Last May, I wrote an Annals of Outrage II chronicling the waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government in the first half of 2004. Plenty of time has passed since my last piece and much has happened. Here, then, is my latest attempt to guide you through the Bush Administration's most egregious corruption scandals. The information comes to us courtesy of the federal government's internal investigations into administration fraud, waste and abuse. The cronyism and corruption have hit a new low.
1) Bat Mitzvah Corruption: In terms of sheer outrage, millionaire defense contractor David H. Brooks is hard to top. The New York Daily News recently reported that Brooks spent an estimated $10 million on his daughter's bat mitzvah reception. Aerosmith performed at the reception (reportedly earning a cool two million dollars), and Kenny G, 50 Cent, Tom Petty and The Eagles' Don Henley and Joe Walsh also played. Here's the kicker: Brooks has reportedly made more than $250 million in wartime profits as the CEO of DHB Industries-- which has had thousands of defective bulletproof vests recalled by the government!
According to a government investigation into the faulty vests that was uncovered by the Marine Corps Times, DHB's equipment saw "multiple complete penetrations" when 9mm pistol rounds were fired into the vests. One government ballistics expert quoted in the government's findings said he had "little confidence" in DHB's equipment. Meanwhile, the SEC is looking into Brooks' 2004 sale of $186 million worth of company stock. Institute for Policy Studies' Sarah Anderson, who co-authored a report called "Executive Excess 2005," called Brooks a "world champion war profiteer," concluding, he has "no shame."
2) CPA's Bribes: The war in Iraq continues to churn out profiteering scandals on a weekly basis. The New York Times reported in November that the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction had uncovered a scheme involving a US comptroller in the Coalition Provisional Authority, Robert J. Stein, and other co-conspirators who accepted "kickbacks and bribes…to steer lucrative construction contracts" to an American-run company. According to the criminal complaint, Stein and his wife spent the bribes he received on cars, jewelry, and home improvements. In the meantime, the contracted work either wasn't performed or was shabbily done. Most outrageous of all, Stein was given control over eighty-two million dollars in funds for Iraq rebuilding despite the fact that he had spent eight months in jail in the 1990s on a felony fraud conviction.
More broadly, the special inspector faulted the CPA for failing to adequately account for 8.8 billion dollars in funds designated for Iraqi rebuilding projects. As the Boston Globe reported this month, "11 investigators in Iraq [are] looking into more than 50…cases of graft involving civilians and the US military."
3) Halliburton Redux, Redux: Annals of Outrage just wouldn't be the same if Cheney's ex-company didn't make my list. The company, of course, has spawned a cottage industry of government investigations into the corporate construction giant's nebulous billing and spending practices. Halliburton remains under intense scrutiny today. Just last month, CNN.com explained how whistleblower Bunnatine Greenhouse who had worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers charged that Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root was operating under government contracts rife with "the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed." Waste was ubiquitous. Greenhouse told a Democratic hearing sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan that instead of fixing $85,000 trucks in need of relatively minor repairs like flat tires, KBR decided to torch them. The Justice Department told Dorgan that it was looking into the mounting allegations of widespread fraud at Halliburton.
4) No-bid contracts: The effort to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina has created a massive amount of new work for the government's inspectors general. One example, according to the Washington Post, was the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's report that the government had awarded an $80 billion no-bid contract to an Alabama company, Clearbrook LLC, for building camps for emergency work, but that the company had "mathematically inaccurate [billings] indicating over three million dollars in overcharges" and a "complete lack of documentation supporting price reasonableness."
That's just the tip of the iceberg. The Post also reported that over at the Pentagon, the Inspector general's office is examining an Army Corps of Engineers contract to distribute ice in Katrina's aftermath and a contract for putting temporary roofs over damaged homes. In fact, by late October, a whopping 92 investigations had been initiated into allegations of corruption, overpayments and other improprieties associated with the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. By early November, the website Govexec.com was reporting that investigations had already led to 23 arrests, 12 indictments, and more than 400 investigators reviewing "3,000 contracts worth more than $5.1 billion...."
5) Manna from FEMA: In response to questions from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in October, the Dept. of Homeland Security's inspector general Richard Skinner said that he was investigating complaints that FEMA wily-nilly provided checks for $2,000 to residents of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana unaffected by Katrina's destructive path. "In three Louisiana parishes," the paper reported, "FEMA issued more checks than there are households, at a cost to taxpayers of at least $70 million." One Mississippi official told the Sun-Sentinel that folks "made a ton of money." "We're talking plasma TVs...stereos...bicycles." While FEMA has told Congress that the disbursement problems have been fixed, Skinner said that he couldn't confirm FEMA's claim. By mid-October, 14 people faced charges of fraud in relation to the $2,000 payouts. Skinner said that "we expect many more" to be indicted.
