NEWS2U Articles & Comments
Critical Reporting

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Random Observations on the Piercing of the Housing Bubble

American Leftist
July 31, 2007

With the exception of the late, lamented Steve Gilliard, my impression has been that few bloggers and mainstream media sources have examined the profound social consequences of the puncturing of the housing bubble. Typical of such stories, coverage has instead emphasized the impact upon the stock, bond and housing markets, treating it primarily as an issue for investors.

Hence, there has been no shortage of articles about the transformation of home mortgages into collateralized debt obligations, the impact of loan defaults upon the value of these instruments, the destruction of hedge funds that used incomprehensible amounts of leverage (otherwise known as loans to you and me) to purchase them and the chaos that is now erupting in the bond and equity markets as a result.

If you want to read all about it, go or Calculated Risk. As for the people who purchased homes with all of these strange new mortgage products such as adjustible rate loans, interest only loans, and, my personal favorite, stated income loans (yes, as incredible as it sounds, your guess is correct, banks loaned money to people based solely upon what the people told the bank they earned), they are frequently maligned as either greedy or stupid. In other words, they got what they deserved.

At best, they are just another nameless, faceless population of people run through the system to be fleeced by sharp financial operators, while serving as a cautionary example to the rest of us. A classic instance of the creative destruction that perpetually transforms and preserves our capitalist society. But such a superficial analysis barely scratches the surface of some serious questions about the extent to which the lower middle class and middle class workforce of this country can afford to pay for its basic needs of survival.

We all know that health care is increasingly unaffordable to many Americans, and that the coverage that they receive, if they can afford it, is often mediocre. Sicko merely gave cinematic expression to the lived experiences of millions. We are now discovering, as a consequence of the housing bubble, that housing, as measured by home ownership, is also increasingly unaffordable to many people as well. This is true revelation of the proliferation of exotic credit instruments for home purchases in recent years.

People in many parts of the country, such as, for example, Sacramento, where I live, could no longer afford to purchase homes as they had done for generations, with a payment of 20% of the purchase price and a 30 year fixed mortgage for the remaining 80% of the price of the home.

Cities and regions like Sacramento, Las Vegas, Phoenix, the Inland Empire of Southern California and much of Florida, places where people had fled the cost of living on the coasts were now becoming more and more expensive, as speculators and foreign investors juiced demand to new extremes.

So, it became necessary to devise new financial instruments to enable people who actually wanted to live in the homes to purchase them. Lenders looked to the credit card industry as the model, using low introductory interest rates to close deals, letting the buyers sink or swim when these rates expired, replaced by much higher ones, requiring much higher monthly payments. For the lending industry and Wall Street, it was a great party while it lasted, as the loans were securitized and purchased by hedge funds, with lucrative fees pocketed by all.

Of course, they now have their own problems, as you can read on all over the web, but what about the people who are losing their homes? What is going to happen to them? The answer is, as we all know, it is going to be brutal. Many of them are going to be pushed into the rental market for the rest of their lives, and many are going to have to leave the locations where they currently reside because even the cost of rent is going to be too much for them. So, we are looking at the prospect of two migrations, one from houses to rentals, and the other from expensive parts of the country to less expensive ones. Furthermore, quite a number of communities built for home owners will rapidly become rental ones.

Left academics would say that the socioeconomic life of the US will subtlely display more and more features of sub proletarization, as more and more people in the lower middle class and even the middle class find themselves forced to migrate internally within the country (an economically generated group of internally displaced people?) and live under conditions of financial insecurity. Analogizing them to global migrants is a stretch, demeaning their struggle for survival, and, yet, many Americans face a future of insecurity in all aspects of their lives.

It is easy to blame them as being greedy, stupid and gullible, and no doubt many were, but the fact is, they wanted something that they have been induced to believe that they should be able to achieve as Americans, and they were afraid, during the peak of the speculative mania, that, if they didn't buy a house, that they would never be able to do so. Financial institutions ruthlessly exploited this combination of fear, greed and lack of knowledge to destroy their financial futures, just as mutual funds and brokerage houses did during the stock market bubble of the turn of the century.

At the heart of it all remains the reality that the standard of living for many Americans has declined since the last 1960s. It has been artificially preserved, temporarily, by the creation and marketing of exotic forms of credit, such as the infamous home equity loan, that enabled them to live in a manner consistent with societal expectations. For example, the Sacramento Bee recently reported that the length of the average car loan is now almost 6 years, and that car sales have fallen in the last two years because of, yes, the bursting of the housing bubble, and the lack of any trade in value for vehicles purchased with loans over such a long period of time.

In other words, consumption at all levels has been subsidized by access to readily available credit. This is the portentious social change encapulated within the seemingly bland term that is now ubiquitous, the credit crunch. Going forward, money must be lent according to the remorseless calculations of risk that were suspended during the stock market and housing bubbles. As a society, we will be forced out of the universe of liberalized access to credit into an alternative one with pay as your go features, and it will be an agonizing exodus for many.

Socially, it is impossible to know how people will respond to it, just as it is equally difficult to predict how people will respond to the Iraq catastrophe, the flip side of the bubble coin. It is likely, however, that whatever transpires will be turbulent. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we are experiencing the end of neoliberal economics, a transformation of the American economy that will rival the industrialization of the 19th Century and the deindustrialization of the late 20th Century in terms of importance.


Monday, July 30, 2007


By Roger A. Grimes
July 30, 2007

Our government is working hard to reassure us that identity theft is a figment of our imaginations, but if you're a victim in one of those not-so-imaginary crimes, there are proactive steps you can take.

I recently had several conversations with Shaun Callahan of The Identity Protection Company. I talk with identity protection companies nearly every day of the week, but Shaun and his company came across more personal than most.

First, almost none of our conversations discussed his business or how I could drive more business his way (which is the route these conversations take 90 percent of the time). Shaun talked about how he got into the business (assisting others facing insurmountable damage due to identity theft), and he spent nearly all of his time talking about the steps anyone could and should take to minimize the damage.

Shaun practices the shareware model of education.

He runs several Web sites that offer steps to prevent and recover from identity theft. All his information is free. He figures that although most consumers will read his information and follow his advice, a few will figure it's easier to let his company do the laborious leg work. Shaun even said that I could reprint all his advice without including a single link to his company.

Either he's practicing a hopeful form of reverse psychology or he genuinely cares about solving the problem. In case it's a successful implementation of the former, some of his Web sites include Hello My Name is Protected and Free Credit

Here's some of Shaun's advice:

-- Keep a list of all credit/debit/ATM card and financial accounts with contact numbers in a safe place so you can make quick contact.

-- If you’ve a victim, don’t procrastinate. If you think your information has been lost or compromised, act immediately.

-- Be able to prove you are a victim. The two most important things creditors will ask for are a police report and an ID Theft Affidavit. Have copies of both of these available for every creditor you contact.

-- Keep notes on everything. Most companies aren’t out to get you, but many have very poor customer service, and not all customer service repskeep accurate notes in their databases. Make sure your notes include dates, names, and conversations. Follow up all of your phone calls with a certified letter so you have a paper trail.

-- Eyeball your credit, either through a credit monitoring service or for free at We recommend alternating between the three credit bureaus every four months. You are entitled to one free report per service per year.

Note: is a government-mandated, free credit report service, but it has a reputation for aggressively navigating visitors into fee-based services.

Instead, Shaun says to use his auto-reminder service, It will send you an e-mail reminder every four months to go get your next free report. Shaun spent five minutes promising me that he doesn’t use this link to mine customers for his fee-based site.

-- Finally, ask for help. If you think you might be a victim of identity theft, or you know you were victimized, Shaun's company offers services that can help you.

More of this column here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Feingold to Introduce Resolutions Censuring President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Other Administration Officials

July 22, 2007

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold announced today that he will introduce two censure resolutions condemning the President, Vice President and other administration officials for misconduct relating to the war in Iraq and for their repeated assaults on the rule of law. Feingold called the resolutions appropriate and necessary steps for Congress to rebuke an administration that is responsible for some of the worst misconduct and the worst abuses of the law in American history.

Censure is about holding the administration accountable,” Feingold said. “Congress needs to formally condemn the President and members of the administration for misconduct before and during the Iraq war, and for undermining the rule of law at home. Censure is not a cure for the devastating toll this administration’s actions have taken on this country. But when future generations look back at the terrible misconduct of this administration, they need to see that a co-equal branch of government stood up and held to account those who violated the principles on which this nation was founded.”

Feingold will work with his colleagues, as well as seek input from his constituents and the American people, as he crafts the final language of the resolutions. The first resolution will condemn the President and others for misconduct relating to the war in Iraq including:

> Overstating the case that Saddam Hussein had WMD, particularly nuclear weapons, and falsely implying a relationship with al Qaeda and links to 9/11.

> Failing to plan for the civil conflict and humanitarian problems that the intelligence community predicted.

> Over-stretching the Army, Marine Corps and Guard with prolonged deployments.

> Justifying our military involvement in Iraq by repeatedly distorting the situation on the ground there.

The second resolution will focus on the administration’s attack on the rule of law with respect to, among other things:

> The illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping program.

> Extreme policies on torture, the Geneva Conventions, and detainees at Guantanamo.

> The refusal to recognize legitimate congressional oversight into the improper firings of U.S. Attorneys.

In March 2006, Feingold introduced a resolution censuring the President for authorizing and misleading Congress and the public about the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping program. In January 2007, the administration finally brought its wiretapping program within the FISA statute.

