Friday, May 12, 2006
REPUBLICAN: A Definition.
n. (re-pub-lik-can): Someone who believes that government doesn't work. Then, once elected, sets out to prove it.
Bush and Republican Congress, Running America Like A Corporation. Too Bad It's Like Enron.
A New Report Says the Pentagon's Finances are in Disarray
By Drew Brown
Friday 12 May 2006
Washington - The Defense Department's accounting practices are in such disarray that defense officials can't track how much equipment the military owns, where it all is or exactly how they spend defense dollars every year, according to a report Thursday by a nongovernmental group.
The report by Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities called the Pentagon's financial-management practices "an embarrassment" that wouldn't pass muster in the private sector.
"Today, if the Defense Department were a private business it would be involved in a major scandal," said Kwai Chan, a former top official with the Government Accountability Office and the report's author.
A Defense Department spokesman said officials hadn't had time to examine the report. "It would be inappropriate for me to comment on something that we have not had time to adequately analyze," Lt. Col. Brian Maka said.
The nonpartisan group, made up of more than 600 current and retired business executives from U.S. companies, thinks that federal spending priorities are undermining national security. The group wants Congress to shift money from the defense budget to spend more on schools, health care, energy independence, deficit reduction and other programs.
Financial waste at the Pentagon lends credibility to defense analysts who argue that billions of dollars are wasted every year on weapons "that are irrelevant to fighting terrorists and the Iraq war," Chan said.
The United States plans to spend $441 billion on defense this year, excluding war costs, which are expected to top $120 billion in 2006. That's an increase of about 48 percent since 2001, Chan said. U.S. defense spending this year will reach its highest level since the Korean War.
The Bush administration says the money is needed to fight the war on terrorism, but some analysts estimate that more than $60 billion in fiscal year 2007 will be spent on weapons originally designed to fight the Soviet Union, including the F-22 stealth fighter, the Virginia-class submarine, the V-22 Osprey and ballistic-missile defenses. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Nearly all the information in Chan's report came from government documents. A report this year from the White House's Office of Management and Budget found that 20 out of 23 defense programs that auditors looked at - including shipbuilding, missile defense, depot maintenance, housing, health, air, land and ship operations - didn't use strong financial-management practices.
In reports to Congress in recent years, the GAO found:
* 94 percent of Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers experienced pay problems in 2004.
* $100 million that could be collected annually from defense contractors who underpaid federal taxes. The federal government had collected less than 1 percent of that - less than $700,000.
* $1.2 billion in Army supplies shipped to Iraq that couldn't be accounted for. As a result, military units ended up short on "tires, tank tracks, helicopter spare parts, radio batteries and other basic items."
* $35 billion worth of excess supplies and equipment, plus an inability to track the movement of supplies.
* $100 million in airline tickets that were never used.
Since 1990, Congress has required government agencies to apply the same "financial discipline" as private companies, but the Pentagon hasn't yet balanced its books under acceptable accounting standards.
Much of the problem stems from the sheer size of the Defense Department and the extent of its activities. There are more than 1.2 million people in uniform. More than 20,000 people work at the Pentagon alone.
Lawrence J. Korb, who was a Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said he could save $20 billion a year alone by overhauling the Pentagon's procurement and business practices.
"And I'm saying to myself, OK, why doesn't he do it," said Korb, who's now a defense analyst at the Center for American Progress, a Washington public-policy research group.
The Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General has pronounced the department "un-auditable," Chan said. Officials have told Congress that the Pentagon is trying to streamline more than 250 accounting systems it used a decade ago into several dozen.
"By the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order" - George W. Bush
This Time, It Really Is Orwellian
By Robert Parry
Friday 12 May 2006
Given George W. Bush's history of outright lying, especially on national security matters, it may seem silly to dissect his words about the new disclosure that his administration has collected phone records of some 200 million Americans.
But Bush made two parse-able points in reacting to USA Today's story about the National Security Agency building a vast database of domestic phone calls. "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," Bush said, adding "the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities."
In his brief remarks, however, Bush didn't define what he meant by "ordinary Americans" nor whether the data-mining might cover, say, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, just not "millions."
For instance, would a journalist covering national security be regarded as an "ordinary American"? What about a political opponent or an anti-war activist who has criticized administration policies in the Middle East? Such "unordinary" people might number in the tens of thousands, but perhaps not into the millions.
Also, isn't it reasonable to suspect that the Bush administration would be tempted to tap into its huge database to, say, check on who might have been calling reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker - or now USA Today - where significant national security stories have been published?
Or during Campaign 2004, wouldn't the White House political apparatchiks have been eager to know whether, say, Sen. John Kerry had been in touch with foreign officials who might have confided that they were worried about Bush gaining a second term?
Or what about calls to and from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald while he investigates a White House leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, the CIA officer married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq War critic?
What if one of these "unordinary" Americans had placed a lot of calls to an illicit lover or a psychiatrist? Wouldn't Bush's aggressive political operatives know just how to make the most of such information? Paranoia?
While such concerns might seem paranoid to some observers, Bush has blurred his political fortunes with the national interest before, such as his authorization to Vice President Dick Cheney's staff in mid-2003 to put out classified material on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to undercut Ambassador Wilson.
Though Plame was an undercover CIA officer working on sensitive WMD investigations, her classified identity was bandied about - and ultimately disclosed - by the likes of White House political adviser Karl Rove, who had no real "need to know" a discrete intelligence secret that sensitive.
In a court filing on April 5, 2006, Fitzgerald said his investigation uncovered government documents that "could be characterized as reflecting a plan to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against Mr. Wilson" because of his criticism of the administration's handling of the evidence on Iraq's alleged pursuit of enriched uranium in Africa.
There are also historical reasons to suspect that the administration might be inclined to use its huge database against its critics. Some senior administration officials, such as Cheney, held key government jobs in the 1970s when one of the goals of spying on Americans was to ferret out suspected links between U.S. dissidents and foreign powers.
It had become an article of faith for some government officials that the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests must have been orchestrated and financed by some international enemy of the United States.
Some of the excesses in those investigations, such as the bugging of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and break-ins targeting Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, led to new laws in the 1970s limiting the power of the Executive.
For instance, in 1978, Congress enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which tried to balance the government's legitimate interest in tracking foreign agents and the citizens' constitutional right of protection against unreasonable searches.
However, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Bush asserted "plenary" - or unlimited - powers as Commander in Chief and brushed aside legal requirements that the government obtain a warrant through a special FISA court before eavesdropping on phone calls inside the United States. Cover-Up
After making that decision, Bush lied to conceal what he had done. On April 20, 2004, he told a crowd in Buffalo, N.Y., that warrants were still required for all wiretaps.
"By the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires - a wiretap requires a court order," Bush said. "Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
After the New York Times disclosed the warrantless wiretapping program in December 2005, Bush continued to misrepresent the program, calling it "limited" to "taking known al-Qaeda numbers - numbers from known al-Qaeda people - and just trying to find out why the phone calls are being made."
In his folksy style, he told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 11, 2006, that "it seems like to me that if somebody is talking to al-Qaeda, we want to know why."
But the program that Bush described could easily have been accomplished through warrants under the FISA law, which lets the government wiretap for 72 hours before going to a secret court for a warrant.
Even before the USA Today disclosure on May 11, 2006, it was clear that Bush's spying program was much larger than he had let on. Indeed, the operation was reportedly big enough to generate thousands of tips each month, which were passed on to the FBI.
"But virtually all of [the tips], current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans," the New York Times reported. "FBI officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators.… Some FBI officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy." [NYT, Jan. 17, 2006]
Also, undermining Bush's claims about the limited nature of the NSA's activities is why the administration would need to possess the complete phone records of the 200 million customers of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth - if the government were only conducting what Bush and his aides have called a "targeted terrorist surveillance program."