6) Bilking TSA: As I reported last May, the Transportation Security Administration has its own share of fraud, waste and abuse problems. And so in late October, Rep. Henry Waxman pointed to news reports citing "egregious waste under contracts awarded and administered by the Department of Homeland Security [and TSA]."
Pentagon investigators have found, for instance, that one contractor--the technology company Unisys--might have over-charged TSA by some 171,000 hours in labor and overtime by billing out their employees to TSA "at up to twice their actual rate of compensation," as Waxman's statement put it. One former TSA official told Congress that senior administration officials had ordered him to deflate cost estimates of TSA's deal with Unisys to mislead the public about the true costs of the contract.
7) No Science Allowed: The Government Accountability Office found in mid-November that the FDA, according to the Los Angeles Times, had "compromised their usual science-based decision making process when they ruled in 2004 against letting the morning-after birth control pill be sold without a prescription." The GAO issued a report saying that the FDA's review process for the Plan B pill was "unusual," "not typical," "novel," "did not follow FDA's traditional practices." Before the scientific review had even concluded, senior FDA officials allegedly told mid-level employees that Plan B was not going to be approved for over-the-counter sales, regardless of the scientific findings. Henry Waxman concluded that the "GAO's final report describes an appalling level of manipulation and suppression of the science. It appears that the decision…was preordained from the outset."
8) Politicizing Public Programming: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Inspector General Kenneth Konz recently delivered a report in which he found that CPB's former chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, was trying to politicize PBS's programming by urging PBS to put a conservative talk show on the air and by hiring lobbyists and consultants without the CPB board's approval. Konz's devastating report concluded that Tomlinson (who resigned shortly before the report was publicly released) had "directly violated the agency's statutes and procedures," as the Washington Post put it.
9) Abramoff: I could have devoted an entire Annals to chronicling the government investigations spawned by the notorious GOP super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But in brief, there's a Justice Department criminal probe into allegations that Abramoff bribed lawmakers and their staffs, bilked millions of dollars from Indian tribal clients, and committed assorted other frauds and abuses. The Inspector general's office in the Dept. of Interior (which is part of the DoJ's Abramoff task force) has been interviewing witnesses to determine whether former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles had agreed to prevent the Gun Lake Indian tribe from building a casino in Michigan in deference to Gun Lake's competitor, an Abramoff client. Apparently, Abramoff had also talked to Griles about giving him a job with Abramoff's firm, and if there was a quid pro quo, it would violate conflict-of-interest laws.
10) Abramoff II: Former General Services Administration Chief of Staff David Safavian was arrested on charges that he made false statements and obstructed the investigation by the GSA's Inspector General's office into his connections to Abramoff. Safavian told the IG, according to a Justice Dept. news release, that Abramoff "had no business with GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip" Safavian took to Scotland with Abramoff, Bob Ney, Ralph Reed and others. But Safavian's claims weren't true: "Safavian concealed the fact that the lobbyist had business before GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip," and he had apparently assisted Abramoff's bid to acquire federally-controlled property in the Washington area.
Government investigators have their work cut out for them in the new year. Already, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has urged the House's inspector general to review Bob Ney's House Administration Committee's decision to award a big contract to a wireless company, Foxcom Wireless, an Abramoff client, to improve cell phone reception for the House of Representatives.
And Edward Kennedy recently urged the Pentagon's Inspector general to investigate the Pentagon contractor, the PR firm Lincoln Group, that reportedly paid Iraqi newspapers to publish favorable news stories written by US soldiers without acknowledging the article's origins -- blatant propaganda that erodes America's stated commitment to defending a free press. Kennedy called planting news stories part of a "devious scheme."
Here's one bet you can take to the bank: The Pentagon's propaganda scandal will appear on my next Annals of Outrage top ten list, so stay tuned in 2006.
I want to thank again all the loyal readers whose outpouring of interest and words of kindness have made The Dictionary of Republicanisms such a rewarding experience. All of us must continue to fight to reclaim our political discourse, so we can reclaim our politics.
In my last post, I suggested that readers might want to organize house/book parties to work on submissions for a sequel to The Dictionary of Republicanisms, or simply to take a moment for a little levity in this period of right-wing darkness. And that is exactly what you have done.
We've heard from several of you who have hosted parties and we've been inundated with sharp, funny new submissions. I have included some of my favorites below. Please keep it up. Each one brightens our work at the magazine and portends the dawning of a new America. If we receive enough new definitions, we may gather them in a follow-up book. If you want to submit a definition, just click here.
ARABIAN HORSE ASSOCIATION, n. Homeland security training camp [Bill Schwartz].
