The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, April 29, 2005

Think Progress » Bush Redefines “Better Off”

From Think Progress:

Bush Redefines “Better Off”

Last night, President Bush talked about cutting Social Security benefits for “people who are better off.” Who are these people? Bush adopted a proposal created by a guy named Richard Posen called “progressive price indexing.” That proposal would cut benefits for everyone except “the bottom 30 percent of earners, or those who make less than about $20,000 currently.”

So now people who “are better off” are defined as anyone earning over $20,000 a year. This is a dramatic change from the rhetoric Bush used to promote his tax cuts. A 3/8/01 White House fact sheet entitled “President’s Tax Relief Plan Gives Greatest Relief to Lowest Income Taxpayers,” touts that the “share of income taxes paid is reduced for all income groups below $100,000 in income.”

So to sell his tax cuts, Bush implied that anything under $100,000 was “low income.” Now, to sell his Social Security package, anything over $20,000 is “better off.”

http://thinkprogress.org/index.php?p=771

Brad DeLong - It's the Circular Firing Squad of Flying Attack Monkeys!

It's the Circular Firing Squad of Flying Attack Monkeys!

Once again, that is the *only* way to describe the Bush administration's policy development process.

I read Bush's opening statement at his press conference last night:

Text of Bush's Press Conference-Part I: The money from a voluntary personal retirement account would supplement the check one receives from Social Security.

"In a reformed Social System, voluntary personal retirement accounts would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Options like this will make voluntary personal retirement accounts a safer investment that will allow an American to build a nest egg that he or she can pass on to whomever he or she chooses."

The "build a nest egg" part... The "invest in Treasury bonds" part... Let's mosey on over to the Federal Reserve and look at the safest long-term investment the U.S. Treasury offers: the twenty-year inflation-protected TIP:

FRB: H.15--Selected Interest Rates, Web-Only Daily Update--April 28, 2005: Inflation-indexed: 20-year 1.83 1.86 1.87.

What the Federal Reserve is telling us is that the 20-year TIP is currently providing a real yield of 1.87% per year. What Bush is not telling you is that, under the Bush plan, if you divert $1000 from your Social Security to private accounts, that amount is clawed back--charged to an account associated with your normal Social Security benefit, that amount is then compounded at 3% per year plus the rate of inflation, and then after you retired deducted over time from your normal Social Security benefit.

If you are 45 and if Bush's plan were available today...

Follow George W. Bush's advice, divert $1,000 into your private account, invest it in TIPS, and at the 1.85% per year interest rate you will indeed by able to collect an extra amount worth $10.11 a month in today's dollars when you retire at 65...

But the clawback would reduce your normal Social Security benefit by $14.16 a month. You're $4.05 a month behind.

"Building a nest egg." Feh!

Did nobody inside the White House bother to run the numbers? Did nobody care?

And now I am told that the White House is wheeling out, to explain the details of his plan... Cathie Martin, Deputy Assistant to the President for Communications, will answer your questions about Strengthening Social Security and Future Generations. Are all the substance people in the White House fleeing from this? Where are they?

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/04/its_the_circula.html

9-11 Widow's Eloquent Statement

The second-annual Ron Ridenhour Awards--sponsored by the Fertel Foundation and The Nation Institute and named after the whistle-blower who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam--honored New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, author Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and housewife-turned-activist Kristin Breitweiser for their achievements in "truth-telling." Here is the transcript of her speech:


"I am honored to accept the Ridenhour Truth Award and I accept it on behalf of all men, women and children who have sought Truth in their lives, including the four women---Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken, Patty Casazza, and Monica Gabrielle--who fought along with me to seek the truth about 9/11. I am humbled by the ceremony of this award, and I accept it also in honor of my late husband, Ron Breitweiser.

In the past three years I have spent a lot of time talking about being a 9/11 widow and a victim's advocate for intelligence community reforms. I appeared frequently in the print and televised media discussing my transformation from a stay-at-home mom whose specialty it was to design children's gardens to a victim's rights advocate whose specialty has become national security. My transformation was urgent, drastic and not chosen by me. But, I no longer want to talk about my transformation. Instead, I want to talk about my country's post-9/11 transformation. A transformation unlike mine in that it was systematically and deliberately chosen.

Where are we today? Are the democratic principles that Osama Bin Laden tried to destroy on 9/11 still safely intact? Do nations around the world still respect and admire Americans? Are we still 'all Americans' like we were in the immediate wake of September 11th when almost every country in the world declared their solidarity with us? Or have we squandered that worldwide good will, faith and common purpose to fight terrorism? Have we learned any lessons since 9/11? And, most importantly, have our country's choices made us any safer than we were pre-9/11?

Isn't it true that instead of fixing airline security, port security, mass transportation, local response, and securing loose nukes and biological components, we spent billions on starting a war with Iraq---a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11? And, instead of capturing Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, we captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq with no weapons of mass destruction? Isn't it true that because of our invasion of Iraq terrorist recruitment for Al Qaeda has soared, making us even less safe than we were before the Iraq war? Remember that we were supposed to go to war in Iraq to eliminate a real threat. Isn't it true that now because of our foreign policy in Iraq, we have only created a real threat to the world's security and ours? Isn't it true that instead of successfully prosecuting Al Qaeda terrorists and bringing them to justice, all we hear about is torturing 'enemy combatants' and detaining them indefinitely--a concept far removed from the American ideal of justice? Isn't it true that instead of opening up government to restore trust and faith, we created the Patriot Act? And, isn't it true that instead of pursuing alternative energy resources to decrease our dependency on foreign oil, we invaded oil-rich countries and passed no alternative energy legislation in the meantime?

Why do we accept these choices? Why do we condone a government that uses over-classification to obfuscate such choices? We ask questions, and they give us answers and explanations that are just stylized sound bites and catch phrases (taking the fight to the enemy; tracking every terrorist down and bringing them to justice; being with us or against us)? How do such over-simplified answers adequately explain our very complex reality? None of these phrases are ever defined. We just repeat these mantras over and over again, not knowing what they really mean---not realizing that they fail to answer or justify any of our nation's drastic actions and decisions since 9/11--chosen actions and decisions that have actually made us less safe from terrorists.

We--the American public--find ourselves adrift and overwhelmed. Pre-occupied with fear, we fail to unearth the truth or understand what choices we should or can make to effectively make our world safer. We are simply told that this is our 'new norm.' Our government parodies our search for truth by churning out report upon report and conclusion after conclusion---none of which ever gets acted upon.

Alarmingly, we accept all of this in the name of our 'ongoing fight against the enemy.' But, with a timeless, faceless, nameless and stateless enemy, when will our 'fight' ever end so we can return to our sensibilities and the truth? How can we ever define what success or victory might ever mean? Don't we need the trust and cooperation of the world to effectively contain terrorism? How are we to really know if our government's choices taken since 9/11--in the name of 'national security'-- are truly worth it and, in fact, making us any safer? Simply because our government tells us to trust them?

How can we trust a Congress that holds hearings on steroids in baseball and yet does not want to find out why our FAA received 52 warnings about hijackings in the summer of 2001? How do we trust a Congress that is so reluctant to address immigration issues that we have exasperated vigilantes on the southern border taking matters into their own hands--too frustrated to wait for Congress to do its job? How do we trust a Congress willing to work through a Sunday night on the Shiavo debate yet unwilling to hold public hearings on the 'dead wrong' intelligence that brought us to war in Iraq?

If we can be on a red alert for a dirty-bomb, why can't we choose to be on a red-alert for our dire need to invest in alternative energy resources so as to become less dependent on foreign oil? Realistically, our dependence on foreign oil makes us less safe than any dirty bomb ever will.

Or why can't we choose to be on an orange alert about the serious human rights abuses that are being carried out by our military and intelligence officials against 'would be' terrorists? How is it possible that in our post-9/11 world, the average American citizen thinks that it is ok to torture 'enemy combatants' while throwing any modicum of our rule of law out the window? How is it feasible to 'track every terrorist down and bring them to justice' when we have yet to define who qualifies as a terrorist or what the definition of justice really is?

How did I get here today? I got here by asking questions. I got here by being an American citizen. Not by choice, widowed at 30 and finding myself frightened and with no faith in my government, I decided to seek the truth as to why my husband died. I wanted to know that my daughter and I were safe living in this country. Along with four other widows, I played a role in our democratic process by simply asking who, what, where, how, and most importantly, why 9/11 happened.

Recently, many people are wondering what the widows will be doing next. It is simple. We will continue to do what we do best. We will continue to ask questions and demand answers about our government's choices in the name of 'national security.' We will continue to work on issues that mean something to our children and to us. Issues that will make our future safer from terrorism like alternative energy resources, human rights abuses, congressional oversight and intelligence community reforms. We will continue to fight for the truth.

And, respectfully, our hope is that in future years this award might be rendered obsolete. Simply because there will be no need to bestow an award or any special status onto a truth-seeker because truth-seekers will have become our new norm."

