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)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Frank Rich - The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq

The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq

By FRANK RICH

AS America fell into the quagmire of Vietnam, the comedian Milton Berle joked that the fastest way to end the war would be to put it on the last-place network, ABC, where it was certain to be canceled. Berle’s gallows humor lives on in the quagmire in Iraq. Americans want this war canceled too, and first- and last-place networks alike are more than happy to oblige.

CNN will surely remind us today that it is Day 19 of the Israel-Hezbollah war — now branded as Crisis in the Middle East — but you won’t catch anyone saying it’s Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks’ evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. On Thursday, Brian Williams of NBC read aloud a “shame on you” e-mail complaint from the parents of two military sons anguished that his broadcast had so little news about the war.

This is happening even as the casualties in Iraq, averaging more than 100 a day, easily surpass those in Israel and Lebanon combined. When Nouri al-Maliki, the latest Iraqi prime minister, visited Washington last week to address Congress, he too got short TV shrift — a mere five sentences about the speech on ABC’s “World News.” The networks know a rerun when they see it. Only 22 months earlier, one of Mr. Maliki’s short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi, had come to town during the 2004 campaign to give a similarly empty Congressional address laced with White House-scripted talking points about the war’s progress. Propaganda stunts, unlike “Law & Order” episodes, don’t hold up on a second viewing.

The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn’t happenstance. It’s a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. “It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror,” said Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly on July 18. “I mean, it’s summertime.” Americans don’t like to lose, whatever the season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched off Iraq. The larger issue is that we don’t know what we — or, more specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops — are fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. It’s a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot.

Certainly there has been no shortage of retrofitted explanations for the war in the three-plus years since the administration’s initial casus belli, to fend off Saddam’s mushroom clouds and vanquish Al Qaeda, proved to be frauds. We’ve been told that the war would promote democracy in the Arab world. And make the region safer for Israel. And secure the flow of cheap oil. If any of these justifications retained any credibility, they have been obliterated by Crisis in the Middle East. The new war is a grueling daily object lesson in just how much the American blunders in Iraq have undermined the one robust democracy that already existed in the region, Israel, while emboldening terrorists and strengthening the hand of Iran.

But it’s the collapse of the one remaining (and unassailable) motivation that still might justify staying the course in Iraq — as a humanitarian mission on behalf of the Iraqi people — that is most revealing of what a moral catastrophe this misadventure has been for our country. The sad truth is that the war’s architects always cared more about their own grandiose political and ideological ambitions than they did about the Iraqis, and they communicated that indifference from the start to Iraqis and Americans alike. The legacy of that attitude is that the American public cannot be rallied to the Iraqi cause today, as the war reaches its treacherous endgame.

The Bush administration constantly congratulates itself for liberating Iraq from Saddam’s genocidal regime. But regime change was never billed as a primary motivation for the war; the White House instead appealed to American fears and narcissism — we had to be saved from Saddam’s W.M.D. From “Shock and Awe” on, the fate of Iraqis was an afterthought. They would greet our troops with flowers and go about their business.

Donald Rumsfeld boasted that “the care” and “the humanity” that went into our precision assaults on military targets would minimize any civilian deaths. Such casualties were merely “collateral damage,” unworthy of quantification. “We don’t do body counts,” said Gen. Tommy Franks. President Bush at last started counting those Iraqi bodies publicly — with an estimate of 30,000 — some seven months ago. (More recently, The Los Angeles Times put the figure at, conservatively, 50,000.) By then, Americans had tuned out.

The contempt our government showed for Iraqis was not just to be found in our cavalier stance toward their casualties, or in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There was a cultural condescension toward the Iraqi people from the get-go as well, as if they were schoolchildren in a compassionate-conservatism campaign ad. This attitude was epitomized by Mr. Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens” response to the looting of Baghdad at the dawn of the American occupation. In “Fiasco,” his stunning new book about the American failure in Iraq, Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post’s senior Pentagon correspondent, captures the meaning of that pivotal moment perfectly: “The message sent to Iraqis was far more troubling than Americans understood. It was that the U.S. government didn’t care — or, even more troubling for the future security of Iraq, that it did care but was incapable of acting effectively.”

As it turned out, it was the worst of both worlds: we didn’t care, and we were incapable of acting effectively. Nowhere is this seen more explicitly than in the subsequent American failure to follow through on our promise to reconstruct the Iraqi infrastructure we helped to smash. “There’s some little part of my brain that simply doesn’t understand how the most powerful country on earth just can’t get electricity back in Baghdad,” said Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and prominent proponent of the war, in a recent Washington Post interview.

The simple answer is that the war planners didn’t care enough to provide the number of troops needed to secure the country so that reconstruction could proceed. The coalition authority isolated in its Green Zone bubble didn’t care enough to police the cronyism and corruption that squandered billions of dollars on abandoned projects. The latest monument to this humanitarian disaster was reported by James Glanz of The New York Times on Friday: a high-tech children’s hospital planned for Basra, repeatedly publicized by Laura Bush and Condi Rice, is now in serious jeopardy because of cost overruns and delays.

This history can’t be undone; there’s neither the American money nor the manpower to fulfill the mission left unaccomplished. The Iraqi people, whose collateral damage was so successfully hidden for so long by the Rumsfeld war plan, remain a sentimental abstraction to most Americans. Whether they are seen in agony after another Baghdad bombing or waving their inked fingers after an election or being used as props to frame Mrs. Bush during the State of the Union address, they have little more specificity than movie extras. Chalabi, Allawi, Jaafari, Maliki come and go, all graced with the same indistinguishable praise from the American president, all blurring into an endless loop of instability and crisis. We feel badly ... and change the channel.

Given that the violence in Iraq has only increased in the weeks since the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist portrayed by the White House as the fount of Iraqi troubles, any Americans still paying attention to the war must now confront the reality that the administration is desperately trying to hide. “The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists and Saddamists and terrorists,” President Bush said in December when branding Zarqawi Public Enemy No. 1. But Iraq’s exploding sectarian warfare cannot be pinned on Al Qaeda or Baathist dead-enders.

The most dangerous figure in Iraq, the home-grown radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is an acolyte of neither Osama bin Laden nor Saddam but an ally of Iran who has sworn solidarity to both Hezbollah and Hamas. He commands more than 30 seats in Mr. Maliki’s governing coalition in Parliament and 5 cabinet positions. He is also linked to death squads that have slaughtered Iraqis and Americans with impunity since the April 2004 uprising that killed, among others, Cindy Sheehan’s son, Casey. Since then, Mr. Sadr’s power has only grown, enabled by Iraqi “democracy.”

That the latest American plan for victory is to reposition our forces by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdad’s civil war is tantamount to treating our troops as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic. Even if the networks led with the story every night, what Americans would have the stomach to watch?

Bill Scher - Dragging Democracy Through The Mud

Dragging Democracy Through The Mud
Bill Scher

Back in February, LiberalOasis offered that: "Perhaps the worst part of the Bush legacy will be the stain he has put upon the good name of democracy."

That stain is getting harder and harder to come out.

Syria Comment delivered the damning analysis earlier this week:

Democracy, the American export, has been further discredited in the eyes of Middle Easterners.

The US promised Lebanon's new anti-Syrian democratic coalition that it would be protected and backed by Washington in its struggle with Damascus. This turns out to have been a false promise.

Democracy led to weakness and division in the Lebanese government.

Washington and Israel lost patience with the Lebanese government after little more than a year and chose to punish it for not showing the characteristics of a powerful dictatorship that can destroy opposition groups.

Washington has turned against its own democratic experiment. The lesson is that Washington cannot be trusted [and] is not sincere about democracy...


We could have strengthened democracy in Lebanon by giving the new Prime Minister a tangible success, such as orchestrating an Israeli withdrawal of Shebaa Farms months ago.

We could have strengthened democracy in Palestine by giving the elected Hamas officials incentives to follow through on their hints of recognizing Israel.

Instead in both cases, we allowed militants to seize the upper hand and make elected leaders look weak.

This was not done out of ignorance or incompetence, but out of insincerity.

If democracy did mean something to the Bushies, they would have ensured that peoples who expiremented with free elections got something out of their civic engagement besides a slap in the face.

But talking up democracy while undermining it may not only damage democracy's reputation abroad.

It appears to be ruining it at home as well.

The NY Times poll released yesterday, finding a "strong isolationist streak" among Americans, based on the finding that 59% believe the U.S. should not "take the lead in solving international crises and conflicts."

Such cynical and pessimistic sentiment is more than understandable, after witnessing the results of Dubya's disastrous neocon foreign policy.

But if that pessimism deepens, it will be harder to revamp our foreign policy into a productive one that promotes credible democracy, as opposed to the Bush brand of phony democracy.

