Friday, September 07, 2007


Judith Miller Finally Lands in the ‘Right’ Place

Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent that pushed all the Bush administration spin about the (so-far non-existent) existence of WMD in Iraq, has finally come home. She's taken a job with the friends of "greater economic choice and individual responsibility" at the Manhattan Institute. She’s written for their City Journal quarterly before, so look for more stories from her on the cop beat. “The Manhattan Institute is doing pioneering work in policing and counter-terrorism,” Miller said in a release today. “As an adjunct fellow, I hope to continue writing about how best to enhance national security and public safety without sacrificing our freedom and civil liberties.” Or sacrificing her journo ethics — Neo-Con propaganda goes down much better when it's properly labeled. —Geoffrey Gray

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 06, 2007


They Hate Us More Than They Hate Each Other (or Hate Will Bring Us Together)

Christian Fundamentalists and Islamic Fundamentalists are teaming up to bring creationism to a public school near you! It's funny...they really do seem to hate us Dirty Fucking Hippies more than they hate each other.

Jerry Falwell et al believe that 9-11 happened because of liberal society. So does Osama Bin Laden.

from NPR:

Creationsim is becoming a controversial topic in Turkish education. Conservative Muslim groups want creationism taught along with evolution in Turkey's schools. In some cases, they're getting assistance from American creationists. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

Here is a link to the audio (5:40)

Labels: ,


Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq

Military Statistics Called Into Question

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 6, 2007; Page A16

The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.

Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration's claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease.

Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory. "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree," Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.

Senior U.S. officers in Baghdad disputed the accuracy and conclusions of the largely negative GAO report, which they said had adopted a flawed counting methodology used by the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Many of those conclusions were also reflected in last month's pessimistic National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. "If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian," the official said. "If it went through the front, it's criminal."

"Depending on which numbers you pick," he said, "you get a different outcome." Analysts found "trend lines . . . going in different directions" compared with previous years, when numbers in different categories varied widely but trended in the same direction. "It began to look like spaghetti."

Among the most worrisome trends cited by the NIE was escalating warfare between rival Shiite militias in southern Iraq that has consumed the port city of Basra and resulted last month in the assassination of two southern provincial governors. According to a spokesman for the Baghdad headquarters of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), those attacks are not included in the military's statistics. "Given a lack of capability to accurately track Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence, except in certain instances," the spokesman said, "we do not track this data to any significant degree."

Attacks by U.S.-allied Sunni tribesmen -- recruited to battle Iraqis allied with al-Qaeda -- are also excluded from the U.S. military's calculation of violence levels.

The administration has not given up trying to demonstrate that Iraq is moving toward political reconciliation. Testifying with Petraeus next week, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker is expected to report that top Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders agreed last month to work together on key legislation demanded by Congress. If all goes as U.S. officials hope, Crocker will also be able to point to a visit today to the Sunni stronghold of Anbar province by ministers in the Shiite-dominated government -- perhaps including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy. The ministers plan to hand Anbar's governor $70 million in new development funds, the official said.

But most of the administration's case will rest on security data, according to military, intelligence and diplomatic officials who would not speak on the record before the Petraeus-Crocker testimony. Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers who were offered military statistics during Baghdad visits in August said they had been convinced that Bush's new strategy, and the 162,000 troops carrying it out, has produced enough results to merit more time.

Challenges to how military and intelligence statistics are tallied and used have been a staple of the Iraq war. In its December 2006 report, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group identified "significant underreporting of violence," noting that "a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the sources of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the data base." The report concluded that "good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."

Recent estimates by the media, outside groups and some government agencies have called the military's findings into question. The Associated Press last week counted 1,809 civilian deaths in August, making it the highest monthly total this year, with 27,564 civilians killed overall since the AP began collecting data in April 2005.

The GAO report found that "average number of daily attacks against civilians have remained unchanged from February to July 2007," a conclusion that the military said was skewed because it did not include dramatic, up-to-date information from August.

Juan R.I. Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan who is critical of U.S. policy, said that most independent counts "do not agree with Pentagon estimates about drops in civilian deaths."

In a letter last week to the leadership of both parties, a group of influential academics and former Clinton administration officials called on Congress to examine "the exact nature and methodology that is being used to track the security situation in Iraq and specifically the assertions that sectarian violence is down."

