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)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Do tax cuts really shrink government? Interesting news from Cato.

Do tax cuts really shrink government? Interesting news from Cato.
by ripr
Sat Jun 24, 2006 at 08:24:40 AM PDT

A forthcoming article by William Niskanen, the director of the libertarian Cato Institute (to appear in the fall Cato journal) criticizes the idea that cutting taxes is a sensible step in reducing the size of government. The theory, sometimes referred to as the "Starve the Beast" strategy, is the intellectual foundation of today's Republican party, and it's so much a part of mainstream political discourse that no one remembers a time when this kind of talk would have been thought rather odd. Back then, in order to cut a budget, you had to suggest something to cut. The idea that you could be for something as amorphous and content-free as simply paying less for government simply wasn't the done thing. You can see this in the data, by plotting the federal government's total revenue and total outlays together (below). They move more or less together until the 1970's. After that, they don't.

Niskanen's article attacks the theory first: according to orthodox price economics, price controls are a bad thing because when you artifically lower the price of something, people demand more than they would otherwise. Running deficits is something akin to artifically lowering the price of government, so according to this theory, people will ask for more government, not less. Niskanen expresses some surprise that such advocates of price theory as economist Milton Friedman would endorse Starve the Beast as late as 2003.

Why is that late? Because it was almost 30 years ago that some people began to promote the idea that one could be thought intellectually respectable while proposing to cut taxes spending without suggesting what spending to cut. Instead of shrinking government by cutting programs, the idea was simply to shrink it by cutting taxes, and letting the pressure of tight budgets do the job for you. The tax revolts in California and Massachusetts were just such campaigns. Neither campaign was really based on a critique of what government did, just how much it cost, and leaders in both campaigns spoke in generalities about "doing with less" and "creating efficiency" that allowed any listener to imagine that the services they valued would continue to be provided (often falsely). Neither campaign dealt with the inconvenient details, but both were highly successful, and Ronald Reagan took note, and so did the people who crafted his budgets.

For better or worse, the date of this revolution means that we now have a quarter century of actual budget data. We can answer the questions in terms of practice, not just theory. So does it work? In a nutshell: no. Niskanen did some statistical analyses of these numbers which allowed him to correct for the outside effects of the interest rates and the unemployment rate, which both have an effect on the federal budget independent of government policy. Even after these corrections, the answer is still no.

A surprise was hiding in the details. Not only doesn't it work to starve the beast, but after controlling for changes in unemployment and interest rates, it seems that the relation between federal revenues and expenditure growth since Reagan is actually negative. Since 1980, as taxes have fallen, spending has risen, and when taxes have risen, spending has fallen. This sounds very odd, but it's true. Reagan and the Bushes have given us bigger government with higher deficits, and Clinton gave us smaller government with a surplus. To be fair, this is an over-simple analysis, concentrating on gross measures, like total federal spending, which don't reflect some important detail. But when the theoretical analysis is backed up with the practical record, it becomes a compelling argument, even from this kind of bird's-eye view.

Niskanen's analysis is about the relation between expenditure growth and taxes, but you can see a similar story in the simple relation between expenditure and revenue, which is also negative since 1980, after discounting unemployment and interest rates. With this measure, I found several long periods with significant positive correlations before 1980, but remarkably, I found no other period after 1901 with a significant negative relationship—not during the Great Depression, nor during the World Wars, nor during the Cold War—none. In other words, before Reagan, there was wide agreement about how to handle government finances. Certainly the government ran deficits, but in general, revenues and expenses traveled in the same direction. When spending went up, taxes went up to pay for it, though perhaps not as fast. When revenue went down, spending was cut, though perhaps not as fast.

This picture illustrates the sea change. The solid line shows federal spending as a percentage of GDP from 1980 to 2005, and the dotted line shows revenue, just like in the earlier figure (we've just zoomed in a little). The new dashed line shows what federal spending would have been if the presidents since 1980 had conformed to the postwar norms until then. You can see that where a president like Eisenhower would have lowered federal spending by a lot in the 1980's, it didn't decline nearly as fast under Reagan or Bush Sr. Where Kennedy might have increased spending in the 1990's to take advantage of rising revenues, Clinton cut spending dramatically to lower the deficit. It seems that what is now thought to be good electoral strategy really was once upon a time widely thought to be too cynical to use. Niskanen's analysis shows us that Eisenhower didn't govern this way, Truman didn't, and neither, apparently, did Kennedy, or Johnson or any other 20th century president. "Cynical" is a character trait once thought to define Richard Nixon, but his "secret plan" was about the war, not taxes.

The analysis also shows us that "Starve the Beast" isn't just questionable theory and a disingenuous lack of specifics. The data tell the story: with a quarter-century's experience, we can say that there is a fundamental dishonesty associated with campaigns that promise to "cut taxes" but won't tell us what programs are to go in order to pay for the cuts. Campaigns as simple as this promise what they can't deliver, and the candidates who get elected this way deliver the opposite of what they promise. The result is government bankrupted and unable to perform well even the uncontroversial functions.

This isn't only a national phenomenon. Rhode Island can't run a deficit in the current fiscal year, but we can run a deficit next year, which isn't a problem until then, and our state government does that all the time, as do many others. The recently passed 2007 budget does exactly this, via a huge tax cut for the 2,000 wealthiest Rhode Islanders that won't have its full impact until 2011. Inappropriate borrowing, like at the Department of Transportation here, contributes, too.

Using tricks like these, Rhode Island governors (and many others) are free to be as fiscally irresponsible as any president, and they and the Assembly have made the most of it, constantly promising lower taxes. And when they propose a program cut, and it fails or is modified in the legislature, somehow the taxes get cut anyway. This year is a perfect example, where the tax cut for the rich will cost $7.5 million next year, but ten times that in five years. Needless to say, no corresponding program cuts were made; that's a problem for legislators in 2010.

Our experience shows us that promising lower taxes without being specific is both ineffective at achieving the stated goals and very effective at getting candidates elected. But airy promises to lower taxes can only be an effective campaign strategy when people think the candidate making the promises is serious. When Ronald Reagan ran for president, peopletook him seriously. The press wrote respectfully about him, and Republican party activists and writers supported him and lacerated those who tried to call attention to the non-serious aspects of his platform (like George Bush, Sr., who memorably called Reagan's economic analysis "voodoo economics"). But the truth is that according to Niskanen's analysis, in fiscal matters Reagan was spouting nonsense. That he—along with successive candidates for president and state offices around the country—was allowed by the press and the public to masquerade as a serious candidate is to our lasting detriment.

It's a complex world, and it's no surprise that people rely on the opinions of others to form their own. But this reliance becomes our undoing when we allow serious-but-unconventional ideas to be mocked and the non-serious to be treated as wisdom. We rely on the press to tell us who's serious, while defenders of the media's objectivity say the press relies on the activists and voters. (RI Democratic Senate candidate Carl Sheeler, along with a legion of third-party candidates, might beg to differ.) Be that as it may, we're now in a strange spot, where the irresponsible campaigners are rewarded with the reins of government. Whatever the responsibility for getting us here, at least remember the judgment of the director of one of the Republican party's favorite think tanks: according to theory and experience both, if what you want is smaller government, simply cutting taxes is a lousy way to get there. If you aren't brave enough to be specific about cuts, then go home and don't make things worse.

(Article adapted from the current issue of the Rhode Island Policy Reporter. No rights reserved, but credit is nice.)

(Source notes: Budget data for this analysis came from the Economic Report of the President. Historical GDP and interest rates are from the Economic History web site (, and articles there by Lawrence Officer, "What Was the Interest Rate Then" (2003) and Louis D. Johnston and Samuel H. Williamson, "The Annual Real and Nominal GDP for the United States, 1790–Present" (2005). The historic unemployment rates are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, back to 1929. Before that, unemployment did not have much effect on the federal budget, since there were so few federal social insurance programs. Niskanen's article was originally brought to my attention by Jonathan Rauch in the Atlantic Monthly, but Mr. Niskanen was kind enough to share a pre-publication draft of it, and the analysis here draws from that.)

Michael Hirsh - The Myth of Al Qaeda

The Myth of Al Qaeda
Before 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s group was small and fractious. How Washington helped to build it into a global threat.
By Michael Hirsh

Updated: 4:55 p.m. CT June 28, 2006

June 28, 2006 - The capture of Ibn Al-Shaykhal-Libi was said to be one of the first big breakthroughs in the war against Al Qaeda. It was also the start of the post-9/11 mythologizing of the terror group. According to the official history of the Bush administration, al-Libi (a nom de guerre meaning "the Libyan") was the most senior Al Qaeda leader captured during the war in Afghanistan after running a training camp there for Osama bin Laden. Al-Libi was sent on to Egypt, where under interrogation he was said to have given up crucial information linking Saddam Hussein to the training of Al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare. His story was later used publicly by Secretary of State Colin Powell to justify the war in Iraq to the world.