As is put forth in [SELF-PROMOTION ALERT] the soon-to-be published "Wait! Don't Move To Canada!", we should not be chasing a public opinion spike in isolationism by crudely offering an opposite of Bush rhetoric.

We should not argue that Bush's failing was a policy of promoting democracy, but a policy of promoting Democracy Hypocrisy.

Which has further fueled global resentment, instability and violence.

And we should argue that a liberal foreign policy that promotes "credible democracy" -- which cannot be imposed at the point of a gun -- will restore our moral authority and increase our influence without suppressing other nations, harming the global economy or stoking terrorism.

The more the GOP drags democracy through the mud, the more courage it's going to take for us to champion it.

Because there will likely be no short-term political gain to be had by making democracy promotion a main pillar of our foreign polcy.

But you don't articulate a foreign policy vision to win the election immediately in front of you.

You do it to build trust and establish credibility on national security over the long run.

http://www.liberaloasis.com/2006/07/sullied_democracy.php

Americans Showing Isolationist Streak, Poll Finds - New York Times

Americans Showing Isolationist Streak, Poll Finds
By JIM RUTENBERG and MEGAN C. THEE

Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority said the war between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to a wider war. And while almost half of those polled approved of President Bush’s handling of the crisis, a majority said they preferred the United States leave it to others to resolve.

Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.

The concerns expressed over the direction of foreign policy also highlight some of the pitfalls facing Republicans as they head toward the November elections with national security front and center.

A majority of respondents, 56 percent, said they supported a timetable for a reduction in United States forces in Iraq, a question the two parties have been sparring over, with the White House and most Republicans in Congress taking the position that setting a timetable would send the wrong message. More than half of that group said they supported a withdrawal even if it meant Iraq would fall into the hands of insurgents.

Americans support the idea of putting an international peacekeeping force on the border between Israel and Lebanon to calm tensions there, the poll found, but most do not want United States troops to be a part of it.

By a wide margin, the poll found, Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general, with 59 percent saying it should not, and 31 percent saying it should. That is a significant shift from a CBS News poll in September 2002 — one year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — when the public was far more evenly split on the issue.

Yet, in the latest poll, 47 percent gave Mr. Bush good marks for handling the situation in Israel, with 27 percent disapproving and 26 percent saying they did not know. That was the highest registration of approval for the president in any of the poll’s performance measures.

Mr. Bush has experienced a slight increase in his overall job approval rating since the last New York Times/CBS News poll, in May, indicating that the steady erosion in his support over the last year has leveled off and even improved by a few percentage points. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they approved of the way he was doing his job, up from 31 percent in May.

But with 55 percent saying they disapproved of his performance, the numbers remain far below the comfort zone for a sitting president during a tough midterm election season. In what could be another warning sign for incumbents, more than twice as many people believe the country is heading in the wrong direction than believe it is heading in the right direction. Only 35 percent of respondents said they approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of foreign policy in general, though that was up from the 27 percent in May, and a majority expressed doubt about whether the president had the respect of foreign leaders.

Support for the president’s staunch backing of Israel goes only so far: 39 percent indicated they approved of it, but 40 percent said the United States should avoid saying anything at all about the conflict (Only 7 percent said the United States should criticize Israel, though many respondents cast blame for the conflict on both sides).

The poll was based on telephone interviews conducted July 21 through July 25 with 1,127 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The poll was taken as the war between Israel and Hezbollah raged, and during a particularly bloody period in Baghdad, events that have received heavy television news coverage.

In a common refrain among respondents regarding the Israel-Hezbollah war, Sharon Schierloh, 62, a retired factory worker from Ottawa, Ohio, said: “Let the Israelis take care of the problems in their area. We need to stay out of that because our troops are spread too thin.” She spoke in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll.

If Mr. Bush and the Republicans could not find much good news in the poll, they could at least pinpoint some signs of abatement in what had been a decidedly downward trend for them, starting with Mr. Bush’s slightly improved approval ratings.

Congressional Republicans are facing what seems to be one of the worst environments for a majority party since 1994 — when they swept control of both chambers from the Democrats — and, following the general rule, the president’s fortunes could heavily affect theirs.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of the Republican Party, up from 37 percent in May. But when asked their view of how Congress was handling its job as a whole — a question whose answer tends to reflect prospects for incumbents — 28 percent said they approved, up from 23 percent in May. But 58 percent said they disapproved.

Democrats fared better, with 52 percent of those polled saying they had a positive view of the party and 41 percent saying they had a negative one. And 45 percent of registered voters polled said they would vote for the Democrat running in their district this fall as opposed to the 35 percent who favored the Republican.

Democrats also seemed to have public support on several major issues. Their push for a higher minimum wage has wide public support, according to the poll. Over all, 85 percent of respondents supported a Democratic proposal raising the minimum wage over the next two years to $7.25 an hour from $5.15 an hour, including majorities of Republicans and independents. House moderates who support a raise in the minimum wage are prevailing upon more conservative House leaders — who have been opposed to one — to allow a vote on the issue.

And 59 percent of those polled said they approved of medical research using embryonic stem cells. Mr. Bush used his veto power for the first time in his presidency last week to reject a Congressional bill expanding federal financing for such research. Democrats received higher marks on handling the economy, while Republicans received higher marks on handling terrorism. And more respondents approve of the president’s handling of terrorism than disapprove, a change from the last Times/CBS poll when opinion was split.

But there was agreement that perceptions about war and peace could have major resonance in the fall. More than twice as many respondents — 63 percent versus 30 percent — said the Iraq war had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost. Only a quarter of respondents said they thought the American presence in Iraq had been a stabilizing force in the region, with 41 percent saying it had made the Middle East less stable.

But respondents were essentially split over whether the invasion was the right thing to do.

Marina Stefan and Marjorie Connelly contributed reporting for this article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/27/washington/27poll.html?_r=1&ei=5094&en=5afed1095a20f963&hp=&ex=1154059200&oref=slogin&partner=homepage&pagewanted=pr

Audit Finds U.S. Hid Cost of Iraq Projects - New York Times

Audit Finds U.S. Hid Cost of Iraq Projects
By JAMES GLANZ

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 29 — The State Department agency in charge of $1.4 billion in reconstruction money in Iraq used an accounting shell game to hide ballooning cost overruns on its projects there and knowingly withheld information on schedule delays from Congress, a federal audit released late Friday has found.

The agency hid construction overruns by listing them as overhead or administrative costs, according to the audit, written by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent office that reports to Congress and the Pentagon.

Called the United States Agency for International Development, or A.I.D., the agency administers foreign aid projects around the world. It has been working in Iraq on reconstruction since shortly after the 2003 invasion.

The report by the inspector general’s office does not give a full accounting of all projects financed by the agency’s $1.4 billion budget, but cites several examples.

The findings appeared in an audit of a children’s hospital in Basra, but they referred to the wider reconstruction activities of the development agency in Iraq. American and Iraqi officials reported this week that the State Department planned to drop Bechtel, its contractor on that project, as signs of budget and scheduling problems began to surface.

The United States Embassy in Baghdad referred questions to the State Department in Washington, which declined to comment immediately.

In March 2005, A.I.D. asked the Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office at the United States Embassy in Baghdad for permission to downsize some projects to ease widespread financing problems. In its request, it said that it had to “to absorb greatly increased construction costs” at the Basra hospital and that it would make a modest shift of priorities and reduce “contractor overhead” on the project.

The embassy office approved the request. But the audit found that the agency interpreted the document as permission to change reporting of costs across its program.

Referring to the embassy office’s approval, the inspector general wrote, “The memorandum was not intended to give U.S.A.I.D. blanket permission to change the reporting of all indirect costs.”

The hospital’s construction budget was $50 million. By April of this year, Bechtel had told the aid agency that because of escalating costs for security and other problems, the project would actually cost $98 million to complete. But in an official report to Congress that month, the agency “was reporting the hospital project cost as $50 million,” the inspector general wrote in his report.

The rest was reclassified as overhead, or “indirect costs.” According to a contracting officer at the agency who was cited in the report, the agency “did not report these costs so it could stay within the $50 million authorization.”

“We find the entire agreement unclear,” the inspector general wrote of the U.S.A.I.D. request approved by the embassy. “The document states that hospital project cost increases would be offset by reducing contractor overhead allocated to the project, but project reports for the period show no effort to reduce overhead.”

The report said it suspected that other unreported costs on the hospital could drive the tab even higher. In another case cited in the report, a power station project in Musayyib, the direct construction cost cited by the development agency was $6.6 million, while the overhead cost was $27.6 million.

The result is that the project’s overhead, a figure that normally runs to a maximum of 30 percent, was a stunning 418 percent.