BEACH FRONT PROPERTY, n. Place to drill for oil [Quentin Blanchette, St. Louis, MO].
BROWNIE, n. 1) That stinky stuff stuck on Bush's boot [Paul Trepes]. 2) Piece of feces, which clogged federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina [Lucy Stephens, San Diego, CA].
CORPOCRACY, n. The form of democratic government practiced in the United States [Tom Sutter, Madison, WI].
ENTANGLEMENT, n. Power breakfasts at expensive hotels [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].
FEDERAL INDICTMENT, n. Criminalizing politics [Kirby Records, Los Angeles, CA].
GOP BASE, n. The haves and the have-a-lots [Thomas Hartley, Rosendale, NY].
HARRIET MIERED, v. 1) To flip-flop [Lucy Stephens, San Diego, CA]. 2) To be Borked by one's own allies [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].
HECK OF A JOB, n. President Bush's favorite compliment, see FUBAR [Bill Schwartz, Buffalo, NY].
PANDEMIC, n. Nature's system of population management [Bill Schwartz, Dayton, OH].
PAT ROBERTSON, pr. n., Pandemic foot-in-mouth disease [Stephen Weinstein, Pulaski, NM].
POLITICS, n. The continuation of war by any means [Martin Richard, Belgrade, MT].
REVISIONISM, n. Republican revival of Soviet era epithet [John Llewellyn, Elizabeth, NJ].
RESPECTING THE FLAG, slang. Not letting it be shown draping caskets [Neil Hoey, Missoula, MT].
SCOOTER n., Mode of transportation used to dodge indictment/impeachment [Menno Eelkema, New York, NY].
SELF-DETERMINATION, n. Right of Iraqis to select a government acceptable to us [Matthew Cross, Tulsa, OK].
STAY THE COURSE, n. Stuck between Iraq and a hard place [Joshua Vizer, San Francisco, CA].
SUPPORT THE TROOPS, slang. Outsource, to favored corporations, using no-bid contracts, what earlier generations of troopes hated, namely, KP, guard and latrine duty, and policing the perimeter, in order to facilitate maximum troop exposure to the enemy and enhance corporate profits [John Llewellyn, New York, NY].
SWIFT BOAT, v. To undermine someone's record with falsehoods [Larry Andriks, Eugene, OR].
TED STEVENS, n. Bridge to nowhere [Stephen Weinstein, San Diego, CA].
TEXAS HOLD 'EM, n. Federal government jobs fair [Michael Joyce, Austin, TX].
TORTURE, n. X-Treme research [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].
WMD, acronym. We Meant Democracy [Todd Andresen, St. Louis, MO].
If you want to better understand how public opinion on the war in Iraq has reached a turning point, visit Johnstown in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional district. It's a socially conservative, blue-collar district whose once thriving steel mills now languish. Bush lost the district by only 8,000 votes in 2004 and John Murtha has represented it for 16 terms. One wouldn't expect to find rising opposition to the war here.
Yet, after Murtha's courageous and emotional statement on Thanksgiving eve insisting it's time for US troops to come home within six months, his constituents seem to be siding with him in increasingly large numbers.
Given the district's large veteran population and conservative political tendencies, a surprising number of constituents -- including veterans -- expressed virtually unqualified support for Murtha's newly-stated position that the Iraq conflict has no military solution.
A Vietnam veteran said that he felt, "like Murtha, [that] we should stop [the war] and bring them home and get them out of there." One Army veteran of World War II applauded Murtha's candid assessment of the absence of progress in Iraq, saying that American soldiers should have pulled out of Iraq "a long time ago." The Tribune-Democrat listed the results of an unscientific poll on its website revealing that 63 percent of respondents supported Murtha's arguments that we should withdraw from Iraq within six months while 37 percent disagreed with their Congressman's position.
While polling for opinion in Murtha's district is hard to find, a slew of articles, editorials, interviews and other commentary has appeared in state and local papers and wire services to suggest that public opinion is trending in Murtha's direction across not just his district but also his entire state.
"Many constituents side with Murtha on troops leaving Iraq," one Knight Ridder News story said. The Tribune-Democrat declared: "Murtha's stance on troops generally wins support at home." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced: "Johnstown stands behind Murtha in wake of his call for Iraq exit."
Indeed, phone calls flooding Murtha's main district office in the aftermath of his announcement ran about two-to-one in favor of Murtha's position, Murtha's district director said. Murtha's constituents know him so well that they instinctively trust his judgment and instincts especially on matters of war and peace.
