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Sunday, November 30, 2008

CEOs “cashed out” prior to economic crisis

by Tom Eley
Global Research
December 1, 2008

Balzac’s maxim that “behind every great fortune lies a great crime” may yet prove a fitting epitaph for American capitalism. A recent survey by the Wall Street Journal reveals that CEOs at major US financial and real estate firms converted tens of millions of dollars of overvalued stock into cash prior to the eruption of the current financial crisis, even as many of their corporations approached the precipice.

The Journal analyzed the fortunes of CEOs from 2003 to 2007 based on executive compensation and stock sale data. Fifteen of these CEOs took home more than $100 million in cash during this period. At the high end was Charles Schwab, who made over $816 million from his self-named accounting firm, almost all of it from stock sales.

Of the 120 publicly traded firms the Journal analyzed, CEOs cashed out a total of more than $21 billion.

However, data was gathered only from publicly traded companies, and thus does not include similar fortunes that have been made by “hedge fund chiefs, Wall Street traders, and executives who sold their companies outright.” Nor did it include data related to exit packages, the multimillion-dollar “golden parachutes” awarded to retiring or fired executives.

The Journal’s findings underscore the parasitism and criminality of the US financial elite.

Defenders have long justified extravagant CEO pay by claiming that these were the talented “risk-takers” who generated enormous wealth for investors. But the Journal’s data shows that there is no correlation between compensation and a firm’s success. On the contrary, many CEOs rewarded themselves just as their corporations approached ruin.

These included Richard Fuld, the CEO of Lehman Brothers, who transformed his firm’s stock into well over $100 million in cash. When added to his salary and bonuses, Fuld pocketed nearly $185 million in the five years before 2008, even as he guided his 150-year-old investment bank to ruin. James Cayne of Bear Stearns did nearly as well at his investment bank, collecting over $163.2 million, the vast majority of which was garnered from selling stock that would soon be scarcely worth the paper upon which it was printed.

Maurice Greenberg of American International Group (AIG) made $132.8 million between 2003 and 2005, when he was forced to resign. Well over $100 million of this came from windfall stock sales of the giant insurer. AIG collapsed in September, but was determined to be “too big to fail” by the federal government, and was bailed out twice in less than one month to the tune of some $120 billion.

In August, the sub-prime mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Group collapsed spectacularly, and was absorbed by Bank of America. In the previous five years, however, Countrywide’s CEO, Angelo Mozilo, took home $471 million, over $400 million of which came from sales of the company’s soon-to-be-worthless stock.

A look at the sectors of the economy where these richly remunerated executives worked, moreover, demonstrates the advanced rot of the US economy as a whole. Without exception, they represented corporations that engaged in financial speculation—“industries closely tied to the financial crisis,” as the Journal puts it—and that produced no real value. These until recently “vibrant” parts of the economy functioned only to siphon off enormous social wealth and deposit it in the bank accounts of the CEOs and big investors.

One example the Journal considered is the private student loan sector, which made Daniel Meyers, the CEO of a firm called First Marblehead, a very wealthy man. Marblehead specialized in servicing loans to students who had “exhausted the cheaper government-backed variety,” and then repackaging and selling the debt to big banks such as Bank of America. Meyers earned nearly $100 million, almost all of it in the sale of company stock; together with other Marblehead insiders, $660 million was taken. The Journal notes that Meyers used $10.3 million of his fortune to buy an ocean-front property in Rhode Island—the state with the highest unemployment rate. Meyers tore down the villa that was there and has put up a 38,000-square-foot mansion he named, befitting a pirate, “Seaward.”

Another sector of the economy that has proved highly lucrative for CEOs is that of home mortgages. In addition to the aforementioned case of Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide, the Journal highlights the case of New Century Financial, the nation’s second largest subprime lender. While the lender is now bankrupt, over a period of four years its three leading executives took home a combined $74 million. The Journal also mentions the case of Herbert and Marion Sandler, who made $2 billion off selling their mortgage firm, Golden West Financial Corp., to Wachovia in 2005. This purchase likely contributed to the demise of Wachovia, which collapsed in October and was bought out by Wells Fargo.

In the field of “credit-default swaps,” Michael Gooch made $82.5 million through his firm GTI Group. Over $77 million of this came from a remarkably well-timed sale in May of 2006. Since then, GTI’s stock has lost over 90 percent of its value. Gooch owns three mansions, and boasted to the Journal that he could pay off his only debt, a $1 million mortgage, “with the spare change in my bank account.”

The Journal notes with some surprise that one of the most highly remunerative fields was that of “home-building.” The wealth accumulated by CEOs in this sector is a clear byproduct of the speculative real estate bubble that emerged over the last decade. Toll Brothers, specializing in building suburban mansions, made Robert and Bruce Toll three quarters of a billion in cash, largely in stock sales. The company has lost 74 percent of its value in the past year.

Chad Dreier, CEO of Ryland Group, made $181 million building homes in “hot markets” such as Las Vegas that have now gone bust, exposing thousands of families to foreclosure. Dwight Schar, the CEO of a building firm called NVR, took home $626 million in 2003-2007, almost all from the sale of stock. Schar spent about $86 million of this fortune in 2005 to buy the Palm Beach, Florida estate of billionaire Ronald Perelman. The Journal notes that the 11-acre oceanfront complex includes two swimming pools and a tennis court.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that the Wall Street Journal, long a mouthpiece of US finance capital, would run a prominent article that questions the enormous personal fortunes built up by CEOs through dubious means even as their corporations sailed toward disaster. Running such an article aims in part, no doubt, to appease the rage of thousands of middling investors who have lost their shirts in the economic crisis.

In any event, the criminal methods of these CEOs, who have led their companies and American capitalism as a whole to the brink of ruin, do not derive from personal greed alone. In their criminality and nearsightedness the CEOs reflect, instead, the narrowing horizon and historical decline of US capitalism, in which the accumulation of extreme wealth long ago lost whatever connection it had to the creation of real value.


Bush Wants Everyone To Know How Proud He Is Of His Spectacularly Successful Presidency

By: Blue Texan
November 29, 2008

Only W. could look around at the disaster he's created over the past 8 years and say, "Ain't I special?"

“I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process,” Bush said in the interview. “I came to Washington with a set of values, and I’m leaving with the same set of values. And I darn sure wasn’t going to sacrifice those values.”
I take Chimpy at his word. He was a morally lazy, pro-torture, warmongering, Constitution-burning asshole who values loyalty above all else before he got to Washington.

What else, W.?

“I’d like to be a president (known) as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace; that focused on individuals rather than process; that rallied people to serve their neighbor,”

The president added.

He'd also probably like to be known somebody who didn't burn the whole freaking house down through his own arrogance and incompetence.

But it ain't gonna happen.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Real Terrorism

Terrorism TV, All terrorism, all the time

Editorial Commentaries

It's Thanksgiving, which means a lot in America ,and nothing much anywhere else in the rest of the world.

But where ever you are, if you turn on CNN or the BBC (the only two English channels you can reliably get in Europe), it's been "all terrorism, all the time" on TV since last night.

And you can hear the newscasters doing everything they can to build up the story, its significance, and its dire portents for the future of humanity.

One notices that the European news stationsb note what happened and then get on to news from the rest of the world.

Not so for the terrorism obsessed US and UK. They're going to make this into the biggest event since landing a man on the moon if its the last thing they do.

What gives?

Yesterday, the day began with news that the US just threw another trillion dollar log on the fire to try to stop the slow motion train wreck that threatens to collapse the world financial system. Remember when a trillion dollars was a lot of money?

...When the Bush administration did everything they could to conceal the fact that Iraq was a trillion dollar war?

How quaint. How old fashioned. (Actually, Iraq is looking more like a three to five trillion dollar war, but hey what's a few trillion here or there.)

Less than 24 hours later, that's history.

Now it's "all terrorism, all the time" this time in Mumbai, India.