The figures were even adjusted in the opposite direction when that helped the agency balance its books, the inspector general found. On an electricity project at the Baghdad South power station, direct construction costs were reported by the agency as $164.3 million and indirect or overhead costs as $1.4 million.

That is just 0.8 percent overhead in a country where security costs are often staggering. A contracting officer told the inspector general that the agency adjusted the figures “to stay within the authorization for each project.”

The overall effect, the report said, was a “serious misstatement of hospital project costs.” The true cost could rise as high as $169.5 million, even after accounting for at least $30 million pledged for medical equipment by a charitable organization.

The inspector general also found that the agency had not reported known schedule delays to Congress. On March 26, 2006, Bechtel informed the agency that the hospital project was 273 days behind, the inspector general wrote. But in its April report to Congress on the status of all projects, “U.S.A.I.D. reported no problems with the project schedule.”

In a letter responding to the inspector general’s findings, Joseph A. Saloom, the newly appointed director of the reconstruction office at the United States Embassy, said he would take steps to improve the reporting of the costs of reconstruction projects in Iraq. Mr. Saloom took little exception to the main findings.

In the letter, Mr. Saloom said that his office had been given new powers by the American ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, to request clear financing information on American reconstruction projects. Mr. Saloom wrote that he agreed with the inspector general’s conclusion that this shift would help “preclude surprises such as occurred on the Basra hospital project.”

“The U.S. Mission agrees that accurate monitoring of projects requires allocating indirect costs in a systematic way that reflects accurately the true indirect costs attributable to specific activities and projects, such as a Basra children’s hospital,” Mr. Saloom wrote.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/world/middleeast/30reconstruct.html?ei=5094&en=8b11e105dbfa0141&hp=&ex=1154232000&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print

US in quiet U-turn on Iraq troop numbers

US in quiet U-turn on Iraq troop numbers

By Edward Luce and Caroline Daniel in Washington

Published: July 28 2006 22:04 | Last updated: July 28 2006 22:04

The US administration has quietly reversed its goal from whittling down troop numbers in Iraq before the mid-term congressional elections in November.

A Pentagon spokesman on Friday confirmed that US troop levels in Iraq rose to 132,000 during the past week – the highest since late May – from 127,000 at the start of the week. The spokesman said troop numbers often fluctuated and “there might be temporary spikes during periods of troop rotation”.

However, analysts said an increase in troop numbers was more likely than a reduction because the number of sectarian killings in Iraq had almost doubled since the start of the year. The rise will prompt fears that the US is becoming increasingly bogged down in an unwinnable conflict.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said it would extend for up to 120 days the 3,700-strong deployment of the 172nd Stryker brigade in Iraq, among other rotations. There were 3,169 Iraqis killed in June, compared with 1,778 in January.

Richard Armitage, who was US deputy secretary of state until January 2005, said: “The US has almost totally reversed the troop situation from two months ago. The danger is that this is too little and too late and that the US will turn into a bystander in an Iraqi civil war it does not have sufficient resources to prevent.”

The rise in US troop levels comes as the world’s attention is on Lebanon but also coincides with a reported upsurge in anti-US sentiment in Baghdad’s Shia neighbourhoods following the launch of the US-backed Israeli campaign against Hizbollah.

This week Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, agreed to a joint US-Iraq military operation to regain control of Baghdad.

George W. Bush, US president, also faces growing difficulties with Iraq’s new government, which is making anti-US noises to shore up its credibility with Iraqis. Mr Maliki is under domestic pressure to demand that trials of US soldiers take place in Iraq. The US says this is not possible.

However, US officials deny that the new campaign to stabilise Baghdad undermines Mr Bush’s promise that “as the Iraqis stand up we will stand down” – a phrase he has almost stopped using. In a departure from Mr Bush’s normally upbeat language, he this week said the violence in Baghdad was “terrible”.

Although the violence has shifted from an anti-US insurgency to a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia groups, Iraq experts fear Shia militias will see US troops as an easy target. There are also concerns that the combined US-Iraqi force of 75,000 will be insufficient to regain control of Baghdad.

Kenneth Pollack, a former US National Security Council official, said: “The numbers should probably be roughly double what they are. We are seeing the right plan but completely inadequate resources to make it work.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/d236d48c-1e63-11db-9877-0000779e2340,dwp_uuid=17aab8bc-6e47-11da-9544-0000779e2340,print=yes.html

Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for an Evangelical Pastor - New York Times

Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for an Evangelical Pastor
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Mr. Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

But there were also congregants who thanked Mr. Boyd, telling him they were moved to tears to hear him voice concerns they had been too afraid to share.

“Most of my friends are believers,” said Shannon Staiger, a psychotherapist and church member, “and they think if you’re a believer, you’ll vote for Bush. And it’s scary to go against that.”

Sermons like Mr. Boyd’s are hardly typical in today’s evangelical churches. But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq.

At least six books on this theme have been published recently, some by Christian publishing houses. Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Barnard College and an evangelical, has written “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America — an Evangelical’s Lament.”

And Mr. Boyd has a new book out, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church,” which is based on his sermons.

“There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

“Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”

Mr. Boyd said he had cleared his sermons with the church’s board, but his words left some in his congregation stunned. Some said that he was disrespecting President Bush and the military, that he was soft on abortion or telling them not to vote.

“When we joined years ago, Greg was a conservative speaker,” said William Berggren, a lawyer who joined the church with his wife six years ago. “But we totally disagreed with him on this. You can’t be a Christian and ignore actions that you feel are wrong. A case in point is the abortion issue. If the church were awake when abortion was passed in the 70’s, it wouldn’t have happened. But the church was asleep.”

Mr. Boyd, 49, who preaches in blue jeans and rumpled plaid shirts, leads a church that occupies a squat block-long building that was once a home improvement chain store.

The church grew from 40 members in 12 years, based in no small part on Mr. Boyd’s draw as an electrifying preacher who stuck closely to Scripture. He has degrees from Yale Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary, and he taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul, where he created a controversy a few years ago by questioning whether God fully knew the future. Some pastors in his own denomination, the Baptist General Conference, mounted an effort to evict Mr. Boyd from the denomination and his teaching post, but he won that battle.

He is known among evangelicals for a bestselling book, “Letters From a Skeptic,” based on correspondence with his father, a leftist union organizer and a lifelong agnostic — an exchange that eventually persuaded his father to embrace Christianity.

Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

Some Woodland Hills members said they applauded the sermons because they had resolved their conflicted feelings. David Churchill, a truck driver for U.P.S. and a Teamster for 26 years, said he had been “raised in a religious-right home” but was torn between the Republican expectations of faith and family and the Democratic expectations of his union.

When Mr. Boyd preached his sermons, “it was liberating to me,” Mr. Churchill said.

Mr. Boyd gave his sermons while his church was in the midst of a $7 million fund-raising campaign. But only $4 million came in, and 7 of the more than 50 staff members were laid off, he said.

Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.”

The Rev. Paul Eddy, a theology professor at Bethel College and the teaching pastor at Woodland Hills, said: “Greg is an anomaly in the megachurch world. He didn’t give a whit about church leadership, never read a book about church growth. His biggest fear is that people will think that all church is is a weekend carnival, with people liking the worship, the music, his speaking, and that’s it.”

In the end, those who left tended to be white, middle-class suburbanites, church staff members said. In their place, the church has added more members who live in the surrounding community — African-Americans, Hispanics and Hmong immigrants from Laos.

This suits Mr. Boyd. His vision for his church is an ethnically and economically diverse congregation that exemplifies Jesus’ teachings by its members’ actions. He, his wife and three other families from the church moved from the suburbs three years ago to a predominantly black neighborhood in St. Paul.

Mr. Boyd now says of the upheaval: “I don’t regret any aspect of it at all. It was a defining moment for us. We let go of something we were never called to be. We just didn’t know the price we were going to pay for doing it.”

His congregation of about 4,000 is still digesting his message. Mr. Boyd arranged a forum on a recent Wednesday night to allow members to sound off on his new book. The reception was warm, but many of the 56 questions submitted in writing were pointed: Isn’t abortion an evil that Christians should prevent? Are you saying Christians should not join the military? How can Christians possibly have “power under” Osama bin Laden? Didn’t the church play an enormously positive role in the civil rights movement?

One woman asked: “So why NOT us? If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?”

Mr. Boyd responded: “I don’t think there’s a particular angle we have on society that others lack. All good, decent people want good and order and justice. Just don’t slap the label ‘Christian’ on it.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/us/30pastor.html?ei=5094&en=fc81bfdd0ee7feb1&hp=&ex=1154232000&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print

Murdoch set to back Blair - for a place in his boardroom

Murdoch set to back Blair - for a place in his boardroom
By Andrew Grice, Political Editor
Published: 29 July 2006

The media magnate Rupert Murdoch is expected to offer Tony Blair a senior role in his News Corporation empire when he stands down as Prime Minister.