(Qwest, a Colorado-based company with about 14 million customers, refused to turn over its records to the government because there was no court order, USA Today reported.)
The stated goal of tracking phone numbers that had been called by al-Qaeda operatives could be easily done with warrants from the FISA court. There would be no need to compile every personal and business call made by 200 million Americans.
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," one person told USA Today. The program's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, the person said. [USA Today, May 11, 2006]
In describing Bush's policies over the past several years, the word "Orwellian" has sometimes been overused. But a government decision to electronically warehouse the trillions of phone numbers called by its citizens over their lifetimes is the essence of George Orwell's Big Brother nightmare.
-------- Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & "Project Truth."
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Thumbing through the usual right-wing media sources as they desperately vow that this, too, is absolutely no big deal and in fact entirely reasonable, I was struck by just how assured they were that massive data mining of the telephone calls of all American citizens was a perfectly normal thing to expect, just like government demands to turn over large numbers of Google searches, or government notions that if an American was accused of consorting with terrorists, the Constitutional protections of representation and evidence no longer applied.
We seem to have had four distinct periods to this domestic espionage story:
1) We first were told the U.S. government was spying on al Qaeda. Well, duh. I would hope so. (As far as I'm concerned, the NSA should break into every al Qaeda call with little farting sounds, just to see if we can get them into slapfights with each other. I'd like to hear fake-Osama singing the Monty Python "Spam" song.) This, everyone agreed, was no big deal. Nobody gives two bits: it requires a FISA warrant, and those warrants can even be granted after the fact, and those warrants are in fact always granted, and there is no controversy about it. It is not only necessary for the war on actual terrorists, but is a microscopically limited program.
2) But we then learned that it wasn't al Qaeda, it was "international communications" in general: telephone conversations that began and ended at two foreign points. Using data mining, not just the calls of the suspected terror-connected were being intercepted, but the calls between individuals with no known connections with terrorism, in an effort to look for patterns and words ostensibly indicative of terrorism. And, we were assured, this was no big deal, because FISA law is too cumbersome to be followed when you are talking about intercepting tens of thousands of calls on a giant, worldwide fishing expedition, and after all, the president assured us, they were not spying on Americans, only foreigners. And Constitutional rights do not apply to those foreign types, although some people questioned whether or not such a buckshot approach was causing so many false positives as to be hindering law enforcement efforts. But, after all, this is necessary for the war against supporters of known terrorists, and it is a very limited program. Don't presume this to be a big deal.
3) Then we learned that it wasn't exactly just all phone calls between international sources, but calls beginning or ending in the United States, too. Though in direct conflict to previous assertions, this, we were told, was also just fine; we were told that the only people who had anything to fear were the terrorists. We wouldn't dare conduct searches of the records of U.S. citizens that had nothing to do with terrorism: only the guilty were being spied on. It is necessary for the war on people who might be acquainted with the supporters of possible terrorists, and it is a limited and quite sensitively conducted program. Don't be paranoid, the rest of you aren't being affected.
4) Then we learned that it isn't about foreign vs. international calls at all. It's all calls. Your calls, my calls, the calls of politicians, of reporters, of government officials, by the tens of millions. Purely between Americans. They're all stored by a government agency in an ostensible attempt to "data mine" that information for, it is said again, potential ties between you and the terrorists. But don't worry, the president tells us, the government would never misuse the data files they've collected on tens of millions of Americans. Don't be silly.
This frog seems fairly well boiled, at this point, doesn't it?
So here's a question for the community. And am I right in assuming that, if we looked, we could find administration officials and right-wing pundits vowing up and down at each stage that the next stage was a complete impossibility, a mere fabrication of paranoid minds?
And what will be the next revelation that we're told, by the _exact same government sources and partisan hacks that assured us none of what we now know to be happening was happening? That the White House or other government agencies, say, have been sporadically requesting call data for specific individuals? Say, Christianne Amanpour?
Of course not. Don't be silly. This is a very limited program.
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher was indicted on misdemeanor charges Thursday in connection with the investigation into whether his administration made personnel decisions based on politics, not qualifications.
The special Franklin County Jury issued the indictment about 4:30 p.m.
Check courier-journal.com for updates
**since the article fails to mention it, I will. Gov. Fletcher is a Republican.
Bush Says U.S. Spying Is Not Widespread
By JOHN O'NEIL
President Bush today denied that the government is "mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans," as Democrats expressed outrage over a news report describing a National Security Agency program that has collected vast amounts of telephone records.
The article, in USA Today, said that the agency did not listen to the calls, but secretly obtained information on numbers dialed by "tens of millions of Americans" and used it for "data mining" — computer analysis of large amounts of information for clues or patterns to terrorist activity.
Making a hastily scheduled appearance in the White House, Mr. Bush did not directly address the collection of phone records, except to say that "new claims" had been raised about surveillance. He said all intelligence work was conducted "within the law" and that domestic conversations were not listened to without a court warrant.
"The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities," he said. "Our efforts are focused on Al Qaeda and their known associates."
In the Senate, Democrats denounced the article as evidence that Congress had failed to carry out its duty to make sure that the intelligence activities did not violate civil rights.
And Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call executives of AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon "to see if we can learn some of the underlying facts."
He said he would question them about "what we can't find out from the Department of Justice or other administration officials."
The article named those three companies as cooperating with the security agency's request; it said that Qwest had refused to provide the information.
The New York Times reported last December that the agency had gathered data from phone and e-mail traffic with the cooperation of several major telecommunications companies.
But Democrats reacted angrily to the USA Today article and its description of the program's vast size, including an assertion by one unnamed source that its goal was the creation of a database of every phone call ever made within the United States' borders.
"Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with Al Qaeda?" Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking minority member, asked angrily.
Like Mr. Specter, Mr. Leahy made a link between the new charge and the administration's refusal to answer the many of the committee's questions about the security agency's warrantless wiretaps of calls between the United States and overseas in which one person is suspected of terrorist ties.
"It's our government, our government!" he said, turning red in the face and waving a copy of USA Today. "It's not one party's government, it's America's government!"
Other Democrats demanded that the administration officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and former Attorney General John Ashcroft, be subpoenaed to testify under oath about both programs.
And they made clear that they thought the new surveillance issue would complicate the nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a former head of the security agency, to be the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
"I want to ask General Hayden about these programs before we move forward with his nomination, which I was inclined to be supportive of, if he showed the requisite independence," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee.
Republicans urged caution before drawing any conclusions based on the article, and noted that it described the program as collecting information only about phone numbers, not about the contents of conversations.
"It's not a wiretapping program, it's simply a compilation, according to the report here, of numbers that phone companies maintain," said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is also on the judiciary panel.
He compared it to "mail covers" and "pen registers," techniques long used by law-enforcement authorities to record the addresses on letters or calls made by individuals under investigation. No warrant is needed for such efforts, but the government must certify with a court that the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing investigation.
But at least one prominent Republican expressed reservations. "I am concerned about what I read with regard to N.S.A. databases of phone calls," Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, told The Associated Press.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee, appeared to confirm at least the gist of the article, while stressing that what was under discussion was not wiretapping. "It's fair to say that what is in the news this morning is not content collection," she said.
Even so, she warned, "I happen to believe that we are on our way to a major Constitutional confrontation on the Fourth Amendment guarantees over unreasonable search and seizure."
Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who is also on both the judiciary and intelligence panels, expressed dismay over what he termed the administration's "arrogance and abuse of power." He said the United States can fight terrorism and still protect privacy, "but only if we have a president who believes in these principles."
