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, February 16, 2008

When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly

When Strains on Military Families Turn Deadly

A few months after Sgt. William Edwards and his wife, Sgt. Erin Edwards, returned to a Texas Army base from separate missions in Iraq, he assaulted her mercilessly. He struck her, choked her, dragged her over a fence and slammed her into the sidewalk.

As far as Erin Edwards was concerned, that would be the last time he beat her.

Unlike many military wives, she knew how to work the system to protect herself. She was an insider, even more so than her husband, since she served as an aide to a brigadier general at Fort Hood.

With the general’s help, she quickly arranged for a future transfer to a base in New York. She pressed charges against her husband and secured an order of protection. She sent her two children to stay with her mother. And she received assurance from her husband’s commanders that he would be barred from leaving the base unless accompanied by an officer.

Yet on the morning of July 22, 2004, William Edwards easily slipped off base, skipping his anger-management class, and drove to his wife’s house in the Texas town of Killeen. He waited for her to step outside and then, after a struggle, shot her point-blank in the head before turning the gun on himself.

During an investigation, Army officers told the local police that they did not realize Erin Edwards had been afraid of her husband. And they acknowledged that despite his restrictions, William Edwards had not been escorted off base “on every occasion,” according to a police report.

That admission troubled the detective handling the case.

“I believe that had he been confined to base and had that confinement been monitored,” said Detective Sharon L. Brank of the local police, “she would not be dead at his hands.”

The killing of Erin Edwards directly echoed an earlier murder of a military wife that drew far more attention. Almost 10 years ago, at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, a different Army sergeant defied a similar restriction to base, driving out the front gate on his way to a murder almost foretold.

That 1998 homicide, one of several featured in a “60 Minutes” exposé on domestic violence in the military, galvanized a public outcry, Congressional demands for action and the Pentagon’s pledge to do everything possible to prevent such violence from claiming more lives.

Yet just as the Defense Department undertook substantial changes, guided by a Congressionally chartered task force on domestic violence that decried a system more adept at protecting offenders than victims, the wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq began.

Pentagon officials say that wartime has not derailed their efforts to make substantive improvements in the way that the military tackles domestic violence.

They say they have, for example, offered more parenting and couples classes, provided additional victims advocates and afforded victims greater confidentiality in reporting abuses.

But interviews with members of the task force, as well as an examination of cases of fatal domestic violence and child abuse, indicate that wartime pressures on military families and on the military itself have complicated the Pentagon’s efforts.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” said Peter C. McDonald, a retired district court judge in Kentucky and a member of the Pentagon’s now disbanded domestic violence task force. “The war could only make things much worse than even before, and here we had a system that was not too good to begin with.”

Connie Sponsler-Garcia, another task force member, who now works on domestic violence projects with the Pentagon, agreed.

“Whereas something was a high priority before, now it’s: ‘Oh, dear, we have a war. Well get back to you in a few months,’ ” she said.

The fatalities examined by The New York Times show a military system that tries and sometimes fails to balance the demands of fighting a war with those of eradicating domestic violence.

According to interviews with law enforcement officials and court documents, the military has sent to war service members who had been charged with and even convicted of domestic violence crimes.

Deploying such convicted service members to a war zone violates military regulations and, in some cases, federal law.

Take the case of Sgt. Jared Terrasas. The first time that he was deployed to Iraq, his prosecution for domestic violence was delayed. Then, after pleading guilty, he was pulled out of a 16-week batterers intervention program run by the Marine Corps and sent to Iraq again.

Several months after Sergeant Terrasas returned home, his 7-month-old son died of a brain injury, and the marine was charged with his murder.

Deployment to war, with its long separations, can put serious stress on military families. And studies have shown that recurrent deployments heighten the likelihood of combat trauma, which, in turn, increases the risk of domestic violence.

“The more trauma out there, the more likely domestic violence is,” said Dr. Jacquelyn C. Campbell, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing who also was a member of the Pentagon task force.

The Times examined several cases in which mental health problems caused or exacerbated by war pushed already troubled families to a deadly breaking point.

In one instance, the Air Force repeatedly deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere Sgt. Jon Trevino, a medic with a history of psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Multiple deployments eroded Sergeant Trevino’s marriage and worsened his mental health problems until, in 2006, he killed his wife, Carol, and then himself.

The military declared his suicide “service related.”

A Call to Action

Within a six-week period in 2002, three Special Forces sergeants returned from Afghanistan and murdered their wives at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Two immediately turned their guns on themselves; the third hanged himself in a jail cell. A fourth soldier at the same Army base also killed his wife during those six weeks.

At the beginning of this wartime period, the cluster of murder-suicides set off alarms about the possible link between combat tours and domestic violence, a link supported by a study published that year in the journal Military Medicine. The killings also reinvigorated the concerns about military domestic violence that had led to the formation of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence two years earlier.

National attention to the subject was short-lived. But an examination by The Times found more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans during the wartime period that began in October 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan.

In more than a third of the cases, The Times determined that the offenders had deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq or to the regions in support of those missions. In another third, it determined that the offenders never deployed to war. And the deployment history of the final third could not be ascertained.

The military tracks only homicides that it prosecutes, and a majority of killings involving service members are handled by civilian authorities. To track these cases, The Times used records from the Army, Air Force and Navy — the Marines did not provide any information —and local news reports.

It is difficult to know how complete The Times’s findings are. What is clear, though, is that these homicides occurred at a time when the military was trying to improve its handling of domestic violence.

The Pentagon’s domestic violence task force, appointed in April 2000 and comprising 24 military and civilian experts, met regularly for three years to examine a system where, they found, soldiers rarely faced punishment or prosecution for battering their wives and where they often found shelter from civilian orders of protection.

When the moment arrived to explain their findings and recommendations to Congress, however, the timing could not have been poorer. Deborah D. Tucker and Lt. Gen. Garry L. Parks of the Marines, the leaders of the task force, presented their final report to the House Armed Services Committee on the very day that the Iraq war began, March 20, 2003. Ms. Tucker called it “one of the more surreal experiences of my life.”

“Periodically, members of the committee would call for a break and there would be some updated information provided on the status of our troops’ entry into Iraq and how far they’d gotten,” she said. “There was a map on an easel to the side.”

“I knew that while we were at war all other considerations would push back,” she added, “and I hoped that Operation Iraqi Freedom would be a quick matter on the order of Desert Storm.”

