any specific U.S. attorney."

The Post article threw several people to the wolves—most prominently Miers and Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' Chief of Staff—but it seemed to leave Bush, Rove, and Gonzales in the clear. The last statement quoted from Perino almost perfectly sums up the deception. How could US Attorneys be fired, except with the say so of the President? It is a classic cover-up from this administration, utterly preposterous, and in an earlier time, that is where things would have ended.

By Thursday, Rove felt confident enough to assert publicly that the decision on firing the Attorneys was taken by the DOJ "on the basis of policy and personnel", and that "people want to play politics with" the issue.

But things didn't end this time with the WH sneering at its critics. Other emails came out on Thursday afternoon, and as it happens, they paint a different picture of WH involvement.

New unreleased e-mails from top administration officials show that the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than the White House previously acknowledged. The e-mails also show how Alberto Gonzales discussed the idea of firing the attorneys en masse while he was still White House counsel -- weeks before he was confirmed as attorney general.

The e-mails put Rove at the epicenter of the imbroglio and raise questions about Gonzales' explanations of the matter.
The White House said Thursday night that the e-mails did not contradict the previous statements about former White House counsel Harriet Miers' role.

That was an interesting interpretation of the facts. On Tuesday, Tony Snow had told reporters that the idea to fire 93 Attorneys had been Miers' alone, and that DOJ rejected the idea quickly.

The [new] e-mail exchange is dated more than a month before the White House acknowledged it was considering firing all the U.S. attorneys...The latest e-mails show that Gonzales and Rove were both involved in the discussion, and neither rejected it out of hand.

This time, the absurd argument didn't hold up to scrutiny for long. By Friday afternoon the WH had changed its story:

The White House on Friday backed off its earlier contention that then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers first raised the idea of firing U.S. attorneys — an act that led to a firestorm of criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

“It has been described as her idea but ... I don’t want to try to vouch for origination,” said White House press secretary Tony Snow, who previously had asserted Miers was the person who came up with the idea. “At this juncture, people have hazy memories.”...

“This is as far as we can go: we know that Karl recollects Harriet having raised it and his recollection is that he dismissed it as not a good idea,” Snow told reporters. “That’s what we know. We don’t know motivations. ... I don’t think it’s safe to go any further than that.”

Asked if Bush himself might have suggested the firings, Snow said, “Anything’s possible ... but I don’t think so.” He said Bush “certainly has no recollection of any such thing. I can’t speak for the attorney general.

“I want you to be clear here: don’t be dropping it at the president’s door,” Snow said.

What about dropping it at Rove's door? From the Associated Press:

A midday e-mail between two White House staffers, dated Jan. 6, 2005, was titled, "Question from Karl Rove."

"Karl Rove stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting), 'How we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.,'" Colin Newman, a legal aide in the White House counsel's office, wrote deputy counsel David Leitch.

Leitch immediately forwarded that message to Sampson. Three days later, on Jan. 9, Sampson sent back a lengthy reply.

"Judge and I discussed briefly a couple of weeks ago," Sampson wrote, referring to Gonzales, a former Texas state Supreme Court justice. He said the Justice Department was looking at replacing "underperforming" prosecutors. "The vast majority of U.S. Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc.," he said.

Sampson noted that, at the time, all 93 prosecutors were in the middle of their terms. "Although they serve at the pleasure of the President, it would be weird to ask them to leave before completing at least a 4-year term," he wrote.

Darn. That appears to wreck every last talking-point that the WH has promulgated, expose every deception, and blow everybody's cover.

Funny, that email exchange didn't make it earlier this week into the hands of the Post reporters.

Even funnier, when the email did emerge, journalists actually reported on its implications regarding the WH cover-up. It must be hard nowadays for Bush & Co. to predict how these kinds of things will turn out. Suddenly, everything is wide-open.

crossposted at Unbossed

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  The Walter Reed scandal bites back

The scandalous disregard of the vets being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has served to crystalize public perceptions of what is wrong with the Bush administration. For many Americans, it's become almost impossible to believe any longer that their policies take any real account of the concerns of vets. In the news today, I find two measures of this great sea-change in public attitudes.

The best news is that the House, in open revolt against the military legacy of Bush and Rumsfeld, has reversed the decision to close WRAMC taken in 2005 by Rumsfeld's Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Secondly, one aspect of the Congressional investigations of Walter Reed demonstrates that no part of its operations is any longer beyond scrutiny. The VIP suites at WRAMC, primarily reserved for politicians, are now under investigation.

In other words, the gloves are off.


Here is what the Washington Post has to say about the vote in the House today:

The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a measure yesterday that bars the closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, an action supporters say will reverse plans to shut the hospital in 2011.

The provision, attached to a bill with additional funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, blocks the use of any federal money to close Walter Reed.

Keeping open a base that has been chosen for closure by the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Commission would be unprecedented. The system creating an independent commission to make such decisions was adopted by Congress to prevent political interference with base closures.