At my town hall meetings, online, and everywhere I go, I hear the American people demanding that the President and his administration be held accountable for their misconduct, both with regard to the disastrous war in Iraq and their flagrant abuse of the rule of law. Censure is a relatively modest response, but one that puts Congress on record condemning their actions, both for the American people today and for future generations,” Feingold said.

Feingold is encouraging people to email suggestions of what to include in the censure resolution. People can email Senator Feingold at or visit his webpage at:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Proof Bin Laden Tape Is 5-Year-Old, Re-Released Footage

Why did IntelCenter, the middleman between "Al-Qaeda" and the media, a group that has government and Pentagon ties, re-release old footage and why did the media report it as new when it had already aired twice before?

Paul Joseph Watson
Prison Planet
July 18, 2007

A videotape that was heralded as "new" footage of Osama bin Laden by many quarters of the press has been conclusively proven to be more than 5 year old re-released footage, leading to questions about why the government and the media continue to act as willing propagandists for the terrorists while striking fear into Americans by claiming an attack is inevitable.

Though some reports included the proviso that the tape could contain old footage, the importance and ceremony attached to the re-release of the Bin Laden tape over the weekend left the distinct impression that the footage was new and that it correlated with the alleged increase of "chatter" amongst terrorist organizations indicating that a new attack is imminent, a message that was again pushed by the U.S. government following the release of the National Intelligence Estimate yesterday.

In reality, the tape was being released for the third consecutive time, having first popped up in 2002 before re-airing again in 2003. The footage of Bin Laden was filmed six years ago in October 2001.

The Associated Press ran the tape as a top story on Saturday under the headline "Bin Laden Appears in New al-Qaida Video".

Euro News, the propaganda arm of the European Union broadcast in dozens of countries around Europe, described the footage as "apparently new".

"Possible New Message From Osama Bin Laden," reported ABC News, noting that "a brief clip of an older-looking Osama bin Laden is contained in a new al Qaeda videotape," when in reality the graying in Bin Laden's beard was exactly the same as when he appeared in a 2001 videotape, while also wearing the exact same jacket.

The footage was not new and any small amount of cursory research would have verified that fact, and yet the media went full board with the story, creating the illusion that it was new, while rabid Neo-Cons lauded the tape as another reason for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq while fearmongering about upcoming terror attacks at home.

The footage first appeared in May 2002, having been released by a Pakistani security official to the Al-Ansaar Islamic news agency, based in Birmingham, England. This CBS video clip clearly shows the same footage as the apparent "new" tape.

Sources indicate that the footage was shot in either October 2001 or March 2002, with the earlier date being the favorite as Bin Laden's appearance matches with the footage from a different tape that was released in October 2001.

Al-Jazeera said they had the footage as far back as October 2001, but chose not to air it as they saw it as "not newsworthy" and "nothing more than a PR stunt." Six years later, and with the footage having been released on two separate occasions already, the western media insinuated that the tape was new and splashed it everywhere as a top headline.

In our previous groundbreaking investigation, we exposed IntelCenter, the middleman between "Al-Qaeda's media arm" and the press, and the organization that routinely obtains the tapes, as little more than a Pentagon front group staffed by individuals with close connections to the military-industrial complex.

IntelCenter were also behind the release of the "new" Osama tape - having previously released the same footage (the second time it had appeared) in October 2003!

IntelCenter issued a tacit warning that the footage may be re-hashed when they released the "new" tape to the media, but they failed to mention the fact that they released portions of the exact same clips in October 2003. The screenshots of Bin Laden which clearly correlate with the "new" tape were on their website all along, and yet they still labeled the footage as "significant". IntelCenter knew the tape was definitely old, yet their meandering uncertainty left doubts that the media exploited to the full in claiming the footage may be new.

The screenshot from IntelCenter's website from a tape released in October 2003 clearly match with screenshots from the "new" tape, a fact completely ignored by both IntelCenter themselves and the mass media.

Even a senior Bush administration official admitted to Newsbuster, "Intelligence agencies have determined the video was previously aired as a portion of a longer show first on MBC TV (Middle East broadcast station) on April 17, 2002," and yet retractions to the supposition that the footage was new are nowhere to be seen in the media.

"What's the result of the MSM's sloppy "air-first-verify-later" approach? The world’s most evil and despicable terrorists are given tons of free air time and print exposure," adds Newsbuster.

Even if you believe that Al-Qaeda itself is deciding to re-package old footage and constantly re-release it, and that this isn't a crude propaganda ploy on behalf of IntelCenter in collusion with the Neo-Cons, why are the government and the media consistently affording lavish attention and giving prominence to such activity, aiding the terrorists to spread their propaganda ad infinitum?

It would be foolishly naive to think that the re-release of this tape - for the third time running - has little to do with the fact that the Bush administration has been ramping up the fearmongering and hinting at the inevitability of another attack over the past two weeks - ostensibly for political purposes to mute dissent.

Six months after the failed "surge" in Iraq and with Bush's approval ratings sliding to all time lows while calls for impeachment reach a crescendo, a slew of information threatening a new Al-Qaeda attack gets released and up pops Osama - in a tape that is re-hashed for a third time - to validate the Neo-Con's insistence that to leave Iraq is to hand the terrorists a victory. That tape is released by an organization with clear links to the military-industrial complex who had knowingly released the same footage years earlier.

Is all this a coincidence, or does such chicanery and crass manipulation of the electorate and the political process demand an immediate Congressional investigation as to why the U.S. government and its lapdog media fronts are working with the terrorists to artificially boost their profile while scaring the holy crap out of the American people at the most politically opportune moments?


Friday, July 20, 2007

Air Force Quietly Building Iraq Presence

Jul y 14, 2007

Away from the headlines and debate over the "surge" in U.S. ground troops, the Air Force has quietly built up its hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces.

Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq.

The escalation worries some about an increase in "collateral damage," casualties among Iraqi civilians. Air Force generals worry about wear and tear on aging aircraft. But ground commanders clearly like what they see.

"Night before last we had 14 strikes from B-1 bombers. Last night we had 18 strikes by B-1 bombers," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said approvingly of air support his 3rd Infantry Division received in a recent offensive south of Baghdad.

Statistics tell the story: Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006, and three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. In June, bombs dropped at a rate of more than five a day.

Inside spacious, air-conditioned "Kingpin," a new air traffic control center at this huge Air Force hub 50 miles north of Baghdad, the expanded commitment can be seen on the central display screen: Small points of light represent more than 100 aircraft crisscrossing Iraqi air space at any one time.

The increased air activity has paralleled the reinforcement of U.S. ground troops, beginning in February, to try to suppress the insurgency and sectarian violence in the Baghdad region. Simply keeping those 30,000 additional troops supplied has added to demands on the Air Force.

"We're the busiest aerial port in DOD (Department of Defense)," said Col. Dave Reynolds, a mission support commander here. Working 12-hour shifts, his cargo handlers are expected to move 140,000 tons of cargo this year, one-third more than in 2006, he said.

The greatest impact of the "air surge" has come in close air support for Army and Marine operations.

Early this year, with little fanfare, the Air Force sent a squadron of A-10 "Warthog" attack planes - a dozen or more aircraft - to be based at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq. At the same time it added a squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcons here at Balad. Although some had flown missions over Iraq from elsewhere in the region, the additions doubled to 50 or more the number of workhorse fighter-bomber jets available at bases inside the country, closer to the action.

The reinforcement involved more than numbers. The new F-16Cs were the first of the advanced "Block 50" version to fly in Iraq, an aircraft whose technology includes a cockpit helmet that enables the pilot to aim his weapons at a target simply by turning his head and looking at it.

The Navy has contributed by stationing a second aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and the reintroduction of B1-Bs has added a close-at-hand "platform" capable of carrying 24 tons of bombs.

Those big bombers were moved last year from distant Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to an undisclosed base in the Persian Gulf. Since February, with the ground offensive, they have gone on Iraq bombing runs for the first time since the 2003 invasion.

As chronicled in the Air Force's daily summaries, more and more pilots are getting the "cleared hot" clearance for bombing runs, usually with 500-pound bombs. In recent Army operations north of Baghdad, for example, Air Force planes have struck "factories" for makeshift bombs, weapons caches uncovered by ground troops and, in one instance, "several houses insurgents were using as fire positions."

Iraq Body Count, a London-based, anti-war research group that monitors Iraqi war deaths, says the step-up in air attacks appears to have been accompanied by an increase in Iraqi civilian casualties from air strikes. Based on media reports, it counts a recent average of 50 such deaths per month.

The Air Force itself does not maintain such data.

The demand for air support is heavy. On one recent day, at a briefing attended by a reporter, it was noted that 48 requests for air support were filled, but 16 went unmet.

"There are times when the Army wishes we had more jets," said F-16C pilot Lt. Col. Steve Williams, commander of the 13th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, a component of Balad's 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

In addition, the Air Force is performing more "ISR" work in Iraq - intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "We have probably come close to doubling our ISR platforms the past 12 months," said Col. Gary Crowder, a deputy air operations chief for the Central Command.

Those proliferating reconnaissance platforms include Predator drones, high-flying U2s and AWACS, the technology-packed airborne warning and control aircraft, three of which returned to the Persian Gulf in April after three years' absence.

The F-16Cs and other attack planes also do surveillance work with their targeting cameras, keeping watch on convoy routes, for example. By Oct. 1, Crowder said, all squadrons will have "ROVER" capability, able to download real-time aerial video to the laptop computers of troops on the ground - showing them, in effect, what's around the next corner.