The reality, as we have learned since—far too late, of course, to avert the war in Iraq—is that al-Libi made up that story of Iraq connections, probably because he was tortured by the Egyptians (or possibly Libyan intelligence officers who worked with them). But there's even more to this strange tale that hasn't been revealed. According to Numan bin-Uthman, a former fellow jihadi of al-Libi's who has left the movement and is based in London, al-Libi was never a member of Al Qaeda at all. Moreover, Uthman says, he's "90 percent sure" that al-Libi, who he says is dying of tuberculosis, has been released by the United States to Libya. (A CIA spokesman said he could not comment.) According to Uthman, al-Libi was a small-time member of a broader movement of jihadists who—inspired by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian killed during the CIA-backed mujahedin fight against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—came to fight the Soviets in the 1980s and later, trained, to redirect jihad back to their home regimes. The so-called Khaldin camp that al-Libi helped run dated from this movement. "I know him personally. He's not a member of Al Qaeda," Uthman, an anti-Kaddafi political activist who is considered credible by other Libyan exiles, told NEWSWEEK by phone from London.

It seems very likely that the Khaldin camp hosted Al Qaeda figures to whom al-Libi was linked but perhaps in the loose way that Uthman describes. (Others who trained at Khaldin, like Abdurahman Khadr, a 20-year-old Canadian released from Guantánamo in 2003, have given testimony backing up Uthman's description of the camp.) Certainly al-Libi is looking less and less like the fearsome "bin Laden lieutenant" he was made out to be. And we find this sort of debunking has occurred with many Al Qaeda "lieutenants" whose gauzy reputations are reduced to pill-sized smallness once the culprits themselves fall into our hands.

Another one of these key figures was said to be Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. As NEWSWEEK first reported in “The Debate Over Torture” more than 18 months ago, the CIA's difficult interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was resisting standard questioning methods, set in motion a long train of Justice Department and White House legal memos justifying harsh treatment of terror suspects. This legal discussion ultimately contributed to the tougher interrogation standards applied at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Was all this effort at extracting information worth the blight to America's honor and reputation? Probably not when it comes to Abu Zubaydah. As former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind writes in his new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," the person whom George W. Bush characterized as a "top operative plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States" was discovered to be more of a low-level messenger man, and a slightly daft one as well. "It was like calling someone who runs a company's in-house travel department the COO," one CIA official said, according to Suskind.

Some U.S. officials are disputing Suskind's account. But it is true that the more we learn about Al Qaeda, the more we have to conclude that the group contained a lot more Abu Zubaydah types than it did Muhammad Attas. In contrast to the truly terrifying Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, and 9/11 master strategist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—both of whom took terrorism to new levels of competence—most Al Qaeda operatives look more like life's losers, the kind who in a Western culture would join street gangs or become a petty criminals but who in the jihadi world could lose themselves in a "great cause," making some sense of their pinched, useless lives. Like Richard Reid, who tried to set his shoelace on fire. Or Ahmed Ressam, who bolted in a panic from his car at the U.S. border during an alleged mission to bomb the L.A. airport. Or Iyman Faris, who comically believed he could bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. Or the crazed Zacarias Moussaoui, who was disowned even by bin Laden. Then you've got the hapless Lackawanna Six, and, more recently, the Toronto 17, who were thinking about pulling off an Oklahoma City-style attack with ammonium nitrate—or perhaps just beheading the prime minister—but hadn't quite gotten around to it.

Were these people potentially lethal? Yes. One doesn't have to graduate at the top of one's class to set off explosives in a satchel on a subway. Were most of them capable of hatching a minutely timed scheme to obtain and detonate a nuclear bomb in a city, or launch a biowarfare attack? No. "In an open system like a network, the bumbler level is always going to be high because of the ease of entry," says John Arquilla, an intelligence expert at the Naval Postgraduate School. "That's how someone like [American Taliban supporter] John Walker Lindh can walk into the high councils of Al Qaeda and meet bin Laden. And recently the bumbler factor has gone up considerably." Ironically the most competent "Al Qaeda" leader in recent years, at least since the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003, was Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who came close to subverting the American project and creating a sectarian war in Iraq. But he did that largely on his own, facilitated by the fortuitous conjoining of Iraq with the war on terror. Before the Iraq war Zarqawi was a nobody, hiding out in northern Iraq, largely unconnected to Saddam's regime even though Colin Powell, in his infamous Feb. 5, 2003, United Nations Security Council speech, claimed that Saddam had given Zarqawi "harbor." And he was not part of bin Laden's group. Would he have attacked U.S. interests at some point, somewhere? Almost certainly. But the Iraq invasion gave Zarqawi a chance to blossom on his own as a jihadi.

Another figure named by Powell in that U.N. speech, Abu Atiya, was said to be the Zarqawi and Al Qaeda link to terror networks in Europe. But according to a French investigation documented in Le Figaro newspaper, he turned out to be a minor figure. "If he was so important, then why was he returned to his home country, Jordan, and released at one point?" says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, who has closely tracked the fate of high-level "ghost" detainees. "He does not fit the profile of high-level Al Qaeda terrorists. Neither do any of these supposed Al Qaeda operatives that were trumped up by administration officials in 2002 and 2003. Every single one of these stories, when subjected to the harsh light of public scrutiny, has collapsed." Those of us who have been on the war-on-terror beat since 9/11 have been reluctant to write about Al Qaeda this way, although some of us have suspected for a long time the group was never all that it was cracked up to be. Especially in the immediate wake of the horrific but brilliantly coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it seemed absurdly risky—if not downright unpatriotic—to suggest that perhaps Muhammad Atta was the best bin Laden had, his Hail Mary pass, so to speak.

But there was substantial evidence showing that, up to 9/11, Al Qaeda could barely hold its act together, that it was a failing group, hounded from every country it tried to roost in (except for the equally lunatic Taliban-run Afghanistan). That it didn't represent the mainstream view even in the jihadi community, much less the rest of the Muslim world. This is the reality of the group that the Bush administration has said would engage us in a "long war" not unlike the cold war—the group that has led to the transformation of U.S. foreign policy and America's image in the world. The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list Al Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan. It is also fairly well established that bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were engaged in a fierce pre-9/11 struggle with their own meager band of followers over whether it was wise to take on the "far enemy"—the United States—when many jihadis really wanted to engage the "near enemy," their national regimes, like Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The ultimate tragedy of the Iraq war was not only that it diverted the U.S. from the knockout blow against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan—the deaths of bin Laden and Zawahiri would likely have persuaded most jihadis it was wiser to focus on the near enemy—but that Iraq also altered the outcome of Al Qaeda's internal debate, tipping it in bin Laden's favor. "Iraq ended that debate because it fused the near and the far enemy," as Arquilla puts it succinctly. America ventured into the lands of jihad and willingly offered itself as a target in place of the local regimes. And as a new cause that revived the flagging Al Qaeda movement. It is, no doubt, bin Laden's greatest victory.


Elizabeth Drew - Power Grab

Power Grab
By Elizabeth Drew
New York Review of Books


During the presidency of George W. Bush, the White House has made an unprecedented reach for power. It has systematically attempted to defy, control, or threaten the institutions that could challenge it: Congress, the courts, and the press. It has attempted to upset the balance of power among the three branches of government provided for in the Constitution; but its most aggressive and consistent assaults have been against the legislative branch: Bush has time and again said that he feels free to carry out a law as he sees fit, not as Congress wrote it. Through secrecy and contemptuous treatment of Congress, the Bush White House has made the executive branch less accountable than at any time in modern American history. And because of the complaisance of Congress, it has largely succeeded in its efforts.

This power grab has received little attention because it has been carried out largely in obscurity. The press took little notice until Bush, on January 5 of this year, after signing a bill containing the McCain amendment, which placed prohibitions on torture, quietly filed a separate pronouncement, a "signing statement," that he would interpret the bill as he wished. In fact Bush had been issuing such signing statements since the outset of his administration. The Constitution distinguishes between the power of the Congress and that of the president by stating that Congress shall "make all laws" and the president shall "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush claims the power to execute the laws as he interprets them, ignoring congressional intent.

Grover Norquist, a principal organizer of the conservative movement who is close to the Bush White House and usually supports its policies, says, "If you interpret the Constitution's saying that the president is commander in chief to mean that the president can do anything he wants and can ignore the laws you don't have a constitution: you have a king." He adds, "They're not trying to change the law; they're saying that they're above the law and in the case of the NSA wiretaps they break it." A few members of Congress recognize the implications of what Bush is doing and are willing to speak openly about it. Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator from California, talks of a "very broad effort" being made "to increase the power of the executive." Chuck Hagel, Republican senator from Nebraska, says:

There's a very clear pattern of aggressively asserting executive power, and the Congress has essentially been complicit in letting him do it. The key is that Bush has a Republican Congress; of course if it was a Clinton presidency we'd be holding hearings.