You'll recall that last Friday, as I commented here, Bush & Co. sent a request to the House for an additional $3.1 billion (to come out of domestic programs). Bush claimed in his letter to Pelosi that the money would be used (solely) to fund base closings. It turned out, in fact, that some of the money was intended to fund the Iraq war. Be that as it may, the attempt to play Congress for fools over BRAC may have prompted the Appropriations Committee to take the remarkable step of reversing the controversial decision of 2005 to close Walter Reed.

Although the full House has not yet voted on the question, we're told that the eventual result will be that Walter Reed will remain open. Elearnor Holmes Norton describes the matter as "a done deal". Certainly there appears to be bipartisan support for keeping WRAMC open.

[Rep. James] Moran said the committee's action yesterday will be sufficient. "What they're saying is BRAC is sacrosanct, and a lot of us don't believe that's the case," Moran said. "If this unravels BRAC, too bad."

The language specifies that "none of the funds in this or any other Act may be used to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center."

The Army's decision to privatize some of the services at WRAMC, to hand them over to IAP and then to just watch as things fell apart as a result of the contract, cannot be fully understood without taking account of the deeper issue—that the Army was planning on abandoning WRAMC entirely within a few years. So the House Committee's action today is a fundamental rejection of the Bush administration's overall policies toward Walter Reed, and you might even say, toward veterans' care generally.

As the tenor of James Moran's comment indicates, House members are in a confrontational mood. The appropriations bill also includes timetables for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, and that is long overdue as well.


Another measure of how much the WRAMC scandal has shaken up politics as usual in DC is the fact that the House is now investigating whether money is being squandered on VIP suites at Walter Reed, the very suites that members of Congress and other 'very important' politicians have long benefited from. From a report in USA Today:

House investigators are asking "if the allocations of resources is in any way adversely impacting the treatment of the troops," Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., told USA TODAY in response to inquiries about the six-suite ward. Tierney leads a House subcommittee investigating allegations of poor care at Walter Reed...

The large, comfortable suites on the hospital's top floor are reserved for the president, the vice president, federal judges, members of Congress and the Cabinet, high-ranking military officials and even foreign dignitaries and their spouses. The only enlisted members of the military who are eligible to stay there are recipients of the Medal of Honor.

The suites have carpeted floors, antique furniture and fine china in the dining rooms. That's a stark contrast to mold- and mice-ridden housing that some wounded troops had been found to be living in...

The Eisenhower Executive Nursing Suite, also known as Ward 72, features heightened security, including bullet-proof windows and secure telephone lines. Among the other touches are flat-panel televisions and curio cabinets filled with gifts from foreign leaders.

This is where Sen. Strom Thurmond ended his days. You can bet that the mice are kept at bay. A few of those who stand to benefit from the VIP suites, showing a tin ear, have rushed to defend them. I think this story is going to bite them all, however. It perfectly encapsulates the arrogance that the government has shown toward the vets who have borne the brunt of the politicians' foolish and unnecessary war in Iraq.

In any case, I'm pretty certain that the fact that Congress is even looking into whether Walter Reed's resources are being squandered on VIP suites is itself a mark of the nation's deep dissatisfaction with the government's shabby treatment of vets.

crossposted from Unbossed

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

  Force Bush's hand on Iraq - Raise Taxes

Democrats in Congress continue to run in circles trying to find a way to rein in the Bush administration's open-ended commitment to more of the same in Iraq. The proposals become more and more round-about, week by week, as leaders search for a compromise that can get through both chambers, that won't be subject to a filibuster in the Senate or a veto from Bush. There's also much hand-wringing about the need to limit any initiatives to Congress' power of the purse, so as not to step upon the Executive's Constitutional authority.

It seems to me that they've narrowed their focus so radically so quickly that nothing will be enacted. In any case, the leadership has repeatedly tied its own hands by stripping proposals of real teeth. For example, Murtha's proposal to require that all troops sent to Iraq are fully rested, equipped and trained. It would thwart Bush's escalation by concentrating attention on this awkward fact--troops in all manner of unreadiness are being shipped out. Rather than face up to that fact, Republicans and a few 'Blue Dog' Democrats (plus Sen. Lieberman, whatever he is now) demand instead that Bush be permitted to waive this requirement if he determines that it's necessary to send unready troops. This is the very President who's been sending unready troops to Iraq up until now, even badly wounded troops.

So if any bill does make it to Bush's desk, at this stage it looks like it will be merely symbolic. But symbolic of what? Of the slim Democratic majority's ability to force Bush's hand? Or of their unwillingness to grasp the nettle? Because surely, if the problem is one of political chess, then there are bold moves that could put the oppenents of withdrawal on the defensive now and permanently.

The best tactics in the short and long term usually are those that hew to the heart of the matter. And the unpleasant truth is that this war has been sold to America from the start as one that will be easy. The agony and horror have been swept from the public eye. The longterm damage to US interests has been the subject of silence. And the costs have been excluded from public reckoning.