The controversy centers as much on what is counted -- attacks on civilians vs. attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops, numbers of attacks vs. numbers of casualties, sectarian vs. intra-sect battles, daily numbers vs. monthly averages -- as on the numbers themselves.

The military stopped releasing statistics on civilian deaths in late 2005, saying the news media were taking them out of context. In an e-mailed response to questions last weekend, an MNF-I spokesman said that while trends were favorable, "exact monthly figures cannot be provided" for attacks against civilians or other categories of violence in 2006 or 2007, either in Baghdad or for the country overall. "MNF-I makes every attempt to ensure it captures the most comprehensive, accurate, and valid data on civilian and sectarian deaths," the spokesman wrote. "However, there is not one central place for data or information. . . . This means there can be variations when different organizations examine this information."

In a follow-up message yesterday, the spokesman said that the non-release policy had been changed this week but that the numbers were still being put "in the right context."

Attacks labeled "sectarian" are among the few statistics the military has consistently published in recent years, although the totals are regularly recalculated. The number of monthly "sectarian murders and incidents" in the last six months of 2006, listed in the Pentagon's quarterly Iraq report published in June, was substantially higher each month than in the Pentagon's March report. MNF-I said that "reports from un-reported/not-yet-reported past incidences as well as clarification/corrections on reports already received" are "likely to contribute to changes."

When Petraeus told an Australian newspaper last week that sectarian attacks had decreased 75 percent "since last year," the statistic was quickly e-mailed to U.S. journalists in a White House fact sheet. Asked for detail, MNF-I said that "last year" referred to December 2006, when attacks spiked to more than 1,600.

By March, however -- before U.S. troop strength was increased under Bush's strategy -- the number had dropped to 600, only slightly less than in the same month last year. That is about where it has remained in 2007, with what MNF-I said was a slight increase in April and May "but trending back down in June-July."

Petraeus's spokesman, Col. Steven A. Boylan, said he was certain that Petraeus had made a comparison with December in the interview with the Australian paper, which did not publish a direct Petraeus quote. No qualifier appeared in the White House fact sheet.

When a member of the National Intelligence Council visited Baghdad this summer to review a draft of the intelligence estimate on Iraq, Petraeus argued that its negative judgments did not reflect recent improvements. At least one new sentence was added to the final version, noting that "overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks."

A senior military intelligence official in Baghdad deemed it "odd" that "marginal" security improvements were reflected in an estimate assessing the previous seven months and projecting the next six to 12 months. He attributed the change to a desire to provide Petraeus with ammunition for his congressional testimony.

The intelligence official in Washington, however, described the Baghdad consultation as standard in the NIE drafting process and said that the "new information" did not change the estimate's conclusions. The overall assessment was that the security situation in Iraq since January "was still getting worse," he said, "but not as fast."

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Who's Responsible for the Massacre of Women and Children in Haditha? George W. Bush is responsible for the conduct of troops under his command.

August 31st, 2007 6:04 pm
Marine tells of order to execute Haditha women and children

By Rob Woollard / AFP

CAMP PENDLETON, California - A US Marine was ordered to execute a room full of terrified Iraqi women and children during an alleged massacre in Haditha that left 24 people dead, a military court heard Thursday.

The testimony came in the opening of a preliminary hearing for Marine Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who faces 17 counts of murder over the Haditha killings, the most serious war crimes allegations faced by US troops in Iraq.

Wuterich, dressed in desert khakis, spoke confidently to confirm his name as the hearing to decide if he faces a court martial began at the Marines' Camp Pendleton base in southern California.

The 27-year-old listened intently as Lance Corporal Humberto Mendoza recounted how Marines had responded after a roadside bomb attack on their convoy in Haditha on November 19, 2005 left one comrade dead.

Mendoza said Marines under Wuterich's command began clearing nearby houses suspected of containing insurgents responsible for the bombing.

At one house Wuterich gave an order to shoot on sight as Marines waited for a response after knocking on the door, said Mendoza.

"He said 'Just wait till they open the door, then shoot,'" Mendoza said. Mendoza then said he himself shot and killed an adult male who appeared in a doorway.

During a subsequent search of the house, Mendoza said he received an order from another Marine, Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum, to shoot seven women and children he had found in a rear bedroom.

"When I opened the door there was just women and kids, two adults were lying down on the bed and there were three children on the bed ... two more were behind the bed," Mendoza said.

"I looked at them for a few seconds. Just enough to know they were not presenting a threat ... they looked scared."