The public scenes of the President surrounded by smiling legislators whom he praises for their wonderful work as he hands out the pens he has used to sign the bill are often utterly misleading. The elected officials aren't informed at that time of the President's real intentions concerning the law. After they leave, the President's signing statements—which he does not issue verbally at the time of signing— are placed in the Federal Register, a compendium of US laws, which members of Congress rarely read. And they are often so technical, referring as they do to this subsection and that statute, that they are difficult to understand.

For five years, Bush has been issuing a series of signing statements which amount to a systematic attempt to take power from the legislative branch. Though Ronald Reagan started issuing signing statements to set forth his own position on a piece of legislation, he did it essentially to guide possible court rulings, and he only occasionally objected to a particular provision of a bill. Though subsequent presidents also issued such statements, they came nowhere near to making the extraordinary claims that Bush has; nor did they make such statements nearly so often.

According to an article in The Boston Globe, Bush has claimed the right to ignore more than 750 laws enacted since he became president. He has unilaterally overruled Congress on a broad range of matters, refusing, for example, to accept a requirement for more diversity in awarding government science scholarships. He has overruled numerous provisions of congressional appropriations bills that he felt impinged on his executive power. He has also overruled Congress's requirement that he report back to it on how he has implemented a number of laws. Moreover, he has refused to enforce laws protecting whistle-blowers and providing safeguards against political interference in federally funded research. Bush has also used signing statements to place severe limits on the inspectors general created by Congress to oversee federal activities, including two officials who were supposed to inspect and report to Congress on the US occupation of Iraq.

The President could of course veto a bill he doesn't like and publicly argue his objections to it. He would then run the risk that Congress would override his veto. Instead, Bush has chosen a method that is largely hidden and is difficult to challenge. As of this writing, Bush has never vetoed a bill (though he has threatened to do so in the case of a spending bill now pending in Congress). Some of the bills Bush has decided to sign and then ignore or subvert were passed over his objections; others were the result of compromises between Congress and the White House. Arlen Specter, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me, "Under the Constitution if the president doesn't like a bill he vetoes it. You don't cherry-pick the legislation."

Bush has cited two grounds for flouting the will of Congress, or of unilaterally expanding presidential powers. One is the claim of the "inherent" power of the commander in chief.

Second is a heretofore obscure doctrine called the unitary executive, which gives the president power over Congress and the courts. The concept of a unitary executive holds that the executive branch can overrule the courts and Congress on the basis of the president's own interpretations of the Constitution, in effect overturning Marbury v. Madison (1803), which established the principle of judicial review, and the constitutional concept of checks and balances.

The term "unitary government" has two different meanings: one simply refers to the president's control of the executive branch, including the supposedly independent regulatory agencies such as the SEC and the FDA. The other, much broader concept, which is used by Bush, gives the executive power superior to that of Congress and the courts. Previous presidents have asserted the right not to carry out parts of a bill, arguing that it impinged on their constitutional authority; but they were specific both in their objections and in the ways they proposed to execute the law. Clinton, for example, objected to provisions in a bill establishing a semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, which set out the reasons for removing the director. Clinton objected that that impinged on his presidential prerogatives. Bush asserts broad powers without being specific in his objections or saying how he plans to implement the law. His interpretations of the law, as in his "signing statement" on the McCain amendment, often construe the bill to mean something different from —and at times almost the opposite of—what everyone knows it means.

The concept of the unitary executive, which has been put forward in conservative circles for several years, has been advocated mainly by the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers who also campaign for the nomination of conservative judges. The idea was seriously considered in the Reagan administration's Justice Department. One of its major supporters was Samuel Alito, then a lawyer in the Justice Department. In his confirmation hearing, Alito said that the memorandum he wrote saying that the president's interpretation of a bill "should be just as important as that of Congress" was "theoretical." But no president until Bush explicitly claimed that the concept of a unitary executive was a basis for overruling a bill.

The theory was formulated by John Yoo, a mid-level but highly influential attorney in the Justice Department between 2001 and 2003, who took the view that the president had the power to do pretty much whatever he wanted to do. (He also wrote the infamous memorandum defending what amounted to torture.[1] ) As White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, now attorney general, also publicly supported the theory of the unitary executive.

The theory rests on the Oath of Office, in which, according to the Constitution, the newly elected president promises to "faithfully execute the office of President," and also on the section of Article II that states that the president "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The administration has put forward unprecedented interpretations of both clauses, claiming that they give the president independent authority, unchecked by the other branches of government, to decide what the law means. This theory overlooks the fact that the framers were particularly wary of executive power. A number of constitutional scholars I have spoken with describe the administration's theory of the unitary executive as no more than a convenient fig leaf for enlarging presidential power.

Bush's claims of extraordinary power as commander in chief have been mainly invoked since September 11, 2001. He was able to exploit the anxieties the attacks had stirred, causing people to look to the President to defend them. Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, recalled that everyone

looked to the presidency, not to the 535 senators and congressmen, to protect them from a further crippling attack and suspended their mistrust of government. So they [the administration] took great power, which has to be handled wisely, but they didn't.

It is under the authority of his powers as commander in chief that Bush asserted the right to keep nearly five hundred "enemy combatants" in detention in Guantánamo, of whom only ten were charged with a crime. Most were handed over by Afghan bounty hunters who were paid by the US to turn in Arabs. Bush has also asserted the same authority in dealing with numerous bills passed by Congress, most spectacularly in his treatment of the McCain amendment banning "cruel, inhuman or degraded treatment" of POWs. In his signing statement, Bush said:

The executive branch shall construe [the torture provision] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judiciary....

This general formula had by then become a standard part of Bush's signing statements, though few noticed. What Bush said about the torture bill was particularly egregious since Vice President Cheney, Bush's liaison with Congress, had tried to negotiate with the Senate a provision watering down McCain's amendment, and failed. The Senate passed it by a vote of 90 to 9, and the House endorsed it by a vote of 308 to 122. It had been an open, well-publicized fight and the President lost.

In late February, shortly after Bush's signing statement on the McCain amendment, the Constitution Project, a bipartisan, nonprofit organization in Washington, issued a protest signed by former government officials of both parties, prominent conservatives, and scholars, saying that they "are deeply concerned about the risk of permanent and unchecked presidential power, and the accompanying failure of Congress to exercise its responsibility as a separate and independent branch of government." They objected to Bush's assertions that he "may not be bound" by statutes enacted by Congress, such as the McCain amendment, and that he can ignore "long-standing treaty commitments and statutes that prohibit the torture of prisoners." It concluded that "we agree that we face a constitutional crisis."[2]

Another egregious use of the signing statements occurred when Bush said in March that, in interpreting the bill reauthorizing the Patriot Act, he would ignore the requirement that the president report to Congress on the steps taken to implement the law, thus denying that the executive should be accountable to Congress. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued an angry protest calling Bush's use of signing statements "nothing short of a radical effort to re-shape the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law." Leahy added, "The President's signing statements are not the law, and we [the Congress] should not allow them to become the last word."

Bush went still further in his extraordinary claim of supreme power on December 17, 2005, when he acknowledged that, as revealed in The New York Times the day before, the government was conducting warrantless wiretapping of domestic calls. He claimed that he had the power to order such taps "to save lives," regardless of what the existing law said.

His claim rested on two contradictory arguments. First, he said that warrantless wiretaps were authorized in the resolution enacted three days after September 11, which said that the president could "use all necessary and appropriate force" to combat al-Qaeda. But the administration also argued that it didn't need authorization because of the inherent powers of the commander in chief. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wrote that the administration had asked for a much broader resolution on the use of force than the one Congress approved. At the last minute the White House sought to have the resolution also include actions "in the United States" but was turned down.

One problem with the President's claims of extraordinary powers as commander in chief is that the "war on terror" is by definition an open-ended one, with no time limit on the president's powers, as Bush interprets them, to do virtually whatever he wants in order to conduct that war. There are undefined limits on how far the legislature can go in instructing the president on how to conduct a war; clearly it cannot tell him how to deploy combat troops. But during the Vietnam War, Congress used the power of the purse, voting to cut off funds. The Nixon administration didn't argue that Congress had no power to do so.

There is no way of knowing how many other laws already on the books are being reinterpreted by Bush, as he's done in the case of the NSA wiretapping program. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, passed in 1978 after the Supreme Court had unanimously rejected as illegal Richard Nixon's domestic wiretapping, set forth what it said were the "exclusive means" by which an administration could conduct surveillance on Americans. The FISA law set up a special, secret court that could grant the government permission to wiretap American citizens after a showing of probable cause. One of the administration's justifications for initiating a wiretapping program outside the FISA law is that taps on potential terrorists must be initiated speedily; but the FISA law gives the executive three days to conduct a warrantless tap in an emergency and fifteen days if there's been a declaration of war. Gonzales complains that the law is too burdensome, since the attorney general still has to sign off on emergency taps and that they have to meet FISA standards. (A Republican senator, upon being told these complaints, said, "So what's the problem?") But the FISA law has been amended twice since it was enacted and the administration has never specifically and clearly asked Congress to revise the law to take account of changed circumstances.