Hence any viable solution to Bush's determination to pursue more of the same in Iraq ought to strike at the carefully cultivated image that the Iraq war is nearly painless.

The most effective step, then, would be for Congress to raise taxes to pay for the ongoing war.

Indeed, since George Bush calls the super-rich his political "base", I would urge Democrats to bring forth a bill that would roll back Bush's tax cuts on the wealthy. This war continues to require supplemental appropriations, and as I commented on Sunday, the latest escalations in Iraq were coordinated with new appeals to Congress for more funds. This time, it's as clear as day that Bush wants to fund the war at the expense of domestic programs.

Democrats should demand, therefore, that from here on the administration's war of occupation in Iraq has to be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis. They should refuse to pile up any further the already huge mountain of debt for Iraq. They should refuse to eliminate domestic programs to feed Bush's war fever.

Instead, they should require that those who are most able to pay for this war, do pay for this, not some 20 or 30 years from now. And for every escalation, for every request from Bush for supplemental funding for the war, Democrats should raise taxes on the rich further.

Will the rich squawk that they shouldn't have to give up their tax breaks? You betcha.

Will they denounce Congress? You betcha.

Will they have some things to say to Bush as well about ending the occupation sooner rather than later? What do you think?

Now, some would argue that Republicans and Bush in particular would fight such a bill tooth and nail. And indeed they might. It's political suicide though. The American public isn't about to buy the argument that the deficit has to continue to balloon; or that actually requiring Bush to think about the cost of the war while sending ever more troops to Iraq would be out of bounds.

No, I think a filibuster of such a bill in the Senate would doom the Republicans in the '08 elections. Most Americans would cheer the Democrats for taking a firm and principled stance.

And a veto from Bush? A real possibility, though you can bet it would sharpen a lot of minds for Republicans in Congress, as they ponder how they'll explain to voters their refusal to pay for a war that they want to allow to continue.

In any case, Democrats should make clear that any veto from Bush would mean that he won't get any further funds. Either he's forced to accept tax increases on the wealthy, or he loses the funding for his war without end.

Whichever choice Bush (or Republicans in Congress) were to make, it would bring the US occupation of Iraq that much closer to an end.

Do you think your Member of Congress could be persuaded to get behind such a proposal? I know that mine would hate it. He's a Republican, and a longtime apologist for the Iraq war. But your own might just like the idea.

crossposted from Unbossed

Sunday, March 11, 2007

  White House Document Dump: An Iraq War shell-game

George Bush pulled another fast one on Friday, though so far the whole thing has gone unnoticed. It's a classic Bush & Co. document dump, with a twist.

Bush is traveling abroad, while his administration is rocked by one major scandal after another, and the escalation in Iraq just rescalated. What better time then to get some Awkward News out? This Awkward News happens to concern the military budget.

The twist here is that in the letter Bush sent to Nancy Pelosi asking Congress to give the DOD more money, he gave a seriously misleading account of what he planned to do with it all. In the letter, Bush claims that the money is needed for base closures. The truth of the matter emerges only once you examine a document sent along with that letter.

And the truth is that Bush wants to cut billions of dollars from domestic programs partly in order to pay for troop deployments in Iraq.

Here is the first letter from Bush to Pelosi, regarding proposed cuts to domestic programs, from 3/9/07 (emphasis mine):

I ask the Congress to consider the enclosed FY 2007 request to cancel $3.1 billion of funding from lower-priority Federal programs and excess funds. This request would offset fully the funds needed to address the $3.1 billion FY 2007 funding shortfall for the Department of Defense to implement the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The proposed cancellations would affect the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, and Transportation, as well as the Corps of Engineers.

The details of this request are set forth in the enclosed letter from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

I'll return to the grisly details of what Bush proposes to cut from domestic programs in order (as he claims here) to fully fund the base closures that were rammed through in 2005. You'll recall that this was another of Rumsfeld's hare-brained schemes. Rumsfeld claimed improbably that the military could save nearly $50 billion by closing military bases en masse. Instead, these closures are turning out to be of dubious value, as more credible people had predicted.

In questioning the Pentagon's estimate on savings, the commission has pointed to its own analysis as well as a report by the Government Accountability Office that found upfront costs will total $24 billion.

That report said eliminating jobs held by military personnel would make up about half of the Pentagon's projected annual recurring savings. It also said much of that money would not be available for other uses because the jobs — and salaries — simply would be relocated.

"It doesn't appear to us the savings are real," Phillip Coyle, a commissioner and former assistant secretary of defense, told officials.

The DOD has in fact been budgeting billions every year to pay for the initial base closings:

The Defense Department's proposed $379.9 billion fiscal 2004 budget suggests the Pentagon will close or realign as many as 25 percent of all bases during the next round of base closures in 2005.

The proposed budget lays out a six-year spending plan that calls for spending $2.97 billion on base closures in fiscal 2006, $5.26 billion in fiscal 2007, and $2.25 billion in fiscal 2008.

