Challenged by veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern to explain why he had claimed to "know" before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when that suggestion had been repeatedly called into question, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to use former Secretary of State Colin Powell as a human shield.
From the crowd at an Atlanta gathering of the Southern Center for International Studies, McGovern asked: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?"
Rumsfeld replied, "Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn't lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The president spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there."
What Rumsfeld failed to mention is the hard evidence that Powell was pressured by Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and others to make far more aggressive statements regarding WMDs than the Secretary of State thought to be appropriate.
British scholar Philippe Sands, the author of the very fine book Lawless World and perhaps the most dogged investigator of the internal discussions involving the cabinets of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair prior to the war, has revealed that Powell shared his doubts with his British counterpart before speaking to the United Nations in February, 2003.
Referring to a memorandum containing details of a meeting between Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Sands pointed out during a March, 2006, interview on MSNBC that, "[There's] now no shred of doubt and there's been no denial, you will have noticed, as to the contents of the memorandum that the decision was indeed taken in January before Colin Powell went [to the UN]. In fact, one other aspect that I've described in my book, Lawless World, that hasn't emerged so much in the New York Times memo is another memo which records a conversation between Colin Powell and his counterpart in the United Kingdom, Jack Straw, which makes it clear that in Colin Powell's eyes if there wasn't enough evidence for a second Security Council resolution, then there wasn't enough evidence to justify the U.S. going it alone."
"So," Sands explained, "Colin Powell was spot on, but it seems he was overridden by a president and others in the administration who were absolutely committed to taking the United States to war, tragically in erroneous circumstances, irrespective of what the inspectors found."
The fact that Powell had been presented with information that cast into doubt the claims he would make to the UN was confirmed by his former chief of staff at the State Department, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who said in a February, 2006, interview on the PBS program NOW: "[The] Intelligence Bureau and the State Department at this time we were preparing Secretary Powell dissented on one key issue. And they essentially said there was no active nuclear program in Iraq."
Wilkerson has detailed the work of Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of what refers to as their "cabal" to hijack what should have been a serious examination of the intelligence regarding Iraq. He has also revealed that Powell was troubled by the over-the-top claims contained in the "script" the White House initially asked him to read from at the UN. Ultimately, Powell was pressured by Cheney and others to deliver a version of the speech that, while toned down in some areas, still contained claims based on statements by sources that had been discredited within the intelligence community.
The point here is not to make a hero of Powell. There is every reason to continue the debate about whether Powell was duped or whether he gave in to the intense pressure from Cheney, Rumsfeld and their aides in order to maintain his political viability. There is no question, however, that the former Secretary of State and those around him quickly came to be embarrassed by the roles they were forced to play. Indeed, for most of the last year in which they worked together in the White House, the split between the Cheney and Rumsfeld camp and the Powell camp was so severe that the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense rarely spoke with the Secretary of State.
Of his own participation in the preparations for the UN speech, Wilkerson says, "It makes me feel terrible. I've said in other places that it... constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council. How do you think that makes me feel? Thirty-one years in the United States Army and I more or less end my career with that kind of a blot on my record? That's not a very comforting thing."
Powell, it should be noted, has not distanced himself from Wilkerson's remarks.
As for Rumsfeld, he can say that he "did not lie." But he cannot claim that his statement in Atlanta was an honest one. He knows that his reference to Powell was an attempt to deflect blame from himself. He also knows the real story of how he and Cheney pressured Powell to make the "case" for war using dubious and discredited intelligence. And, above all, he knows that any attempt to link his own statements and actions with those of Powell is spin rather than an honest response to the most fundamental of all questions regarding this administration's high crimes and misdemeanors.
Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre was just on CNN talking about Porter Goss's suprise resignation as CIA chief. When asked why Goss unexpectedly quit, McIntyre feigned ignorance and couldn't quite find the words.
The story may be right in front of the mainstream media. Could it be encapsulated in one word? Hookers.
Goss may be the first casualty of the expanding investigation into Duke Cunningham, otherwise known as Hookergate. Cunningham's indicted co-conspirators, defense contractors Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, provided suites at the Westin and Watergate (sound familiar?) to entertain Congressman and other DC players. According to Ken Silverstein of Harper's, "party nights began early with poker games and degenerated into what the source described as a "frat party" scene--real bacchanals." The FBI is investigating whether prostitutes were involved. The Watergate has received multiple subpoenas.
