Friday, December 08, 2006
Times Staff Writer
December 8, 2006
The NASA library in Greenbelt, Md., was part of John C. Mather's daily routine for years leading up to the astrophysicist's sharing of the 2006 Nobel Prize for shedding new light on the big bang theory of creation. He researched existing space hardware and instrumentation there while designing a satellite that collected data for his prize-winning discovery.
So when he learned that federal officials were planning to close the library, Mather was stunned.
"It is completely absurd," he said. "The library is a national treasure. It is probably the single strongest library for space science and engineering in the universe."
Mather is one of thousands of people who critics say could lose access to research materials as the government closes and downsizes libraries that house collections vital to scientific investigation and the enforcement of environmental laws.
Across the country, half a dozen federal libraries are closed or closing. Others have reduced staffing, hours of operation, public access or subscriptions.
In Washington, books are boxed at an Environmental Protection Agency library that helped toxicologists assess health effects of pesticides and chemicals. The General Services Administration headquarters library where patrons conducted research on real estate, telecommunications and government finance was shuttered this year, as was the Department of Energy headquarters library that collected literature for government scientists and contractors.
Officials say the cutbacks have been driven by tight budgets, declining patronage and rising demand for online services. And they say leaner operations will improve efficiency while maintaining essential functions. "We are trying to improve access and … do more with a little less money," said Linda Travers, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's office of environmental information.
Although hundreds of federal libraries remain open, critics say the downsizing, especially at the EPA, demonstrates the Bush administration's indifference to transparent government and to scientific solutions to many pressing problems.
"Crucial information generated with taxpayer dollars is now not available to the public and the scientists who need it," said Emily Sheketoff, head of the American Library Assn.'s Washington office. "This is the beginning of the elimination of all these government libraries. I think you have an administration that does not have a commitment to access to information."
Opponents of the EPA's reductions say they are likely to slow the work of regulators and scientists who depend on librarians and reference materials that are not online.
They fear that some publications will never be digitized because of copyright restrictions or cost. They worry that important material will be dispersed, discarded or lost. And they contend that many people will lose access to collections because they cannot navigate online services.
In addition to shutting its headquarters library and a chemical library in the nation's capital, the EPA has closed regional libraries in Chicago, Kansas City and Dallas that have helped federal investigators track sources of fish kills and identify companies responsible for pollution.
The plans prompted the EPA's own compliance office to express concern that cuts could weaken efforts to enforce environmental laws. EPA employee unions decried the severity of a proposed $2.5-million cut in a library budget that was $7 million last fiscal year. And, at the request of three House committees, the Government Accountability Office now is examining the reductions.
"Congress should not allow EPA to gut its library system, which plays a critical role in supporting the agency's mission to protect the environment and public health," 18 U.S. senators, nearly all Democrats, said last month in a letter seeking restoration of library services until the issue can be reviewed.
The EPA said the president's proposed budget had accelerated efforts to modernize the system, and they said that library visits were declining.
"I think we are living in a world of digitized information," said Travers of the EPA. "In the end there will be better access."
Travers said all EPA-generated documents from the closed libraries would be online by January and the rest of the agency's 51,000 reports would be digitized within two years. The EPA, she said, would not digitize books, scientific journals and non-EPA studies but would keep one copy of each available for inter-library loans.
The Library of Congress has digitized more than 11 million items in its collection of 132 million, and it retains the originals. But Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for library services there, said maintaining library space with staff provides important benefits, especially at specialized libraries.
"The librarians are so accustomed to doing searches and know the sources so well, and it would be difficult for scientists to have the same level of comfort," she said. "So, will they take the information they get and use it rather than being exhaustive in their searches?"
An EPA study in 2004 concluded that the libraries saved millions of dollars a year by performing time-consuming research for agency staff members. The general public also uses EPA's libraries.
When a sanitary district proposed a sludge incinerator along Lake Michigan in Waukegan, Ill., a few years ago, activist Verena Owen went to the EPA library in Chicago, and with help from a librarian researched how much mercury comes from incinerators and its toxicity. Owen said her findings helped a successful campaign to relocate the plant.
When she recently heard the library had gone dark, Owen was outraged: "If I had known about it, I would have chained myself to the bookcase."
The EPA's chemical library in Washington assisted scientists who developed drinking water standards and studied the effects of pesticides. "It allowed scientists to check on what they were being told by companies registering new chemicals," said Linda Miller Poore, a longtime contract librarian there.
In May, after learning the library would close, Poore took a job at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center library in Greenbelt, Md., a facility that supports space exploration and global warming research.
But Poore said she was notified recently that the Goddard library would be closed Jan. 1, leaving its collection available only online. She said she was fired Nov. 17 after telling patrons about the plans. The company that employed her declined to comment.
Mather, the Nobel-winning astrophysicist, said the library's paper collection is indispensable. "If we ended up moving into an age where paper did not exist, we would need the equivalent to reach all the texts and handbooks, and until the great library is digitized, I think we need the paper," he said.
In the wake of complaints from scientists and engineers, the center's operations director, Tom Paprocki, said the library was being funded through March and that officials were exploring whether to preserve part of it.
The discovery of discarded scientific journals last year in a dumpster at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley prompted a union grievance.
Plans to slash library space later were scaled back, said union president and scientist Paul K. Davis. "If not for our efforts, about three-quarters of the library materials would have been gone," he said.
At the Energy Department's headquarters, people researched radiation exposure of family members who worked with atomic energy or weaponry. And the library staff helped DOE employees and contractors.
This summer the library closed, except the law section, and became an online service. "By taking our headquarters library and making it virtual, more people can access it than just being in Washington," said Energy Department spokeswoman Megan Barnett, adding that the department's labs often have their own libraries.
The scandal at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) just keeps getting worse.
Since the Washington Post published an op-ed I wrote asking if NSTA's puzzling decision to reject 50,000 free DVDs of Al Gore's global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth might - just might - have had anything to do with more than six million dollars the organization has accepted from ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute, the muck keeps piling up.
ExxonMobil, of course, remains the standout among a large group of fossil fuel companies that have done everything in their considerable power to delay, deflect, and derail any serious effort to cut global warming emissions. Funding scientific disinformation has long been one of their favorite tactics.
New evidence flatly contradicts statements NSTA has made in defense of its suspect partnerships, and efforts appear to be underway to wipe out online evidence showing that what the oil industry got in exchange was the group's imprimatur on classroom videos, teaching guides, and other "educational" materials that play down threats like global warming and play up the glories of continued oil dependence.
We also learned that NSTA is willing to sell direct access to America's schoolteachers to any Tom, Dick or Exxon that shows up with a checkbook.
And here's the icing on the cake: NSTA Executive Director Dr. Gerry Wheeler - a top figure in the world of science education, remember - confessed to at least one reporter this week that he hadn't actually bothered to see the acclaimed film before he turned it down.
Cuddling Up to Conoco
NSTA's initial rejection e-mail included comments from a staffer worried that accepting the offer would "place unnecessary risk upon the capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters."
Now NSTA is arguing that distributing An Inconvenient Truth to teachers would violate their 2001 policy against endorsements. But that policy didn't stop them from shipping out 20,000 copies of a whopping 10-part video funded by ConocoPhillips in 2003.
In fact, Gerry Wheeler himself is listed as executive producer of the film series, alongside a ConocoPhillips corporate PR man named Ron Stanley. His interest in cinema apparently didn't extend to An Inconvenient Truth, however. At least not until it landed him in the paper.
Wheeler says this is OK because NSTA had editorial control of the project. If that's true, then maybe he can explain why the only scientist cited in the largely dismissive global warming section appearing in chapters six, nine and ten of the teaching guides is Dr. Robert Balling - a well known global warming skeptic who has acknowledged taking more than $400,000 from the fossil fuel industry (others say the figure is higher).
Shredding the Evidence
We also discovered that somebody somewhere is meticulously shredding the online evidence of NSTA's cozy corporate partnerships.
NSTA now says it is no longer partners with the American Petroleum Institute, asserting that the project ended five years ago. Yet it looks as if the curriculum was alive and well until reporters started asking about it these past few weeks.