After leaving the room Mendoza told Tatum what he had found.

"I told him there were women and kids inside there. He said 'Well, shoot them,'" Mendoza told prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Sean Sullivan.

"And what did you say to him?" Sullivan asked.

"I said 'But they're just women and children.' He didn't say nothing."

Mendoza said he returned to a position at the front of the house and heard a door open behind him followed by a loud noise. Returning later that afternoon to retrieve bodies, Mendoza said he found a room full of corpses.

In cross-examination, however, Major Haytham Faraj suggested a girl who survived the shootings had identified Mendoza as the gunman, sparking an angry reaction from prosecutors.

"The girl in question already identified another Marine," Sullivan stormed. "This is completely unethical, inappropriate and has no basis in fact."

Mendoza had given similar testimony during a preliminary hearing against Tatum earlier this year.

Investigating officer Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ware, who is presiding in Wuterich's hearing, last week recommended dropping murder charges against Tatum, describing Mendoza's evidence as "too weak."

Later in cross-examination Mendoza praised Wuterich's leadership. "I think he's a great Marine, sir," he said.

Prosecutors allege Marines went on a killing spree in Haditha in retaliation for the death of their colleague in the bomb attack.

Defense lawyers will argue that Wuterich followed established combat zone rules of engagement.

A total of eight Marines were initially charged in connection with the Haditha deaths.

Four were charged with murder while four senior officers were accused of failing to properly investigate the killings.

Of the four Marines charged with murder, two have since had charges withdrawn, while allegations against Tatum are also expected to be dismissed.

Wuterich also faces charges of making a false statement and asking another Marine to do the same. He faces a life sentence and dishonorable discharge if court-martialed.



Night Is Day, And Death Is life, And Enraging The World Against Us Is Safety


"We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious court." - Cheney Aid and War Criminal David Addington

They literally decided they would break whatever laws they wanted -- one law after the next. Until they could "get rid of" that law altogether -- through the only tactic they know: exploitation of Terrorism -- they simply decided to violate it at will.

Goldsmith, now a Harvard Law Professor, has just written a book, to be released this month, criticizing and, in some cases, exposing for the first time, many of Bush's executive power abuses.......

Glenn Greenwald
Tuesday September 4, 2007 07:25 EST
Dick Cheney's top aide: "We're one bomb away" from our goal


Two revelations in particular are extraordinary and deserve (but are unlikely to receive) intense media coverage. First, it was Goldsmith who first argued that the administration's secret, warrantless surveillance programs were illegal, and it was that conclusion which sparked the now famous refusal of Ashcroft/Comey in early 2004 to certify the program's legality. Goldsmith argued continuously about his conclusion with Addington, and during the course of those arguments, this is what happened:


Goldsmith shared the White House's concern that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act might prevent wiretaps on international calls involving terrorists. But Goldsmith deplored the way the White House tried to fix the problem, which was highly contemptuous of Congress and the courts. "We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious court," Goldsmith recalls Addington telling him in February 2004.

Their goal all along was to "get rid of the obnoxious FISA court" entirely, so that they could freely eavesdrop on whomever they wanted with no warrants or oversight of any kind. And here is Dick Cheney's top aide, drooling with anticipation at the prospect of another terrorist attack so that they could seize this power without challenge. Addington views the Next Terrorist Attack as the golden opportunity to seize yet more power. Sitting around the White House dreaming of all the great new powers they will have once the new terrorist attack occurs -- as Addington was doing -- is nothing short of deranged.

Contrary to the claims made by Bush and his followers ever since the NSA scandal arose, their real objective in secretly creating "The Terrorist Surveillance Program" was never to find a narrow means to circumvent FISA when, in those few cases, it impeded necessary eavesdropping. Rather, the goal was to get rid of FISA altogether and return the country to the days when our government could spy on us in total secrecy, with no oversight. Of course, until they could "get rid of" that law altogether -- through the only tactic they know: exploitation of Terrorism -- they simply decided to violate it at will.

More revealing still is Goldsmith's description of how the Bush administration systematically violated one law after the next -- employing tactics that are truly the hallmark of the most lawless third-world dictators:

In his book, Goldsmith claims that Addington and other top officials treated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act the same way they handled other laws they objected to: "They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations," he writes.