Goss's #3 man at the CIA, Dusty Foggo, has already admitted to attending "poker parties." Silverstein, one of the best investigative reporters in Washington, revealed last week that "those under intense scrutiny by the FBI are current and former lawmakers on Defense and Intelligence comittees--including one person who now holds a powerful intelligence post."
Goss certainly fits that bill.
Just eight weeks ago I was in Moscow at a conference called, "From Fulton to Malta: How the Cold War Began and Ended."
What a difference two months make.
In DC and Moscow, it's beginning to feel like a new--if scaled-down--Cold War. Hard-liners within the Bush Administration, led by that champion of democracy, civil liberties and human rights Dick Cheney, seem to have won the day. A new tough line against Moscow is now front- page news.
Of course, Russia isn't on a path to democracy. Putin is a "small a authoritarian" who has reasserted state control over Russian television (the print press remains relatively free and politically diverse), jailed a leading oligarch (the country's assets that he looted should be confiscated, not his body) and may well alter the constitution so he can remain President for a third term beginning in 2008.
But as many writers, including (my husband) Stephen Cohen in The Nation and New America Foundation fellow Anatol Lieven in the Los Angeles Times, have argued, de-democratization began not under Putin but under Boris Yeltsin. As Lieven puts it: " The 'democracy' that Putin has allegedly overthrown was, in fact, not a real democracy at all, but a pseudo-democracy ruled over by corrupt and brutal oligarchical clans." Furthermore, he notes, "During the 1990s, the administration of Boris Yelstin, under the sway of the oligarchs and the liberal elites, rigged elections repressed the opposition and launched a bloody and unnecessary war in Chechnya--all with the support of Washington."
Highlighting the hypocrisy, in a sharp and smart comment for Truthout.com, William Fisher rightly notes how "truly grotesque" it is that Cheney would be "lecturing anyone about democracy and human rights." As Fisher, who worked for the US State Department and USAID for thirty years, puts it: "[Cheney] has dishonored these core American values in his own country...Could there be anyone less credible on subjects like democratic reform and open government?" Certainly not our very own autocratic President who has stated that he doesn't feel bound by the Congressional ban on torture and who believes in the unitary presidency, which means placing his imperial vision of the executive branch over the will of America's elected lawmakers.
Instead of counter-productive hectoring by hardliners and their chief hawk Cheney, we should be developing a cooperative relationship with a Russia that is reengaging pragmatically in the Middle East--by testing Hamas' willingness to moderate its anti-Israel militancy, and controlling Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. As essential is the need to restart negotiations on reducing each countries' bloated nuclear arsenals. And on democracy initiatives--let Russia's homegrown democracy activists find their own path and domestic constituencies. (Cheney's hypocritical support--has this guy ever met a true pro-democracy activist he really liked?--will only stigmatize them as American proxies.)
This is asking a lot of our current administration but what we really need is a policy that understands why Russia has become a semi-authoritarian state. But understanding usually requires a sense of history--something missing from too much of our politics and media today. One thing that's clear though is that at a time when anti-Americanism has reached record highs, US lectures to the Russians about democracy will do more harm than good.
Just what we needed. The flamboyant Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County (the Phoenix area), will now have his deputies start arresting illegal immigrants.
More precisely, Sheriff Joe is deploying his volunteer -- and fully armed -- posse to do the job.
The detentions will be made under a new and controversial law that the Sheriff says renders the undocumented guilty of smuggling themselves illegally into the county.
Arpaio has been making headlines for the last decade: first by locking up his prisoners in a primitive tent city; then by issuing them pink underwear, striped uniforms and green-colored bologna sandwiches.
When I interviewed him a handful of years ago he got angry with me when I referred to him as only the meanest Sheriff in the country. He slammed his desk and corrected me saying, "I'm the damned meanest Sheriff in the world!"
That same night I went out on patrol with some of his then newly-formed volunteer posse members. They drove fully-equipped police cruisers, purchased with their own funds. They wore uniforms identical to sworn deputies and carried new Glock 9mm pistols. The unit I went out with -- led by the-then GOP County Chairman-- ran down and cornered a couple of vice suspects in the parking lot of a seedy motel. With drawn guns pointed at them by the volunteer posse, the "suspects" identified themselves as undercover agents working with the Phoenix Police Department.