Allies of Mr Blair insist he has made no decisions about his plans when he leaves Downing Street -- almost certainly next year. But some friends say a seat on the board of News Corp could tempt the outgoing Prime Minister, as it would dovetail neatly with the lucrative United States lecture circuit. Mr Blair's popularity at home may be waning, but he remains big box office in America. His close relationship with Mr Murdoch will be highlighted tomorrow when he addresses the annual gathering of News Corp's executives and senior journalists from around the world.

After meeting President George Bush at the White House yesterday, Mr Blair flew on to California where, amid the stunning scenery at Pebble Beach, 130 miles south of San Francisco, he will speak about "leadership in the modern world".

The five-day event is entitled Imagining The Future, reflecting Mr Murdoch's recently-discovered interest in new media. Other star guests are expected to include Bill and Hillary Clinton; Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator turned Governor of California; Bono, the U2 singer and campaigner for the developing world; Shimon Peres, the Israeli Vice Premier; and former US Vice-President Al Gore, who will show his film on climate change.

Mr Blair's appearance is seen as a mutual "thank you" as he enters the final phase of his premiership. Mr Murdoch admired Mr Blair's support for President Bush over the Iraq war, which his newspapers around the world endorsed.

Mr Murdoch has already rewarded Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish Prime Minister and another backer of the conflict, with a seat on his board. "Mr Aznar earned worldwide respect for his strong economic record and unflinching stand against domestic and international terrorism," the News Corp chairman and chief executive said when he announced the appointment last month. It is easy to imagine him uttering similar words about Mr Blair.

Nor is Mr Blair's presence at tomorrow's event a great surprise. In 1995, as Leader of the Opposition, he raised eyebrows by travelling even further to address the same gathering when he went to Hayman Island, off Australia. The trip cemented a relationship that has apparently served both men well. Under Neil Kinnock's leadership, Mr Murdoch's journalists were banned from Labour's briefings and its annual conference as a legacy of the bitter industrial dispute at News International's Wapping plant. The hostile coverage of Mr Kinnock in Murdoch-owned papers, notably The Sun, led Mr Blair to declare: "Never again." He courted the media magnate as much as Mr Murdoch courted him. "It is better to ride the tiger's back than let it rip your throat out," he explained.

Some Blair allies insist that Mr Murdoch's alleged influence over decisions affecting his business interests and Europe have been greatly exaggerated. But Lance Price, who was deputy to the Downing Street communications director Alastair Campbell, is not among them. He has described Mr Murdoch as "the 24th member of the Cabinet", saying: "No big decision could ever be made inside No 10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men - Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch."

The relationship certainly paid dividends for Mr Blair. Mr Campbell regards decision of The Sun, once a cheerleader for Margaret Thatcher, to back Labour at the 1997 election as his finest hour. The contrast with Kimnock era could not have been more striking.

Mr Blair meets the media mogul two or three times a year but goes to some lengths to keep their contacts secret. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury and the journalist James Macintyre have been beavering away under the Freedom of Information Act to find out more about their discussions. They had a mini coup when the Information Commissioner ordered Downing Street to be more open. Its response, however, was to disclose that Mr Blair had "a telephone conversation with Rupert Murdoch on 13 March 2003". No 10 is arguing that "personal and political" discussions between the two men do not have to be revealed.

Proprietor's influence on British politics

* SINGLE CURRENCY

Mr Murdoch's newspapers, notably The Sun, are hostile to European Union integration. Mr Blair told The Sun about his "love" for the pound before the 1997 election but once in power was determined to take Britain into the euro. The papers put strong pressure on Mr Blair to drop his plans to call a referendum on the issue.

* EUROPE

The Murdoch empire also turned its guns on the proposed EU constitution. It lobbied hard for a referendum but needed inside help to secure a Blair U-turn - this time from Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary. In the event, the constitution died a natural death after it was rejected by the people of France and the Netherlands. But Mr Blair's decision to promise a referendum played an important part in persuading the French President Jacques Chirac to follow suit.

* MEDIA POLICY

Mr Blair had no time for Labour MPs demanding that Mr Murdoch be forced to choose between his newspaper and TV interests in Britain. Mr Murdoch was unhappy when his businesses were referred to the Office of Fair Trading but it took no action against him. In 1998, Mr Blair rang Romano Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister, to test reaction to Mr Murdoch's possible takeover bid for the Mediaset broadcasting empire, owned by Silvio Berlusconi.

* THE BBC

Mr Murdoch is not happy that Labour's generally pro-BBC stance has allowed the corporation to expand into new media. He is now lobbying against the BBC's bid for the licence fee to rise by 2.3 per cent on top of inflation each year and there are signals the Government will reject the request.

* ECONOMIC POLICY

Mr Murdoch and his emissary, the American journalist Irwin Stelzer, have urged Labour to introduce business-friendly policies such as lower taxes and criticised some of the Government's programmes as too bureaucratic. He has not won all his arguments but appears to be broadly happy with the general direction of policy.

http://news.independent.co.uk/media/article1202848.ece

Bush submits new terror detainee bill on Yahoo! News

Bush submits new terror detainee bill

By ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY, Associated Press WriterFri Jul 28, 6:53 PM ET

U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill.

A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the Pentagon's tribunal system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was thrown out last month by the Supreme Court.

Administration officials, who declined to comment on the draft, said the proposal was still under discussion and no final decisions had been made.

Senior officials are expected to discuss a final proposal before the Senate Armed Services Committee next Wednesday.

According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all "enemy combatants" until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute."

Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.

"That's the big question ... the definition of who can be detained," said Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy of the bill to a Web blog.

Scott L. Silliman, a retired Air Force Judge Advocate, said the broad definition of enemy combatants is alarming because a U.S. citizen loosely suspected of terror ties would lose access to a civilian court — and all the rights that come with it. Administration officials have said they want to establish a secret court to try enemy combatants that factor in realities of the battlefield and would protect classified information.

The administration's proposal, as considered at one point during discussions, would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing "speedy trials" and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the submission of coerced testimony.

Senior Republican lawmakers have said they were briefed on the general discussions and have some concerns but are awaiting a final proposal before commenting on specifics.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England are expected to discuss the proposal in an open hearing next Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Military lawyers also are scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation is the administration's response to a June 29 Supreme Court decision, which concluded the Pentagon could not prosecute military detainees using secret tribunals established soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The court ruled the tribunals were not authorized by law and violated treaty obligations under the Geneva Conventions, which established many international laws for warfare.

The landmark court decision countered long-held assertions by the Bush administration that the president did not need permission from Congress to prosecute "enemy combatants" captured in the war on terror and that al Qaeda members were not subject to Geneva Convention protections because of their unconventional status.

"In a time of ongoing armed conflict, it is neither practicable nor appropriate for enemy combatants like al Qaeda terrorists to be tried like American citizens in federal courts or courts-martial," the proposal states.

The draft proposal contends that an existing law — passed by the Senate last year after exhaustive negotiations between the White House and Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz. — that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should "fully satisfy" the nation's obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

Sen. John W. Warner (news, bio, voting record), R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Friday he expects to take up the detainee legislation in September.

___

On the Net:

A copy of the report can be found at: http://balkin.blogspot.com/

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060728/ap_on_go_pr_wh/detainee_rights&printer=1;_ylt=AsC1g.TcVn6Qx38mIgpR2HsGw_IE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE-

Scientists: Get used to killer heat waves, blame global warming

Scientists: Get used to killer heat waves, blame global warming
- By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006

(07-28) 17:13 PDT , (AP) --

In Fresno, the morgue is full of victims from a California heat wave. A combination of heat and power outages killed a dozen people in Missouri. And in parts of Europe, temperatures are hotter than in 2003 when a heat wave killed 35,000 people.

Get used to it.

_For the next week, much of the nation should expect more "extreme heat," the National Weather Service predicts.

_In the month of August, most of the United States will see "above normal temperatures," forecasters say.

_For the long-term future, the world will see more and worse killer heat waves because of global warming, scientists say.

The July burst of killer heat waves around the world can't be specifically blamed on global warming. And they aren't the worst ever — they still can't quite hold a melting candle to the scorching heat of America's 1930s Dust Bowl. But the trend is pointed in that direction, experts say.

Heat waves and global warming "are very strongly" connected, said Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis branch chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The immediate cause of the California heat wave — and other heat waves — is day-to-day weather, he said.

A persistent high pressure system in the upper atmosphere prevents cooler jetstream air, from making it into the West, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. "You can't tie global warming into one single event," he said.