As of November 26 - the day the Post article appeared - both NSTA and API were promoting the course materials they produced together on their web sites. Immediately after the article appeared, however, we noticed that references to the joint "Science of Energy" program were quickly disappearing from the web.
The 'Science of Energy' website itself is now gone altogether, and API has rewritten language touting their relationship with the science educators. But we captured some telling links before they started vanishing.
To see the disappearing documents, go here.
Last Thursday, NSTA released a statement claiming it had offered us "many options" for "publicizing such programs" as An Inconvenient Truth to their members. In fact, Wheeler had promised by phone just the day before that he would meet with his board and come back with possible ways to get the disks into teacher's hands. Instead he went straight to the press, claiming I had turned down an offer I never received.
More troubling is that their suggestions were nothing more than another set of 'For Sale' signs: Offers to sell their "commercially available member mailing list"; to sell us ads in their magazine and online newsletters; to sell us a booth at one of their conventions (hopefully not next to ExxonMobil).
And as it turns out, all of these things are already for sale on the NSTA website to anyone who shows up with the cash.
By the way, why are science teachers' names for sale at all?
Teacher Reputations on the Line
This story goes far deeper than a truckload of DVDs. What it's really about is NSTA's big money relationships with oil companies - the biggest, most powerful special interests on the planet.
It's truly a shame a group that does so many other good things has so badly undermined its own stature and credibility. What's worse is that NSTA's sleazy partnerships - 'partnership' is their word, by the way -threaten to tarnish the good reputation of science teachers all across America.
We're working on better ways to get those 50,000 DVDs into the hands of teachers who want them. Judging from hundreds of emails I've received from outraged teachers we know there will be plenty of interest.
To see the disappearing documents mentioned above, go here
Part I: The Lurker Below
Last week Jerry Klein, a D.C. area radio talk-show host, decided to scrape below the surface of the right-wing brouhaha over the so-called "flying Imams" -- six Muslim clerics asked to deplane from a U.S. Airways flight, a case touted by everyone from David Frum to Michelle Malkin to Powerline to Pajamas Media.
Klein took this kind of talk the next logical step -- that is, by calling on his radio show for requiring all Muslims wear crescent-moon armbands, or perhaps even tatooing or branding them. The response was disturbing, to say the least:
- The first caller to the station in Washington said that Klein must be "off his rocker." The second congratulated him and added: "Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."
Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. "What good is identifying them?" he asked. "You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."
At the end of the one-hour show, rich with arguments on why visual identification of "the threat in our midst" would alleviate the public's fears, Klein revealed that he had staged a hoax. It drew out reactions that are not uncommon in post-9/11 America.
"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said," he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL (http://www.wmal.com/), which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland
"For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting.
"Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous."
(Crooks and Liars has the video. at DKos has more.)
Satire done well has that ability to slice open and expose the darker aspects of our collective psyches. The film Borat is all about using similar tactics -- pretending to be a bigot as a way of getting certain segments of the American populace to drop their defenses and show their honest bigotry:
- In one scene, Borat sings a song that was commonly called Throw the Jew Down the Well, which incited hatred to Jews as the cause of all of Kazakhstan's problems. The song was wildly supported and cheered when it is played in a bar. Another Borat scene involves his visiting the Serengeti Range ranch in Texas, where the owner of the ranch reveals himself to be so anti-Semitic as to believe that Hitler's 'Final Solution' was a necessity for Germany. He further implies (with the egging on of Borat) that he would have no problem running a ranch where people can hunt, in Borat's words, "deer... then Jew."
Some of the noteworthy characters to appear in the film were Justin Seay and his frat brothers, whose bigotry spewed all over the carpet:
- In the movie Seay and his Chi Psi colleagues encounter Borat in the southwestern United States, where they pick up a "hitchhiking" Borat and proceed to consume what appears to be large amounts of alcohol with Borat. Borat encourages the group to discuss slavery and their desire for slavery to return to the U.S. During this discussion, Seay is quoted as saying, "In our country, the minorities actually have more power."
Well, as Logan Pearsall Smith put it: "How it infuriates a bigot when he is forced to drag out his dark convictions." Seay and his brothers have sued the makers of Borat. One of Borat's victims, James Broadwater -- a onetime Republican candidate for Congress who opined that Jews were going to hell -- responded angrily by saying his supposed victimization by the stunt "is just one more reason why I believe that the liberal, anti-God media needs to be brought under the strict control of the FCC, and that as soon as possible."
Borat also inspired a wave of less-than-persuasive defensiveness from the likes of Charles Krauthammer, whose airbrushed version of history seems to hold that Jews' relationships with America is definable solely in terms of U.S. support for Israel. This sole fact evidently obliterates a history of latent and sometimes express anti-Semitism in America, as well as the continuing existence of a substantial chunk of the populace that is either anti-Semitic or believes anti-Semitic nonsense.
This is the naked bigotry revealed by both Klein's and Borat's stunts, and it has a particular quality to it -- a theme running through it, as it were: eliminationism.
White frat boys who long to enslave blacks, Texas ranchers who think hunting and shooting a Jew sounds like fun, and radio audiences who want to tattoo Muslims and lock them up in concentration camps -- they all reflect the strands of the hard-wired right-wing desire to eliminate, by violent means if necessary, anyone deemed the Other, or the Enemy.
Certainly Muslims and Jews are among the leading targets of this kind of talk. Jews -- despite Krauthammer's historically soft-focused version of things -- were national scapegoats for many years (the grim tale of Leo Frank being the most vivid reminder) and a cause celebre for leading American figures, including Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, and Charles Coughlin. They remain a grim focus of the radical right's hatred even today; the world's leading exponent of anti-Semitism, David Duke, has recently made headlines by making speaking appearances in Kyiv and in Urkaine. Meanwhile, as Bernd Debusmann report for Reuters went on to explore, there is also a now thoroughly concocted fear of Muslims abroad in the American public:
- Those in agreement are not a fringe minority: A Gallup poll this summer of more than 1,000 Americans showed that 39 percent were in favor of requiring Muslims in the United States, including American citizens, to carry special identification.
Roughly a quarter of those polled said they would not want to live next door to a Muslim and a third thought that Muslims in the United States sympathized with al Qaeda, the extremist group behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
It isn't only Muslims and Jews who are being included in this kind of talk. Probably the leading targets of hateful rhetoric in the past year have been illegal immigrants. But the range of targets is fairly broad, and now includes gays and lesbians; environmentalists; civil-rights advocates; journalists; and the most common target of the past decade, liberals generally.
The first real uptick in this rhetoric was associated with the initial liberal resistance to the invasion of Iraq, which produced a real flood of elimination talk from the rabid American right, including such leading pundits as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.
Today, the right's rose-petaled enterprise has turned to shit, just as the "treasonous" bastards warned them it would -- so of course, those same bastards are now to blame. This is the way it always works for the right, the people of the party of responsibility, who seem unable to accept any responsibility whatsoever for the disasters created at their own express behest, and instead blame those with the foresight to warn against them beforehand.
Confronted with their own moral vacuity, the more rabid elements are nothing short of furious in their frantic scramble to obfuscate reality. Chief among their targets as the Iraq fiasco has crumbled has been the media for its reporting on the unfolding disaster. The result has been hate talk aimed at war critics and journalists, such as this:
- So, in the school of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, we are providing this link so YOU may help the blogosphere in locating the homes (perhaps with photos?) of the editors and reporters of the New York Times.
Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. , Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live?
Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous -- grab for the golden ring.
While it may seem as though this rising drumbeat of eliminationism proceeding from the American right is something new and uniquely dangerous, a look at our history actually reveals that it is something buried deep in our national psyche. It lies dormant in our soil and comes bursting forth when bidden.
What distinguishes eliminationism -- and particularly the rhetoric that precedes it and fuels it -- is that it represents a kind of self-hatred, especially in an American culture which advertises itself as predicated on inclusiveness, egalitarianism, and equal opportunity, since it runs precisely counter to those ideals. Eliminationists, at heart, really hate the very idea of America.