Now the posse is going to be out hunting illegal aliens. Heaven help us.
If the confusion and miserable performance that has resulted from the Republicans' Prescription Drug giveaway to the HMO's and insurance companies wasn't enough to demonstrate the private sector's incapacity to meet our medical needs, then check out this horrifying investigative report by the Los Angeles Times.
Kaiser Permanente forced more than 1500 patients awaiting kidney transplants to transfer "to a new transplant center run by Kaiser itself -- the first ever opened by the nation's largest HMO."
The patients were moved from established programs into its "fledgling program" in San Francisco with "a waiting list [that] ranked among the longest in the country…. The patients didn't know it, but their odds of getting a kidney had plummeted."
The numbers tell much of the story: in the first year, "Kaiser performed only 56 transplants, while twice that many people on the waiting list died…. In each of the two years before Kaiser opened its program, UC San Francisco and UC Davis medical centers together performed at least 168 transplants on Kaiser patients."
In hundreds of cases Kaiser neglected to record the amount of time patients had already spent on waiting lists at other hospitals. Consequently, many were wrongly placed at the bottom of the new waiting list – even if a patient was close to receiving a transplant at a previous hospital.
Dr. Stephen Tomlanovich, medical director of UC San Francisco's renal transplant service, has tried repeatedly--"by phone, fax and e-mail"--to contact Kaiser about 220 patients who have not been credited with time already spent on its waiting list. He also noted that Kaiser representatives denied 25 patients "the chance for new kidneys that were nearly perfectly matched" because the company would not authorize UC San Francisco to do the transplants. To make matters worse, Kaiser failed to do the paperwork necessary to transfer those same patients into its own program--the patients were "stranded."
67 patients formerly treated by UC Davis inherited another setback due to the transfer: organs are allocated regionally, and the waiting time in the concentrated San Francisco area is nearly double that of the Sacramento area.
The financial motive for Kaiser's decision is readily apparent. "The San Francisco hospital's open-heart surgery program was shrinking as less-invasive procedures became more popular. Kaiser was left with unused beds and operating rooms."
"The timing was perfect," according to Dr. Bruce Blumberg, the chief physician at Kaiser's main San Francisco hospital.
Aside from the statistics on patient care, the personnel records are also revealing: "10 permanent employees have quit or been fired out of a staff of 22."
In January--prior to being placed on administrative leave--kidney specialist Dr. W. James Chon wrote, "On the outside, the program seems to have settled into a reasonably functioning unit. However, a closer look at the program will show that it is suffering from very serious and potentially explosive problems."
Indeed, it is explosive problems such as these that have led an overwhelming majority of Americans to support national health care, as well as The Nation and columnists like Paul Krugman who called for Medicare for all Americans in his Death By Insurance op-ed this week.
The 2006 and 2008 elections must be defined by three issues: The Constitution--DEFEND it; the war in Iraq--END IT; and national health care--PASS IT. The Kaiser kidney fiasco reemphasizes the urgency of taking health care out of the hands of private companies concerned first and foremost with profits not people.
President Bush and his acolytes continually suggest that the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are "success stories" that just have not receiving proper attention from the U.S. media.
Unfortunately for the spin doctors who dressed the president up in flight-suit drag and made their Iraq "mission accomplished" declaration three years ago are having a hard time convincing serious observers of global affairs that they have achieved anything but disaster.
According to the The Failed State Index, an authoritative annual analysis produced by Foreign Policy magazine and the Washington, DC, based Fund for Peace, both Iraq and Afghanistan are in serious trouble.
The 2005 index, which ranks 148 states according to 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators based on data from more than 11,000 publicly available sources, ranked Iraq at number four and Afghanistan at number 10 on the list of the most dysfunctional countries on the planet.
According to the analysis, which employs internationally recognized methodology to assess violent internal conflicts and to measure the impact of strategies to create stability, "Despite holding successful elections and ratifying new constitutions, both Iraq (4th) and Afghanistan (10th) saw their scores decline in the 2006 edition of the index. Persistent insurgent violence undermined modest gains in the delivery of public services and establishment of political institutions, placing both nations among the 10 most vulnerable in the world."
Another country in which the Bush administration has been meddling with abandon, Pakistan, finds itself at No. 9 on the list -- although, in fairness, a natural disaster added to that nation's turmoil.