The task force was disbanded, and its request to reconvene after two years to evaluate progress was rejected. But the Defense Department embraced most of its 200 recommendations and gradually made many changes, from the increase in advocates to domestic violence training for commanding officers.

“The services have taken huge strides to implement the recommendations,” said David Lloyd, director of the Pentagon’s Family Advocacy Program, starting with sending out “a strong message across the department that domestic violence is not acceptable.”

Further, after the killings at Fort Bragg, Congress passed a law that made civilian orders of protection binding on military bases, and the Army gradually slowed the transition from war to home to help soldiers adjust.

Mr. Lloyd said he could not verify or comment on The Times’s findings on domestic killings. But, he said, domestic fatalities do not provide a complete picture of the incidence of domestic violence in the military.

“You have a pie, a nine-inch shell, and you have a slice of that pie, but there are other slices: verbal abuse and psychological control and assault that didn’t result in a homicide,” Mr. Lloyd said. “Even if the fatality slice has increased and it would look larger, the other numbers have gone down.”

According to the military, the number of general spouse and child abuse incidents reported to on-base family advocacy programs began declining in 1998, before the special effort to address the issue began, and continued to decline significantly through 2006. But whether those numbers reflect a genuine decline is a matter of debate, given that large numbers of service members have spent considerable time away on deployments and that the strengthening of sanctions for domestic violence has made some women more reluctant to report abuse.

The accuracy of the military’s domestic violence data has also been questioned, by advocates, the Government Accountability Office and military officials themselves.

Last fall, in a statement released during domestic violence awareness month, Mike Hoskins, a Pentagon official, said, “We shouldn’t necessarily take comfort in reduced rates of violence.” He said they probably reflected “good news” but urged caution in interpreting the numbers.

Dr. Campbell, the former task force member, said the task force had recommended periodic anonymous surveys to ascertain the full extent of domestic violence. She also said that she believed the “true incidence” of domestic violence had probably increased as a result of service members returning from Iraq with combat trauma, which can exacerbate family violence.

“It’s sort of like, on the one hand, they’re improving the system, and on the other hand, they’re stressing it,” she said.

Others agree, noting that wartime places a burden on the military as a whole, even on those who do not deploy to combat zones but absorb additional duties at home.

Christine Hansen, executive director of the Miles Foundation, which provides domestic violence assistance mostly to the wives of officers and senior enlisted men, said the organization’s caseload had tripled since the war in Iraq began.

And John P. Galligan, a retired Army colonel who served as a military judge at Fort Hood and now represents military clients in private practice, said he, too, had seen a “substantial” increase in military domestic violence cases in his area.

“Sometimes I just sit and scratch my head,” he said.

The separation of deployment, in and of itself, often causes marital strains.

“Even with a healthy marriage, there is a massive adjustment,” said Anita Gorecki, a lawyer and former Army captain who represents soldiers near Fort Bragg and is married to an officer currently in Iraq. “Add on to that combat stress and injuries and sometimes it can create the perfect storm.”

Some researchers draw a fairly firm connection between post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence. A 2006 study in The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy looked at veterans who sought marital counseling at a Veterans Affairs medical center in the Midwest between 1997 and 2003. Those given a diagnosis of PTSD were “significantly more likely to perpetrate violence toward their partners,” the study found, with more than 80 percent committing at least one act of violence in the previous year, and almost half at least one severe act.

Pamela Iles, a superior court judge who was permitted by the Marines to set up a privately financed domestic violence education program at Camp Pendleton in California, views much of the domestic abuse on the base as “collateral” from the war. She sees the domestic violence committed by marines, many of them young, as a reaction to jumping back and forth between the dangers of war and the trouble at home.

“One minute you are in Baghdad waiting for a bomb to go off and the next minute you are in Burger King,” Judge Iles said. “There is a lot of disorientation.”

A 9-Year-Old Witness

It was a little before dawn on Feb. 20, 2006, in a bedroom in Edwardsville, Ill. Carol Trevino and her 9-year-old son, sleeping deeply after watching “Wayne’s World,” were startled awake by a series of booms. “What was that?” Carol Trevino asked her son.

In seconds, Sgt. Jon Trevino, her estranged husband, barged through the door, according to a police report. Mrs. Trevino had just enough time to reach for her pepper spray before he shot her five times, the last time in the head. Then he shot himself.

Their son, wide-eyed, sat in bed watching his life explode, bullet by bullet.

Few details escaped the boy’s notice. His father used a silver gun and it “didn’t have a wheel on it, like the cowboys used,” he told the Edwardsville police. The boy could even name the precise time of his mother’s death: 4:32 a.m., as the glowing clock read.

Outside in Mr. Trevino’s car was the immediate motive for the murder-suicide: divorce papers, evidence of a marriage destabilized by multiple deployments to war zones and by Sergeant Trevino’s own increasing instability.

T. Robert Cook, his brother-in-law, said he believed Sergeant Trevino’s domestic violence was triggered by his combat trauma. “I’m 100 percent sure it was the war,” said Mr. Cook, who is raising the Trevinos’ son along with his wife, Cheryl Lee, who is Carol’s sister. “I don’t have any doubt their marital problems placed a burden on him, but I am quite sure that, but for the war, he would have taken a different approach. When you see people being shot every day, death is not a big thing.”

Sergeant Trevino, who had endured childhood sexual abuse and a difficult first marriage, suffered psychiatric problems long before he was dispatched to war zones to perform the highly stressful job of evacuating the wounded.

And the Air Force knew it.

Air Force mental health records show that Sergeant Trevino, who was 36, had been treated twice for mental health problems before the war: once in 1995 for serious depression as his first marriage crumbled, and then in 1999 for post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the childhood abuse and marital problems with his new wife, Carol. He was counseled and treated with medication both times.

As a result of these problems, the Air Force insisted that he secure a medical waiver for a promotion that he sought to become an aeromedical evacuation technician. And military doctors certified that he could handle the job, despite research that shows that pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder is exacerbated in a war zone.

Col. Steven Pflanz, a senior psychiatrist in the Air Force, who was not involved in the Trevino case, said the Air Force considered the stress disorder to be treatable and therefore was willing to deploy an airman with a history of it. But the decision is not taken lightly, he said.

“It’s not an exact science,” he said. “You try to make your best prediction. We spend a lot of time with our customers.”