It has its origins, like slavery and war, in some of man's most ancient and most savage impulses: the desire to dominate others, through violence if necessary. However, in contrast, it goes largely unnoticed and largely unexamined, perhaps because it is a side of human nature so ugly we prefer not even to recognize its existence. So much so that only recently have we even had a term like "eliminationism" with which to frame it.
As I've explained, the term's first significant use came from historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in his controversial text, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Goldhagen never provides a concise definition of the word, but rather constructs a massively detailed description of the eliminationist mindset.
Goldhagen's focus, however, is almost solely the Holocaust and the virulently antisemitic form that took root in Europe prior to the Second World War. But as a principle, we can see eliminationism playing a role in human history through the ages -- including its special role in American history and the shaping of American culture, right up to the present day.
I've tried to give a more concise definition previously:
- What, really, is eliminationism?
It's a fairly self-explanatory term: it describes a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.
... Rhetorically, it takes on some distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as simply beyond the pale, and in the end the embodiment of evil itself -- unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus in need of elimination. It often depicts its designated "enemy" as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and loves to incessantly suggest that its targets are themselves disease carriers. A close corollary -- but not as nakedly eliminationist -- are claims that the opponents are traitors or criminals, or gross liabilities for our national security, and thus inherently fit for elimination or at least incarceration.
And yes, it's often voiced as crude "jokes", the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred.
But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.
What distinguishes eliminationist rhetoric from other political hyperbole, in the end, are two key factors:
- -- It is focused on an enemy within, people who constitute entire blocs of the citizen populace, and
--It advocates the excision and extermination, by violent means or civil, of those entire blocs.
As Jerry Klein found, those impulses lie not very far beneath the skin of American civil society. In fact, as we will explore here, they are deeply woven into our very makeup, and can be found as deep strands running and twining through our history: the genocide against the Indians, the "lynching era" and the Ku Klux Klan, the internment of Japanese Americans, the continuing shameful legacy of hate crimes in modern America.
Eliminationism all began, of course, long before there was even an America. But the roots of America's history are bathed in the blood of an eliminationist impulse imported from Europe -- and we have never quite outgrown that legacy.
Next: The Roots of Eliminationism
Shortly after U.S. forces marched into Baghdad in 2003, The Weekly Standard published a jeering article titled, “The Cassandra Chronicles: The stupidity of the antiwar doomsayers.” Among those the article mocked was a “war novelist” named James Webb, who is now the senator-elect from Virginia.
The article’s title was more revealing than its authors knew. People forget the nature of Cassandra’s curse: although nobody would believe her, all her prophecies came true. And so it was with those who warned against invading Iraq. At best, they were ignored. A recent article in The Washington Post ruefully conceded that the paper’s account of the debate in the House of Representatives over the resolution authorizing the Iraq war — a resolution opposed by a majority of the Democrats — gave no coverage at all to those antiwar arguments that now seem prescient.
At worst, those who were skeptical about the case for war had their patriotism and/or their sanity questioned. The New Republic now says that it “deeply regrets its early support for this war.” Does it also deeply regret accusing those who opposed rushing into war of “abject pacifism?”
Now, only a few neocon dead-enders still believe that this war was anything but a vast exercise in folly. And those who braved political pressure and ridicule to oppose what Al Gore has rightly called “the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States” deserve some credit.
Unlike The Weekly Standard, which singled out those it thought had been proved wrong, I’d like to offer some praise to those who got it right. Here’s a partial honor roll:
Former President George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, explaining in 1998 why they didn’t go on to Baghdad in 1991: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”
Representative Ike Skelton, September 2002: “I have no doubt that our military would decisively defeat Iraq’s forces and remove Saddam. But like the proverbial dog chasing the car down the road, we must consider what we would do after we caught it.”
Al Gore, September 2002: “I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.”
Barack Obama, now a United States senator, September 2002: “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”
Representative John Spratt, October 2002: “The outcome after the conflict is actually going to be the hardest part, and it is far less certain.”
Representative Nancy Pelosi, now the House speaker-elect, October 2002: “When we go in, the occupation, which is now being called the liberation, could be interminable and the amount of money it costs could be unlimited.”
Senator Russ Feingold, October 2002: “I am increasingly troubled by the seemingly shifting justifications for an invasion at this time. … When the administration moves back and forth from one argument to another, I think it undercuts the credibility of the case and the belief in its urgency. I believe that this practice of shifting justifications has much to do with the troubling phenomenon of many Americans questioning the administration’s motives.”
Howard Dean, then a candidate for president and now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, February 2003: “I firmly believe that the president is focusing our diplomats, our military, our intelligence agencies, and even our people on the wrong war, at the wrong time. … Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.”
We should honor these people for their wisdom and courage. We should also ask why anyone who didn’t raise questions about the war — or, at any rate, anyone who acted as a cheerleader for this march of folly — should be taken seriously when he or she talks about matters of national security.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Summary: Media Matters for America has identified six findings in the Iraq Study Group's report that major news outlets have largely overlooked. They include: that the Pentagon has significantly underreported the extent of violence in Iraq, that U.S. officials possess little knowledge about the sources of the ongoing attacks, and that the situation in Afghanistan has grown so dire that U.S. troops may need to be diverted there from Iraq.
In the 24 hours following the release of the Iraq Study Group report, the media reported widely on its recommendations for a new "way forward" in Iraq, held numerous discussions regarding its rebuke of President Bush's handling of the conflict, and interviewed the commissioners at length. But even with the extensive attention, major news outlets have largely overlooked numerous significant disclosures in the 100-page report.
Media Matters for America has identified six such findings. While most of the outlets included in this survey covered some of these disclosures while omitting others, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, and Fox News failed to report on any of the six.
Pentagon's underreporting of violence in Iraq
Near the end of the ISG report, the commission wrote that there is "significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq" -- a finding that takes on particular significance considering Bush's repeated assertion that his Iraq policy is tied to the "conditions on the ground." According to the commission, the Department of Defense "standard" for recording acts of violence functions "as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases" and thus has inaccurately depicted the "events on the ground." From the report:
[T]here is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.
The commission proceeded to recommend that the "Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense should ... institute immediate changes in the collection of data about violence and the sources of violence in Iraq to provide a more accurate picture of events on the ground."
Despite the pertinence of this disclosure to the ongoing policy debate over Iraq, numerous major media outlets have left it out of their coverage:
- Print media: The New York Times made no mention of the Pentagon's "systematic" underreporting of the violence in any of its four December 7 articles on the subject. The front-page December 7 Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) on the commission's findings also ignored this finding.
- Broadcast networks: On both the December 6 edition of the Evening News and the December 7 edition of The Early Show, CBS failed to report on this disclosure.
- Cable news networks*: Neither CNN nor Fox News reported this finding.
Lack of knowledge regarding insurgency and militias
Buried deep in the ISG report is the commission's finding that "the U.S. government still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias." The commission went on to portray the intelligence community's degree of knowledge on these fronts as falling "far short of what policy makers need to know." From the report:
The Defense Department and the intelligence community have not invested sufficient people and resources to understand the political and military threat to American men and women in the armed forces. Congress has appropriated almost $2 billion this year for countermeasures to protect our troops in Iraq against improvised explosive devices, but the administration has not put forward a request to invest comparable resources in trying to understand the people who fabricate, plant, and explode those devices.
We were told that there are fewer than 10 analysts on the job at the Defense Intelligence Agency who have more than two years' experience in analyzing the insurgency. Capable analysts are rotated to new assignments, and on-the-job training begins anew. Agencies must have a better personnel system to keep analytic expertise focused on the insurgency. They are not doing enough to map the insurgency, dissect it, and understand it on a national and provincial level. The analytic community's knowledge of the organization, leadership, financing, and operations of militias, as well as their relationship to government security forces, also falls far short of what policy makers need to know.
So, after three-and-a-half years in Iraq, the United States does not have an adequate grasp on "the political and military threat to American men and women" stationed there. But several news outlets ignored this disclosure in their reporting on the ISG report:
- Print media: The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times (here, here, here, and here), and USA Today (here, here, and here) made no mention of the U.S. intelligence community's reported lack of knowledge about the insurgency and militias.