"They love it. It's like having a security camera wherever you want it," said Col. Joe Guastella, the Air Force's regional operations chief.

Air Force engineers, meanwhile, are improving this centrally located home base, which supports some 10,000 air operations per week.

The weaker of Balad's two 11,000-foot runways was reinforced - for five to seven years' more hard use. The engineers next will build concrete "overruns" at the runways' ends. Balad's strategic ramp, the concrete parking lot for its biggest planes, was expanded last fall. The air traffic control system is to be upgraded again with the latest technology.

"We'd like to get it to be a field like Langley, if you will," said mission support chief Reynolds, referring to the Air Force showcase base in Virginia.

The Air Force has flown over Iraq for many years, having enforced "no-fly zones" with the Navy in 1991-2003, banning Iraqi aircraft from northern and southern areas of this country. Today, too, it takes a long view: Many expect the Army to draw down its Iraq forces by 2009, but the Air Force is planning for a continued conflict in which it supports Iraqi troops.

"Until we can determine that the Iraqis have got their air force to sufficient capability, I think the coalition will be here to support that effort," Lt. Gen. Gary North, overall regional air commander, said in an interview. The new Iraqi air force thus far fields only a handful of transports and reconnaissance aircraft - no attack planes.

North also echoed a common theme in today's Air Force: Some of the U.S. planes are too old. Some of his KC-135 air-refueling tankers date from 1956. Heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan is cracking the wings of some A-10s, the Air Force says.

"We are burning these airplanes out," North said. "Our A-10s and our F-16s are rapidly becoming legacy systems."

If the equipment is under strain, it doesn't appear the personnel are.

The Air Force's four-month Iraq tours and extensive use of volunteer pilots from the Reserve and National Guard contrast sharply with an Army whose 15-month tours are sapping energy and morale.

In the Air Force, Iraq duty can even be cut to two months. Lt. Col. Bob Mortensen's 457th Fighter Squadron - F-16Cs from Fort Worth, Texas - managed it by working a deal with another Reserve unit to share one four-month rotation.

How much longer can these flyers answer the call?

"As many times as we're asked," Mortensen said.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bill Moyers: On Impeachment

Bill Moyers Journal
Friday 13 July 2007

Editor's Note: In the above segment of Bill Moyers Journal which aired Friday evening, John Nichols of The Nation magazine states the case for impeachment against President Bush, and Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official during the Reagan administration who drafted articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton, provides the reasons he believes Clinton deserved to be impeached. This video clip is a portion of the full two part video program on impeachment (transcript below) that can be viewed here.

Bill Moyers: Welcome to the Journal.

Impeachment...the word feared and loathed by every sitting president is back. It's in the air and on your computer screen, a growing clamor aimed at both President Bush and Vice-President Cheney.

This week's news only agitated the clamor. The president acknowledged that someone in his administration did leak the name of a CIA agent to the press, but he said let's move on - even as he refused to let his former White House counsel testify to Congress about political influence at the Justice Department.

So the talk in Washington was of executive arrogance. All the more so as the Democratic House voted to withdraw US troops from Iraq by next spring despite a threat of veto by President Bush. A public opinion poll from the American Research Group reports that more than four in ten Americans - 45 per cent-favor impeachment hearings for President Bush and more than half -54 per cent - favor putting Vice President Cheney in the dock.

Are these the first tremors of a major shock wave…or just much ado about nothing? First, let's take a look at the last time a president found himself fighting off an impeachment campaign. It happened less than a dozen years ago. And what was the issue:

President Bill Clinton: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky...

Bill Moyers: But he did. And even after that denial in early 1998, President Clinton lied again seven months later - this time under oath to a federal grand jury. But that very evening he had a change of heart.

President Bill Clinton: "Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong….I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that."

Bill Moyers: For one powerful Republican member of Congress, an apology wasn't enough. Tom Delay, then the majority whip of the House, convinced speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican leaders that Clinton's lie called for nothing less than removing the president from office - impeachment. Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr was commissioned to gather the evidence. Starr eventually sent 36 boxes of evidence to the capitol. They catalogued his investigation of Clinton's finances, a sexual harassment suit filed by Paula Jones and sting operations mounted by the prosecutor to uncover the details of the Lewinsky affair. Nearly 500 pages summarizing the report were quickly posted on the internet. For the next month, the house judiciary committee waded through the report. What the case meant depended largely on party affiliation. Democrats insisted it all came down to lying about sex.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL): The president betrayed his wife ...he did not betray his country

Bill Moyers: Republicans, who controlled the House, argued it was about something more important.

Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL): Truthfullness is the glue that holds our justice system together

Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA): With his conduct and his arrogance...William Jefferson Clinton has thrown a gauntlet at the feet of the Congress.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI): This is not Watergate. This is an extramarital affair.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI): Even the president of the United States does not have the license to lie.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL): Wake up, America, they are about to impeach our president.

Bill Moyers: on october 5, 1998, the house judiciary committee authorized a full impeachment inquiry……only the third u.s. president in history to be seriously threatened with removal from office. The constitution says a president may be impeached for "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors". Experts were called to interpret those words:

Leon Higginbotham Jr., Former US Appeals Court Judge: There has never been, never been an impeachment proceeding on this miniscule level...

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., University of New York: All the independent counsel's charges thus far derive from the president's lies about his sex life. His attempts to hide personal misbehavior are certainly disgraceful. But if they are to be deemed impeachable, then we reject the standards laid down by the framers in the Constitution and trivialize the process of impeachment.

Prof. Alan Dershowitz, Harvard University: The only reason the majority of this committee cares about perjury is because they believe that President Clinton, their political opponent, is guilty of it.

Bill Moyers: The House Judiciary listened…and then drafted two articles of impeachment accusing Clinton of perjury…a third accusing him of obstruction of justice and yet a fourth, of making false statements. A week later, December 19, 1998, the full House met to consider the articles. They approved two of them…one for perjury…another for obstruction of justice. Republican leaders called for Clinton to resign. He didn't, and now it was the Senate's constitutional task to conduct the impeachment trial ordered by the House. The Senators met behind closed doors …and on Friday, February 12, 1999, the verdict was delivered to the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist: Is not guilty as charged in the second article of impeachment.

President Clinton: I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.

Bill Moyers: One of the fellows you're about to meet wrote the first article of impeachment against President Clinton. Bruce Fein did so because perjury is a legal crime. And Fein believed no one is above the law. A constitutional scholar, Bruce Fein served in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration and as general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission. Bruce Fein has been affiliated with conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and now writes a weekly column for THE WASHINGTON TIMES and

He's joined by John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for THE NATION and an associate editor of the CAPITOL TIMES. Among his many books is this most recent one, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: THE FOUNDERS' CURE FOR ROYALISM. Good to see you both. Bruce, you wrote that article of impeachment against Bill Clinton. Why did you think he should be impeached?

Bill Moyers: Bruce you wrote that article of impeachment against Bill Clinton. Why did you think he should be impeached?

Bruce Fein: I think he was setting a precedent that placed the president above the law. I did not believe that the initial perjury or misstatements - that came perhaps in a moment of embarrassment stemming from the Paula Jones lawsuit was justified impeachment if he apologized. Even his second perjury before the grand jury when Ken Starr's staff was questioning him, as long as he expressed repentance, would not have set an example of saying every man, if you're president, is entitled to be a law unto himself. I think Bush's crimes are a little bit different. I think they're a little bit more worrisome than Clinton's. You don't have to have -

Bill Moyers: More worrisome?

Bruce Fein: More worrisome than Clinton's - because he is seeking more institutionally to cripple checks and balances and the authority of Congress and the judiciary to superintend his assertions of power. He has claimed the authority to tell Congress they don't have any right to know what he's doing with relation to spying on American citizens, using that information in any way that he wants in contradiction to a federal statute called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He's claimed authority to say he can kidnap people, throw them into dungeons abroad, dump them out into Siberia without any political or legal accountability. These are standards that are totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law.

Bill Moyers: You're talking about terrifying power but this is a terrifying time. People are afraid of those people abroad who want to kill us. Do you think, in any way, that justifies the claims that Bruce just said Bush has made?

John Nichols: I think that the war on terror, as defined by our president, is perpetual war. And I think that he has acted precisely as Madison feared. He has taken powers unto himself that were never intended to be in the executive. And, frankly, that when an executive uses them, in the way that this president has, you actually undermine the process of uniting the country and really focusing the country on the issues that need to be dealt with. Let's be clear. If we had a president who was seeking to inspire us to take seriously the issues that are in play and to bring all the government together, he'd be consulting with Congress. He'd be working with Congress. And, frankly, Congress, through the system of checks and balances, would be preventing him from doing insane things like invading Iraq.

Bruce Fein: In the past, presidents like Abe Lincoln, who confronted a far dire emergency in the Civil War than today, sought congressional ratification approval of his emergency measures. He didn't seek to hide them from the people and from Congress and to prevent there to be accountability. And, of course, Congress did ratify what he had done. Secondly, sure, times can be terrifying. But that also should alert us to the fact that we can make mistakes. The executive can make mistakes.

Take World War II. We locked up 120,000 Japanese Americans, said they were all disloyal. Well, we got 120,000 mistakes. They lost their property. They lost their liberty for years and years because we made a huge mistake. And that can be true after 9/11 as well. No one wants other downgrade the fact that we have abominations out there and people want to kill us. But we should not inflate the danger and we should not cast aside what we are as a people. We can fight and defeat these individuals, these criminals, based upon our system of law and justice. It's not a - we have a fighting constitution. It's always worked in the past. But it still remains the constitution of checks of balances.