In Sergeant Trevino’s case, the prediction was wrong. He had trouble shaking off the carnage that he experienced so viscerally while evacuating injured service members. After one deployment to Afghanistan and two to Iraq, his mental health and his marriage deteriorated. When he returned from his second tour in Iraq, Sergeant Trevino acknowledged in a health assessment that he had “serious problems” dealing with the people he loved and that he was feeling “down, helpless, panicky or anxious.”

The Air Force acted quickly. He was abruptly restricted from “special operational duty.” An Air Force doctor diagnosed “acute PTSD,” calling it a reaction to the war and marital problems. Sergeant Trevino began taking a cocktail of antidepressants and underwent therapy. According to doctors’ notes, he did not express thoughts of homicide or suicide. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, he was considered well enough to be deployed domestically.

But his wife’s family, which had taken him under its wing, found the once affable, quick-witted sergeant to be profoundly altered. His temper flashed unpredictably, white-hot. He acted threatened and paranoid, his behavior so erratic that he frightened his son. One late night, he took his son on a rambling drive to nowhere, ranting to the boy about his mother.

At least one time, he struck his wife. A friend gave Carol Trevino the pepper spray that she reached for the night of her murder. But she never considered his abuse serious enough to report him to the authorities.

Four days before the murder-suicide, Sergeant Trevino bought a gun.

“This is just one of those things that unfortunately happens,” he wrote to his son in a suicide note. “I love you, and I know I let you down.”

Justice Delayed

The Pentagon task force had one overarching recommendation: that the military work hard to effect a “culture shift” to zero tolerance for domestic violence by holding offenders accountable and by punishing criminal behavior.

There was, members believed, a core credo that needed to be attacked frontally: “this notion that the good soldier either can’t be a wife beater or, if they are, that it’s a temporary aberration that shouldn’t interfere with them doing military service,” as Dr. Campbell put it.

The way the military handled several cases involving the deaths of babies and toddlers indicates that this kind of thinking has been difficult to demolish at a time of war.

In October 2003, four months after Jose Aguilar, 24, a Marine Corps sergeant, returned from the initial invasion of Iraq, his infant son, Damien, wound up in the intensive care unit of a local hospital with bleeding in his brain and eyes.

Sergeant Aguilar, a mechanic based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, acknowledged to the local police that he had been rough with the 2-month-old baby, shaking Damien to stop him from squirming during a diaper change. He said that he had been abused himself as a child and that he did not mean to hurt the baby.

After the marine was charged with felony child abuse, he and his wife completed a parenting program.

The following summer, while the felony charge was pending, Sergeant Aguilar was deployed once more to Iraq, this time for nine months. His court case was delayed, which did not surprise local prosecutors.

Michael Maultsby, the assistant district attorney in Onslow County, N.C., who prosecuted Sergeant Aguilar, said that such frustrating delays in justice sometimes occur in his county, home to Camp Lejeune.

“It depends on the needs of the unit,” Mr. Maultsby said. “We can’t overrule them.”

In April 2006, a year after Sergeant Aguilar returned from Iraq but before his felony case was resolved, Damien, who by then was 2, died of a brain injury. His father claimed that the boy had been injured by a fall in the bathtub. The medical examiner disputed that explanation. The marine was arrested, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and felony child abuse, and was sentenced last fall to 28 to 35 years in prison.

Marine officials would not comment on individual cases. Elaine Woodhouse, a Marine Corps social services program specialist, said that “the family advocacy program does not recommend or advise deployment of a marine when domestic or felony child abuse charges are pending.” Still, that decision, she said, is left to the discretion of the commanders.

A conviction for domestic violence, unlike pending charges, almost always renders a service member ineligible to go to war, but that restriction has not always been considered binding, as is clear in the case of Sergeant Terrasas, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton.

One night in late December 2002, Sergeant Terrasas, drunk and angry over a telephone conversation about the looming war in Iraq, vented his anger by punching his wife, Lucia, in the face.

“He seemed to just lose it,” Mrs. Terrasas told the police in Oceanside, Calif., who arrested him on misdemeanor charges.

But Sergeant Terrasas was deployed to Iraq before his case was heard. It was not until his return seven months later that he pleaded guilty, was placed on probation and was ordered to complete a 16-week batterers intervention program run by the Marine Corps.

Sergeant Terrasas attended a few classes. But the Marine Corps, facing a runaway insurgency in Iraq, pulled him out of the batterers program and shipped him off to war for a second time in early 2004.

This deployment was illegal. A 1996 law bans offenders who are convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from carrying firearms, with no special exception for military personnel. The ban is referred to as the Lautenberg amendment after its sponsor, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey.

Army and Marine regulations, formulated in response to the weapons ban, explicitly prohibit deployments for missions that require firearms, and extend the policy to felony domestic violence offenders, too. The Marine Corps would not comment on Sergeant Terrasas’s deployment, citing confidentiality rules.

When Sergeant Terrasas returned from war, he completed his batterers program, said his lawyer, Philip De Massa. But his anger, tested by two tours in Iraq, still surfaced. In September 2005, when the police responded to a domestic argument, he broke down crying and told one officer that he suffered from “postwar traumatic syndrome.” There is no record that he sought or received mental health help.

Nearly two weeks later, the Terrasases’ 7-month-old son, Alexander, died from a powerful blow to the head. Mr. Terrasas was charged with murder. Last August, after a deal with prosecutors, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for felony child endangerment.

He never admitted to abusing his child.

Broken Promises

Sgt. Erin Edwards, emboldened by a year in Iraq, returned to Texas with the courage to end her troubled marriage.

“Being apart for such a long period of time enabled her to realize she could survive without him,” said Sgt. Jami Howell, 28, who was her best friend.

When Erin Edwards told her husband that she wanted a divorce after four years of marriage, he responded as she had long feared.

On June 19, 2004, he followed her to their baby sitter’s house to hand her a written proposal for a custody arrangement. When she did not immediately respond, he beat her so badly that she wound up in the emergency room.

Even before the assault, William Edwards’s troubles had so badly affected his performance at work that his commanding officer, Capt. Brian Novoselich, took the time to meet with him weekly to check on his welfare. After the assault, it was the captain who confined him to the base.

But William Edwards repeatedly left unescorted and often stayed with his brother, who lived across the street from Erin Edwards in Killeen. On several occasions, she alerted the police and his superiors that he was lurking.

On July 21, 2004, Erin Edwards went to court to make the temporary protection order permanent. At the hearing, William Edwards told the judge that he had enrolled in alcohol and domestic violence classes after the June assault, according to a transcript.