To be sure, there are other troubled countries: Sudan , where the Darfur crisis continues, is the first on the list; the Democratic Republic of the Congo is second, while Ivory Coast ranks third.
But the "failure" ratings for Iraq and Afghanistan stand out, as does the relatively low ranking of the United States.
In a telling measure of the damage done on the homefront by the Bush administration's focus on warmaking abroad, the United States is ranked as more vulberable than Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, Chile, Portugal, Great Britain and France.
The cost of misguided military adventures abroad is great for the countries that are invaded and occupied. But it is great, as well, for the countries that do the invading and occupying.
Democrats tempted to vote for this sham because they're scared of 30-second ads that accuse them of opposing lobbying reform ought to ask themselves whether they really think so little of their constituents. As for Republicans willing to settle for this legislative fig leaf, they ought to listen to Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn). "I happen to believe we are losing our moral authority to lead this place," Mr. Shays said on the House floor last week.
The GOP leadership wanted to claim the mantle of reform without actually enacting any reforms. Sadly, eight Democrats--enough to switch the outcome on a razor thin vote--took the bait. They are:
Barrow, Boren, Boswell, Cuellar, Marshall, Matheson,Melancon,Taylor (MS)
Of the anti-reform eight, seven are conservative Blue Dog Democrats, six voted for the bankruptcy bill, five voted for the GOP energy bill and so-called tort reform and two members (Cueller and Matheson), voted for all three, plus CAFTA. At least Cuellar got a primary challenge this election cycle.
The Democratic leadership tried its best to keep members united. But at the end of the day, the seventeen Republicans voting nay were braver than the eight Democrats voting yea.
To understand what the sham lobbying "reform" bill that the House will likely pass today will do, you need to understand what it won't do. The only reason Congress is talking about lobbying reform is because of Jack Abramoff and his Fedora-studded guilty plea last January. Yet the so-called reforms in the "Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act" will do absolutely nothing to prevent the next Abramoff, as this valuable chart from Public Citizen shows.
Moreover, as Public Citizen recognizes: "Corruption by lobbyists and lawmakers does not begin or end with Abramoff; it is a systemic problem. There are many more Jack Abramoffs peddling their wares on the Hill."
Yes. Don't forget about prostitutes at the Watergate servicing Republican members of Congress and CIA aides. Abramoff may be too technical, but hookers everyone can understand.
UPDATE: The final bill passed around 5:30 on a 217-213 vote. Nineteen Republicans voted with the Democrats in opposing the bill. Eight Dems voted with the GOP leadership. Will post their names once I have them. If those eight held the line, sham bill might've failed.
At least one GOP lawmaker is paying attention to L'Affair Abramoff: Ohio Rep. Bob Ney. Time is running out for the former "Mayor of Capitol Hill."
Dennis Hastert pushed the Ohio Congressman from his House Administration Committee chairmanship following Abramoff's DC indictment in January. Since then, a game of wait and see has transpired between Ney and the law.
Ney's statute of limitations in the Abramoff Sun Cruz casino fleet investigation expired last Thursday, with the Justice Department opting for an expanded corruption probe. Ney's lawyer says his client will learn in "a month or two" whether he faces criminal charges. Multiple guilty pleas from Abramoff and his aides ID'd Ney as the bribe-taking "Representative #1."
That's probably why $96,500 of Ney's 250,098 campaign dollars last quarter went toward legal fees. Or why Congressional Quarterly recently changed Ney's re-election prospects from "Lean Republican" to a tossup, with internal GOP polling showing Ney losing to either of his Democratic challengers. Or why the pretrial motion in the federal investigation into indicted Bush Administration official David Safavian argues that Ney underreported the cost of his golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff and Safavian by $12,000.
Like his former mentor Tom DeLay, Ney's got some 'splainin to do. With the Ohio primary approaching tonight, National Journal reports that "well-placed Republican strategists say it's time for House Majority Leader John Boehner to tell Ney to resign."
George Bush won't ask Congress for permission for torture or domestic spying. But when it comes to energy policy – he is very, very concerned about the limits of his presidential powers.
According to The Washington Post, he "renewed his call for Congress to give him the authority to ‘raise' mileage standards for all passenger cars." Then perhaps signaling a nod and a wink to his Big Oil friends, "White House officials said later, however, that they didn't know when or how the president would use that authority."