Bill Moyers: A fighting constitution -

Bruce Fein: It's a fighting constitution that enables us-

Bill Moyers: What do you mean?

Bruce Fein: That with the - with the consent of Congress and the president working hand in glove with consistent with due process of law, we have the authority to suspend habeas corpus in times of invasion or rebellion. It has enabled us to defeat all of our enemies consistent with the law.

Bill Moyers: Congress did not stand up to George Bush for five years when it was controlled by Republicans. And I don't see any strong evidence that the Democrats are playing the role that you think the Congress should be playing.

Bruce Fein: That is correct. But it doesn't exculpate the president that Congress has not sought immediately to sanctions his excesses.

Bruce Fein: - exactly right. And Bill, this could not happen if we had a Congress that was aggressive, if we had a Congress the likes of Watergate when Nixon was president and he tried to - obstruct justice and defeat the course of law. We have a Congress that basically is an invertebrate.

Bill Moyers: But why is Congress supine?

John Nichols: They are supine for two reasons. One, they are politicians who do not - quite know how to handle the moment. And they know that something very bad happened on September 11th, 2001, now five years ago, six years ago. And they don't know how to respond to it. Whereas Bush and Karl Rove have responded in a supremely political manner to it and, frankly, jumped around them. That's one part of the problem.

Bill Moyers: Jumped around Congress?

John Nichols: Jumped around Congress at every turn. I mean, they don't even tell them, they don't consult with them. They clearly have no regard for the checks and balances. But the other thing that's - in play here - and I think this is a - much deeper problem. I think the members of our Congress have no understanding of the Constitution. And as a result, they - don't understand their critical role in the governance of the country.

They - it - when the Republicans are in charge, they see their job as challenging - or as supporting the president in whatever he does, defending him, making it possible for him to do whatever he wants. When the Democrats are in charge, they seem to see their role as trying to score political points as opposed to what ought to be sort of a - common ground of -

Bill Moyers: - because the fact of the matter is approaching an - election year, you don't really think, do you, that the Democrats want to experience a backlash by taking on a Republican president in an election-

John Nichols: Well, it -

Bill Moyers: - or that the Republicans want to impeach an administration that they elected in 2000 and reelected in 2004? There is a political element here, right?

Bruce Fein: There's always going to be a political element, Bill. But in the past, there's always been a few statesmen who have said, "You know, the political fallout doesn't concern me as much as the Constitution of the United States." We have to keep that undefiled throughout posterity 'cause if it's not us, it will corrode. It will disappear on the installment plan. And that has been true in the past. When we had during Watergate Republicans and remember Barry Goldwater, Mr. Republican, who approached the president and said, "You've got to resign." There have always been that cream who said the country is more important than my party. We don't have that anymore.

Bill Moyers: It seems to me the country is ahead of Congress on this. How do you explain all this talk about impeachment today out across the country?

John Nichols: People don't want to let this go. They do not accept Nancy Pelosi's argument that impeachment is, quote/unquote, off the table. Because I guess maybe they're glad she didn't take some other part of the Constitution off the table like freedom of speech. But they also don't accept the argument that, oh, well, there's a presidential campaign going on. So let's just hold our breath till Bush and Cheney get done.

When I go out across America, what I hear is something that's really very refreshing and very hopeful about this country. An awfully lot of Americans understand what Thomas Jefferson understood. And that is that the election of a president does not make him a king for four years. That if a president sins against the Constitution - and does damage to the republic, the people have a right in an organic process to demand of their House of Representatives, the branch of government closest to the people, that it act to remove that president. And I think that sentiment is afoot in the land.

Bill Moyers: This is the first time I've heard talk of impeaching both a president and a vice-president. I mean, this - as you saw in that poll, more people want to impeach Dick Cheney than George Bush. What's going on?

Bruce Fein: Well, this is an unusual affair of president/vice-president, where the vice-president is de facto president most of the time. And that's why most of people recognize that these decisions, especially when it comes to overreaching with executive power, are the product of Dick Cheney and his aide, David Addington, not George Bush and Alberto Gonzalez or Harriet Miers, who don't have the cerebral capacity to think of these devilish ideas. And for that reason, they equate the administration more with Dick Cheney than with George Bush.

Bill Moyers: Bruce, you talk about overreaching. What, in practical terms, do you mean by that?

Bruce Fein: It means asserting powers and claiming that there are no other branches that have the authority to question it. Take, for instance, the assertion that he's made that when he is out to collect foreign intelligence, no other branch can tell him what to do. That means he can intercept your e-mails, your phone calls, open your regular mail, he can break and enter your home. He can even kidnap you, claiming I am seeking foreign intelligence and there's no other branch Congress can't say it's illegal - judges can't say this is illegal. I can do anything I want. That is overreaching. When he says that all of the world, all of the United States is a military battlefield because Osama bin Laden says he wants to kill us there, and I can then use the military to go into your homes and kill anyone there who I think is al-Qaeda or drop a rocket, that is overreaching. That is a claim even King George III didn't make -

Bruce Fein: - at the time of the Revolution.

John Nichols: Can I - can I -

Bruce Fein: That is clearly overreaching.

John Nichols: Let me keep us on Cheney for a second here, because that is -

Bill Moyers: You think Cheney should be subject to impeachment hearings?

John Nichols: Without a doubt. Cheney is, for all practical purposes, the foreign policy president of the United States. There are many domestic policies in which George Bush really is the dominant player. But on foreign policy Dick Cheney has been calling the shots for six years and he continues to call the shots. Remember back in 2000, in the presidential debates, George Bush said America should be a humble country in the world, shouldn't go about nation building. And Dick Cheney, in the vice-presidential debate, spent eight minutes talking about Iraq.

Now the fact of the matter is that on foreign policy, Dick Cheney believes that the executive branch should be supreme. He said this back to the days when he was in the House during Iran-Contra. He wrote the minority report saying Congress shouldn't sanction the president in any way, President Reagan.

Bill Moyers: And he's always taken an expansive -

John Nichols: Right.

Bill Moyers: - view of presidential power.

John Nichols: And put these pieces together. If Cheney believes in this expansive power. You've got a - unique crisis, a unique problem because the vice-president of the United States believes that Congress shouldn't even be a part of the foreign policy debate. And he is setting the foreign policy. I mean -

Bill Moyers: I served a president who went to war on his own initiative, and it was a mess, Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson. There wasn't serious talk about impeaching Lyndon Johnson or Hubert Humphrey. Something is different today.

Bruce Fein: Yeah, of course, the - difference is one thing to claim that, you know, Gulf of Tonkin resolution, was too broadly drafted. But we're talking about assertions of power that affect the individual liberties of every American citizen. Opening your mail, your e-mails, your phone calls. Breaking and entering your homes. Creating a pall of fear and intimidation if you say anything against the president you may find retaliation very quickly. We're claiming he's setting precedents that will lie around like loaded weapons anytime there's another 9/11.

Right now the victims are people whose names most Americans can't pronounce. And that's why they're not so concerned. They will start being Browns and Jones and Smiths. And that precedent is being set right now. And one of the dangers that I see is it's not just President Bush but the presidential candidates for 2008 aren't standing up and saying -

Bruce Fein: - "If I'm president, I won't imitate George Bush." That shows me that this is a far deeper problem than Mr. Bush and Cheney.

Bill Moyers: That struck me about your writings and your book. You say your great - your great fear is that Bush and Cheney will hand off to their successors a toolbox that they will not avoid using.

John Nichols: Well, let's try a metaphor. Let's say that - when George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, he used the wood to make a little box. And in that box the president puts his powers. We've taken things out. We've put things in over the years.

On January 20th, 2009, if George Bush and Dick Cheney are not appropriately held to account this administration will hand off a toolbox with more powers than any president has ever had, more powers than the founders could have imagined. And that box may be handed to Hillary Clinton or it may be handed to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or someone else. But whoever gets it, one of the things we know about power is that people don't give away the tools. They don't give them up. The only way we take tools out of that box is if we sanction George Bush and Dick Cheney now and say the next president cannot govern as these men have.

Bruce Fein: Well, that's accurate but also we do find this peculiarity that Congress is giving up powers voluntarily. because there's nothing right now, Bill, that would prevent Congress from the immediate shutting down all of George Bush's and Dick Cheney's illegal programs. Simply saying there's no money to collect foreign intelligence-

Bill Moyers: The power of the purse-

Bruce Fein: - the power of the purse. That is an absolute power. And yet Congress shies from it. It was utilized during the Vietnam War, you may recall, in 1973. Congress said there's no money to go and extend the war into Laos and Cambodia. And even President Nixon said okay. This was a president who at one time said, "If I do it, it's legal." So that it we do find Congress yielding the power to the executive branch. It's the very puzzle that the founding fathers would have been stunned at. They worried most over the legislative branch in, you know, usurping powers of the other branches. And -

Bill Moyers: Well, what you just said indicts the Congress more than you're indicting George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Bruce Fein: In some sense, yes, because the founding fathers expected an executive to try to overreach and expected the executive would be hampered and curtailed by the legislative branch. And you're right. They have basically renounced - walked away from their responsibility to oversee and check. It's not an option. It's an obligation when they take that oath to faithfully uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. And I think the reason why this is. They do not have convictions about the importance of the Constitution. It's what in politics you would call the scientific method of discovering political truths and of preventing excesses because you require through the processes of review and vetting one individual's perception to be checked and - counterbalanced by another's. And when you abandon that process, you abandon the ship of state basically and it's going to capsize.