The administration's wiretapping program appears to violate the Fourth Amendment's guarantee that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause...."[3] The original impetus for the Bush program reportedly came from General Michael V. Hayden, then head of the National Security Agency, which collects information in the name of national security, and Bush's nominee to head the CIA. Hayden told a receptive White House that the NSA counsel had said the program was legal. The government claims that if a member of al-Qaeda, or of a group "supportive of" al-Qaeda, calls or e-mails someone in the United States, or if someone in the US initiates the conversation, the government, which could already tap the suspected terrorist, can now tap the US resident as well. This raised the question whether that US citizen's other calls would be tapped.

In a press briefing given at the White House by Gonzales and Hayden on January 19 this year, Gonzales emphasized that "one party to the communication has to be outside the United States" and insisted there has to be "a reasonable basis" for concluding that one party to the communication is affiliated with or "supportive of" al-Qaeda, an extremely vague standard. And the administration is now making that decision, not the FISA court. Gonzales, moreover, has told congressional committees that he couldn't rule out that the President has the authority to wiretap purely domestic calls. Asked why the administration didn't go to Congress for authorization to wiretap domestic calls in terrorism cases without seeking a warrant, Gonzales replied: "We have had discussions with Congress in the past—certain members of Congress —as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible." In other words, having been told that Congress was unlikely to authorize the warrantless wiretaps of domestic calls, the administration went ahead and did the tapping.

The Bush administration's reaction to the revelations about the wiretapping program has been to attack the leaks. In his statement acknowledging the wiretapping program, Bush said, "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy." In an attempt to limit congressional oversight, the administration tried to restrict the number of members of Congress it would brief on such matters. According to a presidential directive issued quietly after September 11, officials were to discuss highly classified information with only the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees—committees that were established to conduct oversight on intelligence activities following the CIA scandals in the mid-Seventies—as well as the Republican and Democratic leaders of each chamber (a total of eight people) and not with the full intelligence committees.

Under the new rules, the members of this small group of people weren't permitted to discuss the program with other members of the intelligence committees, or with their own staffs. It was for the administration to decide which intelligence matters were too sensitive to discuss with the entire intelligence committees. One problem with this White House–imposed arrange-ment was that just as members of other congressional committees become cozy with the government agencies they are supposed to oversee, the intelligence committee heads—with the notable exception of Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia—are known to be close to the intelligence agencies. In July 2003, Rockefeller sent Cheney a handwritten letter saying that the restrictions on briefings "raise profound oversight issues."

Rockefeller also wrote that the wiretapping program recalled the highly intrusive Pentagon Total Information Awareness program headed by John Poindexter, which Congress voted to abolish. The resemblance, he wrote, "exacerbat[ed] my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance." (Rockefeller released the statement following the Times's disclosure.) Earlier this year, Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, threatened to vote with the Democrats for an investigation of the wiretapping program unless the full committee was briefed on it. In early March, on the eve of a scheduled vote on the matter, Cheney was called to a meeting with some committee Republicans in S207, the committee's highly secured room in the Capitol. The Republicans, including Snowe, sharply criticized Cheney for the administration's attempts to prevent other committee members from being briefed about the program.

Cheney had to report to the White House that its plan to shut out all but the top committee members was no longer feasible. But, working with Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the administration was able to limit the additional committee members to be briefed to four Republicans and three Democrats, still leaving most of the intelligence committee members, not to mention other elected officials, in the dark. On the eve of Hayden's confirmation hearings, Roberts, facing a public revolt by committee members of both parties, agreed that all of the committee members should be briefed on the surveillance programs. This was also a way of preventing committee members who hadn't been briefed from asking awkward questions in public. (This led to the tepid questioning of Hayden in his public confirmation hearings.) Despite the briefing, in the public hearing Snowe said,

the Congress was really never really consulted or informed in the manner that we could truly perform our oversight role as co-equal branches of government, not to mention—I happen to believe—required by law.

In March, after the Senate Intelligence Committee declined to hold hearings on the matter, Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, convened four days of hearings before the Judiciary Committee. But Specter concluded that Gonzales's testimony was too vague to be informative. In late April he threatened to cut off NSA funds for the wiretapping program if the administration didn't reveal more about it. Asked by a reporter why he didn't call Gonzales back to appear before his committee, Specter replied, "Because he won't tell us anything." The administration, apparently on the orders of the White House, shut down a Justice Department investigation into the wiretapping program.

Bush's nomination of Hayden to be the next CIA director set off an undoubtedly greater clamor than the White House expected over his role in the wiretapping program and his strenuous public defense of it, but the White House claimed it welcomed the fight. And then another clamor was set off by the revelation by USA Todaythat the NSA was collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans from major telephone companies. In a statement to the press, Bush said the NSA wasn't listening to the calls but was only tracing the pattern of contacts they revealed. But it would be easy for the NSA or another agency to correlate the numbers with the names of the callers. In any event, the program is quite possibly illegal. (Specter is to hold hearings.) These disclosures led some lawmakers to wonder what else they hadn't been told that the administration was doing in the name of national security.

A big congressional fight over the wiretapping program would fit neatly into Karl Rove's strategy, declared earlier this year to a meeting of the Republican National Committee, of cynically making the issue of national security central to the 2006 election, as he did in 2002. "Republicans," he said, "have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview." With its penchant for propagandistic titles (the "Patriot Act"), the administration calls the warrantless wiretapping program the "terrorist surveillance" program, and it imputes to its opponents the view that terrorists should not be wiretapped. But of course that is not the issue: most of the critics on Capitol Hill are simply arguing that wiretapping programs should be subject to the law. Hagel says, "You cannot have one branch of government make the decision on whose rights would be violated. That's the very basis of having three co-equal branches of government."

As for the judicial branch, the Bush administration, like previous administrations, has tried to appoint judges compatible with the President's views. But Bush has been strikingly successful at putting extreme conservatives on the bench, and probably now has four votes on the Supreme Court for his "unitary executive" rationale for executive authority over what the other branches do. His administration has several times told the Supreme Court that it should not hear the cases of detainees. Also by his appointments and by exerting pressure Bush has bent the supposedly independent regulatory agencies (the EPA, SEC, FDA, etc.) closer to his political views—in his case, pro-deregulation—than any president before him.[4] The explicit rationale for these agencies is that they were to be independent of both the executive and Congress. There have already been two federal court rulings charging the EPA with defying federal environmental law.

As for the press, Justice Department officials have threatened to prosecute not only officials who leak classified information, but also anyone else who simply receives classified information, whether they disclose it or not. Gonzales has suggested that journalists might be prosecuted for disclosing classified information (for example, The New York Times reporters for revealing the warrantless wiretapping program). On May 16, ABC News reported on its Web site that the FBI had stepped up government efforts to seek reporters' phone records in investigations of leaks. Many reporters and editors find it ominous that the administration prosecuted two lobbyists for AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for receiving such information (as well as passing it on to Israel), and that, in early March, the FBI demanded the papers of the late investigative reporter Jack Anderson.

Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, formerly his counsel, are understood by most informed observers to be mainly responsible for the expansive interpretations of the president's powers, as well as the unprecedented secrecy with which the administration conducts public affairs. According to The New York Times, after September 11 Cheney and Ad-dington pushed for the wiretapping of domestic calls. A Republican lobbyist I talked to told me that the administration's attitude on various issues is simple: "It's we just want it our way and we don't want to be bothered by talking to other people about it."

Some Republican observers suggest that Cheney is living in a time warp, reacting to what he saw as congressional encroachment (including FISA) on the president's powers during the time that he served in the Ford White House and as a minority member of a Democratic Congress. Despite rumors of a decline in his standing with Bush, Cheney remains the most powerful vice-president in American history, with an octopus-like reach into many parts of the government. He has placed his own people in each of the national security agencies—the Departments of Defense and State as well as the CIA and the National Security Council. (Until she recently took a maternity leave, his daughter Elizabeth was principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the Near East, a position that does not require Senate confirmation and from which people on Capitol Hill saw her as effectively in charge of the State Department's Middle East bureau.) Cheney installed Porter Goss in the CIA, with orders to root out people who leaked information inconvenient to the administration. It's difficult, however, to know much about what Cheney is doing because his office operates in such secrecy that a reporter friend of mine refers to it as a "black hole."

In Bush, Cheney has had a very receptive listener. Bush's own overweening attitude toward the presidency is clear from his behavior. He bristles at being challenged. He told Bob Woodward, "I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel I owe anybody an explanation." His comment, "I'm the decider," about not firing Rumsfeld, is in fact a phrase he has used often.

Why have the members of Congress been so timorous in the face of the steady encroachment on their constitutional power by the executive branch? Conversations with many people in or close to Congress produced several reasons. Most members of Congress don't think in broad constitutional terms; their chief preoccupations are raising money and getting reelected. Their conversations with their constituents are about the more practical issues on voters' minds: the prices of gasoline, prescription drugs, and college tuition. Or about voters' increasing discontent with the Iraq war.