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/4/29/133637/863

While No One Was Looking...

While No One Was Looking...
by advisorjim (www.dailykos.com)

Fri Apr 29th, 2005 at 09:03:18 PDT

Do you ever find yourself wondering what's really going on while the Administration is putting on a dog and pony show? I'm pretty sure this whole Social Security `Bamboozlepalooza' tour was about distracting us from the absurd budget that the Senate narrowly passed yesterday.


One of the comedy highlights of the past 12 months was Bush's 10-year plan to halve the budget deficit. Now, remember, he created this budget deficit all by himself in 2 years. He's admitting that he's done so much damage that it'll take a decade to fix it.

That's not even the funny part. The funny part is his plan to cut the deficit in half involved not having his tax cuts made permanent, and it involved NOT privatizing social security. So as long as we band together and put a stop to Bush's fiscal irresponsibility...then Bush gets what he wants!? That doesn't feel very satisfying.

The comedy reached new heights yesterday when the Senate narrowly approved a $2.6 trillion budget for FY 2005. Just to put this in perspective, Bill Clinton's final budget $1.789 trillion, so under the "fiscal conservatism" of Bush government spending has grown by 45%. To put it another way, in terms of absolute dollars it took Clinton 8 years to increase spending as much as Bush has increased it in one year.

Last year's budget was a paltry $2.3 trillion. How did we pay for it? Well, times have been tough under Bush. For the first time in U.S. history (at least since 1900) federal revenues had declined for three straight years. That's funny! I thought tax cuts were supposed to magically increase federal revenue. There's another great theory shot to hell in the crucible of reality.

So after passing around the collection plate in `ought-four' we only had $1.880 trillion. No biggie. We just need to borrow some. We started by borrowing from old people (the $151.1 billion Social Security surplus for the year), and then we borrowed the rest from our rich Chinese uncle.

What's that you say? Reagan proved deficits don't matter? Well, no and no. Reagan proved you can borrow money and it won't kill you, but Reagan didn't sell the country to just anybody. In his last year in office total Federal Debt was $2.6 trillion, and all but $500 billion of it was publicly held. Last year total Federal Debt was $7.4 trillion with only $4.2 trillion of it publicly held. To summarize: Foreign ownership of U.S. debt under Reagan-19%. Foreign ownership of U.S. debt under Bush: 44% and rising. It is likely that by the time Bush leaves office a majority of our debt will be held by foreign governments. Call me crazy, but I've always kind of wanted to own my own country. I guess that's more of a `Blue State' value.

Here's what we're looking at for 2005. We've got a $2.6 trillion budget. Last year we collected $1.880 trillion in revenue, and economically this year looks like it's going to be about as crappy as last year. So we can expect about the same level of revenue, right? Well...we WOULD have...but somehow congress saw fit to include another $100 billion in tax cuts to this budget bill. That makes sense. If you can't afford to pay your mortgage, one of the first things you want to do is march into your boss's office and demand a pay cut, right?

Nixon's treasury secretary, William Simon, best summarizes my thoughts on the subject. Admittedly Mr. Simon was talking about the labyrinthine tax code of the 1970s, but I think it applies equally well to this year's budget. "It should look like someone designed it on purpose."

Indeed.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/4/29/12318/6117

Al Gore - "An American heresy"

"An American heresy"
Former Vice President Al Gore says the GOP push to dismantle the filibuster is part of a larger movement to undermine the founding principles of the United States.

Editor's note: Following is a speech delivered by Al Gore at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.


April 27, 2005 | Four years and four months ago, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a bitterly divided 5 to 4 decision, issued an unsigned opinion that the majority cautioned should never be used as a precedent for any subsequent case anywhere in the federal court system.

Their ruling conferred the presidency on a candidate who had lost the popular vote, and it inflamed partisan passions that had already been aroused by the long and hard-fought election campaign. I couldn't have possibly disagreed more strongly with the opinion that I read shortly before midnight that evening, December 12, 2000. But I knew what course of action best served our republic.

Even though many of my supporters said they were unwilling to accept a ruling which they suspected was brazenly partisan in its motivation and simply not entitled to their respect, less than 24 hours later, I went before the American people to reaffirm the bedrock principle that we are a nation of laws, not men. "There is a higher duty than the one we owe to a political party," I said. "This is America and we put country before party." The demonstrators and counter-demonstrators left the streets and the nation moved on -- as it should have -- to accept the inauguration of George W. Bush as our 43rd president.

Having gone through that experience, I can tell you -- without any doubt whatsoever -- that if the justices who formed the majority in Bush v. Gore had not only all been nominated to the Court by a Republican president, but had also been confirmed by only Republican Senators in party-line votes, America would not have accepted that court's decision.

Moreover, if the confirmation of those justices in the majority had been forced through by running roughshod over 200 years of Senate precedents and engineered by a crass partisan decision on a narrow party line vote to break the Senate's rules of procedure then no speech imaginable could have calmed the passions aroused in our country.

As Aristotle once said of virtue, respect for the rule of law is "one thing."

It is indivisible.

And so long as it remains indivisible, so will our country.

But if either major political party is ever so beguiled by a lust for power that it abandons this unifying principle, then the fabric of our democracy will be torn.

The survival of freedom depends upon the rule of law.

The rule of law depends, in turn, upon the respect each generation of Americans has for the integrity with which our laws are written, interpreted and enforced.

That necessary respect depends not only on the representative nature of our legislative branch, but also on the deliberative character of its proceedings. As James Madison envisioned, ours is a "deliberative democracy." Indeed, its deliberative nature is fundamental to the integrity of our social compact. Because the essential alchemy of democracy -- whereby just power is derived from the consent of the governed -- can only occur in a process that is genuinely deliberative.

Moreover, it is the unique role of the Senate, much more than the House, to provide a forum for deliberation, to give adequate and full consideration to the strongly held views of a minority. In this case, the minority is made up of 44 Democratic Senators and 1 Independent.

And it is no accident that our founders gave the Senate the power to pass judgment on the fitness of nominees to the Judicial branch. Because they knew that respect for the law also depends upon the perceived independence and integrity of our judges. And they wanted those qualities to be reviewed by the more reflective body of Congress.

Our founders gave no role to the House of Representatives in confirming federal judges. If they had believed that a simple majority was all that was needed to safeguard the nation against unwise choices by a partisan president, they might well have given the House as well as the Senate the power to vote on judges.

But they gave the power instead to the Senate, a body of equals, each of whom was given a term of office -- 3 times longer than that of a representative -- in order to encourage a reflective frame of mind, a distance from the passions of the voters and a capacity for deliberation. They knew that the judges would serve for life and that, therefore, their confirmation should follow a period of advice and consent in which the Senate was an equal partner with the executive.

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist # 78, wrote that the "independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of those ill-humors which the arts of designing men... have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community."

When James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights, he explained that "independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves... the guardians of [these] rights, ... an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislature or executive."

So, it is not as a Democrat but as an American, that I appeal today to the leadership of the majority in the Senate to halt their efforts to break the Senate's rules and instead protect a meaningful role in the confirmation of judges and justices for Senators of both parties. Remember that you will not always be in the majority, but much more importantly, remember what is best for our country regardless of which party is temporarily in power. Many of us know what it feels like to be disappointed with decisions made by the courts. But instead of attacking the judges with whose opinions we disagree, we live by the rule of law and maintain respect for the courts.

I am genuinely dismayed and deeply concerned by the recent actions of some Republican leaders to undermine the rule of law by demanding the Senate be stripped of its right to unlimited debate where the confirmation of judges is concerned, and even to engage in outright threats and intimidation against federal judges with whom they philosophically disagree.

Even after a judge was murdered in Atlanta while presiding in his courtroom, even after the husband and mother of a federal judge were murdered in Chicago in retaliation by a disgruntled party to a failed lawsuit -- even then -- the Republican leader of the House of Representatives responded to rulings in the Terri Schiavo case, by saying ominously: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to pay for their behavior."

When the outrage following this comment worsened Rep. DeLay's problems during the House Ethics scandal, he claimed that his words had been chosen badly, but in the next breath, he issued new threats against the same courts: "We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse."

In previous remarks on the subject, DeLay has said, "Judges need to be intimidated," adding that if they don't behave, "we're going to go after them in a big way."

Moreover, a whole host of prominent Republicans have been making similar threats on a regular basis.

A Republican Congressman from Iowa added: "When their budget starts to dry up, we'll get their attention. If we're going to preserve the Constitution, we must get them in line."

A Republican Senator from Texas directly connected the "spate of courthouse violence lately" to his view that unpopular decisions might be the explanation. "I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions, yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds and builds to the point where some people engage in violence."

One of the best-known conservative political commentators has openly recommended that "liberals should be physically intimidated."

The spokesman for the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said: "There does seem to be this misunderstanding out there that our system was created with a completely independent judiciary." Misunderstanding?