Goldsmith's first experienced this extraordinary concealment, or "strict compartmentalization," in late 2003 when, he recalls, Addington angrily denied a request by the N.S.A.'s inspector general to see a copy of the Office of Legal Counsel's legal analysis supporting the secret surveillance program. "Before I arrived in O.L.C., not even N.S.A. lawyers were allowed to see the Justice Department's legal analysis of what N.S.A. was doing," Goldsmith writes.

more at:

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


GAO Chief Suggests Administration Is Cooking The Books On Levels Of Sectarian Violence In Iraq

Gen. David Petraeus has claimed that there has been a 75 percent reduction in sectarian violence. In testimony today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, GAO Comptroller General David Walker said those statistics cannot be independently verified.

The GAO’s statistics, which extend through the end of July, demonstrate that the number of daily attacks against Iraqis remains unchanged. Walker said he the Pentagon has refused to provide him with the latest statistics. “We asked for but did not receive the information through the end of August.” he said. “They haven’t given us the data.”

While Walker wasn’t privy to the Pentagon’s information, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) said he recently met with Gen. Petraeus and was shown “the data in August.” Coleman said the data is “very clear about a reduction in violence. General Petraeus has those charts,” Coleman explained. Walker responded by hinting that a classified version of the GAO report contains more explanation of the administration’s claims about reductions in sectarian violence. He said:

Without getting into detail, let’s just say there are several different sources within the administration on violence. And those sources do not agree. So I don’t know what Gen. Petraeus is giving you. I don’t know which source he’s using. But part of the problem we had in reaching a conclusion about sectarian violence is there are multiple sources showing different levels of violence with different trends.

Ilan Goldenberg writes that one explanation for the contrary reports is because the military is not counting deaths from car bombs. The National Security Network notes that Petraeus has made a number of Petraeus’ statements about the results of escalation have been contradicted by Iraqi government data, independent media reports, and other U.S. agencies.

NSN writes, “The numbers have raised such alarm bells that a member of the Iraq Study Group, former ambassadors and leading academics have written to Congress asking them to look into the validity of U.S. government claims.”

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Post Labor Day Product Rollout: War with Iran

On September 7, 2002, The New York Times White House correspondent Elizabeth Bushmiller treated readers to an explanation of how the Bush administration planned to sell the invasion of Iraq:

White House officials said today that the administration was following a meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein.

The rollout of the strategy this week, they said, was planned long before President Bush's vacation in Texas last month. It was not hastily concocted, they insisted, after some prominent Republicans began to raise doubts about moving against Mr. Hussein and administration officials made contradictory statements about the need for weapons inspectors in Iraq.

The White House decided, they said, that even with the appearance of disarray it was still more advantageous to wait until after Labor Day to kick off their plan.

''From a marketing point of view,'' said Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff who is coordinating the effort, ''you don't introduce new products in August.''

A centerpiece of the strategy, White House officials said, is to use Mr. Bush's speech on Sept. 11 to help move Americans toward support of action against Iraq, which could come early next year.
This September 11, we will have the reports from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, filtered through a White House drafted report.

I watched Vice-President Cheney's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26, 2002, in the residence where I was staying in Kabul, Afghanistan. I heard Cheney deliver his famous falsehood:
The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. And they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago. These are not weapons for the purpose of defending Iraq; these are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale, developed so that Saddam can hold the threat over the head of anyone he chooses, in his own region or beyond.
We know the results.

This year, on August 28, President Bush spoke to another veterans' group, the American Legion. He called Iran "the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism," whose "active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust." He concluded:
Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.
But this apparently is just test marketing, like Cheney's 2002 speech. After all "from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."
Of course I cannot verify this report. But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran. This anecdote is also inconclusive, but it is consistent with the depth of planning that went into the reconstruction effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I hesitated before posting this. I don't want to spread alarmist rumors. I don't want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran. But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. I am putting them into the public sphere in the hope of helping to mobilize opposition to a policy that would further doom the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and burden our country and the people of the Middle East with yet another unstoppable fountain of bloodshed.

Labels: ,


Safety Agency Faces Scrutiny Amid Changes

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 — In March 2005, the Consumer Product Safety Commission called together the nation’s top safety experts to confront an alarming statistic: 44,000 children riding all terrain vehicles were injured the previous year, nearly 150 of them fatally.