The Times article disclosing the data mining program last December quoted officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who have knowledge of parts of the program as saying the N.S.A. has sought to analyze communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages. Calls to and from Afghanistan, for instance, are known to have been of particular interest to the N.S.A. since the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.
The telephone companies today declined to comment on the article, and would say only that they are assisting government agencies in accordance with the law, The Associated Press reported.
"We have been in full compliance with the law and we are committed to our customers' privacy," said Bob Varettoni, a spokesman for Verizon.
In the USA Today article, the White House defended its overall eavesdropping program and said no domestic surveillance is conducted without court approval.
"The intelligence activities undertaken by the United States government are lawful, necessary and required to protect Americans from terrorist attacks," said Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary, who added that appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on intelligence activities.
The anger among committee members carried over to a number of other related developments. Senator Specter said he was sending a letter to the Justice Department in response to a news report that an investigation by the Justice Department's ethics office into the lawyers who gave approval to the domestic surveillance program was abandoned because the investigators were refused the necessary security clearances.
"It's sort of incomprehensible that that was done," Senator Specter said, adding that he was asking that the clearances be granted so the review could continue.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the decision "clear evidence of a cover-up within this administration."
Mr. Specter also said that he "had some indication" that Mr. Ashcroft and James Comey, a former deputy Attorney General, had some knowledge about the domestic surveillance program, but said he didn't think it would be "fruitful" to subpoena them to testify.
And Mr. Specter said that he believed he had the agreement of all 10 Republicans on the committee for a bill he has proposed that would ask the special court that handles requests for warrants on foreign intelligence to rule on the Constitutionality of the domestic surveillance program.
But several Democrats indicated that they were not likely to support the bill in the absence of more information about the surveillance the government is conducting in general.
"How can we approve this without knowing much more?" asked Mr. Durbin.
By Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: The NSA record collection program
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made — across town or across the country — to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.
The three telecommunications companies are working under contract with the NSA, which launched the program in 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sources said. The program is aimed at identifying and tracking suspected terrorists, they said.
The sources would talk only under a guarantee of anonymity because the NSA program is secret.
Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program. Hayden declined to comment about the program.
The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.
In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls. "In other words," Bush explained, "one end of the communication must be outside the United States."
As a result, domestic call records — those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders — were believed to be private.
Sources, however, say that is not the case. With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information.
Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, declined to discuss the agency's operations. "Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide," he said. "However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law."
The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. "There is no domestic surveillance without court approval," said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.
She added that all national intelligence activities undertaken by the federal government "are lawful, necessary and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists." All government-sponsored intelligence activities "are carefully reviewed and monitored," Perino said. She also noted that "all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States."
The government is collecting "external" data on domestic phone calls but is not intercepting "internals," a term for the actual content of the communication, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program. This kind of data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it's been done before, though never on this large a scale, the official said. The data are used for "social network analysis," the official said, meaning to study how terrorist networks contact each other and how they are tied together.
Carriers uniquely positioned
AT&T recently merged with SBC and kept the AT&T name. Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T are the nation's three biggest telecommunications companies; they provide local and wireless phone service to more than 200 million customers.
The three carriers control vast networks with the latest communications technologies. They provide an array of services: local and long-distance calling, wireless and high-speed broadband, including video. Their direct access to millions of homes and businesses has them uniquely positioned to help the government keep tabs on the calling habits of Americans.
Among the big telecommunications companies, only Qwest has refused to help the NSA, the sources said. According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.
Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.
Created by President Truman in 1952, during the Korean War, the NSA is charged with protecting the United States from foreign security threats. The agency was considered so secret that for years the government refused to even confirm its existence. Government insiders used to joke that NSA stood for "No Such Agency."
In 1975, a congressional investigation revealed that the NSA had been intercepting, without warrants, international communications for more than 20 years at the behest of the CIA and other agencies. The spy campaign, code-named "Shamrock," led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was designed to protect Americans from illegal eavesdropping.
Enacted in 1978, FISA lays out procedures that the U.S. government must follow to conduct electronic surveillance and physical searches of people believed to be engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States. A special court, which has 11 members, is responsible for adjudicating requests under FISA.
Over the years, NSA code-cracking techniques have continued to improve along with technology. The agency today is considered expert in the practice of "data mining" — sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. Data mining is just one of many tools NSA analysts and mathematicians use to crack codes and track international communications.
Paul Butler, a former U.S. prosecutor who specialized in terrorism crimes, said FISA approval generally isn't necessary for government data-mining operations. "FISA does not prohibit the government from doing data mining," said Butler, now a partner with the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C.
The caveat, he said, is that "personal identifiers" — such as names, Social Security numbers and street addresses — can't be included as part of the search. "That requires an additional level of probable cause," he said.
The usefulness of the NSA's domestic phone-call database as a counterterrorism tool is unclear. Also unclear is whether the database has been used for other purposes.
The NSA's domestic program raises legal questions. Historically, AT&T and the regional phone companies have required law enforcement agencies to present a court order before they would even consider turning over a customer's calling data. Part of that owed to the personality of the old Bell Telephone System, out of which those companies grew.
Ma Bell's bedrock principle — protection of the customer — guided the company for decades, said Gene Kimmelman, senior public policy director of Consumers Union. "No court order, no customer information — period. That's how it was for decades," he said.
The concern for the customer was also based on law: Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.
The financial penalties for violating Section 222, one of many privacy reinforcements that have been added to the law over the years, can be stiff. The Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulatory agency, can levy fines of up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation. The FCC has no hard definition of "violation." In practice, that means a single "violation" could cover one customer or 1 million.
In the case of the NSA's international call-tracking program, Bush signed an executive order allowing the NSA to engage in eavesdropping without a warrant. The president and his representatives have since argued that an executive order was sufficient for the agency to proceed. Some civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, disagree.
The NSA's domestic program began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the sources. Right around that time, they said, NSA representatives approached the nation's biggest telecommunications companies. The agency made an urgent pitch: National security is at risk, and we need your help to protect the country from attacks.
The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.
The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg.
With that, the NSA's domestic program began in earnest.
AT&T, when asked about the program, replied with a comment prepared for USA TODAY: "We do not comment on matters of national security, except to say that we only assist law enforcement and government agencies charged with protecting national security in strict accordance with the law."
In another prepared comment, BellSouth said: "BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority."
Verizon, the USA's No. 2 telecommunications company behind AT&T, gave this statement: "We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers' privacy."
Qwest spokesman Robert Charlton said: "We can't talk about this. It's a classified situation."
In December, The New York Times revealed that Bush had authorized the NSA to wiretap, without warrants, international phone calls and e-mails that travel to or from the USA. The following month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T. The lawsuit accuses the company of helping the NSA spy on U.S. phone customers.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales alluded to that possibility. Appearing at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Gonzales was asked whether he thought the White House has the legal authority to monitor domestic traffic without a warrant. Gonzales' reply: "I wouldn't rule it out." His comment marked the first time a Bush appointee publicly asserted that the White House might have that authority.
Similarities in programs
The domestic and international call-tracking programs have things in common, according to the sources. Both are being conducted without warrants and without the approval of the FISA court. The Bush administration has argued that FISA's procedures are too slow in some cases. Officials, including Gonzales, also make the case that the USA Patriot Act gives them broad authority to protect the safety of the nation's citizens.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would not confirm the existence of the program. In a statement, he said, "I can say generally, however, that our subcommittee has been fully briefed on all aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. ... I remain convinced that the program authorized by the president is lawful and absolutely necessary to protect this nation from future attacks."
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., declined to comment.
One company differs
One major telecommunications company declined to participate in the program: Qwest.
According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.
Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.
The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.
The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.
In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.
Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.
The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.
In June 2002, Nacchio resigned amid allegations that he had misled investors about Qwest's financial health. But Qwest's legal questions about the NSA request remained.