The Chief of Staff for another Republican senator called for "mass impeachment" by using the bizarre right-wing theory that the president can declare that any judge is no longer exhibiting "good behavior," adding that, "then the judge's term has simply come to an end. The President gives them a call and says: 'Clean out your desk. The Capitol police will be in to help you find your way home.'"

The elected and appointed Republican officials who made these dangerous statements are reflecting an even more broadly-held belief system of grassroots extremist organizations that have made the destruction of judicial independence the centerpiece of their political agenda.

Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council, who hosted a speech by the Senate Majority Leader last Sunday, has said, "There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench." Explaining that during his meeting with Republican leaders, the leaders discussed stripping funding from certain courts, Perkins said, "What they're thinking of is not only the fact of just making these courts go away and recreating them the next day, but also de-funding them." Congress could use its appropriations authority to just "take away the bench, all of its staff, and he's just sitting out there with nothing to do."

Another influential leader of one of these groups, James Dobson, who heads Focus on the Family, focused his anger on the 9th circuit court of appeals: "Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court. They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."

Edwin Vieira (at the "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith" conference) said his "bottom line" for dealing with the Supreme Court comes from Stalin: "He had a slogan, and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty: 'no man, no problem.'"

Through their words and threats, these Republicans are creating an atmosphere in which judges may well hesitate to exercise their independence for fear of Congressional retribution, or worse.

It is no accident that this assault on the integrity of our constitutional design has been fueled by a small group claiming special knowledge of God's will in American politics. They even claim that those of us who disagree with their point of view are waging war against "people of faith." How dare they?

Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forebears first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the old world who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls.

This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.

James Madison warned us in Federalist #10 that sometimes, "A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction."

Unfortunately the virulent faction now committed to changing the basic nature of democracy now wields enough political power within the Republican party to have a major influence over who secures the Republican nomination for president in the 2008 election. It appears painfully obvious that some of those who have their eyes on that nomination are falling all over themselves to curry favor with this faction.

They are the ones demanding the destructive constitutional confrontation now pending in the Senate. They are the ones willfully forcing the Senate leadership to drive democracy to the precipice that now lies before us.

I remember a time not too long ago when Senate leaders in both parties saw it as part of their responsibility to protect the Senate against the destructive designs of demagogues who would subordinate the workings of our democracy to their narrow factional agendas.

Our founders understood that the way you protect and defend people of faith is by preventing any one sect from dominating. Most people of faith I know in both parties have been getting a belly-full of this extremist push to cloak their political agenda in religiosity and mix up their version of religion with their version of right-wing politics and force it on everyone else.

They should learn that religious faith is a precious freedom and not a tool to divide and conquer.

I think it is truly important to expose the fundamental flaw in the arguments of these zealots. The unifying theme now being pushed by this coalition is actually an American heresy -- a highly developed political philosophy that is fundamentally at odds with the founding principles of the United States of America.

We began as a nation with a clear formulation of the basic relationship between God, our rights as individuals, the government we created to secure those rights, and the prerequisites for any power exercised by our government.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," our founders declared. "That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights..."

But while our rights come from God, as our founders added, "governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed."

So, unlike our inalienable rights, our laws are human creations that derive their moral authority from our consent to their enactment-informed consent given freely within our deliberative processes of self-government.

Any who seek to wield the powers of government without the consent of the people, act unjustly.

Over sixty years ago, in the middle of the Second World War, Justice Jackson wrote: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

His words are no less true today.

The historic vulnerability of religious zealots to subordinate the importance of the rule of law to their ideological fervor was captured best in words given by the author of "A Man for All Seasons" to Sir Thomas More.

When More's zealous son-in-law proposed that he would cut down any law in England that served as an obstacle to his hot pursuit of the devil, More replied: "And when the last law was cut down and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's -- and if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

The Senate leaders remind me of More's son-in-law. They are now proposing to cut down a rule that has stood for more than two centuries as a protection for unlimited debate. It has been used for devilish purposes on occasion in American history, but far more frequently, it has been used to protect the right of a minority to make its case.

Indeed it has often been cited as a model for other nations struggling to reconcile the majoritarian features of democracy with a respectful constitutional role for minority rights. Ironically, a Republican freshman Senator who supports the party-line opposition to the filibuster here at home, recently returned from Iraq with an inspiring story about the formation of multi-ethnic democracy there. Reporting that he asked a Kurdish leader there if he worried that the majority Shiites would "overrun" the minority Kurds, this Senator said the Kurdish leader responded "oh no, we have a secret weapon.... [the] filibuster."

The Senate's tradition of unlimited debate has been a secret weapon in our nation's arsenal of democracy as well. It has frequently serves to push the Senate-and the nation as a whole-toward a compromise between conflicting points of view, to breathe life into the ancient advice of the prophet Isaiah: "Come let us reason together"; to illuminate arguments for which the crowded, busy House of Representatives has no time or patience, to afford any Senator an opportunity to stand in the finest American tradition in support of a principle that he or she believes to be important enough to bring to the attention of the nation.

In order to cut down this occasional refuge of a scoundrel, the leadership would cut down the dignity of the Senate itself, diminish the independence of the legislative branch, reduce its power, and accelerate the decline in its stature that is already far advanced.

Two-thirds of the American people reject their argument. The nation is overwhelmingly opposed to this dangerous breaking of the Senate's rules. And, so the leadership and the White House have decided to call it a crisis.

In the last few years, the American people have been told on several occasions that we were facing a dire crisis that required the immediate adoption of an unusual and controversial policy.

In each case, the remedy for the alleged crisis was an initiative that would have been politically implausible at best -- except for the crisis that required the unnatural act they urged upon us.

First, we were told that the nation of Iraq, armed to the teeth as it was said to be with weapons of mass destruction, represented a grave crisis that necessitated a unilateral invasion.

Then, we were told that Social Security was facing an imminent crisis that required its immediate privatization.

Now we are told that the federal judiciary is facing a dire crisis that requires us to break the rules of the Senate and discard the most important guarantee of the deliberative nature of Senate proceedings.

As with the previous "crises" that turned out to be falsely described, this one too cannot survive scrutiny. The truth is that the Senate has confirmed 205 or over 95% of President Bush's nominees. Democrats have held up only ten nominees, less than 5 percent. Compare that with the 60 Clinton nominees who were blocked by Republican obstruction between 1995 and 2000. In fact, under the procedures used by Republicans during the Clinton/ Gore Administration, far fewer than the 41 Senators necessary to sustain a filibuster were able to routinely block the Senate from voting on judges nominated by the president. They allowed Republican Senators to wage shadow filibusters to prevent some nominees from even getting a hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Other nominees were victims of shadow filibusters after receiving a hearing and were not allowed a committee vote. Still others were reported out of committee, and not allowed a vote on the Senate floor.

To put the matter in perspective, when President Clinton left office, there were more than 100 vacant judgeships largely due to Republican obstructionist tactics. Ironically, near the end of the Clinton-Gore administration, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said: "There is no vacancy crisis and a little perspective clearly belies the assertion that 103 vacancies represent a systematic crisis."

Comically, soon after President Bush took office, when the number of vacancies had already been reduced, the same Republican committee chairman sounded a shrill alarm. Because of the outstanding vacancies, he said, "We're reaching a crisis in our federal courts."

Now, the number of vacancies is lower than it has been in many years: 47 vacancies out of 877 judgeships -- and for the majority of those vacancies, the President has not even sent a nominee to the Senate. Yet still, the Republican drive for one-party control leads them to cry over and over again: "Crisis! Crisis in the courts!" It is hypocritical, and it is simply false.

Republicans have also claimed quite disingenuously that the filibustering of judicial nominees is unprecedented. History, however, belies their claim. I served in the Senate for eight of my 16 years in Congress -- and then another 8 years as President of the Senate in my capacity as Vice President. Moreover, my impressions of the Senate date back to earlier decades -- because my father was a Senator when I was growing up.

From that perspective, I have listened with curiosity to some of the statements made during the current debate. For example, I have heard the Senate Majority Leader, who is from my home state and should know better, say that no Court nominee has ever been filibustered before the current president's term. But I vividly remember not only the dozens of nominees sent to the Senate by President Clinton who were denied a vote and filibustered by various means, I also remember in 1968 when my father was the principal sponsor of another Tennessean -- Abe Fortas -- who was nominated to be Chief Justice by President Lyndon Johnson. Fortas was filibustered and denied an up or down vote. The cloture vote was taken on October 1, 1968. When it failed by a vote of 45-43, President Johnson was forced by the filibuster to withdraw the nomination.

My father's Senate colleague and friend from Tennessee, Howard Baker, said during that filibuster, "On any issue, the majority at any given moment is not always right." And no Democrat would take issue with that statement, then or now. It is part of the essence of the U.S. Senate.

This fight is not about responding to a crisis. It is about the desire of the administration and the Senate leadership to stifle debate in order to get what they want when they want it. What is involved here is a power grab -- pure and simple.