National associations of pediatricians, consumer advocates and emergency room doctors were urging the commission to ban sales of adult-size A.T.V.’s for use by children under 16 because the machines were too big and fast for young drivers to control. But when it came time to consider such a step, a staff member whose name did not appear on the meeting agenda unexpectedly weighed in.

“My own view is the situation is not necessarily deteriorating,” said John Gibson Mullan, the agency’s director of compliance and a former lawyer for the A.T.V. industry, according to a recording. The current system of warning labels and other voluntary safety standards was working, he said. “We would need to be very careful about making any changes.”

Robin L. Ingle, then the agency’s hazard statistician and A.T.V. injury expert, was dumbfounded. Her months of research did not support Mr. Mullan’s analysis. Yet she would not get to offer a rebuttal.

“He had hijacked the presentation,” Ms. Ingle said in an interview. “He was distorting the numbers in order to benefit industry and defeat the petition. It was almost like he still worked for them, not us.”

Under the Bush administration, which promised to ease what it viewed as costly rules that placed unnecessary burdens on businesses, industry-friendly officials have been installed at agencies that oversee the nation’s workplaces, food suppliers, environment and consumer goods.

Top officials at the Consumer Product Safety Commission say they have enhanced protections for the American public in recent years. But they have also blocked enforcement actions, weakened industry oversight rules and promoted voluntary compliance over safety mandates, according to interviews with current and former senior agency officials and consumer groups and a review of commission documents.

At a time when imports from China and other Asian countries surged, creating an ever greater oversight challenge, the Bush-appointed commissioners voiced few objections as the already tiny agency — now just 420 workers — was pared almost to the bone.

At the nation’s ports, the handful of agency inspectors are hard pressed to find dangerous cargo before it enters the country; instead, they rely on other federal agents, who mostly act as trademark enforcers, looking for counterfeit Nike sneakers or Duracell batteries.

At the agency’s cramped laboratory, a lone employee is charged with testing suspected defective toys from across the nation. At the nearby headquarters, safety initiatives have been stalled or dropped after dozens of jobs were eliminated in budget cutbacks.

Other workers quit in frustration. The head of the poison prevention unit, for example, resigned when efforts to require inexpensive child-resistant caps on hair care products that had burned toddlers were delayed so industry costs could be weighed against the potential benefit to children.

“Buyer beware — that is all I have to say,” Suzanne Barone, the poison prevention expert, who left in 2005, said.

Like a number of longtime former and current officials at the agency, she said she believes that it is failing to fulfill its mission. “There is only so much that the few people there can do,” she said. “So much damage has been done.”

Agency officials defend their record. “The commission is currently doing more to protect consumers than it has at any prior time in its history,” said Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairwoman. “Even more could be done with greater resources, but the media’s portrayal of a crippled and impotent agency, unable to deal with basic problems, is reckless and just plain wrong.”

Congress intended the agency to protect the public by working with the industry and others to establish voluntary standards. Ms. Nord and industry executives say that system is largely effective, in no small measure because it is in companies’ self-interest to avoid turning out products that cause harm. When hazards arise, Ms. Nord says, she is confident that the agency acts to deal with them appropriately.

For the first time in years, the commission has drawn sustained attention because of the headlines generated in recent months by the seemingly endless recalls of Chinese-made products: Thomas & Friends toy trains, Mattel Sesame Street toys, propane grills, high chairs, computer batteries, lawn trimmers, children’s jewelry and tool kits.

But the agency has hardly been a priority of the Bush administration. The commission’s shrinking budget is just $62 million this year, even though the agency regulates an industry that sells $1.4 trillion annually. The Food and Drug Administration, with a $2 billion budget, spends nearly twice as much monitoring the safety of animal feed and drugs than the Consumer Product Safety Commission spends to ensure the safety of products as diverse as toys, tools and televisions used every day by millions of Americans.

Ms. Nord acknowledges that the agency has to limit its focus; it investigates only 10 percent to 15 percent of the reported injuries or deaths linked to consumer goods; the number of such reports has grown in recent years. But she ticks off achievements: a record number of recalls — 471 products — last year. Increased fines for safety violations. A rise in reports from companies disclosing product safety problems. A new standard to prevent mattress fires, a leading killer, and more mandates under review than ever before.

Consumer advocates say the increased recalls and hazard reports make a different case: that too many flawed products are in the marketplace because the agency is not doing its job.

“Once there is a recall, it is too late,” said Rachel Weintraub, the director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America. “Consumers are already exposed to the potential harm.”