Republicans know that the President's deepening unpopularity might hurt them in the autumn elections; but, they point out, he's still a good fund-raiser and they need his help. Moreover, the Republicans are more hierarchical than the Democrats, more reverential toward their own party's president; it's unimaginable that Republicans would be as openly critical of Bush as the Democrats were of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Republicans are more disciplined about delivering their party's "talking points" to the public. Republican fund-raising is done more from the top than is the case with Democrats, and there's always the implicit threat that if a Republican isn't loyal to the president, the flow of money to their campaigns might be cut off. A Republican opponent can challenge an incumbent in a primary, in which not many people vote. Here Arlen Specter has shown unusual courage. He barely survived a conservative challenge in the primary election in 2004 (though Bush supported him), and then had to beat back a conservative attempt to remove him as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee because of his views in favor of abortion rights. He survived by promising not to let his pro-choice views hold up the judicial nominations before the committee. Specter told me, "What I worry about most is the restrictions of Congress's constitutional authority, which the Congress doesn't resist."

Bush's declining popularity can occasionally impel Republicans to try to seem independent of him—as, say, on the issue of Dubai being awarded a contract to administer US ports; after all the administration's talk about security, this arrangement sounded outrageous in the American heartland, and members of Congress rushed to kill it. But the Republican legislators have also become convinced, in the words of one Republican senator, "We've got to hang with the president because if you start splitting with him or say the president has been abusing power we'll all go down." Karl Rove has recently been arguing along these lines to congressional Republicans. In the end, a Republican lobbyist told me, Republican politicians feel that Bush is "still their guy." The fierce partisanship on Capitol Hill also blocks serious discussion of the issue of unlimited executive power: many Republicans have concluded that the Democrats are exploiting such issues for partisan purposes and have dug in against them. On May 11, at a regular weekly luncheon of about twenty conservative senators, Senator Roberts denounced criticism of Bush's surveillance and data-collecting programs as "dangerous" and "insulting" to the President and charged the Democrats with treating national security as a political issue. Members of Congress who are protective of their institution and capable of looking beyond their parochial concerns—and who might have objected to Bush's encroachments on the legislative branch—are largely gone.

From the time of the vote on the Iraq war, many Democrats have been reluctant to be caught on the "wrong side" of "national security" issues, even those blatantly cooked up by the White House. It usually requires a strong public reaction, as there was on the subject of torture, for Congress to make a move against the President's actions. A Republican senator told me, "There's a feeling on the Hill that the public doesn't care about it, that it's willing to give up liberties in order to defeat the terrorists." Some of the proposals offered on Capitol Hill for regulating the NSA wiretaps amount to little regulation at all.

At the center of the current conflict over the Constitution is a president who surrounds himself with proven loyalists, who is not interested in complexities, and who is averse to debate and intolerant of dissenters within his administration and elsewhere. (A prominent Washington Republican who had raised a lot of money for Bush was dropped from the Christmas party list after he said something mildly critical of the President.) A Republican lobbyist close to the White House described to me what he called the Cult of Bush: "This group is all about loyalty and the definition of loyalty extends to policy-making, politics, and to the execution of policy—and to the regulatory agencies." The result, this man said, is that the people in the agencies, including the regulatory agencies, "become robotrons and just do what they're told. There's no dialogue."

The President's recent political weakness hasn't caused the White House to back away from its claims of extraordinary presidential power. The Republican lobbyist Vin Weber says, "I think they're keenly aware of the fact that they're politically weakened, but that's not the same thing as the institution of the presidency being damaged." People with very disparate political views, such as Grover Norquist and Dianne Feinstein, worry about the long-term implications of Bush's power grab. Norquist said, "These are all the powers that you don't want Hillary Clinton to have." Feinstein says, "I think it's very dangerous because other presidents will come along and this sets a precedent for them." Therefore, she says, "it's very important that Congress grapple with and make decisions about what our policies should be on torture, rendition, detainees, and wiretapping lest Bush's claimed right to set the policies, or his policies themselves, become a precedent for future presidents."

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 47:

The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many...may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

That extraordinary powers have, under Bush, been accumulated in the "same hands" is now undeniable. For the first time in more than thirty years, and to a greater extent than even then, our constitutional form of government is in jeopardy.

—May 24, 2006

[1] See the review by David Cole of John Yoo's The Power of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11 (University of Chicago Press, 2005), in The New York Review, November 17, 2005.

[2] Among the signers were David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; Abraham Sofaer, of the Hoover Institution and former legal adviser to Reagan's State Department; Richard Epstein, a conservative legal scholar at the University of Chicago; Bruce Fein, formerly of the Reagan Justice Department and a conservative legal activist; and William Sessions, FBI director under George H.W. Bush. See

[3] For other constitutional arguments against the wiretapping program see "On NSA Spying: A Letter to Congress," signed by David Cole et al., The New York Review, February 9, 2006. See also a second letter at

[4] See Marcia Angell's article on the failures of the FDA, "Your Dangerous Drugstore," The New York Review, June 8, 2006.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sidney Blumenthal - The Long March of Dick Cheney

The Long March of Dick Cheney
By Sidney Blumenthal

Mr. Blumenthal is a columnist for and the Guardian. He is the author of The Clinton Wars. He served as Assistant to the President, 1997-2001.

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The hallmark of the Dick Cheney administration is its illegitimacy. Its essential method is bypassing established lines of authority; its goal is the concentration of unaccountable presidential power. When it matters, the regular operations of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department have been sidelined.

Richard Nixon is the model, but with modifications. In the Nixon administration, the president was the prime mover, present at the creation of his own options, attentive to detail, and conscious of their consequences. In the Cheney administration, the president is volatile but passive, firm but malleable, presiding but absent. Once his complicity has been arranged, a closely held "cabal" -- as Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, calls it -- wields control.

Within the White House, the office of the vice president is the strategic center. The National Security Council has been demoted to enabler and implementer. Systems of off-line operations have been laid to evade professional analysis and a responsible chain of command. Those who attempt to fulfill their duties in the old ways have been humiliated when necessary, fired, retired early or shunted aside. In their place, acolytes and careerists indistinguishable from true believers in their eagerness have been elevated.

The collapse of sections of the façade shielding Cheney from public view has not inhibited him. His former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, indicted on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, appears to be withholding information about the vice president's actions in the Plame affair from the special prosecutor. While Bush has declaimed, "We do not torture," Cheney lobbied the Senate to stop it from prohibiting torture.

At the same time, Cheney has taken the lead in defending the administration from charges that it twisted intelligence to justify the Iraq war and misled the Congress even as new stories underscore the legitimacy of the charges.

Former Sen. Bob Graham has revealed, in a Nov. 20 article in the Washington Post, that the condensed version of the National Intelligence Estimate titled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs" that was submitted to the Senate days before it voted on the Iraq war resolution "represented an unqualified case that Hussein possessed [WMD], avoided a discussion of whether he had the will to use them and omitted the dissenting opinions contained in the classified version." The condensed version also contained the falsehood that Saddam Hussein was seeking "weapons-grade fissile material from abroad."

The administration relied for key information in the NIE on an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball. According to a Nov. 20 report in the Los Angeles Times, it had learned from German intelligence beforehand that Curveball was completely untrustworthy and his claims fabricated. Yet Bush, Cheney and, most notably, Powell in his prewar performance before the United Nations, which he now calls the biggest "blot" on his record and about which he insists he was "deceived," touted Curveball's disinformation.

In two speeches over the past week Cheney has called congressional critics "dishonest," "shameless" and "reprehensible." He ridiculed their claim that they did not have the same intelligence as the administration. "These are elected officials who had access to the intelligence materials. They are known to have a high opinion of their own analytical capabilities." Lambasting them for historical "revisionism," he repeatedly invoked Sept. 11. "We were not in Iraq on September 11th, 2001 -- and the terrorists hit us anyway," he said.

The day after Cheney's most recent speech, the National Journal reported that the president's daily briefing prepared by the CIA 10 days after Sept. 11, 2001, indicated that there was no connection between Saddam and the terrorist attacks. Of course, the 9/11 Commission had made the same point in its report.

Even though experts and pundits contradict his talking points, Cheney presents them with characteristic assurance. His rhetoric is like a paving truck that will flatten obstacles. Cheney remains undeterred; he has no recourse. He will not run for president in 2008. He is defending more than the Bush record; he is defending the culmination of his career. Cheney's alliances, ideas, antagonisms and tactics have accumulated for decades.

Cheney is a master bureaucrat, proficient in the White House, the agencies and departments, and Congress. The many offices Cheney has held add up to an extraordinary résumé. His competence and measured manner are often mistaken for moderation. Among those who have misjudged Cheney are military men -- Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft and Wilkerson, who lacked a sense of him as a political man in full. As a result, they expressed surprise at their discovery of the ideological hard man. Scowcroft told the New Yorker recently that Cheney was not the Cheney he once knew. But Scowcroft and the other military men rose by working through regular channels; they were trained to respect established authority. They are at a disadvantage in internal political battles with those operating by different rules of warfare. Their realism does not account for radicalism within the U.S. government.

Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal thwarted his designs for an unchecked imperial presidency. It was in that White House that Cheney gained his formative experience as the assistant to Nixon's counselor, Donald Rumsfeld. When Gerald Ford acceded to the presidency, he summoned Rumsfeld from his posting as NATO ambassador to become his chief of staff. Rumsfeld, in turn, brought back his former deputy, Cheney.

From Nixon, they learned the application of ruthlessness and the harsh lesson of failure. Under Ford, Rumsfeld designated Cheney as his surrogate on intelligence matters. During the immediate aftermath of Watergate, Congress investigated past CIA abuses, and the press was filled with revelations. In May 1975, Seymour Hersh reported in the New York Times on how the CIA had sought to recover a sunken Soviet submarine with a deep-sea mining vessel called the Glomar Explorer, built by Howard Hughes. When Hersh's article appeared, Cheney wrote memos laying out options ranging from indicting Hersh or getting a search warrant for Hersh's apartment to suing the Times and pressuring its owners "to discourage the NYT and other publications from similar action." "In the end," writes James Mann, in his indispensable book, "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet," "Cheney and the White House decided to back off after the intelligence community decided its work had not been significantly damaged."

Rumsfeld and Cheney quickly gained control of the White House staff, edging out Ford's old aides. From this base, they waged bureaucratic war on Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, a colossus of foreign policy, who occupied the posts of both secretary of state and national security advisor. Rumsfeld and Cheney were the right wing of the Ford administration, opposed to the policy of détente with the Soviet Union, and they operated by stealthy internal maneuver. The Secret Service gave Cheney the code name "Backseat."

In 1975, Rumsfeld and Cheney stage-managed a Cabinet purge called the "Halloween massacre" that made Rumsfeld secretary of defense and Cheney White House chief of staff. Kissinger, forced to surrender control of the National Security Council, angrily drafted a letter of resignation (which he never submitted). Rumsfeld and Cheney helped convince Ford, who faced a challenge for the Republican nomination from Ronald Reagan, that he needed to shore up his support on the right and that Rockefeller was a political liability. Rockefeller felt compelled to announce he would not be Ford's running mate. Upset at the end of his ambition, Rockefeller charged that Rumsfeld intended to become vice president himself. In fact, Rumsfeld had contemplated running for president in the future and undoubtedly would have accepted a vice presidential nod.

In the meantime, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld undermined the negotiations for a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty being conducted by Kissinger. Fighting off Reagan's attacks during the Republican primaries, Ford was pressured by Cheney to adopt his foreign policy views, which amounted to a self-repudiation. At the Republican Party Convention, acting as Ford's representative, Cheney engineered the adoption of Reagan's foreign policy plank in the platform. By doing so he preempted an open debate and split. Privately, Ford, Kissinger and Rockefeller were infuriated.

As part of the Halloween massacre Rumsfeld and Cheney pushed out CIA director William Colby and replaced him with George H.W. Bush, then the U.S. plenipotentiary to China. The CIA had been uncooperative with the Rumsfeld/Cheney anti-détente campaign. Instead of producing intelligence reports simply showing an urgent Soviet military buildup, the CIA issued complex analyses that were filled with qualifications. Its National Intelligence Estimate on the Soviet threat contained numerous caveats, dissents and contradictory opinions. From the conservative point of view, the CIA was guilty of groupthink, unwilling to challenge its own premises and hostile to conservative ideas.

The new CIA director was prompted to authorize an alternative unit outside the CIA to challenge the agency's intelligence on Soviet intentions. Bush was more compliant in the political winds than his predecessor. Consisting of a host of conservatives, the unit was called Team B. A young aide from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Wolfowitz, was selected to represent Rumsfeld's interest and served as coauthor of Team B's report. The report was single-minded in its conclusion about the Soviet buildup and cleansed of contrary intelligence. It was fundamentally a political tool in the struggle for control of the Republican Party, intended to destroy détente and aimed particularly at Kissinger. Both Ford and Kissinger took pains to dismiss Team B and its effort. (Later, Team B's report was revealed to be wildly off the mark about the scope and capability of the Soviet military.)

With Ford's defeat, Team B became the kernel of the Committee on the Present Danger, a conservative group that attacked President Carter for weakness on the Soviet threat. The growing strength of the right thwarted ratification of SALT II, setting the stage for Reagan's nomination and election.

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1978, Cheney became the Republican leader on the House Intelligence Committee, where he consistently fought congressional oversight and limits on presidential authority. When Congress investigated the Iran-Contra scandal (the creation of an illegal, privately funded, offshore U.S. foreign policy initiative), Cheney was the crucial administration defender. At every turn, he blocked the Democrats and prevented them from questioning Vice President Bush. Under his leadership, not a single House Republican signed the special investigating committee's final report charging "secrecy, deception and disdain for law." Instead, the Republicans issued their own report claiming there had been no major wrongdoing.

The origin of Cheney's alliance with the neoconservatives goes back to his instrumental support for Team B. Upon being appointed secretary of defense by the elder Bush, he kept on Wolfowitz as undersecretary. And Wolfowitz kept on his deputy, his former student at the University of Chicago, Scooter Libby. Earlier, Wolfowitz and Libby had written a document expressing suspicion of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalizing perestroika and warning against making deals with him, a document that President Reagan ignored as he made an arms control agreement and proclaimed that the Cold War was ending.

During the Gulf War, Secretary of Defense Cheney clashed with Gen. Colin Powell. At one point, he admonished Powell, who had been Reagan's national security advisor, "Colin, you're chairman of the Joint Chiefs ... so stick to military matters." During the run-up to the war, Cheney set up a secret unit in the Pentagon to develop an alternative war plan, his own version of Team B. "Set up a team, and don't tell Powell or anybody else," Cheney ordered Wolfowitz. The plan was called Operation Scorpion. "While Powell was out of town, visiting Saudi Arabia, Cheney -- again, without telling Powell -- took the civilian-drafted plan, Operation Scorpion, to the White House and presented it to the president and the national security adviser," writes Mann in his book. Bush, however, rejected it as too risky. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was enraged at Cheney's presumption. "Put a civilian in charge of professional military men and before long he's no longer satisfied with setting policy but wants to outgeneral the generals," he wrote in his memoir. After Operation Scorpion was rejected, Cheney urged Bush to go to war without congressional approval, a notion the elder Bush dismissed.

After the Gulf War victory, in 1992, Cheney approved a new "Defense Planning Guidance" advocating U.S. unilateralism in the post-Cold War, a document whose final draft was written by Libby. Cheney assumed Republican rule for the indefinite future.

One week after Bill Clinton's inauguration, on Jan. 27, 1993, Cheney appeared on "Larry King Live," where he declared his interest in running for the presidency. "Obviously," he said, "it's something I'll take a look at ... Obviously, I've worked for three presidents and watched two others up close, and so it is an idea that has occurred to me." For two years, he quietly campaigned in Republican circles, but discovered little enthusiasm. He was less well known than he imagined and less magnetic in person than his former titles suggested. On Aug. 10, 1995, he held a news conference at the headquarters of the Halliburton Co. in Dallas, announcing he would become its chief executive officer. "When I made the decision earlier this year not to run for president, not to seek the White House, that really was a decision to wrap up my political career and move on to other things," he said.

But in 2000, Cheney surfaced in the role of party elder, above the fray, willing to serve as the man who would help Gov. George W. Bush determine who should be his running mate. Prospective candidates turned over to him all sensitive material about themselves, financial, political and personal. Once he had collected it, he decided that he should be the vice presidential candidate himself. Bush said he had previously thought of the idea and happily accepted. Asked who vetted Cheney's records, Bush's then aide Karen Hughes explained, "Just as with other candidates, Secretary Cheney is the one who handled that."

Most observers assumed that Cheney would provide balancing experience and maturity, serving in his way as a surrogate father and elder statesman. Few grasped his deeply held view on presidential power. With Rumsfeld returned as secretary of defense, the position he had held during the Ford administration, the old team was back in place. Rivals from the past had departed and the field was clear. The methods used before were implemented again. To get around the CIA, the Office of Special Plans was created within the Pentagon, yet another version of Team B. Senior military dissenters were removed. Powell was manipulated and outmaneuvered.

The making of the Iraq war, torture policy and an industry-friendly energy plan has required secrecy, deception and subordination of government as it previously existed. But these, too, are means to an end. Even projecting a "war on terror" as total war, trying to envelop the whole American society within its fog, is a device to invest absolute power in the executive.

Dick Cheney sees in George W. Bush his last chance. Nixon self-destructed, Ford was fatally compromised by his moderation, Reagan was not what was hoped for, the elder Bush ended up a disappointment. In every case, the Republican presidents had been checked or gone soft. Finally, President Bush provided the instrument, Sept. 11 the opportunity. This time the failures of the past provided the guideposts for getting it right. The administration's heedlessness was simply the wisdom of Cheney's experience.