“I had hit rock bottom when I touched my wife, man,” he said in court. “That was the worst day ever in my life. I had always told my wife that I would never touch her, ever, physically.”

William Edwards also acknowledged that when the police showed up that day, he begged his wife not to press charges, saying: “Don’t do this to my career. Don’t do this.”

Erin Edwards spoke of the effect on their children, who witnessed the assault. “Since the incident happened, all my son talks about is how his father hurt his mother, and that ‘Daddy is going to kill Mommy,’” she said.

She also stated, and her husband learned for the first time, that she was transferring and moving with the children. William Edwards was “visibly upset” by this, according to Army documents turned over to the police.

The following morning, after reporting to an exercise session with other soldiers, William Edwards left the base alone one final time. After the murder-suicide, local police officers securing the scene noted that both bodies were dressed in military camouflage clothing with nameplates that said Edwards. Both were 24.

At Erin Edwards’s funeral, her boss, Brig. Gen. Charles Benjamin Allen, who was killed in a helicopter crash in late 2004, eulogized the soldier with a cracking voice. More than three years later, her relatives note that not even he, with his high rank, was able to ensure that the military was doing more than taking a troubled soldier “at his word,” as Mary Lou Taylor, Erin’s aunt, said.

“He couldn’t or failed to help her be safe,” Ms. Taylor said.

William Edwards’s former commanding officer, Major Novoselich, said in a recent interview that he was “shocked by the end result.” Now a professor at West Point, he said he had assumed that William Edwards’s immediate supervisors were monitoring him.

Near Fort Hood, Detective Brank of the Killeen police said soldiers continued to defy restrictions to the base.

“I am surprised,” she said. “Fort Hood is not enforcing these orders.”

The Army examined Erin Edwards’s death as part of a fatality review program recommended by the Pentagon task force “to ensure no victim dies in vain.”

A one-paragraph summary of the review seemed to discount the findings of the civilian police investigation. The summary noted that Erin Edwards had refused the assistance of the base’s family advocacy program, while William Edwards had enrolled in it. It added that William Edwards had “appeared to comply” with his restrictions. Until the day he “eluded his military escort” and killed his wife.

Alain Delaquérière and Margot Williams contributed research.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How the spooks took over the news

How the spooks took over the news
The Independent (UK)

In his controversial new book, Nick Davies argues that shadowy intelligence agencies are pumping out black propaganda to manipulate public opinion – and that the media simply swallow it wholesale

The letter argued that al-Qa'ida, which is a Sunni network, should attack the Shia population of Iraq: "It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis."

Later that day, at a regular US press briefing in Baghdad, US General Mark Kimmitt dealt with a string of questions about The New York Times report: "We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously... It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society." The story went on to news agency wires and, within 24 hours, it was running around the world.

There is very good reason to believe that that letter was a fake – and a significant one because there is equally good reason to believe that it was one product among many from a new machinery of propaganda which has been created by the United States and its allies since the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.

The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the production of our news. I've spent the last two years researching a book about falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media.

The "Zarqawi letter" which made it on to the front page of The New York Times in February 2004 was one of a sequence of highly suspect documents which were said to have been written either by or to Zarqawi and which were fed into news media.

This material is being generated, in part, by intelligence agencies who continue to work without effective oversight; and also by a new and essentially benign structure of "strategic communications" which was originally designed by doves in the Pentagon and Nato who wanted to use subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism but whose efforts are poorly regulated and badly supervised with the result that some of its practitioners are breaking loose and engaging in the black arts of propaganda.

Like the new propaganda machine as a whole, the Zarqawi story was born in the high tension after the attacks of September 2001. At that time, he was a painful thorn in the side of the Jordanian authorities, an Islamist radical who was determined to overthrow the royal family. But he was nothing to do with al-Q'aida. Indeed, he had specifically rejected attempts by Bin Laden to recruit him, because he was not interested in targeting the West.

Nevertheless, when US intelligence battered on the doors of allied governments in search of information about al-Q'aida, the Jordanian authorities – anxious to please the Americans and perhaps keen to make life more difficult for their native enemy – threw up his name along with other suspects. Soon he started to show up as a minor figure in US news stories – stories which were factually weak, often contradictory and already using the Jordanians as a tool of political convenience.

Then, on 7 October 2002, for the first time, somebody referred to him on the record. In a nationally televised speech in Cincinnati, President George Bush spoke of "high-level contacts" between al-Q'aida and Iraq and said: "Some al-Q'aida leaders who fled Afghanistan, went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Q'aida leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks."

This coincided with a crucial vote in Congress in which the president was seeking authority to use military force against Iraq. Bush never named the man he was referring to but, as the Los Angeles Times among many others soon reported: "In a speech [on] Monday, Bush referred to a senior member of al-Q'aida who received medical treatment in Iraq. US officials said yesterday that was Abu al Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, who lost a leg during the US war in Afghanistan."

Even now, Zarqawi was a footnote, not a headline, but the flow of stories about him finally broke through and flooded the global media on 5 February 2003, when the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, addressed the UN Security Council, arguing that Iraq must be invaded: first, to stop its development of weapons of mass destruction; and second, to break its ties with al-Q'aida.

Powell claimed that "Iraq today harbours a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi"; that Zarqawi's base in Iraq was a camp for "poison and explosive training"; that he was "an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Q'aida lieutenants"; that he "fought in the Afghan war more than a decade ago"; that "Zarqawi and his network have plotted terrorist actions against countries, including France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia".

Courtesy of post-war Senate intelligence inquiries; evidence disclosed in several European trials; and the courageous work of a handful of journalists who broke away from the pack, we now know that every single one of those statements was entirely false. But that didn't matter: it was a big story. News organisations sucked it in and regurgitated it for their trusting consumers.

So, who exactly is producing fiction for the media? Who wrote the Zarqawi letters? Who created the fantasy story about Osama bin Laden using a network of subterranean bases in Afghanistan, complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems? Who fed the media with tales of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationery cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine? Who came up with the idea that Iranian ayatollahs have been encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine?

Some of this comes from freelance political agitators. It was an Iranian opposition group, for example, which was behind the story that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. And notoriously it was Iraqi exiles who supplied the global media with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.