But now, Bush tells Pelosi, DOD needs another $3.1 billion dollars alone for 2007...just to supplement the base-closure budget.


As it turns out, though, that's not quite the whole truth. Wander on over to the Office of Management and Budget, and you'll find a copy of the enclosure that Bush directed OMB to send along with the letter to Pelosi (PDF).

Submitted for your consideration is an FY 2007 request to cancel $3.1 billion of funding from lower-priority Federal programs and excess funds. These proposals would offset fully funds needed to address the $3.1 billion FY 2007 funding shortfall for the Department of Defense (DOD) to implement the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. These funds are necessary for DOD to continue scheduled redeployments of military personnel and their families from overseas stations to the United States and support the training, mobilization and deployment of military forces in support of the Global War on Terror. In addition, these funds are required to maintain the legislated schedule for BRAC realignments and closures, which is important to communities that have already made specific plans and commitments.

The statement is clear as mud, don't you know, but my understanding of the phrase I've emphasized is that the administration is slipping an additional purpose into the package. Some of this will be used for BRAC (presumably), but the big pot of $3.1 billion is also going to be siphoned off to pay for the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Funny that the President didn't mention that in his letter to Pelosi.


So what domestic programs does the OMB suggest taking an ax to? The document goes on to list them. I'll highlight a few of the suggested cuts, to give you an idea of what this endless war in the Middle East is doing for America. Remember that the administration considers these things to be 'excess'.

Proposed cuts (in millions of dollars)

  • Dept. of Agriculture, $245.3, including cuts from the Rural Business Enterprise Grants and Hatch Act Formula Funds (given to State Agricultural Experiment Stations)

  • Dept. of Commerce, $79.1, from the Advanced Technology Program

  • Dept. of Education, $891.7, including cuts from Career and Technical Education State Grants, from Tech-Prep State Grants, and from the family literacy program Even Start

  • Dept. of Energy, $200 from the Environmental Management program

  • HHS, $118 from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

  • HUD, $740 from Community Development Block Grants

  • Dept. of Interior, $77.3, including cuts from the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Education Construction program and from the Land and Water Conservation Fund State Grants program

  • Dept. of Transportation, $670, mostly in cuts from grants for passenger rail service

These cuts show you clearly where this administration's priorities are, and they are not where people live, and work, and strive to make better lives for themselves. With bird flu a looming threat, it's time to cut funds from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. With states' budgets sinking under the weight of unfunded educational mandates imposed by the 'education President', the way to pay for deployments to Iraq is to cut close to a billion dollars from educational grant programs. With oil and gasoline prices soaring, the rational way to plan for the nation's energy and transportation needs is to cut back on passenger rail service.

How does the Bush administration justify these cuts? Not very persuasively, I suppose I'd say. Here for example is its reasoning for cutting Hatch Act funds:

The proposal would cancel $130.0 million from the Hatch Act formula grant program, which provides funding to land grant universities...The Administration has consistently emphasized that funding through peer-reviewed competitive research programs generates the highest quality research, and therefore believes that providing significant amounts of additional funding to statutorily-derived formula programs is not the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.

You get the impression that nobody at the upper reaches of this administration attended a land-grant university. There's an awful lot of 'because-we-say-so' in these justifications.

The proposal would cancel $740.0 million from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. This program was proposed to be reduced in the President's FY 2007 and FY 2008 Budgets, and P.L. 110-5 provides funding significantly above these requests. The current CDBG program is not well-targeted and program results have not been adequately demonstrated or reported. The Administration continues to support CDBG legislative reforms, similar to the CDBG Reform Act, which was transmitted to the Congress in May 2006.

And get a load of what people who own rambling estates think of publicly-owned parks:

The proposal would cancel $28.0 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund State grants program in the National Park Service. The program provides grants to States for land acquisition and improvements to State and local parks. No funds for this program were requested in the FYs 2006, 2007, or 2008 President's Budgets on the grounds that paying to improve State and local parks are decisions better left to State and local taxpayers.

In its details and overall, this is an obnoxious proposal from OMB, but it drives home exactly what this foolish invasion of Iraq has meant to our common wealth. No wonder this stinker from Bush came as a Friday document dump. It will be interesting to see whether Congressional Democrats even treat it as meriting serious discussion.


As I suggested above, there was a second letter from Bush to Pelosi on Friday, this one requesting that an unspecified amount of money be reallocated within the pending DOD budget. As the OMB enclosure (PDF) with that letter reveals, Bush is asking to shift $3.2 billion around, the great majority to fund operations in Iraq and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. A relatively small amount, $50 million, will go toward improving the health care for veterans.

The $3.2 billion is to come from a variety of less important lines in the DOD budget—that is to say, things "not associated with Iraq and Afghanistan".

In addition, Bush asks for permission to raise the ceiling by $3.5 billion in what he is authorized to transfer within the DOD budget. The purpose, again, is to fund the Iraq war.

All of this goes to underline the point that emerges from the first letter to Pelosi: That the Iraq War is bankrupting the US and increasingly desperate budgetary measures have to be employed just to maintain the appearance that the Bush administration has things under control.