Unable to reach agreement, Nacchio's successor, Richard Notebaert, finally pulled the plug on the NSA talks in late 2004, the sources said.
Contributing: John Diamond
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Security issue kills domestic spying inquiry
NSA won’t grant Justice Department lawyers required security clearance
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:41 p.m. ET May 10, 2006
WASHINGTON - The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.
The inquiry headed by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers’ role in the program.
“We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program,” OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey’s office shared the letter with The Associated Press.
Jarrett wrote that beginning in January 2006, his office has made a series of requests for the necessary clearances. Those requests were denied Tuesday.
“Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation,” wrote Jarrett.
Hinchey is one of many House Democrats who have been highly critical of the domestic eavesdropping program first revealed in December.
In February, the OPR announced it would examine the conduct of their own agency’s lawyers in the program, though they were not authorized to investigate NSA activities.
Bush’s decision to authorize the largest U.S. spy agency to monitor people inside the United States, without warrants, generated a host of questions about the program’s legal justification.
The administration has vehemently defended the eavesdropping, saying the NSA’s activities were narrowly targeted to intercept international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the U.S. with suspected ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
'Life and death every day' for Iraq medics
By Cal Perry
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- "Don't let me die! Please, don't let me die," the U.S. soldier said repeatedly as medics carried him to the trauma room.
His glazed eyes focused on an Army chaplain kneeling over him. There was blood everywhere.
A roadside bomb that exploded next to his patrol vehicle sent shards of metal into his body and catapulted him from the vehicle.
He, like so many of the gravely wounded soldiers in Iraq, was rushed to the 10th Combat Support Hospital, where minutes or seconds can mean life or death. (Watch the suffering and hope inside a Baghdad military hospital -- 3:33)
"Am I going to live?" he asked, in a pleading, rhythmic voice.
"Hell, yes, you are," replied Capt. David Steinbruner, one of the doctors.
Moments earlier, the soldier asked the medics to keep his leg from falling off the gurney as they hurried him into the emergency room. The blast tore the flesh from the bone. His left hand was just as bad -- a "near amputation," according to one of the doctors.
Less than 5 feet away, a friend and fellow soldier lay dead, his body placed in a black body bag and zipped up. (Read a behind-the-scenes report on this story)
"It's life and death, every day," said Lt. Col. Bob Mazur, another doctor.
These men and women -- doctors, medics and nurses, many of them just 20 or 21 years old -- have saved the lives of numerous servicemen and women who in any previous war may have come home in flag-draped coffins.
CNN has withheld the names of the wounded soldiers for privacy concerns.
In Iraq, roughly 17,500 U.S. troops have been wounded, and nearly 2,500 have been killed. The survival rate is significantly higher than in previous wars, and much credit goes to those working to save lives in places such as the 10th Combat Support Hospital.
"If you look at the overall death rate ... the case fatality rate is cut in half from Vietnam to now. And again I think that's due to better training, tactical combat casualty training," said Col. John Holcomb, the senior surgeon at the hospital.
At least eight doctors and nurses worked on the soldier with the shredded leg -- their arms and clothes drenched in his blood. His femur protruded from his upper thigh.
A nurse clutched one of his hands.
Outside in the hall sat the clothes of these wounded men -- or their "battle rattle," as it's called. Flak jackets lay blown in half, boots drenched in blood.
Down the hall, a private first class who was driving the vehicle was put gingerly on a bed. He was in better shape than his comrades despite bad burns on his hands and metal in his neck. Still filled with adrenaline, he breathlessly relived the attack for the nurse.
"It just exploded. On the left side or under the vehicle -- I'm not sure. Everything was on fire," he said. "I got out through the gunner's position and got one more out."
As the doctors and nurses work, the captain of the wounded soldiers' unit sat, head in hands, torn up. At times, he spoke to his commanding officer, a major, in an inaudible tone. Single tears ran down his cheeks.
The private called his wife and explained what happened, followed by a short smile. "I'm fine, I'm going to be OK. That's fine, fine; you just go ahead and pray. Pray."
Steinbruner took the phone and spoke soothingly: "He's going to be fine -- you hang in there now." He turned, shaking his head: "She's totally in shock."
'Don't die on me'
Back in the main trauma room, the soldier with the torn leg hung on, fighting with every breath. He remained conscious. Steinbruner suggested putting him under anesthesia completely.
"He's a sick boy. We need to put him down. He's totally with it. He said, 'Please, don't let me die.'"
"Just breathe deep -- there we go, nice and deep. ... You're a healthy guy," Steinbruner told the soldier.
"I'm not going to die -- am I?"
"Look, I promise -- I wouldn't lie to you," Steinbruner said.
Serving as both doctor and impromptu commanding officer, Steinbruner added, "Don't you dare try to die on me. I didn't give you permission."
Through a condensed face mask, the soldier wheezed and coughed, "Am I gonna lose the f------ leg?"
"I don't know," Steinbruner replied. "We'll try to save it if we can, OK? I just don't know. I can't give you an answer on that."
The near dozen doctors, medics and nurses stopped the blood from pouring out of him and prepared to send him to surgery in an attempt to save his leg and hand.
"Thank you, sir," Steinbruner said to the senior surgeon, Holcomb, while taking off his blood-drenched gloves and tossing them in the trash.
The surgery was a success. The soldier survived and kept his leg for the time being. Once close to death, he is now being treated at a U.S. military facility in Germany.
"He asked me if he's going to lose his leg, and I said, 'I don't know,' " Steinbruner said minutes after working to save the soldier's life. "I never lie to them. I'll say to them, 'I just don't know.' It was tough. It's tough."
He paused in thought. "That's the kind of thing we face out there. ... I mean ... I think there were several killed out there as well."
He paused again and said, "I'm now going to go take care of his buddy." And then he walked away and went back to work.
Wed May 10, 2006 at 01:03:52 PM PDT
We've certainly been treated to our fair share of opinions of late that Daily Kossians and assorted others are terribly, terribly out there on the fringes of far-left thought. And all told, it's been pretty funny to see put-upon darlings of the media avail themselves of the Hugh Hewitt show to complain about those bitterly partisan folks over there, or members of the establishment with the most connections to cash-by-the-bucketful corporate politics be the quickest to titter the talking point.
In a world where we're having honest-to-God media discussions about what aspects of the Constitution the president does or doesn't actually have to follow, and where "Minutemen" culled from hate groups make a show of patrolling the US-Mexican border with the explicit praise of Republican congressmen and senators, I'd say the entry requirements for supposed leftism are pretty darn slack, these days. It includes things like "bribing congressmen is still illegal" and "don't torture potentially innocent people", for starters, and works its way up to truly radical concepts like "deficits are bad" and "the Constitution is not optional law", which I suppose in the minds of the right, given their outcry, are astonishing, heretical notions.
We're also told ad nauseam we have no interest in issues; that's pretty darn wrong, actually, and I'm not sure how anyone could seriously skim the stories and diaries here, for example, and come to that conclusion. (I guess the key word in that sentence was "seriously."
It's asserted that we're anti-war in all cases; sorry, but while that's a noble bumper-sticker thought, there are certainly extraordinary occasions where self-defense is quite warranted, and liberal and pacifist are not the same thing. I'd say that the Republican party is pro-war to an astonishingly homogeneous degree, but opinions in the center and on the left are decidedly more nuanced. You won't find too many in those days who argued against a military response to 9/11, though you will find large numbers who warned against an ineffective military response.
Everyone on the planet should be anti-war. Here's a modest proposal: I think that if you ask someone if they are "pro-war", and they answer yes, you should shoot them. After all, they'll enjoy it, and it'll make things a lot easier for the rest of us.