But what global warming has done is make the nights warmer in general and the days drier, which help turn merely uncomfortably hot days into killer heat waves, Trenberth said.

Much of global warming science concentrates on average monthly and yearly temperatures, but recent studies in the past five years show that climate change is at its most dangerous during extreme events, such as high temperatures, droughts and flooding, he said.

"These (heat) events always occur. What global warming does is push it up another notch," Trenberth said.

And the computer models show that soon, we'll get many more — and hotter — heat waves that will leave the old Dust Bowl records of the 1930s in the dust, said Ken Kunkel, director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Illinois State Water Survey.

The way to really judge will be when scientists look back a decade from now, not at a single heat wave, but at the frequency and extremes of all of them, said Mike Wallace, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. That's when scientists will likely see a statistically significant increase in heat waves and their severity, he said. In fact, he said, that can be seen a bit now.

In the past 25 years most of the world, has seen summer nights getting much warmer with far less evening heat relief, according to a study published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research.

Another study this year by the Climate Research Unit in East Anglia, Great Britain, concluded that European summer heat waves "have increased in frequency at most stations since 1880" and will continue to increase with man-made global warming.

In the current U.S. wave, more than 150 people have died. Feltgen ticks off a few statistics from the hardest-hit state, California:

"One hundred twenty-six degrees in Death Valley last week; Sacramento had 11 days at or above 100 degrees, their old record was nine. We're seeing some impressive records out there to be sure and unfortunately this is taking a human toll."

George Luber, an epidemiologist who studies heat wave deaths for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the current situation is on track to be "the most active one that I can recall" in terms of heat deaths.

A new analysis by Luber this week shows that between 1999 and 2003, the United States averaged nearly 900 heat-related deaths each year. This year, with 132 reported in central California alone, could be worse, he said.

"It's never been like this in my years here," Fresno County Coroner Loralee Cervantes said this week. "This is really tragic."

One way heat waves cause so much death is that people — especially the elderly staying in their homes — aren't able to get cool at night when temperatures remain high after sundown.

"The deaths are really related in urban areas to nighttime temperatures," said Stan Chagnon, a retired Illinois meteorology professor who did some of the earliest research on killer heat waves. "The mixture of moisture in the air (which other experts say acts as a blanket trapping heat) and high nighttime temperatures, a lot of people say, is really a killer."

Luber, the CDC doctor, says a body needs at least three hours of cooling — preferably by air conditioning — to survive excessive heat.

Cities are worse for heat deaths because they remain hotter at night from the "heat island effect," Chagnon said. And older northern cities — where many homes lack air conditioning — are worse off than Sunbelt cities where most people have cooling.

"Our society is becoming ever more vulnerable to climate due to growth, where we live," Chagnon said.

There is some good news in all this. Cities, such as St. Louis, New York and Philadelphia, have learned how to prevent heat deaths. And as heat waves worsen, the U.S. rate of heat deaths per population has not risen, because cities have created cooling centers and systems to check on the vulnerable elderly and poor, the CDC's Luber said.

"Everything with heat death can be prevented," Luber said. "Maybe we prevented a whole lot more deaths than we realized."

___

On the Net:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an excessive heat events guidebook:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a guide on preventing heat deaths:

www.epa.gov/hiri/about/heatguidebook.html

www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp


URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/n/a/2006/07/28/state/n161357D82.DTL

Friday, July 28, 2006

Homeland contracts oversight deemed poor on Yahoo! News

Homeland contracts oversight deemed poor

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press WriterThu Jul 27, 8:28 PM ET

The Homeland Security Department spent $34 billion in its first two years on private contracts that were poorly managed or included significant waste or abuse, a congressional report concluded Thursday.

Faulty airport screening machines, unused mobile homes for hurricane victims and lavish employee office space — complete with seven kitchens, a gym and fancy artwork — were among 32 contracts on which Homeland Security overspent, the report found.

"The cumulative costs to the taxpayer are enormous," concluded the report, which was prepared for Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who head the House Government Reform Committee.

The House report was a comprehensive study of more than 350 earlier-reported government audits and investigations of Homeland Security contracts between 2003, when the department was created, and 2005.

Still, the broad look found that Homeland Security's procurement spending ballooned from $3.5 billion, on 14,000 contracts, to $10 billion for 63,000 contracts during the two-year period. The report also concluded that half of what the department spent on contracts in 2005 was awarded without full and open competition — creating potential waste and mismanagement.

Over the two-year period, spending on noncompetitive contracts jumped from $655 million to $5.5 billion, the report concluded.

Questionable contracts highlighted in the report included:

_$1.2 billion to install and maintain luggage screening equipment at commercial airports that had a high false alarm rate.

_$915 million on nearly 26,000 mobile homes and trailers to house hurricane victims and relief workers — none of which could be sent to disaster zones in Louisiana and Mississippi because of prohibitions on their use in flood plains.

-$19 million for Transportation Security Administration office space for 140 employees that includes 12 conference rooms, seven kitchens, a fitness center, and $500,000 worth of artwork and decorative items.

Homeland Security chief procurement officer Elaine Duke told the House Government Reform Committee that part of the problem stemmed from a lack of department officers to oversee the contracts. In 2004, congressional investigators concluded that each procurement employee was responsible for overseeing an average of $101 million worth of contracts.

"Balancing the appropriate number of DHS contracting officials with the growth of DHS contracting requirements has been a challenge," Duke said in written testimony to the committee.

She said department has since begun recruiting and hiring additional procurement officers.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/homeland_security_contracts&printer=1;_ylt=AuMraTR7DrZxmAsWCF6GxQWWwvIE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE-

American Prospect Online - Report Retort

Report Retort

A new study by Bush's own Treasury Department discredits supply-siders and speaks inconvenient truths about the tax cuts.

By Robert S. McIntyre
Web Exclusive: 07.28.06


For decades, most Republican politicians have treated as an article of faith that tax cuts, especially tax cuts for the rich, will “pay for themselves” through improved economic growth and resulting higher revenues. Critics deride this implausible belief as “voodoo economics” or “the free-lunch theory.” Its adherents prefer to call it “supply-side economics.”

Oddly, the same GOP politicians who think tax cuts augment revenues also fervently hold exactly the opposite position, which they call “starve the beast.” They insist that big tax cuts will so sharply reduce revenues that they will force steep cuts in government programs.

The apostle of these conflicting dogmas was President Ronald Reagan, back in the 1980s. On the one hand, Reagan claimed that the way to stop Congress from providing what he saw as excessive public services was to “cut off their allowance.” On the other hand, he also promised that he would pay for his huge increase in defense spending “with the revenues generated by the [even huger] tax cuts” he pushed through Congress in 1981. As it happened, of course, neither theory panned out.

Despite the sorry historical record, our current president, George W. Bush, and most of his fellow Republicans in Congress are ardent disciples of Reagan’s contradictory belief system. In their ongoing and increasingly desperate search for proof of their faith -- at least the part that holds that tax cuts are a blessing for the economy and the federal budget -- Bush and Congress recently asked the Treasury Department to undertake a “dynamic analysis” of the economic and budgetary effects of making the Bush tax cuts permanent, rather than letting them expire after 2010 as current law provides.

On July 25, the Treasury Department released its report. Despite the fact that Treasury is managed by Bush appointees who profess a deep affection for Bush’s tax-cutting policies, the results offer no comfort to supply-side true believers.

Instead, Treasury’s study found that extending Bush’s tax cuts would have essentially no beneficial effect on the U.S. economy at all. But, the report casually implies, it could have grave consequences for the ability of our government to deliver the public services that Americans depend on.

Specifically, Treasury found that extending Bush’s tax cuts might increase the size of the economy by a bit under 1 percent in the “long run.” Or just as likely, it might reduce the size of the economy by about the same amount. Thirty years from now, when the “long run” apparently begins, that translates into plus or minus a few hundred dollars in per capita GDP in today’s dollars. Put another way, over the next 30 years, per capita GDP is expected to grow by a total of about 50 percent. If the tax cuts are extended, the growth might be 49 percent or it might be 51 percent. Given the uncertainties of economic forecasting, that’s no difference at all.

In making its projections, Treasury looked at two possible scenarios. What’s intriguing is that both assume a balanced federal budget starting in 2017, despite continuation of the Bush tax cuts. Treasury says it was forced to make this assumption because, by itself, “a permanent reduction in taxes … would lead to an unsustainable accumulation of government debt relative to GNP.”

How can we get the budget into balance by 2017 and still keep the Bush tax cuts? Treasury offers these options: (a) slash government services by about a fifth or (b) “feed the beast,” in Republican jargon, by increasing taxes in some way.