The long-term damage to our military's readiness, both in personnel and in materiel, will be profound. The drain upon our finances, regrettably, may be even more difficult to repair. And if this administration has any say in the matter, all of this will be cloaked from the public for as long as possible.

crossposted from Unbossed

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  Washington Post notices the Walter Reed privatization scandal

More than a week ago, blogs (especially Unbossed) helped to bring public attention to the role that IAP's contract at Walter Reed Army Medical Center played in the neglect of wounded soldiers there. On Saturday, the Washington Post finally got around to examining the issue. There have been a few stray mentions of the IAP contract in WaPo stories in the past, but overall the paper of record in DC had ignored or downplayed the issue.

So how deep does WaPo dig into the IAP scandal this time? Not very. You would learn little from the article that you didn't already know from reading the posts here and at Unbossed over the last week.

The Post does add this one detail, which we've not mentioned so far:

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was Walter Reed's commander until he was relieved last week, testified this week that the privatization -- in combination with a decision by the Pentagon in 2005 to close Walter Reed by 2011 -- "absolutely" contributed to the problems.

But on the whole, the article is supremely thin on specifics. Even worse, it plays the game of attributing nearly all criticisms of IAP to those who may be accused of having a bias in the matter.

Some Democratic lawmakers have questioned the decision to hire IAP Worldwide Services, a contractor with connections to the Bush administration and to KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary...

Yesterday, the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers union, blamed pressure on the Army from the White House's Office of Management and Budget for the decision to privatize its civilian workforce.

"Left to its own devices, the Army would likely have suspended this privatization effort," John Gage, president of the organization, said in a statement. "However, the political pressure from OMB left Army officials with no choice but to go forward, even if that resulted in unsatisfactory care to the nation's veterans."

As we've reported here, last year there was bipartisan support in Congress for stopping the IAP contract in its tracks. As we've also reported here, quite a few military people wanted to stop it--including the last two commanders at Walter Reed.

And while AFGE has been a leader in fighting this monstrous contract, it would have been far more to the point if the WaPo had simply cited the documentary evidence from the Army for what John Gage is telling them. There's a lot of documentary evidence related to this story--including the Waxman/Tierney letter from last week--but none of it gets mentioned in this story.

The WaPo article also avoids the fundamental issues. Although it does mention the re-opening of the A-76 bidding process in a way that favored IAP, it gives little impression of how egregious the manipulation was. This is the full extent of the information provided; you be the judge of whether the WaPo has glossed over the ugly truth:

After IAP protested, Army auditors ruled that the cost estimates offered by in-house federal workers were too low. They had to submit a new bid, which added 23 employees and $16 million to their cost, according to the Army.

Above all, the article fails to put this incident in the context of the privatizing mania that the Bush administration has created since 2003. Without that context, what does the story amount to? A single, perhaps ill-advised, contract that somehow or other went bad.

Having started off rather weakly, the article then trails off into a toothless description of IAP's expression of a "sense of urgency" regarding WRAMC, and IAP's other government contracts. You wouldn't gather from this article that IAP has a well-established record of incompetence if not indifference in its government contracts. No mention at all, indeed, of IAP's notorious failure to deliver ice to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina!

In short, the WaPo article is a week late and a whole dollar short. Once again, the Post gives the impression that it cares most deeply about taking care of bidness.

crossposted from Unbossed

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

  Investigation of US Attorneys now turns to White House & Miers

Democrats announced on Friday that they'll directly investigate the role of the White House in the firing of six US Attorneys. The House Judiciary Committee has sent a letter to former White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, requesting her testimony. Democrats also revealed that the Committee is going to call other top administration figures, including Deputy Counsel William Kelley, current White House Counsel Fred Fielding, and some other as-yet unnamed WH officials. In addition, the Committee is requesting documents related to the firings.

This is a major expansion of the probe. Ask John Dean about what happens when investigations of a corrupt and lawless administration settle upon the White House Counsel.

In February, the NYT reported that Harriet Miers had taken an active role in the firing of one of the US Attorneys.

A United States attorney in Arkansas who was dismissed from his job last year by the Justice Department was ousted after Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, intervened on behalf of the man who replaced him, according to Congressional aides briefed on the matter.

Ms. Miers, the aides said, phoned an aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggesting the appointment of J. Timothy Griffin, a former military and civilian prosecutor who was a political director for the Republican National Committee and a deputy to Karl Rove, the White House political adviser.

Later, the incumbent United States attorney, H. E. Cummins III, was removed without explanation and replaced on an interim basis by Mr. Griffin.

The Cummins/Griffin case presumably is at the core of what the House Judiciary Committee will be investigating. Or perhaps it is just the most logical starting point for a wider investigation. So far few news outlets have the story, but McClatchy is on top of it.

Lawmakers have been asking whether the federal prosecutors' offices have become tainted by partisan politics. Until Friday, the official inquiry had ended with the Justice Department.