Another factor at work is that at least some of Murtha's constituents have also reached the conclusion that Bush Administration strategy in Iraq has failed, that military victory is not achievable and that the best thing is to withdraw as soon as possible. A few people called Murtha's office and called him a "traitor." For the most part, though, his constituents "in west Pennsylvania signaled weariness for the war," Knight Ridder reported. "It's a conservative area. But we don't support this particular war," one veteran interviewed in Johnstown's American Legion Hall told a reporter. "Most of the people around here are in accord with [Murtha] on this [war]."
Sure, "not everyone in Johnstown is comfortable with Mr. Murtha's new role," David S. Cloud wrote in the New York Times a few days before Thanksgiving. For example, the head of the local Republican party is "kind of perplexed" about Murtha's about-face. "If we would leave right now, I think al-Qaeda's people would be more winners than losers," a Vietnam Veteran told Johnstown's local paper, the Tribune-Democrat, in voicing his opposition to Murtha's new antiwar stance.
But if the editorial pages of the Tribune-Democrat, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Post-Gazette are indicative of the mood in Murtha's district and the state, it's fair to conclude that Pennsylvanians are now opposed to President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. In Johnstown, the local paper's editorial page urged those defending Bush's war to "hear Murtha out" and argued that the combat "has gone on far too long." The Inquirer's editorial page faulted Murtha's critics for smearing the former Marine while the the Post-Gazette's page explained that Murtha's declaration that the US should pull out "linger[s] in the air with authority" and should not simply be dismissed out of hand.
The growing disillusionment with the war has many roots, including the large costs to the state's communities. In September, five Pennsylvanians died in a single day in a roadside bombing near Ramadi. As of late September, 104 Pennsylvanians had died in combat in Iraq, and the state ranks third behind only Texas and California in the number of fatalities for any single state.
Pennsylvania has also been financially hurt, spending some $10.1 billion of its money to pay for the Iraqi conflict. With over 3,200 of its National Guardsmen serving in Iraq, the state has the highest per capita deployed of any state. The result: Pennsylvania is poorly equipped to handle the kind of natural disaster that hit Louisiana and Mississippi earlier this year.
Murtha's not a lone hawk turned against the war, either; other hawks have had changes-of-heart on Iraq reminiscent of his recent conversion. North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, who has many military bases based in his district, (and coiner of the "freedom fries" phrase) announced this past June that he had decided that our troops should leave Iraq. Jones even joined Dennis Kucinich and Neil Abercrombie, two leading members of the Progressive Caucus in sponsoring a resolution urging Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq beginning in October 2006. Like Murtha, Jones has seen up-close the devastation of the war on his district's communities and families.
The turning point for Jones came at a funeral for a Marine who left behind a wife and three kids, when Jones heard the Marine's widow read her husband's last letter. Jones said: "This was an event in my life that it actually had spiritual ramifications, because I became part of the family. I was emotional, and I think from that day, my feelings have evolved. I mean, we have to defeat terrorism. I just think that we have achieved the goals in Iraq, and maybe it's now time to consider what we need to be doing down the road."
Jones has displayed pictures of US fatalities in the hallway outside his office. "When I think about what happened in Vietnam -- we lost 58,000 -- I wonder, 'Wouldn't it have been nice if, two years into the war, some representatives would have said, 'Mr. President, where we going?'" Jones explained.
Murtha, of course, has reached similar conclusions about the absence of progress in Iraq and about the mounting human costs of our failed strategy. Murtha, for instance, keeps track of how many of his constituents have died in Iraq (13) and frequently visits the wounded recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center.
One of his constituents, the New York Times reported, is Private Salvatore Ross Jr., who lost part of his leg and is now blind because of a landmine explosion. Murtha helped the soldier receive special treatment at John Hopkins Medical Center, and the Times reported that Murtha "arranged a ceremony in Private Ross's hometown, where he received a Purple Heart."
Murtha is a compelling figure: The first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, he has been a good friend to the military for decades, and he is the furthest thing from a dove in the US Congress. The Washington Post referred to Murtha as the "Democrats' soldier-legislator." It seems clear that Murtha is close to those in the military who understand this occupation is unwinnable. Because of who he is, what he stands for, Murtha has served his nation well in demanding an end to a reckless war.
Former National Writers Union president Jonathan Tasini, one of the most outspoken progressive activists in the U.S. labor movement, is expected this week to launch a Democratic primary challenge to New York Senator Hillary Clinton on a progressive platform that features a call for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Tasini has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday morning in New York City, setting up a campaign that could put unexpected pressure from the left on Clinton, the unannounced frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination who until recently has been one of the strongest Democratic backers of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Tasini plans to campaign in support of the call by U.S. Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, for the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from that Middle Eastern country.