This article was first published by Salon and is reprinted with permission of the author.

Iraq war is costing $100,000 per minute

Iraq war is costing $100,000 per minute

By Mark Mazzetti and Joel Havemann

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The White House said Thursday that it plans to ask Congress for an additional $70 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving the cost of military operations in the two countries to $120 billion this year, the highest ever.

Most of the new money would pay for the war in Iraq, which has cost an estimated $250 billion since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

The additional spending, along with other war funding the Bush administration will seek separately in its regular budget next week, would push the price tag for combat and nation-building since Sept. 11, 2001, to nearly a half-trillion dollars, approaching the inflation-adjusted cost of the 13-year Vietnam War.

The cost of military operations in 2006 is $35 billion higher than what Congress had estimated a few months ago that the Defense Department would need this year. The higher costs are occurring even as the Pentagon is planning to reduce troop levels in Iraq in coming months, reflecting the continuing wear and damage to military equipment in desert combat, the need to upgrade protection for U.S. troops and the effort to train and equip Iraqi forces.

No large-scale reconstruction projects are included in the spending, officials said.

Currently, the Defense Department says it is spending about $4.5 billion a month on the conflict in Iraq, or about $100,000 per minute.

Current spending in Afghanistan is about $800 million a month, or about $18,000 per minute.

The rising costs contrast with projections before the war. Former White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey predicted in late 2002 that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion, drawing administration ire for offering such high estimates and eventually resigning his post.

In spring 2003, top administration officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, said Iraq's vast oil reserves would help defray the costs of an extended U.S. stay. Nearly three years later, oil revenues are far below expectations and the Iraqi government is able to pay for only a fraction of its reconstruction.

The White House also told Congress on Thursday that it will ask for $18 billion in supplemental funds for Hurricane Katrina relief, bringing to $105 billion the amount the administration plans to spend on relief and rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.

Donald Powell, federal coordinator for Katrina recovery, did not specify how the money would be spent. Aides said they will release details in the next few weeks. Democrats were quick to question how the money would be allocated.

"We certainly welcome additional federal assistance," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "But I am highly concerned that the administration's proposal, which lacks details, will put more money into dysfunctional federal bureaucracies like FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and won't adequately address urgent needs such as housing, levees and flood protection."

The war-spending plans were detailed in a conference call with reporters held by Joel Kaplan, a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Kaplan said the war-budget request would pay for military operations, training soldiers and policemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, repairing and replacing equipment, and running U.S. embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kaplan said the money also would go toward buying new equipment to help protect U.S. troops from roadside bombs, the deadliest weapon of insurgents.

The $70 billion the administration plans to seek would be added to $50 billion approved by Congress in December as an advance on 2006 expenses, making this year the most expensive yet for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition to the $70 billion for the remainder of 2006, Kaplan estimated an "emergency allowance" of $50 billion would be required as a "bridge fund" for war expenses anticipated in 2007.

Asked whether he believes that number is too low, given the $120 billion required for 2006, Kaplan said it was simply a "plug number" not intended to approximate the final need.

Congress has approved five emergency-spending measures since Sept. 11, 2001, and other federal money has been moved into the effort to wage battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all, more than $400 billion will have been set aside or spent by the end of this year.

The administration plans to seek the additional $70 billion as special "supplemental" funding, an emergency procedure outside the regular budget process that has stirred controversy on Capitol Hill.

Critics point out that the costs of the war, which enters its fourth year next month, have grown more predictable and say that the money should be requested in the regular budget rather than as supplemental funding.

In its regular budget, which will be released Monday, the administration will request a nearly 5 percent increase in funding for the Pentagon for fiscal 2007, to $439.3 billion, said a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Despite the size of the supplemental budget request announced Thursday, analysts predicted it would likely pass Congress easily.

Brian Riedl, a budget specialist with the Heritage Foundation, summed it up: "Nobody wants to vote against the troops."

Material from the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and

The Associated Press is included

in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Glenn Greenwald: The Bush lynch mob against the nation's free press

The Bush lynch mob against the nation's free press

Any questions about whether the Bush administration intends to imprison unfriendly journalists (defined as "journalists who fail to obey the Bush administration's orders about what to publish") were completely dispelled this weekend. As I have noted many times before, one of the most significant dangers our country faces is the all-out war now being waged on our nation's media -- and thereby on the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press -- by the Bush administration and its supporters, who are furious that the media continues to expose controversial government policies and thereby subject them to democratic debate. After the unlimited outpouring of venomous attacks on the Times this weekend, I believe these attacks on our free press have become the country's most pressing political issue.

Documenting the violent rhetoric and truly extremist calls for imprisonment against the Times is unnecessary for anyone paying even minimal attention the last few days. On every cable news show, pundits and even journalists talked openly about whether the editors and reporters of the Times were traitors deserving criminal punishment. The Weekly Standard, always a bellwether of Bush administration thinking, is now actively crusading for criminal prosecution against the Times. And dark insinuations that the Times ought to be physically attacked are no longer the exclusive province of best-selling right-wing author Ann Coulter, but -- as Hume's Ghost recently documented -- are now commonly expressed sentiments among all sorts of "mainstream" Bush supporters. Bush supporters are now engaged in all-out, unlimited warfare against journalists who are hostile to the administration and who fail to adhere to the orders of the Commander-in-Chief about what to print.

The clear rationale underlying the arguments of Bush supporters needs to be highlighted. They believe that the Bush administration ought to be allowed to act in complete secrecy, with no oversight of any kind. George Bush is Good and the administration wants nothing other than to stop The Terrorists from killing us. There is no need for oversight over what they are doing because we can trust our political officials to do good on their own. We don't need any courts or any Congress or any media serving as a "watchdog" over the Bush administration. There is no reason to distrust what they do. We should -- and must -- let them act in total secrecy for our own good, for our protection. And anyone who prevents them from acting in total secrecy is not merely an enemy of the Bush administration, but of the United States, i.e., is a traitor.

A book could and ought to be written about the corrupt reasoning and truly unparalleled dangers characterizing this anti-media lynch mob. But for now, following are what I believe are the most noteworthy points:

(1) There is not a single sentence in the Times banking report that could even arguably "help the terrorists."

George Bush and his allies in the right-wing media (such as at National Review) have been running around for the last several years boasting about the administration's programs for tracking terrorists and innovating our surveillance methods. In doing so, they have repeatedly -- and in detail -- told the public, and therefore The Terrorists, all sorts of details about the counter-terrorism programs we have implemented, including -- from the President's mouth himself -- programs we have for monitoring international banking transactions.

Here is President Bush, campaigning for re-election in Hershey, Pennsylvania on April 19, 2004, boasting about our vigilant efforts to monitor the terrorists' banking transactions:

Before September the 11th, law enforcement could more easily obtain business and financial records of white-collar criminals than of suspected terrorists. See, part of the way to make sure that we catch terrorists is we chase money trails. And yet it was easier to chase a money trail with a white-collar criminal than it was a terrorist. The Patriot Act ended this double standard and it made it easier for investigators to catch suspected terrorists by following paper trails here in America.

And as former State Department official Victor Comraes detailed (and documented) on the Counterterrorism blog, it has long been pubic knowledge that the U.S. Government specifically monitors terrorists' banking transactions through SWIFT:

Yesterday’s New York Times Story on US monitoring of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice. In that sense, it was truly new news.

But reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries.

The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:

"The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries."

Suggestions that SWIFT and other similar transactions should be monitored by investigative agencies dealing with terrorism, money laundering and other criminal activity have been out there for some time. An MIT paper discussed the pros and cons of such practices back in 1995. Canada’s Financial Intelligence Unit, FINTRAC,, for one, has acknowledged receiving information on Canadian origin SWIFT transactions since 2002. Of course, this info is provided by the banks themselves.

Claims that The New York Times (and other newspapers which published stories about this program) disclosed information about banking surveillance which could help terrorists are factually false. Nobody can identify a single sentence in any of these stories which disclosed meaningful information that terrorists would not have previously known or which they could use to evade detection. To the extent that it is (ludicrously) asserted that the more they are reminded of such surveillance, the more they will remember it, nobody has spoken more openly and publicly about the Government's anti-terrorism surveillance programs than a campaigning George Bush.

In this regard, the bloodthirsty calls for Bill Keller and other editors and reporters to rot in a federal penitentiary are simply outside the scope of rational thought. Similar calls have issued in response to the Times' oh-so-shocking disclosure that the U.S. Government eavesdrops on the telephone calls of terrorists, even though the President himself ran around for several years boasting about -- and detailing -- our efforts to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls of terrorists. Here is George Bush, on June 9, 2005, in Columbus, Ohio, disclosing to the terrorists that they can no longer change cell phones as a means to evade our surveillance:

One tool that has been especially important to law enforcement is called a roving wiretap. Roving wiretaps allow investigators to follow suspects who frequently change their means of communications. These wiretaps must be approved by a judge, and they have been used for years to catch drug dealers and other criminals.