- Broadcast networks: Both CBS' and ABC's December 6 evening newscasts and December 7 morning shows ignored this finding.
- Cable news networks: Neither CNN nor Fox News reported this disclosure.
Shift of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan
In a section of the report titled "The Wider Regional Context," the commission provided a dire assessment of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. From the report:
[W]e must not lose sight of the importance of the situation inside Afghanistan and the renewed threat posed by the Taliban. Afghanistan's borders are porous. If the Taliban were to control more of Afghanistan, it could provide al Qaeda the political space to conduct terrorist operations. This development would destabilize the region and have national security implications for the United States and other countries around the world. Also, the significant increase in poppy production in Afghanistan fuels the illegal drug trade and narco-terrorism.
The huge focus of U.S. political, military, and economic support on Iraq has necessarily diverted attention from Afghanistan. As the United States develops its approach toward Iraq and the Middle East, it must also give priority to the situation in Afghanistan. Doing so may require increased political, security, and military measures.
The commission subsequently recommended that the United States "provide additional political, economic, and military support for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq."
But this assessment -- that the situation in Afghanistan has so deteriorated that U.S. troops currently in Iraq may have to be diverted back there -- has been widely overlooked by the major news outlets:
- Print media: The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today ignored the recommendation entirely in their December 7 coverage. While The New York Times and The Washington Post also made no mention of this part of the report in their various December 7 articles, both newspapers did publish the report's executive summary, which included the recommendation.
- Broadcast networks: None of the three network news outlets -- on either their December 6 newscasts or their December 7 morning shows -- reported on this particular recommendation.
- Cable news networks: Neither MSNBC nor Fox News reported the commission's suggestion that U.S. troops be diverted from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Lack of Arabic speakers
In cataloguing the various deficiencies of the ongoing U.S. efforts in Iraq, the commission repeatedly pointed out the lack of fluent Arabic speakers among U.S. personnel. From the report:
All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans' lack of language and cultural understanding. Our embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency. In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage. There are still far too few Arab language -- proficient military and civilian officers in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. mission.
But in their coverage of the ISG report, few news outlets brought up this disclosure:
- Print media: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Associated Press (here, here, and here) all ignored the severe need for more U.S. personnel fluent in Arabic.
- Broadcast networks: Neither the CBS Evening News nor NBC's Nightly News mentioned this disclosure.
- Cable news networks: Both MSNBC and Fox News failed to report this finding.
That there are so few Arabic speakers in the U.S. military in Iraq might be explained at least in part by the fact that, in enforcing the military's policy on gay service members, the Army has discharged dozens of soldiers with some proficiency in Arabic, as the Government Accountability Office established in a 2004 report. In a December 7 post on his abcnews.com weblog, ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper highlighted White House press secretary Tony Snow's response to this part of the ISG report -- "You don't snap your fingers and have the Arabic speakers you need overnight." In response, Tapper cited the Arabic-speaking sergeant who was removed from the Army in 2005 because he is gay.
U.S. considering extending National Guard and Army reserves deployments
In its examination of the Iraq war, the commission devoted considerable attention to the conflict's detrimental effect on "Army readiness." Noting that this situation will likely lead to "undesirable changes in its deployment practices," the commission disclosed that the Army is "now considering breaking its compact with the National Guard and Reserves that limits the number of years that these citizen-soldiers can be deployed." From the report:
[T]he long-term commitment of American ground forces to Iraq at current levels is adversely affecting Army readiness, with less than a third of the Army units currently at high readiness levels. The Army is unlikely to be able to meet the next rotation of troops in Iraq without undesirable changes in its deployment practices. The Army is now considering breaking its compact with the National Guard and Reserves that limits the number of years that these citizen-soldiers can be deployed. Behind this short-term strain is the longer-term risk that the ground forces will be impaired in ways that will take years to reverse.
Of the print media, broadcast networks, and cable news networks included in our survey, Media Matters did not find a single mention of this disclosure.
Spending on Iraq war is subject to little scrutiny
As an example of how "the public interest is not well served by the government's preparation, presentation, and review of the budget for the war in Iraq," the commission highlighted the administration's persistent use of emergency supplemental appropriations requests to "[c]ircumvent the budget process." It recommended that "[c]osts for the war in Iraq should be included in the President's annual budget request, starting in FY 2008." From the report:
[M]ost of the costs of the war show up not in the normal budget request but in requests for emergency supplemental appropriations. This means that funding requests are drawn up outside the normal budget process, are not offset by budgetary reductions elsewhere, and move quickly to the White House with minimal scrutiny. Bypassing the normal review erodes budget discipline and accountability.
[C]ircumvention of the budget process by the executive branch erodes oversight and review by Congress. The authorizing committees (including the House and Senate Armed Services committees) spend the better part of a year reviewing the President's annual budget request. When the President submits an emergency supplemental request, the authorizing committees are bypassed. The request goes directly to the appropriations committees, and they are pressured by the need to act quickly so that troops in the field do not run out of funds. The result is a spending bill that passes Congress with perfunctory review. Even worse, the must-pass appropriations bill becomes loaded with special spending projects that would not survive the normal review process.
While it is billions of taxpayer dollars that are passing through Congress "with perfunctory review" and being diverted to "special spending projects," numerous news outlets failed to inform their readers and viewers of this finding:
- Print media: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Associated Press all ignored that the commission strongly criticized the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq spending requests. The Los Angeles Times also ignored this part of the report in its December 7 news articles, but highlighted in an editorial that the commission "call[ed] out the Bush administration for its excessive reliance on supplemental appropriations bills."
- Broadcast networks: None of the three network news outlets -- on either their December 6 newscasts or their December 7 morning shows -- reported on this recommendation.
- Cable news networks: Both CNN and MSNBC made no mention of this finding.
* Media Matters examined the prime-time December 6 coverage (4 p.m.-11 p.m. ET) on both MSNBC and Fox News and the full December 6 coverage on CNN.
For all the hype, the Iraq Study Group offers two fundamental recommendations that the president might even be able to implement: The group calls for the United States to engage Iraq's neighbors, specifically Iran and Syria. The group recommends a shift in U.S. military force posture and approach from "combat" to training and advice to Iraqi forces.
The Iraq Study Group should be thanked for its service to America in throwing a bucket of cold water on the White House. But post-election, the Commission's many recommendations are merely the opening salvo of a barrage of recommendations that will now emerge from the government, the think tanks, and the politicos.
The wise men have confirmed what the American public has known for some time: Iraq is finished. Our strategy, whatever it is, isn't working. It is mighty disappointing, but not surprising, though that the Study Group couldn't see that there is nothing left that the United States can do to really influence what will happen there. What is more, what it actually is proposing in its two fundamental points isn't necessarily going to make any difference.
I already have written skeptically as to whether Iran and Syria will see it in their interests to assist the Bush administration. I wonder, if the president were to engage them successfully, whether their input would help. Washington's latest sage rule is that we should talk to our adversaries, just as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Only an extremist -- the president and the vice president, that is -- would argue that we shouldn't at least talk. But I doubt that bringing Iran and Syria into the mix is the panacea that the study group and reasonable Washington now pretends it is.
So, I am left thinking that it is not even a decent bet that asking Iran and Syria to lend their good offices to a healthy Iraq would yield much. It isn't clear that they would play. It isn't clear that they would be helpful if they did. The "process" of diplomacy and the inevitable wait that the United States would have to accept while questionable parties huddled to "negotiate" and arm twist and cut their own deals merely kicks the day of reckoning further down the road.
In the short term, the study group recommends an unclear and contradictory course for the American military. The call for the withdrawal of the U.S. "combat" troops is so qualified and hedged, I'm not sure that the headlines -- that the study group is calling for the removal of all combat brigades by early 2008 -- is even true. On the one hand, the group recommends that the independent conventional forces be removed. On the other, it calls for a significant force to stay, including special operations forces.
What the group is fundamentally proposing though is that the core of the U.S. military effort switches from independent combat to a combined U.S.-Iraqi effort.The number of U.S. personnel in uniform embedded in Iraqi units would increase significantly under this proposal.