I don't dispute that the attacks in India are news or that the deaths and injuries are tragic, but does this story merit all day and night coverage in America on Thanksgiving day?


One hand washes the other...

Where would terrorism be without CNN and the BBC to endlessly pump up its significance?

And how many times can these guys insert the phrase "Al Queda" per minute - when there is no evidence currently that links the CIA creation to this attack at all?

When the news of this attack broke last night in Europe, this was the ONLY news you could get on CNN and BBC European channels all night.

The deaths and injuries are, of course, tragic. The disruption to Mumbai's tourist areas significant.

But does this story merit non-stop all day and night coverage?

Listening to the BBC last night, you could hear the anchorwoman leading the Indian security forces expert she was interviewing.

"This is very significant, isn't it?"

"Yes, very."

"And this shows a much higher level of sophistication than we've ever seen in India before."

"Yes, indeed."

"And this is a serious cause for concern all over the world because it indicates the 'terrorists' have developed a whole new level of effectiveness."

"Yes, you are quite right."

And on and on and on for hours making this incident into a Himalayan-sized mountain. That's the whole story. Repeating it over and over and over again is the REAL terrorism. Just for US, the terrorized.




By Chuck Larsen

When the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1620, they landed on the rocky shores of a territory that was inhabited by the Wampanoag (Wam pa NO ag) Indians. The Wampanoags were part of the Algonkian-speaking peoples, a large group that was part of the Woodland Culture area.

These Indians lived in villages along the coast of what is now Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They lived in round- roofed houses called wigwams. These were made of poles covered with flat sheets of elm or birch bark. Wigwams differ in construction from tipis that were used by Indians of the Great Plains.

The Wampanoags moved several times during each year in order to get food. In the spring they would fish in the rivers for salmon and herring. In the planting season they moved to the forest to hunt deer and other animals. After the end of the hunting season people moved inland where there was greater protection from the weather. From December to April they lived on food that they stored during the earlier months.

The basic dress for men was the breech clout, a length of deerskin looped over a belt in back and in front. Women wore deerskin wrap-around skirts. Deerskin leggings and fur capes made from deer, beaver, otter, and bear skins gave protection during the colder seasons, and deerskin moccasins were worn on the feet. Both men and women usually braided their hair and a single feather was often worn in the back of the hair by men. They did not have the large feathered headdresses worn by people in the Plains Culture area.

There were two language groups of Indians in New England at this time. The Iroquois were neighbors to the Algonkian-speaking people. Leaders of the Algonquin and Iroquois people were called "sachems" (SAY chems). Each village had its own sachem and tribal council. Political power flowed upward from the people. Any individual, man or woman, could participate, but among the Algonquins more political power was held by men. Among the Iroquois, however, women held the deciding vote in the final selection of who would represent the group. Both men and women enforced the laws of the village and helped solve problems.

The details of their democratic system were so impressive that about 150 years later Benjamin Franklin invited the Iroquois to Albany, New York, to explain their system to a delegation who then developed the "Albany Plan of Union." This document later served as a model for the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.

These Indians of the Eastern Woodlands called the turtle, the deer and the fish their brothers. They respected the forest and everything in it as equals. Whenever a hunter made a kill, he was careful to leave behind some bones or meat as a spiritual offering, to help other animals survive. Not to do so would be considered greedy. The Wampanoags also treated each other with respect. Any visitor to a Wampanoag home was provided with a share of whatever food the family had, even if the supply was low. This same courtesy was extended to the Pilgrims when they met.

We can only guess what the Wampanoags must have thought when they first saw the strange ships of the Pilgrims arriving on their shores. But their custom was to help visitors, and they treated the newcomers with courtesy. It was mainly because of their kindness that the Pilgrims survived at all. The wheat the Pilgrims had brought with them to plant would not grow in the rocky soil. They needed to learn new ways for a new world, and the man who came to help them was called "Tisquantum" (Tis SKWAN tum) or "Squanto" (SKWAN toe).

Squanto was originally from the village of Patuxet (Pa TUK et) and a member of the Pokanokit Wampanoag nation. Patuxet once stood on the exact site where the Pilgrims built Plymouth. In 1605, fifteen years before the Pilgrims came, Squanto went to England with a friendly English explorer named John Weymouth. He had many adventures and learned to speak English. Squanto came back to New England with Captain Weymouth. Later Squanto was captured by a British slaver who raided the village and sold Squanto to the Spanish in the Caribbean Islands.

A Spanish Franciscan priest befriended Squanto and helped him to get to Spain and later on a ship to England. Squanto then found Captain Weymouth, who paid his way back to his homeland. In England Squanto met Samoset of the Wabanake (Wab NAH key) Tribe, who had also left his native home with an English explorer. They both returned together to Patuxet in 1620. When they arrived, the village was deserted and there were skeletons everywhere. Everyone in the village had died from an illness the English slavers had left behind. Squanto and Samoset went to stay with a neighboring village of Wampanoags.

One year later, in the spring, Squanto and Samoset were hunting along the beach near Patuxet. They were startled to see people from England in their deserted village. For several days, they stayed nearby observing the newcomers. Finally they decided to approach them. Samoset walked into the village and said "welcome," Squanto soon joined him. The Pilgrims were very surprised to meet two Indians who spoke English.

The Pilgrims were not in good condition. They were living in dirt-covered shelters, there was a shortage of food, and nearly half of them had died during the winter. They obviously needed help and the two men were a welcome sight. Squanto, who probably knew more English than any other Indian in North America at that time, decided to stay with the Pilgrims for the next few months and teach them how to survive in this new place. He brought them deer meat and beaver skins. He taught them how to cultivate corn and other new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses. He pointed out poisonous plants and showed how other plants could be used as medicine. He explained how to dig and cook clams, how to get sap from the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and dozens of other skills needed for their survival.

By the time fall arrived things were going much better for the Pilgrims, thanks to the help they had received. The corn they planted had grown well. There was enough food to last the winter. They were living comfortably in their Indian-style wigwams and had also managed to build one European-style building out of squared logs. This was their church. They were now in better health, and they knew more about surviving in this new land. The Pilgrims decided to have a thanksgiving feast to celebrate their good fortune. They had observed thanksgiving feasts in November as religious obligations in England for many years before coming to the New World.

The Algonkian tribes held six thanksgiving festivals during the year. The beginning of the Algonkian year was marked by the Maple Dance which gave thanks to the Creator for the maple tree and its syrup. This ceremony occurred when the weather was warm enough for the sap to run in the maple trees, sometimes as early as February. Second was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown. Mid-winter was the last ceremony of the old year. When the Indians sat down to the "first Thanksgiving" with the Pilgrims, it was really the fifth thanksgiving of the year for them!

Captain Miles Standish, the leader of the Pilgrims, invited Squanto, Samoset, Massasoit (the leader of the Wampanoags), and their immediate families to join them for a celebration, but they had no idea how big Indian families could be. As the Thanksgiving feast began, the Pilgrims were overwhelmed at the large turnout of ninety relatives that Squanto and Samoset brought with them. The Pilgrims were not prepared to feed a gathering of people that large for three days.

Seeing this, Massasoit gave orders to his men within the first hour of his arrival to go home and get more food. Thus it happened that the Indians supplied the majority of the food: Five deer, many wild turkeys, fish, beans, squash, corn soup, corn bread, and berries. Captain Standish sat at one end of a long table and the Clan Chief Massasoit sat at the other end. For the first time the Wampanoag people were sitting at a table to eat instead of on mats or furs spread on the ground. The Indian women sat together with the Indian men to eat. The Pilgrim women, however, stood quietly behind the table and waited until after their men had eaten, since that was their custom.

For three days the Wampanoags feasted with the Pilgrims. It was a special time of friendship between two very different groups of people. A peace and friendship agreement was made between Massasoit and Miles Standish giving the Pilgrims the clearing in the forest where the old Patuxet village once stood to build their new town of Plymouth.