New Chairman and New Era

Even one of the two current commissioners agrees that the agency is falling short, and warns that it is in peril.

Speaking to lawmakers earlier this year, Thomas H. Moore, that commissioner, said, “The commission can either continue to decline in staff, resources and stature to the point where it is no longer an effective force in consumer protection, or with the support of Congress, it can regain the important place in American society that it was originally designed to have.”

Mr. Moore, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, has often found himself outvoted in recent years as he pushed for tougher standards or more aggressive enforcement. In his appearance before Congress, he argued that the need for government protection of consumers is greater than ever before.

“It is suggested in some circles that the modern, sophisticated marketplace of today can effectively regulate itself for product safety,” Mr. Moore said. But, he added, “competition and voluntary actions of today’s businessmen do not always suffice to safeguard the public interest.”

Mr. Bush began delivering on his deregulatory agenda soon after arriving in Washington. He named Harold D. Stratton, a former attorney general of New Mexico, to head the consumer protection agency. Created by Congress in 1972 in the fervor of Ralph Nader’s consumer movement, the agency was long seen as an irritant by manufacturers and business groups.

A conservative Republican and a Bush campaign volunteer, Mr. Stratton strongly objected when he was an attorney general to counterparts in other states bringing consumer protection cases, saying they were trying “to impose their own antibusiness, pro-government regulation views.” Later, he was co-founder of a nonprofit group, the Rio Grande Foundation, which says it promotes “individual freedom, limited government, and economic opportunity.”

Soon after becoming commission chairman in 2002, Mr. Stratton told the National Association of Manufacturers that he was determined to “break the barrier of fear” by assuring industry leaders — whose political action committees and executives had just donated millions of dollars to Mr. Bush’s campaign — that a consumer complaint would not automatically result in a product recall. The era of the “federal nanny,” as a Republican commissioner described the agency during the Clinton years, was over.

Many industry officials applaud the administration’s emphasis on encouraging voluntary compliance on safety issues. In a changing marketplace, they argue, mandatory standards would be cumbersome and damaging.

“It would take years to adopt them,” said Charles A. Samuels, a Washington lawyer who represents makers of home appliances.

In 2003, Mr. Stratton moved to reverse an enforcement action started two years earlier against the Daisy Manufacturing Company that sought to force it to remove 7.2 million air-powered BB guns from the market.

The guns were flawed, the agency staff had argued, because a BB could become lodged within the barrel even when the chamber appeared to be empty, a condition that agency research showed had caused at least 15 deaths and 171 serious injuries, most of them involving children.

Citing Daisy’s “precarious financial condition,” Mr. Stratton rejected the recall plan — and the court proceeding that is necessary any time the commission wants to force a company to accept a recall — saying, “I consider this administrative legal proceeding to be burdensome and inefficient.”

In an unusual step, he personally negotiated an agreement with the company to put a bigger warning label on its guns and spend $1.5 million on a safety education campaign. William B. Moran, the administrative law judge hearing the case, condemned Mr. Stratton’s alternative as toothless and said the deal would “create the risk that the public could perceive its decision as driven by its political makeup.” But the commission approved the settlement in a two-to-one vote in November 2003.

Several months later, Mr. Stratton appointed Mr. Mullan the agency’s general counsel. He came from Kirkland & Ellis, a Chicago law firm with a large office in Washington. Under Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Clinton, the firm’s Washington office became a magnet for members of the conservative Federalist Society and a hiring pool for the Bush administration.

Among the firm’s lobbying clients was the National Association of Manufacturers. Mr. Mullan had represented General Motors, which he helped defend against claims that fuel tanks on its pickup trucks were flawed and led to side-impact explosions. He also helped represent Polaris, a maker of A.T.V.’s, against consumer commission accusations that it failed to report safety defects in two of its vehicles that had resulted in hundreds of complaints and at least 25 injuries.

Roy Deppa, an engineer who retired last year, said it was a little odd at first to work with Mr. Mullan as a colleague.

“It is like having someone you fought against what you are trying to do then come to your side,” he said.

Not long after Mr. Mullan arrived, he became the agency’s director of compliance. It is one of the safety commission’s highest-profile posts, with oversight of all investigations and enforcement actions.

In that role, he argued against a ban on sales of A.T.V.’s for use by children, and a staff report concurred. Adults could still buy the machines and permit children to ride them, Mr. Mullan said, and the agency did not have enough staff to enforce the mandate. Agreeing, the commission rejected a ban.