But when pundits snuffle about the "anti-war" crowd, they pretend at a perfect conflation of the "anti-war" and the anti-Iraq War positions, and choose to believe that everyone who opposes the Iraq War is some sort of longhaired American McGandhi. Every opponent of the war who gave very good strategic and policy reasons for their opposition to this now-proven national disaster has continued to be simply ignored by the pundits who were horrifically, astonishingly, unmitigatedly and unapologetically flat wrong in their own pre-war suppositions and theories.
So here's the question, about these pundits continually whining about the supposedly unserious "anti-war crowd": are they honestly that out of touch with the real world, and did they honestly completely miss every single serious critique of the implications of the war? Or are they just lying?
I can't conceive that any pundit or partisan actually living could have missed the debate accidentally, so the conclusion, of course, is obvious: that the objections against the war were dismissed then, due to a tsunami of absolutely astonishingly bad Conventional Wisdom excreting itself from every orifice in Washington, and pretenses at salvaging now-flushed credibility among the pundit class continue to dictate that they very studiously ignore their monstrously, criminally wrong divinations now.
I was and still remain strongly for military action in Afghanistan as a legitimate and necessary act in response to 9/11: an attack on two American cities and on the infrastructure of government cannot be ignored, and the premise that such a strawman position was even remotely widespread, in the days when presidential approval ratings threatened to top two hundred percent (ugh), is dishonest. However, the actual prosecution of that military response has been a fiasco from the first weeks, and did nothing but get worse. For all the self-described "strength" of neoconservative foreign policy, Bush and his advisors managed to out-bungle the Soviets -- Bush sent in a tentative, piddling number of troops, not nearly enough to accomplish the job, and after an initial and predictable Taliban rout, lost even that level of interest, leaving such apparently critical tasks as actually capturing the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership in the hands of very dubiously loyal warlords while Bush himself wandered off, uninterested, to imagine himself a wider regional conflict. And thus, Afghanistan remains in a low-grade war of its own, something a bit too similar to a sort of inverted Soviet fiasco, largely forgotten in the debate over Iraq.
If we had not immediately cranked the steering wheel hard right into Iraq, we would have had the troops -- and the budget, and the attention span -- to accomplish what needed to be done in Afghanistan and against the "heart" of terrorism. As it is, we have managed to duplicate many of the mistakes of the Soviet Union twenty years ago in a fashion I truly thought would be almost tactically impossible. The solution was and is, oddly enough, to do in Afghanistan what was attempted (or at least preached about) in Iraq. More troops are needed, and an actual international reconstruction effort that stabilizes the Afghani economy, removes the warlords, and assists self-sufficiency efforts. We could have demonstrated to the Muslim world how we treat our enemies, and how we treat our friends, and what the difference between the Soviets and ourselves were. By shuffling off to Iraq, we showed them the exact wrong lesson -- that we lacked resolve, lacked competence, lacked the will to commit troops to the effort, that we can be outlasted, and that we don't really give a crap about them anyway short of a bomb-or-no-bomb national strategy.
How do we even attempt to fix that now? Unclear, but pulling troops out of Iraq and putting some in Afghanistan for an honest rebuilding effort might be able to partly fix this mess and remove the impetuses for the Taliban counterinsurgency and actual Muslim extremism in the country. Perhaps.
But the War on Terror -- of which I considered the disposal of not just al Qaeda, but the unquestionably enabling Taliban to be an absolutely essential part -- is not the same thing as the war in Iraq. The former and latter have been linked through presidential rhetoric from the start, but the entire premise of the Iraq War was flawed from conception.
My own objection to the Iraq War -- and the objection of nearly every other so-called "serious" critic of the war, in fact -- is that it fundamentally and quite predictably doomed the actual war on terrorism from the start, by managing to cut the arteries of the unprecedented international will to rout al Qaeda and other terrorist groups -- while simultaneously giving terrorism the exact boogieman needed to rally widespread Muslim support for the notion that America really is an immediate enemy. It is a recruitment poster for terrorists: conservatives have yet to wrap their heads around the notion that we're creating a wider and generational terrorism problem, when we should have been isolating the terrorists from their actual bases of support in the region -- of which Iraq was a microscopic part.
Merely taking the time to internationalize action in Iraq would have helped, slightly, but the fact remains that it was a stupid, destructive, resource-draining, military-shredding fiasco from the moment of conception. A predictable disaster. Booting the president and his advisors to the curb in a suitably public way would do wonders to regain international peacekeeping support, and the actual trust of Iraqis. But the fact remains that no matter how bad Hussein was or how "uncontained" you imagined him to be, the invasion of Iraq was exactly the sort of broader regional conflict that bin Laden intended to provoke on 9/11, and Bush and his advisors followed the intended plan like a raccoon following a trail of kibble.
Call me crazy, but I think doing the one thing that bin Laden both wanted and expected (a regional war to rally fundamentalists) is, well, pretty much the stupidest possible thing to have done. Congratulations, neoconservative strategists, an isolated nutcase in a remote Afghani cave managed to predict American foreign policy reactions nearly to the letter. Why is it that, to this day, nobody has been talking about the help that the Iraq War has given bin Laden's proclaimed long-term strategic goals?
Where are we now? In a state of flux, obviously, but it's looking unlikely we'll have the kind of pressure we need to rid places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia of their deep ties to terrorism, because those regimes have to be extremely careful in how they respond to U.S. pressures now, and large segments of their populations are decidedly hostile towards America -- a "now-proven" aggressor. "Axis of Evil" member Iran has learned exactly one lesson -- that countries with no weapons of mass destruction get invaded, and that countries with such defensive capabilities do not, so they'd better damn well get cracking on building some. The India-Pakistan tensions continue; the Palestinian question remains simply ignored, possibly because there is no strategic plan for dealing with them, among Republicans, aside from shooting them. The rest of the region glides along as usual, with genocide in Africa, fundamentalism resurgent in the Middle East, and a situation in the southern post-Soviet republics clearly headed for their own Afghanistan or Iraq-style failed state status in the future.
That's not a "strong" foreign policy, it's piecemeal isolationism coupled with a few brief flashes of all-out clusterfuckery. And yes, I think it's fair to call it isolationism, from the standpoint of international diplomacy and wider goals. Despite the rhetoric of international inclusion, the conservative foreign policy approach remains one-dimensional -- with blanket dismissal of not only the U.N., but any inconvenient and therefore "outdated" international law and treaties -- spotted with a few all-or-nothing, all the eggs in one basket "preemptive" military strikes. The PNAC plan has been routed, in actual practice, and we're left with a hybrid, Frankensteinian half-isolationist, half-PNAC policy that only hardcore Republicans can even pretend to praise.
You might even notice that in these past few months, of course, there's very little pretense on the right about winning "hearts and minds" at all. Now, the question is simply becoming why the United States did not have sufficient "will" to start killing Iraqis off in very large numbers until they started liking us more. The transparency with which "hearts and minds" became "exterminate the brutes", among not only the far-right but supposedly "serious" thinkers, should tell you exactly how close to their hearts the welfare of the poor Iraqis has always been, past presidential it-wasn't-really-the-WMDs-it-was-the-freedom walkbacks notwithstanding.
You'll note none of that, above, is the sort of "reflexively anti-war" position that, even now, supposedly "serious" policy wonks wave their arms pretending to see swarming around their heads like imaginary flies. They choose to not deal with the realities of the situation -- since the realities of the situation prove them demonstrably incompetent -- so maintaining strictly fictional, strawman characterizations of the reasons for opposition to the Iraq War remains the stock in trade.
I suppose one other difference I indeed have with most in the supposedly-serious pundit class is that I do tend to very strongly respect supposedly "kneejerk" anti-war positions as being absolutely credible: American history is full of wars and covert "revolutions" claiming to help other countries, and you can count the number of times it has actually accomplished good, instead of disaster, on one hand with fingers to spare. Being wary of interventionism by way of large-scale invasion is a pretty damn reasonable instinct to have.