It would be very good to say that this friendship lasted a long time; but, unfortunately, that was not to be. More English people came to America, and they were not in need of help from the Indians as were the original Pilgrims. Many of the newcomers forgot the help the Indians had given them. Mistrust started to grow and the friendship weakened. The Pilgrims started telling their Indian neighbors that their Indian religion and Indian customs were wrong. The Pilgrims displayed an intolerance toward the Indian religion similar to the intolerance displayed toward the less popular religions in Europe. The relationship deteriorated and within a few years the children of the people who ate together at the first Thanksgiving were killing one another in what came to be called King Phillip's War.

It is sad to think that this happened, but it is important to understand all of the story and not just the happy part. Today the town of Plymouth Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts. In 1970, they asked one of them to speak at the ceremony to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival.

Here is part of what was said:

Today is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.

When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people.

Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a better America, a more Indian America where people and nature once again are important."

Manataka American Indian Council

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Evidence Suggests Brit Liquid Bomb Plot was Directed by UK/Paki/US Intel

Democratic Underground
Discussion Group

How can one speak of a "thwarted" plot when intelligence agents were an inherent part in leading the conspiracy from the very beginning?

When you put the pieces together the following picture emerges about the liquid explosives conspiracy:

* It was first penetrated by Pakistani intelligence in May 2005.
* British intelligence have been actively involved for more than a year.
* U.S. intel having been first made aware of the surveillance operation for at least several
* The Bush Administration decided the timing of the arrests a few weeks ago.

That makes this terrorist conspiracy as much a conspiracy of state as it is a real terrorist plot.

Furthermore, the timing of the arrests, as the article immediately makes clear, was chosen for political reasons. That is simply an abuse of the intelligence process, one that should result in the cancellation of the security clearances of those US officials who interfered with what had been a UK and Pakistani counter-terrorism operation.


U.S., U.K. at odds over timing of arrests

British wanted to continue surveillance on terror suspects, official says U.S. and British authorities disagreed on when to break up an alleged plot to blow up airliners bound for the United States, officials say. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

Nightly News

By Aram Roston, Lisa Myers, and the NBC News Investigative Unit
NBC News
Updated: 10:43 a.m. ET Aug 14, 2006

LONDON - NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

British officials knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

In contrast to previous reports, one senior British official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.



The evidence that the UK liquid plane bomber plot was, from the early stages, executed under the active involvement of several intelligence agencies is suggestive, but it's there.

Read the following, and please tell me if another conclusion is suggested. This plot was penetrated and closely surveilled for more than a year. I find it inconceivable that there wasn't at least some element of agent provocateur in the management of this counter-terrorism operation. There always is, and that's the way it has been going back to the Czar's Okhrana and the Russian Social Revolutionaries. It's a subject I've been studying since long before 9/11.

Anyway, here you go:

Agent infiltrated terror cell, U.S. says Air travel in chaos after plot to bomb airliners exposed

Friday, August 11, 2006;
Posted: 3:33 p.m. EDT (19:33 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Terrorists were in the "final stages" of a plot to simultaneously blow up as many as 10 jets leaving Britain for the U.S., sending the planes and thousands of passengers into the Atlantic Ocean, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.

British and Pakistani authorities teamed up to thwart the attacks, and 24 men were arrested in overnight raids in Britain, authorities said.

An undercover British agent infiltrated the group, giving the authorities intelligence on the alleged plan, several U.S. government officials said. (Watch as neighbors describe the dramatic arrests -- 2:18)

The men had not bought plane tickets, the officials said, but they were in the process of perusing the Internet to find flights to various cities that had similar departure times.

Two of the suspects recently traveled to Pakistan and later received money wired from there, senior U.S. government sources said. (Watch why the plot is 'suggestive' of al Qaeda -- 2:21)


The UK informed US intelligence of this operation several months ago, and the FBI has been heavily involved since.

Details emerge on alleged plot to bomb airliners


U.S. officials say British investigators had the terror cell under close surveillance for several months, keeping the U.S. informed, then adding more specifics just within the past several days.

For the past several days, the FBI has feverishly looked for any potential ties to terrorists in the U.S., but has not found any.

“We literally in the last couple of weeks have had hundreds of FBI agents around the country tracking down every lead, and we have not found to date any plotters here in the United States,” FBI Director Robert Mueller told NBC.



I would expect that after the capture of one of the original planners in May 2005, Pakistani ISI was working inside the cell, and later one or more MI5/6 supervisory control agents brought in double-agents on the British side.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Pakistan Connection

Pakistani police on Thursday arrested a number of UK Muslims within Pakistan who were also suspected of involvement in the "Liquid Bomb Threat."

British authorities say that they have been investigating the group behind the airplane bombing plot for "about a year." The Scotsman says that the investigation began in 2005.

US authorities were only told about some details two weeks ago, apparently. It may be that the British counter-terrorism community learned its lesson from the loose lips of the Bushies in summer of 2004. I argued then that from what we could tell from open sources, it seemed likely that the Bush administration played politics with information about a double agent in Pakistan who was helping monitor a London al-Qaeda cell. It seems likely that the election-year leak allowed budding terrorists like Mohammad Sadique Khan to escape closer scrutiny, and so permitted the 7/7/05 London subway bombings to go forward.

This time, the MI5 and MI6 and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may not have told Washington everything.

The Financial Times has an interesting observation I haven't seen elsewhere:

' British security officials suspected the innovative use of liquid explosives smuggled on board could have evaded airport detection devices. They said the method of attack, if used to blow up an aircraft over the ocean on a flight from the US to the UK, could potentially have been used repeatedly because its detection would have been all but impossible after the event.

One official said: “We were very lucky to have acquired the intelligence about the modus operandi of the attacks. If we hadn’t got the intelligence, they probably would have succeeded and there would have been little or no forensic evidence showing how they had done it. The modus operandi could have made waves of attacks feasible.”

British police had liaised closely with US law enforcement agencies for some time, although US officials said they learnt the intelligence pointed to threats against specific US airlines only in the past two weeks. '

So how did we find out about this plot, and the deadly mode of operation, which might otherwise have been so hard to detect? The investigation was kicked off by an arrest in Pakistan "last year." (AP says the arrest in Waziristan was "a few weeks ago", but I think AP is confusing the contribution of some recent arrests to the case with the initial capture of the key informant a year ago).

Most of the investigation was carried out in the UK, but the Pakistanis are said to have provided "an important clue."

AP says:

' A Pakistani intelligence official said an Islamic militant arrested near the Afghan-Pakistan border . . . provided a lead that played a role in ``unearthing the plot.''

So this capture takes place roughly June, 2005.

- END -


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Burrowing of the Bushies

By Dan Froomkin
November 18, 2008

It happens every time a president leaves office: Some of his political appointees don't want to go, so they "burrow in" to the civil service.

There are relatively benign reasons for burrowing in, such as financial security. But there is also the potential for ideological mischief-making.

So the question we ask ourselves today is: Are Bush and Cheney loyalists entrenching themselves into the federal bureaucracy in order to make it difficult for their successors to roll back their policies?

The burrowing-in of the Bushies has been underway in various agencies for some time now, and there are signs that as a result, the Obama administration could face resistance from within on some key areas.

Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. Leonnig write in The Washington Post: "Just weeks before leaving office, the Interior Department's top lawyer has shifted half a dozen key deputies -- including two former political appointees who have been involved in controversial environmental decisions -- into senior civil service posts.

"The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called 'burrowing' by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs. . . .

"Between March 1 and Nov. 3, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the Bush administration allowed 20 political appointees to become career civil servants."

Alarming? One the one hand, Eilperin and Leonnig write: "The practice of placing political appointees into permanent civil service posts before an administration ends is not new. In its last 12 months, the Clinton administration approved 47 such moves, including seven at the senior executive level. Federal employees with civil service status receive job protections that make it very difficult for managers to remove them."