Regardless of whether the president surges more forces to Iraq, whether or not he follows through on the study group's suggestion and indeed draws down independent U.S. combat brigades, builds a rapid reaction force, reduces the American footprint, the accelerated training mission is already underway.
Just like the imagined silver bullet of diplomacy with Iran and Syria, the tough question here is whether the training and advisory approach will make a difference. I don't think so for a number of reasons. First, we are assigning U.S. troops to an even more sensitive and intimate mission with Iraqi players when we have already shown time and again that we are culturally challenged when it comes to understanding the Iraqis. Second, we are shifting responsibility for the security and success of U.S. forces to another party, one whose motivations and capabilities are suspect.
This is not some back-handed stay the course argument. I think we should get out altogether.
But let's be realistic about what will likely unfold even if we adapt the group's proposal: First, there is the question again of waiting for the Iraqis to assume the responsibilities we are thrusting upon them. No wonder Baker and others speak of "years" of continued U.S. presence. Second there remains the question of Baghdad's authority and national mandate. It isn't clear that the Shi'a dominated government -- the faction of the Shiite-dominated government -- is interested in a national military for the purpose of bringing the country together.
I understand that this "new" solution is Washington's way of withdrawing without saying it is withdrawing. But there is too much hope associated with the shift: hope that if we just redouble our effort with the Iraqis, they will all of a sudden get it and transform. In here as well is the strange article of faith that less capable Iraqi military units will succeed where more capable U.S. units failed. It seems to me that if we are admitting that there is no military solution to the problem, there is no Iraqi military solution either.
And then there is the question of Americans in uniform being thrust into an impossible position. I know that the embedded American will be there to teach their Iraqi counterparts how to shoot straight, as show an example of camaraderie, and to school them in human rights and the laws of war. But it is only a matter of time before Americans are thrust in the middle of blood letting and abuse.
Here's how I see Iraq playing out in the short term: The president makes an announcement within a month about his "new" plan. Washington is ever so pleased with a new approach. But the a la carte plan is seen by the Iraqis for what it is; it is not a U.S. timetable for withdrawal. It is not an unequivocal pledge not to establish permanent bases. It is sovereignty and authority in name only for Iraq with continued American control behind the scenes. I can't see who any of this equivocation will deflate the insurgency or stem the hatred for America that is fueled by our presence.
The "plan," in other words, is neither what the American people nor the Iraqi people want.
So it's not politically convenient to try to impeach?
So there will be no price paid for being the worst president ever, apart for the promise of the judgement of history?
So Democrats also think it's okay to go invade another country, to get several hundred thousand of its inhabitants killed, to proudly practice and promote torture around the world, to tear up the Geneva Conventions and a whole load of international treaties, and to go grab random foreigners around the world to put them in Guantanamo and throw away the key?
So not only was Bush reelected with a real majority, but the opposition essentially says that what he did is not so profoundly illegal that it deserves to be duly sanctioned?
Way to go.
The world is watching. And it will not forget. Our current leaders may be cowards, but they won't always be there. Haven't you noticed how being anti-American makes you a popular politician and makes you win elections around the world?
Fear will not be enough when the whole world is convinced that America will not correct its current ways, and that the problem is not just the current administration.
On November 7th, 2006 the American public sent a message on Iraq and as the new Democratic majority, we must respond with decisive action. Staying in Iraq is not an option politically, militarily or fiscally. The American people understand this. Today there is near consensus that there is no U.S. military solution and we must disengage our military from Iraq.
The Iraq Study Group recommended that we begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops by early 2008, depending on conditions on the ground. This is no different than the current policy. In my view, Iraq is plagued by a growing civil war and what is best for America's security needs and the future of our military is a responsible plan for redeployment.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Bush's Folly Leaves America Less Safe. U.S. Military Underfunded.
Army battling to save equipment
Gear piles up at depots, awaiting repair
By Ann Scott Tyson / Washington Post
ANNISTON, Ala. - Field upon field of more than 1,000 battered M1 tanks, howitzers and other armored vehicles sit amid weeds here at the 15,000-acre Anniston Army Depot -- the idle, hulking formations symbolic of an Army that is wearing out faster than it is being rebuilt.
The Army and Marine Corps have sunk more than 40 percent of their ground combat equipment into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to government data. An estimated $17 billion-plus worth of military equipment is destroyed or worn out each year, blasted by bombs, ground down by desert sand and used up to nine times the rate in times of peace. The gear is piling up at depots such as Anniston, waiting to be repaired.
The depletion of major equipment such as tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and especially helicopters and armored Humvees has left many military units in the United States without adequate training gear, officials say. Partly as a result of the shortages, many U.S. units are rated "unready" to deploy, officials say, raising alarm in Congress and concern among military leaders at a time when Iraq strategy is under review by the White House and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is lobbying hard for more money to repair what he calls the "holes" in his force, saying current war funding is inadequate to make the Army "well." Asked in a congressional hearing this past summer whether he was comfortable with the readiness levels of non-deployed Army units, Schoomaker replied: "No."
Lt. Col. Mike Johnson, a senior Army planner, said: "Before, if a unit was less than C-1," or fully ready, "someone would get fired." Now, he said, that is accepted as combat-zone rotations are sapping all units of gear and manpower. "It's a cost of continuous operations. You can't be ready all the time," he said.
Across the military, scarce equipment is being shifted from unit to unit for training. For example, a brigade of 3,800 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division that will deploy to Iraq next month has been passing around a single training set of 44 Humvees, none of which has the added armor of the Humvees they will drive in Iraq.
Huge backlog in broken-down gear
The military's ground forces are only beginning the vast and costly job of replacing, repairing and upgrading combat equipment -- work that will cost an estimated $17 billion to $19 billion annually for several more years, regardless of any shift in Iraq strategy. The Army alone has 280,000 major pieces of equipment in combat zones that will eventually have to be fixed or replaced. Before the war, the Army spent $2.5 billion to $3 billion a year on wear and tear.
At Anniston, the sprawling lots of tanks and other armored vehicles are just the start of a huge backlog in broken-down gear.
"There's stuff, stuff everywhere," Joan Gustafson, a depot official, said as she wheeled her brown Chevrolet van through a landscape of rolling hills lined with armadas of mobile guns.
"There's another field of M1s," she said, motioning toward a swath of M1A1 Abrams tanks next to the winding road. "We're just waiting for someone to tell us what to do with them."
The Army's five depots carry out the highest level of maintenance for Army gear ranging from rifles and other small arms to tanks, helicopters and missile systems. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Army has left behind hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment in Iraq and has relied heavily on field maintenance facilities in Kuwait.
But as the war has continued, Army leaders have recognized that they cannot afford to wait for a drawdown of troops before they begin overhauling equipment -- some of it 20 years old -- that is being used at extraordinary rates. Helicopters are flying two or three times their planned usage rates. Tank crews are driving more than 4,000 miles a year -- five times the normal rate. Truck fleets that convoy supplies down Iraq's bomb-laden roads are running at six times the planned mileage, according to Army data.
Equipment shipped back from Iraq is stacking up at all the Army depots: More than 530 M1 tanks, 220 M88 wreckers and 160 M113 armored personnel carriers are sitting at Anniston. The Red River Army Depot in Texas has 700 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 450 heavy and medium-weight trucks, while more than 1,000 Humvees are awaiting repair at the Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania.
Lack of funding
Despite the work piling up, the Army's depots have been operating at about half their capacity because of a lack of funding for repairs. In the spring, a funding gap caused Anniston and other depots to lose about a month's worth of work, said Brig. Gen. Robert Radin, deputy chief of staff for operations at the Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir.
"Last year we spent as much time trying to find available money as managing our program," he said. "We don't want to go into the next rotation . . . with equipment that's at the far end of its expected life."
Responding to urgent requests from the Army and Marine Corps, Congress approved an extra $23.8 billion in October to replace worn-out equipment in fiscal 2007. With the money, the Army plans to double the workload at its depots, which will repair and upgrade 130,000 pieces in 2007, up from 63,000 last year. This will include a quadrupling of the number of tanks, Bradleys and other tracked vehicles overhauled, from 1,000 to 4,000.