And what makes it so dangerous for our country is their willingness to do serious damage to our American democracy in order to satisfy their lust for total one-party domination of all three branches of government. They seek nothing less than absolute power. Their grand design is an all-powerful executive using a weakened legislature to fashion a compliant judiciary in its own image. They envision a total breakdown of the separation of powers. And in its place they want to establish a system in which power is unified in the service of a narrow ideology serving a narrow set of interests.

Their coalition of supporters includes both right-wing religious extremists and exceptionally greedy economic special interests. Both groups are seeking more and more power for their own separate purposes. If they were to achieve their ambition -- and exercise the power they seek -- America would face the twin dangers of an economic blueprint that eliminated most all of the safeguards and protections established for middle class families throughout the 20th century and a complete revision of the historic insulation of the rule of law from sectarian dogma. One of the first casualties would be the civil liberties that Americans have come to take for granted.

Indeed, the first nominee they've sent to the on-deck circle has argued throughout her legal career that America's self-government is the root of all social evil. Her radical view of the Social Security system, which she believes to be unconstitutional, is that it has created a situation where, in her words: "Today's senior citizens blithely cannibalize their grandchildren."

This family of 7 judicial fanatics is now being stopped at democracy's gates by 44 Democratic Senators, led by Sen. Harry Reid, and a small but growing number of Republican Senators who have more independence than fear of their party disciplinarians. If the rules of the Senate are broken and if these nominees should ever be confirmed, they would, as a group, intervene in your family's medical decisions and put a narrow version of religious doctrine above, not within, the Constitution. They have shown by their prior records and statements that they would weaken the right to privacy and consistently favor special interests at the expense of middle class America by threatening the minimum wage, worker & consumer protections, the 40-hour workweek, your right to sue your HMO, and your right to clean air and water.

Because of the unique lifetime tenure of federal judges, their legitimacy requires that they be representative of a broad consensus of the American people. Extremist judges so unacceptable to a large minority of the Senate clearly fall outside this consensus.

Yet today's Republicans seem hell-bent on squelching the ability of the minority in this country to express dissent. This is in keeping with other Republican actions to undercut the legislative process.

And in the filibuster fight they are doing it with utter disregard for the rule of law so central to our democracy. There is, of course, a way to change the rules if they so choose -- and that is to follow the rules.

When they decide instead to break the rules and push our democracy into uncharted, uncertain terrain, the results are often not to the liking of the American people.

That's what happened when they broke precedents to pass special legislation in the Terri Schiavo case -- by playing politics with the Schiavo family tragedy. And, the overwhelming majority of Americans in both political parties told the President and the Congress that they strongly disagreed with that extremist approach.

And now, all of the new public opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of the American people are opposed to this current effort to cripple the United States Senate's position in our constitutional framework by destroying the principle of unlimited debate. But, the congressional Republican leadership and the White House are so beholden to the extremists that they feel like they have to do what they say.

One reason that the American people are upset about what the Republican party is doing, is that while they are wasting time on their extremist agenda, they are neglecting issues like the crisis in the cost and availability of health care, the difficulty middle class families are having in making ends meet, etc.

Our founders understood that there is in all human beings a natural instinct for power. The Revolution they led was precisely to defeat the all-encompassing power of a tyrant thousands of miles away.

They knew then what Lord Acton summarized so eloquently a hundred years later: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." They knew that when the role of deliberative democracy is diminished, passions are less contained, less channeled within the carefully balanced and separated powers of our Constitution, less checked by the safeguards inherent in our founders' design-and the vacuum left is immediately filled by new forms of power more arbitrary in their exercise and derived less from the consent of the governed than from the unbridled passions of ideology, ultra-nationalist sentiments, racist, tribal and sectarian fervor -- and most of all, by those who claim a unique authority granted directly to them by the Almighty.

That is precisely why they established a system of checks and balances to prevent the accretion of power in any one set of hands -- either in one individual or a group because they were wary of what Madison famously called "factions."

Yet today that is precisely what a small group of radical Republicans is trying to do. And they threaten a fundamental break with a system that has served us well for 230 years and has served as a model for the rest of the world.

In the words of columnist George Will, "The filibuster is an important defense of minority rights, enabling democratic government to measure and respect not merely numbers but also intensity in public controversies. Filibusters enable intense minorities to slow the governmental juggernaut. Conservatives, who do not think government is sufficiently inhibited, should cherish this blocking mechanism."

Senator McCain echoed Will's sentiments, reminding his conservative colleagues, "We won't always be in the majority... and do we want a bunch of liberal judges approved by the Senate of the United States with 51 votes if the Democrats are in the majority?"

The rules and traditions of the Senate all derive from this desire to ensure that the voice of the minority could be heard. The filibuster has been at the heart of this tradition for nearly the entire 230 years of the Senate's existence. Yet never before has anyone has felt compelled to try to eliminate it.

The proposal from the Senate majority leader to abolish the right of unlimited debate is a poison pill for America's democracy. It is the stalking horse for a dangerous American heresy that would substitute persuasion on the merits with bullying and an effort at partisan domination.

E. J. Dionne Jr. - Bush the Egghead

washingtonpost.com
Bush the Egghead
Practicality Never Stops a Nice Theory

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Post
Friday, April 29, 2005; A23

President Bush's critics have him all wrong. They think of him as an anti-intellectual, opposed to theory and disdainful of grand ideas.

To the contrary. George W. Bush's spring of discontent arises from a fact that no one dares to notice: George W. Bush is an egghead.

I doubt this is a thought that comes to most people at the end of a Bush news conference. Indeed, to praise or criticize Bush for eggheadism risks disdain from left and right.

Many liberals have long worn the "egghead" epithet as a badge of honorable intellectualism. They would never want to share it with Bush. Older liberals still treasure the late Adlai Stevenson, the original egghead and the failed Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. Stevenson was probably less of an intellectual than people thought, but the image stuck.

The notion of Bush as an egghead no doubt appalls conservatives, too. People on the right have long savored attacking their opponents as "pointy-headed intellectuals" -- the late George Wallace's phrase was widely popular. Spiro T. Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice president, had perfect right-wing pitch when he assailed his boss's opponents as an "effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals." That dismissive phrase -- "who characterize themselves as intellectuals" -- was nothing short of brilliant.

But with apologies to both sides, the case for Bush as an egghead is overwhelming. One of the central characteristics of the Bush presidency is a profound commitment to theoretical notions, nurtured in think tanks and ideological magazines, and a relentless -- yes, even principled -- commitment to pushing them regardless of the facts or the consequences.

The president's proposal for private accounts in Social Security is Exhibit A for eggheadism. There was little popular demand for these accounts. Most Americans like Social Security as it is. The private accounts idea was nurtured primarily in libertarian and conservative research organizations such as the Cato Institute, the National Center for Policy Analysis and the Heritage Foundation.

To build support for privatization, backers of the idea could not rely on their popularity, and they even had to abandon their treasured word "privatization." Instead, they spent years trying to convince Americans that Social Security faced some sort of "crisis" and that "personal" accounts were the answer.

The problem is that such accounts do nothing by themselves to solve Social Security's financing difficulties -- a point that Bush eventually had to concede.

Unlike conservative intellectuals, most Americans have a very practical view of Social Security. They want some insurance against the risks of old age and do not judge Social Security proposals by their theoretical elegance. Most citizens want to know how much money they will have in their pockets when they're 65, 70 or 80. Because Bush spent the past four months pushing a bold idea rather than a specific plan, Americans have been unable to find an answer to this cash-on-the-barrelhead concern. No wonder Bush offered a few more details last night.

So it is with Bush's foreign policy. It is now clear that he always had a grand notion of what the invasion of Iraq would achieve, even if he honestly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He also knew that most Americans would not buy a war in the name of some large theory -- for example, that a new Iraq would achieve a breakthrough for democracy throughout the Middle East. So the weapons threat, a very practical danger, became the primary rationale for war.

Now that Americans know the weapons were not there, support for the war has waned. Yes, most Americans would like Bush's grand democratic construct to be true. The Iraqi elections, a concrete sign of progress, temporarily increased support for the invasion. But new attacks in Iraq have led to a drop in support for the war. Again, Americans are, on the whole, pragmatists and not eggheads.

In so many other areas, Bush has allowed theory to triumph over practice. The boring, old-fashioned view is that if you cut taxes and increase spending, you get deficits. No, no, the president and the supply-side true believers say; eventually those tax cuts will produce robust economic growth and wipe the deficits away. You just have to keep faith with the theory.

Adlai Stevenson once said: "Eggheads of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your yolks." Easy for him to say. He never got to the White House. But you wonder at what point our idealistic, idea-driven president will revisit that old-fashioned brand of conservatism that sees experience and practicality as preferable to theory.

postchat@aol.com

© 2005 The Washington Post Company
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/28/AR2005042801568_pf.html

Paul Krugman - A Private Obsession

The New York Times
April 29, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
A Private Obsession
By PAUL KRUGMAN

American health care is unique among advanced countries in its heavy reliance on the private sector. It's also uniquely inefficient. We spend far more per person on health care than any other country, yet many Americans lack health insurance and don't receive essential care.