But on the other, they note: "The personnel moves come as Bush administration officials are scrambling to cement in place policy and regulatory initiatives that touch on issues such as federal drinking-water standards, air quality at national parks, mountaintop mining and fisheries limits."

The announced goal of the Interior Department move was to reduce disruptive turnover, but "environmental advocates, and some rank-and-file Interior officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of hurting their careers, said the reassignments represent the Bush administration's effort to leave a lasting imprint on environmental policy," Eilperin and Leonnig report.

Joe Davidson wrote in his Washington Post Federal Diary column earlier this month that "this is burrowing season."

He called attention to an October report from the Congressional Research Service which warned:
"While such conversions may occur at any time, frequently they do so during the transition period when one administration is preparing to leave office and another administration is preparing to assume office."

Carrie Johnson wrote in The Washington Post in July: "Two leading Senate Democrats asked Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey yesterday to 'exercise vigilance' and ensure that political appointees do not improperly wheedle their way into permanent slots at the beleaguered Justice Department. "

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) wrote to department leaders seeking 'personal assurances' that they would monitor employment decisions at Justice as the Bush administration draws to a close.

"'When unqualified political appointees take over jobs better left to skilled candidates, it threatens the agency's professionalism and independence,' Schumer said. 'We don't need ideological stowaways undermining the work of the next administration.'"

But Daniel Schulman writes in the current issue of Mother Jones that "last-minute vigilance is often too little too late, says Carol Bonosaro, the president of the Senior Executives Association, whose nearly 3,000 members span the federal bureaucracy. 'If you're smart,' she says, 'you do it earlier.' . . .

"As early as 2006, the Government Accountability Office reported that 144 employees in 23 agencies had converted from noncareer to career positions. In some cases, jobs seemed tailored to the strengths of the applicants, if not created for them outright. In others, standard competitive hiring procedures appeared absent. And in three instances, political staffers received career positions even though they lacked the requisite 'qualifications and/or experience.' . . .

"The current White House has even managed a variation on burrowing that bypasses the political appointment process -- directly seeding the civil service with ideologues whose influence may be felt for decades to come."

Ben Whitford wrote earlier this month in Plenty magazine about potential obstructions that Obama will face at the Environmental Protection Agency in particular: "Some observers worry that over the past eight years, Bush loyalists have 'burrowed down' (in agency parlance) from appointed positions to permanent staff jobs from which they could potentially block efforts to put the agency back on track. "

There are no precise numbers, says Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Science Integrity Program, but it's likely that across the federal government many hundreds of Bush appointees have secured permanent positions, often in key roles from which they could effectively impede reform. 'We're going to be working to keep track of these folks,' says Grifo. 'We can't assume a priori that every single appointee who's stayed on is going to be evil the rest of their days, but we're going to be watching very closely.'"

In some cases, of course, the burrowing is not ideological in nature. Christopher Lee wrote in The Washington Post last year: "No matter how much some in the Bush administration seem to look down on government, no matter how many say they long to return to the private sector or spend more time with family, a few political folks, in the end, will decide that they would rather not part ways with Uncle Sam. So they will try to stick around, angling to turn their short-term stint in an administration of their choice into a permanent job amid the ranks of career civil servants and federal executives. "

"'Remember, not everybody who comes in is going to have a very high-profile job where they are going to be able to leave and make really good money
,' said Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, which represents career executives in the federal government. 'Not everyone has had necessarily a strong enough background to go back out. They may just have been a campaign worker.'

Burrowing in often looks like an especially good option to younger political appointees, people in their 20s who hold positions such as deputy chief of staff or assistant to the assistant secretary, said Paul C. Light, a professor of government at New York University. Most cannot easily make the leap to a lucrative job on K Street or elsewhere, he said.

"'The paycheck is the driver here,' Light said. 'A lot of appointees will think, "I don't have anywhere to go." . . . My sense is that they burrow in because there is pay, benefits and security involved -- precisely the things that they complain about as barriers to effective [government] performance.' "

Or, as Dale McFeaters writes in his Scripps Howard opinion column: "Republicans may deride Washington bureaucrats, but when their party is thrown out of office they desperately want to be one."

Back in June, I wrote about burrowing in, midnight rulemaking and other actions Bush loyalists could take to slow down a rollback in a series of stories on, where I am deputy editor. Among the other things reporters should be keeping an eye out for: last-minute reorganizations, big contracts and legal settlements, and intrusive executive orders.Speak of the Devil

And right on cue, just arriving in my inbox is Bush's latest executive order. This one sets out a fairly extensive procedure whereby the secretary of transportation is charged with establishing and maintaining "a national air transportation system that meets the present and future civil aviation, homeland security, economic, environmental protection, and national defense needs of the United States" -- all long after Bush leaves office.

And Don't Forget the Abortion Rule

Robert Pear writes in the New York Times: "A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job discrimination laws.

The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their 'religious beliefs or moral convictions.'

It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to 'assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity' financed by the Department of Health and Human Services. . . .

Officials at the Health and Human Services Department said they intended to issue a final version of the rule within days. Aides and advisers to Mr. Obama said he would try to rescind it, a process that could take three to six months.

To avoid the usual rush of last-minute rules, the White House said in May that new regulations should be proposed by June 1 and issued by Nov. 1. The 'provider conscience' rule missed both deadlines.

"Under the White House directive, the deadlines can be waived 'in extraordinary circumstances.' Administration officials were unable to say immediately why an exception might be justified in this case."

Torture Watch

Lara Jakes Jordan writes for the Associated Press: "Barack Obama's incoming administration is unlikely to bring criminal charges against government officials who authorized or engaged in harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama, who has criticized the use of torture, is being urged by some constitutional scholars and human rights groups to investigate possible war crimes by the Bush administration. "

Two Obama advisers said there's little -- if any -- chance that the incoming president's Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.

The advisers spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans are still tentative. A spokesman for Obama's transition team did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Additionally, the question of whether to prosecute may never become an issue if Bush issues pre-emptive pardons to protect those involved. . . .

"After he takes office in January, Obama is expected to create a panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission to study interrogations, including those using waterboarding and other tactics that critics call torture. The panel's findings would be used to ensure that future interrogations are undisputedly legal."

Hilzoy blogs for the Washington Monthly: "This is a big mistake. It is enormously important that we establish the principle that members of the government cannot break the law with impunity, and we cannot do that without being willing to prosecute them when, as in this case, there is overwhelming evidence that they violated the law. This is especially true of the most senior members of government, like the Vice President. "

That said, I can easily see why Obama might not want to do this. The problem isn't just that it would be bad for him to be seen as carrying out a partisan witch hunt; it would also be bad for the law, and for these prosecutions, if they were seen as a partisan witch hunt.

"Luckily, there's a fairly obvious solution to this problem. Obama should appoint a special prosecutor."

Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post opinion column that "the Bush administration sought to numb Americans to what has traditionally been seen as a clear moral and legal imperative: the requirement that individuals taken into custody by our government be treated fairly and humanely. . . .

"The new Obama administration has a duty to conduct its own investigation and tell us exactly what was done in our name. Realistically, some facts are going to be redacted. Realistically, some officials who may deserve to face criminal charges will not. But to restore our national honor and heal our national soul, we at least need to know."

Spying Watch

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau write in the New York Times:

"President-elect Barack Obama will face a series of early decisions on domestic spying that will test his administration's views on presidential power and civil liberties.

The Justice Department will be asked to respond to motions in legal challenges to the National Security Agency's wiretapping program, and must decide whether to continue the tactics used by the Bush administration -- which has used broad claims of national security and 'state secrets' to try to derail the challenges -- or instead agree to disclose publicly more information about how the program was run.

When he takes office, Mr. Obama will inherit greater power in domestic spying power than any other new president in more than 30 years, but he may find himself in an awkward position as he weighs how to wield it. . . .

'Advisers to Mr. Obama appear divided over whether he should push forcefully to investigate the operations of the wiretapping program, which was run in secret from September 2001 until December 2005."