Double-decimating government services is actually the strategy that the Treasury claims would be most beneficial to the economy, although it declines to specify what programs would be cut. If the cuts were imposed across the board, then they would require a 20 percent cut in Social Security, Medicare, defense, environmental protection, law enforcement, homeland security -- in fact, in everything the government does. If some parts of the budget are exempted from cuts, then other parts would have to be cut by considerably more than a fifth. This is the dubious scenario under which Treasury concludes that the “long-run” economy would be about 1 percent bigger.

In Treasury’s second scenario, the budget would be balanced in 2017 by an across-the-board increase in income tax rates. Because the Bush tax cuts so heavily favor the rich, this approach would retain net tax cuts for wealthy people, but mean net tax increases for almost everyone else. Under this second scenario, Treasury says that the “long-run” GDP would be about 1 percent smaller than simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire after 2010.

You might wonder how Treasury can conclude that our economy would be better off, albeit only slightly, by helping finance bigger vacation mansions for millionaires versus, say, building reliable flood control around New Orleans. It just goes to show that Bush’s Treasury hasn’t been taken over by a bunch of liberal economists (unless “liberal” means having the ability to add and subtract). Indeed, the Treasury study itself points out that its methodology is highly simplified and subject to significant uncertainty. So its specific findings should be taken with a large grain of salt.

But besides dismissing the supply-side idea that extending the Bush tax cuts would be a boon for the economy, Treasury’s report confirms an even more important point. So long as we recognize that we can’t continue the Bush deficit-spending binge indefinitely, the real question is, which do we prefer: low taxes on the wealthy or continuation of essential federal programs? Treasury’s study makes clear that we can’t have both.

Robert S. McIntyre is director of Citizens for Tax Justice and a contributing editor for The American Prospect.

http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=11782

© 2006 by The American Prospect, Inc.

Canadian's Wife Wants Answers

Published on Friday, July 28, 2006 by the Toronto Star
Canadian's Wife Wants Answers
Says deadly bombing of UN observer post was `intentional.
by Phinjo Gombu


The wife of a Canadian soldier missing and presumed dead in an Israeli air strike on a United Nations observation post in southern Lebanon says she believes the attack was intentional.

Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener made the allegation yesterday when she spoke to reporters at Canadian Forces Base Kingston.

"Why were they firing on that base?" Hess-von Kruedener demanded to know.

"That wasn't the only day they were firing on that base. My information from (her husband) is weeks upon weeks they've been firing on them.

"In my opinion, those were precision-guided missiles, then that was intentional," she said.

Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, a father of two grown children, was one of four unarmed UN observers bombed by Israeli planes in Khiam, about 10 kilometres from where the Syrian, Lebanese and Israeli borders meet.

During the news conference, an emotional Hess-von Kruedener said she was still holding out hope for her husband's survival.

"I'm asking for a miracle and the world needs to pray for a miracle," she said.

"I'm hoping he's all right," added her son Jonah Rosson. "I think he's still hiding there waiting to come back."

The career officer had been in Lebanon for the past nine months and had three months remaining in his mission.

His wife's comments add fuel to the growing controversy over the bombing, which has included allegations from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the observers were deliberately targeted by Israel. It's an allegation that has been vigorously denied by Israeli officials who have called the incident "a tragic mistake."

At the heart of it lies information that has come out over the past few days that UN observers in Lebanon phoned the Israelis at least 10 times over a six-hour period pleading for the shelling of the position to stop.

When it became evident the shelling wasn't going to stop, the base commander called top UN officials in New York.

reland has filed an official protest over the incident as six of those specific phone warnings came from Lt.-Col. John Molloy, a senior Irish UN peacekeeper whose job was to liaise with the Israel Defence Forces.

The UN Security Council approved a weak statement yesterday expressing shock and distress at the bombing, but avoiding any condemnation.

All 15 council members agreed on the watered-down statement, the first by the Security Council since fighting began July 12 between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas.

The statement carries less weight than a resolution, and came after more than a day of negotiations and objections from the United States, which wanted to make sure Israel was not directly or indirectly blamed. According to UN officials, Hezbollah fighters had been operating in the area of the well-marked and well-known observation post, a routine tactic to prevent the Israelis from attacking them.

"We did repeatedly in recent days say (to Israel) that this was an exposed position, that Hezbollah militants were 500 metres away shielding themselves near UN workers and civilians," said UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland.

"That's why it is so inexplicable ..." Meanwhile, the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists yesterday demanded an investigation into reports that Israel is targeting Arab television crews in south Lebanon.

An Israel Defence Forces spokesman denied the allegation saying "we are targeting the roads because Hezbollah uses those roads; under no circumstances do we target civilians, including the media."

As UN, Israeli and Canadian investigations into the incident continues, Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in Wednesday when he said the attack was a tragedy but he didn't believe it was deliberate.

It's a sentiment repeated by retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie to a crowd of 8,000 supporters of Israel at a solidarity rally in Toronto two days ago.

Both have questioned the wisdom of the United Nations in leaving unarmed soldiers in the middle of an armed conflict. The UN has been in south Lebanon since 1978.

For Hess-von Kruedener, an email sent to CTV last week about his mission described the dangers he faced.

One of eight Canadians with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, Hess-von Kruedener shared the observation post with soldiers from Australia, China, Finland, Austria and Ireland.

They came under daily artillery and aerial fire, sometimes directly, other times indirectly, he said.

According to UN officials, there have been dozens of incidents involving firing near UN posts — including nine hits on their positions.

http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/headlines06/0728-09.htm

USATODAY.com - Sending patients packing

Sending patients packing
Updated 7/27/2006 11:46 AM ET
By Julie Appleby and Julie Schmit, USA TODAY


Would you travel to India for a cut-rate heart bypass? How about Thailand for a hip replacement? Some uninsured and those with skimpy insurance have taken the risk, leading to what promoters say is a growing trade in "medical tourism."

Now, companies that help arrange such travel are eying a far bigger market: U.S. employers who want to save money on their health care costs.

The appeal is obvious: Heart surgeries and hip replacements in such countries as India, Thailand and Mexico can be had for less than one-third the cost in the USA.

At the same time, medical costs in the USA are rising rapidly, with no end in sight.

"Companies have reached that point of being pinned to the wall faster than we thought," says Rajesh Rao, CEO of IndUShealth, which helps arrange travel and medical care abroad.

Don't look for major health insurers to offer such a plan nationally yet. But several small companies that arrange medical travel have recently launched programs aimed at employers, and one Florida health plan administrator has one, too:

•Florida's United Group Programs, which offers administrative services to self-insured employers, has begun promoting surgeries in a Thailand hospital as an option for its employer clients.

•West Virginia Republican state legislator Ray Canterbury introduced a bill this year to allow state employees to fly first class to hospitals abroad, with a family member or friend, stay at a four-star hotel to recuperate and get extra sick days and cash bonuses that, in some instances, could total several thousand dollars.

•Insurers Health Net and Blue Shield of California each offer policies that allow holders to get most of their care in Mexico, but include access to some services in Southern California as well. Blue Shield's plan is sold to individuals, while Health Net sells to both individuals and employers.

Trend predicted to take off

While few employers have signed on to the idea of medical tourism yet, some benefit consultants think the trend will soon take off.

"This is going to spread much more widely," says Arnold Milstein, chief physician at consulting firm Mercer Health & Benefits, who says he's been hired by three Fortune 500 companies to assess the feasibility of outsourcing non-urgent major surgeries for their self-insured health benefit plans.

Medical tour arranger MedRetreat, which has a staff of nine split between Chicago and Baltimore offices, says it works mainly with individuals, but it will launch a division next year to promote foreign care to employers. So far, the company doesn't have competition from major health insurers, says managing director Patrick Marsek.

"They're not quite keen on sending clients overseas yet," possibly because such programs could upset the U.S. hospitals the insurers currently use, Marsek says.

Some employers may be cautious

Not everyone is convinced that employers will embrace medical care abroad for their workers. Regulatory hurdles, not to mention questions about safety and liability, may scare off employers.

"Employers will be very cautious about this," says Mike Taylor, a principal at benefits firm Towers Perrin. "Smaller employers will try it. The big employers will wait."

While about 100 hospitals abroad are currently accredited by an affiliate of the same company that checks American hospitals, not all of the hospitals used by tour companies are. And even accreditation doesn't mean that things can't go wrong. Training for doctors in other countries may be quite different from training in the USA, although some of the hospitals say they have U.S.-trained surgeons.

While prices are lower abroad, Milstein cautions that consumers should not think that quality is superior to American care.

"With the overseas sites, the pitch would be not superior quality, but equal quality and accreditation," Milstein says.

Employers focus on bottom line

For employers, the big draw is the savings.