When I hear a pundit whining about the "anti-war crowd", I know immediately not to take them seriously. Being anti-war is a basic requirement of civilization, it's hardly a shocking or insincere position. But nuances of foreign policy exist beyond the two bomb-or-don't-bomb extremes -- though that notion seems incapable of sparking itself to life in the so-called pundit class -- and it all depends on the war you're talking about.
On the Iraq War? The opponents were right in all particulars -- how long we'd be there, what the response would be, the factionalization of the Iraqi people, and the obvious "inconsistencies," ahem, of the hyped WMD threat. The advocates were not only wrong, but very, very wrong, wrong in a sort of historically monumental way that will require an unflattering chapter in the history books all its own. If all you've got to defend yourself from that is whining about the supposed extremists surrounding you, then please -- don't expect much respect.
Though only a tangentially related point and not the direct impetus for this particular post, I've been watching pundit Richard Cohen get roundly plastered by the blogs for, well, complaining about getting plastered by the blogs. It is part of the "angry left" meme -- and God Knows the right hasn't made an entire radio, television, and print industry out of head-spinning, projectile-vomiting outrage over every little thing that could possibly be ranted about for a seven minute segment or two.
I have sympathy for anyone claiming to get hate mail, though I have to say I think I've yet to get a single piece of hate mail that I've taken seriously enough to write about or even read past the first triple-exclamation-points. I think Cohen found himself where he found himself not because of any terrible actual offense, but simply because dull-as-dishwater people who talk at length about how some piece of comedy wasn't really funny even though some people thought it was are, well, launching themselves into social blowhard territory without a compass to get back out. It's flat true, people are angry, and they're quite angry at the press, and as of yet, there's been a complete absence of contemplation, among the press, at exactly why that anger is there. Not surprising, given that a snivelingly defensive posture towards their own war stances are all that any pro-war pundits can muster even at this late date.
This February 2003 Cohen quote has been thrown back at him more times than I can count, at this point:
The evidence [Colin Powell] presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.
Yeah. Reading that brilliant bit of national punditry again, I have to say... it still makes me pretty damn angry. It's one of those things that, in my mind, isn't going to be forgiven anytime soon. You dismiss the people who later turned out to be right with juvenile taunts of "Frenchmen!", and I'd say they get to consider you a rhetorical enemy, an unserious twit, in fact, and they get to be mad at you, and they get to use that to color their own judgment of your supposed "civility" and "competence" for a very long time. Calling a few million people Frenchmen, after all, is the sort of snotty upperclass Victorian buffoonery that is considered ever-so-witty, in the halls of pestilently vapid punditry. A few thousand people responding to your own ad nauseam dismissals and taunts over how none of this mess should be satirized in the presence of the Decidering Class, on the other hand: please, now that's just gauche.
That's where Cohen got burned, and deservedly so: for the continuing pretension that one side of the debate is "serious", and that the strawmanned opposing side is simply dismissible. The Colbert "issue" was considered by Cohen's critics to be nothing but the most transparent of proxies, the latest in a series of Very Serious Press Divinations that have devolved from the wrong to the buffoonish in the span of the last four years.
No, I'd say that we were and are pretty firm in our convictions that the Iraq War was going to be a clusterfuck, was being executed in the precise ways absolutely sure to make it a clusterfuck, and now is a clusterfuck. And I'd say we get to be a bit angry about it -- that part I'll grant you. But I would caution whiners of the petulant angry left talking point that you might spend a wee speck of time contemplating the reasons for that anger, because it's not going away anytime soon.
What do these "angry!" people want? A full media apology, signed in blood, for the absolute collapse of media responsibility and ethics in the runup to the war? Yeah, that's not going to happen. But you might consider a simple truth: that when people are genuinely angry, seeming to lack the basic comprehension or even the professional interest to bother to figure out why hardly buffs your punditry credentials. It just demonstrates, in spades, that the punditry class is exactly as out-of-touch, self serving and vapid as actual America perceives them to be.
And you might consider not pretending to dismiss every critic of the war or of presidential bungling as "leftist", or "McGovernite", or as "the anti-war crowd", while all the while pretending that the various rotating rationales for Iraq being tossed out and re-buried are, each one in turn, the real reason for the war, the one we knew the whole time, and all the while still granting the time of day to pundits and analysts and think-tank "experts" who proved themselves so spectacularly incompetent as to now find themselves now in the ranks of the perpetually discredited, but who continue to swear up and down that there's still a pony in all this horseshit, if we just keep digging.
Until then, expect to get plastered.
At yesterday’s press briefing, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld criticized Congress for not adequately funding Iraqi security forces:
In addition, cuts and delays in providing funds for the Iraqi security forces will delay what has been truly significant progress in turning over greater responsibility and territory to Iraq’s army and police. A slowdown in training and equipping the Iraqi security forces will have unacceptable harmful effects of postponing the day when our men and women in uniform can return home with the honor and appreciation they deserve.
Rumsfeld is right to say we need to effectively train Iraqi security forces; the quicker we do so, the quicker our troops can come home. But he forgets that under his watch, the Pentagon has not spent the the money Congress already appropriated for this purpose. From an AP report last month:
The U.S. military has spent just 40 percent of the $7 billion appropriated in 2005 for the training of Iraqi and Afghanistan security forces, a top Pentagon priority that is lynchpin for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Rumsfeld should stop blaming Congress and concentrate on effectively managing the taxpayer funding he’s been given.
Doug McIntyre Hates America! He Hates Us For Our Freedom! Doug McIntyre is a Terrorist!
AN APOLOGY FROM A BUSH VOTER
Monday, May 8th, 2006
By Doug McIntyre / Host, McIntyre in the Morning Talk Radio 790 KABC
There’s nothing harder in public life than admitting you’re wrong. By the way, admitting you’re wrong can be even tougher in private life. If you don’t believe me, just ask Bill Clinton or Charlie Sheen. But when you go out on the limb in public, it’s out there where everyone can see it, or in my case, hear it.
So, I’m saying today, I was wrong to have voted for George W. Bush. In historic terms, I believe George W. Bush is the worst two-term President in the history of the country. Worse than Grant. I also believe a case can be made that he’s the worst President, period.
In 2000, I was a McCain guy. I wasn’t sure about the Texas Governor. He had name recognition and a lot of money behind him, but other than that? What? Still, I was sick of all the Clinton shenanigans and the thought of President Gore was… unthinkable. So, GWB became my guy.
For the first few months he was just flubbing along like most new Presidents, no great shakes, but no disasters either. He cut taxes and I like tax cuts.
Then September 11th happened. September 11th changed everything for me, like it did for so many of you. After September 11th, all the intramural idiocy of American politics stopped being funny. We had been attacked by a vicious and determined enemy and it was time for all of us to row in the same direction.
And we did for the blink of an eye. I believed the President when he said we were going to hunt down Bin Laden and all those responsible for the 9-11 murders. I believed President Bush when he said we would go after the terrorists and the nations that harbored them.
I supported the President when he sent our troops into Afghanistan, after all, that’s where the Taliban was, that’s where al-Qaida trained the killers, that’s where Bin Laden was.
And I cheered when we quickly toppled the Taliban government, but winced when we let Bin Laden escape from Tora-Bora.
Then, the talk turned to Iraq and I winced again.
I thought the connection to 9-11 was sketchy at best. But Colin Powell impressed me at the UN, and Tony Blair was in, and after all, he was a Clinton guy, not a Bush guy, so I thought the case had to be strong. I was worried though, because I had read the Wolfowitz paper, “The Project for the New American Century.” It’s been around since ‘92, and it raised alarm bells because it was based on a theory, “Democratizing the Middle East” and I prefer pragmatism over theory. I was worried because Iraq was being justified on a radical new basis, “pre-emptive war.” Any time we do something without historical precedent I get nervous.