Gitmo Watch

Peter Finn writes in The Washington Post: "The chief military judge at Guantanamo Bay announced his immediate retirement yesterday, effectively scuttling the slim chances that the trial of conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks could get underway before the Bush administration ends. . . ." "It has long been a goal of some Pentagon officials, particularly those appointed by the Bush administration, to begin the capital trial of the Sept. 11 conspirators before leaving office."

Iraq Watch

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post that by agreeing to a fixed deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Bush may "have given President-elect Barack Obama more flexibility in fulfilling his campaign promise to bring the troops home."

Obama pledged during the campaign to withdraw the remaining U.S. combat troops in 16 months, at roughly the rate of one combat brigade a month. The plan tentatively approved in Baghdad yesterday would essentially give Obama until the end of 2011 to pull out all U.S. forces, while also putting the imprimatur of the Bush administration on the idea that there needs to be an ironclad deadline for troop removal. . . .

"Bush administration officials acknowledged yesterday that the timetable laid out in the final agreement is not what the president wanted originally but said that they could go along with it because of a decline in violence in Iraq in the past year."

Laurent Lozano writes for AFP that "the White House sought to put a positive spin on the pact and the pace of a US withdrawal."

Indeed. Here's Press Secretary Dana Perino at yesterday's briefing:

Q. "Dana, I would like to ask about Iraq. The President has said for months that he opposed any timetable and that any decision should be based on conditions on the ground. How much is the latest agreement a departure -- "

Perino: "As we've been saying since July, when we said that we would work with the Iraqis to establish a date that we would aspire to -- we just keep getting success after success on the security front in Iraq. And when you work with a partner on a negotiation, you have to concede some points. One of the points that we conceded was that we would establish these aspirational dates. We're only able to do this because of the progress that's been made by the great work of our forces, and by the Iraqi security forces as well. They, every day, gain in number, confidence and competence. And we are going to continue to work with the Iraqis, because while we did have a good step with the council of ministers approving the agreement, and then our ambassador and their foreign minister signing it today, there are still several steps left to go."

Get that? The strict timetable insisted upon by the Iraqis is still just aspirational.

Meanwhile, Bryan Bender writes for the Boston Globe: "President-elect Barack Obama's signature campaign promise to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office appears to be on a collision course with the nation's military brass, if comments yesterday from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are any indication."

In his first press conference since the election, Admiral Michael G. Mullen said he believes that the soonest all US forces could be safely withdrawn from Iraq is 'two to three years.'

"'We have 150,000 troops in Iraq right now,' the nation's top military officer told reporters at the Pentagon. 'We have lots of bases. We have an awful lot of equipment that's there. And so we would have to look at all of that [and] the security conditions that are there. And clearly we'd want to be able to do it safely.'"

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes: "Finally, we think we see light at the end of the Iraq tunnel. . . ."

Although President Bush long opposed it, there is a timetable at last, and one that could mark the beginning of the end of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. . . .

"A pullback from Iraq would allow the United States to restore its credibility abroad and, just as important, to begin to heal the wounds inflicted by the war at home."

The Obama White House Watch

Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post: "Although Obama has shown a fondness for surrounding himself with big thinkers and visionary experts, his White House hires suggest that his West Wing, at least, will place a premium on skilled legislative practitioners."

Congressional Democrats are taking the hires of Hill veterans as an encouraging sign that Obama -- the first member of Congress to be elected president since John F. Kennedy -- plans to work closely with them, which they regard as a welcome change from Bush's administration, which even many Hill Republicans said left them out of the loop.

"The staff choices 'represent a new era in cooperative relations between the White House and Congress,' said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). 'It bodes well for an extraordinary period of legislative accomplishment -- for creating an atmosphere in which legislative victories will be maximized.' . . .

But some veterans of Republican White Houses are asking how Obama's promise of a clean break with the past squares with his elevation of so many Washington insiders skilled in partisan warfare.

"'This is more 'Groundhog Day' than a fresh start,' " said Peter Wehner, a former senior adviser to Bush who is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Pardon Watch

Former U.S. pardon attorney Margaret Colgate Love, writing in a Washington Post op-ed, does not weigh in on blanket pardons for members of Bush's own administration. But she argues that Bush shouldn't be so penurious with the traditional kind of pardon.

"A series of final pardons could highlight flaws in the justice system that would be instructive to the next administration," Love writes.

"The Framers considered the pardon power an integral part of our system of checks and balances, not a perk of office. Judicious grants of clemency can signal to Congress where rigid laws should be amended and give policy guidance to executive officials. The president's intervention in a case through his pardon power benefits an individual but also signals how he
wants laws enforced and reassures the public that the legal system is capable of just and moral application."

"It is ironic that a president who has stretched his other constitutional powers to the breaking point has been so reticent and unimaginative in using the one power that is indisputably his alone. A course change would be fitting from someone who has spoken of the power of forgiveness in his own life and of America as 'the land of second chance.' He need not risk reenacting the drama of the final Clinton grants; surely there are many worthy cases in the Justice Department's pardon pipeline."

Another Sporting Event

Bush keeps on finding time in his busy schedule to meet with victorious sporting figures. The Associated Press reports that he "celebrated Monday with American golfers who reclaimed the Ryder Cup for the U.S. . . .

"He told them he avidly followed 'every minute' of their play."

Awarding His Own

Joel Garreau writes in The Washington Post: "Stan Lee, who helped create hundreds of comic book superheroes, including 'Spider-Man,' and Olivia de Havilland, 92, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1939 for her portrayal of Melanie Hamilton in 'Gone With the Wind,' were among the recipients of the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal at the White House yesterday."

And the Associated Press notes there were some surprise winners yesterday as well: "At an East Room ceremony honoring this year's recipients of the National Medals of Arts and National Humanities Medals, Bush added to the list. He announced he was conferring the Presidential Citizens Medal on four people who have served in his administration. . . .

"The recipients of the award -- among the highest honors that can be conferred on a citizen -- were present, but had no idea what was coming. They are Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment of Humanities; Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts; Adair Margo, chairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities; and Bob Martin, former Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Martin's successor, Anne Radice, received the medal, too, but could not attend the ceremony."


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dear Democrats: If You Must Blame, Blame Obama

By Nate Silver
Nov. 19, 2008

I haven't commented extensively on L'Affire Lieberman, in part because I personally feel somewhat agnostic about it and in part because I think the writing has been on the wall for some time that Democrats would decide to keep him in their caucus and let him retain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee.

One thing's for certain, though: when a vote that looked as though it was going to be fairly close originally instead passed the caucus 42-13, something happened to whip that result into shape, and that something was Barack Obama. True the caucus might have voted to retain Lieberman on its own -- or it might not have. But Obama's signal last week to extend Lieberman a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card was the immediate cause of that decision. Conversely, Obama could probably have engineered the opposite result if he'd wanted. (Nor is this to dispute the characterization of the Senate Democrats -- and particularly the Majority Leader -- as being somewhat weak-willed, but the practical implication of that is very different when you have a Democrat rather than a Republican in the White House.)

In our interview with him yesterday, Howard Dean dropped some very strong hints about what Obama is up to. We should expect him to be as methodical and meticulous about spending his political capital as he was about spending his advertising dollars and his ground game resources during the campaign. One can debate whether the Democratic caucus was more likely to achieve certain progressive policy outcomes with or without Lieberman in its ranks, but to Obama's mind, kicking him out would have been a giving both the Washington press corps and the Republicans a sort of shiny red apple, creating a huge distraction and requiring a significant expenditure of political capital.