"Senator Clinton is out of step with the values of a majority of New Yorkers. While a majority of New Yorkers support an end to the war, Senator Clinton has repeatedly voiced her support for a war that continues to accumulate unacceptable costs, in terms of American and Iraqi lives and our own government spending," explained Tasini, decribing a central theme of a campaign that is also expected to advocate for fair trade, economic reforms and universal health care.
Clinton has felt little heat so far from her most prominent Republican challenger, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, whose campaign so far has been so hapless that some top Republicans are now calling for her to quit the race and instead run for state Attorney General.
But Tasini, who served for more than a decade as head of a national union and has since worked as president of the Economic Future Group, poses a far different and potentially more interesting challenge to Clinton. An author and frequent guest on television public affairs programs, Tasini runs a well-regarded progressive blog, Working Life, at his www.workinglife.org website, where his reviews of trade, health care and labor policy issues have drawn a broad following.
Unlike Pirro, Tasini understands the issues, he's quick on his feet, he knows his way around the state's union halls and he recognizes that Clinton's greatest vulnerability is a cautious centrism that has frequently put her at odds with grassroots Democrats.
Striking a chord that may well resonate with Democratic activists, Tasini says, "My candidacy will borrow a phrase from the late Senator Paul Wellstone, asking New Yorkers to'vote for what you believe in.'"
Even in liberal New York, a Tasini win in next September's Democratic primary would be a huge upset.
Clinton has a deep-pockets campaign treasury, a solid Senate record and an appeal to many Democrats who see her as both an heir to her husband Bill Clinton's legacy and potentially the best candidate to carry that legacy forward as a 2008 presidential contender. She also has an approach to even the most critical issues of the day that might charitably be referred to as "flexible."
In 2002, Clinton broke with more progressive Democrats such as Wellstone, the late senator from Minnesota, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, to support authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. And during the 2004 presidential campaign, she echoed the sentiments of the most hawkish Republicans when she criticized Bush for not sending enough troops to Iraq.
But, as the war has lost popular appeal, Clinton has begun to blur her position. In a November 30 letter to constituents, the senator seemed to back away from her support of the 2002 resolution, writing, "I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by the Administration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issue of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do. Their assurances turned out to be empty ones, as the Administration refused repeated requests from the U.N. inspectors to finish their work. And the 'evidence' of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda turned out to be false. Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban."
Clinton stopped short of admitting that her 2002 vote was "wrong," which is what former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, another prospective candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, did in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.
She has also refused to side with another backer of the 2002 resolution, Murtha, who is now pushing for a quick exit strategy. Clinton claims that, "I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end." But, she adds, "Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately." And a close read of her letter reveals that, while the senator is quick to criticize Bush, she is still in the camp that says America has "a big job to do" in Iraq.
That's the opening that Tasini will attempt to exploit. It will not be easy -- even some of his old allies in the labor movement will be slow to officially embrace his challenge to one of the most prominent and powerful Democrats in the country.
But frustration with Clinton runs deeper among activist Democrats than is often noted in the media.
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier in Iraq whose August protest outside George Bush's ranchette in Crawford, Texas, made her one of the country's most prominent anti-war advocates, has been almost as vocal in her criticism of the senator as she has been of the president. "Hillary Clinton is the leader of the pack" of pro-war Democrats, says Sheehan, who recently joined the board of the anti-war Progressive Democrats of America group. In an open letter posted in October on filmmaker Michael Moore's web site, Sheehan wrote of Clinton: "I think she is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys."
Sheehan added that, "I will resist (Clinton's) candidacy with every bit of my power and strength."
That line led some New York activists to suggest that Sheehan should move to the state -- as Clinton did before her 2000 Senate run -- and run against the incumbent.
That's not going to happen. Rather, Sheehan has issued a letter of support for Tasini's challenge to Clinton, which you can read on Tasini's website.
Congress returns to DC today, December 6, after a recess and a coalition of groups, led by our friends at Democrats.com are welcoming them with an antiwar message. This National Call-In Day--organized by Democrats.com, Progressive Democrats of America, After Downing Street and United for Peace and Justice--aims to focus legislative offices squarely on the centrality of the war as the foremost issue that must be addressed.
The message is simple: "I am calling to let Rep. ______ know that I think the Iraq war is wrong and all our troops should be brought home immediately!" The call-ins have already started so please click here right away to find contact info for your elected reps and let them know you expect them to work for a speedy end to the war in Iraq. You can also call the Capitol switchboard toll-free at 888-818-6641.
(This same coalition is organizing a series of nationwide "Out of Iraq" events this January 7. Click here for info.)
Release Them Unharmed
Nearly six days after four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams were abducted in Iraq, their safety remains unknown as peace activists from around the world appeal for their release.