But clearly a great deal of this carries the fingerprints of officialdom. The Pentagon has now designated "information operations" as its fifth "core competency" alongside land, sea, air and special forces. Since October 2006, every brigade, division and corps in the US military has had its own "psyop" element producing output for local media. This military activity is linked to the State Department's campaign of "public diplomacy" which includes funding radio stations and news websites. In Britain, the Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defence works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defence Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.

In the case of British intelligence, you can see this combination of reckless propaganda and failure of oversight at work in the case of Operation Mass Appeal. This was exposed by the former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, who describes in his book, Iraq Confidential, how, in London in June 1998, he was introduced to two "black propaganda specialists" from MI6 who wanted him to give them material which they could spread through "editors and writers who work with us from time to time".

In interviews for Flat Earth News, Ritter described how, between December 1997 and June 1998, he had three meetings with MI6 officers who wanted him to give them raw intelligence reports on Iraqi arms procurement. The significance of these reports was that they were all unconfirmed and so none was being used in assessing Iraqi activity. Yet MI6 was happy to use them to plant stories in the media. Beyond that, there is worrying evidence that, when Lord Butler asked MI6 about this during his inquiry into intelligence around the invasion of Iraq, MI6 lied to him.

Ultimately, the US has run into trouble with its propaganda in Iraq, particularly with its use of the Zarqawi story. In May 2006, when yet another of his alleged letters was handed out to reporters in the Combined Press Information Centre in Baghdad, finally it was widely regarded as suspect and ignored by just about every single media outlet.

Arguably, even worse than this loss of credibility, according to British defence sources, the US campaign on Zarqawi eventually succeeded in creating its own reality. By elevating him from his position as one fighter among a mass of conflicting groups, the US campaign to "villainise Zarqawi" glamorised him with its enemy audience, making it easier for him to raise funds, to attract "unsponsored" foreign fighters, to make alliances with Sunni Iraqis and to score huge impact with his own media manoeuvres. Finally, in December 2004, Osama bin Laden gave in to this constructed reality, buried his differences with the Jordanian and declared him the leader of al-Q'aida's resistance to the American occupation.


The Press Association's wire service has a long-standing reputation for its integrity and fast, fair and accurate reporting. Much of his criticism is anonymously sourced – which is something we strive to avoid.


Thanks to the internet there's a constant source of news stories pumping into newsrooms. Stories are simply rewritten. It produces an airless cycle of information. Papers too rarely have news stories of their own.


The media has ceded a lot of the power of setting the agenda; the definition of news has broadened to include celebrities and new products (the iPhone is a big story). But I don't join in the hand-wringing or say it's desperate that people outside newspapers have got a say.


Davies is right to point to the lack of investigative rigour: the primary purpose of journalism is to rattle cages. I was always struck at the extent to which political journalists yearned to be spoon fed. Having said that, I think he uses too broad a brush.


I'm not saying this is a golden age, but there's a strong investigative drive in the British press. A lot of papers put a strong value on such stories. I suspect we're about the most invigilated establishment in Europe.


I'm disappointed that a book which has as its premise the dictation of the news agenda by PRs should contain in it an anonymous quote from a PR criticising theStandard's coverage of the Natwest Three.


It's not entirely true what Davies is saying. In the past, we just got scrutiny from newspapers and now think tanks publish results of investigations. But there's an assumption that the public aren't interested in government, just Amy Winehouse.


Davies is spot on. It's reasonable that newspapers carry PA accounts of court hearings, but he's right that there's more "churn" now. Reporters don't get out of the office the way they did once – partly a reflection of reduced budgets.

This is an edited extract from "Flat Earth News: an award-winning reporter exposes falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media", published by Chatto & Windus, price £17.99. To order this title for the special price of £16, including postage and packaging, call Independent Books Direct: 08700 798 897

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Glenn Greenwald - Amnesty Day for Bush and lawbreaking telecoms

Tuesday February 12, 2008 07:01 EST
Amnesty Day for Bush and lawbreaking telecoms

The Senate today -- led by Jay Rockefeller, enabled by Harry Reid, and with the active support of at least 12 (and probably more) Democrats, in conjunction with an as-always lockstep GOP caucus -- will vote to legalize warrantless spying on the telephone calls and emails of Americans, and will also provide full retroactive amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, thus forever putting an end to any efforts to investigate and obtain a judicial ruling regarding the Bush administration's years-long illegal spying programs aimed at Americans. The long, hard efforts by AT&T, Verizon and their all-star, bipartisan cast of lobbyists to grease the wheels of the Senate -- led by former Bush 41 Attorney General William Barr and former Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick -- are about to pay huge dividends, as such noble efforts invariably do with our political establishment.

It's worth taking a step back and recalling that all of this is the result of the December, 2005 story by the New York Times which first reported that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans for many years without warrants of any kind. All sorts of "controversy" erupted from that story. Democrats everywhere expressed dramatic, unbridled outrage, vowing that this would not stand. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for exposing this serious lawbreaking. All sorts of Committees were formed, papers written, speeches given, conferences convened, and editorials published to denounce this extreme abuse of presidential power. This was illegality and corruption at the highest level of government, on the grandest scale, and of the most transparent strain.

What was the outcome of all of that sturm und drang? What were the consequences for the President for having broken the law so deliberately and transparently? Absolutely nothing. To the contrary, the Senate is about to enact a bill which has two simple purposes: (1) to render retroactively legal the President's illegal spying program by legalizing its crux: warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, and (2) to stifle forever the sole remaining avenue for finding out what the Government did and obtaining a judicial ruling as to its legality: namely, the lawsuits brought against the co-conspiring telecoms. In other words, the only steps taken by our political class upon exposure by the NYT of this profound lawbreaking is to endorse it all and then suppress any and all efforts to investigate it and subject it to the rule of law.

To be sure, achieving this took some time. When Bill Frist was running the Senate and Pat Roberts was in charge of the Intelligence Committee, Bush and Cheney couldn't get this done (the same FISA and amnesty bill that the Senate will pass today stalled in the 2006 Senate). They had to wait until the Senate belonged (nominally) to Harry Reid and, more importantly, Jay Rockefeller was installed as Committee Chairman, and then -- and only then -- were they able to push the Senate to bequeath to them and their lawbreaking allies full-scale protection from investigation and immunity from the consequences of their lawbreaking.