This week yet another report emphasized just how bad a job the American system does at providing basic health care. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that 20 million working Americans are uninsured; in Texas, which has the worst record, more than 30 percent of the adults under 65 have no insurance.

And lack of insurance leads to inadequate medical attention. Over a 12-month period, 41 percent of the uninsured were unable to see a doctor when needed because of cost; 56 percent had no personal doctor or health care provider.

Our system is desperately in need of reform. Yet it will be very hard to get useful reform, for two reasons: vested interests and ideology.

I'll have a lot more to say about vested interests and health care in future columns, but let me emphasize one key point: a lot of big companies are essentially in the business of wasting health care resources.

The most striking inefficiency of our health system is our huge medical bureaucracy, which is mainly occupied in trying to get someone else to pay the bills. A good guess is that two million to three million Americans are employed by insurers and health care providers not to deliver health care, but to pass the buck to other people.

Yet any effort to reduce this waste would hurt powerful, well-organized interests, which have already demonstrated their power to block reform. Remember the "Harry and Louise" ads that doomed the Clinton health plan? The actors may have seemed like regular folks, but the ads were paid for by the Health Insurance Association of America, an industry lobbying group that liked the health care system just the way it was.

But vested interests aren't the only obstacle to fixing our health care system. We also have a big problem with ideology.

You see, America is ruled by conservatives, and they have a private obsession: they believe that more privatization, not less, is always the answer. And their faith persists even when the evidence clearly points to a private sector gone bad.

I could cite many examples of this obsession at work. But a particularly good illustration of ideology-induced obliviousness is the 2004 Economic Report of the President, which devotes a whole chapter to health care that can be read as a sort of conservative manifesto on the subject.

The main message of that report is that U.S. health care is doing just fine. Never mind the huge expense, the low life expectancy, the high infant mortality; it's a market-based system, so it must be good.

The report even takes a Panglossian view of uninsured Americans - one that is completely at odds with the grim statistics I cited above - suggesting that "many of them may remain uninsured as a matter of choice," perhaps because "they are young and healthy and do not see the need for insurance."

The president's economists had only one criticism of the system: insurance is too comprehensive, which encourages people to consume too much health care. As they see it, insurance covers too large a percentage of medical costs. The answer to this problem is the creation of, you guessed it, private accounts, which have now superseded tax cuts as the answer to all problems.

Indeed, a new paper by Martin Feldstein of Harvard, which clearly reflects the administration's views, suggests that Social Security privatization and health savings accounts - tax shelters designed to encourage people to pay medical costs out of their own pockets - are only the beginning. "Investment-based personal accounts," he says, are the way to go for unemployment insurance and Medicare, too.

O.K., let's not turn this into a Bush-bashing session. President Bush didn't cause the crisis in American health care. His health care policies have made things only a little bit worse.

The point, instead, is that even though all the evidence suggests that we would be much better off under a system of universal coverage, any such move will be fiercely opposed, on principle, by conservatives who want us to move in the opposite direction.

And reform will also be opposed by powerful vested interests - my next subject in this series.

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Who Supports The Troops?

From Operation Truth via Dailykos:

Last Thursday, the Senate agreed to an amendment (mentioned on the blog) to change the Emergency Supplemental to provide an additional $213 million in funding to produce armored Humvees. Here's how the vote broke down:

YEAs ---61

Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Allen (R-VA)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Burns (R-MT)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Carper (D-DE)
Chafee (R-RI)
Clinton (D-NY)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corzine (D-NJ)
Dayton (D-MN)
DeWine (R-OH)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Jeffords (I-VT)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lott (R-MS)
Lugar (R-IN)
Martinez (R-FL)
McCain (R-AZ)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Obama (D-IL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Santorum (R-PA)
Sarbanes (D-MD)
Schumer (D-NY)
Snowe (R-ME)
Specter (R-PA)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Talent (R-MO)
Thune (R-SD)
Wyden (D-OR)

NAYs ---39

Allard (R-CO)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Frist (R-TN)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Inouye (D-HI)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Smith (R-OR)
Stevens (R-AK)
Sununu (R-NH)
Thomas (R-WY)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)


Hmmm, what's with all the "R"s who voted against more armor for our troops?

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld is playing political football with our soldiers' pay.
If we're going to send hundreds of thousands of young men and women into harm's way, the least we could do is not screw with their paychecks.

Common sense – maybe. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld presumably disagrees. Back in December, regular Defense Tech readers will recall, Rummy's braintrust decided to dip into the Army's payroll into order to fund truck armor and other wartime expenses. Congress would make up the difference later on, they figured, with a second, emergency "supplemental" funding bill. The fact that the payroll accounts would dry up in May didn't seem to factor into the Pentagon calculus -- except maybe as a lever to force Congress into action.

But as senators loaded the $80 billion supplemental with pet projects -- $23 million for a baseball stadium in DC, $32 million for forest roads in Cali -- and the Pentagon added billions in long-term programs to the supposedly last-minute funding measure, its progress slowed.

So now, Rummy is getting all weepy, complaining to Congress that they're keeping soldiers from getting paid.
If those soldiers were a non-working missile defense shield, then they'd get their money. But they're just working-class schlubs. And working-class schlubs don't get much attention in this administration.

http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=?=mtcosmos&url=http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/4/28/173257/680

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: On Abu Ghraib, the Big Shots Walk

The New York Times
April 28, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
On Abu Ghraib, the Big Shots Walk
By BOB HERBERT

When soldiers in war are not properly trained and supervised, atrocities are all but inevitable. This is one reason why the military command structure is so important. There was a time, not so long ago, when commanders were expected to be accountable for the behavior of their subordinates.

That's changed. Under Commander in Chief George W. Bush, the notion of command accountability has been discarded. In Mr. Bush's world of war, it's the grunts who take the heat. Punishment is reserved for the people at the bottom. The people who foul up at the top are promoted.

It was a year ago today that the stories and photos of the shocking abuses at Abu Ghraib prison first came to the public's attention. It was a scandal that undermined the military's reputation and diminished the standing of the U.S. around the world.

It would soon become clear that the photos of hooded, naked and humiliated detainees were evidence of a much larger problem. The system for processing, interrogating and detaining prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq was dangerously out of control, and the command structure responsible for it had collapsed. Detainees were beaten, tortured, sexually abused and, in some instances, killed. Many detainees should never have been imprisoned at all, as they had committed no offenses.

So what happened? A handful of grunts were court-martialed, a Marine major was cashiered, and the Army plans to issue a new interrogation manual that bars certain harsh techniques. There was no wholesale crackdown on criminal behavior.

We learned last week that after a high-level investigation, the Army had cleared four of the five top officers who were responsible for prison policies and operations in Iraq. The fifth officer, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski of the Army Reserve, had already been relieved of her command of the military police unit at Abu Ghraib. (She has complained, and not without reason, that she was a scapegoat for the failures of higher-ranking officers.)

As Eric Schmitt wrote in The Times: "Barring new evidence, the inquiry by the Army's inspector general effectively closes the Army's book on whether the highest-ranking officers in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal should be held accountable for command failings described in past reviews."

This is the way atrocities are dealt with in Mr. Bush's world of war. The higher-ups responsible for training, supervising and disciplining the troops - in other words, the big shots who presided over a system that ran shamefully amok - escaped virtually unscathed.

The abuses at Abu Ghraib, which seemed mind-boggling at the time, turned out to be symptomatic of the torture, abuse and institutionalized injustice that have permeated the Bush administration's operations in its so-called war against terror. Euphemisms like rendition, coercive interrogation, sleep adjustment and waterboarding are now widely understood. Yes, Virginia, it is the policy of the United States to kidnap individuals and send them off to regimes skilled in the art of torture.

Two things are needed. First, a truly independent commission, along the lines of the bipartisan 9/11 panel, should be set up to thoroughly investigate U.S. interrogation and detention operations, and make recommendations to correct abuses.

Second, the U.S. government should make it clear, beyond any doubt, that torture and any other inhumane treatment of prisoners is wrong, just flat wrong, and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

"In our contemporary world, torture is like the slave trade or piracy was to people in the 1790's," said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First, which is suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the prisoner abuse issue. "Torture is a crime against mankind, against humanity. It's something that has to be absolutely prohibited."

If the president made it clear that men and women up and down the chain of command would be held responsible for the abuses that occur on their watch, the abuses would plummet. Instead, the message the administration has sent is that its demands for accountability will be limited to a few hapless, ill-trained grunts.

The big shots who presided over behavior that has shamed America in the eyes of the world can count on this president's embrace.