Two of the four abducted are Canadians, one from England and the other from the United States, as identified and confirmed by the Chicago-based international Christian peace organization Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). All of them are long-time peace activists who have all demonstrated a long-term commitment to the ideals of social justice and self-determination.
A British coalition of antiwar groups--including the Muslim Association of Britain, Stop the War and CND--announced yesterday that it would send leading British antiwar campaigner Anas Altikriti to Iraq to appeal directly for the release of hostages.
Echoing the call is an urgent appeal that's being introduced today by an ad-hoc group of concerned writers and activists in the US and Canada. Please read it below and circulate it widely. Then click here to join Arundhati Roy, Rashid Khalidi, Cindy Sheehan, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Nation writers Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill in signing the statement which calls for the activists' immediate release so that they may continue their vital work as witnesses and peacemakers. And, remember, time is of the essence.
An Urgent Appeal(Click here to add your name.)
Four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were taken this past Saturday, November 26, in Baghdad, Iraq. They are not spies, nor do they work in the service of any government. They are people who have dedicated their lives to fighting against war and have clearly and publicly opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They are people of faith, but they are not missionaries. They have deep respect for the Islamic faith and for the right of Iraqis to self-determination.
CPT first came to Iraq in October 2002 to oppose the US invasion, and it has remained in the country throughout the occupation in solidarity with the Iraqi people. The group has been invaluable in alerting the world to many of the horrors facing Iraqis detained in US-run prisons and detention centers.
CPT was among the first to document the torture occurring at the AbuGhraib prison, long before the story broke in the mainstream press. Itsmembers have spent countless hours interviewing Iraqis about abuse andtorture suffered at the hands of US forces and have disseminated thisinformation internationally.
Each of the four CPT members being held in Iraq has dedicated his life to resisting the darkness and misery of war and occupation. Convinced that it is not enough to oppose the war from the safety of their homes, they made the difficult decision to go to Iraq, knowing that the climate of mistrust created by foreign occupation meant that they could be mistaken for spies or missionaries. They went there with a simple purpose: to bear witness to injustice and to embody a different kind of relationship between cultures and faiths. Members of CPT willingly undertook the risks of living among Iraqis, in a common neighborhood outside of the infamous Green Zone.
They sought no protection from weapons or armed guards, trusting in, andbenefiting from, the goodwill of the Iraqi people. Acts of kindness andhospitality from Iraqis were innumerable and ensured the CPT members'safety and wellbeing. We believe that spirit will prevail in the currentsituation.
We appeal to those holding these activists to release them unharmed so that they may continue their vital work as witnesses and peacemakers.
[Click here and scroll down to see the full list of initial signers.]
"At the national level, we are seeing the most outrageous string of pay-to-play scandals in a generation," wrote Nick Nyhart, co-founder and Executive Director of Public Campaign, on TPMCafe. "Unfortunately, in Congress, no one is focusing on the kinds of reforms that would shift power away from well-healed lobbying interests."
At the state level, however, it's a different story. On Wednesday night, after seven hours of debate, the Connecticut Senate voted 27 to 8 in favor of passing the most comprehensive campaign finance reform bill in the country. The breakthrough legislation comes on the heels of a deeply damaging corruption scandal in Connecticut, where former Governor John Rowland is serving a one-year prison sentence for accepting gifts from state contractors.
Taking effect in December of 2006, the bill bans political contributions from lobbyists and state contractors and creates a publicly funded election system that encompasses all statewide races. What's truly remarkable about Connecticut is that, for the first time, a legislature passed a campaign finance bill that affects its own seats. "It will truly make Connecticut's elections about the voters and not about the donors," said Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford.
We declared a "Sweet Victory" in Connecticut back in June, when Governor Jodi Rell announced the sweeping proposal but months of deadlock in the legislature followed. Thanks to a massive and persistent grassroots effort led by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Connecticut Common Cause, the Connecticut League of Women Voters, civil rights, labor, and environmental organizations, the call for reform was finally met. "The Connecticut law is the strongest campaign finance law in the nation," says Nyhart, "[It] gives ordinary people, without connections to big money, a greater role in the electoral process while ratcheting down the clout of lobbyists and powerful state contractors."
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
The big news on any day when President Bush delivers a "major address" regarding Iraq is never what the commander-in-chief says. Bush has been on autopilot for so long now that he does not even bother to say anything new -- even when he is supposedly laying out a strategy for "victory."
That was certainly the case Wednesday, when the president treated an audience of cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to a repeat of every tired cliche he had previously uttered about the war, right down to the clumsy attempt to make a 9-11 link, the ridiculous comparisons with World War II and the don't-bother-me-with-the-facts pledge that, no matter how bad things get, "America will not run." What Bush fails to mention, of course that, with the depth of the quagmire into which he has steered the U.S. military, it's just about impossible to run.