The decision to extend the inquiry to Bush's inner circle suggests that lawmakers believe there may have been some level of coordination of the firings from inside the White House last December.

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., chairwoman of the subcommittee directing the inquiry, sent a letter Friday to Miers, a longtime Bush loyalist who left her post in January, requesting that she submit to an interview...

The committee also is seeking all e-mails and paperwork between the White House and the Justice Department or any members of Congress related to the investigation.

Perhaps the best coverage of this important story is by the LA Times:

Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat and the committee chairman, said Democrats believe that the Justice Department has given conflicting reasons for the terminations, and that the committee wants to "get a clear and credible answer from the Bush administration on who made the decision to fire these U.S. attorneys and why they did it."

"We went to make sure that those who would contaminate our justice system with partisan politics are held accountable," Conyers said.

Tony Fratto, a spokesman at the White House, said the administration will review the committee's request.

"I'm not in a position to comment on how we will address it," he said. "But we certainly will respond."

Conyers' query was sent to current White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding, and the unusual step could set up a confrontation between the two branches of government.

The Bush White House has often taken a tough stance on protecting the confidentiality of internal legal documents and its decision-making process.

"It poses a tricky question," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law school professor. "Miers has left. And my sense is that Fred Fielding is a real expert on this type of issue and will attempt to craft a reasonable compromise rather than fight Congress."

When Fielding was nominated, there was much discussion among pundits that the WH was looking to bring on board a more experienced hand than Miers, to cope with what were expected to be a barrage of Congressional requests and subpoenas in 2007.

It's hard to imagine a more experienced choice than Mr. Fielding on the subject of executive power. As deputy White House counsel from 1972 to 1974, he witnessed the modern low tide of Presidential authority as Richard Nixon was besieged by Watergate. And as Ronald Reagan's counsel from 1981 to 1986, he had to cope with a Democratic House that unleashed special prosecutors on the executive branch.

The "independent counsel" law has happily expired, but this Congress will be looking to assert itself in particular on war powers. Mr. Fielding understands the importance of fighting off such poaching--for the sake of Mr. Bush and the Office of the Presidency. This ought to mean recommending that Mr. Bush veto any weakening of last year's law on military tribunals, as well as resisting any further delegation of executive power to the judiciary for approving warrantless wiretaps of al Qaeda.

The question of responding to the avalanche of subpoenas will be more politically delicate. Congress has every right to conduct oversight of the executive branch, and the White House will be obliged to supply numerous documents. However, the principle of executive privilege is vital to Presidential decision-making, and preserving the privacy of that deliberative process will be one of Mr. Fielding's primary tasks.

And here is what Fielding was brought on to face. So it starts, with a bang.

In the end, perhaps the most important issues will be whether this case comes to involve allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice. That way lies impeachment.

Here are some texts from the House Judiciary Committee:

(i) a press release
(ii) the 3/8/07 letter to Alberto Gonzales
(iii) the 3/9/07 letter to Harriet Miers
(iv) the 3/9/07 letter to Fred Fielding.

The latter holds the most interest for us:

Two of the fired U.S. Attorneys, Mr. Bogden and Mr. Charlton, testified that they were fired for political reasons in order to put others in those position so they could build their resumes, contrary to the claim by Justice Department officials that they were fired for "performance related" reasons. Many of the rationales for the terminations offered by Mr. Moschella at our hearing do not appear to hold up to scrutiny....

Mr. Iglesias and Mr. McKay testified that there were several efforts made to influence their prosecutorial decisions... This testimony raises serious issues concerning possible undue influence and obstruction of justice...

Mr. Cummins testified that he received a call from Michael Elston, Mr. McNulty's Chief of Staff [warning that any 'voluntary testimony' to Congress would be seen as 'a major escalation']... On its face, this testimony raises the possibility that the Department may have sought to obstruct Congress' efforts to ascertain the truth concerning these firings.

The letter to Fielding goes on to request all documents relating to the firings and to the developing controversy, from both the White House and Justice Department, including emails, materials relating to meetings, communications within the WH and DoJ, and communications with the Attorneys before and after their termination.

Further, it requests copies of documents relating to communications about the subject with Members of Congress, and the names of any Members who were given advance notification of the firings (!). The letter also requests the names of all individuals in the WH who were involved in discussions of the issue. It asks that the documents and information be handed over by March 16.

The similar letter to Gonzales asks that he make available for interviews the following DoJ officials: Paul McNulty, Deputy AG; D. Kyle Sampson, CoS to AG; Michael Elston, CoS to Deputy AG; Michael Battle, Director of Executive Office for US Attorneys; Monica Goodling, Senior Counsel to AG and WH Liaison; and William Mercer, US Attorney for Montana.