E-mail: bobherb@nytimes.com

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David S. Broder - Paying a Price for Overreaching

washingtonpost.com
Paying a Price for Overreaching

By David S. Broder
Post
Thursday, April 28, 2005; A23

In January, when interviewing at the White House on the prospects for President Bush's second term, I found that the reelected chief executive had instilled a belief among his close associates that the bigger and bolder the goals they set for themselves, the more they would accomplish.

Whether it was political strategist Karl Rove or budget boss Josh Bolten, the message was the same: The way to avoid the "second-term curse" that had brought disappointment and frustration to almost every reelected president in modern times would be to have a clear and ambitious agenda.

Bush sounded the theme himself in his first post-election news conference, claiming a mandate for broad change. "In the election of 2004," he said, "large issues were set before our country. They were discussed every day on the campaign. With the campaign over, Americans are expecting a bipartisan effort -- and results."

So Bush set forth an amazingly ambitious set of goals, ranging from the overhaul of American high schools to the achievement of democracy in the Middle East -- with reform of Social Security, the judiciary and the whole legal liability system, as well as a new energy policy, thrown in for good measure.

Now Bush has run into trouble on major parts of that agenda, and his overall leadership position appears to be much weaker than anyone would have guessed on his second Inauguration Day.

This week's Washington Post-ABC News poll put his overall job approval score at 47 percent -- matching the lowest score in his 51 months in office. Whereas in January as many people strongly approved of his performance as strongly opposed it, now the highly negative ratings outnumber the very positive 3 to 2.

Having armed himself with an ambitious set of goals in order to energize his government, Bush has become the victim of overreach -- the one problem he and his advisers did not anticipate.

They thought that things had gone downhill for Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton because those presidents had largely used up their "big ideas" in their first terms and were left adrift without much sense of purpose, vulnerable to their enemies, in their final four years.

So Bush set forth what any president would have to consider a breathtakingly bold agenda. As Charles O. Jones of the University of Wisconsin remarked to me in January, it was particularly striking to see "a second-term president with the smallest electoral college majority since Wilson in 1916 undertake the most ambitious agenda since Roosevelt in 1936."

Bush can count some early successes. He has signed legislation restricting class-action lawsuits -- the first and easiest step in his multi-part assault on trial lawyers -- and he has approved a bill tightening rules on personal bankruptcies, a boon to part of his business constituency.

But in retrospect, Bush clearly overestimated his political capital. The Post-ABC News poll at inauguration time gave him only a 52-to-46 percent positive job approval rating, much lower than Reagan or Clinton enjoyed at the start of their ill-fated second terms.

His far more important goal of changing Social Security, the backbone of the New Deal, into a hybrid system with personal savings accounts tied to the stock and bond markets has sunk like a rock. The latest Post poll shows a 2-to-1 disapproval score for Bush's handling of the Social Security issue, by far the worst score of his presidency. For the first time in Post polls, more opposed private accounts than supported giving people that option.

The fact that Bush is losing -- and losing badly -- on the issue to which he has devoted more time and effort than any other has had a negative effect on his overall standing and his political influence.

Ratings on Iraq and the economy also have slumped; only the war on terrorism remains a plus for the president.

Bush also appears to have overreached in his dealings with the judiciary. His stated goal of bringing more "strict constructionist" judges onto the bench has been perceived as a narrow political objective by increasing numbers of Americans. Other polls have shown Bush's participation in the effort to overturn the state court decisions allowing Terri Schiavo to die was criticized by large majorities.

And current efforts by Senate Republicans, with the explicit backing of the White House, to eliminate Democratic filibusters against some Bush judicial nominees were surprisingly rejected in the latest Post poll. By a margin of 66 percent to 26 percent, the voters opposed changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees.

The public clearly seems to be telling Bush to back off his most ambitious pla ns.

davidbroder@washpost.com

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/27/AR2005042701877_pf.html

Stirling Newberry - he Coming Republican Recession

The Coming Republican Recession
by Stirling Newberry


Thu Apr 28th, 2005 at 09:41:32 PDT

[Crossposted at Bopnews.com]

That there is going to be another recession is a metaphysical certainty. We haven't repealed the business cycle, nor is there any sign that we've repealed human nature. The question is when is the next recession, what happens between now and then, and how bad that recession is going to be.

The basics of the business cycle.

The business cycle has been with us at least as long as fractional reserve banking and the hydrocarbon economy. We can see clear business cycle patterns in the credit economies of the 18th century, and by the establishment of railroads, they are clearly in place. Transportation, by creating a stronger synchronization, has a tendency to create more clearly defined business cycles, because it means that market effects spread more rapidly.

The business cycle, as it has existed over the course of the hydrocarbon economy is usually described from the beginning of a contraction until the next contraction. However, I usually describe it from another point: from the point of injection of stimulus. Thus the classic description of a business cycle is - contraction, bottoming, expansion, inflation and contraction. But this only applies to equilibrium economies with central banks and asset currencies. While this is the majority of the world's economic activity, it is not the majority of time, and thus is a narrow description. One that has broken down recently, simply because it relies on certain macro-economic factors being in place which are not immutable laws of economics, but the results of deliberate legislation or planning.

Hence I describe the cycle differently: from the point of stimulus, and create a tree of possibilities from that point of stimulus - the tree describes the various possible shapes of an economic cycle, but all of them, in the end, reach a new contraction.

The key dynamic is can the monetary authority keep the economy from contracting, while the fiscal authority helps create channels for new growth. The last time around the Bushconomy was "Uncle Alan keeps interest rates incredibly low to stop a big contraction, while Cousin George invades Iraq and tries to get a Reagan style defense boom going." It didn't work. Now Uncle Alan must raise rates, and Bush and company are desperately seeking some way to force people to pay more for things like road transporation, while they hope that technology bails them out. It isn't working either, since they are having to club the consumer - with consumption taxes, stealth gas taxes, base closings and cuts in aid to states for Medicaid - all of which are acting to slow the economy, even as interest rates slow the economy. They want money to stop flowing into housing and commodities- but housing and commodities are where the profit is. Bush is proposing big capital spending on energy, in hopes he can get a big round of borrowing for refineries and nuclear power plants.

At the present time we are in the "landing" phase of the expansion. The landing phase is that point where inflation has renewed itself, and, in an economy with a strong monetary authority, there is an attempt to squeeze out inflation, without squeezing out growth. We had a short "boom" from fiscal policy stimulus last year, however, it created no follow on - since it was all defense driven, and defense driven stimulus must be followed by more defense driven stimulus to keep the economy going. Hence things boomed during the spring when the 90 billion dollar Republican Pork, I mean Iraq appropriation, hit the economy, and there was another short jolt from another jolt of defense spending just in time to make the economy look good for the election.

However, both of these created more energy inflation - since they did not do anything to address the economy's current supply bottlenecks. Thus Uncle Alan was forced to raise interest rates, and the Republican Congress realized that they were borrowing and squandering more than they could do sustainably - they are going to be closing bases and cutting spending on medicaid - making the poor pay.

So we are now moving back into a "landing" phase, where economic activity is being choked off, in hopes that this will force the economy to stop buying those things that are in short supply. A host of policies are being tried - from top to bottom - to increase the cost of that which is in short supply. In our case, that is oil, because oil is what we must import. Until we are only importing oil at the rate that we use for export production this will continue. The US is privileged in that we have a special relationship with the oil exporters, and so we are not being forced into this level quickly, but being forced there we are. There is a temporary region of stability while we burn through the special position we have.

There are then three broad scenarios:

The Bull Case Scenario

The Bull Case is that something produces a large capital build out. The first Bush term's economic policy was to have Iraq and Security be that build out. It failed dramatically. Security is not producing a large domestic or export industry. The "Global War on Terrorism" has neither produced a large boom in "security" for consumers or corporations. Iraq has neither produced cheap oil, nor a place where US corporations can build things for a large profit.

This is why changes were made to the corporate tax bill to force more of repatriated profits into capital expansion. This lead to a modest rebound in business investment and hiring, but the amount directed was so small - in comparison to pure give aways, that it is already trailing off. It is also small compared to the amount of stimulus that is being removed from the economy by interest rate increases.

This means that while it is still possible that the US economy will start a capital build out, what is far more likely is that business will not spend their accumulated cash hoards, but will, instead, simply give them out as stock buy backs, mergers and increased dividends.

According to the Bull Case, housing will slow under interest rate pressure, and the agreements with China to slow its economy, and the oilarchies to pump more oil, will reduce both inflationary pressures and the easy ability to "offshore" to China. This combination will lead to internal growth in the US.

For a variety of reasons, this scenario is unlikely. First because there is insufficient incentive to build out, second because the capital development system - as represented by the NASDAQ ex-Microsoft and Intel - has been broken and nothing has been done to get it going again.

If it occurs, the stock market will finish correcting for higher interest rates, and then begin a rally. The economy will have a two to three year period of strong growth. This will lead to a contraction, but only after there have been significant profits to be made.