That's really the most extraordinary aspect of all of this, if one really thinks about it -- it isn't merely that the Democratic Senate failed to investigate or bring about accountability for the clearest and more brazen acts of lawbreaking in the Bush administration, although that is true. Far beyond that, once in power, they are eagerly and aggressively taking affirmative steps -- extraordinary steps -- to protect Bush officials. While still knowing virtually nothing about what they did, they are acting to legalize Bush's illegal spying programs and put an end to all pending investigations and efforts to uncover what happened.

How far we've come -- really: disgracefully tumbled -- from the days of the Church Committee, which aggressively uncovered surveillance abuses and then drafted legislation to outlaw them and prevent them from ever occurring again. It is, of course, precisely those post-Watergate laws which the Bush administration and their telecom conspirators purposely violated, and for which they are about to receive permanent, lawless protection.

What Harry Reid's Senate is about to do today would be tantamount to the Church Committee -- after discovering the decades of abuses of eavesdropping powers by various administrations -- proceeding in response to write legislation to legalize unchecked surveillance, bar any subjects of the illegal eavesdropping from obtaining remedies in court, and then pass a bill with no purpose other than to provide retroactive immunity for the surveillance lawbreakers. That would be an absurd and incomparably corrupt nonsequitur, but that is precisely what Harry Reid's Senate -- in response to the NYT's 2005 revelations of clear surveillance lawbreaking by the administration -- is going to do today.

Analogously, in 1973, The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for its work in uncovering the Watergate abuses, and that led to what would have been the imminent bipartisan impeachment of the President until he was forced to resign in disgrace. By stark and depressing contrast, in 2006, Jim Risen, Eric Lichtblau and the NYT won Pulitzer Prizes for their work in uncovering illegal spying on Americans at the highest levels of the Government, and that led to bipartisan legislation to legalize the illegal spying programs and provide full-scale retroactive amnesty for the lawbreakers. That's the difference between a country operating under the rule of law and one that is governed by lawlessness and lawbreaking license for the politically powerful and well-connected.

Chris Dodd went to the Senate floor last night and gave another eloquent and impassioned speech, warning of the consequences for our country from telecom amnesty. He specifically focused on the permanently and comprehensively suppressive effect it will have on efforts to investigate what the Bush administration did in illegally spying on Americans.

At around 2:25, Sen. Dodd quoted from this blog (from this post specifically regarding last week's testimony of Michael Mukasey) concerning the consequences for our country from ensuring, as the Senate is about to do, that such blatant and deliberate governmental lawbreaking is protected and goes forever unpunished (h/t selise):

From Frank Church and the bipartisan oversight protections of the post-Watergate abuses in the mid-1970s to Jay Rockefeller, Dick Cheney, legalized warrantless eavesdropping and retroactive telecom amnesty in 2008 -- that vivid collapse into the sewer illustrates as potently as anything could what has happened to this country over the last eight years.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Glenn Greenwald - The WSJ editorial page lies about our surveillance laws

The WSJ editorial page lies about our surveillance laws

(updated below - Update II)

There are very few opinion venues -- if there are any -- more brazenly fact-free than the Editorial Page of the Wall St. Journal. They have an Editorial this morning warning of all the grave dangers posed by efforts from the "anti-antiterror left" to limit the Leader's warrantless eavesdropping powers -- the most dangerous of which, they warn, is the campaign "to deny legal immunity to telephone companies that cooperated with the government on these wiretaps after 9/11." The Editorial is filled with one demonstrable factual falsehood after the next.

Just marvel at this paragraph, incoherent and false in equal parts:

By far the worst threat is an amendment from Senator Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) to deny legal immunity to telephone companies that cooperated with the government on these wiretaps after 9/11. The companies face multiple lawsuits, so a denial of even retrospective immunity would certainly lead to less such cooperation in the future.

This is precisely the goal of the left, which has failed to get Congress to ban such wiretaps directly but wants to use lawsuits to do so via the backdoor.

The assertion that Congress has failed "to ban such wiretaps directly" is an absolute lie and there is no other way to phrase that. The reason there are lawsuits brought against telecoms isn't because of some cliched liberal-judicial-activist effort to impose on telecoms obligations which don't exist in law. The opposite is true: the lawsuits were brought precisely because telecoms violated multiple clear, long-standing laws that make it illegal to do exactly what they did: namely, allow government spying on Americans and access to their customer data without judicial warrants.

Section 222 of the Communications Act of 1934 provides that "[e]very telecommunications carrier has a duty to protect the confidentiality of proprietary information of . . . customers." 18 U.S.C. 2511 makes warrantless eavesdropping a felony; 18 U.S.C. 2702 requires that any "entity providing an electronic communication service to the public shall not knowingly divulge to any person or entity the contents of a communication" without a court order; 47 U.S.C. 605 states that "no person receiving, assisting in receiving, transmitting, or assisting in transmitting, any interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio shall divulge or publish the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning thereof, except through authorized channels of transmission or reception"; and 18 U.S.C. 2520 provides for civil damages for any violations.

Like all statutes, those are all laws democratically enacted by the American people through their Congress and signed into law by the President. They were enacted precisely in order to make it illegal for telecoms to allow government spying on our calls and written communications without court orders -- precisely because Americans discovered that telecoms had previously allowed unfettered government spying on our communications and wanted to make it illegal for them to do so ever again. Those are exactly the laws the telecoms broke, in exactly the way that the American people wanted to prohibit.

To claim, as the WSJ does today, that "the left" is using lawsuits as a "backdoor" because it "failed to get Congress to ban such wiretaps directly" literally could not be more false and misleading. And, as always, the falsehoods are bolstered by Bush-following lawyers who are single-mindedly devoted to the authoritarian goal of increasing unchecked government power, such as former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy, who hails the WSJ Editorial as "superb" despite what he must know are its undebatable falsehoods about the law.

There is an honest way to argue in favor of telecom amnesty, and it is, of course, exactly what amnesty advocates like the WSJ, Andy McCarthy, Jay Rockefeller and the rest of them desperately avoid. This is the only honest case one can make for this radical gift to telecoms:

Yes, telecoms violated multiple federal laws by enabling government spying on Americans and turning over communications data without warrants. They broke these laws not only in the aftermath of 9/11, but for years and years. By breaking these laws, they reaped enormous financial profits, as the Government paid them huge fees for their cooperation in the illegal spying program. Despite their having broken multiple federal laws and having committed felonies -- while reaping great profits in the process -- they ought to be granted retroactive amnesty and immunized from any consequences for their lawbreaking, otherwise they may be reluctant to break our laws in the future.