But the President shifted the argument to WMDs and the urgent threat of Iraq getting atomic weapons. The debate turned to Saddam passing nukes on to terror groups. After 9-11, the risk was too great. As the President said, “The next smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud.” At least that’s what I thought at the time.
I grew up in New York and watched them build the World Trade Center. I worked with a guy, Frank O’Brien, who put the elevators in both towers. I lost a very close friend on September 11th. 103 floor, tower one, Cantor Fitzgerald. Tim Coughlin was his name. If we had to take out Iraq to make sure something like that, or worse, never happened again, so be it. I knew the consequences. We have a soldier in our house. None of this was theoretical in my house.
But in the months and years since shock and awe I have been shocked repeatedly by a consistent litany of excuses, alibis, double-talk, inaccuracies, bogus predictions, and flat out lies. I have watched as the President and his administration changed the goals, redefined the reasons for going into Iraq, and fumbled the good will of the world and the focus necessary to catch the real killers of September 11th.
I have watched the President say the commanders on the ground will make the battlefield decisions, and the war won’t be run from Washington. Yet, politics has consistently determined what the troops can and can’t do on the ground and any commander who did not go along with the administration was sacked, and in some cases, maligned.
I watched and tried to justify the looting in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. I watched and tried to justify the dismantling of the entire Iraqi army. I tired to explain the complexities of building a functional new Iraqi army. I urged patience when no WMDs were found. Then the Vice President told us we were in the “waning days of the insurgency.” And I started wincing again. The President says we have to stay the course but what if it’s the wrong course?
It was the wrong course. All of it was wrong. We are not on the road to victory. We’re about to slink home with our tail between our legs, leaving civil war in Iraq and a nuclear armed Iran in our wake. Bali was bombed. Madrid was bombed. London was bombed. And Bin Laden is still making tapes. It’s unspeakable. The liberal media didn’t create this reality, bad policy did.
Most historians believe it takes 30-50 years before we get a reasonably accurate take on a President’s place in history. So, maybe 50 years from now Iraq will be a peaceful member of the brotherhood of nations and George W. Bush will be celebrated as a visionary genius.
But we don’t live fifty years in the future. We live now. We have to make public policy decisions now. We have to live with the consequences of the votes we cast and the leaders we chose now.
After five years of carefully watching George W. Bush I’ve reached the conclusion he’s either grossly incompetent, or a hand puppet for a gaggle of detached theorists with their own private view of how the world works. Or both.
Presidential failures. James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Jimmy Carter, Warren Harding — the competition is fierce for the worst of the worst. Still, the damage this President has done is enormous. It will take decades to undo, and that’s assuming we do everything right from now on. His mistakes have global implications, while the other failed Presidents mostly authored domestic embarrassments.
And speaking of domestic embarrassments, let’s talk for a minute about President Bush’s domestic record. Yes, he cut taxes. But tax cuts combined with reckless spending and borrowing is criminal mismanagement of the public’s money. We’re drunk at the mall with our great grandchildren’s credit cards. Whatever happened to the party of fiscal responsibility?
Bush created a giant new entitlement, the prescription drug plan. He lied to his own party to get it passed. He lied to the country about its true cost. It was written by and for the pharmaceutical industry. It helps nobody except the multinationals that lobbied for it. So much for smaller government. In fact, virtually every tentacle of government has grown exponentially under Bush. Unless, of course, it was an agency to look after the public interest, or environmental protection, and/or worker’s rights.
I’ve talked so often about the border issue, I won’t bore you with a rehash. It’s enough to say this President has been a catastrophe for the wages of working people; he’s debased the work ethic itself. “Jobs Americans won’t do!” He doesn’t believe in the sovereign borders of the country he’s sworn to protect and defend. And his devotion to cheap labor for his corporate benefactors, along with his worship of multinational trade deals, makes an utter mockery of homeland security in a post 9-11 world. The President’s January 7th, 2004 speech on immigration, his first trial balloon on his guest worker scheme, was a deal breaker for me. I couldn’t and didn’t vote for him in 2004. And I’m glad I didn’t.
Katrina, Harriet Myers, The Dubai Port Deal, skyrocketing gas prices, shrinking wages for working people, staggering debt, astronomical foreign debt, outsourcing, open borders, contempt for the opinion of the American people, the war on science, media manipulation, faith based initives, a cavalier attitude toward fundamental freedoms-- this President has run the most arrogant and out-of-touch administration in my lifetime, perhaps, in any American’s lifetime.
You can make a case that Abraham Lincoln did what he had to do, the public be damned. If you roll the dice on your gut and you’re right, history remembers you well. But, when your gut led you from one business failure to another, when your gut told you to trade Sammy Sosa to the Cubs, and you use the same gut to send our sons and daughters to fight and die in a distraction from the real war on terror, then history will and should be unapologetic in its condemnation.
None of this, by the way, should be interpreted as an endorsement of the opposition party. The Democrats are equally bankrupt. This is the second crime of our age. Again, historically speaking, its times like these when America needs a vibrant opposition to check the power of a run-amuck majority party. It requires it. It doesn’t work without one. Like the high and low tides keep the oceans alive, a healthy, positive opposition offers a path back to the center where all healthy societies live.
Tragically, the Democrats have allowed crackpots, leftists and demagogic cowards to snipe from the sidelines while taking no responsibility for anything. In fairness, I don’t believe a Democrat president would have gone into Iraq. Unfortunately, I don’t know if President Gore would have gone into Afghanistan. And that’s one of the many problems with the Democrats.
The two party system has always been clumsy and imperfect, but it has only collapsed once, in the 1850s, and the result was civil war.
I believe, as I have said countless times, the two party system is on the brink of a second collapsed. It’s currently running on spin, anger, revenge, and pots and pots and pots of money.
We’re being governed by paper-mache patriots; brightly painted red, white and blue, but hollow to the core. Both parties have mastered the cynical arts of media manipulation and fund raising. They’ve learned the lessons of Watergate and burn the tapes. They have learned to divide the nation for their own gain. They have demonstrated the willingness to exploit any tragedy for personal advantage. The contempt they have for the American people is without parallel.
This is painful to say, and I’m sure for many of you, painful to read. But it’s impossible to heal the country until we’re willing to acknowledge the truth no matter how painful. We have to wean ourselves off sugar coated partisan lies.
With a belated tip of the cap to Ralph Nader, the system is broken, so broken, it’s almost inevitable it pukes up the Al Gores and George W. Bushes. Where are the Trumans and the Eisenhowers? Where are the men and women of vision and accomplishment? Why do we have to settle for recycled hacks and malleable ciphers? Greatness is always rare, but is basic competence and simple honesty too much to ask?
It may be decades before we have the full picture of how paranoid and contemptuous this administration has been. And I am open to the possibility that I’m all wet about everything I’ve just said. But I’m putting it out there, because I have to call it as I see it, and this is how I see it today. I don’t say any of this lightly. I’ve thought about this for months and months. But eventually, the weight of evidence takes on a gravitational force of its own.
I believe that George W. Bush has taken us down a terrible road. I don’t believe the Democrats are offering an alternative. That means we’re on our own to save this magnificent country. The United States of America is a gift to the world, but it has been badly abused and it’s rightful owners, We the People, had better step up to the plate and reclaim it before the damage becomes irreparable.