John Nichols: Can I mention another branch of government?

Bill Moyers: Yeah, sure.

John Nichols: Let me mention the unspoken branch of government, which is the fourth estate: The media. The fact of the matter is the founders anticipated that presidents would overreach. And they anticipated that at times politics would cause Congress to be a weaker player or a dysfunctional player. But they always assumed that the press would alert the people, that the press would tell the people. And the fact of the matter is I think that our media in the last few years has done an absolutely miserable job of highlighting the constitutional issues that are in play. You know, you can't have torture and extraordinary rendition. You cannot have spying. You cannot have a - lying to Congress. You cannot have what happened to Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, you know?

Bill Moyers: When she was outed and they tried to punish -

John Nichols: Plotted out of the vice-president's office without question. Notations of the vice-president on news articles saying, "Let's go get this guy." Right? You know, you can't have that and not have a media going and saying to the president at press conferences, you know, "Aren't - isn't what you're doing a violation of the Constitution?" Now, just imagine if the - if the members of the White House Press Corps on a regular basis were saying to Tony Snow, "But hasn't what the president's done here violated the Constitution?" The whole national dialogue would shift. And Congress itself would suddenly become a better player. So I'm not absolving Congress. I'm certainly not absolving Bush and Cheney. But I am saying that we have a media problem here as well.

Bruce Fein: Let me underscore one of the things that you remember, Bill, 'cause I was there at the time of Watergate. And this relates to one political - official in the White House, Sara Taylor's testimony. And claiming that George Bush could tell her to be silent.

Bill Moyers: That was a great moment when Sara Taylor said, "I took an oath to uphold the president." Did you see that?

Bruce Fein: Yes. And that was like the military in Germany saying, "My oath is to the Fuhrer, not to the country." She took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I did, too, when I was in the government. There's no oath that says, "I'm loyal to a president even if he defiles the Constitution."

John Nichols: Ever.

Bill Moyers: Just this week Harriet Miers, the president's former counsel, did not show up to testify before the congressional hearing. What do you make of that in regard to this issue of power?

Bruce Fein: Well, it shows how far we've come from even the mon - monarchical days of Richard Nixon where he didn't have the audacity to tell John Dean, "No, you can't testify before the Watergate committee about conversations you had with me about obstructing justice or otherwise."

Bill Moyers: John Dean was his counsel -

Bruce Fein: White House counsel -

Bill Moyers: - just as Harriet Miers -

Bruce Fein: - is to President Bush. Yes.

Bill Moyers: And Nixon said to Dean, "You must go up there and testify"?

Bruce Fein: No. He didn't attempt to impose any objection at all. And Dean, of course, broke the Watergate story that led to Nixon's impeachment and the House's judiciary committee -

Bill Moyers: And look what -

Bruce Fein: - and resignation. And now we have a comparable situation where a Harriet Miers could perhaps expose things regarding President - Bush's knowledge of the electronic surveillance program or the firing of U.S. attorneys, which seems to contradict what Alberto Gonzalez has said about White House involvement. And yet President Bush is saying, "You can't talk, Harriet Miers, because I don't want any of that political or legal embarrassment." And unlike John Dean who brought the Constitution forward with his testimony, Harriet Miers still is silent.

Bill Moyers: And you would put that in the bill of particular about impeachment?

Bruce Fein: Certainly with regard to the one example of the abuse of presidential authority, seeking to obstruct a legitimate congressional investigation by a preposterous assertion of executive privilege. Remember, in a democracy, in - under the Constitution, transparency and sunshine is the rule. The exception is only for matters of grave national security secrets. That certainly doesn't apply here.

Bill Moyers: How does the Scooter Libby affair play into this? Do you think that people - I mean, how did the Scooter Libby thing play into this? People seem really angry about this. And this is, to me, where the tipping point came.

John Nichols: If it wasn't for the president's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence, we would not be sitting at this table and talking right now.

Bill Moyers: About impeachment?

John Nichols: About impeachment. That sentence opened up a dialogue in this country and even in Congress. A number of members of Congress stepped up and signed on to Dennis Kucinich's articles of impeachment against Vice-president Cheney after the Scooter Libby commutation.

John Nichols: We're talking tonight because of the Scooter Libby affair. And -

Bill Moyers: You mean the impeachment -

John Nichols: You - we're at this table because the fact of the matter is that impeachment has moved well up the list of things we can talk about because of the Scooter Libby affair. Now, should it be the - one that tipped it? I think Bruce and I would probably both agree no. There are probably more important issues. But the Scooter Libby affair gets to the heart of what I think an awfully lot of Americans are concerned about with this administration and with the executive branch in - general, that it is lawless, that - it can rewrite the rules for itself, that it can protect itself.

And, you know, the founders anticipated just such a moment. If you look at the discussions in the Federalist Papers but also at the Constitutional Convention, when they spoke about impeachment, one of the things that Madison and George Mason spoke about was the notion that you needed the power to impeach particularly as regards to pardons and commutations because a president might try to take the burden of the law off members of his administration to prevent them from cooperating with Congress in order to expose wrongdoings by the president himself. And so Madison said that is why we must have the power to impeach. Because otherwise a president might be able to use his authority and pardons and such to prevent an investigation from getting to him.

Bill Moyers: Are you suggesting that Libby had the goods on Cheney and Bush?

John Nichols: I think the bottom line is Scooter Libby was involved in conversations that, frankly, if those conversations were brought up, the American people would be very helpful to our discourse about whether we entered this war illegally and whether we've continued this war in ways which we never should have.

Bruce Fein: I think the spark against the Libby commutation is a little bit different focus. I think it's less on the idea he's covering up for Cheney or Bush than the indication that Bush is totally heedless of any honor for law and accountability. That he has special rules for him and his cabinet. You may recall at the outset of the investigation he said, "Anybody in my office who is responsible for this leak will not work for me." Karl Rove was shown to leak and Karl Rove was still sitting in the White House. And he says, "Well, he will issue a commutation here." But he's not issued commutations in similar circumstances to anybody else.

Moreover, the perjury of the obstruction of justice of Libby is a carbon copy of Clinton, which Republicans, including me, supported. That's why I said you've got to give a stiff sentence here. How can you say that Clinton's deserves impeachment and here you're communing someone who did the same thing. And it's that sort of outrage that this is now a sneering attitude towards everybody else. "I am king. You play by other people's rules, but as long as I am in the White House, I get to play by my rules." That is something that-

Bruce Fein: - offends everybody.

Bill Moyers: Sneering is not an impeachable offense.

Bruce Fein: Screening in isolation is not but this is combined with all of the other things he's done outside the law. The intelligence gathering, the enemy combatant status, the kidnappings in - dungeons abroad, all in secret and never disclosing anything to Congress or the American people. Indeed, we couldn't even be discussing some of these issues here like the foreign intelligence collection program if it weren't leaked to the New York Times. If he had his way, this would be secret forever.

John Nichols: Sneering is not an impeachable sentence. But the founders who had recently fought a revolution against a king named George would tell you that monarchical behavior, the behavior of a king, acting like a king, is an impeachable offense. You need not look for specific laws or statutes. What you need to look for is a pattern of behavior that says that the presidency is superior not merely to Congress but to the laws of the land, to the rules of law. And that is why we ought to be discussing impeachment. Not because of George Bush and Dick Cheney but because we are establishing a presidency that does not respect the rule of law. And people, Americans, are rightly frightened by that. Their fear is the fear of the founders. It is appropriate. It is necessary.

Bill Moyers: Very quickly, is there a - you and I have been on almost parallel tracks. I'm older than you. But we've been in the been in and around the presidency. We've been in Washington during the Cold War and now the war on terrorism. Is there a pathology at work here in the presidency that deeply troubles you?

Bruce Fein: Well, it's - I'm not sure I would call it a pathology in the sense that the founding fathers understood how power and national security affairs would naturally tend to aggrandize the executive branch. But I do think that we have this deforming of the Constitution when we have become a superpower and we have been engaged then in global politics which naturally gravitate authority to the executive branch. And what the founding fathers couldn't have understood is why Congress has taken such a back seat.

And the American people I think, because the executive branch has tried to exploit the natural fear factor instead of explaining this - yes, we have a right to be concerned but we can do this within the law. They've exploited that fear and say, "No, we've got to go outside the law." And that's something that I'd say is very deep seated and it's continued - started with the - Gulf of Tonkin resolution, you know, with the administration, Johnson administration, and continued on with Nixon and Ford and Carter. And it's - had, you know, periods where it's been allegro and then adagio. So the speed has changed but otherwise the direction has been the same.

Bill Moyers: So practically, what do you think should happen now? And what do people listening, what can they do?

Bruce Fein: I think what ought to happen is there needs to be these hearings in the judiciary hearing this is why we care.

Bill Moyers: Impeachment hearing -

Bruce Fein: Impeachment -

Bruce Fein: This is why these are -

Bill Moyers: You're saying you want the judiciary committee to call formal hearings on the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney?

Bruce Fein: Yes. Because there are political crimes that have been perpetrated in combination. It hasn't been one, the other being in isolation. And the hearings have to be not into this is a Republican or Democrat. This is something that needs to set a precedent, whoever occupies the White House in 2009. You do not want to have that occupant, whether it's John McCain or Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani or John Edwards to have this authority to go outside the law and say, "I am the law. I do what I want. No one else's view matters."