At Anniston, which will handle 1,800 combat vehicles in fiscal 2007, a cavernous 250,000-square-foot repair shop is humming as damaged tanks are rolled in one by one and disassembled with the help of giant cranes. Removing an M1 tank's turret alone takes a day and a half, and the entire overhaul requires 54 days and costs about $1 million, said Ted A. Law, the depot's vehicle manager.
Earnest Linn, 58, a heavy-mobile-equipment mechanic who as of January will have worked at Anniston for 30 years, said that "it's never been like this" since the end of the Vietnam War.
In October, Anniston became the official repair facility for the Army's newest armored vehicle, the Stryker. Repairs for those vehicles will soar from eight in fiscal 2006 to 75 this fiscal year -- including 58 that received some level of battle damage, said Gregory McMath, program manager for Stryker repair.
"This one hit a triple-stacked land mine," he said, peering up into the underbelly of a Stryker ripped open by the blast. Some of the Strykers are coming in with 40,000 miles on their odometers, he said.
'Supply system can't keep up with us'
Workers at Anniston take pride in patching, rebuilding and testing the broken-down gear and returning it to like-new condition. Often, they must innovate by taking parts from wrecked vehicles if new parts do not exist or have not been ordered in time.
"The supply system can't keep up with us," said Rodney Brodeur, division chief for turbine engines, speaking over the clang and whir of his workshop. It is projected that in 2007, Anniston will rebuild 1,400 turbine engines for M1 tanks, compared with 800 this year.
Fine sand and heavy use erode the blades on the tank engine rotors, eventually leading the blades to snap off and stall the engines. Such erosion, which is invisible to the Army's field mechanics, can lead to catastrophic failure without timely maintenance.
"If your Cadillac stops by the side of the road, that's an inconvenience," Brodeur said. "If the tank quits in the middle of the fight, that's a hard target."
Republicans are apoplectic.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who will become House majority leader and is writing the schedule for the next Congress, said members should expect longer hours than the brief week they have grown accustomed to [...]
"Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."
Actually, it says that our elected officials will have to actually work for their salaries. I had no idea that they were such proponents of a 3-day workweek. I'm sure they'll be writing legislation to give the rest of us that right, what with them being all "pro-family" and all.
Apparently, it also says that there's a law against members moving their families to Washington D.C.
But given how much these Republicans value their families, there's just one viable alternative for those poor souls now forced to work for a living -- retirement.
There are plenty others that will be more than happy to work the slave hours demanded of them by those evil Democrats now in control.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 5 — The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of an estimated $1 billion in fraudulent or unjustified payments it distributed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a new report by Congressional investigators says.
At the same time, the agency continued to wrongly send out millions of dollars of new aid this year, including $17 million in rental assistance to families living rent-free in FEMA trailers, the Government Accountability Office report says.
The auditors’ findings, set to be released on Wednesday, demonstrate how the agency has remained open to criticism from advocates for evacuees as being too stingy with people who have real needs, and to criticism from auditors as being too willing to give taxpayer dollars to scam artists and cheats.
Just last week, a federal judge ordered the agency to restore housing assistance and pay back rent to thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who had been deemed ineligible for long-term housing aid.
Yet the new report by the Congressional investigators said that, in addition to the rental aid given to more than 8,600 victims living in trailers rent-free, the agency distributed $20 million to people who registered for both hurricanes, meaning they received double payments for rent and other emergency aid.
The investigators also recently determined that the agency gave at least $3 million to more than 500 foreign students or other foreigners in the United States on work visas even though federal law specifically prohibits such aid.
“FEMA has much work to do before we can be confident that it is providing assistance to those who are eligible and who need it, while denying it to those who do not,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut. Mr. Lieberman is the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on Hurricane Katrina-related fraud and abuse.
The agency’s officials on Tuesday said they had not yet seen the new report and would not comment in detail until they had. But they acknowledged the serious flaws in distribution of financial aid after the hurricanes. A copy of the report was given to The New York Times.
“The stringent controls instituted this past year by FEMA will dramatically improve safeguards and help eliminate processing errors and fraudulent abuse,” Pat Philbin, an agency spokesman, said in a written statement.
But the Government Accountability Office report made it clear that the inappropriate payments continued into this year. For example, 10 residents of an apartment complex in Plano, Tex., collected $46,000 in rental assistance from FEMA through June, even though the City of Plano was paying their rent, with money from the federal agency.
FEMA estimates that of the $7 billion in emergency aid given out to individuals and families after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, about $290 million was unjustified. But based on more than a year of spot-checking applications, Congressional auditors said they believed the federal agency was grossly underestimating the figure, and that a more accurate amount would be at least $1 billion.
That would include money that went to thousands of inmates and people who used falsified Social Security numbers or submitted applications for phantom homes, all cases turned up by the investigators.
FEMA has recouped about $7.5 million of these inappropriate payments, an agency official said Tuesday, and he estimated that an additional $8.1 million was on the way.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee, said the small percentage of money recouped showed how important it was for the agency to improve how it screened applications for disaster aid.
“Once the money is out the door, it is very difficult for it to be recovered,” Ms. Collins said.
At the time Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, the agency had systems in place to prevent fraud, including a computer program that looked for applications with the same Social Security number. But officials said they turned the system off, claiming that they were worried it might prevent legitimate victims from getting help, the report said.
That is why, for example, the 7,600 individuals had been able to collect $20 million in emergency aid for properties supposedly hit by both storms, the report said.
Ms. Collins said she did not accept the assertion that the agency could not figure out how to distribute emergency assistance quickly while preventing widespread waste and fraud.
“It’s a false choice,” she said.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Prager is not a typical talk radio host. In September, he was appointed by President Bush to a five-year term on the taxpayer-funded United States Holocaust Memorial Council. A statement announcing Prager’s appointment praised his “unique moral voice.”
Yesterday, the Council on American Islamic Relations called on Prager to be removed from this position:
No one who holds such bigoted, intolerant and divisive views should be in a policymaking position at a taxpayer-funded institution that seeks to educate Americans about the destructive impact hatred has had, and continues to have, on every society. As a presidential appointee, Prager’s continued presence on the council would send a negative message to Muslims worldwide about America’s commitment to religious tolerance.
Likewise, the Anti-Defamation League, a group battling anti-Semitism and other bigotry, issued a statement calling Prager’s views “intolerant,” “misinformed on the facts,” and “downright un-American.”
Howard Kurtz, the media critic for both CNN and The Washington Post, participated in an online chat yesterday, and was asked about the Jose Padilla story in yesterday's New York Times. This is what ensued:
Princeton, N.J.: On the front page of the NY Times today is an article replete with pictures of the Bush administration's treatment of Joseph (sic) Padilla, an American citizen. Do you think the pictures will have a similar effect on the U.S. public as did the pictures of torture in Iraq?
Howard Kurtz: I don't know. It depends on whether you believe that someone accused of plotting a dirty-bomb attack should have to wear blacked-out goggles and have his legs shackled when he is taken outside solitary confinement for a dentist's appointment.
Kurtz's answer, brief though it may be, illustrates so very many things about our country and its media (h/t to this TPM commenter, who obviously knows how to bait).
Some aspects of Kurtz's answer are too self-evident to merit extended discussion, beginning with his painfully shallow and misleading understanding of what the entire Padilla story is about. To Kurtz, the uproar is about nothing other than whether an Accused Terrorist should have to wear leg shackles and "goggles" when being transported outside of his prison cell.
In Kurtz's world, the only thing this non-story really implicates are some routine matters involving prisoner security which only whiny human rights hysterics would be upset about. After all, what sensible person would ever question whether a Dangerous Prisoner should be subject to some reasonable security precautions when being transported? It's just some leg shackles and goggles. What's all the fuss about?
What's next? Will the ACLU also demand a color television for Al Qaeda murderers? Kurtz's "understanding" of this story is the rough equivalent of what a garden-variety right-wing blogger would say about it -- say, Kurtz's most favorite TV guest, John Hinderaker, or even Rush Limbaugh.