Mercer of course is the friend who told the US Attorney from Nevada, Daniel Bogden, that the administration wanted to allow as many Republicans as possible to bolster their resumes in the next two years.

crossposted from Unbossed

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

  The Pentagon's sweatshop

The arrest of hundreds of illegal aliens at the Michael Bianco factory in New Bedford, and of the factory owner who was fully complicit in employing them, has gotten a lot of attention in the national news media. For the most part, however, only local journalists have shown any interest in these other aspects of the case:

  • The workplace rules and the conditions at the factory qualify it as a sweatshop

  • The factory's main contract was with the Defense Department

  • The Army must have known about the nineteenth-century like factory conditions, and the employment of illegal aliens, because it maintained an office at the factory

Though the raid at the Massachusetts leather factory has evoked plenty of comment around the country, especially from immigrant-bashers, the DoD has remained almost silent about its role in permitting this to continue for years. And what little it has said is almost certainly false.

At Why are we back in Iraq?, tas noticed some remarkable information in today's article at the Providence Journal (h/t to NewsHog).

ICE agents also arrested the company’s owner, Francesco Insolia, and his top three managers on charges they deliberately recruited and exploited illegal immigrants to help meet the demands of their more than $170 million in federal Department of Defense contracts.

The company manufactures military backpacks and protective gear for U.S. forces. A spokesman for the U.S. Army Soldiers System [sic] Center in Natick, Mass., which oversees the work, said that a Department of Defense inspector maintains an office at the plant, but was unaware that any of the workers were undocumented.

Think how it might be possible for a DoD inspector on site to be unaware of the vast numbers of 'undocumented' workers. At first blush, you would think the inspector's office for Army Soldier Systems was on site for its purpose of quality control, i.e. to permit inspection of the actual process of manufacturing the gear. And in fact...

According to a spokesman for the U.S. Army Soldiers System [sic] Center in Natick, Mass., a representative from the Department of Defense has an “on-site” office at the plant, where he is charged with inspecting all of the gear that is shipped to the military.

Well, there it is. So how do you manage to do the inspecting without meeting the workers or observing the conditions in the factory?

Or if, like Major Major Major, you prefer instead to spend all your time holed up out of sight—perhaps have the gear tossed over the transom for inspection—then I still have to wonder, how do you get into your office without crossing the parking lot and hearing the banter of illegal aliens during shift changes? From the ProJo again:

The spokesman, Jerry Whitaker, said the contract language spells out that it is the manufacturer’s responsibility — not the Army’s — to ensure that undocumented immigrants are not employed at the plant.

He also said he does not know whether Michael Bianco Inc. will continue to hold the contract to make the vests and backpacks.

Aha, that is how it is done—by knowing nothing and sticking to your story. The spokesman may have been willing to speak to the ProJo reporter, by necessity, but he's not releasing any statements on behalf of the Soldier Systems Center about the whole dreary mess. You'd have thought the Army didn't have any explaining to do.

An Army spokesman did not return a call seeking comment about the status of the company's contracts.

Except that there's a whole lot of explaining to do, and not just or primarily about the hiring of undocumented workers. That's pretty trivial, actually, in comparison to the factory's punitive work rules that resemble conditions prevailing in the US a full century ago. Here is the ProJo article from Wednesday:

The affidavits allege that Insolia, 50, of Pembroke, Mass., "intentionally seeks out illegal aliens because they are more desperate to find employment and are thus more likely to endure severe workplace conditions he has imposed."

Those conditions allegedly include "docking of pay by 15 minutes for every minute an employee is late; fining employees $20 for spending more than 2 minutes in the restroom and firing for a subsequent infraction; providing one roll of toilet paper per restroom stall per day, typically resulting in the absence of toilet paper after only 40 minutes per day; fining employees $20 for leaving (the) work area before break bell sounds; and fining employees $20 for talking while working and firing for a subsequent infraction."

Most of these workers, you won't be surprised to learn, are women. This post today by Meteor Blades resonates.

The Providence CBS affiliate WPRI adds more details:

Investigators said the illegal worker paid a steep price for their jobs: dingy conditions and onerous fines, including a $20 charge for talking while working. Some were forced to work double shifts on the lines of machines for stitching military backpacks and safety vests.

Sullivan compared the scene to sweatshops from the early 1900s.

"They were given no options. It's either here, or the risk of no income at all," he said. "Clearly, they were exploited because of the fact they were here illegally."...

Jasmine Mendoza, a friend of one detainee, told WPRI that the company exploited its workers, penalizing them if they took a bathroom break longer than two minutes. "They give you a fine of twenty dollars, or fifty dollars second time," she said....

Social worker Helena Marques criticized the use of illegal workers while at the same time receiving government contracts. "These big companies are making a lot of money and exploiting the undocumented communities," she said.

Was this war in Iraq about freedom? Somebody remind me please, I get more confused with every passing day.

Ah, but never you mind, there's finally some good news this evening, America:

A Department of Defense agency is suspending the New Bedford leather maker raided by immigration officials this week from future contracts. A spokeswoman with the Defense Logistics Agency says there have been no changes, however, to their current $83 million contract with Michael Bianco Incorporated.

I'm sure that will shake up the sweatshop management.