A diginified withdrawal, on the other hand, remains not merely possible but preferable to the Bush approach.
And it is on the withdrawal front that the big news came Wednesday.
After the president spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced that she is now backing the call by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
That's a reversal for Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, who two weeks ago rejected Murtha's call for an exit strategy.
Despite the fact that Murtha had been a key supporter of her climb up the Democratic leadership ladder in the House, Pelosi was initially cautious about embracing the decorated Vietnam veteran's proposal to begin bringing the troops home.
Now, Pelosi says, "We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable. That is what the American people and our troops deserve."
That's big news.
For the first time since the war began, Democrats finally have a congressional leader who says it should end.
But that's not big enough news.
Pelosi is still holding back when it comes to putting the House Democratic Caucus on record in support of Murtha's withdrawal proposal.
"I believe that a majority of our caucus clearly supports Mr. Murtha," says Pelosi. But the minority leader still says "a vote on the war is an individual vote."
At a point when two thirds of Americans say that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, and a majority say that the time has come to start rectifying that mistake by bringing troops home, this country needs an opposition party that is in tune with the sentiments of the citizens.
To be sure, a handful of neocon Democrats -- led by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman -- will continue to side with the Bush administration and support the war. But, as Pelosi admits, the vast majority of House Democrats are with Murtha. It is time for the caucus as a whole to take a stand that will clarify the debate and force at House Republicans who are increasingly wary of "staying the course" that is being set by a lameduck president.
Two years ago, Nancy Pelosi was elected minority leader in order to turn the House Democrats into an opposition party. She pulled her punches for far too long, doing serious damage not just to her party but to the national discourse -- which suffered from the lack of an alternative to the Bush administration's increasingly absurd pro-war line. Now, Pelosi has begun to speak up. That's good. But it's not good enough.
Pelosi is not an individual member. She is the Democratic leader in the House, and she needs to lead.
With thanks to both Nation columnist Katha Pollitt and a student from Hampton University who called me this morning and would like to remain anonymous, we wanted to alert Nation readers to a seriously under-reported travesty about to take place at Hampton, a historically black school in Hampton, Virginia.
Seven Hampton students are facing expulsion hearings THIS FRIDAY. Their "crime" was distributing "unauthorized" literature criticizing the Bush Administration's policies on AIDS, Hurricane Katrina, homophobia, the Iraq war and the Sudan as part of a national series of student protests on November 2nd. "Unauthorized" flyers are distributed and posted all the time of course--it's only when they feature progressive political content that the administration cracks down. This is a free speech issue, an issue of students' rights, and an antiwar issue!
There are a number of ways you can help but you need to act fast. First, call the school. Let Hampton administrators know that you oppose the chilling of free speech on the Hampton campus. Ask them to drop all charges against the students, recognize the activist club as an official student organization, and craft a free speech policy that doesn't criminalize dissent.
Here are the names and contact info for key administrators.
Dr. Bennie McMorris, Vice President for Student Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-727-5264
Woodson Hopewell, Dean of Men, email@example.com or 757-727-5303
Jewel Long, Dean of Women, firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-727-5486
After that, please click here to read and circulate a new statement defending the students. (And please join Howard Zinn, Michael Eric Dyson, Pollitt and many others in signing the petition. To do so, email to: email@example.com.) Finally, click here for more info on the case. The more you read, the more pissed off you'll get. Just remember that the hearings are this Friday, so please act quickly.
World AIDS Day Chat
I didn't know it until yesterday but tomorrow, December 1, is World AIDS Day.
To mark the occasion, the estimable Moving Ideas Network and Amnesty International are co-hosting an online chat TOMORROW at 12:00est. Titled Violence Against Women, HIV/AIDS and US Policy, the chat--which features four experts on the AIDS crisis, including Nation writer Salih Booker--will focus on the way the AIDS pandemic has brought to light the inextricable connection between the right to healthcare and other fundamental human rights. Click here to submit questions in advance and click here for more info. Most of all, check out the chat tomorrow at noon.
Republicans may want to reconsider their current efforts to curtail habeas corpus, since it looks like they are intent on taking over yet another branch of government, the federal prison population. Leading the GOP charge is San Diego Republican Congressman, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who pled guilty Monday to charges of bribery, fraud, and tax evasion. Duke says he plans to make amends. He'd be better off planning how he's going to make friends with his cellmate.
Who that might be is the question buzzing around DC since former DeLay aide and lobbyist Michael Scanlon's plea deal. Federal prosecutors are charging that Scanlon and Jack Abramoff provided a stream of bribes to Republican Congressman Robert Ney of Ohio and members of his staff, including a "lavish Scotland golf trip in 2002," in return for legislation that favored their lobbying clients. Ney says he was duped. Let's hope he's not as gullible in prison.