And then there is the inexcusable outright factual inaccuracy of claiming that Padilla's treatment can be justified on the ground that he is "accused of plotting a dirty-bomb attack." It's fairly obvious that Howard Kurtz knows very, very little about what has happened to Jose Padilla.
Anyone who has paid even mild attention knows that when the Bush administration was finally forced to indict him, the criminal charges included none of the flamboyant accusations they had made in press conferences and via leaks over the last 3 years, including the accusation that he is a "dirty bomber." Contrary to Kurtz's claim, Padilla does not stand accused of that.
Even when confronted with that fact in a subsequent question by a reader much more informed than he was, Kurtz continued to display abject ignorance about the Padilla case on which he was opining:
Wilmington, N.C.: "It depends on whether you believe that someone accused
of plotting a dirty-bomb attack should have to wear blacked-out goggles and have his legs shackled when he is taken outside solitary confinement for a dentist's
appointment."None of the allegations against Mr. Padilla mention a dirty-bomb
attack. Have I missed something?
Howard Kurtz: Well, the second graph of the NYT story says, "Mr. Padilla, a
Brooklyn-born Muslim convert whom the Bush administration had accused of
plotting a dirty bomb attack and had detained without charges..."
Kurtz is ignorant of the most basic facts here because he is indifferent to this story. And he's indifferent to this story not because he has no opinion about it, but precisely because he does have an opinion about it -- a very clear and didactic opinion.
Kurtz's answer to the reader -- as well as his factual ignorance about this entire matter -- makes clear that he thinks there is nothing even notable, let alone objectionable, about the fact that the Bush administration imprisons American citizens and treats them for years like farm animals even though they've never been charged with (never mind convicted of) any crime. To Kurtz, that is not something even worthy of discussion.
When someone discusses the Padilla matter specifically -- or the general fact that the Bush administration imprisons people indefinitely, including U.S. citizens, with no charges and often in the most inhumane manner -- it is quite common to hear expressions of incredulity, genuine bafflement, over the fact that not only is our government engaging in such conduct, but that it is prompting so little public outcry. I'm rarely able to avoid talking about this issue without making that point -- why isn't this most patent violation of our country's core principles, whereby our fellow citizens are being imprisoned and tortured by our government with no charges, prompting genuine anger?
This is the reason why. Over the last five years, the media (with some notable and noble exceptions) essentially embraced the central premise of the Bush administration -- that in order for us to be protected, we must place our faith in the Leader and know that he is doing Good, because he wants to protect us.
He may err at times. He might even go a little too far or be a little zealous in what he does to make us safe. But there are Very, Very Bad People in the world who want to kill us -- Padilla is "accused of plotting a dirty-bomb attack"! -- and the Leader needs the power to get his hands dirty and take care of them. The last thing we should be concerned with is what the Leader does to them.
With those premises snugly in place, "journalists" like Kurtz have spent the last five years doing the opposite of what they were supposed to be doing -- rather than skeptically scrutinize the conduct and motives of the Leader, they became his most enthusiastic followers. The President's promises of protection from the Scary Terrorists Who Want to Kill You resonated most loudly among the frightened, coddled media elites like Kurtz, who were more than eager to fulfill their end of the bargain by assuming the core goodness and honesty of the Government and never questioning that basic premise.
For the media to have any worthwhile function at all, it needs to be the least trusting group in the country, not the most. Their principal function is to serve as an adversarial watchdog over those in power, informing Americans when the Government's claims and behavior are suspect. That's just Journalism 101. It is vital that, if anything, they err -- strongly -- on the side of excess skepticism. Placing blind faith and trust in the actions of political leaders is the antithesis of the journalistic ethos, but those are the attributes which have been driving most of the nation's most influential political journalists throughout the Bush Presidency.
As Walter Pincus' belated though still welcome Post article this week illustrates, the time of reckoning for journalists -- an examination of the indispensable and corrupt role they played in enabling what has happened over the last five years -- is rapidly approaching. Journalists and similar types are beginning to acknowledge the almost complete co-opting of the media by the Bush administration over the last five years. There is, in some journalistic circles, a burgeoning (and very well-earned) shame over the entirely voluntary transformation of the media into a subservient propaganda arm of the most extreme elements of the Bush agenda.
The Bush administration was able to invade Iraq, imprison and torture people (including U.S. citizens), and repeatedly and openly break the law not because the Howard Kurtz's of our country failed in their duty as journalists (although they did, profoundly). It goes beyond that. They affirmatively believed in those things -- and in many cases, still do -- every bit as much as the President and his government did, and they worked in harmonious concert with the administration to do as much, if not more, to enable it.
Why isn't there more of a controversy over the radicalism of the Bush movement? Ask Howard Kurtz. It's just some goggles and leg shackles for a Terrorist. What's there to discuss?
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005; A01
In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.
Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.
The Masri case, with new details gleaned from interviews with current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials, offers a rare study of how pressure on the CIA to apprehend al Qaeda members after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has led in some instances to detention based on thin or speculative evidence. The case also shows how complicated it can be to correct errors in a system built and operated in secret.
The CIA, working with other intelligence agencies, has captured an estimated 3,000 people, including several key leaders of al Qaeda, in its campaign to dismantle terrorist networks. It is impossible to know, however, how many mistakes the CIA and its foreign partners have made.
Unlike the military's prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- where 180 prisoners have been freed after a review of their cases -- there is no tribunal or judge to check the evidence against those picked up by the CIA. The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation-- a process called "rendition" -- is also responsible for policing itself for errors.
The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions," according to several former and current intelligence officials.
One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.
"They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association" with terrorism, one CIA officer said.
While the CIA admitted to Germany's then-Interior Minister Otto Schily that it had made a mistake, it has labored to keep the specifics of Masri's case from becoming public. As a German prosecutor works to verify or debunk Masri's claims of kidnapping and torture, the part of the German government that was informed of his ordeal has remained publicly silent. Masri's attorneys say they intend to file a lawsuit in U.S. courts this week.
Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center's al Qaeda unit "believed he was someone else," one former CIA official said. "She didn't really know. She just had a hunch."
The CIA declined to comment for this article, as did Coats and a spokesman at the German Embassy in Washington. Schily did not respond to several requests for comment last week.
CIA officials stress that apprehensions and renditions are among the most sure-fire ways to take potential terrorists out of circulation quickly. In 2000, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet said that "renditions have shattered terrorist cells and networks, thwarted terrorist plans, and in some cases even prevented attacks from occurring."The Counterterrorist Center
After the September 2001 attacks, pressure to locate and nab potential terrorists, even in the most obscure parts of the world, bore down hard on one CIA office in particular, the Counterterrorist Center, or CTC, located until recently in the basement of one of the older buildings on the agency's sprawling headquarters compound. With operations officers and analysts sitting side by side, the idea was to act on tips and leads with dramatic speed.
The possibility of missing another attack loomed large. "Their logic was: If one of them gets loose and someone dies, we'll be held responsible," said one CIA officer, who, like others interviewed for this article, would speak only anonymously because of the secretive nature of the subject.
To carry out its mission, the CTC relies on its Rendition Group, made up of case officers, paramilitaries, analysts and psychologists. Their job is to figure out how to snatch someone off a city street, or a remote hillside, or a secluded corner of an airport where local authorities wait.
Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons -- referred to in classified documents as "black sites," which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.
In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CTC was the place to be for CIA officers wanting in on the fight. The staff ballooned from 300 to 1,200 nearly overnight.
"It was the Camelot of counterterrorism," a former counterterrorism official said. "We didn't have to mess with others -- and it was fun."
Thousands of tips and allegations about potential threats poured in after the attacks. Stung by the failure to detect the plot, CIA officers passed along every tidbit. The process of vetting and evaluating information suffered greatly, former and current intelligence officials said. "Whatever quality control mechanisms were in play on September 10th were eliminated on September 11th," a former senior intelligence official said.
J. Cofer Black, a professorial former spy who spent years chasing Osama bin Laden, was the CTC's director. With a flair for melodrama, Black had earned special access to the White House after he briefed President Bush on the CIA's war plan for Afghanistan.