The telecom amnesty debate is controversial but it is not complicated. The Government asked telecoms to break numerous federal laws in exchange for profit. Some telecoms refused to do so and others -- such as AT&T and Verizon -- agreed to break the law for years. Which behavior do we want to encourage and reward -- (a) telecoms which turned down the substantial government contracts to enable warrantless spying on Americans because doing so was illegal, or (b) the telecoms which purposely broke our laws by allowing illegal government spying on Americans? How can that even be a debatable question?

As the Senate votes on amnesty tomorrow, the only real question is whether telecoms which broke our laws should be accountable in a court of law for their illegal behavior (the way things are supposed to work in a country that lives under the rule of law) or whether Congress, lavishly funded by this industry, will pass a law that has no purpose other than to give them the retroactive license to break our country's laws with impunity.

The shamelessly fear-mongering claim that telecoms won't "cooperate" in the future without amnesty -- a central prong of the WSJ's Editorial, needless to say -- is nothing more than the standard authoritarian tactic of warning that unless we succumb to Bush's demands and give the Government and its allies everything they want, we're all going to die at the hands of the Terrorists. Telecoms were already granted prospective immunity by the Protect America Act -- meaning they cannot be held liable in the future if they act pursuant to government certification that the requests are legal. That already ensures all the "cooperation" that we could possibly want.

Moreover, we want telecoms and all other private actors to be incentivized to abide by the law, not to break the law. That's why we enact laws in the first place, along with penalties for breaking them -- because we want an incentive scheme that causes companies to refuse illegal requests from the government. The full-scale immunity that Congress is about to bestow rewards lawbreaking and incentivizes rational telecoms to ignore our laws in the future, knowing that they are free to act illegally without consequence. What rational person would want to endorse that framework?

The persuasiveness of an argument can often be determined by the willingness of its advocates to confine themselves to the truth when making it. That telecom amnesty advocates resort to demonstrable falsehoods -- literally pretending that telecoms did not violate multiple laws when allowing warrantless spying -- is a powerful testament not only to their lack of integrity but also to the deceit and corruption that forms the crux of their efforts.

Whatever else is true about these telecoms that are about to be granted this extraordinary gift from Congress -- no matter how many times they are lavished with the creepy Orwellian phrase "patriotic corporate citizens" -- it is undeniable that they are deliberate lawbreakers. That's why they need amnesty in the first place. Any amnesty advocate who denies that central fact is arguing from a position of deep dishonesty. Bestowing retroactive telecom amnesty is nothing more than the latest step in creating a two-class legal system in America, where most citizens suffer grave penalties if they break the law, while our most politically powerful and well-connected actors are free to do so with impunity.

UPDATE: The probability is virtually zero that the Democratic-led Senate will do anything here other than what they always do: namely, ensure that enough Democratic Senators join with the unanimous GOP caucus to endorse whatever demands the Bush administration makes of them. They are more or less certain to enact a warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty bill tomorrow that is virtually identical to the bill to which Dick Cheney gave his approval when working with Jay Rockefeller. Thank God the Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006; otherwise, think of how different everything would be.

There is some small chance that the House will impede -- if not stop -- at least some of the more extreme Cheney/Rockefeller provisions. As The Nation's Ari Melber reports: "A trio of Democratic House Committee Chairmen [Dingell, Markey and Stupak] are stepping up the fight against President Bush's surveillance bill this week, vowing to beat back a controversial proposal to grant retroactive amnesty to companies accused of illegally spying on Americans . . . circulating a letter urging their colleagues to stand firm and keep amnesty out of the final spying bill."

Unfortunately, the House "Blue Dogs" are basically the House version of Jay Rockefeller and Harry Reid and can, and likely will, single-handedly ensure that the House joins the Senate in complying in full with Bush's demands. But as long as the prospect remains that it can be stopped in the House -- and "an ACLU spokesperson told The Nation that the action by House leaders is the only 'ray of hope' to scuttle amnesty" -- it is worth trying. We'll have a petition and various action steps posted tomorrow once the Senate votes in favor of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty.

UPDATE II: One common tactic on the authoritarian Right is to promulgate a simplistic lie about a complex issue and simply repeat it over and over no matter how many times it's disproven, without ever addressing the response. Thus, this is what the WSJ claims the "debate" is about (h/t Jestaplero):

The debate concerns an effort to revise the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to bless spying without a court order on terrorist communications that originate overseas but move through U.S. switching networks. We believe -- and appellate courts have stated -- that the President already has such authority under the Constitution. But the political left claims this is "illegal" under FISA, and Mr. Bush has agreed to work with Congress on a compromise.

That is as much of a lie as the WSJ's assertion about the state of surveillance law. There is absolutely no "debate" of any kind -- nor has there ever been -- over whether FISA should require warrants for the types of calls the WSJ describes here. Everyone, even including the most stalwart opponents of the bill, such as Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. Rush Holt, agrees that FISA should be amended to exempt from its warrant requirements foreign-to-foreign calls routed through the U.S. There is no "debate" about that provision and the WSJ's claim that this is what is being debated -- and that the "Left" believes that such eavesdropping is illegal -- is just false.

The bill that the White House demanded and that Jay Rockefeller sponsored allows for warrantless eavsdropping not only on foreign-to-foreign calls, but also on international calls which American citizens make and receive while on U.S. soil. Put simply, it allows the President to spy on all of our international calls and emails with no oversight and no warrants of any kind. That is what the "debate" is about.

What the Senate is about to do tomorrow is very simple: it will (a) vest vast new powers in the President to spy on the calls and emails of American citizens, inside the U.S., with no warrants, and (b) grant amnesty to telecoms that broke multiple federal laws. In sum, it will legalize the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" that the President ordered for years in violation of the law -- a program aimed at eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, inside the U.S. The fact that proponents of the bill, such as the WSJ, have to lie about what the bill does -- and that is what they are plainly doing in claiming the "debate" is about foreign-to-foreign calls -- is rather compelling proof of how pernicious it is.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bush Ad Infinitum

Bush Ad Infinitum
by Devilstower

Sun Feb 10, 2008 at 01:33:47 PM CST

While most calendars start on January 1 and end on December 31, I think I'm not alone in saying that the X's on my fridge are counting down toward January 20, 2009. I might mention the alarm set to go off at the stroke of noon, but that would seem obsessive. Still, while I may give a hearty cheer (and I'm trying to select between a set of appropriate quips) the truth is, we won't be shed of George W. Bush on that wondrous day.