Meanwhile, the GOP Congress is scrambling to flex some 11th hour Election Year muscle of its own by reviewing oil company tax returns and "reaffirming authority for state and federal officials to fight price gouging."
No surprise that they are also attempting to exploit an increasingly squeezed middle-class by once again calling for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under the false pretense that it will provide economic relief at the gas pump. The truth, as the US Geological Service estimates, is that ANWR drilling would likely produce a total amount insufficient to fill the need for even one year of US domestic consumption and it wouldn't even hit the market for 10 years!
President Bush, too, offered his own rendition of Johnny Law in pursuit of any evildoer oil companies: "We'll make sure that the energy companies are pricing their product fairly. If we catch them gouging, if we catch them -- unfair trade practices, we'll deal with them at the federal government. That's what you expect the federal government to do."
Indeed, many citizens and Democrats have been asking -– if not expecting -– the formerly well-oiled, oil-friendly White House to do that for quite some time. Senators Maria Cantwell, Jeff Bingaman, and Bill Nelson all introduced legislation that would have cracked down on price gouging, as has Rep. Bart Stupak and even Republican Rep. Heather Wilson. In fact, lawmakers have repeatedly called on Bush over the past year to investigate and punish price gouging. But Oil man Bush--head of an administration loaded with ex-oil and gas executives-- is just walking the walk. If he actually talked the talk he'd be calling for subpoenas and public testimony from his oil industry cronies; he'd be calling for an all-out investigation of the industry's pricing practices-- from the wells to the gas pumps.
Even if the GOP does finally crack down on price manipulation, greed and collusion in the oil industry (while also pursuing more drilling and a roll-back of environmental protections) as a result of the public's "we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore" outrage – there is a more important long-range issue: when will we unite around a sane policy to achieve real and lasting energy independence for our nation?
The Apollo Alliance has provided a blueprint for doing just that. This coalition of labor, environmentalists, (enlightened) business people, lawmakers, and social justice activists offers best practices already implemented in states across the nation, as well as its own innovative ideas for achieving energy independence in the next decade (the name comes from JFK's goal to land a man on the moon within 10 years).
Founded in 2003, the group's 10-point plan includes: promoting renewables; upgrading existing energy infrastructure; improving efficiency in transportation, industry, and buildings; research in new clean technology; and Smart Growth for cities and suburbs.
Joel Rogers, Chair of Apollo's National Steering Committee and Director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, says of the plan, "We estimate that $300 billion spent on our plan, would generate about 3 million new jobs…. It would generate a little over $1 trillion in additional GDP over its ten-year development. And, most important, probably, it would reduce our energy costs by better than $300 billion annually. That would effectively…. eliminate our dependence on the Middle East… [and] it should reestablish the American position in what is clearly going to be a gigantic world market for clean-energy technology…. Our plan has been out there for about two years now, and nobody has seriously questioned any of these numbers."
What is –- and has been –- lacking is the political will to challenge the status quo and, in the case of many politicians, to bite the hand that feeds them. But helped along by skyrocketing gas prices, an unpopular war, growing concern about global warming, and an overwhelming majority of Americans who now think that sustainable energy independence should be a top national priority, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to argue with Apollo's message of good jobs and energy independence.
One current proposal that would take an important step is Rep. Dennis Kucinich's Gas Price Spike Act. It would tax oil companies for excessive profits; transfer those revenues to tax credits for Americans who purchase fuel-efficient cars; and establish a program to promote inter- and intra-city mass rail transit.
Other important measures have been recently proposed by Ohio Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, who has made alternative energy a core component of his economic platform. Foremost among his proposals is the transitioning to bio-fuels, hybrid technology, and other alternative energy sources.
Ralph Nader -- whose best work has been as a consumer crusader taking on the oil companies -- has also weighed in with a series of smart proposals . It is high time, he argues, to use antitrust action to break up the oil industrial cartel. "The claim by the oil barons that they're just responding to the marketplace of supply and demand is laughable," Nader argues. "A competitive domestic oil industry would not be so able to close down scores of refineries and then turn 'refinery shortages' into higher gas prices at the pump."
The kind of transformative thinking represented most clearly by the Apollo Alliance is exactly what is needed if we are to work our way out of this mess. Election year grandstanding will provide some good theater and a cathartic public shaming of some oil executives. But, after that, let's not find ourselves exactly where we are today – hostage to the oil industry and wondering why we let things get so bad.