John Nichols: The hearings are important. There's no question at that. And we should be at that stage. Remember, Thomas Jefferson and others, the founders, suggested that impeachment was an organic process. That information would come out. The people would be horrified. They would tell their representatives in Congress, "You must act upon this." Well, the interesting thing is we are well down the track in the organic process. The people are saying it's time. We need some accountability.

Bill Moyers: But Nancy Pelosi doesn't agree.

John Nichols: Nancy Pelosi is wrong. Nancy Pelosi is disregarding her oath of office. She should change course now. And more importantly, members of her caucus and responsible Republicans should step up. It is not enough -

Bill Moyers: Well, Bruce is not the only conservative -

John Nichols: - and others are. But -

Bill Moyers: And Bob Barr, who's been here.

Bruce Fein: David Keene

John Nichols: But they do so, by and large, in a cautious way. They say, "Well, the president's done too much." Let's start to use the "i" word. Impeach is a useful word. It is a necessary word. The founders in the Constitution made no mention of corporation or political parties or conventions or primaries or caucuses. But they made six separate references to impeachment. They wanted us to know this word, and they wanted us to use it.

Bill Moyers: You're - does this process have to go all the way to the end? Do Bush and Cheney have to be impeached before it serves the public?

John Nichols: I think that what Bush and Cheney have done makes a very good case that the public and the future would be well served if it did go all the way to the end. But there is absolutely a good that comes of this if the process begins, if we take it seriously. And the founders would have told you that, - that impeachment is a dialogue. It is a discourse. And it is an educational process. If Congress were to get serious about the impeachment discussions, to hold the hearings, to begin that dialogue, they would begin to educate the American people and perhaps themselves about the system of checks and balances, about the powers of the presidency, about, you know, what we can expect and what we should expect of our government.

And so I think that when Jefferson spoke about this wonderful notion of his that said the tree of liberty must be watered every 20 years with the blood of patriots, I don't know that he was necessarily talked about warfare. I think he was saying that at a pretty regular basis we ought to seek to hold our - highest officials to account and that process, the seeking to hold them to account, wherever it holds up, is - a necessary function of the republic. If we don't do it, we move further and further toward an imperial presidency.

Bruce Fein: The great genius of the founding fathers, their revolutionary idea, with the chief mission of the state is to make you and them free to pursue their ambitions and faculties. Not to build empires, not to aggrandize government. That's the mission of the state, to make them free, to think, to chart their own destiny. And the burden is on government to give really good explanations as to why they're taking these extraordinary measures. And on that score, Bush has flunked on every single occasion. And we need to get the American people to think. Every time that there's an incursion on freedom, they have to demand why. What is the explanation? Give me a good reason before I give up my freedom.

Bill Moyers: But read that prologue of the Constitution. The first obligation is to defend the people, to defend their freedom, to defend their rights. And I hear people out there talking in their living rooms right now, Bruce and John, saying, "But wait a minute, you know, we've got these terrorists. We know. Look what happened in London just two weeks ago. We know they're out there. Who else is looking out for us except Bush and Cheney?"

Bruce Fein: And Cheney and Bush have shown that these measures are optical. Take, for instance, these military conditions that combine judge, jury, and prosecutors. What have they done? They tried the same offenses that are tried in civilian courts. American Taliban John Walker Lindh got 20 years in the civilian courts. And then we have the same offense, David Hicks, he gets nine months in military prison. Why are you creating these extraordinary measures? They aren't needed. We have the foreign intelligence -

Bill Moyers: - we don't need to do what Bush-

Bruce Fein: No, we don't. They're doing these for optical purposes.

Bill Moyers: What do you mean "optical"?

Bruce Fein: They're trying to create the appearance that they're tougher than all of their opponents 'cause they're willing to violate the law, even though the violations have nothing to do with actually defeating the terrorism. And we have instances where the president now for years has flouted the Foreign Intelligence Act. He's never said why the act has ever inhibited anybody. Remember, this act has been around for over a quarter of a century, and no president ever said it impaired his gathering of foreign intelligence. And suddenly the president's, "No, we have to violate it and flout it because it doesn't work." Well, why? He's never explained it. He's never explained why this act stopped gathering of all the intelligence that was needed to fight the terrorists.

Bill Moyers: No president and no vice-president have been sitting in the White House or sitting in Washington when terrorists, when killers tried to come in airplanes and crashed into the White House, crashed into the Capitol. Can - isn't there something to be said for -

Bruce Fein: Let me - there's truth and then there's an inaccuracies. Certainly in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we were in a fog. There could have been hundreds of thousands terrorist cells. You could understand the president, "I've got to take any action I need right now to uncover a possible second edition of 9/11." And, of course, as soon as I do that, I will go to Congress as soon as possible. I will seek ratification. That's an immediate aftermath of 9/11. We know a lot more in 2007, in July. We know this is not 100 or 1,000 terrorist cells.

We know this is not the danger of the Soviet Union or Hirohito or the Third Reich. And yet the president continues to insist. That's why we need military commissions. We need to say you're an enemy combatant and stick you in prison forever without any judicial review and otherwise.That is a total distortion of what the genuine nature of the problem is and our ability to fight and defeat these terrorists with ordinary civil - the criminal proceedings. And then - and as you say, they have utilized, Bill, repeatedly. The World Trade Center bombings in 1993, in the aftermath of 9/11 we've had countless conspiracy cases that stopped the terrorist - enterprises in the bud. And the - fact is that the utilization of these extraordinary measures has been relatively infrequent, showing that they're largely, they're relevant to the quest to defeat al-Qaeda.

John Nichols: Let's go to another zone of this where, you know, they've really been way off the deep end and that is torture. Has the use of torture has the vice-president sort of winking and nodding enthusiasm for the use of torture, has Abu Ghraib helped America? Are we in a better position in the world, in - getting cooperation from other countries? Are we in a better position in Iraq because of those pictures from Abu Ghraib? I would suggest to you that using these extraordinary powers and doing so in a non-transparent way, in a secretive way, which certainly suggests that even a - an awareness of the illegality of it, that - does more harm than good.

And this is, again, what the founders intended. They intended a consultative process. When the president seizes power, extraordinary power unto himself, he isolates himself. He isolates himself from the rest of the government, and he isolates himself from the people. And so I think that people out there in America who are worried, you know, "Wow, if we take on and try and constrain the president in a time of war, in a time of danger, we may be endangering the country," are actually going the wrong direction.

Bruce Fein: And, in fact, without the dialogue you continue the folly like in Vietnam when you shut off debate. And that's what's happened in Iraq, why we continue to persist. Like the 88th charge of the Light Brigade that keeps failing. You think it'll work on the 89th time. But I want to go to a more important point that John mentioned, with specifics as to how - what the president has done, has made us less safe. We have now indictments in both Italy and Germany against CIA operatives because they abducted and threw into dungeons and tortured people abroad. We need their cooperation if we're going to defeat al-Qaeda.

Bill Moyers: You mean the cooperation of those governments.

Bruce Fein: Of those governments. And now they're saying, "The heck with it. You know, you can't come on our soil and kidnap people outside the law and throw them into dungeons."

Bill Moyers: That's what Putin does. Putin is doing that -

Bruce Fein: Polonium 210, you know? You - can we borrow some from you? And moreover, think, Bill, of the precedent it sets. It is basically saying, "Mr. Putin, you can kidnap an American outside the Louvre in Paris, throw him in a dungeon in Belarus and say, "Hey, he said sympathetic things about the Chechyans." And therefore, you can operate outside the law because the Chechyans are people you oppose. That's the precedent the president is saying is legal. But the other element with regard to the abuses to point out are Abu Ghraib. That's - those pictures are all on al-Jazeera television. And they get shown every single day, 24 hours a day, to the Muslim youth that's seeking some meaning in their life. And that's what increases the recruitment attractiveness of al-Qaeda. Those Abu Ghraib abuses -

Bill Moyers: Well, did you see the Associated Press reported a day or two ago that al-Qaeda, according to intelligence reports, al-Qaeda is now at greater strength than it was before 9/11.

Bruce Fein: And that's because of the recruitment. That's - and because of the abuses, they are able to portray the United States' conflict with terrorism as a conflict with Islam, not with terrorists.

John Nichols: And let us -

Bruce Fein: And that is a terrible, terrible danger for the American people.

John Nichols: But let's take President Bush at his word. Let's take him at his word. He says that what he is doing is that this is a war on terror. That the goal is to weaken al-Qaeda, that is to make America more secure. And so throw out all this other discussion, all the other dialogue we've had. Has he been successful? Has - is he doing it the right way? Well, I think we have an awful lot of evidence from the government itself, from the CIA itself is that it hasn't worked. It has been a highly ineffective strategy. And so the question of whether he's making us more secure really is a debatable one. And the role of Congress at such a point becomes absolutely critical. We don't - you don't say, "Oh, well, you know, the Congress - the president seems to be screwing up. And so - well, let's sit back and see what he does next." And that seems to be what Democrats in Congress are saying.

Bill Moyers: Remember in the setup to our discussion I pointed out that Tom DeLay, then the third most powerful Republican in the House, made it his mission to impeach Bill Clinton. Is there a Tom DeLay in the Congress today making it his or her mission to impeach Bush and Cheney?

John Nichols: Look - I'm glad there - I'm glad there isn't a Tom DeLay. Because Tom DeLay was seeking to impeach Bill Clinton for political reasons. He did not -

Bill Moyers: Infidelity.