So how you feel about Lieberman should ultimately hinge on how you feel about Obama, and how you feel about Obama should ultimately hinge on your opinion about whether he is liable to put that political capital to good use. If you believe Dean's implication that Obama is going to use that political capital to pass both significant climate change reform and significant health care reform within the first two years of his presidency, you probably ought to give him the benefit of the doubt. If, on the other hand, you see Obama as someone more concerned with the accumulation of power toward ambiguous, uncertain, or incorrect ends, this is liable to be the first of a long line of displeasing decisions, and you had better get used to pushing back against the White House.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Keith Olbermann Speaks Out On Proposition 8

Keith Olbermann
Nov. 8, 2008


Monday, November 10, 2008

Try These on Your CIA Briefer, Mr. President-Elect

by Ray McGovern
November 8, 2008

After a week lecturing at Kansas State University and in Kansas City, Missouri, and environs, I could not shake the feeling that what Kansas and Missouri need most is the equivalent of Radio Free Europe, which was so effective in spreading truth around inside Eastern Europe during the Cold War. (Truth in advertising: during the late Sixties, I served for two years as substantive liaison officer between the RFE and Washington.)

So I was amused while still in Kansas to get a call from Mike Caddell of "Radio Free Kansas" asking me for an interview. Broadcasting from rural northeastern Kansas, Caddell does his own part in spreading truth around and has garnered quite a respectable audience.

Most of his fellow Kansans are malnourished on the right-wing media gruel that helps re-elect enablers like see-no-evil Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Roberts did President George W. Bush's bidding by hiding the fact that the attack on Iraq was based on "false pretences."

That's the phrase used by current chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) to describe the bogus intelligence used to "justify" the war, when he announced the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Caddell called me on Friday, expressing excitement at the beginning of daily intelligence briefings of President-Elect Barack Obama by the CIA. Aware that I helped prepare the President's Daily Brief for Presidents Nixon and Ford, and that I conducted one-on-one PDB briefings of Reagan's most senior advisers during the latter's administration, Caddell asked me to tape a telephone interview to run on his show this weekend. He suggested that I focus on what I would tell President-Elect Barack Obama if I were Mike Morell, CIA's Director of Intelligence, whom CIA Director Michael Hayden has assigned to brief Obama daily.

What fun, I thought. On more sober reflection, it seemed more useful to prepare questions of the kind President-Elect Obama might wish to ask Morell, since the briefings are supposed to be a two-way street. Obama is no shrinking violet. Just the same, it may be useful to warn him not to succumb to the particular brand of "shock and awe" that can be induced by ostensibly sexy intelligence and color the reactions of briefees-even presidents. I have seen it happen.

The president-elect needs to start asking hard questions. Now.

Here are some he might want to select from for the next briefing:

1-The lead story in Friday's New York Times undercuts the claims of Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili that he was acting in self-defense when he ordered his troops to fire artillery and rockets at the city of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia on the night of August 7-8. The Times' information comes from international monitors of the highly respected Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and, oddly, is much closer to the Russian version of what happened.

Task: A two page memo on who started the fighting and why
Deadline: Nov 12

2-As you are aware, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) produced last November concluded that Iran's work on the nuclear-weapons part of its nuclear development program was suspended in mid-2003. National Intelligence Council director, Thomas Fingar repeated that judgment publicly on Sept. 4, 2008.

I want to know how that squares-or doesn't-with the claim by Norman Podhoretz, just hours after the NIE's key judgments were made public, that Iran is "hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons," and why Podhoretz would go on to charge that the intelligence community was trying to "undermine George W. Bush." I notice, incidentally, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has parroted Podhoretz' "hell-bent" phraseology, and that your boss, Michael Hayden, has also publicly volunteered his "personal opinion" that this is so.

Task: A memo updating the judgments of the Nov. 07 NIE, as necessary
Deadline: Nov. 14

3-My aides have been telling me that, when speaking of the recent decrease in violence in Iraq, I have been mis-overestimating, so to speak, the success of the "surge" while mis-underestimating factors like the sectarian cleansing in Baghdad, the decision to pay Sunnis not to shoot at U.S. forces, and the decision by Muqtada al-Sadr to hold Shia fire pending the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which the Shia see as just a matter of time.

Task: A memo ranking the reasons for the downturn in violence in order of relative importance. It should address all these factors; it should also explain why the U.S. has several thousand more troops in Iraq now than were there before the insertion and subsequent withdrawal of our "surged" troops.
Deadline: Nov. 19

4-Confusion reigns with respect to what is likely to happen when U. S. forces withdraw from Iraq. The notion that administration officials know better what to expect than the Iraqis themselves strains credulity. It has become increasingly clear that the Iraqi government and people believe they can handle whatever comes, once we depart, and that they consider the large U.S. troop presence part of the problem, not the solution. And I remember Generals Abizaid and Casey testifying to Congress in the fall of 2006-just before the president decided to "surge," that an infusion of additional troops would simply postpone the day when Iraqi political leaders would recognize that they have to work things out among themselves.

Task: A memo addressing why the Iraqis are more relaxed about a U.S. troop withdrawal than most U.S. officials and pundits.
Deadline: Nov. 21

5-No outsiders have been able to prevail in Afghanistan. What makes us think the U.S. can change that history?

Task: A formal National Intelligence Estimate on prospects for Afghanistan
Deadline: January 9, 2009

6-Nuclear nonproliferation: The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently proposed a nuclear-free zone as the best way to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. I want to know why this familiar proposal never seems able to get off the ground. What are the obstacles?

Task: A memo addressing this in historical perspective
Deadline: Nov 26

7-Peak Oil: the juncture at which demand keeps growing sharply while supply stagnates/recedes. Some say we are already there. What does the intelligence community think?

Related question: Is it likely that China, India, and other key countries regard the invasion of Iraq as the first resource war of the 21st Century?

Task: A memorandum addressing these questions
Deadline: Dec 1

8-My advisers tell me that senior intelligence officials, including the principal deputy to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, have been briefing the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a creature of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Task: Please ask McConnell to let my staff know what other policy advocacy institutes his subordinates have briefed.
Deadline: Nov. 10

9-Mike, one of my aides has read carefully through the memoir of your former boss, ex-CIA director George Tenet, who speaks very highly of you. The memoir reader got the clear impression you were one of Tenet's protégés; for example, he appointed you personal briefer to President George W. Bush.

The next two questions are for you, Mike:

(1) Tenet told his British counterpart, Sir Richard Dearlove, on July 20, 2002 at CIA Headquarters that the intelligence on Iraq was being "fixed around the policy" of regime change. (I refer, of course, to the so-called "Downing Street Minutes" recording Dearlove's briefing of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002.
I'm told that Blair himself has acknowledged that the minutes are authentic.) Did you know, Mike, that the intelligence was being "fixed?"

(2) Tenet also says in his memoir that you "coordinated the CIA review" of Colin Powell's speech at the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003. Your comment?

Do not take this personally, Mike. But with all due respect, you will be able to understand why I would like to start with a fresh slate. Please inform your management that I would prefer an intelligence briefer untainted by the debacle on Iraq. Add that I am offended that they would send me someone so closely associated with George Tenet, the consummate "fixer," representing the antithesis of the kind of honest intelligence analysis I shall require.

Do not forget to pass along to your successor the requests I have made. Admittedly, some of the tasks carry tight deadlines, but surely your analysts are already at work on these front-burner issues.

Thank you. And best of luck if we do not meet again.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publications arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His career as a CIA analyst spanned seven administrations and included responsibility for chairing NIEs, as well as preparing and presenting the President's Daily Brief. He is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

The original of this article appeared on


Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Republican Rump

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
November 3, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Maybe the polls are wrong, and John McCain is about to pull off the biggest election upset in American history. But right now the Democrats seem poised both to win the White House and to greatly expand their majorities in both houses of Congress.

Most of the post-election discussion will presumably be about what the Democrats should and will do with their mandate. But let me ask a different question that will also be important for the nation’s future: What will defeat do to the Republicans?

You might think, perhaps hope, that Republicans will engage in some soul-searching, that they’ll ask themselves whether and how they lost touch with the national mainstream. But my prediction is that this won’t happen any time soon.