And then there's Scanlon's former boss, Congressman Tom DeLay, the Energizer Bunny of K-street corrupt conservatism. He's already being indicted in Texas. Having his boy turn rat puts him in potential legal jeopardy on a second front.
But as every lobbyist knows for a good golf game you need a fourth. Here's a quote from Bloomberg News: "Senator Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, helped win a three million dollar government award for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan to build a school. The Interior Department ruled the tribe was ineligible because its Soaring Eagle casino makes it one of the richest. The tribe, an Abramoff client, donated $32,000 to Burns from 2001 to 2003."
At this rate it won't be long before Leavenworth has enough Republican Congressmen for a quorum.
Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the State department, is in the news again. He first made headlines several weeks ago by accusing Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld of running a "cabal" that seized control of national security decision-making in the Bush administration prior to the Iraq war. This Tuesday, he's in the news for blasting Cheney for pushing for an anything-goes policy when it comes to detainees held by US forces. Asked during a BBC interview if he believes Cheney is guilty of war crimes for shoving aside the Geneva accords and pushing for harsh treatment (perhaps torture) of detainees, Wilkerson replied,
Well, that's an interesting question. It was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is--for whatever it's worth--an international crime as well.
That's some statement from a former Bush administration official. (He probably meant to say that it's illegal to conduct, not "advocate," torture, not "terror.") As might be expected, news outfits, bloggers and websites are having a field day with this. But you should read the entire interview, for Wilkerson makes several points that are less melodramatic but as, if not more, important. For instance, he attacks the White House for its recklessly negligent handling of the post-invasion planning for Iraq. This was a criminal--at least in policy terms--act for which Bush and his crowd have escaped accountability. (See what happens when Congress is controlled by the party of the president?) How Bush botched the post-invasion period should have been a bigger issue in the 2004 elections. It wasn't. But it's still not too late to complain and point an accusing finger. Wilkerson told the BBC,
The post-invasion planning for Iraq was handled, in my opinion, in this alternative decision-making process which, in this case, constituted the vice-president and the secretary of defence and certain people in the defence department who did the "post invasion planning", which was as inept and incompetent as perhaps any planning anyone has ever done.
It consisted of largely sending Jay Garner and his organisation to sit in Kuwait until the military forces had moved into Baghdad, and then going to Baghdad and other places in Iraq with no other purpose than to deliver a little humanitarian assistance, perhaps deal with some oil-field fires, put Ahmed Chalabi or some other similar Iraqi in charge and leave.
This was not only inept and incompetent, it was day-dreaming of the most unfortunate type and ever since that failed we've been in a pick-up game - a pick-up game that's cost us over 2,000 American KIAs [killed in action] and almost a division's worth of casualties.
It would have been appropriate for a congressional committee or two to examine what went wrong. But Republicans decided this was not as critical as, say, the Whitewater land deal.
In the interview, a BBC correspondent asked Wilkerson,
You've got also John Kerry recently accusing President Bush of orchestrating one of the great acts of deception in American history, and saying that flawed intelligence was manipulated to fit a political agenda. Now Colin Powell would be tarred with that same brush wouldn't he? Did he feel that he had correct information about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction when he outlined the case against Saddam?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the latest in the CIA leak scandal, Scooter Libby's view of lying, Republican corruption scandals, and other in-the-news matters.
Here's Wilkerson's reply:
He certainly did and so did I. I was intimately involved in that process and to this point I have more or less defended the administration.
I have basically been supportive of the administration's point that it was simply fooled--that the intelligence community, including the UK, Germany, France, Jordan--other countries that confirmed what we had in our intelligence package, yet we were all just fooled.
Lately, I'm growing increasingly concerned because two things have just happened here that really make me wonder.
And the one is the questioning of Sheikh al-Libby where his confessions were obtained through interrogation techniques other than those authorised by Geneva.
It led Colin Powell to say at the UN on 5 February 2003 that there were some pretty substantive contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad. And we now know that al-Libby's forced confession has been recanted and we know--we're pretty sure that it was invalid.
But more important than that, we know that there was a defence intelligence agency dissent on that testimony even before Colin Powell made his presentation. We never heard about that.
Follow that up with Curveball, and the fact that the Germans now say they told our CIA well before Colin Powell gave his presentation that Curveball--the source to the biological mobile laboratories--was lying and was not a trustworthy source. And then you begin to speculate, you begin to wonder was this intelligence spun; was it politicised; was it cherry-picked; did in fact the American people get fooled--I am beginning to have my concerns.
Beginning? It's not too late for that either. Now when will Colin Powell speak as frankly as his former deputy?