John Nichols: No, it wasn't infidelity. It was he didn't like the fact that Bill Clinton was president. He wanted to remove the president by means other than an election. I hope there is someone there who seeks to constrain the presidents of the United States and constrains the presidency of the United States, not merely because they happen to disagree with the guy but because -

Bill Moyers: I have to interrupt you and say, look, you guys don't live in la-la land. Both of you are in - in and around power all the time. Why doesn't Nancy Pelosi see it her duty to take on at least the impeachment hearings that you say would educate the public about the states that you think -

Bruce Fein: Because I think that politics has become debased so that it's a matter of one party against another and jockeying and maneuvering. There is no longer any statesmanship.

Bruce Fein: I go back to the real vulnerability and weakness of Congress, that they don't have anybody who can, as a chairman or even asking a question like John or me say, "Mr. Attorney General, you answer that question. This is the United States of America. Transparency is the rule here. We don't have secret government. That's what Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about in the Gulag. That's not the United States of America. We pay your salary. We have a right to know 'cause it's our duty to decide whether what you're doing is legal and wise, not yours. Answer that question or you're held in contempt right now." And that's - and all you need is that tone of voice. But what happens up there? "Well, would you please answer?" Well, are you sure? When - could you get John Ashcroft? I mean, it's just staggering.

John Nichols: And you know what?

Bruce Fein: All you would need a lecture like that and they'd answer. They'd be embarrassed - And you have to have a certain vision, Bill. You have - you have to have a certain depth of conviction about philosophy and what the Constitution means, why those people died. They reached that last full measure of devotion, Cemetery Hill, Guatel Canal, Iwo Jima, the Battle of the Bulge, because there was something higher. You have to feel that in your body and your stomach cause you've mastered all those people who have sacrificed in the past and you know the danger of unchecked power 'cause you read history. You're not a novice. There isn't anybody in the Congress who's able to do that because they don't have that background. But they don't have that temperament.

John Nichols: - there may be such people but their first step, their first step must be something that is very hard in these days of extreme partisanship and these days in money and politics and a media that doesn't cover politics very well. Their first step has to be to say, "I cherish my country more than my party and more than the next election." And so - probably. We're talking about a Democrat.

Bill Moyers:BILL MOYERS: - to take the lead?

John Nichols: And that Democrat's first responsibility is to go to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, the person who decides what committee assignments they may have and even how nice an office they may get, and say, "You know, Nancy, I respect you. I respect you greatly, Mrs. Speaker. But the country's more important. So you can - you can get mad at me. You can, you know, push back internally and whatever. But I'm going to the American people and I'm going to talk to them like Bruce Fein just did. Now, my sense is the response to the American people and, frankly, the response of a lot of other members of Congress would be to stand up and applaud. But you have to have that initial courage to do so.

Bruce Fein: I think that you have to have not only the courage but you have to have that conviction because it's part of your being.

Bill Moyers: But the -

Bruce Fein: You understand what the United States is about.

Bill Moyers: But by your - by what you're saying, you're admitting that nobody has that conviction because it's not happening.

Bruce Fein: I agree. And it's hard to know how to just make it happen by spontaneous combustion, Bill. And that's the frustrating element here. Because without that those intellectual and temperamental ingredients, it just isn't going to happen. You do need a leadership element in there. And I don't see it either in the House or the Senate now.

Bill Moyers: You just said in one sentence there "impeach Bush and Cheney." You're talking about taking that ax against the head of government, both of them.

John Nichols: No. No, no, no.

Bruce Fein: It's not an ax, Bill.

John Nichols: We're talking -

Bruce Fein: It's not an ax - it's not - Impeachment is not a criminal proceeding.

John Nichols: You are being -

Bruce Fein: - we cannot entrust the reins of power, unchecked power, with these people. They're untrustworthy. They're asserting theories of governments that are monarchical. We don't want them to exercise it. We don't want Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani or anyone in the future to exercise that.

John Nichols: Bill Moyers, you are making a mistake. You are making a mistake that too many people make.

Bill Moyers: Yes.

John Nichols: You are seeing impeachment as a constitutional crisis. Impeachment is the cure for a constitutional crisis. Don't mistake the medicine for the disease. When you have a constitutional crisis, the founders are very clear. They said there is a way to deal with this. We don't have to have a war. We don't have to raise an army and go to Washington. We have procedures in place where we can sanction a president appropriately, do what needs to be done up to the point of removing him from office and continue the republic. So we're not talking here about taking an ax to government. Quite the opposite. We are talking about applying some necessary strong medicine that may cure not merely the crisis of the moment but, done right-

Bruce Fein: Moreover, it's -

John Nichols: - might actually cure -

Bruce Fein: It's not an attack on Bush and Cheney in the sense of their personal - attacks. Listen, if you impeach them, they can live happily ever after into their-

John Nichols: And go to San Clemente.

Bruce Fein: Yes, go to San Clemente or go back to the ranch or whatever. But it's saying no, it's the Constitution that's more important than your aggrandizing of power. And not just for you because the precedent that would be set would bind every successor in the presidency as well, no matter Republican, Democrat, Independent, or otherwise.

John Nichols: The fact of the matter is that, again, the genius of impeachment is it tells the president that, wow, there is a Congress. And that Congress is on your case. And it causes, I think at its best, it causes a president to want to prove he can cooperate, to want to prove he can live within the law.

Bruce Fein: Can I interrupt just a second here?

Bill Moyers: Yeah, sure, sure.

Bruce Fein: 'Cause it seems to me very important. I think that if impeachment proceedings began and the president and the vice-president sat back and said, "We understand now. We both understand. We renounce this claim. No military commissions. We're going to comply with the law," the impeachment proceedings ought to stop and they should. It's not trying to be punitive and recriminate against the officials but you've got to get it right. And it's that what I hope would happen.

I've said if the president now renouncing the power and said, "It was wrong and I now respect and honor the separation and the genius of the founding fathers," that's great. And all of the purpose of impeachment would have been accomplished. They could stay in office and we'd have the greatest precedent with regards to executive authority and the separation of powers and checks and balances. This is not an effort to try to blacken the names of the president and vice-president. And nothing would gratify me more than having them stand up and say, "Yeah, I've thought about this now. My mind is concentrated wonderfully," as Sam Johnson would say. The prospect of impeachment, I've been convinced.

John Nichols: But also we would have hit that educational moment, that rare moment where a president of the United States has been forced to - go before the American people and say, "Oh, yeah, I just remembered, you're the boss. You are the bosses. Not me. And that I am not a king." Again, this is why raising impeachment at this point, it's a very late point, is so important. Because we are defining what the presidency will be in the future today because we do know the high crimes and misdemeanors of George Bush and Dick Cheney. They have been well illustrated even by a - rather lax media. They have been discussed in Congress

If we know these things and we do not hold them to account, then we are saying, as a people and as a Congress, we are saying that we can find out that you have violated the rule of law. We can find out that you have disregarded the Constitution. You - we can find out that you've done harm to the republic. But there will still be no penalty for that. If that's the standard that we've set, it will hold. It will not be erased in the future.

Bruce Fein: One of the lessons we should have learned from the Nixon impeachment is that it didn't quite fulfill its purpose because Nixon was never compelled to renounce what he'd done.

John Nichols: Yes.

Bruce Fein: And after which he boasted that what the president does it it's legal. He wasn't repentant at all. If we had insisted maybe as a condition of the pardon or otherwise, you need to repent. We are a government of laws, not of men. And it's wrong for anyone to assert unchecked power. That would have had such a pedagogical effect that would have deterred anything in the future. We've got to make certain this time around we get that proper acknowledgement from the -

John Nichols: - there was a group of members, Democratic members of the House, who went to Tipp O'Neil and to-

Bill Moyers: Then speaker of the House.

John Nichols: - back in 1974, after Nixon had resigned, and said, "We must continue the impeachment process." It's - it is under the Constitution certainly appropriate to do so. And we must continue it because we have to close the circle on presidential power. And the leaders in Congress, the Democratic leaders in Congress at the time said, "No, the - country has suffered too much." Well, this is the problem. Our leaders treat us as children. They think that we cannot handle a serious dialogue about the future of our republic, about what it will be and how it will operate. And so, you know, to an extent, we begin to act like children. We, you know, follow other interests. We decide to be entertained rather than to be citizens.

Well, you know, and Bruce makes frequent references to the fall of the Roman Empire. You know, that's the point at where the fall comes. It doesn't come because of a bad leader. It doesn't come because of a dysfunctional Congress. It comes when the people accept that - role of the child or of the subject and are no longer citizens. And so I think this moment becomes so very, very important because we know the high crimes and misdemeanors.

The people themselves have said, if the polls are correct, that, you know, something ought to be done. If nothing is done, if we do not step forward at this point, if we do not step up to this point, then we have, frankly, told the people, you know, you can even recognize that the king has no clothes, but we're not gonna put any clothes on him. And at that point, the country is in very, very dire circumstances.

Bill Moyers: Bruce Fein and John Nichols, thanks to both of you for being with us on The Journal. It's been a very interesting discussion.

Bruce Fein: Thank you.

John Nichols: Thank you.

Bill Moyers: As we just heard from Bruce Fein and John Nichols, our country is in a constitutional crisis that could change the nature of our democracy. There was a sense it earlier in the week as the Senate debated what to do about the war in Iraq. Here are some excerpts.

Sen. Joseph Biden: Do we continue to send our kids into the middle of a meat grinder based on a policy that is fundamentally flawed? I don't think there are a dozen Republicans on that side of the aisle who agree with the President's strategy.