Instead, the Republican rump, the party that’s left after the election, will be the party that attends Sarah Palin’s rallies, where crowds chant “Vote McCain, not Hussein!” It will be the party of Saxby Chambliss, the senator from Georgia, who, observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that “the other folks are voting.” It will be the party that harbors menacing fantasies about Barack Obama’s Marxist — or was that Islamic? — roots.

Why will the G.O.P. become more, not less, extreme?

For one thing, projections suggest that this election will drive many of the remaining Republican moderates out of Congress, while leaving the hard right in place.

For example, Larry Sabato, the election forecaster, predicts that seven Senate seats currently held by Republicans will go Democratic on Tuesday. According to the liberal-conservative rankings of the political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, five of the soon-to-be-gone senators are more moderate than the median Republican senator — so the rump, the G.O.P. caucus that remains, will have shifted further to the right. The same thing seems set to happen in the House.

Also, the Republican base already seems to be gearing up to regard defeat not as a verdict on conservative policies, but as the result of an evil conspiracy.

A recent Democracy Corps poll found that Republicans, by a margin of more than two to one, believe that Mr. McCain is losing “because the mainstream media is biased” rather than “because Americans are tired of George Bush.”

And Mr. McCain has laid the groundwork for feverish claims that the election was stolen, declaring that the community activist group Acorn — which, as points out, has never “been found guilty of, or even charged with” causing fraudulent votes to be cast — “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” Needless to say, the potential voters Acorn tries to register are disproportionately “other folks,” as Mr. Chambliss might put it.

Anyway, the Republican base, egged on by the McCain-Palin campaign, thinks that elections should reflect the views of “real Americans” — and most of the people reading this column probably don’t qualify.

Thus, in the face of polls suggesting that Mr. Obama will win Virginia, a top McCain aide declared that the “real Virginia” — the southern part of the state, excluding the Washington, D.C., suburbs — favors Mr. McCain. A majority of Americans now live in big metropolitan areas, but while visiting a small town in North Carolina, Ms. Palin described it as “what I call the real America,” one of the “pro-America” parts of the nation. The real America, it seems, is small-town, mainly southern and, above all, white.

I’m not saying that the G.O.P. is about to become irrelevant. Republicans will still be in a position to block some Democratic initiatives, especially if the Democrats fail to achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

And that blocking ability will ensure that the G.O.P. continues to receive plenty of corporate dollars: this year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has poured money into the campaigns of Senate Republicans like Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, precisely in the hope of denying Democrats a majority large enough to pass pro-labor legislation.

But the G.O.P.’s long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries, seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat.

This will pose a dilemma for moderate conservatives. Many of them spent the Bush years in denial, closing their eyes to the administration’s dishonesty and contempt for the rule of law.

Some of them have tried to maintain that denial through this year’s election season, even as the McCain-Palin campaign’s tactics have grown ever uglier. But one of these days they’re going to have to realize that the G.O.P. has become the party of intolerance.


Saturday, November 08, 2008


by Jim Hightower
Nov. 6, 2008Posted
Listen to this Commentary

With his usual keen insight, George W recently offered this comment about the Wall Street collapse: “Anyone who makes bad decisions should fail.”

One wonders if he ever looks in the mirror.

His own bad decisions aside, however, he’s now rushing up to Wall Street bankers who made terrible decisions and is stuffing their pockets with billions of our tax dollars to keep them from failing.

Sending an even worse moral message, Bush is attaching no strings to this reward for incompetence and malfeasance.

The bankers do not even have to use the bailout money to increase business and consumer loans that would help our economy.

Instead, generous George lets them apply the windfall as they see fit – they can fatten their own banks’ balance sheets, buy up other banks – or even use it to pay fat dividends to themselves (it's estimated that $250 million from the bailout will go to such executive dividends this year alone).

And these are people who’ve been trying to tag Barack Obama as a socialist!

We’re talking about at least $700 billion here, coming right out of our public treasury. Imagine if that sum was invested for public purposes – what could it achieve?

We could repair all of America’s deteriorating bridges, roads, and levees – projects that would create a million or more good jobs.

We could launch a “Green Deal” to make all of America’s homes and buildings energy efficient – all of FDR’s New Deal public works projects, for example, cost only half as much as Bush’s Wall Street bailout.

We could replace the Hubble telescope, put a new international space station into orbit, and launch a new Apollo-style exploration of our planetary system – all for less than the bailout’s cost.

You might recall that we've always been told that there’s no money to do such big American projects. Really?

Then where did they find that $700 billion they're now handing out to Wall Street?

“Raising the Grades: Small Steps for Big Improvements in America’s Failing Infrastructure,”, 2008.

“No Magic From the GOP,” The Washington Post, October 11, 2008.

“This Bailout Doesn’t Pay Dividends,” The New York Times, October 21, 2008.

Oh, what the government could do with the financial bailout billions,” Associated Press, October 2008.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Drinking the ACORN Kool-Aid

How Cries of Voter Fraud Cover Up GOP Elections Theft

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast
Huffington Post
October 28, 2008

Virtually the entire mainstream electronic media drank ACORN Kool-Aid this month brewed up by the Republican National Committee. Almost no one seriously challenged John McCain's comical assertions that ACORN, a grassroots voter registration group, "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

While the Republicans had the distracted media searching for links between Obama and ACORN, RNC operatives were busily completing one of the most massive voter suppression and purging efforts in American history, stealing hundreds of thousands of Democratic votes across the embattled swing states and striving to arrange chaos and endless lines at the voting booths next week.

First the facts about ACORN.

Months ago, we obtained, as part of our investigation for Rolling Stone magazine, the Republican's list the GOP alleged were the very worst cases of vote and registration fraud by ACORN and similar groups. We went through the names the GOP asserted were "obviously, undeniably and clearly fraudulent" voter registrations.

First, there was Melissa Tais, a dubious ACORN registrant. Her two voter registration forms show, admittedly, suspiciously different signatures. Republicans suggested Melissa was part of a massive fraud to allow Democrats to vote twice.

They were wrong. Ms. Tais, a Cerrillos, New Mexico, waitress, told us she had signed one form on a table and one form holding the paper in her hand. Hence, a second, wobbly signature.

Then there was Patricia White, who Republicans claimed was a fictitious voter. When we filmed her at home in Albuquerque, she seemed real enough.

And so on, through the entire GOP list -- not one fraud.

And these were their best cases out of the five million "illegal voters" who Republican leaders claim have infiltrated America's voting rolls.

The overblown histrionics about ACORN do not surprise those of us who have been watching the RNC's election manipulation antics. For eight years White House operatives have been trying to gin up press stories about voter fraud.

David Iglesias of New Mexico was one of seven U.S. Attorneys fired by the White House for their refusal to bring voter fraud prosecutions. "We took over 100 complaints," from the GOP, he told us, "We investigated for almost 2 years, I didn't find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico."

Iglesias, a McCain supporter, has, for the first time, leveled a new and serious charge: Despite finding none of the 200 voters guilty, he says the White House nevertheless ordered him to illegally prosecute baseless cases against innocent citizens, just to gin up voter fraud publicity.

His refusal, he says, cost him his job. "They were looking for politicized -- for improperly politicized US attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases."

Certainly ACORN collected some bad signatures.

But despite McCain's claims, now morphed into media theology, none of ACORN's actions will have any impact on any election. ACORN hired 13,000 canvassers to register new voters. A small number of these workers defrauded ACORN by handing in phony registration forms using names they had invented (e.g. Mickey Mouse), or copied from phone books. In one case ACORN canvassers used cigarettes to bribe a homeless man, now a Fox News regular, to register 17 times.

None of these activities constituted voter fraud.

It is no crime to register 17 times; only the final registration counts. His multiple registrations would not allow the tobacco lover to vote 17 times. Nor is there any evidence the phone book registrants will cast multiple ballots.