Mr. Mullan said he is permitted to participate in agency debates over A.T.V. rules or even enforcement matters related to Polaris, his former client, as long as he was not involved in that specific matter when he represented the company.

“The ethical rules are pretty clear on this,” he said in an interview. “And I think I have been far beyond reproach on these issues.”

Reporting Defects

Once in his new post, Mr. Mullan helped narrow the requirements for reporting safety defects to the commission, a move long sought by manufacturers. Companies are obligated to notify the agency within 24 hours if they learn that their products could pose a substantial threat to the public. Seeking to better balance industry interests with safeguards for consumers, the commission, with Mr. Mullan’s support, adopted new rules.

Companies would no longer be required to report a product if the risk of injury was considered obvious or predictable, or if misuse played a role. They could also weigh whether the product was no longer in wide use or had not been sold for many years.

Consumer advocates, the nation’s fire marshals and even some former agency employees had objected to the change, citing flawed baby cribs as an example of when a manufacturer improperly blamed misuse or improper assembly for several deaths. The new rules, they said, would let companies hide evidence about such defects.

“I find these proposed revisions not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous for consumers,” wrote Catherine E. Downs, a former senior official at the agency. “Many in management positions at C.P.S.C. have lost their contact with the consuming public who they intended to serve.”

Agency officials, including Mr. Mullan, rejected those claims, saying all they were doing was clarifying the rules, not relaxing them.

Other agency officials, including Ms. Barone, the project manager for poison prevention, and Art McDonald, the director of the hazard and injury data section, found that priorities had shifted. A database of burns caused by consumer products was closed. And agency officials stopped asking for regular briefings on emerging product hazards, Mr. McDonald said. “There was just a lack of interest,” said Mr. McDonald, who retired in 2004.

Ms. Barone and her staff, after noticing a rise in reported injuries from the active ingredient found in certain powerful hair relaxers, started an effort to require that they be packaged with child-resistant caps.

Unlike other mandates, new rules in involving poison prevention could be set by the agency without conducting a cost-benefit study, according to federal law. But Ms. Barone was told that the economic analysis was being pushed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, agency documents show.

“We are talking one to two cents per package here for something that we know is toxic,” said Ms. Barone, who now works for the F.D.A. “The other option is just to wait for more children to get hurt. It is just kind of sad.”

Enter the Chinese

The cranes that hover like a swarm of giant praying mantises over the piers at the Long Beach, Calif., port are concrete evidence of how global trade has transformed the safety commission’s task in keeping American consumers safe.

The towering cranes lift container after container of goods from China, which sends more products through the neighboring Los Angeles and Long Beach ports than to any others in the United States. In just the last decade, imports of Chinese consumer products nationwide have surged to $246 billion from $62 billion, according to agency statistics. Nearly 20 percent of the consumer products for sale in the country today are Chinese-made, compared to 5 percent in 1997.

And some of them may be dangerous. By law, the commission can mandate safety standards only after voluntary measures have failed. Chinese officials and factory owners have said, however, that they do not feel compelled to meet the voluntary standards.

“Time and again, through the translators, they made clear they did not understand this concept,” said Nick Marchica, an engineer and former agency senior aide. “What they told us was, ‘As far as we are concerned, voluntary means we don’t have to.’ ”

Mr. Marchica said some Chinese products, like electrical extension cords or children’s jewelry, frequently violate the standards. But the consumer agency is handicapped in finding those goods or blocking them from reaching American buyers. The commission has no inspectors at factories overseas. And at ports in the United States, the agency is overwhelmed.

In Los Angeles area ports, through which 15 million truck-size containers move a year, a single agency inspector, working two or three days a week, spot-checks incoming shipments. Agency officials would not permit the inspector to speak with a reporter, but colleagues said her assignment was all but hopeless. “It is completely ineffective,” one agency official said.

Beyond examining only a sliver of the imports, the inspector has few tools in the field to detect problems. The F.D.A., for example, is trying out new equipment at some ports to automatically check if lead is present in food or drugs under inspection. The consumer agency, though, has no such devices in the field. Even if problems turn up, agency inspectors also frequently do not have clear legal authority to seize noncompliant products that violate voluntary standards.

In New York harbor, a safety commission inspector rarely shows up, said two customs officers who check imports to see if they comply with trade laws. Asked recently when he last saw a commission inspector, Ted Fronckowiak, a customs supervisor, responded: “It was around December.”