Colleagues recall that he would return from the White House inspired and talking in missionary terms. Black, now in the private security business, declined to comment.
Some colleagues said his fervor was in line with the responsibility Bush bestowed on the CIA when he signed a top secret presidential finding six days after the 9/11 attacks. It authorized an unprecedented range of covert action, including lethal measures and renditions, disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks against the al Qaeda enemy, according to current and former intelligence officials. Black's attitude was exactly what some CIA officers believed was needed to get the job done.
Others criticized Black's CTC for embracing a "Hollywood model" of operations, as one former longtime CIA veteran called it, eschewing the hard work of recruiting agents and penetrating terrorist networks. Instead, the new approach was similar to the flashier paramilitary operations that had worked so well in Afghanistan, and played well at the White House, where the president was keeping a scorecard of captured or killed terrorists.
The person most often in the middle of arguments over whether to dispatch a rendition team was a former Soviet analyst with spiked hair that matched her in-your-face personality who heads the CTC's al Qaeda unit, according to a half-dozen CIA veterans who know her. Her name is being withheld because she is under cover.
She earned a reputation for being aggressive and confident, just the right quality, some colleagues thought, for a commander in the CIA's global war on terrorism. Others criticized her for being overzealous and too quick to order paramilitary action.The CIA and Guantanamo Bay
One way the CIA has dealt with detainees it no longer wants to hold is to transfer them to the custody of the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, where defense authorities decide whether to keep or release them after a review.
About a dozen men have been transferred by the CIA to Guantanamo Bay, according to a Washington Post review of military tribunal testimony and other records. Some CIA officials have argued that the facility has become, as one former senior official put it, "a dumping ground" for CIA mistakes.
But several former intelligence officials dispute that and defend the transfer of CIA detainees to military custody. They acknowledged that some of those sent to Guantanamo Bay are prisoners who, after interrogation and review, turned out to have less valuable information than originally suspected. Still, they said, such prisoners are dangerous and would attack if given the chance.
Among those released from Guantanamo is Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, apprehended by a CIA team in Pakistan in October 2001, then sent to Egypt for interrogation, according to court papers. He has alleged that he was burned by cigarettes, given electric shocks and beaten by Egyptian captors. After six months, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay and let go earlier this year without being charged.
Another CIA former captive, according to declassified testimony from military tribunals and other records, is Mohamedou Oulad Slahi, a Mauritanian and former Canada resident, who says he turned himself in to the Mauritanian police 18 days after the 9/11 attacks because he heard the Americans were looking for him. The CIA took him to Jordan, where he spent eight months undergoing interrogation, according to his testimony, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay.
Another is Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, an Egyptian imprisoned by Indonesia authorities in January 2002 after he was heard talking -- he says jokingly -- about a new shoe bomb technology. He was flown to Egypt for interrogation and returned to CIA hands four months later, according to one former intelligence official. After being held for 13 months in Afghanistan, he was taken to Guantanamo Bay, according to his testimony.The Masri Case
Khaled Masri came to the attention of Macedonian authorities on New Year's Eve 2003. Masri, an unemployed father of five living in Ulm, Germany, said he had gone by bus to Macedonia to blow off steam after a spat with his wife. He was taken off a bus at the Tabanovce border crossing by police because his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker. The police drove him to Skopje, the capital, and put him in a motel room with darkened windows, he said in a recent telephone interview from Germany.
The police treated Masri firmly but cordially, asking about his passport, which they insisted was forged, about al Qaeda and about his hometown mosque, he said. When he pressed them to let him go, they displayed their pistols.
Unbeknown to Masri, the Macedonians had contacted the CIA station in Skopje. The station chief was on holiday. But the deputy chief, a junior officer, was excited about the catch and about being able to contribute to the counterterrorism fight, current and former intelligence officials familiar with the case said.
"The Skopje station really wanted a scalp because everyone wanted a part of the game," a CIA officer said. Because the European Division chief at headquarters was also on vacation, the deputy dealt directly with the CTC and the head of its al Qaeda unit.
In the first weeks of 2004, an argument arose over whether the CIA should take Masri from local authorities and remove him from the country for interrogation, a classic rendition operation.
The director of the al Qaeda unit supported that approach. She insisted he was probably a terrorist, and should be imprisoned and interrogated immediately.
Others were doubtful. They wanted to wait to see whether the passport was proved fraudulent. Beyond that, there was no evidence Masri was not who he claimed to be -- a German citizen of Arab descent traveling after a disagreement with his wife.
The unit's director won the argument. She ordered Masri captured and flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan.
On the 23rd day of his motel captivity, the police videotaped Masri, then bundled him, handcuffed and blindfolded, into a van and drove to a closed-off building at the airport, Masri said. There, in silence, someone cut off his clothes. As they changed his blindfold, "I saw seven or eight men with black clothing and wearing masks," he later said in an interview. He said he was drugged to sleep for a long plane ride.Afghanistan
Masri said his cell in Afghanistan was cold, dirty and in a cellar, with no light and one dirty cover for warmth. The first night he said he was kicked and beaten and warned by an interrogator: "You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know."
Masri was guarded during the day by Afghans, he said. At night, men who sounded as if they spoke American-accented English showed up for the interrogation. Sometimes a man he believed was a doctor in a mask came to take photos, draw blood and collect a urine sample.
Back at the CTC, Masri's passport was given to the Office of Technical Services to analyze. By March, OTS had concluded the passport was genuine. The CIA had imprisoned the wrong man.
At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. "There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him," one former official said. "There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over."
Once the mistake reached Tenet, he laid out the options to his counterparts, including the idea of not telling the Germans. Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage argued they had to be told, a position Tenet took, according to one former intelligence official.
"You couldn't have the president lying to the German chancellor" should the issue come up, a government official involved in the matter said.
Senior State Department officials decided to approach Interior Minister Schily, who had been a steadfast Bush supporter even when differences over the Iraq war strained ties between the two countries. Ambassador Coats had excellent rapport with Schily.
The CIA argued for minimal disclosure of information. The State Department insisted on a truthful, complete statement. The two agencies quibbled over whether it should include an apology, according to officials.
Meanwhile, Masri was growing desperate. There were rumors that a prisoner had died under torture. Masri could not answer most questions put to him. He said he steadied himself by talking with other prisoners and reading the Koran.
A week before his release in late May 2004, Masri said he was visited in prison by a German man with a goatee who called himself Sam. Masri said he asked him if he were from the German government and whether the government knew he was there. Sam said he could not answer either question.
"Does my wife at least know I'm here?" Masri asked.
"No, she does not," Sam replied, according to Masri.
Sam told Masri he was going to be released soon but that he would not receive any documents or papers confirming his ordeal. The Americans would never admit they had taken him prisoner, Sam added, according to Masri.
On the day of his release, the prison's director, who Masri believed was an American, told Masri that he had been held because he "had a suspicious name," Masri said in an interview.
Several intelligence and diplomatic officials said Macedonia did not want the CIA to bring Masri back inside the country, so the agency arranged for him to be flown to Albania. Masri said he was taken to a narrow country road at dusk. When they let him off, "They asked me not to look back when I started walking," Masri said. "I was afraid they would shoot me in the back."
He said he was quickly met by three armed men. They drove all night, arriving in the morning at Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana. Masri said he was escorted onto the plane, past all the security checkpoints, by an Albanian.
Masri has been reunited with his children and wife, who had moved the family to Lebanon because she did not know where her husband was. Unemployed and lonely, Masri says neither his German nor Arab friends dare associate with him because of the publicity.
Meanwhile, a German prosecutor continues to work Masri's case. A Macedonia bus driver has confirmed that Masri was taken away by border guards on the date he gave investigators. A forensic analysis of Masri's hair showed he was malnourished during the period he says he was in the prison. Flight logs show a plane registered to a CIA front company flew out of Macedonia on the day Masri says he went to Afghanistan.
Masri can find few words to explain his ordeal. "I have very bad feelings" about the United States, he said. "I think it's just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this article.