Finally, the removal by GOP officials of hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters from voting rolls over the past year provides ACORN with a sound rationale for obtaining new registrations, even from voters who believe they are already registered.

ACORN took pains to screen its registrations and cull out those it considered dubious. However, federal laws make it a felony for voter registration groups like ACORN to discard registrations even when it believes them fraudulent. So ACORN flagged the forms it considered doubtful and handed them in to the registry. Ironically, it was those flagged forms -- the fruits of ACORN's diligence -- that have been flogged by Republicans as their best evidence of widespread election fraud.

Voter fraud is a phantom according to Lorraine Minnite, an expert on voting crime at Columbia University. Only 24 cases of federal voter fraud have been uncovered between 2002 and 2005 despite massive government efforts devoted to uncovering evidence of a voter fraud crime wave.

The GOP is ginning up hysteria about non-existent vote fraud by Democrats in order to distract the press from its own campaign to disenfranchise millions of American voters.

The Republicans have created an obstacle course of barriers designed to suppress the vote, purge tens of thousands of Democratic voters from voting rolls, create mayhem and delay at voting venues on Election Day, and stop millions of votes from being counted this election cycle.

Jailed GOP activist Jack Abramoff and his fellow convict, Congressman Bob Ney, wrote the most sinister provisions of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which Congress passed in 2002 creating a series of diabolically cunning new voting impediments.

HAVA, for example, allows state voting officials to purge tens of thousands of voters from the polls using algorithms and voter ID requirements that disproportionately disenfranchise black, Hispanic and minority voters, and other Democratic demographics including senior citizens and young people.

In 2004, highly organized GOP tacticians helped disenfranchise no less than 2.7 million American voters. Almost a million of them were African Americans. The Federal Elections Commission has found black voters were nine times more likely to have their votes discarded than white voters and that over one-third of the million provisional ballots cast in 2004 -- ballots handed disproportionately to African Americans -- were never counted but simply thrown into dumpsters.

In a technique known as "caging" RNC operatives send millions of first class letters to black voters across the country marked 'do not forward.' Republican operatives armed with lists then invade black precincts on Election Day to challenge those voters whose letters were returned to the RNC because the voter was not home when the mail arrived. That tactic deliberately targeted black students on vacation in August, homeless men and soldiers posted overseas.

"Caging" is resurrecting Old Dixie's Jim Crow procedures designed to rid the lists of black voters and create long lines in black precincts.

In this election, new HAVA mandates permit voting officials to precisely match registration form information with the voter's driver's license and other government records. While it may sound reasonable, in practice, any change, even a dropped hyphen, is cause for eliminating the voter from the rolls.

Since 2004, Colorado's Republican Secretaries of State have purged one out of every five voters from the rolls. The current Secretary of State, Mike Coffman, a Republican also running for office, recently purged an additional 37,000 voters and discarded 6,400 new voter registrations -- overwhelmingly Democratic -- based upon an obscure technical mistake that Coffman's office encouraged voters to make in the first place.

The GOP "anti-fraud" campaign resulted in one in nine New Mexico Democratic voters finding their names had disappeared from voter roles during this year's caucus.

Despite a recent Supreme Court decision upholding Ohio's refusal to disenfranchise 200,000 legitimate voters based on this absurd demand to "match" voter names to databases, White House operatives are still fighting to purge these names from the rolls. President George Bush last week personally asked his Attorney General Mike Mukasey to renew Republican efforts to disenfranchise these voters.

Contrary to Mr. McCain's assertions, the real threat to democracy is from the GOP itself.

ACORN has served as a good distraction from Republican efforts to steal the vote from hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters, a genuine threat that has received almost no media attention.

They're stealing your vote, but you can steal it back.

Here are some steps you should take to protect your vote. First, avoid the November 4th minefield. Voters, wherever possible, should vote early and in person. Where feasible, avoid mailing in your ballot, many are rejected for flimsy reasons, and first time voters in many states must include a photocopy of ID. However, if you have a mail-in ballot, don't throw it away. .

Follow directions, use the correct postage (that's an error that cost a hundred thousand votes last time) and, if possible, walk it in to your elections office.

At the polling station, should you find yourself one of the 2.7 million purged, or your ID rejected, then do your best to resist a "provisional" ballot--one third of which are not counted. Return with proper ID, or call 1-866-OUR VOTE for legal assistance. And never just walk away discouraged. That's just what they want you to do.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast are authors of an investigation of vote suppression in the current Rolling Stone, and a comic book voter guide, "Steal Back Your Vote," both available for download at


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Won, Greenspan Shrugged, but Capitalists Tool On

by Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t
Nov. 6, 2008

Poor John Galt. Only last year, The New York Times referred to Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" as "one of the most influential business books ever written," and portrayed Galt, the novel's iconic hero, as a role model for corporate CEOs in their dogged pursuit of self-interest. No wonder, then, the gnashing of teeth in executive suites when Ayn Rand's most famous devotee, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, admitted that enlightened greed had failed.

"I made a mistake," he told the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, "in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."

For Congressional Democrats, Greenspan's mea culpa pointed the way toward greatly strengthened regulation of our financial markets, which the Fed chair had long opposed.

President-elect Barack Obama similarly seems intent on imposing a new regulatory framework, along with higher tax rates on income and capital gains for families making over $250,000.

But please don't gloat yet, as some progressive pundits have done. Most of those at the top of America's corporate tree do not want to be regulated more tightly or taxed at a higher rate, and they are not about to wave the white flag of surrender. For them, the battle is just heating up.

Forbes magazine, which delights in calling itself "The Capitalist Tool," led the counterattack with a cover photo of editor-in-chief Steve Forbes and his call to arms, "How Capitalism Will Save Us." Twice a Republican presidential hopeful and now an economic adviser to John McCain, Forbes had made his millions the old-fashioned way, inheriting his father and grandfather's publishing empire. And, to borrow from the late Ann Richards, he raised his battle flag with the utter certainty of one born with a silver foot in his mouth.

The current crisis, Forbes declared, "was not the failure of free markets but the outcome of bad government actions."

Among his long list of regulatory and monetary errors, Forbes specifically damned the Fed for creating excessive liquidity, keeping interest rates artificially low, and allowing the value of the dollar to fall in line with the Bush administration's desire to promote American exports.

He also faulted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for promoting affordable housing in ways we now call "predatory lending," federal prosecutors for too aggressively pursuing fraud investigations of failed corporate risk-takers, and an arcane accounting regulation that requires financial institutions to write down the value of holdings to reflect falling market prices.

I would love to discuss at length each of these and their relevance, but his argument is mostly sleight of hand. The brunt of his message is what he glossed over and left out. In his zeal to absolve the free market of any fault, he completely dismissed the responsibility of individuals and institutions in the housing and financial industries. Their "greed and recklessness," he said, were nothing more than a response to government actions.

Even more stunning, Forbes simply ignored what most observers see as the prime cause of the mess we're in, and that is the massive deregulation of our financial institutions. Forbes was - and is - a leading champion of deregulation, and given what followed his success in selling it, who can blame him for wanting to talk about almost anything else?

In fact, his silence on the subject has nothing to do with shame. Like the Bourbon kings who learned nothing and forgot nothing, Forbes continues to fight against reasonable regulation of his mythic free markets, placing his faith in some invisible self-regulating mechanism that seems to have gone AWOL.

He also continues to take it on faith that lowering tax rates on capital gains will increase investment and create more jobs, even though historical studies suggest that the tax rates do not significantly deter or encourage investment. And, of course, he continues to champion his proposal for a highly regressive flat tax, which would redistribute the tax burden even more onto those who can least afford it.

Nor does Forbes stand alone in his defense of unregulated markets and lower taxes on the wealthy. These remain the religious dogma of trickle-down economics, from John McCain to the US Chamber of Commerce and diehards on Wall Street. True believers, they will continue to push their economic faith no matter who becomes president. If Obama's victory means anything, fewer of us will be fooled this time around.