From Unbossed

(Update): In the comments on this crosspost at Unbossed DCvote pointed me toward this study by UNITE HERE, Conduct Unbecoming: Sweatshops and the U.S. Military Uniform Industry. Dating from just last year, it documents in factory after factory supplying the US military (though not in the leather factory of this story) illegal practices, harrassment of workers, and dangerous work conditions that closely resemble what was uncovered in New Bedford.

This is a longstanding issue. In 2005, UNITE HERE published an expose of the conditions of employment at one military supplier: A Disgrace to the Uniform: Sweatshop conditions at American Power Source. And in 1999, a cover story at Mother Jones, An American Sweatshop, exposed conditions at another military supplier, Lion Apparel.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

  IAP finally responds to Walter Reed allegations

Today IAP Worldwide Services finally issued a press release regarding the allegations, which first became public last Friday, that its A-76 privatization contract at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had contributed to the abysmal conditions that wounded soldiers were enduring. The fact that it took a mere 5 days to comment is surely some indication of how seriously the corporation takes its responsibilities at WRAMC.

The statement itself, aahhh, errm...leaves a little to be desired in the categories of empathy, honesty, candor.

I'm sure IAP won't mind my calling some more attention to their little press release:

Cape Canaveral, Florida –

As my sister could tell you from first-hand experience, there are few contractors more inept, corrupt, and generally worthless than those who suck at the teat of NASA. Anyway, let's move forward in this press release...

IAP Worldwide Services, Inc., today issued the following progress report following the company’s first month of providing base operations and facility maintenance work at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC).

That's just a tad disingenuous, isn't it? The reason for this press release, surely, is not any need to report to the public about "progress" made at WRAMC. The press release exists because the scadalous debacle of the conditions at the Center has raised an outcry from one corner of the country to another.

IAP’s contract at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center began Feb. 4, 2007. Under the competitively awarded contract,

Hold it right there. The only competition with the IAP contract was between those who wanted to uphold the law, and those (IAP and its supporters) who wanted to ignore the law, bend the law, mangle the law. The truly competitive part of the A-76 contracting review was the initial part in which the federal workers won and IAP lost. The rest of the game was about overturning the competitive result by any means necessary, even after the process extended beyond it's legally sanctioned limit.

I look in vain in this press release for any mention of the attempt by Congress to block the implementation of this corrupt contract. But I digress.

IAP operates and maintains the infrastructure and physical plant at WRAMC.

Sometimes it does, sometimes not so much.

IAP does not provide patient medical care.

No, indeed it does not. IAP is quite busy, thank you, firing staffers at WRAMC and neglecting to maintain facilities, to take on anything like caring for or about patients.

Since beginning work on Feb. 4, 2007, IAP’s personnel and staff have responded with a sense of urgency to address maintenance concerns throughout the WRAMC complex.

Urgency, in this corporation, is telegraphed by firing people.

IAP’s personnel and staff are fully committed to addressing facility maintenance and preservation tasks assigned by the Army.

A full commitment from IAP, as it turned out, extended to paying only so many staffers. No doubt the author of this piece has read last week's letter by Reps. Henry Waxman and John Tierney, which described how IAP fired the 60 remaining federal workers in that division (way down from an original work force of 300) and replaced them with 50 contract workers.

From the first day, IAP has maintained a full complement of employees and subcontractor personnel.

Since IAP gets to determine what a "full complement" is, that is not a particularly remarkable achievement. In fact, I would have termed it a 'truism'. A few months before, the full complement had been 300 workers. Now, by the magic of privatization, it had become 50.

On Feb. 4, 2007, 290 IAP and subcontractor personnel began work. Of those, 100 personnel were assigned to facility maintenance work. On March 5, 2007, 305 personnel were at the job.

Quite a precisely worded statement about exact numbers of workers employed. Perhaps word has in fact reached IAP headquarters, after all, that it is being criticized for nickle-and-diming the WRAMC?

Anyhow, behind the apparent precision, I've got the strongest hunch, lies some awkwardly concealed truths. For example, I wonder whether anything unusual occured in that blank gap between Feb. 4 and March 5, 2007? Anything like the firing of all the remaining federal workers, for instance?

When a requirement for maintenance is identified at any of the WRAMC buildings or facilities, IAP works with the U.S. Army to follow a procedure that ensures that the highest priority facility maintenance items are addressed first.

Aha, 'procedures'. That's got to be an Army thing, they're the ones who have procedures. The Army must be to blame for any 'item' that isn't fixed first. I do have this nagging thought, however: What about the 'item' that doesn't get fixed last?

IAP Worldwide Services is a leading government contractor providing a broad spectrum of services focused on global mission support for the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies with a history of support for more than 50 years.

Actually, the company was founded in 1990. But why should facts get in the way of a good press release.

The company specializes in three lines of business: global operations and logistics; facilities management and base operations support; and professional and technical services.

Maybe IAP should add a fourth category: Screwing up IRS records.

From Unbossed

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