The Snake Case Scenario

The snake case has the US economy japanifying - enough stimulus comes in to keep the business cycle from contracting, but not enough to produce inflation. Inflation subsides, and gradually corporations start spending at the replacement level of the economy. This scenario merely requires that energy prices don't continue to go up, and that China slows enough to create replacement demand for capital expansion here in the US.

It is what the Executive hints at when it says things like "slow sustainable growth" and "energy prices are likely to remain high" and "the market will make adjustments". Basically a bet that wage earners will be happy getting none of the increase in profits from any economic expansion, and we can continue a "vacuum up" economic structure, where workers are basically burning through assets to keep consuming.

This scenario is indeed possible, but it is not likely to lead to anything good - it is merely a holding pattern until some bull case can arise - that is, a corporate build out on new supply that eases energy inflation.

If it happens the stock market will rally briefly off the current correction - 6 to 9 months, and flatten and slow as another round of tightening is needed to "land" the economy again. We will be back sitting here next year wondering whether inflation is going to take off again. There will be sector leadership in sin stocks and other forms of "waiting" and there will be one last round of housing boom.

The Bear Case Scenario

The Bear Case Scenario says, in essence, that the current combined round of fiscal and monetary austerity will not be enough to stop inflation, that money wil continue to flow into real estate in order to find some better return than a flat stock market, and the Fed will have to tighten significantly. Since the floor on the 10 year is around 4.25%, this means that the Fed Funds rate will have to reach 4.25% or higher to invert the yield curve as part of the road to recession.

The Bear case scenario - that is, that this is the gasp before a recession - has no more than a 25% chance of being correct at this particular moment. I felt it to be a much higher chance last year, however, there has been a global decision among the G-7 to do everything possible to "snake" the world economy, and hope that China can be forced to join the world economy. This will spread out global growth enough to prevent Japan and Europe from going into full blown recession. The reason for this is that the US, China and the resource producers are currently consuming all global growth. The hope of Europe, Japan and other developed nations is to push China to give up some of that growth, so that they don't slip into recession.

It also hopes that the wage earners in the entire developed world are willing to put up with real wage declines, loss of benefits, job stagnation - while corporate profits soar.

Hence, I believe that the most likely case is that we are going to see a year of stagnation as everyone tries to get China and the poor to pay for the series of monsterously bad decisions - not just by the US, but by Europe which backed, if half heartedly, the Bushconomy. But that at the end of that year, we will see significant inflationary pressures from energy, and that there will be the requirment of slowing the world economy into recession.

Simply put, with current technology, there is not enough growth to keep China politically stable, and provide enough non-inflationary growth for the rest of the developed world.

Thus

Bull - around 10%
Good Snake (snake followed by Bull) - 10%
Long Snake (snake continuing more than 12 months) - 10%
Bad Snake (snake followed by Bear in 2006) - 45%
Bear - 25%

Thus prudent investors should move to cash or cash equivalents, cut all debt, retrench expenses and cut non-essential purchases that do not reduce expenses. They should be prepared in the Summer to take advantage of the rally that will very likely carry the markets upward through the fall, but not create positions which are difficult or expensive to unwind should events deteriorate. Prudent investors should begin researching stocks or sectors that they feel will provide potential leadership in the case of a real boom, and researching stocks that will benefit from continued high energy prices, and a dramatic slow down in home building.

Current policies lead to a very small chance of a good outcome, and investors should expect that there will be no policy changes after the 2006 elections, but, instead, an acceleration of current policies.

Summary: There is only so much growth to go around, and right now it is all going to the US and China. The rest of the developed world is pressing China to slow down, and now the US, because the amount of global growth is slowing. Since the Iraq/Security economy didn't work, the Republicans are now focusing on privatizing the transportation grid, and hoping that Uncle Alan can slow oil consumption enough to get to the next capital build out. The odds are against this happening, just as the odds were against the first Bushconomy producing real growth. The result is that the risks of falling into a recession, either on this slow down, or on the next one in a year's time, are signficant.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Matt Taibbi - BROKEN PARTY, BROKE VOTERS

WWW.NYPRESS.COM | APRIL 26, 2005

MATT TAIBBI
NEWS & COLUMNS


The Democrats were all over the news last week, acting like an opposition.

They bitched about Tom DeLay, stalling a transparent Republican effort to self-investigate (read: bury) the charges against him. They pounded their fists in righteous indignation over the nomination of John Bolton. And they freaked out to the man about Bill Frist's decision to denounce the Democrats as being "against people of faith."

Even John Kerry issued a cheeky "Can you believe these fucking guys?" quote about Frist that was picked up in papers across the country. "We're going to allow the majority leader to invoke faith to rewrite Senate rules, to put substandard extremist judges on the bench?" he shrieked.

In the Bolton fracas, the voice leading the opposition charge was none other than Joe Biden, who was unusually pointed and vicious about the Bush nominee, all but accusing him of lying to Congress. In a voice dripping with Capra-esque civic-mindedness, Biden said: "I'm less concerned about the interests of the U.N. than I am the interests of the United States of America and how we can look straight-faced in the mirror and say, 'this guy is the face we want to put forward to the whole world.'"

That was the front-and-center stuff. Democrats were less vocal about some of the other shenanigans going down in Congress. In the last two weeks, a number of major bills were passed with wide bipartisan support, including an $81 billion spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, an energy bill containing some $12 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for the energy industry, and—last but not least—the so-called Bankruptcy Reform bill, that long-awaited hot wet dream of the commercial lending industry.

The Energy bill, which included a $2 billion subsidy to the oil and gas industry to research drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and cleared the way for oil drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, was passed by the House on Earth Day in a touching gesture to environmental idealism. It passed by a vote of 249-183, marking the sixth time this year that at least 40 House Democrats voted for a Republican-sponsored bill.

One of those other instances involved the Bankruptcy Reform bill, which unlike the energy bill has already cleared both houses and been signed into law. This admirably vicious piece of legislation—which one Harvard expert on bankruptcy described as having been "designed to point a thousand daggers squarely at the consumer in trouble"—will essentially make it next to impossible to declare personal bankruptcy.

The central feature of the bill is the creation of a so-called "means test," a mechanism that will employ the IRS to investigate the means and assets of individuals to determine if they are eligible to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The test is elaborate and complicated, but the gist of it is that if you own your own underwear, you will not pass it. Other excellent provisions of the bill include an elimination of automatic stays of evictions, and the exclusion of certain types of student loans from Chapter 7 consideration.

The credit-card industry has been gnashing its teeth to get this bitch passed for about eight years. When it finally succeeded, it did so with margins of 302-126 in the House, and 74-25 in the Senate.

How did it manage those numbers? Among other things, the industry made some $7,978,034 in political contributions in 2004 alone, with $2,925,825 of that going to Democrats. Not surprisingly, some of its biggest contributions were to the leading Democrat traitor-whores who cheerleaded the thing through Congress. Among the top 20 recipients of credit-card money in the past year were Senate Democrats like Evan Bayh of Indiana, Harry Reid of Nevada, and the Delaware contingent of Tom Carper and Biden—all of whom voted for S.256.

With congressional legislation, it's always useful to look in the fine print, because the broad strokes of almost any bill can be made to sound quite sane. With the Bankruptcy Reform business, Bush-haters naturally pounced on the baldly hypocritical premise of the bill. They balked when Bush, in signing it into law, said, "If someone does not pay his or her debts, the rest of society ends up paying them." This from a man who's running massive federal deficits that our grandchildren will have to pay for; this from a man who ran up $3 million in bank debts as president of a failed company called Spectrum 7, only to be bailed out by a company called Harken.

The Bush-hating crowd can cry foul about this stuff all they want, and they obviously have a point in doing so. But the Bankruptcy Reform bill sounds reasonable on its face. If you borrow money, you should pay it, right? Why should it be Citibank's problem if you don't get a job?

Except that this bill goes out of its way to stick you even if the debts aren't your fault. In amendment after amendment leading up to the final vote on this bill, Republicans—with the help of a dependable group of contribution-rich Democrats—shot down every conceivable legitimate exemption to means testing. This included proposed exemptions for women whose debts were incurred due to non-payment of alimony and child support, for the dependent spouses of servicemen killed in action, and for people whose debts came about as a result of catastrophic medical problems.

But my absolute favorite is the amendment, proposed by Bill Nelson of Florida, to exempt from means testing individuals whose debts were incurred as a result of identity fraud. It would be hard to imagine any legitimate objection to this amendment. The only rational objection to this amendment would be that your tongue is so far up the ass of MBNA that you can't possibly vote for it. Which says something about the Senate; the amendment was crushed, 61-37.

Among the Democrats who voted "Nay" to that amendment were Carper, who received $86,107 from credit card companies last year, and our Capra-esque civic hero Biden, who received a total of $144,700 between 1999 and 2004—far more than he received from any other industry.

The bill was held up only when Republicans and Democrats locked horns over barring abortion clinic protesters from filing for bankruptcy if they were sued. Republicans balked, the Democrats refused to budge, and the long "ideological" tug-of-war ended only when an amendment on this issue sponsored by local swine Chuck Schumer was finally defeated.