Promoters of medical tourism contend that the option to go abroad may help cure one of the most difficult problems in America: how to provide quality medical care at an affordable price.

"This is hard-dollar savings," says Jonathan Edelheit, vice president of sales for United Group Programs, which offers a plan to self-insured employers that includes services at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. "If we send someone there for a bypass, the employer saves $60,000 to $70,000. We would consider this a magic bullet."

Darrell Douglas, vice president of human resources at Blue Ridge Paper in Canton, N.C., says health care costs are driving his company to consider a foreign option.

The 2,100-employee paper-products manufacturer is partly union-owned and has already taken big steps to cut its health care costs, including on-site pharmacy, medical clinic and wellness programs. Even with a 3% drop in medical costs last year, the company is spending about $20 million a year on health care for workers and dependents.

After seeing a television program on medical tourism, the company's benefits director began talking with IndUShealth. After the monsoon season ends in India, Blue Ridge will send a team to check out hospitals to see if employees could have surgeries done there.

"If it's all it's cracked up to be, we'll probably advertise it as an option," says Douglas.

Countries eager to welcome travelers

The growing interest has caught the attention of countries such as India, South Africa, Thailand, Mexico and Taiwan. Many are eagerly welcoming travelers, promoting fancy hotels for recuperation and spending billions to spiff up facilities for visitors. The Confederation of Indian Industry says that medical tourism in India alone is a $300 million business and could grow to $2 billion by 2012.

"What we're doing is introducing global competition to the American medical profession," Douglas says. "If employers start sending a few patients abroad to get high-quality health care at reasonable prices, it's got to have impact."

But some economists, such as Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton University, says it may not grow large enough to make an impact.

Still, the self-insured paper company expects it would save money even if only a few workers went to India, even with the company paying the airfare for the worker and a companion. It may even share some of the savings, possibly up to $10,000, with those who choose to go.

Such incentives may be necessary, says Milstein, who surveyed consumers to see how much of a financial push they would need.

"For small incentives, Americans are not going to get on a plane and fly to a strange country and interact with a physician they don't know," he says. "The incentives will need to be in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, plus travel and hotel for the employee and spouse."

But caution is needed with incentives, as well, says Taylor at Perrin. "If you're not careful, it isn't voluntary: The incentives are so strong that you force people over there," he says.

http://usatoday.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=USATODAY.com+-+Sending+patients+packing&expire=&urlID=18975411&fb=Y&url=http%3A%2F%

Lou Dobbs - Why Is the President Ignoring Our Laws?

Dobbs: Why Is the President Ignoring Our Laws?

By Lou Dobbs
CNN

Wednesday 26 July 2006

Bush, feds flout the Constitution by finding ways around laws.

New York - With upraised right hand and left hand on the Bible, each of our presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush, has solemnly sworn to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution of the United States.

The American Bar Association claims President Bush has violated that oath by issuing hundreds of "signing statements" to disregard selected provisions of the laws that Congress passed and he signed.

A bipartisan, 11-member panel of the ABA found that President Bush is not only disregarding laws but using such signing statements far more than any president in history. In fact, Bush has used signing statements to raise constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws. All of the presidents combined before 2001 had issued only 600.

The ABA asserts that signing statements cannot be a substitute for a presidential veto and that such an assertion of presidential power amounts to a line-item veto, which the Supreme Court already has ruled unconstitutional.

The matter will likely be resolved in court. But it stands as a metaphor for a 21st century America that is no longer secure in the claim to be a nation of laws.

The federal government is failing to enforce our laws on a wide range of issues. Trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is clearly a treaty, have not been approved by two-thirds of the Senate as required by the Treaty Clause of the Constitution.

That clause states the president "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." And why has the Senate not been required to approve these treaties? Because the last three presidents have claimed these trade deals are executive agreements rather than treaties.

But if these so-called free-trade agreements are not to be considered treaties, then they are clearly within the power of Congress, not the president. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign nations." But Congress has given up its exclusive constitutional authority to negotiate and regulate trade agreements by ceding "fast-track authority" to the executive branch.

The president's fast-track authority is set to expire next year, more than 30 years after its passage. It is no coincidence that the United States has now posted a trade deficit for 30 consecutive years.

The federal government is also undermining the rule of law in this country when it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws and securing borders and ports.

The Bush administration in its first four years was responsible for 318 fines against employers who hired illegal workers, an average of fewer than 80 each year. That's down from 5,587 fines against illegal employers during the eight years of the Clinton administration, according to the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, an average of 698 each year. And the problem is getting worse; in 2004 only three employers received fines for illegal hiring.

Work site arrests have fallen even more drastically under this president. From 1995 to 1998, there were between 10,000 and 18,000 work site arrests of illegal aliens each year. But during the Bush administration, work site arrests fell to just 159 in 2004.

Apprehensions along the border averaged 1.05 million from fiscal year 2001 to 2004, according to the independent, progressive group Third Way, down from 1.52 million from 1996 to 2000. Border apprehensions have plummeted more than 30 percent, despite a doubling in the number of Border Patrol agents over the past decade and the rising number of attempted crossings.

It is not only the federal government that had diminished our claim to be a nation of laws. More than 70 U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, California, and Chicago, Illinois, have set up "sanctuary" policies that offer safe haven from the law to illegal aliens and their families.

"It most certainly is a blatant violation of the law," says Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado. "There is a provision of the 1996 Immigration Act that is very clear: It says states and localities can't do this. The unfortunate thing is there are no teeth in it."

As Abraham Lincoln said, if bad laws exist they should "be repealed as soon as possible, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed." President Lincoln devoutly believed that rule of law assured that ours would continue to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

And that should be the first demand of every American today.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/072706D.

Paul Krugman - Reign of Error

Reign of Error

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Amid everything else that’s going wrong in the world, here’s one more piece of depressing news: a few days ago the Harris Poll reported that 50 percent of Americans now believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when we invaded, up from 36 percent in February 2005. Meanwhile, 64 percent still believe that Saddam had strong links with Al Qaeda.

At one level, this shouldn’t be all that surprising. The people now running America never accept inconvenient truths. Long after facts they don’t like have been established, whether it’s the absence of any wrongdoing by the Clintons in the Whitewater affair or the absence of W.M.D. in Iraq, the propaganda machine that supports the current administration is still at work, seeking to flush those facts down the memory hole.

But it’s dismaying to realize that the machine remains so effective.

Here’s how the process works.

First, if the facts fail to support the administration position on an issue — stem cells, global warming, tax cuts, income inequality, Iraq — officials refuse to acknowledge the facts.

Sometimes the officials simply lie. “The tax cuts have made the tax code more progressive and reduced income inequality,” Edward Lazear, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, declared a couple of months ago. More often, however, they bob and weave.

Consider, for example, Condoleezza Rice’s response a few months ago, when pressed to explain why the administration always links the Iraq war to 9/11. She admitted that Saddam, “as far as we know, did not order Sept. 11, may not have even known of Sept. 11.” (Notice how her statement, while literally true, nonetheless seems to imply both that it’s still possible that Saddam ordered 9/11, and that he probably did know about it.) “But,” she went on, “that’s a very narrow definition of what caused Sept. 11.”

Meanwhile, apparatchiks in the media spread disinformation. It’s hard to imagine what the world looks like to the large number of Americans who get their news by watching Fox and listening to Rush Limbaugh, but I get a pretty good sense from my mailbag.

Many of my correspondents are living in a world in which the economy is better than it ever was under Bill Clinton, newly released documents show that Saddam really was in cahoots with Osama, and the discovery of some decayed 1980’s-vintage chemical munitions vindicates everything the administration said about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. (Hyping of the munitions find may partly explain why public belief that Saddam had W.M.D. has made a comeback.)

Some of my correspondents have even picked up on claims, mostly disseminated on right-wing blogs, that the Bush administration actually did a heck of a job after Katrina.

And what about the perceptions of those who get their news from sources that aren’t de facto branches of the Republican National Committee?

The climate of media intimidation that prevailed for several years after 9/11, which made news organizations very cautious about reporting facts that put the administration in a bad light, has abated. But it’s not entirely gone. Just a few months ago major news organizations were under fierce attack from the right over their supposed failure to report the “good news” from Iraq — and my sense is that this attack did lead to a temporary softening of news coverage, until the extent of the carnage became undeniable. And the conventions of he-said-she-said reporting, under which lies and truth get equal billing, continue to work in the administration’s favor.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that the Bush administration continues to be remarkably successful at rewriting history. For example, Mr. Bush has repeatedly suggested that the United States had to invade Iraq because Saddam wouldn’t let U.N. inspectors in. His most recent statement to that effect was only a few weeks ago. And he gets away with it. If there have been reports by major news organizations pointing out that that’s not at all what happened, I’ve missed them.