He's not leaving. He's never leaving.

By that I don't mean that Bush has a nefarious plot to exercise the Poppa Doc President for Life clause. I mean that the Bush legacy will not be restricted to that "the less said, the better" note he'll receive in future history books. The evil that presidents' do lives after them; the good is left as a target for the next conservative president. Bush hasn't left much good behind him, but what he has left is a set of policies and decisions that may cripple whichever of our Democratic candidates is so unfortunate as to succeed Bush.

First up in the things we may have to live with for a long, long time is the gift of a radicalized Supreme Court. While it's easy to say that it will take a generation to mend, the truth is a generation might not be enough. Of the sitting Supreme Court justices, two of them are Reagan appointees from the mid-80s. One of them is an appointee of Jimmy Carter who has been in his robe since 1975 (thank you, Justice Stephens, and hang in there). That means that we could still be dealing with Alito's snarling rants when Malia Obama is facing off against senior senator Hillary Duff. Even a couple of back to back Democratic administrations might not be enough to patch the tears put into the Constitution by the "strict constructionists," as the three youngest members of the court are Roberts, Alito, and Thomas.

Moving beyond the court, there's the perennial target of the Republicans: the people, their pocketbooks, and the planet.

There's a popular theory of a "business cycle" in which the economy goes up and down in somewhat regular waves. I can't help but view it as a political cycle, one in which a decade or so is enough to make people forget that conservatism does not work. Watch the folks around you for the next few years. As the Iraq Recession cuts into their lives, they'll momentarily get that splash of cold water awareness that the Laffer Curve has absolutely no evidence, that trickle down economics is a joke, and that the Magical Invisible Hand of Greed only ends up bankrupting the nation to the benefit of a chosen few. Then, as Democrats gradually put the world back together again, eyelids will droop, and the siren song of "you can have your cake and eat it too" will once more ring out across the land.

The only thing that might prevent this cycle from repeating again over the next few years is how spectacularly conservatism has failed during this spin of the wheel. Having presided over seven years of the spendthrift's ball, wrecked most every fundamental of the economy, invested a couple of trillion as a downpayment on the new Hundred Years War, and cheered an "expansion" in which the average American went backwards, you might think that the public would be in no hurry to trust Republicans with the check book again. Don't bet on it. After all Saint Ronald of Death Valley Days reversed thirty years of saving in a single decade while taking the national debt from 30% to 60% of the GDP. The expanded spending under Reagan so outpaced economic growth that a plot of it looks steeper than the Nepalese approach to Everest. Yet Ronnie is now regarded as a champion of sound economic practices. Why are we that stupid? Well, there are at least three television networks completely dedicated to spreading the "go greed!" message 24/7 (for every other TV network, promoting greed is only on 23 hours out of 24). Wake me when the Sustainability Network gets on the air.

In casting his inky-red shadow across coming administrations, Bush is still insisting that his tax cuts for the wealthy be extended -- right now, today -- even though they don't run out until 2010. Expect that theme to be a part of the race next fall and, no matter who wins, expect any effort to allow these cuts to expire to be portrayed as a "massive tax increase." In fact, I'll give you 10:1 odds it's called "the greatest tax increase in American history" before we get to pull the lever in November. This will be done by using revenue projections that run from now until the entropy death of the sun.

A great deal will be made of how, after seven years of residing over skyrocketing Republican graft and record setting corporate handouts, Bush has decided to play fiscal hardball when it comes to "earmarks." Except, of course he hasn't. He's only threatened to put into effect an executive order that would limit the number of earmarks to something greater than that ever passed by a Democratic president. And that limit starts in fiscal 2009. So any program cuts resulting from this new flowering of restraint won't come due under Bush's watch, they'll only affect the next president. And yet, should our next president rescind this order, you'll have to cover your ears to keep from being deafened by the howls of Republicans who are suddenly dead set against anyone doing what they've been doing for a decade.

That's the Bush economic goal at this point: lay mines around the gravy train they've built, pretend that they left something less than the worst fiscal catastrophe since the Big Bang, and scream if anyone touches their cheese. We had better hope we can land 60 Democrats in the Senate, because otherwise everything the next president attempts to do will be filibustered in support of the "economic discipline" Republicans were never able to practice when they had control.

Of course the Bush legacy will include Iraq. Not just the unsustainable deployment of troops, but the shotgun marriage to the dysfunctional Iraqi government. And then there are the permanent enduring bases in Iraq. At this moment, the Bush administration is negotiating a treaty that will "maintain our current level of authority to conduct operations in Iraq" indefinitely and secure those permanent enduring bases. You can bet that any attempt to move a single soldier from Iraq will bring cries of "retreat" and closing those bases will be "surrender." Oh, and expect the same Republicans who have spent the Bush administration sneering at any international treaty, to suddenly discover that any treaties negotiated by Bush deserve a reverence somewhere between mom and apple pie.

But as bad is the situation in Iraq is and will be, perhaps the worst thing Bush can still stick us with in this final year is something less visible in the short term, but vitally important in the long term. Having started his administration destroying the environment through executive orders bearing laughable names like "Clear Skies," Bush is ending his official tenure by systematically dismantling out last wild places.

In the last month, Bush has placed a giant "for sale" sign on America's largest national forest, the Tongass rainforest in Alaska. 58 million acres there have been opened up to development. The same thing has happened recently in Idaho and Colorado. It's not just the trees that are threatened. Last week the Bush administration auctioned off oil drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea, just off Alaska's northwest shore, despite the fact that it's an environmentally fragile area where polar bears are struggling to hang on. You'll be happy to know that Shell and ConncoPhillips now hold the rights to drill an area about the size of the state of Pennsylvania.

It may not seem like it, but on many fronts the now Democratic congress can act as a check on the Bush administration and stifle their worst impulses, but when it comes to the lands held in public trust, the president's authority is expansive. And where recovering from the foolish economic voodoo of conservatism can take decades, public lands surrendered to private greed is forever. Wilderness squandered is wilderness lost.

Repairing the damage that Bush has done is going to be an enormous task. Before the next president can move the nation forward, that president will first have to fill in the massive hole dug during this administration. Education. Our right to privacy. Trade policies. The tarnished reputation of the United States around the world. Even locating all the damage Bush has started rolling could take the next President most of her/his tenure.

To save time, I suggest the next president start with Executive Order #1: Every executive order issued by George W. Bush is hereby rescinded. Effective immediately.