So, accept my apology for allowing partisanship to blind me to an obvious truth; our President is incapable of the tasks he is charged with. I almost feel sorry for him. He is clearly in over his head. Yet, he doesn’t generate the sympathy Warren Harding earned. Harding, a spectacular mediocrity, had the self-knowledge to tell any and all he shouldn’t be President. George W. Bush continues to act the part, but at this point whose buying the act?
Does this make me a waffler? A flip-flopper? Maybe, although I prefer to call it realism. And, for those of you who never supported Bush, its also fair to accuse me of kicking Bush while he’s down. After all, you were kicking him while he was up.
You were right, I was wrong.
2/3 of Americans Hate America! 2/3 of Americans are the Enemy! 2/3 of Americans are Traitors! 2/3 of Americans are Liberals!
A recent poll showed a further decline in support for the Iraq war, the issue that has most eaten into Bush's public support. The percentage of respondents who said going to war in Iraq was the correct decision slipped to a new low of 39 percent, down from 47 percent in January. Two-thirds said they had little or no confidence that Mr. Bush could successfully end the war.
Come on Republicans! Come on Righty's! I wanna hear you yell it loud and clear! Get on your bullshit Fox News Channel and tell 2/3 of America how they are traitors! Come on you fucking pussies!
Why isn't Anne Coulter out there telling America that they Hate America? Why isn't Shawn Hannity out there saying that 2/3 of Americans sound like Osama bin Laden?
Let's hear it you fucking cowards! I wanna hear you tell America that they Hate America!
I heard it. Hell even Bush said it, "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists."
I wanna hear it some more. Get on your soapboxes and tell us all how 2/3 of americans are traitors.
Colbert Rings On....
Article published May 9, 2006
Katy Burns Who's afraid of Stephen Colbert?
By KATY BURNS
Well, the proletariat legions of AOL subscribers - overwhelmingly clicking "yes"- have voted: Stephen Colbert was funny. Veryfunny.
So take that, you inside-the-Beltway snobs - er, movers and shakers and Very Important People - who developed bad cases of the vapors when the Comedy Central faux talk show guy addressed the illustrious White House Correspondents Association's annual dinner.
Colbert paid a satirical tribute to famously sheltered President Bush and the elite Washington press corps (and assorted celebrity groupies) who had gathered in full formal plumage for a mutually celebratory salute to their own awesomeness. So many important people, having such a nice time together - that's how it usually goes at such clubby events in the cloisters of our nation's capital city.
But this time things went awry, and both Colbert's bravura performance and its effect on his audience are now in endless reruns, with passionate commentary by the rude masses, in cyberspace. Welcome to the unsettling - and noisy - business of "news" in the 21st century.
Colbert is a comic actor who, in his ColbertReport four nights a week, satirizes basic cable's egotistical know-it-all blowhards, especially humor-impaired bullyboy Bill O'Reilly.
As should have occurred to those who invited him to address the well-fed and well-lubricated audience, Colbert brought his dimwitted rightwing persona to the podium. As a loyal "fan" of Bush, he heaped mock praise on the prez, who was seated just a few feet away on the dais.
At first it was a bit mild. Then it got more biting: "Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in 'reality.' And reality has a well-known liberal bias. . . .
"I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only forthings, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers, and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message that, no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world. . . .
"He's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will."
By then, Bush's face was red, his jaws tight. Laura Bush stared daggers at the comedian. Many in the audience, there to wallow in innocuous bonhomie, were increasingly uncomfortable. And that was before Colbert turned his laser on them:
"Over the last five years" he said cheerfully, "you people were so good over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times. . . .
"Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions; he's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell-check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know -fiction."Saved by the web
By now a lot of the famous faces in the crowd were stony.
Colbert went on to skewer John McCain, Jesse Jackson, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia - safe targets all - but by then many in the room of bruised superegos were having none of it. Except, interestingly, for Scalia, who laughed uproariously when Colbert saluted him with mock obscene gestures, much like those Scalia himself had made a few weeks back to a reporter.
Afterward, the powers-that-be dealt with the awfulness of it all, the rudeness, by ignoring the story altogether. Even in the lofty paper of record, the New York Times, Colbert's role at the dinner was a non-event. But an unruly cyberspace crew had found its cause, and in no time blogs and webzines were posting links to Colbert's routine and sneering at the insiders who didn't want to acknowledge the man had even been there.
Wounded, Washington's elite press corps regrouped. Almost to a man or woman, they whined that he just hadn't been funny. These were the same folks who thought it hilarious at another journalist-and-politician love-fest a few years ago when George W. Bush turned his own inability to find WMDs in Iraq into a ham-handed comedy routine.
By week's end, major players, including the august Times, were playing catch-up, backing into the story by reporting on the reaction in cyberspace. Colbert was delighting in the mainstream media's irritation at his startling refusal to play a safe insider's game.
And around the rest of the country, a lot of uncool nobodies were typing "Colbert White House" into Google and reveling at the riches unearthed, especially the sight of a comedian, for heaven's sake, calling powerful, pretentious people to task.
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)
By KATY BURNS
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Washington, D.C. - Today Congressmen Henry A. Waxman and Rep. Barney Frank called for a full investigation of all HUD contracting decisions during the tenure of Secretary Alphonso Jackson. In a letter to Secretary Jackson, they demanded all documents related to the advertising contract discussed in his April 28 speech as well as contracts he was involved with during his time at HUD.
"The Bush Administration has a track record of rewarding its friends and ignoring the rules," said Congressman Waxman, Ranking Member of the House Government Reform Committee. "The government has no right to blatantly withhold contracts simply because an American citizen dislikes the President. This raises new questions about the integrity and judgment of the Bush Administration."
"Politics has no place in the awarding of federal contracts. If the report in the Dallas Business Journal is accurate - and it is a highly respected publication - then President Bush must repudiate these comments, reverse HUD's course and assure the American people that politics plays no role in the government contracting process," said Congressman Frank, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee.
"I simply find these comments to be outrageous and unconstitutional. It troubles me to read that the contract in question would have sailed through the process because it was a good proposal, however, since the person has a particular viewpoint or doesn't like your policies they are denied the ability to do business with the U.S. Government. Mr. President, in the name of our democracy and the confidence the American people have in our government, you must engage and instruct Secretary Jackson to reverse course and leave politics at the door," continued Congressman Frank.
The full text of the letter is available at www.democrats.reform.house.gov.
31% Bush Approval Rating Now 7 Points above Nixon's lowest, a man who resigned the presidency in disgrace.
May 8th, 2006 1:27 pmBush approval rating hits new low
By Susan Page / USA Today
WASHINGTON — President Bush's approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections.
The survey of 1,013 adults, taken Friday through Sunday, shows Bush's standing down by 3 percentage points in a single week. His disapproval rating also reached a record: 65%. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.
"It is a challenging political environment," acknowledges Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, "but we are confident that ultimately voters in November will recognize that a Democrat Congress would simply not be equipped to ensure either economic or national security for our nation."
Bush's fall is being fueled by erosion among support from conservatives and Republicans. In the poll, 52% of conservatives and 68% of Republicans approved of the job he is doing. Both are record lows among those groups.
Moderates gave him an approval rating of 28%, liberals of 7%.
"You hear people say he has a hard core that will never desert him, and that has been the case for most of the administration," says Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin who studies presidential approval ratings. "But for the last few months, we started to see that hard core seriously erode in support."
Only four presidents have scored lower approval ratings since the Gallup Poll began regularly measuring it in the mid-1940s: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush. When Nixon, Carter and the elder Bush sank below 35%, they never again registered above 40%.
Truman twice sank into the low 30s and then rose into the 60s, but the third time his rating fell, it stayed below 40% as well.
"Historically it's been pretty devastating to presidents at this level," Franklin says. Even Republican members of Congress are "now so worried about their electoral fortunes in November that he has less leverage with them than he normally would with his own party controlling Congress."