Yet, before the Patriot Act, agents investigating terrorists had to get a separate authorization for each phone they wanted to tap. That means terrorists could elude law enforcement by simply purchasing a new cell phone. The Patriot Act fixed the problem by allowing terrorism investigators to use the same wiretaps that were already being using against drug kingpins and mob bosses.

We've endured six months now of increasingly shrill and vicious assaults on the nation's media, whereby any journalist who publishes information which George Bush wants to conceal is branded a traitor and a criminal deserving of imprisonment, if not worse. And all of it is based upon a plainly false factual premise -- that these stories are disclosing information which can help the terrorists evade surveillance because they are disclosing critical operational details of our surveillance programs. Which information specifically has been disclosed that: (a) was not previously disclosed and (b) can help terrorists evade detection? There is none.

Thus, all anyone has to do to realize the sheer falsity of those claims is to compare the "treasonous" articles in question to prior public statements and documents from the Bush administration. Terrorists already knew that we were attempting to eavesdrop on their telephone calls because the Bush administration repeatedly talked about our surveillance programs. And, for the same reason, terrorists already knew that we were monitoring banking transactions -- including specifically those effectuated through SWIFT. And yet we are subjected to an increasingly frenzied lynch mob insisting that reporters have committed treason without their ever really being challenged by the media itself over these factually false claims.

None of this has to do with anger over "helping the terrorists." The articles in question so plainly do nothing of the sort. The anger that is unleashed by the media doing its job is the by-product of a belief that the Bush administration should be able to act in complete secrecy, with no checks or oversight of any kind. And it is equally grounded in the twisted view that American interests are synonymous with the political interests of the Bush administration, such that harming the latter is, by definition, to harm the former. In this view -- which has predominated over the last five years -- to oppose the Bush administration's "national security" policies is, by definition, to act against the United States and aid and abet The Terrorists.

The media is guilty of publishing stories which might harm the political interests of the President, not which could harm the national security of the United States. But Bush supporters recognize no such distinction. Harming the "Commander-in-Chief in a time of war" is, to them, synonymous with treason. Hence, we have calls for the imprisonment of our national media for reporting stories which tell terrorists nothing of significance which they did not already know, but which instead, merely provoke long-overdue democratic debates about whether we want to be a country in which we place blind trust in the administration to act in total secrecy.

(2) The reason there is "no evidence of abuse" is precisely because the administration exercises these powers in total secrecy.

One of the most favorably cited articles over the last few days by Bush supporters urging the imprisonment of journalists was this angry screed from Michael Barone, entitled "The New York Times at war with America." The heart of the argument is this claim:

Why do they hate us? Why does the Times print stories that put America more at risk of attack? They say that these surveillance programs are subject to abuse, but give no reason to believe that this concern is anything but theoretical.

If it were the case that the Bush administration were abusing its surveillance and intelligence-gathering powers -- by, for instance, spying on innocent Americans or gathering data on the private lives of its political opponents -- how would we possibly know? How would it ever become something other than a "theoretical" concern? It couldn't be.

The whole point -- the one which The New York Times is attempting finally to examine -- is that we have previously decided as a nation that we want our Government to engage in aggressive intelligence-gathering activities against our enemies, but we trust the Government to do so only with active and vigilant oversight from other branches to ensure that there is no abuse, and do not trust these powers to be exercised in secret. That was the whole point, for instance, of FISA -- passed 95-1 by the Senate 28 years ago. We want the Government to engage in aggressive eavesdropping, but only trust it to do so with judicial oversight, precisely because allowing the Government to do so in secret means that we will never discover abuse of those powers.

To assert that we need not worry about anything because there is "no evidence of abuse" -- that we should keep our heads down and go about our business -- is plainly, even painfully, illogical. The reason we don't want the Government to be able to act without oversight is precisely because they can then abuse its powers without being detected, i.e., without there being any "evidence of abuse." If the Bush administration exercises these powers with no governmental oversight -- as it does -- how does Michael Barone think there would be any evidence of abuse if, in fact, the administration was abusing its power?

Administrations of both parties systematically abused its eavesdropping powers for 40 years without detection precisely because it operated in secrecy. The reason why it is dangerous to allow the Government to act in secrecy -- to troll at will through our financial transactions and listen in on our telephone conversations -- is precisely because there is no way to learn of abuses. To assert, as Barone has, that abuse is "only theoretical" is to illustrate why oversight is needed, not to demonstrate that it is unnecessary.

The defining ethos of our country is a distrust of government power -- or at least it always used to be. The entirety of the Constitution is devoted to imposing safeguards against government abuses because our country was founded upon the principle that we do not place blind faith in political officials to act properly. But the argument being peddled now is that we can place blind trust in the Bush administration and we need not worry ourselves about anything. At the very least, such a dramatic reversal of how we think about our government ought to be the subject of debate. That is the "public interest" to which Bill Keller is referring when explaining why the Times ran this story. And that is precisely what the media is supposed to do.

(3) The Founders unequivocally opted for excess disclosures by the media over excess government secrecy and restraints on the press.

These debates over the media are not new. A free press, publishing government secrets, has been the enemy of governments wherever a free press existed. It is supposed to be that way. The reason the Founders guaranteed a free press is to ensure that there would be an adversary of the Government, an entity which uncovers and discloses government conduct which political leaders want to conceal. As a result, it was hardly unforeseen by the Founders that the Government would be hostile and resentful of the press. Hostility and adversarial struggles were supposed to be an intrinsic attribute of the government-press relationship.

And the Founders equally recognized that, as a result of this inherent conflict, the Government would attempt to do exactly what the Bush administration and its supporters are now actively pursuing -- that is, using governmental power (such as the power of anti-press legislation, prosecution and/or imprisonment) to forcibly limit what the media can report and/or to intimidate them from reporting facts which the Government wanted to conceal. The Constitution resolves that conflict in favor of the press in the First Amendment to the Constitution by making the prohibition on anti-press government restraints absolute and unambiguous.

Bush supporters want nothing less than to re-visit the Founders' resolution and reverse it. They want to replace the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin with regard to press freedoms with the superior judgment of Dick Cheney, Congressman Peter King and Michelle Malkin, who want to imprison reporters for what they publish. They simply don't believe in the same principles that the Founders embraced and enshrined for our country. These observations from Jefferson simply leave no doubt about that:

Jefferson warned:

"Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions."

And in the debate over whether to favor excessive disclosure or excessive government secrecy, Jefferson left little doubt as to how that conflict was resolved by the Founders: in choosing "government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter."

Bush supporters plainly disagree with both assessments. They believe in government power that cannot be checked by the press, at least under this administration. The government can act in total secrecy, and journalists ought to be imprisoned if they disclose information which the President decrees should be kept secret. They believe that the Bush administration should be able to dictate what the media reports (as Michael Barone revealingly complained: "Once again, Bush administration officials asked the Times not to publish the story. Once again, the Times went ahead anyway"). That is a theory of government which has been advocated by other countries. But it has never previously taken hold in the United States. It is now close to doing exactly that.

(4) How can any rational person believe that the reporters and editors of The New York Times want to help terrorists attack the U.S.?

After the 9/11 attacks, it became a common topic of discussion among residents of New York City as to which sites were the most likely targets for future terrorist attacks -- bridges, subways, tourist attractions, centers of commerce, etc.? Virtually everyone recognized that one of the most obvious targets for terrorists is Times Square, which has everything a terrorist could want -- symbolic value, great economic impact, a locale in the heart of America's most important city, and a permanently congested square always packed full with residents, workers, and tourists.

The reason the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway has the name "Times Square" is because it is the home of The New York Times. There are few people more at risk in the event of a future terrorist attack then the reporters and editors of The Times, who work (and often live) in the middle of Manhattan, at the epicenter of one of the most obvious terrorist targets in the country. Nobody would be less likely to want to aid terrorists in committing a terrorist attack than the reporters and editors of The New York Times. That's just obvious. And yet all sorts of people who live and work in distant places that are far less likely to ever be the target of a terrorist attack so whimsically and stupidly accuse the journalists at the Times of wanting to help terrorists stage attacks against America.

That is the level of discourse and reasoning flooding the airwaves and public debates. Accordingly, the reporters of the Times are not publishing these stories because they believe that Americans ought to know about and debate the Bush administration's secret, oversight-less intelligence-gathering programs. No -- it's because they are enemies of the United States, they hate Americans, and they want to help The Terrorists stage attacks on this country (of which they are the most likely targets). To see the face of genuinely demented Orwellian hate rituals, behold these posters published by Michelle Malkin launching accusations against and urging attacks on The New York Times. All of this is truly the stuff of hysterical, deranged, hateful lynch mobs -- not of rational discussions -- and yet it is driving radical changes in how our country functions.