Agents from Customs and Border Protection do what they can to help. But that usually means simply looking for counterfeit products, instead of goods that might not comply with safety standards. And when products are headed for major retailers, like KB Toys, the agents usually figure they are safe. “We sort of assume they are tending to business,” said Mr. Fronckowiak.

Agency officials blame the small staff for the shortage of inspectors. Back in the 1970s, the safety commission had nearly 1,000 employees, which meant workers in field offices could regularly perform spot checks of factories, warehouses and stores and investigate injuries or accidents, said Martin B. Bennett, an inspector in the New York field office from 1973 until 2002.

“We could handle a lot of products. We could cover the landscape,” he said.

During the Reagan administration, the work force was slashed nearly in half. Under Mr. Bush, it has reached a low of about 420, a 12.5 percent cut since 2002.

Today, 81 field inspectors work out of their homes, compared with a network of field offices with 133 employees in 2002. While agency records show that they have increased the number of on-site investigations into reported deaths or injuries, in 2006 it took much longer — weeks or even months — to determine whether certain products were at fault and to recommend corrective action. The records also show that compliance investigations — to determine if products on the market meet standards — dropped 45 percent from 2003 to 2006.

Mr. Moore, the commissioner appointed by Mr. Clinton, told Congress in March that it would take years to recover from the loss of employees with expertise in toys, fire-related hazards, drowning prevention and chemical risks, among others.

A senior agency official was more blunt. “It is a complete disaster,” said the official, one of nearly a dozen who spoke anonymously because the agency had instructed employees not to talk to reporters. “There is just no other word for it.”

At the agency’s product testing lab, which operates out of a former missile defense radar station in Gaithersburg, Md., the impact of the tight budgets is apparent.

One lab worker used a magnifying glass and a mechanical stop watch to help conduct a fabric flammability experiment — the same equipment she has used for three decades. The toy laboratory, down the hall, is an office so cramped that the only space dedicated to a drop test to see if toys will break into small pieces and cause a choking hazard is the spare space behind the office door. “This is the toy lab for all of America — for all of the United States government!” said Robert L. Hundemer, the one agency employee who routinely tests toys, as he held up his arms in the air. “We do what we can.”

New Initiatives

Spurred by the recalls of flawed Chinese-made products, Democrats in Congress, consumer advocates and even industry groups are demanding that the commission be given more power and money to do its job.

Congress has begun by adopting budgets that allow for modest funding increases for the agency next year. The Bush administration proposed more cuts, which would have forced the agency’s staff to shrink still more.

Mr. Stratton stepped down last year to take a job as a product safety lawyer in Washington law firm and the president has yet to replace him. In March, Mr. Bush nominated Michael E. Baroody, but he withdrew after lawmakers attacked his record as a longtime lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers. The vacancy has prevented any action on proposed regulations or mandatory recalls. The agency, for example, found a Chinese-made A.T.V. unsafe but could not take it off the market.

Eager for action, several environmental and business groups are pushing for new mandatory standards. The Sierra Club, backed by toymakers, is seeking a ban on lead in children’s jewelry, which the agency has agreed to consider.

And cigarette lighter manufacturers, finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage to Chinese companies that ignore the voluntary standard, are seeking safety rules for lighters. The consumer commission, though, has declined so far to move ahead, saying the 90 injuries and 10 deaths linked to fires caused by defective lighters were not enough to justify the mandate.

Ms. Nord, the acting chairwoman who was appointed in 2005 after working as a lobbyist for Eastman Kodak, has come up with her own reform plan. She wants to gradually increase the cap on civil penalties for violating agency rules to $10 million from $1.8 million. She also wants to give inspectors power to seize or block entry to some unsafe imports at ports.

The agency is also negotiating with toy makers and officials in China to try to ensure that many more products meet United States standards. They would be inspected overseas by independent testing companies, and the costs would be borne by manufacturers or importers.

Patrick MacRoy, the director of the Chicago Health Department’s lead poisoning prevention program, said any move to strengthen the consumer product agency would be welcome. To date, he said, it has lagged state and local health authorities in the effort to remove lead-tainted children’s products from the marketplace.

“It requires a coordinated national response to make sure dangerous products stay off the shelves,” he said. “To date, we haven’t seen that.”

Labels: ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?