Sen. Gordon Smith: Some of my colleagues have said just cut off the funding. I have felt that dangerous and dishonorable. President Bush has said stay the course, and I find that troubling.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: This is a democracy that's less than four years old. Their constitution's less than 18 months old. The army and the police force four years ago was there to support the dictator, not democracy. So if you expect from the ashes of the dictatorship a functioning democracy in four years, I think you're sadly mistaken, because it took us 11 years to write our own Constitution.

Sen. Joe Lieberman: We were elected to defend our beloved country, it's security and it's values. All that is on the line in Iraq today. So I appeal to my colleagues, let's not undercut our troops and legislate a defeat in Iraq where none is occurring.

Sen. John McCain: When you lose a war, the consequences of failure are far, far more severe on the military than the strain that is put on the military when they are fighting. It is a fact. It is a fact of military history. It is a fact of the war that we lost in Vietnam, which took us well over a decade to restore any kind of efficiency in our military.

Sen. Barbara Boxer: After this weekend's violence, senior Iraqi officials called on Iraqi civilians to arm themselves and fight insurgents. That's from the government. They're not telling the people this government will protect you, the Americans have drained 300,000 of us, no, we're ready to protect you, no. The answer is arm yourselves so that when the insurgents break down your door you can kill them before they kill you. What a situation.

Sen. John McCain: I welcome this debate, as I said earlier. I think it is important to inform the American people. I think it is important to have a respectful exchange of views. And I will continue to respect the views of the Senator from California, but I will tell her that I have seen this movie before, and I have seen what happens when we have a defeated military and we have people who assure us that a withdrawal is without consequences.

Sen. Joseph Biden: This administration has not made, when given a choice, a single correct decision on Iraq. Hear me. That is a bold statement. I cannot think of a single decision when they have been faced with a choice that theyÕve made the right choice. I cannot think of one. Way back, when the President asked me why I was calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, and the Vice President was in the room, in the Oval Office, I said: With all due respect, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, if, Mr. Vice President, if you were not a constitutional officer, I would call for your resignation too. He looked at me and said: Why? I said: Because, Mr. President, name me one piece of advice either Rumsfeld or Cheney have given you in Iraq that has turned out to be right. Name me one. One. One.

Bill Moyers: As that debate revealed Congress is polarized and paralyzed. And down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush still was insisting Congress should stay out of the war. he and Vice President Cheney are holding out for better news from Iraq in September. But when September comes, you can count on more appeals for delay or excuses. that's the formula for perpetual war - what our founders most feared, because it would turn our Constituion on its head, throwing off the checks and balances so crucial to liberty, and leaving all power in an imperial executive. Already the war in Iraq is in its 5th year, costing $10 billion a month, with the casualties mounting. All week a line from the poet Marvin Bell floated through my mind:

"What/shall we do, we who are at war but are asked/to pretend we are not?"

What shall we do? impeachment hearings are one way to go, as you heard Fein and Nichols say. In the meantime, those of us in public television have an obligation to make sure viewers like you stay in the loop. I wish we had carried the congressional debate this week in full - all of it - in prime time. When we broadcast teach-ins on the Vietnam war, and the Watergate hearings during the trial of Richard Nixon, it was a real public service - the reason PBS was created. We should keep Iraq in prime time every week - the fighting and dying, the suffering, the debate, the politics - the extraordinary costs. It's months until September. This war is killing us now, body and soul.

That's it for the journal. I'm Bill Moyers.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Correspondent Inference Theory and Terrorism

By Bruce Schneier
July 15, 2007

Two people are sitting in a room together: an experimenter and a subject. The experimenter gets up and closes the door, and the room becomes quieter. The subject is likely to believe that the experimenter's purpose in closing the door was to make the room quieter.

This is an example of correspondent inference theory.

People tend to infer the motives -- and also the disposition -- of someone who performs an action based on the effects of his actions, and not on external or situational factors. If you see someone violently hitting someone else, you assume it's because he wanted to -- and is a violent person -- and not because he's play-acting.

If you read about someone getting into a car accident, you assume it's because he's a bad driver and not because he was simply unlucky. And -- more importantly for this column -- if you read about a terrorist, you assume that terrorism is his ultimate goal.

It's not always this easy, of course. If someone chooses to move to Seattle instead of New York, is it because of the climate, the culture or his career? Edward Jones and Keith Davis, who advanced this theory in the 1960s and 1970s, proposed a theory of "correspondence" to describe the extent to which this effect predominates. When an action has a high correspondence, people tend to infer the motives of the person directly from the action: e.g., hitting someone violently. When the action has a low correspondence, people tend to not to make the assumption: e.g., moving to Seattle.

Like most cognitive biases, correspondent inference theory makes evolutionary sense. In a world of simple actions and base motivations, it's a good rule of thumb that allows a creature to rapidly infer the motivations of another creature. (He's attacking me because he wants to kill me.) Even in sentient and social creatures like humans, it makes a lot of sense most of the time. If you see someone violently hitting someone else, it's reasonable to assume that he's a violent person. Cognitive biases aren't bad; they're sensible rules of thumb.

But like all cognitive biases, correspondent inference theory fails sometimes. And one place it fails pretty spectacularly is in our response to terrorism.

Because terrorism often results in the horrific deaths of innocents, we mistakenly infer that the horrific deaths of innocents is the primary motivation of the terrorist, and not the means to a different end.

I found this interesting analysis in a paper by Max Abrahms in "International Security." "Why Terrorism Does Not Work" analyzes the political motivations of 28 terrorist groups: the complete list of "foreign terrorist organizations" designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2001. He lists 42 policy objectives of those groups, and found that they only achieved them 7 percent of the time.

According to the data, terrorism is more likely to work if 1) the terrorists attack military targets more often than civilian ones, and 2) if they have minimalist goals like evicting a foreign power from their country or winning control of a piece of territory, rather than maximalist objectives like establishing a new political system in the country or annihilating another nation.

But even so, terrorism is a pretty ineffective means of influencing policy.

There's a lot to quibble about in Abrahms' methodology, but he seems to be erring on the side of crediting terrorist groups with success. (Hezbollah's objectives of expelling both peacekeepers and Israel out of Lebanon counts as a success, but so does the "limited success" by the Tamil Tigers of establishing a Tamil state.) Still, he provides good data to support what was until recently common knowledge: Terrorism doesn't work.

This is all interesting stuff, and I recommend that you read the paper for yourself. But to me, the most insightful part is when Abrahms uses correspondent inference theory to explain why terrorist groups that primarily attack civilians do not achieve their policy goals, even if they are minimalist. Abrahms writes:

"The theory posited here is that terrorist groups that target civilians are unable to coerce policy change because terrorism has an extremely high correspondence. Countries believe that their civilian populations are attacked not because the terrorist group is protesting unfavorable external conditions such as territorial occupation or poverty. Rather, target countries infer the short-term consequences of terrorism -- the deaths of innocent civilians, mass fear, loss of confidence in the government to offer protection, economic contraction, and the inevitable erosion of civil liberties -- (are) the objects of the terrorist groups. In short, target countries view the negative consequences of terrorist attacks on their societies and political systems as evidence that the terrorists want them destroyed. Target countries are understandably skeptical that making concessions will placate terrorist groups believed to be motivated by these maximalist objectives."

In other words, terrorism doesn't work, because it makes people less likely to acquiesce to the terrorists' demands, no matter how limited they might be. The reaction to terrorism has an effect completely opposite to what the terrorists want; people simply don't believe those limited demands are the actual demands.

This theory explains, with a clarity I have never seen before, why so many people make the bizarre claim that al Qaeda terrorism -- or Islamic terrorism in general -- is "different": that while other terrorist groups might have policy objectives, al Qaeda's primary motivation is to kill us all.

This is something we have heard from President Bush again and again -- Abrahms has a page of examples in the paper -- and is a rhetorical staple in the debate.

In fact, Bin Laden's policy objectives have been surprisingly consistent. Abrahms lists four; here are six from former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer's book "Imperial Hubris":

* End U.S. support of Israel
* Force American troops out of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia
* End the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and (subsequently) Iraq
* End U.S. support of other countries' anti-Muslim policies
* End U.S. pressure on Arab oil companies to keep prices low
* End U.S. support for "illegitimate" (i.e. moderate) Arab governments, like Pakistan

Although Bin Laden has complained that Americans have completely misunderstood the reason behind the 9/11 attacks, correspondent inference theory postulates that he's not going to convince people. Terrorism, and 9/11 in particular, has such a high correspondence that people use the effects of the attacks to infer the terrorists' motives.

In other words, since Bin Laden caused the death of a couple of thousand people in the 9/11 attacks, people assume that must have been his actual goal, and he's just giving lip service to what he *claims* are his goals. Even Bin Laden's actual objectives are ignored as people focus on the deaths, the destruction and the economic impact.

Perversely, Bush's misinterpretation of terrorists' motives actually helps prevent them from achieving their goals.

None of this is meant to either excuse or justify terrorism. In fact, it does the exact opposite, by demonstrating why terrorism doesn't work as a tool of persuasion and policy change. But we're more effective at fighting terrorism if we understand that it is a means to an end and not an end in itself; it requires us to understand the true motivations of the terrorists and not just their particular tactics.

And the more our own cognitive biases cloud that understanding, the more we mischaracterize the threat and make bad security trade-offs.


Cognitive biases: or

This essay originally appeared on or