It’s all very Orwellian, of course. But when Orwell wrote of “a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past,” he was thinking of totalitarian states. Who would have imagined that history would prove so easy to rewrite in a democratic nation with a free press?

Republican Says We Need A Dem Congress

Republican Says We Need A Dem Congress

The following is a letter from former Republican Congressman and Presidential candidate Pete McCloskey.

THE NEED FOR A DEMOCRAT MAJORITY IN THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES IN 2007

I have found it difficult in the past several weeks to reach a conclusion as to what a citizen should do with respect to this fall’s forthcoming congressional elections. I am a Republican, intend to remain a Republican, and am descended from three generations of California Republicans, active in Merced and San Bernardino Counties as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have just engaged in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the Republican Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary, obtaining just over 32% of the Republican vote against Pombo's 62%.

The observation of Mr. Pombo’s political consultant, Wayne Johnson, that I have been mired in the obsolete values of the 1970s, honesty, good ethics and balanced budgets, all rejected by today’s modern Republicans, is only too accurate.

It has been difficult, nevertheless, to conclude as I have, that the Republican House leadership has been so unalterably corrupted by power and money that reasonable Republicans should support Democrats against DeLay-type Republican incumbents in 2006. Let me try to explain why.

I have decided to endorse Jerry McNerney and every other honorable Democrat now challenging those Republican incumbents who have acted to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have flatly reneged on their Contract With America promise in 1994 to restore high standards of ethical behavior in the House and who have combined to prevent investigation of the Cunningham and Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals. These Republican incumbents have brought shame on the House, and have created a wide-spread view in the public at large that Republicans are more interested in obtaining campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists than they are in legislating in the public interest.

At the outset, let me say that in four months of campaigning I have learned that Jerry McNerney is an honorable man and that Richard Pombo is not. Mr. Pombo has used his position and power to shamelessly enrich his wife and family from campaign funds, has interfered with the federal investigation of men like Michael Hurwitz, he of the Savings & Loan frauds and ruthless clear-cutting of old growth California redwoods. Mr. Pombo has taken more money from Indian gaming lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his associates and Indian tribes interested in gaming than any other Member of Congress, in excess of $500,000. With his stated intent to gut the Endangered Species and Environmental Protection Acts, to privatize for development millions of acres of public land, including a number of National Parks, to give veto power to the Congress over constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court, his substantial contributions to DeLay’s legal defense fund, and most particularly his refusal to investigate the Abramoff involvement in Indian gaming and the exploitation of women labor in the Marianas, both matters within the jurisdiction of his committee, Mr. Pombo in my view represents all that is wrong with the national government in Washington today.

It is clear that the forthcoming campaign will be a vicious one, with Mr. Pombo willing to stretch the truth as he has in the past with respect to the elderberry beetle, levee breaks, his steadfast opposition to veterans’ health care, including prosthetics research for amputees from Iraq and other wars, the impact on Marine lives of endangered species protection at Camp Pendleton and other issues. That Mr. Pombo lied in testimony to the Senate in 1994 is an accepted fact. He testified that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had designated his farm near Tracy as habitat for the endangered California kit fox. This was untrue, and Pombo admitted to the untruthfulness a few months later when questioned over public television, an agency for which he recently voted to cut federal funds.
Such a man should not be allowed to be in charge of the nation’s public lands and waterways, a position to which he was elevated by the now-departed Tom DeLay.

Some 18 months ago, my former law partner, Lewis Butler, an Assistant Secretary of HEW in the Nixon Administration and subsequently the distinguished Chair of California Tomorrow and the Plowshares Foundation, and I initiated an effort we called The Revolt of the Elders. All of us were retired and in the latter years of Social Security entitlement. Most of us were Republicans who had served in the Congress or in former Republican administrations with men like Gerry Ford, John Rhodes, Bob Michel, Elliot Richardson, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and the president’s father, George H. W. Bush, all men of impeccable integrity and ethics.

We had become appalled at the House Republican leadership’s decision in early 2005 to effectively emasculate the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct by changing the rules to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay had been admonished three times by the Committee for abuse of power and unethical conduct. It was our hope to persuade Speaker Hastert and the Republican leadership, of which Northern California Congressman Richard Pombo and John Doolittle were prominent members, to rescind the rules changes and to act in accord with the promise of high ethical standards contained in Speaker Gingrich’s Contract With America which brought the Republicans majority control in 1994. We failed. Letters to the Speaker from an increasing number of former Republican Members were ignored and remained unanswered. Then, only a few weeks ago, the House leadership refused to allow even a vote on what could have become an effective independent ethics monitor. Instead of repudiating the infamous “Pay to Play” program put in place by DeLay to extract maximum corporate campaign contributions to “Retain Our Majority Party” (ROMP), DeLay’s successor as Majority Leader called for a continuance of the free luxury airline trips, mammoth campaign contributions to the so-called “Leadership PACs” and the continuing stalemate on the Ethics Committee. Strangely, even after the guilty pleas of Abramoff, Duke Cunningham and a number of former House staffers who had been sent to work for Abramoff and other lobbyists. The Republican House leaders don’t see this as corruption worthy of investigation or change. That their former staff members and Abramoff were granted preference in access to the legislative process is not seen as a problem if it helps Republicans retain control of the House. It reminds one of the contentions of Haldeman and Ehrlichman long ago that the national security justified wire-tapping and burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate. Republicans are happy with this new corporate lobby/House complex, which is far more dangerous that the Industry/Defense complex we were long ago warned about by President Eisenhower.

I have therefore reluctantly concluded that party loyalty should be set aside, and that it is in the best interests of the nation, and indeed the future of the Republican Party itself, to return control of the House to temporary Democrat control, if only to return the House for a time to the kind of ethics standards practiced by Republicans in former years. I say reluctantly, having no great illusion that Democrats or any other kind of politician will long resist the allure of campaign funds and benefits offered by the richest and most profitable of the Halliburtons, oil companies, tobacco companies, developers and Indian gaming tribes whose contributions so heavily dominate the contributions to Congressmen Pombo and Doolittle.

As an aside, it seems to me that the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals make it timely for the Congress to consider public matching funds for small contributions to congressional candidates, the same type of system we adopted some time ago for presidential elections. It may be cheaper for the taxpayer to fund congressional elections than to bear the cost of lobbyist-controlled legislation like the recent Medicaid/Medicare drug bill.

There is another strong reason, I believe, for Republicans to work this fall for Democrat challengers against the DeLay-type Republicans like Pombo and Doolittle. That is the clear abdication by the House over the past five years of the Congress’ constitutional power and duty to exercise oversight over abuses of power, cronyism, incompetence and excessive secrecy on the part of the Executive Branch. When does anyone remember House Committee hearings to examine into the patent failures of the Bush Administration to adhere to laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or to the arrogant refusal of the President to accept the congressionally-enacted limits on torture of prisoners? When can anyone remember the House’s use of the subpoena power to compel answers from Administration officials? Why have there been no oversight hearings into the Cunningham bribery affair or Abramoff’s Indian gaming and exploitation of women labor in the Marianas?

When three former congressional staff aides join Abramoff in pleading guilty to attempting to bribe Congressmen, and a fourth takes the 5th Amendment rather than answer Senator McCain’s questions about his relationship with Abramoff and Indian gaming, with all five having given substantial campaign contributions to Mr. Pombo, with Indian tribes alone having given more than $500,000 to Pombo, would it not seem reasonable to ask him to conduct an appropriate oversight committee
Hearing into these matters, as long demanded by members of both parties, notably including his neighbor, George Miller?

For all of these reasons, I believe and hope that the Republicans who voted for me on June 6 will vote for Mr. McNerney and against Mr. Pombo in November.

The checks and balances of our Constitution are an essential part of our system of government, as is the public faith that can be obtained only by good ethical conduct on the part of our elected leaders.

If the Republicans in the House won’t honor these principles, then the Democrats should be challenged to do so. And if they decline to exercise that privilege, we can turn them out too. I appreciate that I had serious deficiencies as a candidate, and that four months of campaigning and the expenditure of $500,000 of the funds contributed by old friends and supporters were unsuccessful in convincing Republicans of the 11th District to end the continuing corruption in Washington. I hope, however, to partially redeem my electoral failure by working, as a simple private citizen, to rekindle a Republican sense of civic duty to participate in the electoral process this fall. The goal of The Revolt of the Elders was and is to educate voters to the need for a return of ethics and honesty in Washington. That goal was right 18 months ago, and seems even more worthwhile today.

Pete McCloskey, Dublin, California. July 26, 2006

http://www.seeingtheforest.com/archives/2006/07/republican_says.htm