The whole thing is a perfect microcosm of our national politics. On the front pages, the Democrats feud with the Republicans like pit bulls over a bunch of idiotic and mostly irrelevant social issues, usually involving Jesus—Terri Schiavo, judicial nominations, the bankruptcy claims of anti-abortion terrorists. Whenever the cameras are on, they trot out a shrill hag like Nancy Pelosi—a personage very proficient at being loud, but suspiciously ineffective at instilling party discipline—to hysterically denounce the Republicans as the spawn of Satan. But once the lights are off, they hand the party reins to a few dozen whores who make sure the money votes go the right way.

They do this every time, yet we still buy their Capra act. Are we really all that stupid?

Volume 18, Issue 17

© 2005 New York Press

http://www.nypress.com/print.cfm?content_id=12878

Sydney H. Schanberg - TV Blesses the New Pope

TV Blesses the New Pope
Beatification begins for Benedict as soon as the cameras start to roll
by Sydney H. Schanberg
April 26th, 2005 11:14 AM

Television news gave us wall-to-wall gushing by reporters and anchors, some of it embarrassing for a reporter to watch. Meanwhile, the print press, albeit with an occasional splash of irrational exuberance showing here and there, by and large provided balance and nuance and full-blown information. Such was the coverage of the election of a new shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI.

It is of course old news that television journalism has become the medium of spectacle, catastrophe, emotion, and entertainment, while the print press remains the primary—and often lonely—conveyor of in-depth, grown-up coverage. But as I watched the elevation of the new pontiff on television and read about it in newspapers and on news websites, it occurred to me that this dichotomy had reached new extremes.

Television exists these days on showbiz hoopla and raw feelings—people weeping, people cheering, people wrapped in blankets outside their burning house. And of course "reality" shows—people competing to eat the most live maggots. Good newspapers and news websites also like drama, but not at the expense of other information important to the honest telling of a story—they do both. In the extravaganza at Vatican City, television news organizations swept nearly all the critiques of the popular John Paul II—born Karol Wojtyla in a town near Krakow, Poland, who died on April 2 at age 84—and of his successor, Joseph Ratzinger, from the Bavarian region of Germany, under the ecclesiastical rug.

A CNN anchor, in a typical TV snapshot, prompted a woman in St. Peter's Square for her reaction to the smoke and bell ringing and pomp of Cardinal Ratzinger's elevation. "Did it take your breath away?" he breathed urgently. "Yes, yes," she answered, "that's what it was."

A Fox anchor took the heavy breathing a little further. Saying that he had covered a lot of big stories in his time, but referring to that moment when the new pope came out on the balcony, arms outstretched to the crowd below, the Fox fellow exclaimed: "I don't think I've seen anything in my life as magical as this!"

(Fox also gave us one moment of unintended typecasting humor when one of its commentators with knowledge of the new pope described him thusly: "He's a German. When you see him give a mass, he is organized, calm, well prepared . . . like a well-working German machine.")

President Bush, a born-again Christian in the Protestant tradition, quickly came out on the White House lawn to greet the cameras and praise the new pope. Bush, putting his hand over his heart, said: "He's a man who serves the Lord." The screen gushed all over the president; that's what television does.

In contrast, what most of the mainstream print press did with the papal story was to go into detail and present a more complex and realistic portrait of the lives and philosophies of Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor.

The new pope was limned candidly in print as a church intellectual, linguist, and writer who was beloved by many elders in the church but who had troubled a great number of lay Catholics across the world with his rigid stance on all church doctrine. As cardinal, he condemned the idea of having women priests or married priests. He similarly opposed birth control. He said that homosexuality is an "intrinsic moral evil" and that homosexuals suffer from an "objective disorder." In sum, he is a church hard-liner.

The pope he succeeded, John Paul II, was also an unbudging traditionalist on doctrinal issues, and he was very close to the Bavarian-born Ratzinger. But he, unlike Ratzinger, seemed to please Catholics and other people worldwide with his openness, his charm, his love of children, and his obvious humanity. John Paul was a significant pope, but he was no church progressive. His pontificate quietly but steadily drew away from the more liberal sentiments of the Vatican Council II in the '60s, which had led to the growth of the democratic theosophy that all constituents of the church—both laity and clergy—were united as the "people of God."

Returning to the press coverage, obviously there are exceptions to the television news industry's descent into froth. There are individuals and investigative units in the networks that still do, or try to do, fundamental, professional journalism, but they are exceptions. Their budgets have been shrunk. The network profits don't go into informing the public.

Newspaper budgets for serious journalism have also been cut, mostly in the major chains, who still insist on profit margins of 20 to 30 percent. No other comparable business in this country makes that kind of money. Family-owned papers don't make that kind of money. The New York Times newspaper, for instance, is believed to earn less than 10 percent net profit (figures aren't provided for the individual components of the company), and that's because a big chunk of the profit is poured back into the news-gathering budget.

The news business has not been all that bright of late. For one, circulation has been dropping in the print world, and messengers of doom have begun predicting an early end to the newspaper era. Still, isn't it odd that the major national and regional papers continue to be the main source for news in the United States? Television and radio newspeople acknowledge that they get most of their story ideas by reading their morning paper. So I wouldn't be too hasty with these parlous visions.

http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0517,schanberg,63378,6.html

U.S. Figures Show Sharp Global Rise In Terrorism

washingtonpost.com
U.S. Figures Show Sharp Global Rise In Terrorism
State Dept. Will Not Put Data in Report

By Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2005; A01

The number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week.

Overall, the number of what the U.S. government considers "significant" attacks grew to about 655 last year, up from the record of around 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides who were briefed on statistics covering incidents including the bloody school seizure in Russia and violence related to the disputed Indian territory of Kashmir.

Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year's total -- a sensitive subset of the tally, given the Bush administration's assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer.

The State Department announced last week that it was breaking with tradition in withholding the statistics on terrorist attacks from its congressionally mandated annual report. Critics said the move was designed to shield the government from questions about the success of its effort to combat terrorism by eliminating what amounted to the only year-to-year benchmark of progress.

Although the State Department said the data would still be made public by the new National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which prepares the information, officials at the center said no decision to publish the statistics has been made.

The controversy comes a year after the State Department retracted its annual terrorism report and admitted that its initial version vastly understated the number of incidents. That became an election-year issue, as Democrats said the Bush administration tried to inflate its success in curbing global terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Last year was bad. This year is worse. They are deliberately trying to withhold data because it shows that as far as the war on terrorism internationally, we're losing," said Larry C. Johnson, a former senior State Department counterterrorism official, who first revealed the decision not to publish the data.

After a week of complaints from Congress, top aides from the State Department and the NCTC were dispatched to the Hill on Monday for a private briefing. There they acknowledged for the first time the increase in terrorist incidents, calling it a "dramatic uptick," according to participants and a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

The administration aides sought to explain the rise in attacks as the result of more inclusive methodology in counting incidents, which they argued made year-to-year comparisons "increasingly problematic," sources said.

In his letter urging Rice to release the data, Waxman said that "the large increases in terrorist attacks reported in 2004 may undermine administration claims of success in the war on terror, but political inconvenience has never been a legitimate basis for withholding facts from the American people."

Both Republican and Democratic aides at the meeting criticized what a GOP attendee called the "absurd" explanation offered by the State Department's acting counterterrorism chief, Karen Aguilar, that the statistics are not relevant to the required report on trends in global terrorism. "It's absurd to issue a report without statistics," said the aide, who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. "This is a self-inflicted wound by the State Department."

Aguilar, according to Hill aides, told them that Rice decided to withhold the statistics on the recommendation of her counselor, Philip D. Zelikow. He was executive director of the Sept. 11 commission that investigated the terrorist attacks on the United States.

The terrorism statistics provided to the congressional aides were not classified but were stamped "for official use only." Last week, State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said the government would publish "all the facts," but at Monday's session Aguilar told the staff members that even if the NCTC decided not to release the data, the State Department would not reconsider and publicly do so itself.

A State Department spokesman said last night that he is confident the data will be officially released. He said the government is committed to "providing the public all the information it needs to have an informed debate on this issue."

Under the standards used by the government, "significant" terrorist attacks are defined as those that cause civilian casualties or fatalities or substantial damage to property. Attacks on uniformed military personnel such as the large number of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq are not included.

The data provided to the congressional aides also showed terrorist attacks doubling over the previous year in Afghanistan, to 27 significant incidents, and in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, where attacks rose to about 45, from 19 the year before. Also occurring last year were such deadly attacks as the seizure of a school in Beslan, Russia, by Chechen militants that resulted in at least 330 dead, and the Madrid train bombings that left nearly 200 dead.

The State Department did not disclose to the aides the overall number of those killed in incidents last year. Johnson said his count shows it was well over 1,000.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/04/26/AR2005042601623_pf.html